Monday, January 31, 2011

January Reading Wrap Up 2011

January was a fantastic month for me reading wise, and with the start of a new year I have decided to attempt monthly summary posts to share what I have been reading. This month I read 26 books:
  1. The Metropolis Case- Matthew Gallaway (January 4 2011) 
  2. The Memory Palace- Mira Bartok (January 6 2011)
  3. The Lotus Eaters- Tatjana Soli (January 8 2011)
  4. The Mother Who Stayed- Laura Furman (January 9 2011)
  5. XVI- Julia Karr (January 10 2011)
  6. Henry's Demons- Patrick Cockburn and Henry Cockburn (January 12 2011)
  7. The Girl in The Green Raincoat- Laura Lippman (January 12 2011)
  8. Crazy Beautiful- Lauren Bartaz-Logsted (January 13 2011)
  9. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand- Helen Simonson (January 13 2011)
  10. Twelve- Nick McDonell (January 14 2011)
  11. An Exclusive Love- Johanna Adorjan (January 15 2011)
  12. Angry Young Man- Chris Lynch (January 15 2011)
  13. Cryer's Cross- Lisa McMann (January 16 2011)
  14. The Woman in White- Wilkie Collins (January 17 2011)
  15. Once Dead, Twice Shy- Kim Harrison (January 18 2011) Audiobook
  16. Super Sad True Love Story- Gary Shteyngart (January 19 2011)
  17. Cloaked- Alex Flinn (January 19 2011)
  18. Under the Mercy Trees- Heather Newton (January 20 2011)
  19. Darkness Becomes Her- Kelly Keaton (January 21 2011)
  20. Small Wars- Sadie Jones (January 23 2011)
  21. Bride of New France- Suzanne Desrochers (January 24 2011) 
  22. Early to Death, Early to Rise- Kim Harrison (January 26 2011) Audiobook
  23. History of a Suicide- Jill Bialosky (January 26 2011)
  24. Wench- Dolen Perkins-Valdez (January 27 2011) 
  25. Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude- Emily White (January 29 2011)
  26. Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join The War- Deb Olin Unferth (January 30 2011) 
Most of these do not have reviews posted yet, but with the exception of the last 3, I have already pre-written and scheduled all the reviews to post. I also finished up all my 2010 reviews which was a good feeling to have, and they have all been posted except The Weird Sisters for which my tour date is in February. I also participated in my first readalong this month for The Woman in White, and loved it so much I've got another one lined up already- even though it happens to be Dickens.

Some January Stats:
  • Adult Fiction: 12/26
  • Memoirs: 6/26
  • Young Adult: 8/26
  • Audio Books: 2/26
  • Short Story Collections: 1/26
  • Favourite Book of the Month: The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
  • Nearly Favourite Books of the Month (Another Six I Really Loved): Revolution, History of a Suicide, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, The Metropolis Case, The Woman in White, Under the Mercy Trees
  • Books Purchased: Only ONE. I'm really proud of this. I bought The History of History which I am very excited for but which hasn't arrived yet. I spent $15.76.
I have a ton of great books lined up for February and I am excited to delve into them.

How did January treat you reading wise? What was your favourite book of the month? 

    The Mother Who Stayed: Stories by Laura Furman

    The Mother Who Stayed: Stories by Laura Furman is a collection of nine short stories, divided into three trios in which the stories are connected. When I first read about it, I was eagerly anticipating its release, but unfortunately the stories were dull and unemotional resulting in a disappointing experience for the book as a whole.

    The first story, "The Eye" definitely didn't suck me into the book. I felt like there were details that were unimportant, like what some girls grew up to become, that were never referenced again or actually related to the story. It felt like a wisp of something, and seemed more like an excerpt than something complete. By the second story "The Hospital" I had begun to fall in love with Furman's writing but craved more from the stories themselves, this one in particular provides a glance into a mother who is sick in the hospital and her daughter and friend both come to visit her. The basic premise has so much potential and yet Furman barely glazes the surface. What she does touch on is beautifully described, for example she writes:
    "Eva's lips parted and she touched them with her tongue. Love, she meant to say, love was always wonderful, no matter, no matter, no penalty for love. This wasn't true. She wanted to say something that was true."
    I wanted more than a few lovely sentences, I wanted the stories to fill me with passion and emotion and in that regard they failed. The final story in the third section centers is written in the third person, "The Thief" is the story of Rachel, taking place three years after her mother's death, as she spends occasional afternoons with her friend from camp Caitlin who has an abusive boyfriend. When Caitlin's mother's pearls go missing Rachel is the first suspect. The tension between Rachel and the man from the insurance agency was incredibly well done, and I loved how Furman wrote about Rachel wondering if she actually had taken them, and if so where they had gone. The reader got soaked into that slightly fantastical world of childhood friendships and how they are not always two-sided. But once again, the story was but a glimpse into a world.

    The second third of the book begins with "A Thousand Words" in which a widower deals with her husband's sudden death. Following his death, she begins to write of the beginning of her marriage, just as an old and flaky friend, Marian, from that portion of her life reconnects with her. I was mostly indifferent to it. "Here It Was, November" centers on a biographer writing on Marian's life after she has died, attempting to guarantee both of their places as writers.
    "Working in the service of the dead, biographers quit their labors only when the sole remaining task is the impossible- resurrection."
    In "The Blue Wall" Marian's daughter Dorothea who she gave up for adoption deals with the lost of her adopted parent and takes in Marian when she becomes ill.

    The third trio of the book includes "The Blue Birds Come Today" which contains more names and dates than a reader could reasonably be expected to keep straight, especially in a short story. Each character is so briefly and sparsely described that it is impossible to form a connection to any of them, or have any emotional reaction to the story of a family with many children, many of whom die of various illness at a young age, in the mid 1800s.  In the next story, "Plum Creek", Dinah and her father have been abandoned by her mother, but travel to attend the funeral anyway, ultimately returning to their home in Plum Creek. I wanted passionate emotion from Dinah, a young girl who has lost her mother twice, but instead Furman wrote with the same detached style which failed to capture my heart.

    The collection ends with the title story, "The Mother Who Stayed" which is by far the longest story in the book and after being let down by the stories so far I hoped this final one would redeem it. It picks up with Dinah again, several decades later after her husband has passed on. Childless, she instead takes an interest in a local girl, Amber, and pays her to transcribe dairies she's found in her house, which the woman from the 1800s had kept. As Dinah and Amber try to discover what happen to their owner, she hopes this is an opportunity for Amber to leave the abusive relationship she is in. "The Mother Who Stayed" is by far the best story in the collection, which proved what I feel about Furman's writing which is that she is at her best when she gives the story space to develop. Unfortunately, most of the stories in The Mother Who Stayed barely skim the surface of the deep issues they attempt to address, leaving the reader unconnected to the characters and uninterested in the outcome.

    Release Date: February 1, 2011
    Pages: 224
    Overall: 2/5
    Source: E-galley from Publisher 
    Buy the Book

    Sunday, January 30, 2011

    Twelve by Nick McDonell

    "You like the power you have from being sober all the time around people who are fucked up."
    Twelve by Nick McDonell was an unusual case for me, in that I picked up the novel after absolutely loving the film and wanting to read the source material. Twelve was McDonell's 2002 debut, written when he was only seventeen it tells the story of a fictional drug called Twelve and the impact it has on the lives of a group of New York City teens. The novel takes place over several days at the end of December, and the events center around a drug dealer called White Mike, who happens to have never tried drugs, and the people he interacts with, including Hunter who is falsely accused of murder while his parents are off in Europe, and Jessica who becomes completely addicted to Twelve.

    The chapters in Twelve are short and concise, as is the writing. McDonell gets right to the point and doesn't waste time with flowerly language preferring the gritty and edgy, his characters harsh yet vibrant. The entire sensation I had while reading the book was one which reminded me of Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. Bright Lights is a novel published in 1984 but which similarly follows an apathetic young man in New York City as he encounters drugs and deals with personal struggles. Twelve comes across as an updated version of this concept, and in a sense it comes across as a hardcore Gossip Girl,  a look "into the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite". Except that in this case, the lives these rich girls and boys have are not ones to be envied. They grew up with their parents absent and raised themselves on drama and drugs, cultivating cynical viewpoints like White Mike has when it comes to religion, saying:
    "Because really, when you get down on your knees on the pew; you’re just giving God a blow job."
    The story behind Twelve is actually quite simple, but it is written in a style which makes it memorable. The quick chapters work like tiny vignettes, leaving loose strings only to have them come together at the end. I did have a few problems with the plot however, as the murder seemed predictable and boring and involved two individuals who were dead before the reader has much of a chance to care about them, or even really know who they are. I also couldn't have cared less about the jock Andrew, who's storyline involves getting some weed from White Mike to impress a girl. There were also a few more characters like Claude and Tristan who felt very one dimensional, and with such a short book it was almost like McDonell was trying to tell too many stories when he could have done a better job just focusing on a few of the more interesting. I also honestly got annoyed by the repetitive use of "White Mike" to describe the main character, it was almost as if the author felt he came up with a cool name and then decided to use it again and again and again.

    Despite the flaws present in Twelve, it definitely presented some interesting ideas and an exciting look into the lives of some rich and beautiful people. I particularly enjoyed the scenes featuring Jessica, who at one point is high on Twelve and has a conversation with her collection of Teddy Bears. Although Twelve would have benefited from a few more edits, it is an enjoyable gritty read as well as providing some interesting observations about the relationship between drugs and teenagers.

    Release Date: July 4th, 2002
    Pages: 256
    : 3/5

    Source: Publisher
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    Saturday, January 29, 2011

    In My Mailbox (January 23rd-29th 2011)

    {For Review}
    Revolution by Deb Olin Unferth (Publicist)
    The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow (Thomas Allen Publishers)
    The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia (TLC Tours)
    A Blessing on the Moon by Joseph Skibell (Thomas Allen Publishers)
    Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn (Random House Canada)
    The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer (ARC) (TLC Tours)
    The Science of Kissing by Sheril Kirshenbaum (Hachette Book Group, I am pretty sure this is for review, although I may also have won it...)

    Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
    The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
    Just Kids by Patti Smith
    (I got to pick $20 worth of books from the Book Depo thanks to Martha's Bookshelf!)

    Very excited about the books I got this week, everything looks fantastic. How was your mailbox?

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins (Post #2)

    This is the second of two posts on The Woman in White. To read the first post written halfway through the novel click here. Also, this post is more of a discussion of the book than a strict review and therefore contains SPOILERS. I have included a final paragraph which summarizes without any spoilers, the start of which is indicated. 
    Although I had enjoyed the first half of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, I was particularly excited going into the second half as that is where the action appears to pick up and I was definitely right. Even though the second half of the novel contains more action than the first, it is still told carefully and not at all rushed. However the reader is so drawn into the novel that even though there may be three hundred pages left, it becomes near-impossible to put down.

    One aspect I particularly appreciated about the second half of The Woman in White was the fact that Collins made mention of the characters who had seemingly disappeared from the narrative, in particular Walter's sister, mother and friend. Walter explains that he has only included individuals when they are directly relevant to the story at hand, much like in a courtroom where only the necessary facts are presented. This both explained their absence, which had been bothering me, and emphasized the unique manner in which Collins tells the story of The Woman in White.

    My initial impressions of most of the characters in the novel were not altered by the end of it. Overall I found Walter particularly bland, and lacked sympathy for Laura. I was disappointed that there were no more sections told from the perspective of Marian, given how much I enjoyed her narration style, but that was compensated for by one of my favourite portions of the novel- that written in the voice of Frederick Fairlie, Laura's anxious uncle. After previously introducing the reader to Frederick, it was both entertaining and enjoyable to hear the story told from his perspective. Frederick's section re-enforces whiny nature and includes such gems as:  
    "Except when the refining process of Art judiciously removes from them all resemblance to Nature, I distinctly object to tears. Tears are scientifically described as a Secretion. I can understand that a secretion may be healthy or unhealthy, but I cannot see the interest of a secretion from a sentimental point of view."
    At first I had been conflicted over Count Fosco, although he was clearly quite creepy I wasn't sure if he was going to be the villain in the story. However he most definitely is, and his under your skin type of evil is expertly captured by Collins. A memorable moment for me was when explaining his role in the hoax, he repeatedly says that he only used chemicals twice despite the fact that he could have easily murdered Laura based on his knowledge. The straightforward way he goes about stating this makes it seem as if he believes he should be commended for his kindhearted gesture in not murdering the girl. I absolutely adored his arrogance.

    One of the most impressive aspects of The Woman in White is the fact that despite so many first person narrations being used Collins gives each character its own unique and distinct voice. The writing style alone makes it evident which person is speaking. When it comes to the story itself,  all the elements of the mystery all fell perfectly into place towards the ending of the novel, and although they may have fit slightly too perfectly, it only seemed fitting giving the amount of time Collins spent developing them. Also, even though the fate of the Count is probably the most convenient of these, I didn't find it bothered me because it was just so perfect for things to turn out that way for him.


    Ultimately, I found The Woman in White to be a remarkably easy to read classic despite its length. The language flows easily, and while Collins is often wordy it allows for his biting sense of humour to come through. The novel certainly takes awhile to get started, but the result is that the reader really gets to know the characters involved. The characters themselves are well developed and believable, even if there two of the major ones, specifically Walter and Laura, got on my nerves at times. Overall, The Woman in White is an intricate and engaging novel and I certainly have plans to read more by Collins in the future.

    Release Date: 1860
    Pages: 672
    Overall: 4/5
    Source: Ebook (
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    Henry's Demons by Patrick Cockburn and Henry Cockburn

    "At first I looked at Henry's schizophrenia as a disease which either would or would not to be cured. But everything to do with Henry's illness appears to be more fluid and less predictable to me now than it once did. Today I see it more as a disorder of the mind, which is very difficult to eliminate but can perhaps be confined to a corner of Henry's mind and will no longer be the driving force in his personality and his actions that it once was."
    Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Son's Story by Patrick Cockburn and Henry Cockburn is exactly what the byline says, a shared memoir taking place over the last decade as one young man struggled with an incredibly powerful mental illness. Henry's Demons is told in chapters of alternating perspectives, including one shared chapter and one chapter which contains a significant excerpt from the journal of Henry's mother Jan.

    It is significant that Patrick's name comes first on the cover, as this is firstly a story told from a father's perspective. Far more of the book is told from Patrick's viewpoint.He is a journalist and the writing is often concise but unemotional. Henry's Demons becomes full of both anecdotes- which are kinda interesting though not directly related to the story- and scientific statistics and quotes, despite the fact that Patrick himself writes that many apparently hard facts about schizophrenia are dubious. As somebody in the scientific field myself I can appreciate the value of "hard" evidence, but when reading a memoir what I am looking for is the emotional and personal experience, not a lot of lists about how many people suffer from schizophrenia and how underfunded and misunderstood the disease is compared to physical ailments.

    I appreciated the value of Patrick's chapters mainly because they gave context to what Henry has written. As somebody who is still gravely impacted by his mental illness, Henry is able to give incredible insight into the condition and how the world seems to him- not looking back on and reflecting on its absurdity but often still being unaware of where the real world ends and his schizophrenia begins. Henry's chapters are vivid and slightly painful to read, and throughout the memoir the reader cannot help but wish there was something to do to help him, some easy way to save him. But of course there is not. Ultimately, Henry's Demons, provides a scary and real reminder of the fact that despite how far humans have come, despite how many physical ailments are now preventable and curable, there still remains the genuine mystery of the human mind.

    Release Date: February 1, 2011
    Pages: 256
    Overall: 3/5
    Source: E-galley from publisher
    Buy the Book

    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    Small Wars by Sadie Jones

    "He wanted not to have to get to know her- which seemed a frightening process- but to know her already."
    Small Wars by Sadie Jones tells the story of Hal Treherne, a Major in the British Army who is transferred to Cyprus to defend the colony in 1956 and takes along his wife Clara as well as their twin young daughters. However despite spending their nights in the same bed, Clara and Hal begin to inhabit two different worlds. As Hal experiences the battlefield after years of peaceful work, he finds himself struggling as he attempts to do the right thing. Meanwhile, Clara is not used to the anxiety that comes with Hal risking his life but finds herself even less prepared for the changes present when her husband does return home. Small Wars is a story which is both political and personal, culminating in a betrayal that Hal and Clara could never have imagined. 

    My initial interest in Small Wars was definitely due to the unusual setting. After falling absolutely in love with The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, which also involves a love story of foreigners in a new country during a morally messy time, I could only hope that Small Wars would offer the same passionate images. However, the power of Small Wars is not obvious from the first page, it builds slowly throughout the novel, rising subtly until the characters have formed a place in the reader's heart almost without you realizing it. 

    The novel offers a quiet strength, and particularly at first I did not find myself attached to either Hal or Clara, and although by the end I was definitely invested in their fates I never felt like they really broach the distance between reader and character. I often craved an emotional connection with the characters that seemed to be missing. Perhaps this is due to the distance between the characters themselves, as for Hal and Clara most of their journey happens internally and I often couldn't help wishing they would just speak to each other. At times I found the fact that they continued to sweep all issues under the rug and let the distance grow incredibly frustrating; as well as occasionally unbelievable. 

    Hal feels shy of Clara even after knowing her for nearly a decade, and his refusal to discuss what he is feeling has predictably awful consequences. I realize that, in agreement with the time period, Hal was probably trying to protect Clara but it seems to have the opposite effect and I wondered at times if in such a situation both parties would really have said nothing to each other? Jones wants the reader to believe that these two individuals really love each other, but love must be based on some degree of trust, which Clara and Hal seem to lack in each other. I especially wanted more from Clara as a character, as she seemed to suspect something was wrong with Hal but seemed content to keep her resentment a secret to herself. With so much of the story happening inside Clara and Hal's heads, Small Wars unfortunately became slow and difficult to connect with at times.

    Despite the faults I found with the characters of Small Wars, I did enjoy Jones' writing. Although the entire novel is written in the third person, Jones switches flawlessly from Hal to Clara's narrative and expertly builds to the story's violent climax. Her prose is meticulous and clean, and despite telling a war story full of moral ambiguity Jones does not resort to melodrama or graphic imagery, instead settling on a few powerful incidents. The result is that the reader does not become numb from the violence, and the few times it does occur the images- for example, when Hal is forced to shoot a horse after its front legs have been blown off- are extremely memorable. Ultimately, Small Wars provides well-written insight into not only 1950s Cyprus but the impact of war in general told through characters which unfortunately are difficult to emotionally connect with.

    Release Date: August 18th, 2009
    Pages: 384
    Overall: 3.5/5
    Buy the Book

    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. 

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

    "Finally, I have built a palace within my palace, made from bits of colored sand. One breath could sweep it all away. It is protected by blue waves and wire, by elephants and incandescent shells, lotus flowers and horses, cryptic words and prayers. But the palace cannot possibly last; it will, like everything else, eventually disappear. It is the essence of memory, ephemeral as sleep, unsettled as the sea."
    In The Memory Palace: A Memoir Mira Bartok tells her story of growing up with a schizophrenic mother and absent father, as well as her subsequent estrangement from her mother who she communicated with only through letters, going so far as to move and change her name. Bartok and her sister were forced to do this because otherwise their mother would show up at their place of work, call the police about them incessantly, and otherwise harass them. Bartok finally visits her mother only to learn that she is dying of cancer, as they say goodbye to the woman they could never really know, she and her sister go through their mother's boxes of belongings and incoherent journals. Bartok tries to understand her mother, reflecting on the moments that brought her to where she is today, including her mother, the men in her life, and a serious brain injury.

    With so many well done memoirs about mental illness and personal struggles in recent years (A Glass Castle and Madness come to mind) that it becomes painfully obvious when I am indifferent to one. I am not indifferent to the challenges Bartok has face, which are immense and which she has shown great strength in overcoming, but ultimately as a book The Memory Palace failed to engage me. The book included far too many irrelevant details and information about the author's love life which blurred together in my head. In addition to boring and irrelevant anecdotes about the men she once loved, there was also a lot of information about things like the nurse that looked after her grandmother. There were also quite a few instances of rambling on art and other historical facts which while they may have been interesting to Bartok felt like a good editor would have cut them out.

    In the end, it seemed as if there wasn't enough material in The Memory Palace with so much of it being irrelevant filler. In The Memory Palace Bartok tried to combine a personal story about dealing with a brain injury along with a separate and distinct story about her mother, and I never found that the two narratives connected. I also never really found myself at all interested in the brain injury portion, as I also feel other authors have dealt with that much better and in this case it only seemed like half an effort. The Memory Palace is not a total failure, as the premise is intriguing, and there are certain moments of beauty and lovely imagery. Bartok is also an artist and the book contains an image of an original and relevant piece of art with each chapter, which are gorgeous. However The Memory Palace is a memoir which is simply too easy to put down, and ultimately a book needs more than a good premise to make it remarkable.  

    Release Date
    January 11, 2011    
    Pages: 336
    Overall: 2/5
    Source: E-galley from publisher
    Buy the Book

    Waiting on Wednesday: The Raising

     "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases.
    The Raising by Laura Kasischke looks like a creepy and exciting novel that manages a mystery without forsaking good writing. Kasischke has written a few books before, including The Life Before Her Eyes which was made into a film starring Uma Thurman that I saw, although I haven't picked up the novel yet. However if The Raising is as good as it sounds, I'll certainly be looking into the rest of Kasischke's books afterwards. 
    The accident was tragic, yes. Bloody and horrific and claiming the life of a beautiful young sorority girl. NICOLE was a straight A student from a small town. Sweet-tempered, all-American, a former Girl Scout, and a virgin. But it was an accident. And that was last year. It’s fall again, a new semester, a fresh start.

    CRAIG, who has not been charged with murder, is focusing on his classes, and also on avoiding Nicole’s sorority sisters, who seem to blame him for her death even though the police did not.

    PERRY, Craig’s roommate, is working through his own grief (he grew up with Nicole, after all, and had known her since kindergarten) by auditing Professor Polson’s sociology class: Death, Dying, and the Undead.

    MIRA has been so busy with her babies—two of them, twins, the most perfect boys you could imagine, but still a nearly impossible amount of work even with Clark’s help—that she can barely keep herself together to teach (Death, Dying and the Undead), let alone write the book she'll need to publish for tenure.

    And SHELLY, who was the first person at the scene of the accident, has given up calling the newspapers to tell them that, despite the "lake of blood" in which they keep reporting the victim was found, the girl Shelly saw that night was not bloody, and not dead.
    The Raising will be published March 15th 2011 by Harper Perennial.

    What are you Waiting on this Wednesday? Leave links in the comments and be sure to let me know if you're a new follower so I can stop by your site.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

    “I’m being held hostage,” Tess Monaghan whispered into her iPhone. “By a terrorist. The agenda is unclear, the demands are vague, but she’s prepared to hold me here at least two months. Twelve weeks or eighteen weeks, depending on how you look at it.”

    “Nice way to talk about our future child,” said her boyfriend Crow.
    The Girl in the Green Raincoat is a Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman, previously published in a serialized format for The New York Times. After really enjoying Lippman's standalone novel, I'd know you anywhere, I jumped at the chance to review her latest book. Although The Girl in the Green Raincoat is Tess Monaghan #11, readers like myself for whom this is their first encounter with Tess are able to jump into the novel really comfortably without too much wondering about who is who. This particular story begins with Tess confined to bed-rest during a difficult and unexpected pregnancy. Appalled at the situation, Tess' first request is for a pair of binoculars which she uses to watch her unsuspecting neighbours walk their dogs. Most interesting among these neighbours is a woman in a green raincoat walking an Italian greyhound in a matching jacket. When the dog is seen running away without its owner, Tess takes it in and tracks down the owner over the telephones and offers to return the dog. The man who answers the phone is both surprised that the dog was found, and uninterested in its return, so Tess asks to speak to the wife who is apparently away on business. As time passes and the woman in the green raincoat fails to make an appearance, Tess begins to suspect that the woman is missing and that a larger mystery is about to be uncovered.

    The Girl in the Green Raincoat is a fun and easy mystery read. Lippman manages to tell the story in a unique way due to the fact that Tess is confined to her bed for the course of the novel. The book definitely builds up some suspense, although I found myself reading less for the mystery than simply because I was enjoying the writing and the sense of humour. The mystery itself had a few decent twists, although I never found myself truly invested in its outcome. I was a little puzzled by the very overly emotional last few chapters, which seemed out of place. In the author's note Lippman says she wanted each chapter to be its own little story, and although The Girl in the Green Raincoat succeeds in that respect, I read the book in one sitting and I almost thought the last couple chapters belonged in another book. However, I was definitely intrigued enough that I'll likely try another Lippman in the future as her writing blends mystery with believable characters for easy but satisfying books. Overall, The Girl in the Green Raincoat is a light but enjoyable little mystery and exactly the kind of book perfect for a plane ride or rainy evening, the reader is able to dip into Lippman's world, enjoy themselves without thinking too hard, and find themselves just as happily on the other side when the experience is over.

    As a minor but annoying side note and as indicated by Lydia in her review, the raincoat on the cover of this book is most certainly not the "celery green" described by Tess in the novel. Was it seriously that difficult for them to find a coat in the right colour?

    Release Date: January 1, 2011
    Pages: 176
    Overall: 3/5
    Buy the Book

    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, January 24, 2011

    Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

    "Portero was full of doors, and not all of them had four sides and a doorknob."
    Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves takes place in the unusual village of Portero, where strange things are the norm not the exception and girls like Kit and Fancy Cordelle feel right at home. The daughters of the Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy would rather spend time with each other than interacting with the rest of the world, until one summer their mother signs them up for art courses and Kit meets a boy who changes everything. In their spare time the Cordelle sisters have also started following in their father's footsteps as they go on a murder spree facilitated by Fancy's ability to make all the evidence vanish by using a doorway to another world.

    I'm not sure exactly what I expected when I picked up Slice of Cherry, but I was certainly surprised by the weird and interesting world Reeves had created. The novel itself is something like Dexter but with teenage sisters and magic, full of graphic but surreal violence. The relationship between Fancy and Kit is extremely well written, as it is evident how much the girls mean to each other, especially for Fancy. One line I loved near the beginning was from Fancy's dream diary, where she wrote:
    "A doctor examined me and Kit and said the reason we were sick was because Kit had my heart and I had hers. But when he switched our hearts, they stopped beating."
    This sort of imagery reminded me slightly of a Tim Burton film and fit perfectly in with Portero's oddity. However much of Slice of Cherry was perhaps just too weird and graphic for me, and some of it I just didn't quite understand. For example, Fancy wears little girl dresses which are apparently way too tight on her in an attempt not to grow up and in a novel with so much horror, adding in sex scenes honestly made me slightly uncomfortable. I also couldn't help but wonder why exactly Portero was the way it was- perhaps this is touched on in Reeves debut which also takes place in Portero, Bleeding Violets, but in Slice of Cherry it felt as if the reader was just dropped into this world full of monsters with no explanation of how it worked or why it was so different from the rest of the world so it took awhile to get used to. Ultimately this book was just a little too gruesome and odd for me. However, if you are looking for a twisted, strange, slightly creepy book to read, then you just might be craving a Slice of Cherry. 

    Release Date
    : January 4, 2011

    Pages: 512
    Overall: 2/5
    Source: E-galley from publisher
    Buy the Book

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

    "Some minutes, it’s possible to forget how much has changed. And in my dreams, I always have real hands."
    Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted is a retold fairy tale loosely inspired by The Beauty and the Beast. In this case The Beauty is Aurora Belle, a girl who everyone judges and immediately accepts based on her outwards beauty, never stopping to notice the hurt that lurks beneath after the recent death of her mother. The Beast is Lucius Wolfe, a young man who blew off his own arms in an explosion of his own making. Going for the cheapest, most obvious option, Lucius choose hooks instead of prosthetic hands. Lucius is prepared for the world to be reject him, be repulsed by his deformity, but when he meets Aurora he begins to want more for himself, he begins to want her.

    It was definitely curiosity about the premise of Crazy Beautiful which drew me to the book, but unfortunately as interesting as the initial premise was, the novel's flaws far exceeded its merits. Crazy Beautiful lacks the rich and believable characters that make exciting, and since you recognize from the beginning that Aurora and Lucius are likely going to end up together (at least if you've seen the Disney film) then what becomes more important is how they get to that stage. I also thought the names of the characters were absolutely terrible and obvious choices. The narrative of the story switches from Aurora's viewpoint to Lucius', but even though the reader gets inside the character's head there just isn't much there. Baratz-Logsted tells the reader that Aurora is heartbroken from her mother's long struggle with cancer, but you never really feel it. Similarly, Lucius apparently hated life at his old school, but the back story is vague and incomplete. There are also a lot of flaws when it comes to making this book believable from a teenage perspective. Everyone in the novel are either very good or very bad, with no room for the middle ground, and this is especially true of Aurora.    

    Crazy Beautiful
    is a short little wisp of a novel, not even two hundred pages, and it felt more like an outline than a complete book. There was just so much more that could have been done with the story, but instead it is rushed to the point that it almost entirely lacks character development. A few bright moments exist, I really enjoyed the relationship between Lucius' and his little sister especially when she took him shopping and I appreciated the concept of showing how normal a teenage boy Lucius is despite his disability, and how it is still possible for him to find love. Ultimately though, a positive message and an intriguing premise aren't enough to save Crazy Beautiful from becoming a predictable story with one-dimensional characters.  

    Release Date
    : September 7th, 2009

    Pages: 193
    Overall: 1.5/5
    Source: Ebook
    Buy the Book

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    In My Mailbox (January 16th-22nd 2011)

    SO MANY GOOD BOOKS THIS WEEK. And just so many books in general! I love the library but I'm afraid I won't have an excuse to go for another year considering how many unread wonderful sounding books I have to read. I'm trying to keep on a good schedule in my spare time and stick mostly to review copies though, and with ones this good coming to my mailbox it isn't hard.

    {For Review}
    When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt (Harper Collins Canada)
    The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (TLC Tours)
    Night Soul and Other Stories by Joseph McElroy (Dalkey Archive Press)
    Half in Love: A Memoir by Linda Gray Sexton (TLC Tours)
    Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich (TLC Tours)
    The Remains by Vincent Zandri (Pump Up Your Book Tours)
    The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy (Grove/Atlantic, Inc)
    The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan (D&M Publishers Inc.)

    I also got a huge package of ARCs from Random House Canada YA division, some of which have already been released. They asked if I was interested in a surprise parcel and I said, of course. However there are a few of these I probably won't read so they may end up as a giveaway or for people willing to pay shipping. I have to sort that whole thing out in the upcoming weeks. 
    Beat the Band by Don Calame (ARC)
    The Hunt of the Unicorn by C.C. Humphreys (ARC)
    Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko (ARC)
    Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton (ARC)
    Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald (ARC)
    Rotters by Daniel Kraus (ARC)
    Owl Ninja by Sandy Fussell (ARC)
    The 10 p.m. Question by Kate De Goldi (ARC)
    Day of Deliverance by Johnny O'Brien (ARC)

    Effigy by Theresa Danley (Thanks Drey's Library)
    Tempted by Fate by Kate Perry (Thanks Cuzinlogic)
    The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan (Thanks Books Complete Me)
    Lipstick in Afghanistan by Roberta Gately (Thanks Book Club Classics)

    A bunch of the giveaway I won all arrived at once, so that was also really great. How was your mailbox this week?

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    XVI by Julia Karr

    "But it’s hard being the only person who thinks like me. Sometimes I wish I could just be like everyone else my age and not think at all."
    XVI is the dystopian young adult debut by Julia Karr, which takes place in the weeks leading up to the sixteenth birthday of Nina Oberson. In Nina's world, sixteen is something most girls look forward to because it means they get their Governing Council-ordered tattoo, a XVI inked onto their wrists indicating they are ready to have sex. The Media is constantly telling girls how to dress and act so they can become better "sex-teens" and Nina's best friend Sandy is the epitome of that. For Nina though, sixteen is an inescapable horror that she tries to keep out of her mind. However when her mother is killed Nina's world is shattered as she is drawn into a world of secrets where she may finally learn the truth about not only the Governing Council and her own past, but who in fact killed her mother.

    The last year or so has involved the release of a great number of fantastic dystopian novels, including The Hunger Games Trilogy and Birthmarked, a trend I really enjoy and so I was excited when I had a chance to read XVI which I had been looking forward to for awhile. When I first picked up XVI, it took awhile for me to become involved in the story, likely due to the amount of unfamilar vocabulary used in the book, especially acronyms like FeLS and Non-Cons and PAVs which took me awhile to become comfortable with. Once I was able to spend less time focusing on what certain words meant and more time just appreciating the story, I really began to enjoy learning about Nina's journey. Like Katniss in The Hunger Games, Nina is a strong but at first skeptical heroine. However, once Nina becomes fully aware of the awful things going on around her she doesn't waste any time taking action, making her a strong female role model which is something I both admire and appreciate in young adult novels.

    In addition to Nina, Karr does a great job crafting realistic secondary characters like her sister, friends and grandparents. Even Nina's mother, Ginnie, who hardly appears in the book at all feels real based on the memories Nina has of her. Nina's best friend Sandy can be slightly annoying and sometimes it was hard to remember why exactly Nina was friends with her, but it is clear why Karr included her in XVI as she provided a clear example of how the Governing Council and Media actually want the sixteens to act. Although I enjoyed Karr's writing there were a few elements of the story I felt were pretty weak, especially since they were played as plot twists despite the fact that they were obvious from the beginning, for example what exactly the FeLS was. In another case, I felt like she killed off a character almost because she didn't know what else to do with them.

    XVI finishes with enough loose ends and potential that it is certainly possible there will be a sequel and if so, I'd probably pick it up as I think it would be even stronger since Karr would have to spend less time developing the world for the reader. Ultimately, XVI is a flawed but enjoyable read and a welcome addition to the canon of young adult dystopian literature available today.

    Release Date: January 6, 2011    
    Pages: 272
    Overall: 3/5
    Source: Publisher
    Buy the Book

    An Exclusive Love by Johanna Adorjan

    An Exclusive Love: A Memoir by Johanna Adorján tells the story of her grandparents, Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust, escaped Budapest during the 1956 uprising against the Communist regime, and died together in a joint suicide in Copenhagen in 1991. Her grandfather was 82 and dying, while her grandmother was 71 and in perfect health, but they could not live without each other so when it became clear his time was almost over they swallowed sleeping pills and fell asleep in bed, holding hands. The book is not divided into chapters, but Adorjan goes back and forth between her own personal experiences and a fictional narrative supported by known facts of what may have happened the day her grandparents died. 

    Although An Exclusive Love could easily have been overly sentimental and melodramatic, Adorján manages restraint in sharing the story of her grandparents who passed away when she was twenty. She includes the details of their lives she recalls personally, as well as those she has gathered from speaking to others who knew them. An Exclusive Love is Adorján's attempt to explain why despite a large loving family her grandparents choose suicide rather than being separated by death.

    An Exclusive Love is a quiet book, the details subtle and elegant. The writing is concise and mostly lovely, so it appears to be a well done translation although there were a few times it was slightly staccato. The title itself is perfect for the book. The problem I found with An Exclusive Love is that Adorján is not really writing her own memoir- it is that of her grandparents. Although she attempted to research their lives, speaking to friends and family, there is just too much missing for it to be a complete book. Adorján's grandparents did not like to talk about the Holocaust, and so there are many large gaps in An Exclusive Love where she is forced to hypothesize about what things must have been like for them. The book seems written at a distance, and that distance is likely what allowed Adorján to write this heart-breaking story in the first place. Unfortunately it also means that the reader never really gets pulled into the hearts of those involved. I felt like I had only a small taste of the great love story Adorján was attempting to tell. Although touching, An Exclusive Love is not the unforgettable memoir it could have been simply because the two people who would have been best able to tell the story are no longer around to share it.

    Translation by:
    Anthea Bell
    Release Date
    : February 16th, 2009 (This edition was released January 10th, 2011)

    Pages: 192
    : 3/5
    : Publisher
    Buy the Book

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

    "It was never a good idea to confide in people. They always remembered, and when they came up to you in the street, years later, you could see the information was still firmly attached to your face and present in the way they said your name and the pressure of their hand clasping yours."
    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson is the story of Major Ernest Pettigrew, retired and aging, a widower of six years and living in Edgecombe St. Mary, England. The Major, who has opinions about everything, finds a friend in the also widowed Mrs. Ali, a local shopkeeper of Pakistani descent. As the two become closer, gossip spreads throughout their small village, particularly because of Mrs. Ali's skin colour. It's of no concern to Pettigrew however, who is busy trying to keep his sister-in-law from auctioning off his father's firearms following his brother's death. At the same time, Mrs. Ali's late husband's family is expecting her to hand over her business to her nephew, give up everything she has worked so hard for, and simply move in with them. Throughout the novel, Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali try to avoid the assumptions that come with aging, these are not helpless elderly, and the result is a book which challenges so many of the stereotypes and perspectives that society clings to.

    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a quintessentially British novel, despite the fact that Simonson has been living in the United States for the last twenty years. Major Pettigrew has a definite of humour, but it is restrained and dry, for example:
    "Careful, careful,” he said, feeling a splash of scalding tea on his wrist. “Passion is all very well, but it wouldn’t do to spill the tea."
    In fact I often found myself chuckling while reading Major's contemplations, which include such gems as:
    "Unfortunately, there is often an inverse correlation between genius and personal hygiene,” said the Major. “We would be sorely lacking if we threw out the greats with the bathwater of social niceties."
    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was immediately charming, and despite the large cast of characters each one seemed quirky and unique and so as a reader I never had any difficulty keeping track of who was who. The novel is definitely character driven and there were times when I found the plot twists and storyline a bit ridiculous, particularly near the end, but regardless I always enjoyed reading the book. Not only did Major Pettigrew's Last Stand make me chuckle, but Simonson also does an excellent job taking on heavier topics, particularly when it comes to race. Even though Mrs. Ali was born in England and has never been to Pakistan, the village where she lives instantly sees her as an outsider because of her skin colour. The villagers see Mrs. Ali regularly as they visit her shop, but they never make an effort to invite her to participate in events or activities. In response, Mrs. Ali has resigned herself to a life of solitude and books- until she meets the Major that is. Mrs. Ali is both wise and beautiful to read about, and she deals with difficult situations in a mature and respectful way that is admirable. The way she and the Major interact was extremely touching, and even though they have both been married for decades to a person they loved deeply, it is so wonderful to read a story where that first love is not the end.

    As a younger reader I have never before stumbled upon such a love story as Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is. It is the story of a love later in life, how even after the children have grown up and the careers are over, there is still the potential to meet that other half with whom to share the rest of your days. Simonson's novel is written from the perspective of an older generation, but the story is so vibrant and heart-warming, and she writes with such a wonderful dry sense of humour that Major Pettigrew's Last Stand becomes a book that a reader of any age can enjoy and appreciate.

    Release Date: March 2nd 2010
    Pages: 368
    Overall: 4/5
    Buy the Book

    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. 

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Author Interview with Matthew Gallaway

    Matthew Gallaway's debut The Metropolis Case was recently released and after reading and reviewing the novel I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his wonderful book.

    Music plays a central role in The Metropolis Case, how has music influenced your writing?

    Like the music I love, which includes everything from opera to 'shoegazer' rock, I try to make my writing as beautiful as possible while maintaining a 'dissonant' tension in the prose. In The Metropolis Case, much of the plot is centered around events that are highly improbable or magical (and melodramatic), while the characters examine themselves psychologically in ways that are intended to be hyper-realistic. Another way to think of it is that in my writing, I try to capture the discrepancy between the magic that happens on-stage and the often pallid reality of life off-stage.

    What role does music play in your life?

    I spent many years playing in an indie-rock band called Saturnine, and so I'm very familiar with writing songs and playing shows. These days, I like to go to the opera as much as I can, and because I'm less knowledgeable about opera than rock, it's easy to be carried away by it as a member of the audience. There's something very magical about the way a good performance can take you to places both inside and outside of yourself, and I tried to bring this experience to The Metropolis Case.

    Do you have one book you think everyone must read? Who are some of your favourite authors?

    Oh geez, to pick one is nearly impossible, so (to list five) I think everyone should read In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil, Against the Grain by J.K. Huysmans, and A Book of Memories by Peter Nadas. Other favorite authors include Henry James, Carson McCullers, and -- more modern -- Alan Hollinghurst, Samuel Delany, and David Foster Wallace. And because I can't stop myself: Lydia Davis, Anne Carson, Alexander Chee, Richard Rorty, Darin Strauss, Shane Jones, Katharine Weber, and Gerald Elias.

    What did you do when you found out The Metropolis Case had been sold?

    Honestly, I pretty much died, because it was a long and improbable journey. (I ordered sushi from a nice restaurant!) I really never thought I would be so lucky as to see it in print. The whole thing has been like a dream, honestly.

    Long and improbable journey? 

    The short version is that I spent almost seven years writing the manuscript, and then started working with my agent after sending him a blind e-mail query. I went through three revisions with him, which took almost a year, before he announced to me that he "had a plan," and shortly thereafter sold the book. You can read about this process and see the actual query letter in a piece I wrote/curated at THE AWL. (My section is the final one.)

    The story of The Metropolis Case is spread across time, what kind of background research did you do when writing the book?

    I read a ton of books about the time period, artists, and cities in question, and also went to all of the cities (Paris I had lived in already) to help get a flavor for the streets and architecture.

    The book is named after the opera The Makropoulos Affair, how much does The Metropolis Case draw inspiration from the opera?

    I picked up a few plot elements from the opera (I won't say which ones, although I'm sure they won't be a big surprise to readers who know the opera), because I wanted to explore some of the psychological implications of art and immortality, which is a big theme in that opera (and the play upon which it's based).

    What are you working on next?

    My new novel takes place in a corporate office in the world of publishing and focuses on some of the surreal aspects of the business, particularly as I've experienced it over the past decade or so. It's meant to be a lot more contemporary in both setting and tone, designed to capture both the epic terror and sad LULz that I think so many of us experience in the modern workplace.

    Matthew Gallaway lives in Washington Heights (New York City) with his partner Stephen and their three cats, Dante, Zephyr and Elektra.

    Thanks to Matthew Gallaway for taking the time to visit In The Next Room, and I highly recommend picking up his book. Click here to read my review of the novel. To learn more about The Metropolis Case as well as to access the music referenced in the novel, visit the book's website

    Waiting on Wednesday: So Much Pretty

     "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases.
    I still wouldn't call myself a lover of mystery books, but after my introduction to Laura Lippman in I'd know you anywhere,  I realized that when the characters are well-written and the premise is thrilling they certainly have a lot of potential. I still think I'm liable to enjoy those which bend the genre a little which is why I'm really looking forward to So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman.
    So Much Pretty is a novel about family, community, and storytelling.

    The Pipers are a family built on optimism. On deeply felt ideals and commitment to their community. Claire and Gene moved with their precocious, beguiling daughter Alice to Haeden, New York for a fresh start, to give Alice the freedom and opportunity they always wanted for themselves. In doing so, they unwittingly re-write the story of her life.

    Wendy White has strong roots in Haeden, a late-blooming young woman just striking out on her own, but mindful of family and home. Her story has a beginning and an end, but is missing the most important piece—the middle. What happened to Wendy White?

    Stacey Flynn is a reporter, both a seeker and a teller of stories. It is gritty, relentless and ultimately reckless Flynn who will chronicle Wendy White’s existence from all the fragments she can find, and forge a path toward the end.

    But only we will ever know the whole story.
    Released March 2011 by Simon and Schuster, So Much Pretty looks like a novel of literary suspense combined with a bit of politics and a strong message and I am definitely looking forward to it.

    How do you feel about mysteries which bend the genre outside of the stereotypical thriller? What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway

    The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway is the story of four intertwined lives brought together by Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde. Their stories connect across time, with the oldest belonging to Lucien, a young man desperate to become an opera singer who falls in love with an architect in 1846 Paris. Over a century later in 1960s New York, Anna's career as an opera singer is just beginning to take off with her role as Isolde. In the 1970s, Maria follows her voice to Juillard as she attempts to break free from her mundane life in Pittsburgh. Finally, Martin is a forty-year-old lawyer, HIV positive and coming to grips with his life after the September 11th attacks on New York.

    Gallaway easily intertwines a supernatural element inspired by the original opera after which his book is named, The Makropulos Affair, as Lucien's father works towards creating an elixir for immortal life. Although I tend to avoid books with a supernatural twist, I was so enraptured with Gallaway's writing and storytelling that I was willing to suspend belief when necessary. Admittedly the novel was unexpectedly graphic at times but only once was I made uncomfortable by a liaison between two individuals who are actually related to each other and which felt unnecessary to the actual development of the story. The novel itself is reminiscent of the storytelling of Michael Cunningham, who wrote The Hours and most recently By Nightfall not only because of the fact that they both deal with sexuality but also because like, By Nightfall, The Metropolis Case is a novel focused mainly around New York and what Nightfall did for the art world, Gallaway does for opera, allowing the reader a glimpse into what happens behind the scenes.

    An aspect of The Metropolis Case which I found particularly interesting was the very original chapter headings, however I was less impressed by the fact the novel began with a chapter written in e-mail format a technique which was not repeated in the remaining pages. I found it a little odd to begin a book in one way and then to abandon the method in the rest of it. Ultimately though, this is a very minor complaint for a novel that I overall enjoyed. I really loved Gallaway's writing, as he seemed capable of sharing just the right amount of detail to intrigue but not overwhelm the reader. Gallaway is able to interweave an incredible number of themes into the compact chapters, touching on sexuality, love, friendship, passion and family. This is also the first book I have ever read involving opera, and for a form of music which has been so important over time it was really wonderful to finally get a glimpse into the power and the people behind it. The Metropolis Case is a book that can most easily be described as both literary and intellectual, nothing in the novel is straightforward but the reader is rewarded for their investment with a story that is both interesting and original.

    Release Date: December 28, 2010
    Pages: 384
    Overall: 4/5
    Buy the Book

    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. 

    Giveaway Winner: The Lotus Eaters

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by to enter to win The Lotus Eaters. It's a fantastic book I really recommend. I also got a lot of great recommendations to expand the locations the books I read take place in. Unfortunately I had to delete entries which did not follow the guidelines and include the book recommendation. The final result was 35 entries and almost as many new followers, so welcome to In The Next Room and I hope you stick around as I have at least two giveaways planned in the next month so far, plus lots of awesome reviews of course.
    Congrats Elly!

    The winner has been contacted and has 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Lost Lustre by Josh Karlen

    Lost Lustre by Josh Karlen is described as a New York memoir and includes several sections each of which describes a particular portion of Karlen's life and how it was growing up in New York City during the 70s and 80s. Karlen and his brother moved to Alphabet City with their mother after their parents divorced, in a time when the area was full of crumbling buildings that would not be out of place is a post-apocalyptic film. However the story left me wondering- if Avenue C was really so awful, then why didn't Karlen's father who took his sons every weekend over to his safe and happy home fight for custody, or even mention to their mother that he didn't like where they were living? Karlen and his brother are so out of place in where they live, and their mother's decision to move there so odd, that I wish the book had better tried to explain why his mother thought it was a good idea besides for a vague belief that the area would gentrify. Also, the word "gentrify" is so incredibly over-used if I read it again in the next few months I am liable to put a book down for that reason alone.

    Each portion of Lost Lustre is connected only by the fact that they all involve some aspect of Karlen's life, which makes the book read more like a collection of essays than something that could truly be described as a memoir. In addition, when an author is writing a memoir paramount to its success is the ability to make the reader actually care about the outcome, and the unfortunate truth was that I was completely bored and unsympathetic to Karlen especially when he manages to wallow in self-pity for much of the book for various reasons, including the fact that he was mugged a few times and that his first love dumped him without explanation. The one redeeming chapter of Lost Lustre is the one after which the book is actually titled, and it describes the life, and premature death, of Karlen's highschool friend who was the lead singer of a band called the Lustres and died at 28 from alcoholism. It is in this portion of the book Karlen excels by capturing the spirit of the eighties and the tragedy of  potential destroyed by addiction. Interestingly enough, it is also the one portion of the book which is not directly about him. Ultimately, although I didn't personally get a lot out of Lost Lustre, I would sincerely recommend it to people who are interested in the history of New York, especially the seventies and eighties, as I do feel like Karlen gave a genuine sense of the time period and place.

    Release Date: October 2010
    Pages: 310
    Overall: 2/5
    Source: Publisher
    Buy the Book

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins (Post #1)

    Although I definitely have a large stack of contemporary books to read, I still wanted to spend 2011 making at least a small dent in the massive amount of classics I have yet to read. Classics are naturally a bit intimidating for me, so my first readalong was the perfect opportunity to knock one off the list. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is being hosted as a readalong by Allie at A Literary Odyssey for the month of January and involves two blog posts- one halfway through the novel and one at the end of the book. I am reading The Woman in White as an ebook, available online through, because of the convenience.  

    The Woman in White
    is a mystery thriller which begins with an encounter between Walter Hartright and a strange woman dressed all in white. When Walter begins his job as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half-sister, the mannish but clever Marion Halcombe, he shares tells them what has happened and the three become determined to learn all they can about the woman in white, a task more dangerous than they could have imagined.

    I admit I was hooked from the first sentence of this novel, which begins:
    "This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve."
    In addition, the idea of unfolding a mystery like a courtroom drama, all the various voices which have their say, is extremely intriguing and original. Unfortunately so far I have found myself a bit impatient with the rate at which the mystery is unfolding, as enjoyable as Wilkie's rambles are, I often find myself wondering when the reader will finally begin to learn something more about the identity of the woman in white. That said, I have really been loving Wilkie's quirky comments and observations. For example:
    "Women can resist a man’s love, a man’s fame, a man’s personal appearance, and a man’s money, but they cannot resist a man’s tongue when he knows how to talk to them."
    Having made it just over halfway through The Woman in White I feel like the real action is just about to begin, and I am definitely excited for it. So far, I am finding myself indifferent to Laura who is repeatedly described as lovely and innocent but which basically just means she is boring. Similarly, Walter seems to be a pretty flat character, wanting to travel to the other side of the world if he can't be with Laura, but refusing to fight for her or even tell her how he feels. Marion on the other hand, is quite adamant that she is more like a man than a woman, which in this case actually means that she is a strong and stubborn character. Sir Percival Glyde has been expertly creepy from the beginning, and although I am conflicted over Count and Countess Fosco at the moment, I am certainly interested in what Collins has in store for them for the remainder of the novel.

    Personally, I find Marion getting ill very suspicious and wonder if one of the other characters had a role in her sickness... Overall, The Woman in White has been off to a slow start but managed to keep my interest all the same and I am definitely anxious to see what the second half has in store, and especially curious about what exactly Sir Percival's terrible secret is and when the woman in white will show up again!

    In My Mailbox (January 9th-15th 2011)

    {For Review}
    You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (ARC) (Amy Einhorn Books)
    The Other Life by Ellen Meister (ARC) (TLC Tours)
    Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude by Emily White (TLC Tours)
    The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer (Picador)
    By Love Possessed by Lorna Goodison (Random House Canada)
    The Gathering by Kelly Armstrong (ARC) (Two Copies) (Random House Canada)
    The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman (TLC Tours)

    I was hoping to hold a giveaway for the second copy of The Gathering but after it costing me almost $8 to send a smaller book off to the US I'm not sure how practical that is. I really didn't remember postage being so expensive...

    A Thousand Tomorrows / Just Beyond the Clouds by Karen Kingsbury
    Emma's River by Alison Hart  
    I also got a lovely postcard by sending an e-mail off to Kristen Hubbard who's debut Like Mandarin is being released in March. A few months back I won some signed bookmarks from her, so now I just need the book to match!

    How was your mailbox this week? 

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Free Books (+ Shipping?)

    Just a small question of curiosity, would anyone be interested if I had books for offer where the person just had to pay the cost of shipping? I'd love to share more of my books, especially ARCs, but the cost of shipping is prohibitive of me doing more giveaways as I'm a broke student. I'm in Canada so shipping isn't too bad for Canada and the US but more expensive internationally. It would be an eclectic collection of YA and Adult books. The books would be ones that had been read once and treated extremely gently as that is how I care for my books. I've put up a poll or you can answer in the comments. Thanks so much.

    The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

    "It remained the one image etched in her mind, perhaps because she did not have the film to refer back to. Once a picture was taken, the experience was purged of its power to haunt."
    The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli is the story of American combat photographer, Helen Adams, which takes place during the Vietnam War. The novel begins in 1975 with Saigon about to fall, as Helen and her lover Linh makes their way to way to safety. Linh is gravely injured and as they try to leave the city Helen holds onto her case of film, each photograph like a piece of herself. The Lotus Eaters floats back in time to when Helen first arrived in Vietnam, wanting to find some meaning or explanation after her brother was killed there. Instead Helen found Sam Darrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who keeps chasing after a slightly more dangerous shot, and she falls in love with both the man and his dangerous ways. Linh is Darrow's assistant, and beneath his silence and loyalty he harbours many secrets including his feelings for Helen.

    At first glance, The Lotus Eaters seems like a conflicted love story and although Soli uses the men in Helen's life as a springboard for her novel, the fact is that it is so much more. Although the story itself is interesting especially considering the amount of research that must have gone into writing it, as well as the fact that it's told from a unique perspective- that of a photojournalist- which I have never read before, it is the writing of the novel which makes it so remarkable. Soli's imagery is graphic and haunting, she uses just the right amount to capture the reader's attention without overwhelming them, focusing on the vibrant details of the world. Her writing has an easy flow and lyrical melody to it as one sentence slides delicately into the next:
    "This was the way one lost one’s homeland. The first things lost were the sights, then the smells. Touch disappeared, and, of course, taste was quick to follow. Even the sounds of one’s own language, in a foreign place, evoked only nostalgia."
    The title of the novel also perfectly captures the core message. The Lotus Eaters refers to Homer's Odyssey where people ate lotus fruits on an island and fell into a peaceful sleepy apathy, never to return home. Similarly, once Helen gets a taste of Vietnam, she is unable to leave. Although The Lotus Eaters is not perfect- for example, there is quite a large chunk of time skipped about how exactly Helen and Linh pass the years which felt missing and incomplete- it is so incredibly beautiful that any flaws the reader may find can be easily forgiven. Although The Lotus Eaters may initially appeal to those already interested in the time period, as somebody who had never read about the Vietnam War before I was expertly drawn into the a different country and time. The novel is full of beautiful specifics, but what makes it so wonderful is that the larger themes like looking for love and trying to find where your home is, are completely universal. With The Lotus Eaters Tatjana Soli has written a debut which any reader should be compelled to pick up as they will effortlessly fall into the world Soli has created where the fictional and the real become blurred with complete beauty.

    Release Date: March 30th 2010
    Pages: 384
    Overall: 5/5
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    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.