Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Finds (January 30)

What great books have you added to your wish list this week? Share your Friday Finds at Should Be Reading.

Polygamy has been in the news recently, but it’s also the subject of several recent novels: first The 19th Wife (read my review), then Sister Wife (read my review) and now Effigy by Alissa York. I don’t remember where I first heard of this book, but Gwen’s excellent review at Literary License has made me want to pick it up for sure.

Katherine’s Wish by Linda Lappin is in keeping with two of the books I featured in my Friday Finds post last week: it’s a novel about the writer Katherine Mansfield. I came across this book on Bookopolis. Head over to Sheri’s blog to read a guest post by the author.

I first came across Waiting for the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Faith and Family by Veronica Chater in a Shelf Awareness newsletter (read the review). According to the reviewer, this book is “An evocative and deeply moving memoir of growing up in the grip of religious fanaticism and its effect on faith, identity and one family.”

While looking for an online version of the above review, I came across Herstory: What I Learned in My Bathtub... and More True Stories on Life, Love and Other Inconveniences (edited by Indi Zeleny), a collection to which Chater has contributed as has Diana Spechler, who has been doing the rounds on book blogs recently. With a title like that, I can’t help but be intrigued!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Best of 2008

My father likes to claim that in France it’s perfectly acceptable to send holiday greeting cards until the end of January. I don’t know if this is true, but I like the idea and I’ve certainly used it to justify sending cards after the holidays. In the spirit of this idea, I’ve decided that I can still post my “Best of 2008” list of books, since we haven’t reached the end of January 2009 yet. I was hoping I would have finished reviewing all the books I read in late 2008 by the time I posted this list, but some of them are still to come, unfortunately. The lists are in alphabetical order by title, not in order of preference.

Best New Fiction (published in 2008):

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (read review)
Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott (read review)
The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent (read review)
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos (read review)
No One You Know by Michelle Richmond (read review)

Best Backlist Fiction:

Artificial Things by Karen Joy Fowler (no review)
Farthing by Jo Walton (read review)
Someone Not Really Her Mother by Harriet Scott Chessman (read review)
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (no review)
Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (no review)

Best Non-Fiction:

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman (no review)
The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy (read review)
Storming Heaven’s Gate: An Anthology of Spiritual Writings by Women edited by Patricia Vecchione and Amber Coverdale Sumrall (read review)
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale (review to come)

Best Book Covers:

Aberrations by Penelope Przekop (read review)
The Late Bloomer’s Revolution by Amy Cohen (read review)

With thanks to Rebecca at The Book Lady’s Blog for inspiring the layout of this post!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Bookshelf Meme

Jo-Jo at Jo-Jo Loves to Read! tagged me for this meme. Visit Jo-Jo’s blog to read her answers to the Bookshelf Meme.

The rules are:

  • Tag 3-5 people, so the fun keeps going!
  • Leave a comment at the original post at A Striped Armchair, so that Eva can collect everyone’s answers.
  • If you leave a comment and link back to Eva as the meme’s creator, she will enter you in a book giveaway contest! She has a whole shelf devoted to giveaway books that you’ll be able to choose from, or a bookmooch point if you prefer.
  • Remember that this is all about enjoying books as physical objects, so feel free to describe the exact book you’re talking about, down to that warping from being dropped in the bath water…
And now tell me about...

The book that’s been on your shelves the longest:

I’m not sure that A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban is really the book that’s been on my shelves the longest, as I still own a few books that I’ve had since childhood, but it’s definitely my favourite of the bunch. So much so that I named my first cat after Frances’s sneaky friend Thelma! (Not that my Thelma is sneaky, just that she looked more like a Thelma than a Frances to me). Here’s a picture of my Thelma:

A book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time, etc.):

My friend suncloud9 (who guest posted a review on my blog) lent me her dog-chewed copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, a book I absolutely loved. (If you haven’t read it yet, get yourself a copy now!) For some reason, her dog occasionally chews on her books (just the corner in this case, so the book was still very readable.) I later came across a nearly brand-new copy at Value Village for only $3.99, which made me very happy. (I’d be very upset if either of my cats took to chewing my books!)

A book you acquired in some interesting way (gift, serendipity in a used bookstore, prize, etc.):

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but when I was in grade 8 I walked out of my high school library with a book I hadn’t checked out (in my defence it wasn’t premeditated—I did it without thinking) and I never returned it. This was obviously in the days before unchecked books would set off alarm bells if you tried to walk away with them! The book in question was The Journals of Sylvia Plath, which I actually couldn’t get through at the time (I got stuck about halfway through). When I did finally read the book in its entirety several years later, it sparked a bit of an obsession with Sylvia Plath. For a while, I collected nearly all the books I could find that were written about her (as well as those she’d written, obviously). I bought The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath when the book was first published, but still haven’t gotten around to reading it!

A book that’s been with you to the most places:

In 1993, I travelled around Europe for nearly two months with a friend after we’d graduated from university and for some reason I only brought one book with me, Changing Heaven by Jane Urqhart. We were on a fairly tight budget (OK, a really tight budget), plus we didn’t want to carry too much, so I read this book extra slowly to make it last the entire trip. (I did eventually pick up another book in a second-hand bookshop in Dublin, but it wasn’t very good and I don’t even remember what it was called.) (Note that the book pictured here has a different cover than the one I own, which I unfortunately couldn’t find on the Internet.)

The most recent addition to your shelves:

The latest addition to my bookshelves is Safe Haven: The Possibility of Sanctuary in an Unsafe World by Larry Gaudet, which was given to me by my friend Helen. Helen read a bit from this book at our last writer’s meeting and it sounds quite interesting.

A bonus book that you want to talk about but doesn’t fit into the other questions:

A few times now I’ve come across a book that I was really drawn to, even though I knew nothing about the author and had never heard of the book before—something about the book seemed to be calling me and I was sure I was going to love it. One such book was Ancestors by Robyn Davidson. I remember spotting it in a second-hand bookstore and knowing I had to take it home with me. I was right—I loved it. The shame of it now is that I can barely remember it, although I suppose the advantage is that it means I can enjoy it all over again!

Now it’s my turn to tag some folks (apologies if you’ve already been tagged):

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What’s on Your Nightstand (January edition)

What’s on Your Nightstand is a monthly blog post hosted by 5 Minutes for Books.

This is the first time I participate in this meme, but I hope to make it a monthly occurrence. In any case, I knew my teetering pile of books needed to be immortalized somewhere! Here’s what’s on my nightstand at the moment:

There are more on my desk (which may say more about my messiness than anything else)... What’s on your nightstand at the moment? Have you read any of the books on mine? Next time I’ll try to take a picture!

Teaser Tuesdays (January 27)

Should Be Reading hosts the Teaser Tuesdays weekly event.

My modified rules are as follows:

Grab your current read. Pick two or three “teaser” sentences more or less at random from the book, anywhere on the page. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your teaser from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! (Please avoid spoilers!) (Read the official Teaser Tuesday rules.)

My teaser:

“I watched a man throw a blue Frisbee into the air like a boomerang; it came straight back to the exact place where he stood. Sometimes things worked exactly the way you wanted—kites flew, Frisbees came back—but often, they didn’t” (p. 128).*

This is from The Only True Genius in the Family by Jennie Nash.

*Note that this quote comes from an ARC and therefore may have been changed for final printing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Beautiful Lies and A Likeness in Stone: Thoughts on two books outside my comfort zone

I recently read two books that fall outside my usual comfort zone: Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger and A Likeness in Stone by Julia Wallis Martin. For different reasons, both books unfortunately didn’t work for me.

Beautiful Lies by Lisa UngerBeautiful Lies by Lisa Unger is the story of Ridley Jones, who, after appearing on television for an act of heroism, receives a mysterious package that indicates she may not be who she thinks she is. I don’t usually read thrillers and unfortunately reading this one hasn’t changed my opinion that this genre isn’t for me. While the novel was fast-paced and intriguing enough to keep me reading until the end, there were a few plot points that really bugged me:

How is it possible that a relatively well-adjusted and seemingly normal person like Ridley doesn’t have a single friend in the world except her creepy ex-boyfriend and his strange mother?

Why would her parents, no matter what their issues, not tell her what they knew when it became obvious that by keeping her in the dark they were endangering her life?

I guess the bottom line for me was that I was unable to suspend my disbelief enough to really enjoy this novel. There were too many coincidences, too many things that didn’t make sense and I also found the main character whiny.

To read other reviews of this book, visit these blogs:
Book ChaseConfessions of a BibliophileReading without RestraintTicket to Anywhere

Thank you to Donna at BookBound for giving me this book to read.

A Likeness in Stone by Julia Wallis MartinA Likeness in Stone by Julia Wallis Martin is a mystery, a genre I do read and love; however, as I’ve mentioned before, my taste in mysteries is fairly limited. I picked up this book because the author was recommended by Elizabeth George, one of my favourite mystery writers. (I found her recommendations on the Fantastic Fiction site.*) I completely ignored the fact that this novel was compared to those of Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters, two authors I carefully avoid as they don’t fit my rule of “no psychopaths or serial killers, no terror and no blow-by-blow descriptions of murder or its results.”

In the first chapter, divers find a corpse in a wardrobe in a submerged house—the dead woman turns out to be Helena Warner, an Oxford student who disappeared some 20 years before. This reopens a case that had remained unsolved despite the fact that the homicide detective in charge at the time was sure he knew who did it. There is no question that Martin writes well and if you enjoy Rendell’s or Walters’ mysteries, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this atmospheric (and creepy) novel as well. Despite the small cast of characters, the story kept me guessing until the very end and completely sucked me in—I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. However, it was too creepy for me (it definitely broke the above-mentioned rule), so unfortunately I’ll be staying away from this author in the future too.

A Likeness in Stone was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1999.

*George actually recommends The Long Close Call, Wallis Martin’s third book, but I wanted to start with her first, which may have been my mistake.

Mailbox Monday (January 26)

I got a box in the mail this week (very exciting!), which contained the following three books courtesy of Harper Collins Canada:

The Sister by Poppy Adams
Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey

I also got together with three local bloggers on the weekend (Cindy of Cindy’s Love of Books, Donna of BookBound and Tina of Bookshipper) to chat and exchange books. I scored four more books:

The Future Homemakers of America by Laurie Graham
Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby
A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff

Both Sister Wife and Getting the Girl are YA books, which I don’t read very often, but hey they both sound good. More on my attempts to move outside my comfort zone in my next post!

What did you find in your mailbox this past week? For other Mailbox Monday posts, head over to Marcia’s blog, The Printed Page.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Finds (January 23)

What great books have you come across this week? Share your Friday Finds at Should Be Reading.

I’ve been doing slightly funny things in my Friday Finds posts in the last couple of weeks: last week I confused two of Stephanie Kallos’s books (I mentioned that her first book, Broken for You, had been on my radar before I spotted it on Carrie’s best of 2008 list, but actually it was her second book, Sing Them Home, that I was thinking of) and two weeks ago, coincidentally, my FF post was almost identical to Dawn’s over at She Is Too Fond of Books (except we posted different covers for both the books we mentioned!). This week, I feel like I’m cheating a bit since all my finds came from a summer preview post on Sarah’s blog, Reading the Past (which I found via DeAnna Cameron’s blog, Writerly So)...

According to the author’s website, A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell “follows a crime reporter through 1931 Berlin as she searches for her brother’s killer, a trail that leads from the city’s dark underbelly to the top ranks of the rising Nazi party.” I’m not 100% sure this book would be up my alley (it might be too dark), but it does sound interesting!

According to the publisher’s site, Emily’s Ghost by Denise Giardina is “a lustrous, beautifully written reimagining of the Brontë family—and of Emily Brontë’s passionate engagement with life.” Now that definitely sounds up my alley!

And finally, another novel that focuses on the life of an author: Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers, which is about Virginia Woolf and her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell. I also found a review of this book on the Vulpes Libris blog. I definitely must get my hands on a copy of this one!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays (January 20)

Should Be Reading hosts the Teaser Tuesdays weekly event.

My modified rules are as follows:

Grab your current read. Pick two or three “teaser” sentences more or less at random from the book, anywhere on the page. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your teaser from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! (Please avoid spoilers!) (Read the official Teaser Tuesday rules.)

I’m between books right now (still reading The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch, but I like spacing these essays out with something else), so I thought I’d provide teasers from the two books I’m considering reading next. These are the opening lines from each of these books.

My first teaser:

“My dad died at an incredibly inconvenient time, and I have no doubt that he planned it that way on purpose. It was February 2006. His home on the Idaho side of the Tetons was buried under six feet of snow from a blizzard that had roared down from Canada and locked the whole region in its icy grip. There were no flights in or out of Driggs for a week, and once I finally arrived, I was prevented from carrying out his final wishes because the particular bend in the Teton River where I was to stand and scatter his ashes in reverence and mourning was frozen so solid that the idea of a trout jumping in spring seemed to be the stuff of myth” (pp. 1-2).*

This is from The Only True Genius in the Family by Jennie Nash.

My second teaser:

“Months later, wrestling the personal and historical demons my search had set free, I would look back on the first six weeks I lived in Krakow—lovely weeks spent strolling the square—and wonder if I had known something then, if a part of me had seen the future and divined the grief about to visit my family. I would look back on entire days devoted to ‘cultural reconnaissance’ and wonder if I wasn’t just savoring the last dance before an end to the party. It seemed easier at the time to attribute the delay in my search to something cosmic, to believe it served some purpose beyond the drag of my own fear” (p. 1).

This is from The Pages in Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home by Erin Einhorn.

Both sound very promising to me (and I will probably wind up reading them back to back).

*Note that this quote comes from an ARC and therefore may have been changed for final printing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Love and Other Natural Disasters by Holly Shumas

Love and Other Natural Disasters by Holly ShumasOne night, after tossing and turning for about an hour, I picked up Love and Other Natural Disasters by Holly Shumas, thinking I’d read a few pages and then go back to sleep. In fact, once I’d started reading this novel I couldn’t put it down—I read for about five hours straight and finished it in one sitting!

Love and Other Natural Disasters is the story of Eve, who discovers in the middle of a family Thanksgiving dinner that her husband Jon is having an emotional affair. From the first chapter on, Shumas plunges the reader into the thick of this marital crisis alongside Eve. I loved the fact that Eve doesn’t second guess her gut feeling that something is off when she overhears her husband’s conversation, nor does she let it go when he denies the affair. But what I enjoyed most about this novel is that Shumas provides a context for this story—she explores the ripple effect the affair has, not only on Eve’s nuclear family, but also on her relationships with members of her family of origin, her friends and her coworkers. Given the seriousness of the issue, this is a fairly light read (you know things are going to turn out OK in the end, regardless of whether Eve and her husband stay together), but Shumas accomplishes this without glossing over the pain this situation causes. Despite the fact that Jon’s affair wasn’t sexual, I never questioned its seriousness or the validity of Eve’s reaction to it (although I don’t think I would have reacted the same way had I been in her shoes), so I may not have found that aspect of the book as thought-provoking as other readers will. I did wish that Eve’s journey of self-discovery had been further explored, but maybe that’s material for another book.

This book provoked a wide range of reactions. To read other reviews, visit these blogs:
A Bookworm’s World (with author interview) • A Circle of BooksAt Home with BooksB&b ex librisBooking MamaBookopolisBooks AhoyBreeni Books (guest reviewer) • My Friend AmyS. Krishna’s BooksThe Read Feed

Thank you to Hachette for sending me this book to review.

This is the first book I review for the New Authors Challenge.

This is also the first book I review for the LibraryThing Author Challenge.