Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 first quarter favorite

I'm going to spotlight my favorite book of each quarter this year. This is partially to let you know my clear favorites and partially to help me pick my favorite book of the year when 2011 comes to a close. I've read 19 books so far this year. Most of them have been good thanks to my new policy of only accepting books for review that clearly fit my interests. The only book I've abandoned has been Madame Bovary, which I started for a readalong.

So, my favorite book for the first quarter of 2011 is (drum roll please)....

The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld

This was actually a hard decision. The Death Instinct is just the sort of book I go for. It's historical fiction based on true events. The competition, however, was stiff between it and Bent Road by Lori Roy, which I haven't posted my review for yet. They are completely different, yet both had me hooked in the first page. However, with The Death Instinct I think I found a new favorite author for one of my favorite genres. Rubenfeld is both educational and engaging in his reimagining of history. He injects humor into his story too, which I always enjoy.

Have you read The Death Instinct yet? What did you think?

Related posts:

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review : How to Be Good

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. Riverhead, 2002.

[Source: Purchased]

How to Be Good is Nick Hornby's third novel and his first to feature a female main character. Katie Carr is stuck in an unhappy marriage with an angry husband. Not angry in an abusive sense, but in a mad at the world sense. Her husband, David, is changed by an encounter with GoodNews, a self-named spiritual healer. He suddenly goes from being the Angriest Man in Holloway to a man bent on saving the world. Though Katie has wished for David to be less angry, his transformation does not improve their marriage. The title of the book has a double meaning. It is both the title of the book David and GoodNews start working on and what Katie has to learn.

All of Hornby's books up to this point are set in the Holloway neighborhood of London. For those who have followed him, you even get the brief reward of a mention of Dick from High Fidelity. In my last challenge update, I mentioned remembering that this is not my favorite Hornby novel. While I would still say this is the case, I enjoyed it more this time around. I think I was deceived the first time by some of the blurbs on the book calling it "hilarious." While there are some moments that elicited a giggle from me, I don't find it hilarious. The book is clever, but I think it has a distinctly forlorn quality. It's a book that makes you think about what it means to be good, which is a good thing. I just find it a little sad that Katie can't find her way out of this unhappy situation. Even David, who thinks he has learned how to be good, begins to have doubts about what he is doing.

If you're a Hornby fan, I certainly wouldn't deter you from reading How to Be Good, but don't expect the same clearly positive growth of High Fidelity or About a BoyHow to Be Good represents a clear shift in Hornby's writing. This novel leaves you questioning. Thinking about what it means to be good isn't a bad idea, but don't expect Hornby to give you a tidy solution.

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How to Be Good

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review : The Rheingold Route

The Rheingold Route by Arthur Maling. Harper & Row, 1979.

[Source: Purchased]

1980 Edgar Award Winner for Best Novel

The Rheingold Route refers to a travel path followed by individuals attempting to smuggle British Pounds out of the country to Switzerland. Early in the novel, John Cochrane is hired to take this route in order to get his client's inheritance out of the country. While he works regularly as a "courier," he feels forced into this job. As a lonely American stranded in London (for reasons we learn along the way), he does what he must to get by. The reader quickly realizes that this job is not what it seems, but John is left in the dark and must fend off the ulterior motives of others.

I have to say that The Rheingold Route is my favorite of the three Edgar Winners I've read so far. I enjoyed the characters and the structure of the story. It felt contemporary and could easily have been written in the last few years rather than in 1979. While I wasn't sure how the story would end or who would outsmart who, there was a sense of hope that I liked. I was rooting for John Cochrane even though some of his actions were suspect. He was a complicated but likable character that I hoped would win out in the end. If you're looking for some older mystery fiction to read, I would definitely recommend The Rheingold Route.

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The Rheingold Route

Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number twenty-two

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.

I normally post the weekly wrap-up on Friday, but I missed last Friday due to traveling.

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell


Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I picked this up at ALA Midwinter because it sounded interesting so this is primarily for pleasure.

Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: Since the last weekly wrap-up, I've read Red on Red by Edward Conlon and How to Be Good by Nick Hornby.


Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark


Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: I received it for review from Mulholland Books.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: Purchased: Townie by Andre Dubus III
From Publisher: The Wreckage by Michael Robotham
From LibraryThing Early Reviewers: The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead by Paul Elwork




Q: What bookish events did you attend?
A: I missed a few posts last week because I was attending the OCLC ILLiad International Conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia. ILLiad is an interlibrary loan management software, which my library uses. Not the type of bookish event you all are typically interested in, I know.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review : The Devotion of Suspect X

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. Minotaur Books, 2011. (Published February 1)

[Source: Publisher @ ALA Midwinter Meeting]

Yasuko Hanaoka’s abusive ex-husband has tracked her down again. She tries to get rid of him, but in an instant everything changes. Yasuko is forced to murder him to protect her daughter. The next door neighbor, Ishigami, immediately offers to help hide her crime. The novel then becomes a battle of wits between Ishigami, police detective Kusanagi, and Yukawa, a brilliant physicist with connections to both Ishigami and the police. The reader feels the tension of whether or not Hanaoka and Ishigami will be found out.

The author, Keigo Higashino is a bestselling author in his native Japan, and it is easy to see why. The Devotion of Suspect X is the best of suspense. I was in a continual state of anticipation, and, in the end, completely surprised by the ending. It was simultaneously unbelievable and believable. The psychological stress Higashino is able to generate in both his characters and his readers is remarkable. I highly recommend The Devotion of Suspect X, and am hopeful we all have the opportunity to read more of his work in the future.

Amazon affiliate link:
The Devotion of Suspect X

Monday, March 21, 2011

Readalong : Madame Bovary : Week three

I'm participating in The Lost Entwife's March readalong of Madame Bovary. The reading assignment for March 15-21 was Chapters 13-18. I'm reading from the 2010 Viking edition.

I tried. I really did. As I've made clear in my two previous readalong posts, making it through Madame Bovary has been a struggle for me. I finally decided to give up last Friday one chapter into this week's assignment. Several friends asked me what I was reading, and I responded rather dejectedly, "Madame Bovary." After hearing myself say it, I decided there are so many other books I want to read that it was ridiculous to continue wasting time with a book that I wasn't enjoying. Thus I have failed this readalong. Please don't judge me too harshly.

Related posts:
Readalong : Madame Bovary : Week one
Readalong : Madame Bovary : Week two

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Madame Bovary

Friday, March 18, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number twenty-one

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: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and Bent Road by Lori Roy


Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I'm reading Madame Bovary as part of The Lost Entwife's March readalong. I've been looking forward to  Bent Road, so reading it is primarily for pleasure.

Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: Last week I said The Complaints by Ian Rankin was up next, but I've fallen behind on my reading schedule. I'm going to have to jump to Red on Red by Edward Conlon to make sure my review is somewhat timely.


Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: I received a copy through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: After last week's deluge of books, I'm back to nothing. It seems to be a time of feast or famine!

Q: What reviews did you post this week?
A: The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming and You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review : You Know When the Men are Gone

You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon. Amy Einhorn/Putnam, 2011.

[Source: publisher at ALA]

You Know When the Men are Gone is a collection of short stories by Siobhan Fallon. Fallon herself is an army wife, and this firsthand experience allows her to write meaningful and believable stories about life in the military. Each story is loosely connected with the others. Some of the main characters pop up in other stories as ancilliary characters and vice versa.

It is hard to pick a favorite, but I have to say mine was "Camp Liberty." In this story, David “Moge” Mogeson struggles with the decision of whether or not he will leave the army when his tour is up. He struggles with identifying with his wife at home while paired with a female interpreter who understands exactly what he is going through. He is a good soldier who cares well for the men in his command. Will he leave them to their fate with another leader and return to his civilian life or stick with them and risk his entire life? It’s just the guilt-ridden, life and death decision soldiers make every day.

Fallon’s stories give life to the anxiety, uncertainty, and doubt that I imagine every soldier and soldier’s spouse experience at some point. Several of Fallon’s stories brought tears to my eyes and some elicited chills. I read You Know When the Men are Gone over the course of two weeks. I felt the need to space out the stories because of the highly intense emotions they evoke.

Regardless of whether or not this is your typical reading fare, you should read this book. It will touch you and give you new insight into the military life that the brave few face.

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You Know When the Men are Gone

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reading challenge : Edgar Awards : Update three

image courtesy of Jeff Babbitt
One review has been submitted for February so far. It comes from Veggiemomof2 at Insanity, Table for Four. She reviewed Twisted Summer by Willo Davis Roberts, which is the 1997 Best Young Adult Edgar Winner. Veggiemomof2 is cruising right through this challenge with three reviews in already!

I'm still keeping up on my one Edgar read a month plan. March's read was The Rheingold Route by Arthur Maling. I haven't posted my review yet, but I will say that this has been my favorite Edgar Award winner so far. Next up for me is Whip Hand by Dick Francis. I've never read anything by Dick Francis, so I'm looking forward to seeing what he is like.

I'm using the hashtag #edgarsrc on Twitter whenever I mention this challenge. Use it yourself or search for it.

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 March 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, March 15, 2011

Review : The Trinity Six

The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming. St. Martin's Press, 2011. (To be published March 15)

[Source: St. Martin's Press]

The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming is a novel of espionage and intrigue. After the death of his friend Charlotte, Professor Sam Gaddis becomes embroiled in the search for the sixth Cambridge spy. The novel is based on the real-life Ring of Five, a group of British men who went to Cambridge University and were recruited as Soviet spies. They became known as the Magnificent Five. Suspicions regarding a sixth man are long-standing, and many have searched for him.

Gaddis’ search for the sixth man leads him to a Brit named Thomas Neame and then Russia, Germany, and Austria. British intelligence is onto him though and a female agent, Tanya Acocella, is assigned to get close to him and undermine his search. Tanya ends up being crucial to Gaddis’ survival.

I was fully engrossed in Gaddis’ journey and whether or not the story of Edward Crane, the supposed sixth man, would ever come out. I was on the edge of my seat wondering whether Sam Gaddis’ search would merely be stymied or if he would lose his life in the quest. Cumming constructed an excellent story with completely plausible twists and turns. If you are a fan of spy novels and suspense, I would definitely recommend The Trinity Six.

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The Trinity Six

Monday, March 14, 2011

Readalong : Madame Bovary : Week two

I'm participating in The Lost Entwife's March readalong of Madame Bovary. The reading assignment for March 8-14 was Chapters 7-12. In the edition I'm reading, the 2010 Viking, that's Part I Chapters 8-9 and Part II Chapters 1-4.

I'll try not to give away too much of the story, but you may find some spoilers in my readalong posts.


Despite my previously noted dislike of extended descriptive passages, I actually enjoyed Flaubert's description of the ball the Bovarys attend in this section of the novel. I could actually picture the beauty of the occasion. Unlike some of the descriptions, this felt like a noteworthy moment in the story, and it is. The ball has a lasting effect on Madame Bovary.

Part II begins with the Bovarys move to Yonville from Tostes. Here the description once again becomes a bit tedious. However, once they reach Yonville, I was drawn back in as Madame Bovary finds a kindred spirit in Monsieur Leon. I immediately wondered whether Madame Bovary and Leon would end up having an affair following the birth of the Bovary child (Emma is pregnant when they move to Yonville.) I've just reached the point in the story where it is clear they are enamored of each other. It seems likely that an affair will happen, but I've been left with a cliffhanger of sorts. This cliffhanger happened at precisely the right moment. I was beginning to wonder whether I would keep reading after this week, but now I'm forced to go on.

I'm interested to hear whether any of you have read multiple translations, or even the original French and a translation, of Madame Bovary. I'm curious about the quality of Lydia Davis' translation. From my minimal internet research, it seems she has a good reputation as a translator. The reason for my curiosity relates to the extended descriptive scenes. Does the translation affect their enjoyability/readability?

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Madame Bovary

Friday, March 11, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number twenty

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: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and Bent Road by Lori Roy


Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I'm reading Madame Bovary as part of The Lost Entwife's March readalong. I've been dying to read Bent Road. It was one of my Top Ten 2011 Books I'm Anticipating, and the author was kind enough to offer me an ARC.

Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino and The Rheingold Route by Arthur Maling


Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: I'm planning to read The Complaints by Ian Rankin next.


Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: I enjoyed Exit Music, the other Ian Rankin book I've read.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: From Publisher: Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli, A Hard Death by Jonathan Hayes, Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff, Iron House by John Hart, and Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski.


Q: What bookish events did you attend?
A: Nothing this week, but tomorrow I'm attending the Storytelling Arts of Indiana annual fundraiser featuring Antonio Sacre.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review : 13, rue Therese

13, rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro. Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown, 2010. (Published February 2)

[Source: Publisher @ ALA Midwinter Meeting]

13, rue Therese is a unique novel. It revolves around a collection of objects once owned by Louise Brunet, which the author actually has in her possession. In the novel, Josianne, a French university secretary, leaves the collection hidden in the office of a new American faculty member. Trevor Stratton, the American, finds the collection and is soon consumed by the objects and the story they tell.

The style of novel takes a bit of getting used to. The author generally uses the present tense regardless of whether the story is happening in the past or the present. This combined with interesting placement of the words on the page and the melding of past and present can be a bit odd and jarring. The story, however, draws the reader in.

I think of 13, rue Therese as a next generation novel. The finished work (I was reading from an ARC.) includes QR codes that lead you to the website for further exploration of the objects and the story surrounding them. I would guess that the novel would be more intriguing with this added element.

As it was, I found it an interesting study of 21st century story-telling. I was initially attracted to this book by the blurb on the front of the ARC from David Ebershoff, who wrote the wonderful The 19th Wife. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even close to my favorite read of the year. I can just imagine the real Louise Brunet spinning in her grave based on the character and life Shapiro created for her. If you are intrigued by the incorporation of technology into the reading experience, you should definitely check out 13, rue Therese. Otherwise, I think you can leave this off your TBR list.

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13, rue Therese

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday : Books I had to buy...but are still sitting on my bookshelf


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

I'm actually a week behind. This week's topic is Top Ten Dynamic Duos, but I prefer last week's topic and didn't have a chance to do it. Please forgive my tardiness and blatant disregard for the rules. Here are my top ten books I had to buy...but are still sitting on my bookshelf.

iubookgirl's list (in no particular order):

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Stories and a Novella by George Saunders. Riverhead Books, 1997.
I went to see a reading by Mr. Saunders without any intention of buying a book. However, I found him so funny and engaging that I had to buy something.

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore. Twelve, 2010.
I read so many wonderful reviews of this book last fall that I couldn't resist adding it to my TBR pile.

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. Viking, 2009.
I love Talking Heads. David Byrne is completely fascinating. When I saw this book featured at my local indie bookstore, Big Hat Books and Arts, I had to buy it.

Slam by Nick Hornby. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2007.
I don't typically read young adult fiction, but Nick Hornby is one of my favorite authors. These two facts  account for both my purchase and the fact that I haven't read it yet. I will, however, be reading it this year as part of my personal Nick Hornby Reading Challenge.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Dell, 1991.
I am totally embarrassed to admit that I've never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut. What makes this truly horrible is that I am an Indiana native just like Mr. Vonnegut. Here's hoping I fit this one into my reading schedule this year.

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff. Viking, 2000.
I ran out and bought this after reading Ebershoff's The 19th Wife, which I thought was fabulous. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to read this earlier work yet.

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson. William Morrow, 2006.
This book appealed to the history student in me. I know it is good and I know there is already a follow-up. I'll get to it someday.

Misfortune by Wesley Stace. Little, Brown, 2005.
I picked up Stace's Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in January. A commenter clued me in to the fact that Wesley Stace is also musician John Wesley Harding. I started looking at his website and thought the description of Misfortune was both weird and fascinating.

The Instructions by Adam Levin. McSweeney's, 2010.
I read some interesting things about this book, but haven't had the nerve to crack open this chunkster yet.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Scribner, 1999.
Last year, the Occasional Reader and I read To Kill a Mockingbird as our classic of the year. The Great Gatsby is our pick for this year, so I'll finally be able to move it off the TBR pile.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Readalong : Madame Bovary : Week one

I'm participating in The Lost Entwife's March readalong of Madame Bovary. The reading assignment for March 1-7 was Chapters 1-6. I'm reading from the 2010 Viking edition translated by Lydia Davis.

I'll try not to give away too much of the story, but you may find some spoilers in my readalong posts.


I chose to skip Davis' introduction and jumped right into Flaubert. The story begins from the perspective of a group of schoolboys as a new boy is introduced into their established routine. Flaubert quickly abandons this perspective, however, and tells the story from a detached third person perspective. The new boy is Charles Bovary and, in the first six chapters, he quickly grows from the fifteen year old boy of page one into a country doctor newly married to his second wife, the Madame Bovary of the book's title. The reader is given insight into the character of Emma Bovary in chapter six that probably sets up the rest of the book.

Flaubert is no stranger to detailed descriptive passages. I'm not a fan of such passages that do little to nothing to advance the story. Luckily, there is something to the rhythm of the writing (or at least the translation) that makes all the description tolerable. However, I still find it difficult at times to maintain my concentration and find myself re-reading lines. I'm hoping my interest will increase as Madame Bovary moves to center stage.

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Madame Bovary

Friday, March 4, 2011

Weekly update : update nineteen

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 Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino


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

Q: What have you read since the last weekly wrap-up?
A: The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming, You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, and 13, rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro


Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: The Rheingold Route by Arthur Maling

Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: This is my third read for the Edgar Awards Reading Challenge.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: None!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review : The Oracle of Stamboul

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas. Harper, 2011. (Published February 8)

[Source: Harper]

The Oracle of Stamboul grew out of Michael David Lukas’s MFA thesis at the University of Maryland, College Park. It is the story of Eleanora Cohen. Born in 1877, Eleanora grows into somewhat of a savant. She learns to read at five and by six can calculate figures in her head. She is immersed in novels before she is eight and has mastered several languages. When her father must travel to Stamboul for business, she stows away in one of his trunks at the age of eight. While in Stamboul, Eleanora’s life changes dramatically. Then the Sultan learns of her talents and seeks her advice. In the end, Eleanora must choose what path her life will take.

I enjoyed following Eleanora’s journey, but found the chapters on the Sultan less engaging. However, they were interesting enough that I always kept reading. The Oracle of Stamboul was well-written, especially for a first novel, but I was disappointed by the ending. It was not at all what I expected and seemed somewhat abrupt after the journey Lukas took me on.

If you find this time period and setting intriguing, you will probably enjoy The Oracle of Stamboul. Otherwise, I recommend you wait to see what Michael David Lukas gives us next. I expect his next novel will far exceed The Oracle of Stamboul. The bones are there. Lukas just needs a chance to flesh out his style and story-telling skills.

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The Oracle of Stamboul

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reading challenge : Nick Hornby : Update two


I've challenged myself to read / re-read all of Nick Hornby's novels this year. In February, I read and reviewed About a Boy. Two novels down and four to go! I think I may be able to fit in some of Hornby's other writing as well. My next Hornby read is How to Be Good. So far, I'm really enjoying this personal challenge, but I remember How to Be Good not being one of my favorites. I'm looking forward to seeing if this recollection is true.

Though this isn't a formal challenge, I want to give you the opportunity to link up your own Nick Hornby reviews. So, if you've ever reviewed About a Boy, leave the link to your post in the Mr. Linky below!

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

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About a Boy
How to Be Good