Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Reads & Links - 1/30/2015

I started Peter Carey's "Amnesia" on the metro this morning & am excited to pick it back up tonight. I'm also powering through "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy" by Karen Abbott before my audio loan is up in three days!

Some bookish links to peruse while you're keeping warm this weekend:
  • With more snow on the way this weekend, the Huffington Post's list of 19 books to read while snowed-in is growing more and more useful.
  • I read Megan Mayhew Bergman's "Almost Famous Women" for the Muckraker & it left me wanting more. Luckily Book Riot has me covered.
  • A friend sent me this article about the Australian's shameful obituary for a very accomplished writer and the wonderfully witty way authors have come to her defense.
  • Publishers Weekly had two helpful lists this week: forthcoming book-to-movie adaptations and spring debut novels to watch. (Disclosure: I just realized I know the author of the latter list.)
  • Slate explains where putting two spaces after a period comes from (and why it's no longer necessary). [via Ask A Manager]

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Wildalone" by Krassi Zourkova

Thea Slavin, a brilliant Bulgarian piano prodegy, enrolls in Princeton University in order to unravel her family's closely-guarded secrets surrounding her sister's death. Once there, she falls in with two brothers alternately vying for her affection and acquiescing to the other. As Thea navigates her new environment and relationships, she is drawn to the Greek myth of Orpheus and its connections to the Bulgarian myth of the samodavi.

I loved the intertwining of the myths from various cultures, and how the author traced them back to their common origins. The mystery of Thea's sister was brilliantly carried out, giving just enough clues to keep me interested, while maintaining suspense throughout the book. Barrie Kreinik's audio narration has a slight foreign accent that reminded me that Thea is viewing Princeton as an outsider, without becoming overwhelming. Finally, the descriptions of music throughout the novel were incredible. As someone not musically inclined, and frankly tone-deaf, the striking descriptions made me understand Thea's connection to her music in a way I wouldn't have thought possible. (Unfortunately, because I listened to the audio, I don't have any to share!)

However, the book fell flat with the brothers, Rhys and Jake. I found them increasingly interchangeable as the book went on - one of them would display a personality trait I had thought was definitively a distinguishing feature of the other, and vice versa. On one hand, it made Thea's inability to choose between them more reasonable; but on the other, it made me in different toward who she would choose because by the end there weren't any substantive differences in their personalities. They also came off as far more creepy than sexy, but that may just be that they didn't fit my personal taste in men.

Verdict: Affirmed. Character problems aside, it's a wholly entertaining, well-written debut, and I would gladly read more of Zourkova's work.

"Wildalone" by Krassi Zourkova, published on January 6, 2014 by William Morrow in print, and in audio by HarperAudio.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Reads & Links - 1/23/2015

I spent a glorious morning in bed reading "Lost & Found" by Brooke Davis (Thank you Dutton for the ARC!) and listening to "Wildalone" by Krassi Zourkova while I cross-stitched. Looking forward to finishing both this weekend! I'll also be reading "Fourth of July Creek" tomorrow for National Readathon Day.

Some literary links for your weekend reading:

  • A friend pointed me in the direction of this new short story from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author of "Americanah").
  • Haruki Murakami is writing an advice column.
  • Thank you, Book Riot for sharing these Scottish booksellers' glorious rap video.
  • BBC rounded up the greatest novels of the 21st century, and I am thrilled to see one of my favorites tops the list.
  • I'm not really sure who would want to spend nearly $295k to watch a book blow up, but if that's your thing, James Patterson is providing the opportunity.
  • The New York Times has the list of finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Percy Jackson's Greek Gods" by Rick Riordan

I've been a fan of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series for a couple years now. They're quick, fun reads with a diverse cast of characters, an intriguing premise, and fairly direct plots and superb narration that make for great audiobooks. I'm bummed the second Jackson spin-off series is already at a close with the recently published "The Blood of Olympus," but looking forward to his new series tackling Norse mythology expected some time this year.

"Percy Jackson's Greek Gods" is a companion to both the Percy Jackson & the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series. In it, Percy tells the stories of the major Greek Gods. They're told in his own voice, so readers of the series will find references to other characters from the novels and their various adventures. That being said, it's a solid introduction to mythology for anyone, young or old, interested in learning a bit more without getting too bogged down in more academic texts. It can be your entry to the world of Percy Jackson, or a supplement if you're already a fan.

As the Goodreads reviews mention, the book does an impressive job sanitizing the rape, incest, and other ickier bits of Greek mythology without revising the stories. Gods "get cuddly" and have god and demigod children, and Percy comments on how weird it is that Gods don't care about dating their relatives.  If your child is interested in learning more about the Greek pantheon after reading the novels, this is a safe, entertaining choice to give them. You'll probably learn something new, too. I definitely did.

Verdict: Affirmed, for anyone whose interested is piqued regarding Greek myths, whether you're young or old.

"Percy Jackson's Greek Gods" written by Rick Riordan, narrated by Jesse Bernstein. Audio published on April 19, 2014 by Listening Library.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Reads & Links 1/16/2015

As I ran around getting ready for classes to start next week, I completely forgot it was Friday! I'm curling up with Kyle to finish "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss tonight, and then digging into "Wildalone" by Krassi Zourkova on audio tomorrow.

A mess of links to fill your weekend:

  • The shortlist for the Tournament of Books has been released! I thought I read a good batch of new releases last year, but I don't know half the titles on this list. I'm cheering for "An Untamed State," no matter what.
  • The spells in Harry Potter are deeper than you thought.
  • To fill out your TBR, io9 rounds up the best paperback originals in SFF released last year and SFF titles to look forward to this year.
  • Bustle collects 18 feminist books. (I'm a bit miffed at their choosing "Yes, Please" over "Bossypants," but "Yes, Please" is newer.)
  • If you prefer your bookish content in audiovisual form, Cheryl Strayed has revived "Dear Sugar" as a podcast and Medium has launched an author interview series called"Forward."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell

Some of you may know I have a mostly-bookish instagram account. It's been great to follow other readers & get a feel for who's reading what now. After loving Eleanor & Park, I was trying to decide which of her novels to read next. The love for "Fangirl" was so overwhelming on my instagram feed, I decided that's where I'd head. Thanks for the solid choice, bookstagrammers.

All I knew heading in was that the main character writes fan fiction in a fictional universe resembling Harry Potter. True, but this book is so much more than that. I'm impressed by the sheer volume of themes covered in this novel. More impressively, each is covered with adequate depth and with an awareness of the way that a disturbance in one aspect of your life has effects rippling across all other areas. In real life, trauma in your home life is not isolated from your school work and friendships, and this book captures those interconnections.

Cath, author of the enormously popular "Carry on, Simon" fan fiction is only 18 and headed off to her freshman year of college with her twin sister Wren, who decided she doesn't want to room with Cath. Cath struggles to find her place in college among her harsh roommate Reagan, Reagan's ever-present boyfriend Levi, her upper-level writing classmates, and Wren's new circle of hard-partying friends. Meanwhile, she's concerned about her neurotic father's health back home.

Rowell gets the upheaval, stress, and uncertainty of freshman year. Levi says at one point, "Months are different in college, especially freshman year. Too much happens. Every freshman month equals six regular months." This novel gets that freshman year of college is at once exciting and overwhelming, infantilizing and responsibility-imbuing. A ton happens in a single year, and you don't return home the same person you were when you left.

One final note - while the novel is about a girl who writes fan fiction, and Cath's fandom is certainly a large part of who she is, the novel seems to have been mis-marketed as solely about Cath's Simon Snow obsession. The discussion of fan fiction may be the book's distinguishing characteristic, but it's far from its defining theme. At it's core, "Fangirl" is about our relationships with family and friends, and how those relationships both shape who we become and evolve as we come into our own.

Verdict: Affirmed for fans of YA. If you're an adult into fan fiction or coming-of-age-in-college stories, pick it up, but I wouldn't recommend this as a general crossover. Solid audio narration by Rebecca Lowman, though Maxwell Caulfield's reading of the brief Simon Snow excerpts felt a bit silly at times.

"Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell, narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caulfield. Published on September 10, 2013 by Listening Library.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday Reads & Links 1/9/2015

I always go into winter break thinking I'll read ALL THE BOOKS, but this week I've enjoyed catching up on my favorite podcasts - Books on the Nightstand, Overdue, and Sword & Laser. Definitely check them out if you're looking for something bookish to fill your commute. Otherwise, I've been reading Geraldine Brooks's "People of the Book" in print for DC book club and just started listening to Rainbow Rowell's "Landline" in audio last night.

Literary Links to kick off your weekend:

  • Mark Zuckerberg started a book club, and many are asking whether he'll be the next Oprah (at least in terms of boosting book sales!)
  • The Reader interviewed the three brilliant writers behind Literary Starbucks.
  • A good friend shared this Refinery29 list of books to read in 2015. I'm a fan of this particular list for including excellent backlist titles (books not published super recently).
  • Electric Lit shared 17 novels to read in one sitting.
  • The Washington Post listed the 10 novels they're looking forward to in 2015, several of which are already on my TBR list!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Astonish Me" by Maggie Shipstead

"Astonish Me" is a book I should not have started during finals. Maggie Shipstead's debut "Seating Arrangements" was lovely, witty, and charming, but I was not prepared for the emotionally-involving, tightly-plotted  "Astonish Me."

Joan is a ballerina in the corps (the ballet equivalent of the chorus) of a New York City company when she helps celebrated Russian dancer Arslan Rusakov defect by driving him across the Canadian border in the mid-70's. The novel explores how that act and her subsequent relationship with Arslan shapes her life and that of those around her. Covering events from the 70's to the near-present, the novel is both sweeping and intimate in scope. It's also worth highlighting the solid audio narration by Rebecca Lowman for those who listen.

The structure of the novel bounces through time, divided into several parts that internally proceed chronologically. When each new part begins, it re-sets to an earlier part in time, shedding light on moments given new significance with the additional information the reader now knows. It's not as complex as my poor explanation makes it sounds, and it works wonderfully. The structure allows it to cover a sweeping span of time, while intimately focusing on a specific set of characters whose lives intertwine and dramatically impact one another.

The characters - Joan and her family, the family next door, and Joan's dancer friends and colleagues - are each remarkably unique and well-developed for a fairly short novel. I cared about them all, despite their faults. The desire to know where their lives would take them and why they made certain choices kept me listening long past when I should have returned to my casebooks.

And the conclusion! The story was well-told and the characters well-drawn, so I likely would have been content no matter how the book wrapped up. But the final scene pushed this novel into superb territory. It is both a perfect capstone and an illuminating resolution of the book's open questions. It highlights and adds depth to the themes of love and art and the intersection of the two.

Verdict: Affirmed, for all lovers of literary fiction, but particularly for fans of dance.  Read it & let's discuss that last scene.

"Astonish Me" by Maggie Shipstead, narrated by Rebecca Lowman. Published in audio on April 8, 2014 by Random House Audio.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Friday Reads & Links - 1/2/2014

Writing a paper has taken over my holiday break - sorry this is late! I'm listening to Rick Riordan's "The Blood of Olympus" on audio, and torn between wanting to rush through to find out what happens next & wanting to draw it out to make the last installment in this series last longer. I  finished re-reading "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt just in time for our Big Book Club (DC) discussion yesterday afternoon.

Just two quick links caught my eye this week in between all the legal research I've been wading through: