Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Forrests by Emily Perkins

The Forrests by Emily Perkins is definitely a novel that has me divided. Can you love the writing while failing to love the book? Because in certain moments, this was pure genius, but in others in left me grasping for something to hold onto, something to make me understand, and mostly for something to keep my attention.

It's the story of Dorothy Forrest, and despite being about 350 pages it manages to cover her entire life– and it's not a short one. But it's not just Dorothy's story, it's the entire Forrest family, transplanted from New York to New Zealand, and their complex and passionate relationships.

But because the story covers so much time, it means that a lot has to be skipped to fit it all in. Perkins' writing isn't vague, quite the opposite actually. It is flashes, snapshots, vivid and bright, but surrounded by empty space. The gap between photos– where the reader can only guess what happens. The Forrests flutters from one event to another without being clear on the passing of time, or what happened in between, and that made it difficult to follow and not the kind of book I was eager to return to once I set it down.

And that's where my conflict is. Even though there were many moments of brilliance, sometimes even an entire chapter or vignette, The Forrests is not the kind of book that left me craving more. It is definitely not a novel I would reread (though there are very few that fall into that category anyway). It's not even about the lack of plot, though readers should be prepared for that as well, and has much more to do with the lack of clarity. It wasn't just the story that puzzled me, but often the characters too. Many characters had only brief appearances but even those that were around more often weren't ones whose thoughts or motivations I could clearly grasp. The result was a book that was difficult to follow, no matter how many pages I read or how long I waited.

For the right reader, The Forrests will be breathtaking. Perkins is incredibly adept at beautiful phrases and moments, and if she wrote one, I think I'd fall in love with a short story by her because that's basically what many of the chapters were. But unfortunately lovely writing alone cannot sustain an entire novel, and as a result The Forrests left me wanting more from the characters and the story than Perkins provided.

Release Date: August 7th 2012  Pages: 352  Format: ARC 
Source: TLC Book Tours Publisher: Bloomsbury USA  Buy It: Book Depository

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman was really the first author I read who convinced me I could love a mystery– back in 2010 when I first read her novel, I'd Know You Anywhere. Later, I picked up her short The Girl in the Green Raincoat which is a part of the Tess Monaghan series, which I also enjoyed (though admittedly not quite as much). Still, Lippman is in top form in And When She Was Good another standalone mystery with the same strong writing, intriguing plot, and, in this case an especially smart story.

And When She Was Good is the story of Hector Lewis, a mother who affords her comfortable lifestyle by running an illegal escort business. Hector hasn't had an easy life, but more than anything she wants one for her son. But with everything she's worked so hard for in jeopardy, it may cost Hector more than she ever imagined just to keep her secrets.

Hector isn't the most likable main character. She's complicated, and I loved the back and forth chapters between the present and the past that show where Hector came from and what's she's overcome. If I'd just been introduced to her without them, or if they'd been told as somebody reflecting back instead of somebody experiencing them firsthand, it would have been hard to emotionally connect to her. Instead, as a reader I was able to understand Hector better, having gone through her experiences with her. She's had a hard life, and the result is a hard– but strong– lady. What she also is, is smart. And I found that, in combination with Lippman's skilled writing, to be incredibly refreshing. Of the three books of hers I've read, And When She Was Good was definitely the least "easy" to read. Lippman doesn't just use prostitution as a shocking plot device, she provides real background and research, as well as asking interesting questions and bringing up political issues I did not expect.

Where And When She Was Good was weaker than I'd Know You Anywhere was the plot. It was incredibly predictable, and took a long time to really get started, probably because the book was weighed down by the more intellectual component of it– which I enjoyed, but still, I was expecting more thrill from this thriller. In that sense, I'd call this a literary thriller. And When She Was Good is a great book for readers wanting a little more depth, I just also wanted a few more twists and turns. Overall, though, I loved Lippman's writing, her complicated characters, and her original storyline. I might still not be much of a mystery reader, but for Lippman, I'll definitely be returning to this genre again. 

Release Date: August 14th 2012  Pages: 320  Format: ARC
Also By This Author: I'd Know You Anywhere; The Girl in the Green Raincoat
Source: TLC Book Tours  Publisher: William Morrow  Buy It: Book Depository

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Release Date
: August 28th 2012
Pages: 224
Format: E-galley
Source: NetGalley/Publisher
Publisher: Random House
Buy It: Book Depository
Sethie Weiss is hungry, a mean, angry kind of hunger that feels like a piece of glass in her belly. She’s managed to get down to 111 pounds and knows that with a little more hard work—a few more meals skipped, a few more snacks vomited away—she can force the number on the scale even lower. She will work on her body the same way she worked to get her perfect grades, to finish her college applications early, to get her first kiss from Shaw, the boy she loves, the boy who isn’t quite her boyfriend.
I was immediately surprised when I picked up The Stone Girl by its unusual point of view; third person present tense, especially for such a personal narrative. The only other examples that come to mind with the same POV are Lisa McMann's paranormal novels, the Dream Catcher Trilogy and Cryer's Cross, neither of which I fell in love with, so I was a little skeptical about how it would work. Still, I was willing to give The Stone Girl a shot, especially because of the author's moving note about how she struggled with an eating disorder, and I ended up glad that I did.

The Stone Girl is an emotional and sad story, it is the story of a downward spiral, and all the reader wants to do is reach out and stop Sethie from falling. It feels like everyone in her life doesn't notice when things start to decline, if anything; from her best friend teaching her to puke, to her mother's obsession with her body, they make things worse. Unfortunately, that felt authentic, because there are times when what starts as something a person gets compliments about, loosing a few pounds around the thighs, turns into something destructive and horrifying.

Although the POV worked better in Sheinmel's novel than it did in McMann's, I'm certainly not in love with it. It leads to story-telling filled with "Sethie" after "Sethie", and the result felt simplistic and even list-like at times; a slew of Sethie actions, but not as much the emotions. The reason I was glad I read The Stone Girl was that, even though I sometimes felt distanced from Sethie, when I did get a glimpse of the real her, it was absolutely heart-breaking. In some ways, the third person perspective worked because the reader felt the same disconnect that Sethie did with her own life, a body that no longer belonged to her, a person she didn't recognize.

I really felt like The Stone Girl tells an important story, and people will be able to relate to a lot of what Sethie goes through, especially when it comes to her sorta relationship with Shaw. The storyline with Shaw was the most heart-breaking for me, and the most authentic. Sethie's self-worth was all tied up in, not only her weight, but the way that Shaw treated her, if he kissed her or touched her. Even as a part of her knew that it wasn't right, she still wanted him, wanted to believe different. For me, the saddest moments had nothing at all to do with Sethie's eating disorder, and everything to do with Shaw.

The ending of The Stone Girl was a disappointment for me, because it seemed like a simplistic fix for a complicated problem, and I was conflicted over whether or not I was supposed to believe it would actually work. That's probably due to Sethie's unreliability as a narrator, the fact that you can't really trust the person with the disease to tell you the truth about it, but at the same time, it seemed like everyone else in her life believed it. I don't think it would be that easy.

Overall, The Stone Girl was a novel I struggled with, the POV wasn't one I particularly enjoyed and the ending left me longing for more, but it was a heart-breaking and emotional book with a secondary storyline that left a lasting impression on me. I am certainly curious to see how Alyssa B. Sheinmel handles subject matter less close to her heart, especially if it is written in an alternative point-of-view.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Spotlight: The Smooth Yarrow by Susan Glickman

The Smooth Yarrow by Susan Glickman is one of those cases where I read a book so beautiful, full of such profound yet delicate poetry, raw, honest and clear– that I immediately wanted to write a raving positive review. Unfortunately, I can't do so with much credibility: it just so happens that the poet, Glickman, is related to me. Still, I couldn't let The Smooth Yarrow go unmarked on my blog, so instead I offer an excerpt of Glickman's own words to convince you why you should definitely pick this book up.
"Whereas poetry offers the results of its meditation
tentatively; it is not embarrassed to show that thinking
–some of it slow, arduous, confused–has taken place.
And then poetry doesn't rush ahead shouting, "Look at me! Look at me!"
Instead, it takes your hand, your poor mangled hand, like the good surgeon it is
and massages it joint by joint, feeling for the sore places.
And because it doesn't speak without reflection
you trust it, and let it cut you open."
-From "On Finding a Copy of Pigeon in the Hospital Bookstore"
If you are interested in purchasing The Smooth Yarrow you can find it on, and the Book Depository. Also, if you're unwilling to take my opinion on this– and I don't blame you– then be sure to check out the reviews, like Quill and Quire that says "Glickman’s writing is defiant: like yarrow, it is lean and strong, not only beautiful, but possessed of myriad healing properties."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Burn by Heath Gibson

After reading the first couple chapters of Burn by Heath Gibson, I thought I might abandon the book. The problem was the main character, Wee Wee or William, a guy that is incredibly whiny at times, especially about his height (he's five three). Also, the nickname Wee Wee is just ridiculous. William also does a lot of saying what a good person he is, because his dad is a pastor. I mean, when he does something nice, the reader knows it, we don't need to be reminded that it is nice, and that he can't help doing it because he's just that kind of person. The good people I actually enjoy reading about aren't the ones that are constantly telling me that they're better than other people. So that bothered me. But fortunately, the annoyance at Wee Wee settled down, sorta, or mostly I think I managed to brush it aside when the story got more exciting, because about a quarter into Burn I really started to enjoy it.

Gibson's second novel is about a teenage volunteer firefighter, Wee Wee, who realizes that when people come out of a fire, when people are saved, they are changed. And it's for the better. Wee Wee lives in a small Alabama town, and when he saves somebody, he suddenly starts getting the recognition and appreciation he's never had before. He's short, but suddenly people are looking up to him. Respecting him. And that feeling is addictive.

Even though I started enjoying Burn enough to continue reading it, I still had some problems with the book. This is a very minor spoiler, but there is an accident involving a flint in science class, causing a spark to light an entire shirt on fire, that results in third degree burns. I honestly just don't see how that is possible. If they'd been using Bunsen burners or something, yes, but this is outdoors with a piece of lint and seems to happen in a matter of seconds– while the Chief of the fire department with the fire hose doesn't manage to do anything? I just couldn't believe it.

Another, much more minor example, is how when William starts sitting at another lunch table, only one of his supposed friends even says anything to him. It's a small town, and he even recognizes in his head how he's going to get attention for this– especially because he's the only white person sitting with somebody who isn't. But nothing happens, and it just didn't add up for me. This exact same sort of thing happened near the very end of the book, when a character acknowledged that he should do something but gave no reason for not doing it, even though not doing it seemed pretty stupid on his behalf. The specifics are a bigger spoiler I won't share.

One of the things that I did enjoy about Burn were the setting. It was great reading a book set in the South from a teenage perspective, because I always love experiencing what it might be like growing up in certain settings. Even though he whined too much, I did think the element of Wee Wee being such a short guy was also interesting, because it's definitely a reality that it can be a lot harder for short guys when it comes to girls. However, Wee Wee was also pretty superficial when it came to the girl he liked, and I think Gibson had a neat dynamic in that way– Wee Wee hated something in others, but he wasn't immune to it himself. That said, even when Wee Wee claimed to have changed, he still didn't seem to look below the girl's now less-makeup-ed surface.

My biggest problem with Burn was the characters, not only Wee Wee but also the secondary cast. While Wee Wee got on my nerves, the other characters simply lacked dimension. His father was a Pastor, and strict. His brother was good-looking, and gay. It seemed like many of the characters only had a couple traits instead of being fully fleshed out like I wanted, and the most flat of all was Wee Wee's crush Mandy. Despite my many problems with Burn, there was definitely something that kept me reading Gibson's novel, which is how he took something that the character intended to be good and showed how it completely twisted out of control– watching that happen, and waiting to see if it would catch up with him, was incredibly exciting to read.

Release Date: August 8th 2012  Pages: 264  Format: E-galley 
Source: NetGalley/Publisher Publisher: Flux  Buy It: Book Depository

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Coming to That: Poems by Dorothea Tanning

Coming to That: Poems is the second collection by Dorothea Tanning, an American artist who passed away only a few months later on January 31st, 2012 at 101 years-old. It's not only the first book by Tanning I've read, picking it up was also the first time I had heard of her. So reading Coming to That was this wonderful kind of double discovery, not only was the writing beautiful, but I also managed to stumble across an incredibly talented artist.

The very first poem in Coming to That, "Free Ride", was definitely one of my very favourites. It was short and evocative and sharp, telling a tiny story in at the same time. In fact, many of Tanning's poems tell stories, like "The Only Thing" about a wild girl gone tame: "Once in a blue / moon she would close her eyes and see // again what a million years ago / had been, for her, the right / and wild thing, the only thing."

In another one of my favourites, "No Snow", a long-awaited snowfall finally happens. Even "Interval with Kook" or "At the Seaside" which veers much more into the strange and unusual– which Tanning sometimes does, with things like halos and talking dogs– are still, at their core, stories.

Another one of my very favourite poems was "Woman Waving to Trees". One stanza reads:
"One thing I can tell you:
they are beautiful
and they know it.
They are also tired,
hundreds of years stuck in one spot—
beautiful paralytics."
It is the sort of poem that I could imagine Tanning painting, even before I knew what her paintings looked like. Afterwards, when I was done reading the collection, I looked them up and it was exactly right.

That said, Coming to That wasn't a collection that totally blew me away. Like many poetry collections, it was quite short, and within it were several poems I loved. But mostly there were good poems, with nice images, but not the kind I would go back and read again and again, not the kind to make me fall in love. Nothing was bad, but some were quite simple, and maybe more story than poem, more snapshot than painting. There are also times the poems go in quite strange directions, but it wasn't usually the kind of really wonderful wacky weird– like Buffy Cram's stories, for example– that blew me away. It was more the shoulder-shrugging-okay-weird.

Ultimately, Coming to That was a good collection filled with the occasional great poem. I would definitely be interested in picking up further work by Tanning, and although she won't be publishing anything else, it reassures me to know she had a long and productive life. In homage, I'm going to end with one of my favourite stanzas from the collection, coming from the poem "For Instance". 
"As everyone knows
dreams come true?
But you have to
dream them first."
Release Date: September 13th 2011  Pages: 72  Format: Paperback 
Source: D&M Publishers Publisher: Graywolf Press  Buy It: Book Depository

Monday, August 06, 2012

Waking Storms by Sarah Porter

Note: This review contains no spoilers of Waking Storms, but may contain spoilers of the first book in the series, Lost Voices, a review of which can be found here.
I really loved the dark beauty of Sarah Porter's debut novel, Lost Voices, so I was incredibly excited to delve into the sequel, Waking Storms. It picks up with Luce living on her own, having abandoned the murderous group of mermaids she was once a part of. It's a life of solitude she's content with, until the boy she saved– breaking the most important mermaid rule– comes back into her life. Dorian should hate Luce, she was responsible for the death of his family, but there is a deep sadness that connects them, even if being together means risking everything, including their lives.

Porter's writing is just as beautiful in Waking Storms as I remembered– especially her description of the haunting mermaid songs. Interestingly, there are a few chapters that follow Dorian in his life without Luce, which helped emphasize how big a risk the both of them were taking and made the potential consequences of their actions even more clear. At first, I really did love the story between Luce and Dorian; it was the ultimate star-crossed lovers. But as time passed, I grew weary of Dorian. He becomes so possessive of Luce, so unaware of her feelings, that it made me not really want them to be together at all.

In opposition to Dorian, Luce actually grows a lot as a character throughout Waking Storms. It was amazing to see her begin to embrace her powers, and start to realize exactly what it means to her to be a mermaid. I think she gained a lot more confidence, and that was reflected in the way she interacted with others and made me really root for her to figure things out. There's a minor storyline involving Luce spending time on a remote island, and it honestly wasn't my favourite. I think because the subplot spends so long going on, the the point of dragging, when what I really cared about– the conflicts among mermaids– gets forced to the back burner. I especially hope there will be more about that in the third and final book, The Twice Lost, because I did miss it in Waking Storms. Unlike Lost Voices, this is a book that is less about mermaid drama and more about Luce's romance.

There are some interesting new characters introduced in Waking Storms and they are just as authentic as the ones returning from the previous book. Porter does a fantastic job of creating characters that are flawed but with an emotional core that makes them feel real, even if the reader disagrees with their actions. Overall, I really enjoyed Waking Storms and although I preferred the mermaid-centric conflict to the romance, Porter's beautiful writing has once again blown me away and I will certainly be picking up The Twice Lost in 2013.

Release Date: July 3rd 2012  Pages: 400  Format: Hardcover
: Thomas Allen & Son Ltd  Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Also By This Author
: Lost Voices (Lost Voices #1)  Buy It: Book Depository

Sunday, August 05, 2012

It's Monday, what are you reading? (29)

Last week I finished reading: 
Burn by Heath Gibson
I honestly almost gave up on this one, but then it got exciting and I stuck with it. In the end, I'm not sure if it was was worth it because I didn't particularly like the characters, but the story definitely kept my interest. Overall mixed thoughts.

My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend
I was actually really excited to read this one ever since I first heard about– a girl who is used to being the pretty one goes face-first through a windshield. I'd never read anything by Natasha Friend before, but I found her style very easy and enjoyable. Nothing about the story was surprising, but it definitely made me willing to pick up another book by her in the future.

It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
I really loved Han's writing in The Summer I Turned Pretty so I definitely had to pick up its sequel. It was different than what I expected, but I loved it. Belly has done a lot of growing up, which was refreshing, and Han's writing is just as lovely as ever.

The Forrests by Emily Perkins
For a book tour at the end of the month, the writing was really beautiful but the story itself fluttered from one event to another without being clear on the passing of time, or what happened in between, and that made it difficult to follow and sometimes had trouble keeping my attention. 

The Smooth Yarrow by Susan Glickman
I can't review this one because a family member wrote it, but that doesn't make it any less beautiful! I'm going to do a tiny post featuring it all the same... it's really lovely.  

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Well, I've got to admit I had incredibly high expectations for this book cause I had been looking forward to it for awhile. I did love it... there were a few things that felt like they happened too quickly in the short time frame (about two weeks) but overall it was a great book.

Collateral by Ellen Hopkins
It's been too long since I read an Ellen Hopkins book. Even though I didn't read her first adult title yet, I have an e-galley of this that expires so I wanted to get it in now. I'm a little uncertain about it, I didn't really like the ending, but it definitely brought up a lot of emotions– which is what a good book does.

What I plan to read this week:

Precious Bones by Mika Ashley-Hollinger 
I don't read a lot of middle grade, but I loved the sound of this one, mostly because it takes place in the Florida swamps. It's also historical, which isn't my favourite, but I'm feeling optimistic this time.

The Anti-Prom by Abby McDonald
I've been meaning to read a book by McDonald for awhile... ever since Ambur reviewed Boys, Bears and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots on the blog. So I decided to start with this one! It looks cute, funny, and moving. Hopefully it is.

Eve and Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate
I love science twists and this one sounds great– about a girl who gets to create a simulation of the perfect boy.

When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen
Another book I've been wanting to read for awhile, but this one had trouble in transit getting to me. Now that it has, it's at the very top of my 'to read' pile and I can't wait to dig in.

What are you reading this Monday?

Classics Club Master List

I've decided to join a long-term classics challenge. I love reading contemporary titles, but getting books for review means that I've tended to neglect older ones. Anyway, I've made a starter list. They are almost all titles I haven't read before, with the exception of Le Petit Prince and Dorian Gray, and I also included fifty different authors for my own personal take on the challenge. The list is allowed be modified throughout the challenge– the real goal is simply to read fifty classics or more.

Start Date: August 5th 2012
Finish Date: August 5th 2015

Books Read (1/50):
  1.  Aesop's Fables by Aesop
  2. --
  3. --
Original List:
  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  2. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  3. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
  4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  6. My Ántonia by Willa Cather 
  7. The Duel by Anton Chekov 
  8. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  9. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 
  10. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevesky
  11. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas 
  12. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier  
  13. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  14. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald  
  15. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
  16. Room With a View by E. M. Forster
  17. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  18. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  19. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy 
  20. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  21. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  22. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving 
  23. Daisy Miller by Henry James
  24. The Dubliners by James Joyce
  25. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  26. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  27. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  28. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
  29. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  30. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  31. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
  32. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  33. The Wine of Solitude by Irène Némirovsky
  34. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  35. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  36. Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
  37. As You Like It by William Shakespeare
  38. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 
  39. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  40. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson 
  41. Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
  42. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 
  43. Candide by Voltaire 
  44. The House of Mirth by Edith Warton 
  45. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells  
  46. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  47. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  48. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
  49. The Waves by Virgina Woolf
  50. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Three years may seem like a lot, and I'll be happy if I can finish earlier, but I still have plenty of other books I want to keep reading. I want to make a conscious effort to include more classics, but I'm not going to be suddenly only reading them; at least at this point.

If you're interested in joining this Classics Club, you can learn more about it here. In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy seeing a few more older titles on In The Next Room. Hopefully it'll expose both you, and me, to classic literature in a fun and interactive way.

Time for me to get reading!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Author Interview with Karen Thompson Walker

1. The science behind the slowing and the events that follow in The Age of Miracles was really interesting, how did you come up with it? Did you decide on the story or the series of natural disasters first?

I got the idea from something that really happened. In 2004, the earthquake that caused the tsunami in Indonesia also affected the rotation of the earth, shortening our 24-hour days by a few microseconds. I began to wonder right away what would happen if a much larger change ever took place. From the beginning of the process, though, I also knew that I wanted to tell this story through the perspective of a woman looking back on her childhood and that the events in her life would be central to the novel. I wrote the book in chronological order, gradually and simultaneously charting the small-scale events in Julia’s life as well as the large-scale consequences of the global disaster.

2. As an editor as well as a writer, do you have to take yourself out of one mindset in order to do the other task? If so, how do you manage and what's the difference? Does being an editor give you any advantage as a writer, and vice versa? 

For me, the two things are intimately connected, and I do both at the same time. I like to edit as I write, sentence by sentence, rearranging the words again and again as I go.

3. What five books are you most excited about at the moment? They can be ones you've read recently, are reading, or are just really looking forward to.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julia Otsuka
The Girl Giant by Kristen den Hartog
The Life Boat by Charlotte Rogan
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

4. Where do you do your reading and writing?

I wrote almost all of The Age of Miracles at one desk in a little studio apartment in Brooklyn, in the mornings before work. I still do most of my writing at home, but now that I’ve left my full time job, I sometimes also write at nearby coffee shops, especially in the afternoons. As for reading, I read in all kinds of places, wherever I happen to be.

5. How did you feel when you found out about the bidding war and incredible support behind The Age of Miracles? Did you do anything to celebrate selling your first novel (and with such fanfare!)?

Shocked. (And elated, obviously.) I’m still a bit shocked, actually. I knew from working in book publishing how hard it is to sell a novel, so I was really bracing for disappointment. My husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate that first night, but we both had a hard time believing that it was real.

6.  Now that you've published your awesome debut novel, what's next?

I’m working on a new novel, but I feel too superstitious to say much about it. It’s about another extreme situation, though, and I’m exciting to settle into it.

Karen Thompson Walker is a graduate of UCLA and the Columbia MFA program. A former book editor, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work. Born and raised in San Diego, California, she now lives in Brooklyn with her husband. 

Thanks so much to Karen for stopping by In The Next Room! To learn more about her incredible debut novel, The Age of Miracles, stop by the book's website, and Facebook pageClick here to read my review of The Age of Miracles at In The Next Room.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Mini Reviews: Seraphina and Struck Tie-in Short Stories

Lately, so many awesome young adult novels have equally impressive free short stories to accompany them, and the two I read most recently tie into Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (review here) and Struck by Jennifer Bosworth (review here). In both cases, the stories take place before the events of the novels, but in the first case it is immediately before, while in the latter it is many years earlier. However, neither story has any spoilers to the novel it accompanies and both can definitely be read before, or after, those books.

"The Audition" takes place right before Seraphina when the title character has gone to audition for the role of royal assistant music composer as well as the Princess' music tutor. It's a cute little story that corresponds well with what the reader later learns about the characters. I thought it especially was a good introduction to the Princess, showing her sense of humour. Seraphina came across as honest and nervous, and the way that she invited Orma, her music tutor, to come with her but not her father was really telling.

Even though it ties into a high fantasy novel "The Audition" honestly isn't. It's not about dragons or magic or anything like that. It's really just about one girl and her feelings. And despite that, Hartman captures the struggle in a pure and well-written way. After reading Seraphina I didn't feel like I was missing any of the story, but it was still great to have this added little insight into the character's experiences and what brought her to the royal palace in the first place. For that reason, I think "The Audition" would be great to read before Seraphina.

"Prophet" gives further background to the villain of Bosworth's Struck in a way the novel attempts, but doesn't fully reveal because it is told from the perspective of a different character. Instead of Mia, this is Prophet's story, only told back when he was simply Rance Ridley, the son of a cult leader. Before everything changed, and he became the person Mia meets. It's a soft introduction to him, and gives him a more human side that isn't really portrayed in Struck and for that reason I thought it was a nice little addition to the series.

Unlike "The Audition", I feel like "Prophet" is more interesting after having read the novel it accompanies. That's because reading Struck, I loved to hate Prophet, and I thought there was enough background for him as a character. Sure, it was a bit mysterious, but most bad guys are. Still, picking up this short story afterwards I definitely enjoyed being let into the character's mind and finding out the truth about the events that made him who he is. The story itself is strongly written and dramatic, and even though I knew how things were going to turn out in the end, I still really enjoyed reading it.

Great, basically spoiler-free little short stories that can be picked up for free– The Audition here, and Prophet here– these are definitely worthwhile reads if you're interested in the novels they accompany. Thought I found both to be quite a bit different than the books themselves, Hartman's story lacks the real fantasy element and Bosworth's is told from a completely different character's perspective, they fill in some of the gaps in the stories in a way fans of the novels, including me, can definitely appreciate.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

Even though I love the enriching aspect of non-fiction, I don't read a lot of it. My excuse for that is the amount of non-fiction reading I have to do in my "real" life as a science grad student. But when a particularly interesting-sounding title catches my eye, like The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall did, I have to pick it up. And in the end, especially as a reader and lover of stories, I found it incredibly interesting.

The Storytelling Animal is a multidimensional account of the many ways that we use stories, the many reasons why we may have them, the history and development of storytelling, and even some of the science and neurobiology between what stories do to our brains. It's a huge mix of things, and though I did find Gottschall's writing a little scattered at times, overall he did a pretty good job of following a logical sequence. In a way, he told his own story. Gottschall points out that the non-fiction we most love tends to borrow from storytelling, things like memoirs or the way that when watching sports there is always a backstory or rivalry. It's never just about the facts or the game. 

Complimenting The Storytelling Animal are a bunch of black and white photos, that were sometimes interesting but often felt unnecessary. It does help to break up the text, but I wasn't reading the book for the pictures and having a photo of Gottschall's daughters playing dress-up in order to demonstrate the creativity of children just felt pointless. In fact, there were a lot of references to his children throughout the book, and I assume that is the author's way of making the story more personal– of making it more of a story, since his book clearly explains that is what people would rather read. The personal anecdotes were cute, but as a reader I tend to prefer more real-world type examples from history and less from the author's own life.

As a whole, however, The Storytelling Animal is incredibly fascinating. It begins to answer so many questions that I'd never even thought about, and showed how important a role story plays in our everyday lives. How each of us, when we talk about ourselves, is also telling our own story, creating it in our brains as we live– emphasizing certain details, forgetting others. It's really interesting to think about, and Gottschall does a great job of triggering those thoughts.

Something I really found interesting, as somebody who loves writing, was the dissection of what makes a good story really interesting. Really, my major problem with the book is that it sometimes went off on tangents, before coming back to what had been in the middle of being discussed, in a way that was difficult to follow. Even if I wished for a slightly clearer narrative, I really appreciated The Storytelling Animal as what Gottschall has written is both unique and incredibly interesting. This is a perfect book for readers, those ultimate story lovers, but at the same time as Gottschall so aptly points out– each of us is a story lover in our own way.

Release Date: April 10th 2012  Pages: 272  Format: Hardcover 
Source: Thomas Allen & Son Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Buy It: Book Depository