Monday, February 28, 2011

Review : About a Boy

About a Boy by Nick Hornby. Riverhead Books, 1999.

[Source: Purchased]

About a Boy is Nick Hornby’s second novel and follows the development of Will, a narcissistic man with few worries, and Marcus, a young boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders. There is a common thread connecting About a Boy to Hornby’s previous novel, High Fidelity. Both feature a male main character who is a bit of a wanker, to use an English term, but both Will and Rob grow up a bit over the course of the novels.

In About a Boy, Hornby alternates between Will and Marcus from chapter to chapter. Sometimes their paths overlap and sometimes the story is exclusively the realm of a single character. The novel generally follows the same course you may remember from the film. Will decides to pretend to have a son in order to meet eligible women at a support group for single parents. His budding relationship with one such single mother introduces him to Marcus. Along the way, Marcus finds him out and uses this knowledge to insuate himself into Will’s life.

Marcus has it rough. His mom is a mess. The bullies are after him at school. He has no friends. Will eventually tries to help him fit in and becomes Marcus’ only friend. Will and Marcus end up finding love interests that help them grow up. The novel doesn’t have the same lovey-dovey happy ending of the movie though. About a Boy was originally published in 1998 and is set in 1993-1994. The definitive moment of the book occurs on that fateful day in 1994 when Kurt Cobain died. The movie came out in 2002. Perhaps the Kurt Cobain references of the book seemed too dated for the film. Or maybe they just wanted that lovey-dovey ending. Either way, the ending of the novel was not retained in the film. I don’t think one is better than the other, but it does make for an interesting comparison.

About a Boy is equally as funny and insightful as High Fidelity. There is a somewhat feel good element to Hornby’s work, but it doesn’t feel prescriptive or corny. It’s just fun to watch his characters grow and become better people. I highly recommend you pick up About a Boy.

Related posts:
Reading challenge : Nick Hornby
Review : High Fidelity
Reading challenge : Nick Hornby : Update one

Amazon affiliate link:
About a Boy
High Fidelity

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number eighteen

The weekly wrap-up is my way of keeping my loyal readers informed of my bookish activities and holding myself to my bookish obligations. The questions may change slightly depending on the week.

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming and You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I reading The Trinity Six for review and the Fallon because I've heard great things about it from other bloggers.

Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: 13 Rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro

Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: I picked this up at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting and have heard great things about it since then.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: Purchased: The Cypress House by Michael Koryta
From publisher: The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

Q: What bookish events did you attend?
A: I went to an event with Michael Koryta at Big Hat Books & Arts on Wednesday, which I recapped here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bookish event : Michael Koryta, author

Last night I went to see Michael Koryta at Big Hat Books and Arts in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was a great event. Michael Koryta is a great speaker and possess just the sort of sarcastic wit that I thrive on. Rather than a straightforward reading, the owner had arranged what she called "a fireside chat without a fire" between Koryta and Jeff Stone, author of The Five Ancestors series and resident of the Indianapolis area. The audience was also actively involved in the conversation.

First, let me tell you what I learned about Koryta's last novel, So Cold the River. Michael Koryta had tried to force the setting of West Baden and French Lick into a straight crime novel, but could never make it work. He finally realized that the surreal setting called for the supernatural. It also created the perfect bridge between the past and present that he wanted. Thus began Koryta's first foray into the supernatural, which he originally thought would be a novella.

Now onto The Cypress House, which holds great sentimental value for Koryta because it is his first novel written as a full-time writer. Michael Koryta has always been fascinated by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and also felt the story of 300 CCC workers left stranded in the Florida Keys during the hurricane of 1935 would make a good story. The real genesis of The Cypress House came when Koryta got an idea for a character who had premonitions of death. He thought the worst possible place to have this gift would be on the battlefield where death would be all around yet the gifted would be powerless to do anything about it. However, he didn't want to write a war story. So was born the veteran Arlen Wagner and The Cypress House using elements of all these ideas.

Michael Koryta doesn't feel his supernatural works are a great departure from his previous novels. He sees suspense as the thread that connects all his works. He introduces characters who enter a world out of balance and then works to restore that balance.

Following The Cypress House, Koryta intended to return to straight crime fiction, but the idea that presented itself was another supernatural story. It is set in eastern Kentucky. He wanted to draw on Appalachian folklore. Another fascination of Koryta's is the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana, so the novel incorporates some of the mythology surrounding big cats, specifically the black panther. The combination of these elements into a ghost story, as Koryta sarcastically noted, puts him squarely in the mainstream. This new novel titled The Ridge is due out June 8, 2011.

Michael Koryta had so many interesting things to say, but I think I'll close here with a great bit from G.K. Chesterton that he shared. Chesterton once criticized modern novels as a thing that would not last because they were about extraordinary characters in ordinary situations. What would last was a story of an ordinary boy on an extraordinary adventure. [Sorry, I can't find the exact quote. If anyone knows the source, please let me know!]

Related post:
So Cold the River

Amazon affiliate links:
So Cold the River
The Cypress House
The Ridge

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday : The Tiger's Wife

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly awaiting. My pick this week is...

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht. Random House. To be published March 8, 2011.

I also featured this on my Top Ten Tuesday post of 2011 books I'm anticipating where I gave the same reasons for waiting on this book. The following description from Goodreads really intrigued me. As you all know, I enjoy a good mystery. Plus, I can trace part of my family to the Balkan region (specifically Serbia), so that's an added element of interest.
The time: the present. The place: a Balkan country ravaged by years of conflict. Natalia, a young doctor, is on a mission of mercy to an orphanage when she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death far from their home under circumstances shrouded in confusion. Remembering childhood stories her grandfather once told her, Natalia becomes convinced that he spent his last days searching for "the deathless man," a vagabond who claimed to be immortal. As Natalia struggles to understand why her grandfather, a deeply rational man, who go on such a farfetched journey, she stumbles across a clue that leads her to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.
Only 13 more days to wait!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Upcoming bookish events

Here are some upcoming bookish events in the Indianapolis area during March and April. Hope to see you there!

Who: Michael Koryta, author of So Cold the River and The Cypress House
Where: Big Hat Books & Arts
When: Wednesday, February 23 @ 6pm

Who: Alicia Erian, author of Towelhead
What: Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series
Where: Butler University, Atherton Union, Reilly Room
When: Tuesday, March 1 @ 7:30pm

Who: Bob Hicok, poet
What: Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series
Where: Butler University, Robertson Hall, Johnson Room
When: Monday, March 7 @ 7:30pm

Who: Taylor Mali, slam poet
Where: Butler University, Atherton Union, Reilly Room
When: Tuesday, March 22 @ 7:30pm

Who: Marilyn Chin, poet
Where: Clowes Memorial Hall of Butler University, Krannert Room
When: Monday, March 28 @ 7:30pm

Who: The House that Etheridge Built (panel of African-American writers)
Where: IUPUI (specific location TBA)
When: Saturday, April 2 @ TBA

Who: Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls
Where: Butler University, Atherton Union, Reilly Room
When: Tuesday, April 12 @ 7:30pm

Who: Lynn Emanuel, poet
Where: IUPUI (specific location TBA)
When: Thursday, April 14 @ TBA
Amazon affiliate links:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review : The Winter Ghosts

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse. New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011. (Published February 3)

[Source: Penguin]

The Winter Ghosts opens with the main character, Freddie, arriving at a Toulouse bookseller hoping to have a letter translated. In response to the bookseller’s query of how he came to possess the letter, Freddie recounts his experience of being stranded in a small, remote village in the French Pyrenees and his encounter with the lovely Fabrissa several years before. He and Fabrissa shared their life stories, which were sad and eerily haunting. Freddie’s story is bookended by the end of his visit to the bookseller where the letter is finally translated.

As I read, I kept returning to a comment made by one of my Twitter friends. She thought of the book as an extended short story and thus enjoyed it as such. I have to agree with her. The structure is somewhat formulaic and the truth about Fabrissa is fairly obvious, but The Winter Ghosts is short and engaging enough that it doesn’t become tiresome.

The Winter Ghosts is definitely not one of my favorite reads of the year, but it was a fun read for a gloomy Sunday afternoon. If you are looking for a quick read and enjoy ghost stories, you may want to pick up The Winter Ghosts. Just don’t expect a puzzling mystery to try and unravel.

Amazon affiliate link:
The Winter Ghosts

Friday, February 18, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number seventeen

The weekly wrap-up is my way of keeping my loyal readers informed of my bookish activities and holding myself to my bookish obligations. The questions may change slightly depending on the week.

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I'm reading it for review and am enjoying it so far.

Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: I read Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett for the Edgar Awards Reading Challenge.

Q: What books did you review this week?
A: Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett and Delirious by Daniel Palmer

Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: Trinity Six by Charles Cumming

Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: I received a copy for review. Plus, I love a good thriller.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: Purchased: Stephen Crane: Complete Poems
From publisher: The Taint of Midas by Anne Zoroudi

Q: What bookish events did you attend?
A: No bookish places or events this week, but I'm excited about next Wednesday's Michael Koryta event at Big Hat Books & Arts.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review + Giveaway : Delirious

Delirious by Daniel Palmer. Kensington, 2011. (Published February 1)

[Source: author]

Delirious, Daniel Palmer’s debut novel, is the story of Charlie Giles, an executive at software corporation SoluCent. Charlie’s seemingly perfect life quickly begins to unravel, and he begins to question his own sanity. Charlie’s family history doesn’t help. His father and brother are both schizophrenic. As things spiral further and further out of control, Charlie must figure out if he really is losing his mind or if someone is trying to set him up.

I was excited to read Delirious after a recent Twitter conversation with a fellow book blogger. She had just finished reading it on an airplane and said she was so surprised by the ending that she accidentally uttered a few expletives in this very public place. I agree with her to an extent. I knew what the answer was, but was surprised by how Palmer got there. Aside from that, I enjoyed the story and the characters. Charlie’s brother, Joe, and Joe’s therapist, Rachel, play major roles in helping Charlie determine what is happening to him. They were strong, likable characters. Even Charlie, who starts out as a bit of jerk, becomes a likable character. I found myself rooting for him.

All in all, I think Delirious is an excellent debut thriller. I’m looking forward to seeing what Daniel Palmer comes up with next. If you like psychological thrillers, I think you’ll like Delirious.

The author sent me an extra signed ARC to giveaway to one lucky reader! If Delirious sounds like it’s up your alley, leave a comment below to enter. Be sure to include a way for me to contact you. For an extra entry, tweet about this post and include my twitter handle (@iubookgirl).

How to Enter Recap:
Entry 1: Leave a comment with contact info (email and/or twitter handle).
Entry 2: Tweet about this review/giveaway with my twitter handle (@iubookgirl) in the tweet.

I’ll pick the winner next Wednesday, February 23 after 5pm.

Amazon affiliate link:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reading challenge : Edgar Awards : Update two

image courtesy of Jeff Babbitt
The Edgar Awards Reading Challenge is up to 15 participants not including myself! I'm so happy that others are interested in reading some award-winning mysteries. Two participants submitted reviews in January. Monica reviewed A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine and Veggiemomof2 from Insanity, Table for Four reviewed Paper Towns by John Green. Paper Towns is a Best Young Adult Novel winner, so we already have people reading from different Edgar Awards lists. If you are a participant and reviewed an Edgar Winner in January, please go link your review here.

My goal for the challenge is to read at least one Edgar Best Novel winner a month, and so far I'm meeting my goal. In January, I read Catch Me: Kill Me by William H. Hallahan. This month's read was Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett, which I just reviewed yesterday. Next up on the list is the 1980 winner, The Rheingold Route by Arthur Maling. At this point on the reading list, Ken Follett is the only one of these authors that I've ever heard of. There are some biggies coming up soon though, including Dick Francis and Elmore Leonard.

I hope everyone is enjoying their Edgar reads so far! For the rest of you, you can still join in the fun. Just go here to sign up.

I've set up a Mr. Linky below so you can add links to any February posts and/or reviews related to the Edgar Awards Reading Challenge. Please make sure to leave the direct link to the post rather than the link to your blog. For those of you without blogs, feel free to leave an update in the comments.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review : Eye of the Needle

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett. Arbor House, 1978.

[Source: Library]

1979 Edgar Award Winner for Best Novel

The story is set during World War II. Die Nadel, or The Needle, is a German spy who learns of a great hoax the Allies are perpetrating in order to deceive the Germans. This hoax is crucial to the Allies success in the war. Hot on his tail are the spy-sniffers of MI5. Also crucial to the story are a young married couple, David and Lucy Rose. The novel follows all of these characters until they come finally come together in a gripping resolution. It isn’t until the very last pages that you find out whether or not Die Nadel will be successful in communicating his knowledge to Berlin.

I had a hard time getting into Eye of the Needle, but decided to follow Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50. Right around the 50 page mark, Part Two of the book started so I forced myself to continue into the new section. I’m so glad I did. Once you get past all the character introduction of Part One, Eye of the Needle turns into a great book. I was on the edge of my seat wondering whether good would triumph over evil.

Eye of the Needle is a remarkable piece of historical fiction. As Follett says in the Preface, it is entirely possible that something of this nature really did happen during the course of World War II. The Edgar Awards Reading Challenge has been very rewarding so far. I’ve read two great mystery novels that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to experience. I’ve always heard great things about Ken Follett in particular and am now eager to read more of his work.

Related posts:
Reading challenge : Edgar Awards
Review : Catch Me: Kill Me
Reading challenge : Edgar Awards : update one

Amazon affiliate link:
Eye of the Needle

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number sixteen

The weekly wrap-up is my way of keeping my loyal readers informed of my bookish activities and holding myself to my bookish obligations. The questions may change slightly depending on the week.

Before I get down to the regular wrap-up, I want to apologize for my erratic posting this week. It's been a doozy of a week with one of my employees resigning on Monday and the other out sick for half the week. Needless to say, I've just been trying to not tear my hair out at work and haven't been able to give the blog the same level of attention as normal. I plan to be back in tip-top form soon though, so please bear with me!

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I'm reading this as part of the Edgar Awards Reading Challenge.

Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: Since the last weekly wrap up, I've read The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse and About a Boy by Nick Hornby

Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: I received a copy of this for review.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: Purchased: CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders, Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
From LibraryThing Early Reviewers: Red on Red by Edward Conlon

Q: What bookish events did you attend?
A: I attended a reading by George Saunders, which I recapped here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bookish event : George Saunders, author

Last night I went to a reading by George Saunders at Butler University. I wasn't familiar with Mr. Saunders work before going, but I'm very glad I made the effort to attend. George Saunders is known for his humorous and dark short stories, and he is equally funny and not at all dark in person.

He read a short story titled "Victory Lap," which appeared in The New Yorker on October 5, 2009. It hasn't appeared in one of Saunders' books yet, but he hopes it will be published in one next year. The story is told from three different perspectives and frequently elicited laughter from the audience as it built to a darker finish. I really enjoyed Mr. Saunders reading style. He was not at all dull, and I easily followed the story, which is something I sometimes have trouble with at readings.

Following the story, he fielded questions from the audience. George Saunders was one of the most articulate authors I've seen as part of the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series in awhile. I found his answers interesting and engaging. The first question was how his science training has influenced his writing. Saunders is from working-class Chicago and went to the Colorado School of Mines and then worked on what he called a "land-raper crew" in southeast Asia. He said his training got him out into the world, bringing him politics and changes in his world view.

In response to another question, Saunders said his early writing was cautious and not funny. He loved Hemingway and tried to emulate him. Eventually, after not being published for awhile and the birth of his second daughter, he started letting humor into his work.

Other audience members asked about his ability to channel bad parenting and the dark nature of his stories. Saunders said the bad parenting is not from his own experience, but mentioned recognizing over-protective, new age tendencies in himself. One of the most profound things he said, in my opinion, is that anything that manifests in your writing must have some presence in your mind. The key is to recognize and uses these presences rather than instinctively shut them down. In terms of being a happy person writing dark stories, Saunders mentioned two quotes, which he may have paraphrased but are completely quoted below.
"There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him - disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others." - Anton Chekhov
"The writer can choose what he writes about but he cannot choose what he is able to make live." - Flannery O'Connor
Local son Kurt Vonnegut was mentioned as a possible influence. Saunders said he is now, but not in his early work. He didn't start reading Vonnegut until after he had already been writing.

George Saunders is also a self-deprecating author. He considers himself to have a small wedge of talent that he nibbles away at. He tries not to repeat himself and is trying to stretch his boundaries as an author.

Following the Q&A, Mr. Saunders signed books, including CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, which may be made into a movie this year.

Related post:
Upcoming bookish events

Amazon affiliate links:
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline
In Persuasion Nation

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Upcoming bookish events : Black Dog Books

A few days ago I received a list of upcoming events from Black Dog Books in Zionsville, Indiana. These weren't on my original bookish events post for January and February, so I thought I'd pass them along.

Who: Dick Wolfsie, comedian, author, TV & radio presenter
When: Saturday, February 12 from 11am to 1pm
Mr. Wolfsie will be signing his books which include: Mornings with Barney (The True Story of an Extraordinary Beagle)Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Why Good Dogs Do Bad Things and Why YOU Should Change Your Behavior), Indiana Curiosities and 67 Ways to Amuse Yourself (In 2 Minutes or Less).

What: Poems for Mr. Lincoln
Where: Lincoln Park, Zionsville, IN (Black Dog Books is back-up site in case of poor weather)
When: Saturday, February 12 @ 2pm
A commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s stop in Zionsville on his way to his inauguration. Lincoln impersonator and poetry contest finalists will read their poems to or about Lincoln. Winner will be announced.

Who: Restoration Press Poets
When: Friday, February 25 @ 7pm
Four poets will speak about their poetry, read from their books and sign books. **UPDATE: There will be three poets: Mary Sexton, Dan Carpenteer and J.L. Kato**

Who: Joan Lyons, historian and author
When: Tuesday, March 1 @ 7pm
The author will tell how she found Zionsville’s stories and read some of the stories from her book.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review : So Cold the River

So Cold the River by Michael Koryta. Little, Brown, 2010.

[Source: Purchased]

So Cold the River is the story of Eric Shaw, a man who has gone from shooting Hollywood movies to creating video memorials for weddings and funerals, and the decades old mystery in which he becomes entangled. The story begins in Chicago where Eric is hired by Alyssa Bradford to do a documentary of her father-in-law Campbell Bradford’s life and uncover the mystery of his childhood. Bradford grew up in West Baden Springs, Indiana, and when Eric goes to the town to trace Bradford’s childhood, things start to get really weird. Eric starts having visions that lead to questions about Campbell Bradford’s origins. The reader accompanies him on a hair-raising, spine-tingling quest to find the truth.

I was drawn to this book because it is set in Indiana, my home state. I’ve also been to the West Baden Springs/French Lick area several times. When I first started reading So Cold the River though, the familiarity of the locale was a little unsettling. I could picture the route Eric took down to southern Indiana and the places in West Baden Springs and French Lick. The detail Koryta provides is remarkable. It felt somehow odd to be reading about a place so close to home, but I quickly overcame this unease and settled into a wonderful story.

Koryta populates his West Baden Springs world with believable and likable characters with which Eric can ally himself. Though most people would think Eric insane for talking about visions, these allies come to believe him, which helps the reader believe as well. I found myself rooting for Eric and his friends, hoping they would find the truth behind Campbell Bradford. The visions of the past and the events of the present combine seamlessly to give insight into both. Koryta leads Eric and the reader on a wild ride that is both ghost story and mystery. The novel culminates in an edge of your seat confrontation between past and present that resolves in a most satisfying way.

I highly recommend So Cold the River to any reader that enjoys a bit of history with their mystery or supernatural story. Michael Koryta is scheduled to appear at Big Hat Books & Arts on Wednesday, February 23, at 6pm. If you are in the Indianapolis area, take the opportunity to meet this local son. I’m looking forward to reading Koryta’s next novel, The Cypress House, even though it isn’t set in Indiana.

Amazon affiliate link:
So Cold the River
The Cypress House

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number fifteen

The weekly wrap-up is my way of keeping my loyal readers informed of my bookish activities and holding myself to my bookish obligations. The questions may change slightly depending on the week.

Sorry for the delay in posting the weekly wrap-up. My glorious snow days of early this week turned into horrible sick days on Thursday and Friday leaving me unable to lift my head let alone blog or even read. I'm feeling better today, so here it is!

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I'm reading it for review.

Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: Since the last weekly wrap-up, I've read So Cold the River by Michael Koryta and Delirious by Daniel Palmer.

Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: About a Boy by Nick Hornby

Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: It's novel number 2 in my personal Nick Hornby reading challenge.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: From Publisher: Deeper Than the Dead and Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag, Gideon's War by Howard Gordon

Q: What bookish places did you go to?
A: Last Saturday I attended the grand opening of Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, which I blogged about here.

Q: What bookish events did you attend?
A: Due to the inclement weather, I missed the Michael Dahlie event on Monday and Wednesday's Michael Koryta's appearance was rescheduled twice. Michael Koryta will now be at Big Hat Books & Arts on Wednesday, February 23 at 6pm.