Sunday, July 31, 2011

giveaway: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The Leftovers
Giveaway is closed. Congratulations to Melissa from The Avid Reader's Musings!

It's no secret I'm a HUGE fan of Tom Perrotta and have been eagerly awaiting his latest novel, The Leftovers, which comes out August 30, 2011. I was fortunate enough to snag an early copy and have been spending a heavenly weekend with it. I'm not the kind of lady to rub it in your face that I have a copy of this book when you, my lovely readers, do not. 

The wonderful folks at St. Martin's want to give a copy to one lucky reader. That's right: you too can read The Leftovers before you can buy it. Awesome, right? Here are the details: you have until midnight (Des Moines time) next Sunday, August 7, 2011 to fill out the following form. When the contest ends, I'll randomly pick a winner, email the lucky person to let them know, and St. Martin's will send the book to the winner. Good luck! If you'd rather buy the book (Kindle version), you can do that too. Look back for my review later this month.

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Sunday Salon: Wrapping Up July 2011 & Planning for August

Happy Sunday, everyone! At the beginning of the month, I laid out my reading goals for July. How did I do? Pretty well! This month, I read 13 books.

The Excellent (rated 4.5 stars or more):
Next to Love: A NovelCity of Fire (Lena Gamble Novels)The Privileges: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)Comedy in a Minor Key: A NovelYou Know When the Men Are Gone
Next to Love by Ellen Feldman (5 stars)
City of Fire by Robert Ellis (5 stars) -- reread -- review coming soon
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee (4.5 stars)
Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson (4.5 stars)
You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (4.5 stars)

The Good (Rated 4 or 4.25 stars):
Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs, Book 6)Close Your Eyes: A NovelA Good Hard Look: A NovelFrench Lessons: A NovelThe Memory of Love
Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear (4.25 stars)
Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward (4 stars) -- review coming tomorrow
A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano (4 stars)
French Lessons by Ellen Sussman (4 stars)
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (4 stars)

The Somewhat Disappointing (rated 3.5 stars or less):
The Tiger's Wife: A NovelI Curse the River of Time: A NovelPigeon English
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht (3.5 stars)
I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson (3 stars)
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (3 stars) -- review coming Tuesday

As you can see, July was a wonderful reading month! I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of the books I read. I also read ten of the twelve books I set as goals, which was affirming of how well planning my reading can work for me.

Plans for August: With the recently announced Booker Prize longlist and the good fortune to have a large pile of fall release review copies in my possession, I plan to spend August alternating between Booker nominees and fall releases. Happy Sunday, everyone!

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Short Story Saturday: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

Welcome to Short Story Saturday, a semi-regular feature. The project stems from a desire to read more short stories. It's not a secret I prefer novels to short stories, but I'm working to stretch myself as a reader, and part of that will be reading more short stories. When I have read short story collections, I've often found them hard to review as a whole. This feature will allow me to review collections as a whole or separately, but I'll also be reviewing individual stories from a variety of sources.

You Know When the Men Are GoneThe basics: You Know When the Men Are Gone is a loosely interconnected set of stories about soldiers and their families at Ft. Hood in Texas.

My thoughts: Although I'm not always a fan of short story collections, I'm beginning to think I do enjoy collections with a strong theme. After reading so many glowing reviews of this collection, I grabbed it off the shelf at the library one day and started reading. The first (and titular) story was engrossing. It introduced life on the base perfectly, and in some ways, it remains the most memorable for me.

As the collection continues, the action shifts to soldiers and back to the base. There are a variety of stories and characters. Although I would have loved the titular story to spawn a novel, I did appreciate the range Fallon showed in the rest of the collection. As each story ended, I eagerly began the next, as though it were a continuation of the same story. In some ways, it was. One of the reasons I'm a devoted fiction reader is to glimpse deeply into the minds and  lives of others. You Know When the Men Are Gone shows a tapestry of life in the military and on a military base. It's a glimpse into the lingering effects of war on the lives of soldiers and their loved ones. One of my favorite moments came from an Iraqi woman working as a translator for U.S. troops: "No one notices the women in this country, and therefore no one notices how much the women notice." Even though characters rarely reappeared in other stories, the strength of the theme still gave me the experience of reading a novel.

Favorite passage: "I miss our life together, her husband would write over and over again, and it made Meg think that there were three lives between them: the life he was leading in Iraq, the life she was living alone without him, and the dim fantastical life of them together, a mystical past and future that suddenly had no present."

The verdict: Although I found some stories stronger than others, the collection was a cohesive whole and provided a mix of character-driven and plot-driven stories. Fallon is a talented writer, and I wished several of the stories could become novels.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: January 20, 2011 
Source: library

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Friday, July 29, 2011

book review: Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

The backstory: Among the Mad is the sixth Maisie Dobbs mystery. Here are links to my reviews of the first five books: Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies, Messenger of Truth, and An Incomplete Revenge.

The basics: Winspear raises the stakes in Among the Mad; it's Maisie Dobbs meets Criminal Minds. The reader sees both the mind of a terrorist intent on killing many people while Maisie works closely with Scotland Yard to stop him.

My thoughts: After not loving the last Maisie Dobbs novel, I was thrilled to see Winpsear deliver a true page-turning thriller with a fascinating, timely case. One of the best gifts of historical fiction is to remind the modern reader how similar some problems are through the years. In Among the Mad, Maisie and the detectives of Scotland Yard scramble to discover the identity of the person threatening London with chemical warfare that has the potential to decimate an entire city. It was a sobering reminder that domestic terrorism is nothing new and a powerful example of the lasting impact of war, a major theme in this series.

As a result of a rather genius plot device, Maisie works closely (and officially) with Scotland Yard on the case. This unlikely partnership provided fascinating insight into gender roles, politics and government. I'm also hopeful it may allow other opportunities for Maisie to work in an official capacity.

Favorite passage: “Forgetting has never been of concern to me, Inspector. It’s the remembering that gives me pause."

The verdict: Among the Mad was a riveting, thought-provoking mystery and reminded me why I adore not only the character of Maisie but her colleagues, friends and family. As much a thriller as a historical mystery, Among the Mad amped up the action, and I'm curious to see where Winspear takes this series next.

Rating: 4.25 stars (out of 5)
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: February 17, 2009 (it's in paperback now)
Source: I bought the bundle (of An Incomplete Revenge & Among the Mad) for my Kindle

Thoughts on the series: Although it's difficult to judge how this novel would fare if you haven't read the rest of the series, I'm inclined to say it would still be enjoyable. If you've been waiting to try Maisie but don't want to start at the beginning, go ahead a dive into Among the Mad. Buy it from Amazon in paperback, for the Kindle or from an independent bookstore.

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

book review: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The Memory of LoveThe backstory: The Memory of Love was shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize and won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize

My thoughts: Fresh off my experience of loving Tea Obreht's writing in The Tiger's Wife but being somewhat disenchanted with the novel itself, I started The Memory of Love and had a remarkably similar experience. The Memory of Love features several main characters: Adrian, a British psychologist; Kai, a young surgeon; and Elias, an elderly man who once was a professor enamored with Saffia, who was married to Julius. The book is set in Sierra Leone just after its civil war.  Reading The Memory of Love, I realized that despite how much I love multiple narrators, when I'm much more interested in one part of the story, it makes the rest of it drag somewhat.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tales of Elias, but Adrian and Kai bored me somewhat. All the characters benefited from Forna's beautiful writing also being filled with rich metaphors and truth. I found her prose moving and illuminating  but too many of the characters moved me by enhancing the truths revealed in this novel's prose.

Favorite passage: "Conversation here can be challenging, language is a blunter instrument, each word a heavy black strike with a single meaning. To say exactly what you mean, to ask precisely the right question, this is what has to be done. For the bluntness of the language doesn't mean people speak their minds. Rather, they use the spaces to escape into."

The verdict: Despite beautiful writing and an interesting premise, something kept me from fully engaging with this novel and loving it. I appreciate Forna's writing and story, but I did not love it.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 445 pages
Publication date: January 4, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle (although that is not currently a purchasing option)

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight an upcoming release we can't wait to read.
On Canaan's Side: A Novel
My pick this week is On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry. I was already eagerly awaiting its publication, but when the Booker longlist was announced yesterday, this novel jumped to the top of my pre-publication wishlist. Before yesterday, I didn't know much about it. I knew it was set in twentieth-century America and spanned a lifetime. The details make it sound even more enthralling:

"Told in the first person, as a narrative of Lilly Bere's life over seventeen days, On Canaan's Side opens as she mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. Lilly revisits her past, going back to the moment she was forced to flee Ireland, at the end of the First World War, and continues her tale in America, a world filled with both hope and danger. At once epic and intimate, Lilly's story unfolds as she tries to make sense of the sorrows and troubles of her life and of the people whose lives she has touched. Spanning nearly seven decades, from the Great Depression to World War II and the Vietnam War, it is the heartbreaking story of a woman whose capability to love is enormous, and whose compassion, even for those who have wronged her, is astonishing."
Doesn't it sound amazing? Viking won't publish it until September 8, 2011, but you can pre-order it from Amazon now in hardback or for the Kindle.

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The 2011 Booker Dozen: A U.S. Reader's Guide

The wait is over, friends. The 2011 Booker Prize longlist is here! I wasn't planning on reading the entire longlist this year for a variety of reasons, but the list is so surprising, I feel compelled to. I was rooting for Linda Grant (I adored We Had It So Good) and Anne Enright (I'll be reading The Forgotten Waltz soon), but there were so many past winners and shortlisted authors with new books out this year, I expected a list of literary familiars. Instead, we're treated to four (!) debut novelists, a strong showing for Canadian authors, and books not considered (gasp!) literary fiction. I'm jumping in, even though it won't be easy.

Unfortunately, this list is not very friendly to U.S. readers, so patience will be required. It is, however, a list one could easily read through before October 18 (when the winner is announced.) Not a single book has more than 500 pages (The Stranger's Child has 576 pages in the British version but only 464 in the U.S.; I assume the page size is different, as it often is.) Using page numbers provided by Amazon US & UK, one only has to read 48 pages each day to finish in time (if you can get a copy of all of these gems.)

The ones available in the U.S. now:
Jamrach's Menagerie: A NovelThe Sisters Brothers: A NovelA Cupboard Full of Coats

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (also longlisted for this year's Orange Prize) (Kindle version)
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt (Kindle version)
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards

Pigeon EnglishSnowdrops: A NovelFar to Go: A Novel (P.S.)
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (Kindle version)
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller (Kindle version)
Far to Go by Alison Pick (Kindle version)

The ones coming (somewhat) soon to the U.S.:
On Canaan's Side: A NovelThe Stranger's ChildThe Sense of an Ending
On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry (coming September 8, 2011) (Kindle version)
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst (coming October 11, 2011) (Kindle version)
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (coming January 24, 2012) (Kindle version)

The ones we hope make their way to the U.S.:

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness
Derby Days by D.J. Taylor (the first in this series, Kept, is available here)

I already have a copy of Jamrach's Menagerie and Pigeon English, so I'll read those two first. I've requested the other four available in the U.S. from the library and hope to get my hands on them soon. I broke down and ordered The Last Hundred Days and Half Blood Blues, but I'm hoping to snag a copy of The Testament of Jessie Lamb through interlibrary loan. I don't think it will be possible to read the entire longlist before the shortlist is announced (or even the winner!), as the Barry, Hollinghurst and Barnes will be very tough (or expensive) to come buy before they're published. Still, I'll be following all of my favorite British book blogs as they weigh in on this year's longlist.

Now tell me: which title(s) are you most excited to read?

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!