Category Archives: Fiction

BBAW: Have you heard about…

A few months ago, I put out a plea to book bloggers for help with a personal reading challenge I was developing–Off The Deep End Summer Reading–and asked for suggestions of bloggers’ favorite books.  I turned to book bloggers rather than more traditional sources (New York Times Book List, Washington Post, etc) because I think we cover a broader spectrum; we’re not only reading best-sellers or books that have been marketed heavily. 

The response was overwhelming–over 30 titles–some I had read but most I hadn’t.  And so began my reading binge of GREAT BOOKS suggested by book bloggers.  I’ve only managed to get through eight of the 30 books so far, but it’s more fun to savor them!  (To view this list with LIVE links to the blogs and the books, click HERE.)  If your TBR pile ever gets low, stop by and take a look at my list again!

Here’s a (partial) snapshot of the original post with images of the suggested titles–my two favorites so far were The Help and The Gargoyle:

bk

List of book recommendations without links to blogs:

  1. Autobiography of a Fat Bride by Laurie Notaro (Erica of Pannonica) 6/11/09
  2. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (Vivienne of Serendipity)
  3. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (Claire from Kiss a Cloud) 6/17/09
  4. Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (Anastasia from Bird Brained Book Blog)
  5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (Hayden from Through the Illusion)
  6. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (Dani at Positively Present)
  7. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Heather at Book Addiction)
  8. End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson (Keri at Bookends) 6/6/09
  9. Wise Children by Angela Carter (Veronica at I Lived On Rum)
  10. And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer (Lynn at Lynn’s Little Corner of the World)
  11. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Stephanie at The Written Word and Belle of the Books) 8/24/09
  12. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Jackie at Farm Lane Books)
  13. Namako: Sea Cucumber by Linda Watanabe McFerrin (Christy at The Daily Dish)
  14. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (Jena at Muse Book Reviews) 7/19/09
  15. One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash (Suzi Q Oregon at Whimpulsive)
  16. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (Florinda at The 3 Rs) 6/19/09
  17. One Deadly Sin by Annie Solomon (Becky at My Thoughts…Your Thoughts)
  18. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (Belle from Ms. Bookish)
  19. Cloud Street by Tim Winton (Susan and Meredith from Whelan Flynn)
  20. The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart (Institutrice)
  21. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Carrie K. from Books and Movies)
  22. The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread by Don Robertson (Bybee from Naked Without Books)
  23. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (Beth from Beth Fish Reads)
  24. Clown Girl by Monica Drake (Stephanie from Please, Stop Bouncing)
  25. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Claire from Kiss a Cloud)
  26. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Emily from The World Inside My Head)
  27. Popular Music in Vittula by Michel Niemi translated by Laurie Thompson (Chartroose from Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage!)
  28. No One You Know by Michelle Richmond (Avisannschild from She Reads and Reads) 8/2/09
  29. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (Soft Drink from Fizzy Thoughts)
  30. Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender (I spotted a review for this one on StephSu’s blog) 5/31/09
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Review: The Collector by John Fowles

I was recently invited to write a guest review for Pattinase’s blog feature ‘Friday’s Forgotten Books’.  I selected John Fowles’s 1963 debut novel The Collector.  If you’ve never read this novel, it really is a forgotten classic–maybe even a forerunner of the psycho-thriller genre– but often overshadowed by Fowles’s later novel ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’.

Take a peek: Pattinase’s ‘Friday’s Forgotten Books’.       

Review: The Texicans by Nina Vida

texicansTitle: The Texicans

Author: Nina Vida

Genre/Pages: Historical Western Fiction/296

Publication: Soho Press; October 1, 2007

Rating: 3 BOOKMARKS

The wide open skies and sweeping plains of Texas are the backdrop for this Western fiction saga that tells of one man’s journey through life and the impact of those he meets along the way.

In an effort to diversify my literary diet, I recently accepted Nina Vida’s seventh novel, The Texicans, for review.  I’d never read much, if anything, in this genre and had some misgivings.  My tally sheet of Western History authors was skimpy at best–one Louis L’Amour novel–The Last of the Breed–which was set in Siberia and had nothing to do with the wild American frontiers of the 1800s, and no Larry McMurtry (of Lonesome Dove fame).  Happily, this book was a pleasant surprise!

The Texicans  tells the story of Joseph Kimmel, former trapper and school teacher, traveling from Missouri to Texas during the 1830s to settle his recently deceased brother’s affairs.  Along the way, Kimmel is waylaid by myriad obstacles.  After an escaped slave rides off on his horse, Kimmel struggles to survive, eventually finding himself caught up in the development of a new settlement. 

Perceiving mismanagement in Castroville, a restless Kimmel sets off without a true course, encumbered by a new (and unwanted) bride.  As they travel, the wagon fills with a cast of disenfranchised characters.  Kimmel is helpless to resist the tears of one young Mexican woman who is rumored to have a bit of magic in her.  Aurelia and her young daughter ride along with Kimmel’s wife Katrin, and three adult slaves and their two children.  The motley crew continues on, under constant threat of attacks by Indians  and rogue Texas Rangers.

Finally, the group finds a parcel of land and they create their own ranch.  Before long, conflicts with Comanches and Rangers shatter their peace.  The second part of the novel focuses on Kimmel’s internal conflicts–his unrequited obsession with Aurelia and his desire for revenge on a Texas Ranger who brought pain and suffering to his front door. 

Character development was strong and even minor characters were well-developed.  The characters were realistic because of their flaws, but I had trouble with the Kimmel-Aurelia angle of the story.  Kimmel’s wife was desperate to please her husband but he was so enraptured by mere thought of Aurelia that he couldn’t appreciate what he had.  Additionally, a large cast of minor characters were a bit challenging to keep straight.

Nina Vida’s use of language helped provide vivid imagery and the struggles of early settlers came to life.  Her attention to detail helped me picture a world that I knew little about.  If you’re looking for an introduction to the Western Historical fiction genre, this might just be the book for you.

Are you a Western Historical fiction reader?  Have you read any L’Amour or McMurtry? 

Review: Spin: A Novel by Robert Rave

spinTitle: Spin: A Novel

Author: Robert Rave

Genre/Pages: Fiction/352

Publication: St. Martin’s Press; August 18, 2009

Rating: 4 BOOKMARKS

An all-access pass behind the velvet ropes of New York’s trendiest hot-spots, Spin: A Novel, dishes on the frenetic and cut-throat world that is PR. 

With a little bit of fast thinking and a white lie or two, twenty-something Taylor Green finds himself on the right side of the velvet ropes at the opening of Domino, one of Manhattan’s hottest new restaurants. 

Kismet is smiling down on Taylor–not only does he manage to fast-talk his way past the ‘door dragon’, but also scores a career coup in the same night.  Just by being in the right place at the right time, he’s able to swoop in and snatch up a coveted Assistant position at Jennie Weinstein Public Relations (JWPR), the PR firm of the city.

With his new job comes new responsibilities and fabulous perks.  Coveted party invitations and oodles of swag come Taylor’s way, but he also finds himself at despotic Jennie’s beck and call.  Reminiscent of Lauren Weisberger’s Amanda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada), Jennie Weinstein keeps Taylor hopping day and night with her imperious (and sometimes illegal!) demands and requests via calls, texts, and messages to his Blackberry.

As the novel progresses, a dramatic shift occurs: our provincial hero begins to assimilate to his boss’s nefarious ways.  Taylor’s family and friends don’t recognize him anymore; gone is the slightly bumbling, awww-shucks, guy.  In his place is a corporate assassin–he’s got some dirt on Jennie and isn’t afraid to wield the information, using it as leverage to secure himself better accounts and more responsibility within the firm.

Jennie Weinstein isn’t accustomed to people standing up to (or blackmailing) her, but just how far is she willing to go to shut Taylor Green down for good?  Will Taylor come to his senses and see that his new-found false values are only propelling him further from the people who care about him most? 

A gritty account of the not-so-nice aspects of the PR world, Spin: A Novel sheds light on how the industry (sometimes?!?!) works–journalists, gossip columnists, sales and marketing people, brand and restaurant owners, and PR firms enjoying their quid pro quo “moral” code.

So, is Spin: A Novel a Roman à clef?  Robert Rave did work for Lizzie Grubman, a well-know publicist who has been described by New York Magazine as, “…the most powerful girl (female publicist) of all.”  A few of Jennie’s more outlandish stunts seem to have been pulled from the headlines of the New York rags, but I’ll leave you to decide how much of Spin is based in reality and how much is spun from Rave’s imagination.

Thanks to Marnie at MB Public Relations for this review copy.

Review: The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi

wishmakerTitle: The Wish Maker

Author: Ali Sethi

Genre/Pages: Fiction/432

Publication: Riverhead Books; June 11, 2009

Rating: 2.5 BOOKMARKS

A sweeping saga told in lyrical prose about one Pakistani boy’s coming of age during a climate of political and social change.

Ali Sethi’s debut novel, The Wish Maker, is an ambitious novel–almost an epic–spanning two decades (plus flashbacks), several governments, and much social and political unrest.  Make no mistake, Sethi is a masterful storyteller with a mature voice that belies his young years–he was in his early 20s when he wrote this novel–but I felt that the story suffered from information and sensory overload.

The Wish Maker tells the story of Zaki Shirazi, a young boy growing up in a house filled with women.  Zaki’s mother is a journalist who writes for a magazine and leans toward the liberal left, while his grandmother is more of an old-fashioned conservative.  Zaki’s cousin also lives in the house and struggles to find herself throughout the novel.

The pages were filled with scores of secondary characters and it was challenging to keep everyone straight.  Additionally, unfamiliar terms and foreign phrases were peppered throughout and  I looked up several to give myself a more solid understanding of the story and dialogue.   

This book could very well go on to receive much critical acclaim–the writing is wonderful–but for me it had too much going on and ambled along accounting for all the daily minutia of Zaki’s days.  I appreciated the imagery and characterization but felt that there was no real resolution with some characters and that some of the secondary story lines just petered out.

Thanks to Matt at Penguin Books (Riverhead) for this review copy!

How about you?  Have you read this novel?  Am I way out in left field with my review?   What’s your take?  

Review: The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

silenceTitle: The Weight of Silence

Author: Heather Gudenkauf

Genre/Pages: Fiction/373

Publication: Mira; July 28, 2009

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

Employing multiple narrators, Heather Gudenkauf weaves a suspenseful novel about two young girls who go missing from their beds early one summer morning.

In the pre-dawn hours of an August morning in Iowa, seven-year-old Calli Clark is violently dragged into the woods against her will.  Her fear is palpable, but Calli can’t call out for help because she suffers from selective mutism.  Nearby, Petra Gregory, Calli’s best friend and voice, is lured from her own bedroom after spying something from her window.  Does she see her friend or is it someone more sinister?

As the novel progresses, the narrators shift with each new chapter.  We take in the story through the eyes of Calli, her mother Antonia, her older brother Ben, Petra’s dad, and Deputy Sheriff Louis.  Through each of their narratives, we get the backstory about Calli’s mutism, the family dynamics of the Clark household, life in the Gregory house, and Antonia’s relationship with Louis.

Gudenkauf gives Calli a voice as a narrator despite the fact that she doesn’t speak, while Petra, Calli’s mouthpiece in life, remains silent–her perspective of the story untold.  Anxiety builds as the novel progresses and suspicion is cast on several characters.  Compounding the fear is the  local unsolved murder of another little girl who went missing from her bedroom.  Will Calli and Petra meet the same end?

The Weight of Silence is such a page-turner–I read it in one night, staying up until the wee hours to finish it!  The novel is rife with symbols–the woods, the yellow house, the music note chain–and themes of family, friendship, substance abuse, and loss.   This book would be ideal for a book club selection and comes with discussion questions at the end of the novel. 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book!

 

Review: The Plight of the Darcy Brothers by Marsha Altman

darcyTitle: The Plight of the Darcy Brothers

Author: Marsha Altman

Genre/Pages: Regency Romance/368

Publication: Sourcebooks; August 1, 2009

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

 

Second in a series, The Plight of the Darcy Brothers finds Fitzwilliam Darcy making hasty travel plans to the Continent to save yet another Bennet daughter from scandal.

It’s been an unintentionally (though enjoyable) Austen-esque summer here at Chez Book, Line, and Sinker. In addition to Altman’s terrific sequel, I’ve been (slowly!) working my way through the Spanish version of  Pride and Prejudice and finished Prada and Prejudice, at the recommendation of another blogger.  

part of my 'on the nightstand' stack

part of my 'on the nightstand' stack

It seems that Jane Austen fans can be divided into roughly two camps: the purists and the rest of us.  Austen purists may struggle with contemporary authors serializing Pride and Prejudice (or the other novels), but I think that if the author does his or her research and tells a solid story, these sequels can find success and have a place in the literary world.  (Take my poll at the end of this review and tell me how you feel about serializing classics!)

Marsha Altman is one such author, creating a realistic continuation of Pride and Prejudice while seamlessly incorporating new characters without detracting from the original story.  The Plight of the Darcy Brothers is the second installment in her continuing series and though I haven’t read the first book, had no difficulty following this story.

The novel follows Darcy and Elizabeth as they travel to the Continent, Italy specifically, in an effort to save the reputation of yet another Bennet sister.  Along the way, Darcy comes to learn several shocking things about his father and the Darcy family.  As they travel on, Darcy wrestles with  internal conflict, trying to come to terms with what he’s discovered.

Altman’s skillful use of narration helps the reader understand what motivates each character.  Told in the third-person omniscient, we can see into the minds of the majority of characters and it gives the story greater depth and authenticity.  Austen herself also wrote in this narrative style.

Altman doesn’t skimp on details and fills readers in on all the characters from the original novel.  The subplots keep the story moving and it’s a quick and entertaining read.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and have plans to read the first book shortly.  Readers who can’t get enough of Pride and Prejudice should give Marsha Altman’s series a whirl. 

Thanks to Danielle at Sourcebooks for this review copy!