Friday, September 30, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number thirty-eight

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: Slam by Nick Hornby


Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I set a personal challenge for myself to read / re-read all of Hornby's novels this year, and Slam is next up.

Q: What have you read since the last weekly wrap-up?
A: The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill and The Sixes by Kate White


Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson


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

Q: What have you reviewed since the last weekly wrap-up?
A: Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn, A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby, and Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcolm


Q: What books did you acquire?
A: Purchased: A Dead Hand by Paul Theroux


Q: What bookish events did you attend?
A: I attended a talk by Paul Theroux on Monday evening. I'll have a full post on the event soon.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011 third quarter favorite

I decided to spotlight my favorite book of each quarter this year 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. In 3Q 2011, I read 26 books.

I spent most of my time in the last three months reading mysteries and thrillers with just a couple of general novels and nonfiction thrown in. Unfortunately, there were several books that I didn't like at all and a few more that left me unimpressed. Of the handful of winners, I can pretty easily declare my favorite read of the third quarter of 2011 as...

Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn

Spycatcher is an amazing debut thriller by former MI6 officer, Matthew Dunn. Check out my review for more info.

Buy Spycatcher from Powell's or Amazon.com.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review : Heart of Deception

Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcolm. Harper, 2011.

[Source: Publicist]

Heart of Deception is the sequel to M.L. Malcolm’s first book, Heart of Lies, which centers on the enigmatic Leo Hoffman. Malcolm picks up the story about three years later in 1942. Leo has agreed to spy for the Allies in exchange for American citizenship and a reunion with his young daughter, Maddy. With the outbreak of war in Europe, the Allies don’t seem eager to fulfill their end of the bargain. Even more upsetting, his letters to his daughter Maddy haven’t been getting through. When Maddy’s aunt turns up in New York, her life changes dramatically. She is introduced to wealth and the good life but is also poisoned against her father. All of these things conspire to create a prolonged estrangement between Leo and Maddy.

Heart of Deception follows the Hoffmans from 1942 to 1963. Leo becomes completely embroiled in the events of World War II and barely makes it out alive. Maddy has her share of adventures and heartbreak along the way. The lies Maddy is fed about her father are frustrating and lead her to make poor decisions. I was hoping against hope that Leo and Maddy would somehow reunite after the horrors they both endure.

Heart of Deception is just as rich in historical detail and emotion as Heart of Lies. Despite the fact that Leo and Maddy are both deeply flawed, I couldn’t help but root for them. If you enjoyed Heart of Lies, Deception will not disappoint. I’m not sure if this is the end of our journey with Leo and Maddy or not, but would be happy to continue my journey with the Hoffmans.

Related posts:
Review : Heart of Lies

Powell's Partner links:
Heart of Lies
Heart of Deception

Amazon Associate links:
Heart of Lies
Heart of Deception

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review : A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. Riverhead, 2005.

[Source: Purchased]

A Long Way Down continues Hornby’s trend toward dark humor established in How to Be Good. New Year’s Eve is a popular suicide night at Topper’s House. The suicide plans of four people are foiled when they meet on the roof and the mood is broken. Maureen, Martin, Jess, and J.J. decide to continue meeting over the course of the next few months as a sort of support group. The only problem is they can barely stand each other. A middle-aged woman with a disabled son, a former TV host ruined by scandal, an out of control teenager, and an American rock star wannabe have little in common. The only thing that ties them is each one’s wish to end his or her life.

Along the way their are humorous moments and heartbreaking moments and the characters manage to learn a little from one another. In the end, A Long Way Down is about learning to live again no matter how large or small the setbacks you face, but Hornby isn’t preachy or sappy about it. He’s a master at creating touching and funny interactions and characters with which a reader can easily identify. Once again, I encourage you to pick up a Nick Hornby novel, any Nick Hornby novel. I’m confident you’ll enjoy it.

Related post:
Reading challenge : Nick Hornby

Buy A Long Way Down from Powell's or Amazon.com.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review : Spycatcher

Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn. William Morrow, 2011. (Published August 9, 2011)

[Source: Publisher]

Spycatcher is the debut novel of Matthew Dunn, a former MI6 field officer. The main character is Will Cochrane, the top MI6 agent of his age. His MI6 handler assigns him to a joint MI6 / CIA mission to capture an Iranian terrorist mastermind code-named Megiddo. Megiddo is so masterful that only Cochrane has any hope of getting to him before he unleashes a monstrous attack. The mission soon becomes both personal and professional as Cochrane tracks Megiddo across Europe and to the U.S. while avoiding his own execution.

Matthew Dunn obviously has the expertise to create a realistic tale of international espionage. Luckily for the reader, he is also an excellent writer and weaves a compelling and heart racing narrative. Cochrane is a natural agent who follows his own instincts even when they run counter to his direct orders. The twists and turns kept me at the edge of my seat until the very end wondering if Will could really succeed in defeating Megiddo and his men with only his own wits and a small, out-manned band of American soldiers.

If you are a fan of thrillers, you will certainly love Spycatcher. Matthew Dunn has certainly made his mark on the genre, and I can’t wait to see what he gives us next.

Buy Spycatcher from Powell's or Amazon.com.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number thirty-seven

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 Woodcutter by Reginald Hill


Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I received a copy for review.

Q: What have you read since the last weekly wrap-up?
A: Dominance by Will Lavender


Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: The Sixes by Kate White


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

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: Purchased: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart M. Kaminsky, Murder in the Marais by Cara Black, Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason, Murder at Shots Hall by Maureen Sarsfield, How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen, The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett, The Doctor of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Q: What bookish places did you go to?
A: I did have a chance to go to Powell's City of Books while I was in Portland. A good portion of the list above is from there. Powell's is so huge and has a great selection! I really had to control myself. If you ever have the opportunity to go, do!

Q: What bookish events did you attend?
A: I attended a couple of library conferences over the past week. If you follow me on Twitter, I'm sure you noticed!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reading challenge : Edgar Awards : Update seven

image courtesy of Jeff Babbitt
I've been catching up on my Edgar Awards reading since my last update with three more read and reviewed.

LaBrava by Elmore Leonard
Briarpatch by Ross Thomas
The Suspect by L.R Wright

My goal for the challenge was to achieve the highest participation level, Lieutenant, with 10 Edgar winners read. My next read, A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine, will put me at my goal! My new goal is to complete the 1980s winners by the end of the year. I should be able to do it since I'll only have 2 more after Vine.

The other challenge participants seem to have taken a hiatus. No reviews were posted for July/August. If you just forgot to post them, you can do so here. If you need to post reviews for previous months, links to do so are in the right sidebar and on the Edgar Awards Reading Challenge page. Use the Mr. Linky below to share your reviews for September. Please be sure to give the direct link to your post rather than the link to your blog. For those of you without blogs, feel free to post your update/review in the comments.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review : Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch. Harper, 2011.

[Source: Publisher]

The author, Nina Sankovitch, lost her oldest sister to cancer and spent several years trying to outrun her grief. She finally realized running wasn't working and decided to take solace in books. She read a book a day for a year and found comfort and wisdom in their words.

I was attracted to this book as I am all books about books. However, I quickly found that Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is not a book about books but rather a book about loss and grief and the difficulties in overcoming them. Sankovitch shares her journey towards living with her loss. She reflects on the memories resurrected by the books she reads and comes to realize the best way to carry on is to value the life her sister led rather than focusing on the tragedy of her death. There are, of course, discussions of some of the books she read, but more important are the lessons the books teach her.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair turned into the perfect read for September 11. Not because Sankovitch’s loss was a result of that tragic day, but because of the theme of loss and the message she sends. This is a touching book that gives the read a very personal insight into the author’s thoughts and feelings. Even though Tolstoy and the Purple Chair wasn’t what I expected, I found myself drawn into Sankovitch’s life. I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you have a loss of your own to process.

Amazon Associate link:
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review : The Suspect

The Suspect by L.R. Wright. Felony & Mayhem, 2008. (Originally published 1985)

[Source: Purchased]

1986 Edgar Winner for Best Novel

The Suspect is the first in L.R. Wright's Karl Alberg series and the first Canadian novel to win an Edgar Award. Alberg is a police officer in a small town on Canada’s Sunshine Coast where there is little other than petty crime. That is, until an elderly man turns up murdered. Alberg works to uncover the long-held secrets surrounding the crime and catch his man.

Rather than a “who done it,” The Suspect is a “why done it.” The book actually opens with the murder of eighty-five year old Carlyle by the slightly younger George. Even though you know who did it, following Alberg on his search is still intriguing. Why in the world would one elderly man kill another? What is their history? Throw in a librarian who starts dating Alberg but who is also a close friend of the killer and you’ve really got the makings of a fun tale.

The Suspect follows the psychological journey of both Alberg and George Wilcox as they dance around each other. The rear cover of my copy has a small box that says “Who’s likely to like this? Fans of Scandinavian mysteries, with which it shares a sense of chilly introspection.” Definitely an apt phrase. I also see the similarity with Scandinavian mysteries though The Suspect moves much faster than most of the Scandinavian mysteries I’ve read.

This is another Edgar winner that has stood the test of time. Unlike some of the earlier Edgar winners I read, I didn’t feel like I was stepping back in time. This story could take place today as easily as in the 1980s. If you enjoy mysteries about the why instead of the who, I would definitely recommend The Suspect.

Related post:
Reading challenge : Edgar Awards

Amazon Associate link:
The Suspect

Friday, September 16, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : thirty-six

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: Dominance by Will Lavender


Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I received an ARC for review, but I'm also reading it for pleasure. Erik Larson is one of my favorite authors.

Q: What have you read since the last weekly wrap-up?
A: The Hand that Trembles by Kjell Eriksson, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina SankovitchIn the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson


Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill


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

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: Purchased: A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine


Q: What bookish places did you go to?
A: I'm in Portland, OR right now for a conference and prepared this post in advance. By the time you read this, I will probably have been to Powell's City of Books. I'll give a full report next week!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review : Attachments

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Dutton, 2011. (Published April 14)

[Source: Publisher @ ALA Midwinter Meeting]

Lincoln is an internet security officer for a newspaper. It’s his job to make sure the employees aren’t misusing their email accounts. Beth and Jennifer are always misusing their email accounts by corresponding back and forth about their personal lives. A few of their emails trigger the filter, and Lincoln is hooked. Even though he knows it’s wrong, he keeps reading their emails and finds himself falling in love with Beth, a woman he’s never laid eyes on. How do you introduce yourself to the woman you love when you’ve been snooping in her email?

Attachments is clever. For most of the novel, the reader only knows Beth and Jennifer through their emails -- just like Lincoln. You find yourself attached to these characters despite never meeting them directly -- just like Lincoln. Eventually and inevitably, the reader and Lincoln do get to meet these women “face-to-face.” Attachments is also a funny and sweet story. If you are looking for something light-hearted with a little romance, this debut novel is a good choice.

Amazon Associate link:
Attachments

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review : The Taint of Midas

The Taint of Midas by Anne Zouroudi. Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, 2011.

[Source: Publisher]

The Taint of Midas is the second installment in Zouroudi’s Greek Detective series. Hermes Diaktoros finds an old friend’s body at the side of the road following a hit and run accident. The police quickly suspect him of being responsible, but Daiktoros is not deterred from searching for the true culprit and encounters a family driven by greed along the way.

This novel is both similar and different from the first in the series. There are still descriptive passages that do little to move the narrative forward, but are also so beautifully written that I felt myself sucked into them anyway. You can see the Greek countryside Zouroudi describes come to life in front of you. Unlike The Messenger of Athens, there are no flashbacks to the life of the victim. Diaktoros is clearly front and center as the main character. Interestingly, I found myself liking both techniques. It was nice to see Diaktoros develop more as a character, but I didn’t prefer the structure of Midas over Athens.

Zouroudi’s series definitely started to grow on me. The Taint of Midas ARC I read includes the Seven Deadly Sins series title on its cover. I’m interested to see what Zouroudi comes up with to cover all the sins should she continue the theme. Lust and greed, the sins covered so far, seem far easier to construct a mystery around than some of the others -- gluttony, for instance. Anyway, next up is envy in The Doctor of Thessaly. It’s definitely going on my TBR list.

Related post:
Review : The Messenger of Athens

Amazon Associate link:
The Messenger of Athens
The Taint of Midas
The Doctor of Thessaly

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review : The Messenger of Athens

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi. Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown, 2010.

[Source: Won in blog contest]

The Messenger of Athens is the first in Zouroudi’s series featuring the enigmatic Hermes Diaktoros. The body of Irini Asimakopoulos is found at the bottom of a cliff, and the local police quickly rule it accidental as a favor to her distraught husband. The Chief of Police assumes Irini committed suicide. Enter the Greek Detective. Diaktoros is determined to find out who is responsible for Irini’s death. The weeks leading up to her death are slowly unraveled through flashbacks, while Diaktoros methodically pursues the truth.

This novel was not at all what I expected. Most detective novels follow a general formula. At the very least, the detective seems like the main character. In The Messenger of Athens, however, Irini is the main character. I felt like the detective’s appearances were relatively brief and infrequent in comparison to the story of Irini’s life. While there is a mystery to be solved, the book seems more like a story of betrayal, love, and conformity than a true detective novel. I also found the pacing of the novel a bit slow, but did feel rewarded in the end. The Messenger of Athens contains a bit of a lesson and establishes the character of Hermes Diaktoros well. I liked this book enough to pick up the second in the series as my next read.

Amazon Associate link:
The Messenger of Athens

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review : The Sandalwood Tree

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark. Atria Books, 2011. (Published April 5)

[Source: Publisher]

In 1947, Martin Mitchell receives a Fulbright scholarship to document and study the end of British rule in India. His wife, Evie, convinces him to take her and their young son with him. Their marriage hasn’t been the same since he returned from the war, and she hopes India will spark a renewal. As Evie settles into Indian life, she finds her marriage and the country under strain. One day, she finds a packet of letter hidden in their home and becomes fascinated with putting together the pieces of the women’s lives within them. Her search is complicated by the increasingly volatile situation in India and the very real dangers of being foreigners in a country trying to reclaim itself.

The Sandalwood Tree is an amazing story of a country in transition as well as a wonderful love story. Elle Newmark leads the reader back and forth between 1850s colonial India and 1947 as British power in India is crumbling. I was completely entranced by these contrasting images and the story of Felicity Chadwick, one of the women from Evie's letters. The Sandalwood Tree tells a tale of love that is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend The Sandalwood Tree. You will love it.

Amazon Associate link:
The Sandalwood Tree

Friday, September 9, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number thirty-five

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 begin, I want to take this opportunity to remind you all that the nominations for the Indie Lit Awards are open. I'm heading the mystery panel, so get those nominations in! Any book published in 2011 are eligible...the awards are independent of the publishing industry, but the books don't have to be from independent publishers. Click here to start nominating!

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: The Hand that Trembles by Kjell Eriksson


Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I won a copy through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Q: What have you read since the last weekly wrap-up?
A: The Taint of Midas by Anne Zouroudi, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer EganOtherwise Pandemonium by Nick Hornby, The Suspect by L.R. Wright


Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: I'll either read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch or Dominance by Will Lavender. It depends on whether or not I feel like taking a break from mysteries.


Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: I received review copies of both.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: From Publisher: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review : The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead

The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead by Paul Elwork. Amy Einhorn/Putnam, 2011. (Published March 31)

[Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers]

So I think I'm hooked on Amy Einhorn Books. This is the third book from the imprint I've read, and I've yet to be disappointed. What I like most is that these book's aren't my typical fare. I like them not because of genre - and all three are very different on that count - but because they are so well-written and so personal. The stories they tell strike a chord with me. But enough about the imprint, let's get to The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead.

The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead is the story of Emily Stewart, a girl who can make an eerie knocking noise with her ankle, and her twin brother Michael, who decides to use Emily’s ability to fool the neighborhood kids with a series of “spirit knocking” seances. Over the course of the summer, this innocent prank spirals out of control as adults begin requesting Emily’s presence and believing in her ability to speak to the dead.

Paul Elwork has created a slightly dark world in which it is hard to decide whether trickery is an acceptable means of assuaging grief. The events of this one summer have lasting effects on both the tricksters and the tricked. Like the other two Amy Einhorn Books I’ve read, The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead makes you think both about the world in general and the effects people can have on one another. Theses books make you reflect on your own actions and choices in life. I’m convinced that even if you don’t think The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead is your cup of tea, you’ll find it engaging and well worth the read.

Related posts:
Review : The Weird Sisters
Review : You Know When the Men are Gone

Amazon Associate link:
The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review : One Day

One Day by David Nicholls. Vintage Contemporaries, 2010.

[Source: Publisher @ ALA]

I hated this book. The overall structure was clever -- revisiting the same two characters year after year on the same day. I was even able to stay interested despite finding the male character to be a complete cad. I was actually happy for them when they eventually got together. And then...I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately...I didn’t like the ending. Am I just too much of an optimist or a hopeless romantic? I don’t think so, but maybe you would disagree. After persevering through this book just because I always like to read the book before seeing the movie, I have absolutely no desire to see the movie. The book was ridiculous, and I can only imagine how horrible the movie is. I can’t even bring myself to write a proper synopsis because I’m so annoyed. I’m sure you don’t need it though. You’ve seen the trailers.

Amazon Associate link:
One Day

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review : The White Devil

The White Devil by Justin Evans. Harper, 2011. (Published May 10)

[Source: Publisher]

In The White Devil, Andrew Taylor is sent to boarding school in the hopes it will straighten him out. The American arrives at Harrow School, a British institution, and within days one of new friends is dead. Andrew begins to have visions and feels that danger is following him. When he is cast in the school play about Byron, he uncovers strange connections between his visions and Byron’s life. There seems to be a strange link between Andrew, who looks remarkably like Byron, and a long dormant mystery at the school.

I love mysteries with a literary twist and was really enjoying The White Devil right until the end. I found the conclusion of this book shocking and not in a good way. I can’t tell you why without completely ruining it, but I was angry when I finished this book. It was so good and then...! I can’t say that everyone would have the same reaction and the rest of it was so good I don’t want to tell you not to read it, but you’ve been warned.

Amazon affiliate link:
The White Devil

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review : The Jefferson Key

The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry. Ballantine Books, 2011. (Published May 17)

[Source: Publisher]

It’s no secret that Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone series is one of my favorites. In this installment, Cotton is drawn back to America by a mysterious note from his former boss, Stephanie Nelle. He quickly finds himself in the middle of a setup and must foil an attempt to assassinate President Daniels. Afterwards, Cotton has to figure out not only who is behind the attempt on the President but also who tried to frame Cotton him for it. Plus, Stephanie is now missing and may be in danger. Cotton’s investigation puts him up against a secret society of pirates who call themselves the Commonwealth. The families of the Commonwealth were privateers during the American Revolution and given extraordinary latitude by the government. The Commonwealth is on a mission to protect their privateering rights and gain power by locating a missing government document.

Berry injects history into his mystery as he always does, which is what makes me love the Cotton Malone series. However, there are fewer flashbacks to the past in The Jefferson Key. Berry leaves us primarily in the present and we learn our history secondhand. This is the first time a Cotton Malone mystery has been set in the U.S. Because of this, I missed some of the fascination for another culture of which I know nothing that I usually get from the series. I also wish I’d sprung for my new iPad before reading this book so I could have read Berry’s short story/eBook Original, The Devil’s Gold, in which he introduces a key character in The Jefferson Key first.

However, I still greatly enjoyed The Jefferson Key. I love the cast of characters Steve Berry has created and was excited to find Cotton and Cassiopeia becoming more of a couple. I love the history Berry draws on to create fascinating and conspiratorial mysteries. I hate waiting for the next Cotton Malone book. If you are a fan of Cotton Malone, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by The Jefferson Key.

Related posts:
Review : The Charlemagne Pursuit
The adventures of Cotton Malone...
Review : The Emperor's Tomb

Amazon Associate link:
The Jefferson Key

Friday, September 2, 2011

Reading challenge : Nick Hornby : Update five


It feels like the year is already winding down, and I still have two novels and a handful of short fiction to read for my personal Nick Hornby challenge! Here's what's left on my Nick Hornby TBR list:

Otherwise Pandemonium (short stories)
Click (one novel with ten authors)
Not a Star (short story)
Lonely Avenue (lyrics and short stories)

That will still leave a few things unread, but I think I can get through this list...thank goodness for short stories! Since my last update, I've read A Long Way Down and should have a review up soon.

It's been a couple of years since his last novel, so I would expect something new coming soon. Has anyone heard anything about what Nick Hornby is working on now?

Feel free to leave links to your own Nick Hornby reviews as a comment.