Archive for June, 2011

30th June
2011
written by Steph

By this point everyone on the planet has read One Day, so once again, I am late to the party. But hopefully that means I don’t have to bring the gift of exposition! Well, ok, for those of you who have been living in the land of Classics or non-fiction or whatever, here is a brief idea of what the book is about: On the eve of graduating from university, Dexter & Emma spend one night together and kick off a friendship that, through ups and downs, will last them a lifetime. One Day follows Dex & Em on the anniversary of their meeting each and every year, and in so doing, readers spend both something close to 20 years and just 20 days with the duo. In many ways, One Day appears to be your conventional chick lit novel, the unique premise not withstanding. I’m not sure I would have been drawn to it when I first saw it over in the ARC shelves at BookPage if not for the premise, so while it may seem gimmicky, you’ve got to admire Nicholls for doing something different to set his book apart. I don’t read tons of chick lit anymore, but so much of it is formulaic, that in many ways I feel like the overwhelming popularity of One Day can be attributed to it being a breath of fresh air. That said, it took a trip to Naples, Florida where I knew I’d be lazing by the pool and on the beach for many hours to finally decide that I should see what this sensation was all about. (more…)
28th June
2011
written by Steph

Faithful (and perhaps even casual) readers of this blogs know that I have certain fondness for books that revolve around the scholastic world. Half the charm for me in reading the Harry Potter books wasn’t just in entering a magical world, but in getting to go to school with Harry and the gang. The moment when the first book really spoke to me was Harry’s first trip to Diagon Alley and Hagrid takes him through buying school supplies. Heaven! Probably the only place more dangerous to let me loose unsupervised other than a bookstore would be a stationary/office supplies stores. I can’t say I personally miss all that much about my own highschool experience, but when Fall comes round and I have no reason to buy new pens and binders, well, I may just die a bit inside. One of my goals has also been to try to read more international fiction, so when I saw Miss Timmins’ School for Girls on the TLC Tours roster which boasted a murder mystery taking place in an Indian boarding school, you can imagine how excited I was. As it was pitched, Miss Timmins’ revolves around a young Indian woman named Charu, who takes a position at the British-nun-run Miss Timmins’ boarding school teaching English as a means of stretching her wings and gaining some independence from her family. Although Charu is slow to make friends, she eventually forms a magnetic bond with a fellow teacher, Moira Prince, and the two become thick as thieves. Unfortunately, one dark and stormy evening (the very best kind of nights for murder most foul!), Moira’s body is found broken at the base of a cliff and signs suggest her fall was no accident. As suspicion flits around the community, Charu is determined to discover who killed her friend and why, even if it means bringing unwanted attention and questions upon herself. (more…)
20th June
2011
written by Steph

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a break from “serious” fiction. Literary, prize-winning fiction (or at least books that aspire to that level) tends to make up the bulk of my reading diet, and while I wouldn’t have it any other way, there are times when I really just need to read something fun and frivolous and give my brain a break. Normally in such times, I turn to mysteries or something funny, so what could be better than a funny mystery? Would the melding of the two make for something larger than life (and supremely awesome) or would the two beloved factors wind up at war with one another and produce something lesser than the some of its individual parts? (more…)
16th June
2011
written by Steph

If I told you that while reading The Brief History of the Dead I had flashbacks to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road AND Jose Saramago’s Blindness, would that intrigue you or make you go running for the hills? I think my instinct would be to flee, since both of those books are so harrowing, thus those two allusions might not be the best, and yet there is no denying that I kept thinking of them as I read. I suppose that on the surface there are some similarities between the two and so the vague sense of déja vu that I experienced is not so ridiculous, but I will say that to those of you who are thinking of hightailing it out of here and reading about some fluffy beach reads instead, despite the company The Brief History of the Dead might keep, it’s really not a scary/super sad/depressing/horrifying read at all. Promise! In this book, Kevin Brockmeier takes the oft-proclaimed platitude that those who die are not truly dead so long as they can live on in the memories of others and makes it real. The world that he envisions is actually split into two: there is the plain of existence that we all know, populated with those who live and breathe; and then there is another place, the City, that is filled with all the people who once walked among us but have since departed. So long as there is at least one person on Earth who harbors a memory of them, even if it is lodged in the darkest recess of the mind, these “souls” will live on in the City. Rumor has it that a place exists beyond the City, but one only transitions to that place after all who knew them has died, and no one has ever returned to report back, and besides, the City churns with new arrivals each and every day so it is hard to keep track of where everyone winds up. Suddenly, however, the City begins to shrink, its population vanishing, people disappearing never to be seen again. As the City begins to tighten its perimeters and the populace dwindles, rumors begin to emerge of a worldwide plague back on Earth… (more…)
13th June
2011
written by Steph

Maggie O’Farrell is one of those authors who I feel is sadly overlooked by readers and bloggers alike. I guess I can’t fully fault those of you who have yet to discover her since I myself am rather late to the party, only having discovered O’Farrell last year when I had the great fortune to review The Hand That First Held Mine for BookPage. I completely admit that I picked the ARC in part because the cover was SO pretty, and when I started to read it, well, it turned out the writing was ALSO pretty. Win, win, win! One thing I feel like a lot of authors seem to do nowadays is play with interleaved narratives and storylines, taking seemingly disparate characters only to ultimately have their stories/lives intersect in some way. Another popular device of late has been the nonlinear storyline, in which readers are thrust back and forth in time, which has the great risk of being befuddling and confusing if not well done. I enjoy both of these devices, but I’ve seen enough of each to know that neither is a guarantee for a novel’s success as both can be employed rather shabbily. Of course, a novel that manages to incorporate both devices effectively has the high probability of lying in my literary sweet spot and being something I will love vociferously. I like books that some might term “head-scratchers”, and so I tend to enjoy books that make the gears of my mind turn as I read and attempt to piece everything together. The Hand That First Held Mine was a great example of the non-linear and dual narrative joining to produce literary bliss, so I immediately flagged O’Farrell as an author whose back catalogue I should read in its entirety. (more…)
8th June
2011
written by Steph

Notice Emmy stage right thinking "One day I will be crushed to death by these papery things"...

So, Nashville is now a one Borders town. We used to have three, but two have now officially closed for good, which greatly saddens me since the closest non-used bookstore to me is now a BooksAMillion, which I hate because they have a religious bent that makes me uncomfortable, plus they're 5 miles away (and I used to be able to walk to one of the RIP Borders in just 10 minutes!). Other than that, you have to drive all the way out to West Nashville in order to go to a Barnes & Noble or out to Brentwood if you want to see the last remaining Borders. When I happened into Borders on the final day of their closing sale, a mother and her daughter wandered in and started asking where they could find a fully functional bookstore and it was so depressing because there no longer are any in the vicinity. Within the past year, Nashville has seen three bookstores close and that makes me REALLY sad.

Anyway, it was a total fluke that I happened to walk to Borders on what was their very last day in operation, meaning all of their merchandise was 80% off. Things were largely picked over, but I did manage to find several books to rescue from the pulp pile. Normally I find that my reading tastes don't match those of the most bookstore patrons, but this time I did enter into something of a competition with another shopper, as we kept reaching for the same books. I admit, I got rather cutthroat and managed to walk away with the following books: (more…)
6th June
2011
written by Steph
June is a pretty kickass month for new books, if I do say so myself. For this month's issue of BookPage, I got to read a fabulous debut novel AND a stunning sequel by an author who is much loved by book-bloggers, so to say that I was pretty spoiled with the books I got to review is an understatement.

Simply put, The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai is something that no book lover should miss. It may sound weird to say that a book that essentially revolves around an unintended kidnapping is both funny and sweet, but that's exactly what you get with this book. It features a children's librarian named Lucy who has the best of intentions, even if her life is kind of a huge mess. The icing on the cake occurs when she accidentally absconding with one of her favorite library patrons, Ian, who has an overbearing and extremely religious mother who would rather he spent his time playing sports instead of reading, especially when his book selections tend to veer towards those more appropriate for girls or devil worshippers. Together, Lucy and Ian embark on an unexpected adventure that will have you both smiling as well as reaching for your tissues. Especially delightful were all of the literary references that are scattered throughout The Borrower and I defy any book lover to read this book and not find yourself somewhere in these pages. If you've ever felt that books are so powerful that they can save lives, you must read this book! But for now, read my full review here!

Existing fans of Lisa See will probably not need to hear my thoughts on her latest novel, Dreams of Joy, before rushing out to buy the sequel to See's immensely popular novel, Shanghai Girls, but in case you're new to the See bandwagon (sit next to me! This was my first book by her!), or are just looking for a little taster to whet your appetite, you can read my review here. See does a great job of realizing the alien nature of China for her readers, but still manages to make the country and its people accessible to Western readers, which is no small feat. This is one of those pieces of fiction where you feel like you've learned more than any textbook or piece of non-fiction writing could impart, and is definitely a great way to armchair travel. As an added bonus, I also did a Q&A with Lisa See about her new book (amongst other things), so for those of you looking for some "behind the scenes" insights, look no further!