Monday, November 29, 2010

Unstoppable in Stilettos Giveaway Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for Unstoppable in Stilettos. The winner has been selected:

Congratulations Aik! I have sent you an e-mail and you have 48 hours to reply so that I can send your mailing address to the publisher. 

Just a reminder that I am currently hosting another giveaway, this time for Outside the Ordinary World, and you have until December 10th to enter. Once again chances are really good, only ten entries so far, and I think this would make a great holiday gift for an important female in your life, or maybe just to keep and enjoy yourself. :) 

I'll be on my "one review a week" schedule for a little while longer, but I look forward to returning in full force towards the end of December. Take care everyone.

Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank

"Sometimes he liked to imagine that each star was a word, and the sky was a piece of paper. Then the stars unfurled into a phrase- a proclamation for just one night."
Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank takes place during World War II, as a group of Jews live underground in a converted mine, called the compound, as scribes, translating and answering letters written to the dead. These Jews were saved because of their knowledge of multiple languages, and as a result of the Third Reich's reliance on occult, they are responsible for ensuring that the dead get their replies. They also help perpetuate the impression that people aren't actually dying at concentration camps. However when the philosopher Martin Heidegger writes a letter to his optometrist, a man now dying at Auschwitz, who is able to reply? The answer to this question results in a series of events which will change the course of history for those who live at the compound.

This book fell somewhere in the middle ground for me- I admired the research and details that went into the story, as well Frank's technically expert writing. I especially appreciated the fact that Heidegger's Glasses is a book, which despite being on a very popular topic, takes a look at a less known perspective of World War II, including a Nazi who tries to help Jews and wishes for Germany's defeat and Jews who escaped concentration camps. However, I did find the story itself slightly distant, at times I almost felt as if I was reading a script, and while I certainly feel it could make a fantastic film I didn't quite get the emotional connection to the characters that I craved.

In addition, without providing any spoilers, I found the abrupt time change at the end of the novel as well as the switch to a brand-new character slightly awkward and out of place. While the ending of Heidegger's Glasses did feel rushed, there were many beautiful scenes which I loved, the contemplations on the idea of always feeling near-death after an experience like being in a concentration camp, and how such a shocking horror divides the lives of the people who experience it into Before and After. There were some characters I wished to get to know better (like Maria, a woman who spends months living under the floor in hiding) and others I didn't care so much for including half a dozen romantic liasons happening in the compound between people I could never quite keep straight.

At the beginning of each chapter Frank includes an actual letter from the period as well as the translation. The letters themselves are simple but heartbreaking since the reader realizes what likely happened to the person who wrote them. Overall, Heidegger's Glasses is an intelligent book, it just didn't quite capture my heart. ***

A Note: One of the biggest questions I was left with upon finishing Heidegger's Glasses was what is fact and what is fiction. That is a testament to how well Frank blends the two, but I am definitely still curious. Frank has done a guest post answering this question which I found very interesting and really recommend. It is available here. For those wondering- individuals at concentration camps were forced to write letters on their virtues, but those letters were not actually answered as they are in the book.

Number of Pages: 336 pages
Published: May 2010

This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.   

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Outside the Ordinary World Giveaway

Summary from Goodreads: 

Sylvia Sandon always swore she wouldn't become her mother. But one August morning, she finds herself walking the same prodigal path as the fervently religious yet faithless Elaine, into an affair she feels powerless to resist...

Against the backdrop of California brushfires and fundamentalist mores in the '70s, 12-year old Sylvie had agreed to hold a secret that would devour her family's dream of happiness. Now, 30 years later, in chosen exile from her family of origin, Sylvie attempts to build a better life in small town New England. Nonetheless, she finds herself caught in the coils of history: she confronts the embers of her own dying marriage, the all-consuming needs of a teen and a toddler, and her faltering artistic career... Then Tai Rosen, the father of her most difficult student, ignites an unexpected passion and a familiar betrayal that could illuminate the past, even as it threatens everything dear...

Outside the Ordinary world is a complex story of love, betrayal, regret and forgiveness that spans three generations of women. It's about the powerful, sometimes disturbing bond between mothers and daughters, and the illusive boundary between self-discovery and self-destruction.

Read my review of Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller here. In order to enter to win a copy there are three things you can do:

1) Leave a comment
2) Subscribe to In The Next Room by Google Friend Connect
3) Spread the word of this giveaway on your own blog and leave a link for me to check

Please leave a separate comment for each entry as well as your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win. The contest will run until December 10th at midnight MST. It is US/Canada only.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: The Lake of Dreams

The Lake of Dreams is the second novel by Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, who also wrote a lovely short story collection The Secrets of the Fire King. Since I love Edwards description and really enjoyed both of her previous books I'm pretty excited about The Lake of Dreams, to be published January 4th 2011 by Viking Adult. 
With revelations that prove as captivating as the deceptions at the heart of her bestselling phenomenon The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Kim Edwards now gives us the story of a woman's homecoming, a family secret, and the old house that holds the key to the true legacy of a family.

At a crossroads in her life, Lucy Jarrett returns home from Japan, only to find herself haunted by her father's unresolved death a decade ago. Old longings stirred up by Keegan Fall, a local glass artist who was once her passionate first love, lead her into the unexpected. Late one night, as she paces the hallways of her family's rambling lakeside house, she discovers, locked in a window seat, a collection of objects that first appear to be useless curiosities, but soon reveal a deeper and more complex family past. As Lucy discovers and explores the traces of her lineage00from an heirloom tapestry and dusty political tracts to a web of allusions depicted in stained-glass windows throughout upstate New York-the family story she has always known is shattered, Lucy's quest for the truth reconfigures her family's history, links her to a unique slice of the suffragette movement, and yields dramatic insights that embolden her to live freely.

With surprises at every turn, brimming with vibrant detail, The Lake of Dreams is an arresting saga in which every element emerges as a carefully place piece of the puzzle that's sure to enthrall the millions of readers who loved The Memory Keeper's Daughter.
I was contacted about an ARC for The Lake of Dreams and usually I'm not in much of a rush for a specific book but in this case I'd love to get a chance to read it as soon as possible, it looks fantastic!

What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller

"Maybe, then, life is a series of reenactments- chasing down new frames for the stories that stalk us."
Sylvia swore she'd never be like her mother, but as Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller shows, some ghosts are too strong to hide from forever. The novel alternates between Sylvia's childhood, taking place in in the late sixties to mid seventies, to her life as a mother of two and her affair with the father of one of her students from 2004-2005.

I did find Sylvia's lover, Tai, to lack dimension as he was often simply described as being Buddhist, as if that really tells the reader much about him as a person. I wanted to know more about his relationship with his own son, Sylvia's student, and although Ostermiller hints at Tai's tragic past I never felt it was really developed, especially the idea of this stone labyrinth he has created that somehow work as a literary symbol for Sylvia's own life. It is certainly easy to judge Sylvia for her actions, but I did think Ostermiller perhaps tried slightly too hard to avoid doing that, giving Sylvia the justification that her own husband had cheated once as well which seemed a little to easy an explanation, especially since it was also later applied to Sylvia's father. I don't think the affair Sylvia's husband had contributed anything to the novel, and in fact it wasn't really discussed until the very end which I considered surprising considering the fact that Sylvia was having an affair of her own. I do wish it had been left out of the book in order to better give the reader their own opportunity to decide how they view Sylvia's actions. Authors attempting to justify infidelity because a character has been wronged by their spouse is a problem I've had with books in the past, especially All I Ever Wanted by Kristin Higgins where the father has cheated on the career-focused mother multiple times, but only with women who "needed" him. In this case, I simply didn't believe that Sylvia's decision to have an affair with Tai had anything to do with her own husband's affair so I resented having it included in the book as it seemed to imply motivation. Personally, I believed that Sylvia would have had the affair regardless and I think the spousal affair was simply a distraction to the bigger issues the book discussed.

I definitely recommend Outside the Ordinary World for a more mature reader, although I still enjoyed it, I think its appeal would be stronger to somebody who shares more life experiences with Sylvia such as being married to the same person for a decade, or raising children. It is these more mature themes where Ostermiller excels, and I found the portions told during Sylvia's childhood to be lacking a convincing voice, it felt more like an older woman looking back on her experiences than a young girl encountering issues like sex, drugs, and infidelity for the first time. For example, in Susan Henderson's Up From The Blue I rarely had to remind myself that the narrator was a young girl, whereas in Outside the Ordinary World I often did. In contrast, I found the portion of the book told in the present tense to be completely believable, and feel that Ostermiller excels as a writer when focusing on a mother's perspective, rather than a daughter's.***

Come back tomorrow for a chance to win your own copy of Outside the Ordinary World!

Number of Pages: 374 pages
Published: July 2010

This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Best Books of 2010: Amazon Editor's Picks

Amazon Editor's Picks for the 100 best books of 2010 are now available, and unsurprisingly I've only read two of them (and those were both in the last month!) However there are definitely a few more that interest me.

Have Read
  1. By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham (Review Here
  2. Great House by Nicole Krauss (Review Here)
Want to Read
  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  2. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson *
  4. The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman
  5. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  6. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson *
  7. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King *
  8. The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel by Brady Udall
  9. Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue *
  10. Bloodroot by Amy Greene
  11. Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel by Gary Shteyngart * 
  12. Revolution by Jennifer Donnell *
  13. Half a Life by Darin Strauss 
  14. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel by David Mitchell 
  15. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris *
  16. Innocent by Scott Turow 
* indicates I already own a copy, in the case of all books except Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, where I am on schedule for a book tour but haven't received it yet

Although the majority of the 100 books were not of interest to me,  I will probably use these 16 books as a reminder when I am looking for something to pick up in 2011. I am always curious to see these kind of lists, especially since I have finally started reading again in 2010. Do you check out "Best of" lists? Are there any on the Amazon Editor's List that you have been meaning to read but haven't yet? 

School school school + Giveaway Winner

Yup, it's that time of the semester. Reading is basically non-existent unless it's related to epigenetic reprogramming or inheritance, and the only posts I'll likely get a chance to write up in the next couple weeks are those I have already scheduled tour dates for, but I'm already excited about digging into a whole bunch of books over the holidays. For now, it's mostly just academics though.

In the meantime, don't forget to enter my giveaway for Unstoppable in Stilettos (link). It's a fun positive memoir with some great takeaway lessons, and I'm kinda sad there's only one entry. Speaking of entries I realize I never posted the winner for The Art of Disappearing- Congrats Ruthie! If you can e-mail me your address at strandedhero(at)gmail(dot)com I'll pass it onto the publisher and they'll have your copy on the way to you, I hope you enjoy the book, I loved it.

Take care everyone and I'll be back properly as soon as I can, I miss my blogging already!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Arsenic and Clam Chowder by James Livingston

There was a brief period in highschool when I became obsessed with true crime novels- In Cold Blood, The Executioner's Song, Shot in the Heart- and so when I had the chance to review Arsenic and Clam Chowder: Murder in Gilded Age New York by James D. Livingston it seemed like a good time to revisit my former love. Arsenic and Clam Chowder is a non-fiction account of the 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, who was charged with killing her mother by lacing clam chowder with arsenic and having her daughter deliver it. If found guilty, Livingston faced the possibility of becoming the first woman to be executed using the electric chair.

Livingston has certainly done his research, and the story he tells is straightforward while incorporating details from the time period which make it realistic. However, perhaps because he didn't have the opportunity to talk to any of the individuals involved personally, I sometimes found it lacked the passion and richness I would have hoped for in order to become truly immersed in the story. I'm also not entirely sure that the story Livingston tells is entirely worthy of an entire novel- even at less than two hundred pages it often seemed like he was stretching things out, including a lot of information that felt irrelevant like the fashion for men's facial hair at the time (clean-shaven was out, beards were in).

In addition to the details of the trial, Livingston ends the book with two unique chapters. The first one contemplates what exactly beyond a reasonable doubt means and whether or not he believes Mary Alice was guilty. It provides an interest point for discussion on the book, as well as the philosophical implications of the death penalty, which isn't something you'd expect in a true crime novel. In the final chapter (or the Afterward) Livingston follows up with how everything turned out for the major characters in the book, including his own personal connection to Mary Alice. I particularly enjoyed the Afterward because it felt like the credits after a film which is based on a true story, when you find out what happened next, something you can only do if the actual event did not occur recently and which definitely satisfied my curiosity.

Ultimately, I think Livingston has found an interesting story to tell and does a fairly good job at telling it, although perhaps with more resources he would have been able to enrich it further. Although I wouldn't go outside your comfort zone to pick it up, for readers who enjoy either the time period, or true crime, Arsenic and Clam Chowder is certainly a worthwhile read.

Number of Pages:  192 pages
Published: July 2010
This review was a part of Pump Up Your Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are my own. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

"Insomniacs know better than anyone how it would be to haunt a house."
Michael Cunningham is somebody I have easily considered one of my favourite authors for the last few years- I've actually read every single novel he's written, so of course I was extremely excited to pick up number five, his latest book, By Nightfall. Cunningham's previous books include Specimen Days, A Home at the End of the World, and the Pulitzer prize winning The Hours. Which such high expectations going into By Nightfall, I could have easily been let down as I was recently with Nicole Krauss' Great House, but instead I fell in love.

By Nightfall is the story of Peter and Rebecca Harris, a couple who have been married for about twenty years and now are in their mid-forties sharing a loft in SoHo while their college-drop out daughter lives in Boston. Rebecca and Peter share a love for the arts- she edits a magazine while he is a dealer, and their life is quintessentially New York including brunches at fancy restaurants and parties with people they don't really care about. Their calm existence is challenged however when Rebecca's much younger brother, Ethan (or Mizzy "the mistakes") a former drug addict arrives following trip to Japan. Staying with the Harris' while he looks for direction about what he wants to do with his life, Rebecca can't help but worry Mizzy will relapse, while Peter is forced to recall memories of his own brother who died around Mizzy's age. Mizzy causes Peter to question everything he has spent decades building, including his marriage and his career, as well as the very meaning of art.
Isn't this part of what you keep looking for in art-rescue from solitude and subjectivity; the sense of company in history and the greater world; the human mystery simultaneously illuminated and deepened?
By Nightfall definitely has some signature Cunningham characters: men either struggling with their sexuality, lacking a definite sexual orientation, or as appears in every one of his books, a gay man who is dying or has died of AIDs. Despite these familiar personality traits, Cunningham manages unique and beautiful feelings in each of his novels so that even if there are similarities the overall sensation is something new. What is different about By Nightfall is that all of Cunningham's other novels are told through shifting perspectives from one character to the other, while By Nightfall is told in the third person although it follows Peter's viewpoint alone. Because of the switch to a focus on one single narrative, By Nightfall feels particularly personal even without comparison to Cunningham's other books.

The novel itself is full of references, both to artwork and other literature, in a way that fits seamlessly into the New York art world landscape. However it doesn't require a strong background in art history to enjoy the details, I certainly don't have one, as the reader is still able to picture the work of the various artists Peter represents through the vivid description by Cunningham. Although By Nightfall could be easily appreciated for the artistic and literary symbolism, it was actually not what I felt was strongest about the book. What I loved most was the depth and complexity of Peter's mind, the conflicting desires and the role history played in shaping who he is and how he sees other. I could sympathize with Peter's desperate desire to be there for his unwilling daughter. I felt the envy of being overshadowed by a sibling, and the pain of loosing one. There were also philosophical implications tied into Peter's thoughts, questions about the meaning of art, life and relationship. Each emotion is carefully crafted by Cunningham providing By Nightfall with its most impressive accomplishment- both a universal and deeply personal story. *****

Number of Pages: 256 pages
Published: September 2010
Source: Public Library

Monday, November 15, 2010

Everything I Never Wanted To Be by Dina Kucera

A drug or a drink is a life changer. You have saved your own life. It's an awakening from a life spent in loneliness and fear. And once you've surfaced, above the water, your brain will never let you forget it. From that moment on your brain says... get it, get it, get it, get more, get more, and it never quiets. It is relentless. It is bigger than you. It's so loud it's deafening. To tell an addict or alcoholic to stop is the equivalent to saying, "Go back under the water."
Everything I Never Wanted To Be by Dina Kucera is a memoir which is not done justice because to say it is a story of one family's battle with alcoholism and drug addiction, three generations of addicts, fails to capture the most powerful aspect of Everything I Never Wanted To Be which is Kucera's voice. Kucera herself was an alcoholic and pill addict for most of her three daughter's lives, and each of them has struggled with addiction in turn. Her youngest daughter Carly became a heroin addict at only fourteen and has been in and out of rehab since. Kucera's household also includes her mother who suffers from Parkinson's Disease and her grandson with cerebral palsy. Throughout the memoir Kucera struggles to support them all, working as a grocery store clerk despite having dreams of being a stand-up comic and writer. Even while telling a story filled with tragedy Kucera somehow manages to  keep her sense of humour.

Everything I Never Wanted To Be is not a polished book- it is raw and gutsy and brutally honest. Kucera's words sear an imprint on the reader which will not be soon forgotten. It is a book which leaves a mark, managing to stand out despite the popularity of the basic premise. There were particular portions of the memoir which were absolutely breath-taking, specifically a description of what life is like for an addict and how drugs are able to quiet the noise in her brain. Even through the humour though, there is something absolutely heart-breaking about Kucera's story. In an example pulled from her author's bio but which also appears in the novel Kucera writes about how she has never won anything: 
When it comes to awards and recognition, she was once nominated for a Girl Scout sugar cookie award, but she never actually received the award because her father decided to stop at a bar instead of going to the award ceremony. Dina waited on the curb outside the bar, repeatedly saying to panhandlers, “Sorry. I don’t have any money. I’m seven.” 
Kucera's memoir provides an informative and well-written look into life in a family of addicts and the terrible cycle that occurs as one generation gives rise to another with even worse addictions. With three daughters in various stages of recovery/relapse from various addictions, Kucera has experienced firsthand what can happen when a parent is unable to stay clean: it is what occurred to her afterall. She isn't afraid to hold herself responsible for her own role in her daughters' struggles, but at the same time she has finally accepted that recovery is an individual decision which every person has to make for themselves. It is a tragic yet powerful message which will ring true to anyone who has dealt with the consequences of addiction first hand, but it is also insightful for those who have not.  Everything I Never Wanted To Be is a memoir filled with hope and tragedy, it is a story about succumbing to as well as beating the odds; ultimately it is a candid and extremely memorable look into the lives of one family and the adversity they have faced. ****

Number of Pages:  216 pages
Published: October 2010
This review was a part of Pump Up Your Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

In My Mailbox (November 7th-13th 2010)

Not much going on in my mailbox this week, but with a library due date and the end of term both approaching that's probably a good thing! The books I did get sound awesome but it wasn't enough to bother with pictures so I'm just sharing cover images.

{For Review}
Heidegger’s Glasses by Thaisa Frank (TLC Tours)


Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Read Hard: Five Years of Writing from the Believer

From the wonderful Laala, a birthday present sent me all from all the way across the world of my favourite things, books and a letter :) Zeitoun has metallic silver embedded on the cover (and it's a hardcover) which I think is pretty cool. After loving What is the What, I can't wait to read Eggers' non-fiction.

My semester is pretty insane so I may get a bit behind on reviews besides for those that are actually scheduled already. This weekend besides schoolwork I plan to take a few breaks with Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller, and next week I may dig slightly into The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut and A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon. There are a few reviews coming up as well although I'm sorry if I'm not around for commenting much til December. In the meantime don't forget to enter my current giveaway, Unstoppable in Stilettos.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner is a young adult post-apocalyptic story, which takes class after the war between humanity and Faerie has ended, bringing devastation and death to both sides. As a result, humans can no longer trust nature, even a tiny plant has threatening roots able to trap and kill. In addition, any child which shows signs of magic, specifically transparent strands in their hair, is left out for the Faerie to claim. Liza's baby sister was one such child, and at fifteen years old she discovers that she has Faerie magic herself and is forced to flee her town, following in the footsteps of her missing mother. On her quest Liza seeks to discover the truth, both about what really happened during the war, who the Faerie are, what happened to her sister and where her mother went.

I really enjoyed the basic premise of Bones of Faerie, although it has a lot of trademark young adult traits like a search for a missing parent and abuse at home, the friendly pet sidekick, Tallow which reminded me a lot of the dæmons in Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Unfortunately the comparison to Pullman, who I haven't read in a decade but was one of my very favourite authors in elementary school, definitely impacted how I felt about Bones of Faerie which is not nearly as impressive. Another similarity to His Dark Materials was the ability to cross between two worlds, in this case Faerie and Earth as we know it, which is something Liza seeks to do in order to find her mother. Admittedly Bones of Faerie made me really want to reread His Dark Materials- maybe my fond childhood memories are skewing my judgment but it really does make Bones of Faerie pale by comparison.

However, even without comparison Simner to Pullman, there were problems with the book, specifically the lack of character development. Upon introduction I loved most of the characters, especially Liza and her traveling companion Matthew, but I felt like they never really grew through the course of the novel. Many of the other characters were very two dimensional, in particular Liza's father who becomes a cardboard cut-out of a bad guy. Overall the book itself was just a little too simple for me, and combined with the fact that it is also a very clean read without any significant violence or sex, it's probably more appropriate for younger readers, possibly more of a middle grade book than young adult. Something I did appreciate is that although it turns out Bones of Faerie has a 2011 sequel Faerie Winter, the book itself is very self-contained and it is not the kind of increasingly common young adult novel which only tells a tiny bit of a story in a ploy to get you to buy the next one. Reading Bones of Faerie is a short but fulfilling read and there aren't any major plot points left unanswered.

Overall, I did love Simner's prose but I felt that she was let down by how quickly the novel moved without allowing for her rich words to create a rich and layered world, instead allowing for it to become a flat dead wasteland. Bones of Faerie has an interesting premise and may be a worthwhile book for younger readers, but I do not think it has a depth that allows it to appeal to an older YA audience who expects character growth as well. **

Number of Pages: 247 pages
Published: January 2009 
Source: Library Ebook

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Unstoppable in Stilettos Giveaway

Unstoppable in Stilettos by Lauren Ruotolo is an extremely inspiring book about how a woman beat the odds and never let anyone else tell her what she was, or wasn't, capable of. See my review here. The publisher, Health Communications, Incorporated has been kind enough to set aside a copy for one lucky reader. The contest is Canada/US only, no PO boxes.

In order to enter to win a copy of  Unstoppable in Stilettos there are three things you can do:

1) Share a piece of inspiring advice you have received
2) Subscribe to In The Next Room by Google Friend Connect
3) Spread the word of this giveaway on your own blog and leave a link for me to check

Please leave a separate comment for each entry as well as your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win. The contest will run until November 26th at midnight MST.


Congratulations Aik!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: The Paris Wife

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Okay, first I have to admit something I should probably be ashamed of- I haven't actually read any Hemingway. So why is that I am lusting over February 22 2011  release from Ballantine Books, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a book told from the perspective of Hemingway's first wife? I don't know, but it sounds incredible.

No twentieth-century American writer has captured the popular imagination as much as Ernest Heminway. This novel tells his story from a unique point of view — that of his first wife, Hadley. Through her eyes and voice, we experience Paris of the Lost Generation and meet fascinating characters such as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Gerald and Sara Murphy. The city and its inhabitants provide a vivid backdrop to this engrossing and wrenching story of love and betrayal that is made all the more poignant knowing that, in the end, Hemingway would write of his first wife, "I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her."

I just love how Hemingway described his relationship with her, however use of real historical figures is a hit or miss for me. When it's done well, like Colum McCann's Dancer, it can be extremely powerful. However sometimes the author forgets they are writing a novel not a biography and go a bit overboard with the boring details. I can't wait til February to see what McLain delivers in The Paris Wife.

How do you feel about use of real historical figures as main characters? What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Unstoppable in Stilettos by Lauren Ruotolo

Taking care of your health is the second nicest thing you can do for yourself. Loving yourself is the first. So give it a go.

Pretty You.
Unstoppable in Stilettos: A Girl's Guide to Living Tall in a Small World is a memoir meets self-help book by Lauren Ruotolo. Ruotolo was born with an extremely rare (1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1 million) and mysterious disease called McCune-Albright syndrome which causes her to have short legs, hormonal imbalances, and easily breakable bones. For this reason Ruotolo had started her period at nine months and broken her hips 4 times by the time she was eight years old. Despite these setbacks, she refused to live life from a wheelchair and instead manages each day using her own method of transportation- stiletto heels and crutches. Not only do the heels add to her 4 feet 2 inches, but they also happen to look fabulous. All throughout her life, Ruotolo has never been one who lets other people tell her what she's capable of, so when she has thirty job interviews without being hired (possibly because potential employers think she'll need special medical insurance or benefits), what does she do but go on a thirty first which turns out to the lucky one.

In Unstoppable in Stilettos, Ruotolo uses her own life as an example for her positive philosophy, which focuses on a woman having self-confidence and surrounding herself with positive influences. Ruotolo refuses to conform to other peoples labels for her and she shows the reader why they don't have to either. You may not have a genetic medical condition standing in your way, but everyone has barriers, and this book contains eight steps for helping to get past them. What makes Unstoppable in Stilettos sparkle is Ruotolo's fun voice, even though I'm not at all into fashion but I still enjoyed what she had to say. I appreciated that although Ruotolo preaches confidence, she admits that nobody is ever going to be 100% happy with their body- sure, she doesn't like her hips which have been deformed because they have broken so many times, but instead she shows off parts of her body she does like. The main theme in Unstoppable in Stilettos is about focusing on the positive, because although nobody's life is perfect, there is always something good and it's something I took to heart when writing this review by also focusing on the good stuff. Unstoppable in Stilettos isn't a perfect book, but overall Ruotolo offers a positive message that certainly can't hurt to be reminded of. 

Come back tomorrow for a chance to win your own copy of Unstoppable in Stilettos!

Number of Pages: 192 pages
Published: October 2010

This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.  

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is a fable which covers three generations and occurs in a mythical town where spirits and witchcraft are both expected and bound to surprise. The book centers on Meridia, an only child who grows up lonely in a home where her mother is overprotective and her father is just a distant mist. When she falls in love with Daniel it seems as if all her dreams have come true and she has been taken into a warm and welcoming family- little does she realize that they have secrets and troubles all their own.

Of Bees and Mist is not a book you can rush into, it takes a little while to become accustomed to Setiawan's style of storytelling but although it may first come across strange and confusing, you will definitely be rewarded if you give it a chance, because ultimately the book is both rich and engrossing. At times I wasn't quite sure what was going on but as the book progressed I learned to put my own ideas about what was possible aside and simply appreciate the symbolism Setiawan layers into the novel. At times however, I found the storytelling slightly awkward particularly when it came to the dialogue which didn't have the ease and beauty of the rest of the novel. There were also so many layers in the book that there were moments when they became muddled together and lacked the clarity and precise I was hoping for. I was also slightly let down by the ending, which I felt was too rushed given the pace of the rest of the book and perhaps tried too hard to redeem a character which had spent the rest of the book being described in a completely irredeemable manner.

What I most appreciated about Of Bees and Mist was its ability to surprise me and challenge conventions by mixing the ancient and the supernatural so that it took occurred in a time and place which could have been anywhere or nowhere and where the reader cannot take anything foregranted. The novel took me quite awhile to read, because it must be read slowly both in order to prevent the reader from becoming muddled but also just to soak up the richness of the story. I also really appreciated that despite romance being a huge part of the book, Setiawan's main female characters, especially Meridia, are extremely powerful people. Lately I have been finding literature increasingly overwhelmed by weak female main characters who are extremely reliant on males, something that frustrated me in another book with a slightly magical tint I read recently, The Mermaid's Pendant. Although some of the imagery in Of Bees and Mist could be seen as obvious, I did find that it seemed to suit the characters perfectly, and I could easily imagine Daniel's mother Eva and her bees. In the end, one thing is for certain, Setiawan has both an incredibly interesting and likely brilliant mind as what he creates in Of Bees and Mist are strange yet powerful images and although the book has its faults as any first novel is liable to, I will certainly be curious for what he has to offer next. ***

Number of Pages: 416 pages
Published: August 2009 
This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

Monday, November 08, 2010

All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins

"I yearned for love. I’d have it, and now with any ordinary boy, either. It would be overwhelming, undeniable, meant to be Love with a capital L. The kind that caused Johnny Depp to swing from a rope outside the mental hospital in Benny & Joon. The kind that made John Cusack hold up the boom box in the pouring rain so Peter Gabriel could do the talking for him."
All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins falls neatly into the romance genre- one I would usually avoid reading. However like all genres, when done well I can certainly enjoy them, and fortunately All I Ever Wanted is a fun, sweet, and well written novel which makes it clear that Higgins is talented at what she does. The story focus on Callie Grey who turns thirty at the beginning of the novel, while working in marketing and waiting for boss/first kiss/the man she has been in love with for years Mark to finally propose, or at least ask her to be in a relationship. When it turns out that Mark has actually been dating a client's daughter for months- a woman who is now coming to work with Callie and Mark at the company, well let's just say it's not how she expected to start her 30th year. Mark is all she ever wanted, but as the novel progress will Callie finally realize that maybe he isn't what she needs? In the meantime Callie pursues a friendship with the new standoffish vet, Ian, who may have more than a touch of goodness hidden beneath his cool exterior.

For a romance novel, All I Ever Wanted is actually almost entirely PG rated which was a little bit of a surprise. The main relationship focus of the novel- Callie and Ian- takes almost the entire book to actually get going which I found a little surprising and admit at times I was a little impatient for them to get together, however instead of rushing into Higgins allows the characters to grow and get over their past relationships (mostly) first. The huge cast of secondary characters actually managed not to blur together once I got a hang of who was who because they were all so different- from Fleur with her fake British accent, Annie with her grade school romance, Hester with her focus on family without a man, and especially Noah, Callie's grandfather who she lives with and who was warm-hearted and reminded me a little bit of my own late grandfather with his miniature wood carvings as my grandfather used to carve family members walking sticks. The scenes between Callie, who offered to move in with Noah following his stroke and loss of his leg, had nothing to do with romance but were often the most touching ones.

All I Ever Wanted is not a perfect book, Callie hears the voices of Michelle Obama and Betty Boop in her head which I thought was both a little silly and repeated a few more times. I also found a few characters, notably Louis the mortician's assistant and Callie's mother, verged a little on caricature. However Higgins tells a cute, if predictable, story with quirky characters and if you're looking for a good romance novel to read, All I Ever Wanted is likely all you could ever want.

Number of Pages: 409 pages
Published: July 2010
Source: FSB Associates (Review Copy)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

In My Mailbox (October 31st-November 6th 2010)

My mailbox was pretty happy this week, I got a few books for upcoming tours I'm participating in and they all look really good and I'm looking forward to starting all of them.

{For Review}
Unstoppable in Stilettos by Lauren Ruotolo (TLC Tours)
Everything I Never Wanted to Be by Dina Kucera (ARC) (Pump Up Your Book)
Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello (ARC) (TLC Tours)
Stay With Me by Sandra Rodriguez Barron (ARC) (TLC Tours)

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
Center of Winter by Marya Hornbacher
The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

The books I bought all look awesome of course. I loved Hornbacher's memoirs, Wasted and Madness, so I figured it was time to spurge on her novel which the library doesn't have. It will be awhile til I get a chance to read Center of Winter but hopefully it is just as beautifully written as her non-fiction works.

This weekend besides schoolwork I'll also be enjoying Unstoppable in Stilettos, Arsenic and Clam Chowder and By Nightfall. A little ambitious I know, but there are just so many good books to read. Coming up for review next week I have the odd but awesome Of Bees and Mist, the non-fiction Unstoppable in Stilettos as well as the young adult Bones of Faerie and the romance All I Ever Wanted. Variety is the best right?

After getting a couple more ARCs in my mailbox I realize I have no idea what the book blog obsession with them is... they are not as pretty, not as sturdy and liable to typos- I definitely prefer finished copies, anyone care to explain?

Feel free to leave a link to your mailbox in the comments.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

Catalyst is a young adult novel by author Laurie Halse Anderson, the the talented lady behind Wintergirls, Chains, Twisted and Speak. It takes place in the same community as Speak, and in fact the main character actually runs into Melinda at one point in the novel, but that is where the similarities end. Catalyst is the story of Kate Malone, a girl who's favourite subjects are chemistry and math and who would love more than anything to go to MIT. She'd love it so much, it's actually the only school she applied to. While Kate waits for her application results her life continues to get more complicated when a fire puts her enemy Teri and Teri's little brother out of a home and Kate's father, the local pastor, offers to let them move in. The result has consequences that nobody ever could have imagined.

I think Anderson is an extremely talented young adult author, she does an expert job of capturing unique and realistic teen voices, as well as having an understanding of very important teen issues. However it seems that she is strongest is when her books deal with harsher issues, like rape in Speak and eating disorders in Wintergirls, as opposed to the normal quest to belong as in Twisted or the stress of applying to college which concerns Kate in Catalyst. That's because Anderson's storytelling has a natural drama to it, and when she is addressing less severe issues it often comes across as unnecessary. In order to achieve this melodrama, Anderson sometimes has her characters do things which don't feel realistic, for example having Kate only apply to one school. Not only that, but Kate lies to her father and friends about it, going so far as to have her dad write application cheques for her safety schools. Considering Kate is the kind of person who does laundry for her family since her mother passed away, lying to everyone like that didn't seem to fit her character. And although Kate certainly has a good chance of getting into MIT, I doubt even a smart student would only apply to one extremely prestigious school.

However, my major problem with Catalyst is the use of quotes from a guide to AP chemistry and the forced and often odd chapter titles which link the book to chemistry metaphors. As somebody who is doing their masters in science at the moment, the connection often seemed not only forced but silly and gimmicky. Although I can appreciate what she was trying to do, strengthen the connection to Kate's science love, I didn't think it worked as most of the time the connections were shaky at best and the chapter divisions were just confusing. Another heavy-handed metaphor Anderson uses is the idea of running as symbolism for Kate trying to run away from her problems- get it? As good a job as Anderson does of describing the freedom Kate gets from running at night, after about the fourth time this happens I didn't really care anymore.

I actually found Teri to be an extremely interesting character and I was really engaged in her portion of the storyline. Teri has to deal with bullying and a not so happy home life, and she is both strong but not necessarily good, as she steals from Kate, which is an interesting conflict. I think if the book had been told from Teri's point of view instead I might have found it a lot more positive. In the end Catalyst had a lot of the same problems I found in Twisted- where the book wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly considering the stress that had been placed on certain issues throughout the novel. Overall Catalyst was an okay book, but it certainly isn't Anderson's best and I'd pass on this one unless you are a true lover of her writing and stick to Wintergirls, Speak and Chains if you aren't. **

Number of Pages: 232 pages
Published: September 2002
Source: Public Library

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: The Tiger's Wife

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

I admit The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht mostly caught my eye after I saw a supportive quote from one of my favourite authors, Colum McCann, winner of the 2009 National Book Award prize for Let the Great World Spin, who said that "Téa Obrecht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years." After reading that I knew I had to get my hands on this book although unfortunately it's not published until March 8 2011 by Random House. The publisher's blurb says:

The time: the present.
The place: a Balkan country ravaged by years of conflict.

Natalia, a young doctor, is on a mission of mercy to an orphanage when she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death far from their home under circumstances shrouded in confusion. Remembering childhood stories her grandfather once told her, Natalia becomes convinced that he spent his last days searching for "the deathless man," a vagabond who claimed to be immortal. As Natalia struggles to understand why her grandfather, a deeply rational man, who go on such a farfetched journey, she stumbles across a clue that leads her to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife. 

An involving mystery, an emotionally riveting family story, and a wondrous evocation of an unfamiliar world.

It sounds like a rich and wonderful story and with the rave reviews Obreht is already getting I am certainly waiting to get a chance to read her debut novel, The Tiger's Wife.

What book are you lusting over this Wednesday?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Mermaid's Pendant by LeAnn Neal Reilly

The Mermaid's Pendant by LeAnn Neal Reilly is a retold and mature telling of the little mermaid, revolving around what happens after the sun sets on a happily ever after. In the book, John is vacationing on an island when he almost drowns, only to be saved by a mysterious woman with long hair. Searching for her, he meets Taramind, who is actually a mermaid who gives up her fins in order to marry John and live on land. Their life is far from idyllic though, as Ana, Tamarind's aging mentor, uses spells to try to win Tamarind back to be her apprentice. Tamarind seeks support from a blue moonstone pendant she wears and has imbued with her and John's love- but when it goes missing she will have to rely on herself and John instead of magic.

I found The Mermaid's Pendant particularly difficult to review, because although it does have definite flaws I feel like Reilly has a lot of potential and maybe with a better editor who wasn't afraid of slashing away content there would really have been a good book inside The Mermaid's Pendant. The problem was the first half of the book was basically pointless but the second half was very well done. The blurb describing the book begins with "Four years after John marries the mermaid Tamarind"- however he doesn't even find out she is a mermaid (even though it is terribly obvious even just from the title of this book) until halfway through, and once he does he doesn't seem to have nearly as many questions about her being a mermaid as I would have expected and instead jumps into marrying her. Considering when they first met he got the impression she was just a young girl, having him suddenly hop into bed with her made me a little uncomfortable.

However once John and Tamarind settle down with their adorable daughter and interesting neighbour, I really felt like Reilly excelled. She was very talented at capturing domestic life, although I would have liked to learn more about the issues Tamarind faced as a mermaid living as a human- asides from not understanding idioms it's an issue Reilly mostly skims over. She does do a good job at creating rich and interesting characters, I particularly enjoyed John's ex-girlfriend Zoe, and not just because we share a first name! At times I found it slightly frustrating however, that for a book filled almost exclusively with female characters very few of them are strong role models and in fact both Tamarind and her neighbour Lucy appear to be entirely defined by the men in their life. Tamarind loves the sea, but she doesn't even seem to think twice about giving it up for John, and it's a sacrifice he doesn't return, as she stays at home to look after their child and he takes up a job without even consulting her.

Overall, I did feel that The Mermaid's Pendant would have benefited from a few more edits, I did enjoy the characters Reilly created as well as the richness of language she used, and her expert eye for details. I think that there is certainly a lot of issues brought up in the book, and that it would perhaps be a good selection for a book club. My favourite thing about The Mermaid's Pendant is that although Reilly covers themes that have been done before, she does it with her own hint of magic. **

Number of Pages: 586 pages
Published: March 2010

This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.  

Monday, November 01, 2010

Birthday Bookshelves

Although my boyfriend is not a reader himself, he knows how much my books to mean to me which is why he knew I'd love to have my first very own bookshelf for my birthday. He woke up before me Sunday morning and snuck into the guestroom to set it up and surprise me. I made sure to immediately start filling it up- isn't it gorgeous?

You can click the photos to enlarge if you're curious about the titles. These are actually almost entirely books I haven't read, as the ones I have are in storage at home in the meantime. So as you can tell I probably don't need to purchase any books any time soon... even though I will anyway.

 Top shelf
Bottom shelf
The entire beautiful thing in our hallway. He also got a gift card for Chapters to help fill it up- little did he realize how many books I actually already had hidden about our apartment. There is currently no organization system going on, I was just so excited to get them on the shelves. I'm usually all about alphabetizing though so that will likely happen in the future.

Overall it was a relaxing but lovely 22nd birthday. We went out to lunch but mostly just stayed home since I had to study, although I didn't really. We also got groceries in the afternoon- I guess I've outgrown any kind of partying. 

Have you ever gotten an amazing bookish gift from somebody who wasn't a bookworm themselves?
Personally I think that makes it even more special.

(And don't worry, I'm going to keep trying to convert him.)