Sunday, August 30, 2009

Read-it-First: The Concubine's Daughter

Last week, the St. Martin's Read-it-First selection was The Concubine's Daughter, the debut novel, by Pai Kit Fai. Myths, fairy tales and superstition are evident in the first twenty pages that were offered during the preview week. I guess this is par for the course for life in China during the early twentieth century. A time and place where females were considered worthless and treated as property. At the start of the novel, Yik-Munn, a farmer, listens to his concubine scream as she gives birth to an expected son. When a daughter is born instead, there is only one thing he can do – kill the child. Fear of the fox fairy prevents him from doing so. Is the daughter destined to follow in her mother's footsteps or can she escape? This is the saga that unfolds throughout the pages of this novel.

The writing was colorful and descriptive. The pace of the early pages was a little slow but not enough to deter me from finishing the preview. The pages that I read were a bit predictable; however, I have enjoyed reading similar books. Not sure if I will be purchasing this book – need to take a second look.

Looking forward to the next preview!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Under This Unbroken Sky

They say that a picture speaks a thousand words but what do you see when the description is presented first? Shandi Mitchell's first novel, Under This Unbroken Sky, tackles this question head on. The novel starts with the description of a 1933, black-and-white photograph of a family. Although there are specifics listed (how each member of the family looks), the reader is free to draw his/her own conclusions about what type of life they have and what brought them to this time/place. Additionally, there is some foreshadowing that states what will become of them. Specifically, that one amongst them will die and two others (not seen) will be murdered. This alone will hook most readers and compel them to take an adventure Under This Unbroken Sky.

The story centers around an immigrant Ukrainian family and chronicles their struggles to survive the harsh Canadian prairie. The land and weather are not the only obstacles that must be faced. At the start of the novel, Teodor Mykolayenko has just finished serving a two year prison sentence and is determined to build a better life for his family. Teo not only supports his family but also supports his sister and her children. He clears his land, builds a house and plants his crops. Just when things start to look hopeful, tragedy – in the form of mother nature – strikes. They are confronted with fire, dust storms and snow. And, each time they survive; however, the real battles occur when Teo's brother-in-law, Stefan, returns. Saying anymore would be giving too much away.

The story was nicely paced and the descriptions were well done. You could clearly picture the environment and feel as though you were witnessing the events first hand. You will come to care for most of the characters and not want to see any of them die. Could you predict who dies? One death may be foreseeable but, for this reader, not the others. This is not a happy go lucky story. It is one of survival. We witness both the broken and the unbroken spirit of a human being trying to survive against all odds – physical and emotional.

I recommend to those interested in discovering a new voice.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Read-it-First: Swan for the Money

This week, St. Martin's Read-it-First program allowed us to preview Swan for the Money, the eleventh installment in the Meg Langslow series, by Donna Andrews. The preview starts off with a bang - the deaths of Matilda and Adelaide. Who is responsible for these murders? Well, there were no murders. Matilda and Adelaide are rose bushes. Nonetheless, foul play is suspected. Meg Langslow finds herself embroiled in the middle of this rose mystery. Supporting her eccentric parents new hobby, growing roses and entering them in highly competitive rose shows, Meg is the coordinator for the upcoming local rose show and feels compelled to solve any issue that comes up – including murder. Yes, there is a real murder.

The story is written as a traditional whodunit and doesn't have an overly complicated plot. I found the characters to be warm, funny and just a tad sarcastic. There is a good deal of amusing, playful banter between them. This seems to be a lighthearted series – I am not sure if the books in the series are stand alone or if it is necessary to start at the beginning. I think I may pick up the first in the series and see how it goes.

Looking forward to the next preview!

B-I-N-G-O Award

Thanks to Melissa at Scuffed slippers and wormy books.... for this award.

This award means that this blog is:
    B: Beautiful
    I: Informative
    N: Neighborly
    G: Gorgeous
    O: Outstanding

Five blogs that fit these criteria:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Read-it-First: The Husband Habit

Last week, the St. Martin's Read-it-First selection was The Husband Habit, by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez.

Vanessa Duran, the heroine of the novel (I only refer to her as such since that is the word used to describe her in the first paragraph), a chef in New Mexico, has a sad habit of unwittingly falling for married men. At the start of the novel, she is accosted by the wife of her current soul mate. Embarrassed and unsure of herself, she throws herself into her work. This is pure chic lit and from what I previewed, it seems like it would be a light read. The cover of the book references Paul – supposedly her final paramour in the dating game; however, he was not introduced in the pages I read. Will he make the book better?

I must say that I was instantly put off by this book and by the fifth paragraph, I decided that I didn't want to read it; however, I did read the full twenty five page preview – hoping things would improve. They did not. The author has a habit of heavily peppering the story with fragmented and one word sentences. I am sure that this was done intentionally; however, I found it bothersome. Putting this aside, I did not like Vanessa and found the descriptions to be … not sure how to say it – blech – they just rubbed me the wrong way. The following excerpt is an example.

Vanessa, mind clear as a drink of water, steps into the bathroom, gets slapped in the forcibly peaceful face by the foul hand of fetidness. Like a woolly mammoth took a dump in here, and died promptly after. Metaphor, dear universe? She takes the symbolism and twists it through her body. Bad things coming. Cement. Excrement. Experiment. Disillusionment. Wonders what is meant. Wonders what she has gotten herself into. Wonders why hope, of all things, has, so far, smelled so rancid. Reminds herself to stop. "Stop." Overthinking. Every. Little. Thing. Jesus. Walks across the curiously wet and rotted tiles of the bathroom floor, hopes the "eau du" dead mammoth will not stick to her shoes like toilet paper.

Looking forward to the next preview!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Await Your Reply

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon … what can I say? It is an unusual novel. It is both a mystery and a psychological study of identity. The novel is divided into three stories with the chapters cycling between them. A common thread – identity and who you are – binds the stories together and is clearly evident. In one story, Miles Chesire, wanting to get on with his life, has received a letter from his twin brother, Hayden, pulling him back into a global game of hide and seek. Another story centers around, Ryan, a college drop out, whose hand has been severed under mysterious circumstances. And in the final story, we have Lucy, a recent high school graduate who leaves town with her high school teacher. Each of these individual is searching for something but what is that something. Is it love, a sense of belonging, closure, etc...? In their search, these individuals will need to come to terms with who and what they are.

While reading, I had a gnawing sense of familiarity and definitely saw strong parallels between two of the stories. Is there a connection between all the stories? This question will keep you reading (and thinking). I found Mr. Chaon to be quite adept at describing the little details – from a neglected motel in an abandoned US town to a hotel in Africa and a quaint little town in Ecuador – you feel as though you are there and witnessing everything. The stories were well paced and the characters well developed. Some may find the interweaving of chapters a bit disconcerting; however, the book is a page turner (I read it in one sitting). Some may not even like the characters as they are dark and strange – I only found one to be likable. Mr. Chaon's characters could be someone you know – they are ordinary people just trying to find themselves; however, some of the means taken to do so are questionable and may leave you wondering how well/if you know someone. I have always felt that you can never really know someone – you can only know what they allow you to see – truth or not.

I highly recommend.

Thank you to Random House for this ARE.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday Teaser: Saffron Dreams

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

1. Grab your current read
2. Open to a random page
3. Share two (2) "teaser"; sentences from somewhere on that page (BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I stopped by a toy store, its shutters down, occupants fast asleep. As I pressed my nose against the window, I marveled at the simple joys of childhood. My breath came in short waves and misted the window, creating tiny smoky bubbles of all sizes and shapes.

-Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah, p 1-2

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Read-it-First: A Crack in the Lens

Last week, the St. Martin's Read-it-First selection was A Crack in the Lens, the fourth book in the series, Holmes on the Range, by Steve Hockensmith. The Amlingmeyer brothers – Otto and Gustav - pay homage to the great Sherlock Holmes. Believing that they themselves are detectives of Holmes' caliber, they set off on yet another case – the murder of Gustav's fiance. Holmes and Watson, they are not; however, one does see elements from that detective team. While Gustav, “Old Red”, takes the lead detective role, Otto, “Big Red”, serves as the Watson of the duo. Otto's narration of the story is both sarcastic and witty. The story is fast paced and laced with an amusing undertone. At times, I found myself quietly laughing out loud and at other times tinged with sadness for Gustav. I anticipated the arrival of each daily installment.

I was intrigued by this excerpt and will be looking into the series – I need to start from the beginning.

Looking forward to next week's preview!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Last Dickens

The Last Dickens, the latest novel by Matthew Pearl, focuses on Charles Dickens’s final, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. With the death of Mr. Dickens, what will become of his final manuscript? Is it really unfinished? If yes, did Dickens leave behind any clues as to how the novel would end? If no, where are the remaining pages? These are a few of the questions that arise at the start of the novel. When James Osgood, Dickens’ American publisher, fails to obtain the first installment of Drood, he travels to London to see if these questions can be answered. This sounds like a simple task; however, I don’t believe that simple is a word in Mr. Pearl’s vocabulary. He creates an air of mystery surrounding these missing pages. Peppered with actual events, thievery, drugs and murder, the novel takes the reader on a journey of speculation – one plausible scenario regarding the fate of Drood – if curious, you must read for yourself. The story was broken down into three distinct story lines. Two of which complimented one another: Dickens’s first American tour and the aftermath of Dickens’s death. The third revolved around the life of Dickens’ son in India. I enjoyed the plot and the writing; however, the obscure connection of this last story line to the rest of the novel, left me wanting.

I recommend to those who have read other works by Matthew Pearl and/or those who enjoy historical fiction, Dickens or the publishing world. I also recommend to those of you who have not read Matthew Pearl.

Other novels by Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club, Poe’s Shadow. My favorite was The Dante Club.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tuesday Teaser - Mercury In Retrograde

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

1. Grab your current read
2. Open to a random page
3. Share two (2) "teaser"; sentences from somewhere on that page (BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The elevator came to a stop, the doors opened, and Penelope stepped out into her own personal Fallujah. The noise was almost deafening. It was lunchtime for the 150 reporters and editors and so, in addition to the constant ringing of phones, the screaming for "copy!" and the news blaring from five television sets hanging over the main news edit desk, there was an undercurrent of munching and the cackling of fast-food wrappers.

-Mercury In Retrograde by Paula Froelich, p 38

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Read-it-First: Secret Keepers

This week, the St. Martin's Read-it-First selection was Secret Keepers by Mindy Friddle. I was able to preview the first twenty one pages of this book. From the beginning, it is apparent that this is a story about a dysfunctional family. We are first introduced to Emma Hanley who is seventy two and anticipating the journey of a lifetime, a cruise to Europe. Unfortunately, she has to contend with her husband, Harold, his fickle nature and their schizophrenic son, Bobby. Is Harold a faithful husband? Does he still love Emma? I'm not sure if they're still in love or if they've just become part of each others routine. Foreshadowing at the end of the first chapter leaves us wondering whether or not Emma's dream of traveling will be realized. Additionally, we meet Dora, the born-again Christian daughter, who teaches an exercise class in the middle of a mall! I found this to be quite comical – exercising in a health club is the most exposure I would want. The writing was enjoyable and I felt that I was getting to know each member of the Hanley family. They seemed very realistic and entertaining. I hope the character development continues over the course of the book and that the secrets being kept are just as intriguing and quirky as the characters. At this point in the story, we have no idea what those secrets could be.

I believe a second look is needed.

Looking forward to next week's preview!