Saturday, October 27, 2007

Daughters of the North, Sarah Hall

In a place where nature has proven herself more brutal than mankind and also more forgiving, 65 women forged a life close to the earth while the rest of humankind was walled off from the effects of living large upon the earth for too long. "Sister" got tired of living packed in concrete like sardines, implanted by law with a contraceptive device, factory work building machines went unused: all for a totalitarian government off fighting a coalition's war. Disappearing to the women's enclave of Carhullan she longs to find the life of her dreams, only to discover that dreams can be nightmares and what we fear can be precisely what we need. Sarah Hall has written a tract of the rawest forms of feminism: grace and passion blended with violent animalism. Unsentimental, yet gentle; sensual, yet tough and unafraid -- Daughters of the North is a must-read for every woman.

Published under the title The Carhullan Army in Britain, Sarah Hall's latest novel is slated for publication here in the states in April of 2008. But start screaming for it now. And if you can do it, order a copy from overseas, have it shipped to your door and read it before it even hits the printing presses here. It's worth it.

Synopses and British Reviews:
Twisted Sisters, Guardian Unlimited
The Book Bag
The List's Books Blog

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson

This one left me speechless, gaping like a fish to find the right words of devotion to this exquisite, beautiful novel. I've been working for weeks to write up a proper review, but it isn't working. And to think, I posted about my favorite novels of late only a week before completing one that must be added to the list. I promise to find better, more accurate words of love for this remarkable, special novel that deserves a cult following into the classics.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Favorite Recent Novels

I'm not the biggest fan of fiction and always have trouble finding novels that appeal to me enough to finish reading or otherwise leave a lasting impression. Here is a list, in no particular order, of my top favorite novels of the last two years:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Five Skies by Ron Carlson
Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
Smonk by Tom Franklin
Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

Gone Too Long

Personal Note: Sorry for the long absence. I departed for the summer and since coming home I have been, simply put, lazing around the house re-adjusting to normal life. As a jump back into posting snippets and reviews and thoughts, a short and sweet post will follow this one. Ta!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Written Nerd's Two Cents

Written Nerd has a great post about the pros and cons of bloggers writing book reviews. Not an attack upon or critical of print book reviews, WN notes the greatest perk of blogged book reviews over print reviews:

Blogs, on the other hand, have the benefits that come from no filter: their passion for or against a book, or their complex thoughts about it, are subject to no one's editing but their own. Most of the litblogs whose reviews are worth reading know more or less what they like and don't tend to write reviews hoping for another free book or a mention in the publisher's catalog. There's no reason for them to write unless they want to, and there's no reason for anyone to read them unless they like what they're writing. That can make for some crazies or duds, but it can also make for some powerful and impassioned writing and some creative ways of talking about books that can't happen in the slower-moving systems of an institution.

My Two Cents on Book Reviews, Written Nerd, 05 May 2007

Of course, the down side is the commercial marketing of blogs with advertising from publishers and Amazon, which may or may not skew a blog in any specific direction. When a LitBlog becomes popular enough, however, the writers/editors can gain the attention of authors and earn clout to post interviews, author penned essays, etc. which are a huge bonus to any blog's readers. Ultimately it depends on the blog writer's goal. That initial goal may morph over time, but I agree with WN that the best blogs are ones focusing on what its writer knows and loves, then writes about it. It's like handselling a book or chatting with a good friend who you know will always give you exactly what you will love to read.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Five Skies, Ron Carlson

One Idaho summer envelops the lives of three men in her broad skies, flat plains, high plateaus and dramatic silences. It is one season in the lives of the huge, silent Arthur Key; the internally raging Darwin Gallegos; and the ex-criminal but earnest young pupil Ronnie Panelli. They bond in the steely, emotionless, simple ways that men do, as they work on a contracted big-money building project in the middle of nowhere. All three men come from harsh, but not dissimilar places in life and get to know each other over dirt, plans, tools, hard work and coffee.

It is an oh-so-quiet novel loaded with a building intensity that makes like a slow-moving summer thunderstorm bound for a spectacular, wrenching finish. Ron Carlson has brought us a strong, beautiful novel of love, hope, and just doing what comes next.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

R.I.P. Kurt Vonnegut

Literary legend Kurt Vonnegut has died at 84 years old. There comes a time when great authors will all leave us, but it is always a sad day and fills us with great loss.

Two great pieces:

KURT VONNEGUT: 1922-2007
Darkly comic novelist a counterculture hero

San Francisco Chronicle

Novelist Vonnegut Remembered for His Black Humor

Writer Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84
BBC News

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Writers Rooms

Ever wanted to take a peek into the offices/writing spaces of beloved authors? Check out the UK Guardian's page featuring various writers' rooms with commentary by each author. I am a little surprised at how neat nearly all of them seem to be, but it could be they just tidied up before the photographer came.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Champion is Revealed!

Check out the final results of The Morning News Tournament of Books.

It isn't any surprise and sure didn't feel like any competition was actually occuring. With words like "trounced" being used and some of the best bloggers, reviewers (and even a few authors) weighing in on the final match-up with wit & without holding back, the summaries are worth reading even if you weren't already convinced that The Road is one of the greatest literary masterworks of all time, let alone of last year.

The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. (Source)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Road and O!? Really?

Wow. Oprah's announcement today may have been missed by indie booksellers, but it was impossible to not see the paperback copies of Cormac McCarthy's The Road with the highly-recognizable sticker stuck on the front cover. We were joking today that when the housewives come in to pick up the book, be sure to suggest they also purchase a copy of Blood Meridian. Yes, we can be evil. But seriously folks, as incongruous as it might seem for these two names to be connected in perpetuity, the attention that will be brought McCarthy as a literary master is priceless.

My 10/3/06 review of The Road

Two other great links:
CormacMcCarthy's Venomous Fiction, 4/19/92 New York Times Interview
The Cormac McCarthy Society

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Three Reviews in Brief

Fresh out in hardcover, these are brief reviews of a few new books I'm recommending. The first is especially a strong contender as my favorite book of Spring.

Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead

A perfect, beautiful child of Cormac McCarthy and Tom Franklin, Robert Olmstead’s Coal Black Horse brings to life the bloody, horrific details that make up people and land of the Civil War while illuminating the journey of a boy and his horse: a powerful, starkly honest path leading from boy to man. The graphic, violent images are both prosaic and poetic, but the lessons are only of hope and promise. One needs to travel through hell and back in order to see the brightest lights. Wow.

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

What makes us finally grow up? Is it the discovery of love? Loss? Or the realization that everything is transient, sifting? More than a coming-of-age story, Aryn Kyle brings us the exquisitely wrought story of Alice Winston, a heroine in her own right, as she endures heartbreak after heartbreak over a span of time that marks her transition from child to young woman. We all have that moment in time, a span of minutes or months, that changes us forever - in what will always feel like an instant. Solid writing that is stunning to the last word, Kyle makes Alice's dark, hard world - beautiful. Just don't judge this book by its cover.

The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

A young Australian woman emigrates to New York City only to get acquainted with a group of castaways who together shed their not-so-dull every day lives working in a used bookstore as they are caught up in a literary secret that changes their lives forever. A delightful piece of fiction that propels you forward in anticipation of what will happen next at the same time that your heart is warmed by the light that shines from the oddest of characters. This is a story about people and their connections to one another; about the families we create when we are far from our kin and how they change us forever - for the better.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

Through the conversation of a Pakistani man and an American at a marketplace in Lahore, we learn about the recent life-changing events of a young man who leaves his home of Pakistan in order to make use of the education and opportunities in the United States. He attends Princeton and is hand-selected to work for an important firm in New York City whose sole purpose is to evaluate the financial worth of companies about to be sold, purchased, overtaken, etc. In no short order, this young man shoots to the top of his "class" within the firm, becomes someone with a lot of potential within his line of work. Then the events of 9/11 occur and change everything. Or is it the doomed relationship with an upper-class girl he meets in school that changes everything? Or is it somehow the melding of all of these things together that ultimately sheds light over a world in which our main character simply doesn't belong.

Most arresting and memorable are the changes of emotion and core beliefs that occur within our young man. His own discovery of animosity towards America, while still grateful for the opportunities he was given feels true. It is a young man who begins with hope of a prosperous future for himself in America and his family back in Pakistan, but is disillusioned by a combination of American politics and capitalism. Who's to say which had the most negative effect? Perhaps it is mostly about discovery within himself of someone who finds value in the unsayable, empathy & compassion for the least among us and realizes he cannot turn a blind eye to the harder truths of the world.

Hamid's novel is brief, simple but not without a forward-moving intensity that keeps you page-turning until you have no choice but to put the book down. And in the time between setting it aside and picking it up again, you think of it. You ponder Changez, the world he lives in now in Lahore, the world he left in New York.

The author, Mohsin Hamid, is Pakistani. He did attend Princeton and is only a few years older than his character here. Keep in mind also that Hamid began this novel in the summer of 2000, nearly a hear and a half before the events of 9/11. The voice feels just that personal, that authentic and that impassioned.

The writing is bold, precise and feels well-calculated. The sentences and images well-crafted without verging into the saccharinely poetic. The story itself builds to a climax without conclusion. Ultimately, seeing through the eyes of our protagonist and accompanying him on this journey, however brief, left me feeling quite humble.

A highly recommended read.

Visit the author's website.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Your 69% Bestseller

So I just tried out the Lulu Titlescorer by entering in three different titles (just for fun, of course they aren't actual titles I have in mind for anything I'm working on) and each one received the same score: 69.0% chance of becoming a bestseller. Can I pick 'em or can I pick 'em?

Anyone need help titling their novel?

Book Girl

Yes, yes I am a book girl, but I am referring to the blog: Book Girl. It's aesthetically pleasing, made up of simple layouts, and boasts reviews of books I don't read (which means you can read more of a variety in reviews). Check it out!

Rant, Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck is BACK!

Using a device called the "oral biography," the story is told from the first-person perspective of many people who had some sort of contact with the main character, Buster Landru Casey, AKA "Rant". This lends itself most often to feeling as though you are listening to a radio documentary. As though someone interviewed hundreds of people one at a time, getting his or her entire version of Rant's story, then edited it together in a (more or less) chronological timeline. The voices stay fairly consistent and believable, though the reader must at times let go of the thoughts that some of these characters couldn't possibly know all that they now share about Rant's life, especially when they re-tell his childhood.

The reader gets to know the characters through their voices, through what they say as opposed to an external narrator explaining it all for you. Much in the way we experience people in everyday interactions, especially as we increase communication that is very self-centered and one-sided with e-mails, forum posts, bulletins, and of course, blogs. You judge based on word choices, sentence structure, and content. It isn't so easy to know who's the bad guy and who's the good guy. Sometimes what you think of a person based on what they say is flipped around later on by something else that comes out of the mouth.

The story itself progresses at an unstoppable pace. Impossible to put down, it still requires you to pay ever closer attention to the story being told or else you won't understand what's being told. This considering the casual use of terms foreign to us, but well-understood to the world within Rant: "Party Crashing" "flags" "tagging" "Daytimer" "Nighttimer" "boosting a peak" "neural transcripts". When the story starts turning sci-fi in technology, the reader has to start piecing together references from much earlier in the book and slow down, pay attention, read carefully in order to understand what happens. Think about what it was like for Neo to have to understand what the Matrix really was while experiencing it firsthand.

Since I have a bit of an obsession with names, I have to give a nod to the fabulous names in this book: Echo Lawrence, Shot Dunyon, Bacon Carlyle, Canada Mercer, Phoebe Truffeau, Green Taylor Simms, Symon Praeger, Carlo Tiengo, Lynn Coffee, and the list goes on. The names are ingenius, inventive, original and I envy whatever neurons snap into the right places to come up with such fun uses of the alphabet.

Then there is Palahniuk's tendency to describe in detail bodily functions, bad habits and people unafraid to harm themselves in unique ways. But, unlike Haunted which seemed to want to be as disgusting as possible, causing you to flinch so much that your muscles were probably strained while reading, in Rant Palahniuk returns to the more stylized grotesque so familiar to readers of nearly every single one of his previous books. He describes what should be so gross as to make you express yourself aloud, but yet he makes it easy to swallow while still squirming a little and laughing to yourself in disgust, as opposed to being a complete turn-off. Then he takes one particularly awful event, describing it in the sort of detail that makes you squirm precisely because of its innate awfulness and does so with sensitivity and even respect.

Set for a May 1 release, Rant is classic Palahniuk with sensory overload, critical riffs on society & government, gross oddities, not too disturbing violence and a smart, imaginative exploration of culture. Always trying on different storytelling devices, characters and voices; Palahniuk isn't afraid to stray far off the beaten track in terms of contemporary fiction. His latest novel is no different. This time he goes even further to mine the sources and structures of mythologies - those tales that have been the backbone of every religion, every culture since the dawn of time.

The questions he raises are sometimes answered, but mostly aren't and lead to only more complicated queries. And that's okay, the answers aren't what this book is about. With each chapter, you realize that the present era is being stood on its head to give a look not at today, but a speculative journey off into the future today. Yes, I meant that to sound obfuscated. To quote Rant Casey: "The future you have tomorrow won't be the same future you had yesterday."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Everyone Loves Eat, Pray, Love

At least Bibliochef does! And oh, how! This is a really nicely done review, from a personal reflective note, of course. Don't expect New York Times Book Review type, but its clear that this book does seem to touch something very personal inside everyone who reads it.

And as a side note, the blog of Bibliochef fills a nice niche for lovers of mystery, food and books about either, or both! The posts vary from topic to topic, but generally stay in the realm of talking about food, wine, mysteries and occasionally other historical tidbits. It's juicy, decadent, self-indulgent yet curious, creative and reflective. I know more than a few bookstore employees and customers who are perfect for this sort of website. My favorite category is Eating God? which covers a nice blend of cooking and religious exploration. Bibliochef isn't the first person to compare food to a religious experience, but I have yet to see anyone make a regular go at writing about it! Nice!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Me, Only Cooler & More Motivated

A new addition to the links list: Written Nerd. Check out this bookseller-blogger with her readable, simple layout, basic approach to blogging about bookselling!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Three Cups of Tea

I never quite got around to writing about this book after I read it and I'm not sure why. I think it had something to do with wanting to write it up properly, but not having the right words to really put it all together in the larger picture of importance.

So tonight I had the honor of hosting Greg Mortenson at my bookstore for an event. We packed in somewhere around 250 people for a marvelous 90 minutes of storytelling and photos that were so rich in beauty and background. Greg was kind, mild-mannered and clearly so passionate in his mission that you know its not a spell: this man and what he is doing is for real. It's hard not to get caught up in it all. It's so important!

This is the general way I summarize the book to customers when they come in and I recommend it:
So this guy, Greg, was raised in Tanzania by parents who built hospitals. He joined the army, went to college, became a nurse. He climbed mountains. After a "failed" attempt to climb K2 he wandered into a small village in the Karakoram mountains in Pakistan (where K2 is located). They essentially nursed him back to health. He "repaid" their debt by returning a few years later and building them a school (for a whopping $12,000 plus a bridge, it's complicated, read the book). 1 kidnapping, 2 fatwahs, 1 permissive decree from the Shariat court of Islamic clerics, 1 tribal shootout, several languages and 13 years later, Greg has facilitated the building of 58 schools. All of them are in rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. For each school that is built in these impoverished communities, that is one community more that will not be sending its young boys off to Islamic Madrassas to learn the militant forms of Islam that lead to terrorism. This doesn't even count the teacher training programs, water projects, assistance within refugee camps and so much more.

Wow, right? That's just the start. The book itself reads like a part adventure, part travel literature, part societal exploration, part memoir in a way that makes you become a believer. But it isn't the book's words or the writing of it that gets your fire going, its the story itself. The story of what one man has done and continues to do with the right combination of strength, resilience, flexibility, respect, resolve and oh so much compassion and understanding of a need: a need that has a ripple effect which is immeasurable. One person CAN make a difference. A massive one, at that.

Take a moment to check out Three Cups of Tea at your local bookstore and your world will be changed. If you aren't able to support your local, independent bookstore then (*gulp*) click on this link to buy from Amazon and they will donate up to 7% of purchases to the Central Asia Institute to help continue the mission of education.

Then go to the website for the organization that makes it all happen: Central Asia Institute and consider making a donation. A pencil costs a penny. School for one child costs $1 month per child. A little goes such a long, long way.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

2006 Faves

My favorite books read in 2006:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Smonk by Tom Franklin
Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Traveling Death & Resurrection Show by Ariel Gore
Willful Creatures: Stories by Aimee Bender

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Last Chance in Texas by John Hubner

Short and Sweet.

On to 2007!!