Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Long Song

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Long Song by Andrea Levy
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, April 27 (US)

From the publisher:

Told in the irresistibly willful and intimate voice of Miss July, with some editorial assistance from her son, Thomas, The Long Song is at once defiant, funny, and shocking. The child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation, July lives with her mother until Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently transplanted English widow, decides to move her into the great house and rename her “Marguerite.”

Resourceful and mischievous, July soon becomes indispensable to her mistress. Together they live through the bloody Baptist war, followed by the violent and chaotic end of slavery. Taught to read and write so that she can help her mistress run the business, July remains bound to the plantation despite her “freedom.” It is the arrival of a young English overseer, Robert Goodwin, that will dramatically change life in the great house for both July and her mistress. Prompted and provoked by her son’s persistent questioning, July’s resilience and heartbreak are gradually revealed in this extraordinarily powerful story of slavery, revolution, freedom, and love.

I loved, loved Andrea Levy's Small Island, and I see The Long Song is on the Orange Prize, arguably my favorite literary prize, long list, so it's naturally one I can't wait to read. How about you? What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

BEA and Book Blogger Con: All Signed Up and Ready(?) To Go

I guess I'm really doing it. After about a month and a half of bargaining, cajoling, pushing, and prodding not to mention some grumbling, whining, and second (and third and fourth) thoughts, I've secured the time off I've been hoping for that will allow me to attend a couple of days of BEA along with Book Blogger Convention. I've paid my blogger con fee, and booked a hotel room that is supposedly a mere 3.5 blocks from the Javits Center. A few more logistics plus a lot more time spent telling myself it will be great fun and not utterly terrifying, and I should be ready to go!

I doubt such a thing could be much further out of my comfort zone or less in keeping with the crummy blogger I've been lately. However, NYC is such an easy trip for me that I think I'd beat myself up forever for missing out on the opportunity. That, and I try to make a habit out of not letting myself get too comfortable, so this should be just the ticket...right?

Anyhow, despite my reservations, I am really looking forward to putting some faces with some names and hoping I won't end up being the biggest BEA wallflower ever.

How about you? Will you be there? Are you a little nervous? And most importantly, can I interest you in meeting me? ;-)

2010 Book Blogger Convention

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen

I have a problem. A good problem, that is. Unfortunately, it's not that I've been posting overmuch lately, acquiring comments and acclaim from near and far for my insightful blog posts and tantalizing reviews. I know, can you believe it? Actually, it's that I keep reading really good books and then I want to talk about them, but then I end up so absorbed in the next really good book that I, uh, never get around to talking about the last really awesome book. It all makes me wonder if the books are really good (they must be!) or if I'm really finally rediscovering my inner reading lover (She has an attention span! Oh the wonder of it all!) which had been subsumed by my inner crazed book lover (Yes, there is a difference which lies mostly in whether I'm really dedicated to acquiring great books or whether I'm really dedicated to reading great books).

So now I just finished another great one, and I don't know whether to go back and review the other really great ones, or if I should pick up with this most recent one and work backward through the awesome. After some thought, I've chosen the most recent, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen, mostly because I haven't noticed it on many (any?) blogs, and am woefully saddened by that fact. That, and I've spent most of the time between now and when I finished it being really sad that I didn't have any more of it to read.

Should he believe this one? He'd lost track of the number of bank robberies attributed to his brothers - sometimes multiple banks on the same day, on opposite sides of the country. He was surprised that law enforcement hadn't found a way to pin the Lindbergh kidnapping on them, or maybe even the stock-market crash, or the depression itself. People seemed to believe his brothers possessed special gifts - that they could journey across space, multiply themselves, predict the future. They weren't men but ghosts, trickster spooks who disobeyed not only man's laws but God's as well.

It's the middle of the Great Depression in the United States. Unemployment rates are off the charts. The Hoovervilles are growing as more and more people lose their jobs and are evicted from their homes. Men wander the streets and stand in breadlines hoping to make enough money and get enough food to get by another day, another week. Having failed to make a living the "right" way under these inhospitable conditions, Jason and Whit Fireson turned to making ends meet in more nefarious ways. After the death of John Dillinger, the Firesons also known as "The Firefly Brothers," have become number one public enemies. A pair of skilled bank robbers, with their bold and well-timed strikes against villified financial institutions the Firefly Brothers have become both loved and feared by the less fortunate and more law abiding citizens of the US. With the help of the media, their lawless deeds have ballooned into a modern mythology. However, there's far more to the Firesons even than what the papers suppose.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers opens up a window on the lives of the unlikeliest of heros. Easily moving backward and forward through time from the perspectives of both themselves, Jason's girlfriend, and their decidedly less infamous brother, Mullen makes the "mythical" Firesons into the real people they are, for better and for worse.

While it's a rollicking tale of dashing bank robbers, high speed chases, narrow escapes, and shootouts, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers is much, much more. It's a mystery wrapped in a touch of magic and modern day myth. It's an unfortunate yet accurate picture of a painful era of American history when men were reduced to helpless shells of themselves who couldn't hope to provide for their families and found themselves looking to bank robbers to provide the hope and the power that was missing from their lives. It's a saga about a family derailed by a father whose American dream turned into a nightmare and a son who couldn't seem to do the right thing, even when he tried his hardest. It's a story that starts, literally, with a bang and an impossible surprise, and slowly peels off layer after layer until we know all the players intimately, revealing the resolution to the mystery bit by bit keeping the pages turning until the ending that, if you're anything like me, you'll never see coming.

< gushing >
What I'm trying to say, if rather poorly, is that this book is really, really great, definitely in the top two I've read this year, and you should absolutely read it, even if I have done a poor job of conveying how much I loved it. It's so good. I felt it. I fell a little in love with the brothers as bank robbers and as men, even though they're far, far from perfect. The picture Mullen painted of this awfully desperate era is terribly vivid. And it all came together perfectly, and it was all just great. And I loved it. That is all.
< /gushing >

(FTC Disclaimer: I received this from the publisher, Random House, via LibraryThing Early Reviewers whose mystical algorithm, possibly for the first time, decided that the book I most wanted to read would be the book that I received.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Weekly Geeks: In It For The Books

The set of questions for Weekly Geeks this week asks us to consider whether we are content to let books speak for themselves or whether we want a little (or a lot!) more information about and from the authors themselves. What better opportunity to lay bare my deep dark book blogger secret?

So, what about you?
•Do you seek out interviews with authors of books you've enjoyed? Why or why not?
•Do you interview authors on your blog? If yes what did you gain from the interview process? If no is it because you don't want to or because you haven't felt able to ask an author yet?
•Do you subscribe to the blogs of authors you like? Which ones? All the authors you like or only certain ones?
•Do you track down author websites or look for biographical information about them elsewhere? Would you skip reading a book if you couldn't find out anything about its author?

It's time to own up to my secret shame. I love books, but I'm considerably less interested in authors. This is not to say that I don't like authors. I've met several through this blog, and think that by and large, they are fine people who are decent, kind, fun, thoughtful, and of course, very talented. That said, I'm not much of an author "fangirl." I don't hunger and thirst over every tidbit of information I can gather about an author. When I see an author interview on a blog, I am all too likely to skip over it, especially considering they often feature authors I've never heard of and books I haven't read. Seeing as such interviews fail to interest me as a blog reader, I don't seek them out to create posts for my blog. I don't have a very inquiring mind, in general, which I actually consider to be a rotten quality about myself. Nonetheless, my mind being what it is, the prospect of trying to cook up intelligent questions for an author interview sounds to me like an epic drag. I don't even seek out opportunities for readings and meetings and signings at local bookstores (not that I have any particular local bookstore that would feature such things). In other words, I feel like a bit of a book blogging leper and often wonder at how I can love books so much yet have such comparatively little interest in their creators.

I guess I've always been a "book" girl. I struggle even when asked who my favorite authors are. While I can rail off an exceedingly long list of favorite books, when asked for my favorite authors, I find that there are alarmingly few authors whose work I consistently seek out and actually read, which would seem to be a prerequisite for their being a favorite. I have many "could-be" favorites, but I'm so unconcerned with any sort of exhaustive reading of one author's work, that I might never actually know for sure that those authors are favorites.

I can't say that I even follow many author blogs. There are a few here and there, but none that I follow seriously. I have, however, taken up following some authors on Twitter, which has been fun, and by extension ending up reading some of their blog posts. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction?

One habit I've been in the process of picking up lately, though, is reading the acknowledgement pages of the books I read. Despite the fact that I rarely know the people the author is thanking, I think reading the acknowledgements gives me a taste of who that author is as a person and how much work and support from others goes into the writing of the book. Seeing who the author chooses to thank and the way that they choose to thank them gives me a neat, tidy glimpse of the author in question that I've grown to really enjoy without taking away from the way that I experience the book.

I guess, in a way, I like being able to interpret and appreciate a book in the way that I choose. Knowing what an author intended the book to accomplish and how it made them feel and how they hope it will make me feel can actually take away from a book's impact on me. I don't want to hear about the nuts and bolts of their process that will take a briliant storytelling effort and bring it down to earth. Something about knowing that the author lets the dog out, has a cup of coffee, and then spends no less than 3 hours of uninterrupted time writing in the morning or the like can suck the magic out of a story pretty quick. In fact, I guess I often fear that knowing too much about an author has the potential to break a story's spell over me in the same way that knowing a famous actor's behavior offscreen has the potential to put me off one of their movies regardless of how interesting they might seem, knowing that I won't be able to reconcile what I know about the author or actor with the story they're conveying through their art.

Anyhow - where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you mad for authors or do you have eyes only for books? Or somewhere in between?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein

Ah, here it is! The book review! Of course, it started working itself out in my head while I was in the shower shortly before departing for work when I couldn't very well write anything down (as is usually the case). Nonetheless, I will now attempt to reassemble those brilliant insights for you here while I digest cake and donuts (and other assorted food groups) from the first annual national histotechnology professionals day. Catchy name - really rolls off the tongue, no? So, uh, don't forget to love your local histotech or at least learn what they heck they do and then propagandize your local young people until they grow up to be histotechs, mmkay? This is all the apparent purpose of having "histotech" day - that and to make us fat and complacent by feeding us high calorie deserts... Hm, oh what? You came for a book review not a lesson in obscure career paths and faintly disguised bitterness? All right, all right. I'll get on with it then.

Yeah, so, Raven Stole the Moon. Garth Stein. Good book.

Raven Stole the Moon is author Garth Stein's debut novel, which has since been followed by The Art of Racing in the Rain. Given the latter novel's recent impressive success, Raven Stole the Moon has been nicely repackaged and released anew by Harper. I haven't read The Art of Racing in the Rain, unfortunately, so I can't very well compare the two, but Raven Stole the Moon stands perfectly well on its own two feet (or its own 400 some pages, I should say).

The central character in Stein's new (old?) novel, is Jenna Rosen. The opening chapter of the book finds Jenna leaving a cocktail party on the second anniversary of her son's accidental death. Without planning to, Jenna finds herself driving away from her husband and their marriage and embarking on a journey to find out the truth about what really happened the couple's son, Bobby, at a would-have-been Alaskan resort. Taking refuge in her grandmother's hometown of Wrangell, Alaska, Jenna begins search for answers that proves to be none too simple as she encounters temptation in the form of an injured fisherman and as she plumbs the depths of Tlingit mythology only to find that nothing is as it seems.

I hate to say too much more lest I spoil a single thing about Raven Stole the Moon, a novel with the plot of a good thiller or even horror novel that doesn't sacrifice characters or themes to suspense. The book is very well-paced, and the mystery keeps the pages turning. Where Stein really succeeds, though, is in elevating Raven Stole the Moon over some of its horror genre counterparts by giving us a set of really well-developed multi-dimensional characters as well as exploring the deeper issues that face those characters.

It would be easy to make Jenna and her husband Robert unequivocally bad. Jenna is obviously selfish in her quest to find answers, using whoever she needs to get what she wants, plowing over the lives and needs of those around her as she pursues her goal. It's easy to hate Robert who hires a private investigator to find out what Jenna's up to and considers drugs and hookers as revenge against his wandering wife. Then, however, Stein brings out the death of the couple's son and the decimation it has wreaked upon both of them as individuals and as a couple, explores the road the two have taken to get where they are, the struggles and the misunderstandings, and ultimately the love they had, and might still have even in the aftermath of a tragedy that threatens their marriage. Suddenly, instead of seeing two rotten people made more rotten by the death of their son, we see two struggling characters who ultimately deserve our sympathy. Like the Tlingit patron saint Raven, these characters are neither good nor bad, they just are.

Raven Stole the Moon is a richly atmospheric and completely absorbing story that takes Tlingit myth and legend, mixes in a heartbreaking tragedy, and ends up with a satisfying blend of thriller and love story that will keep you turning pages until the very last question is answered.

Thanks to Sarah at Terra Communications for providing a copy for review.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Darnit, this isn't a book review!

Greetings regular readers and assorted strangers and people who have the potential to be regulars and people who stumbled by here looking for something totally unrelated to what is actually here! I have returned from vacation which was relaxing and delightful for the most part. Since the day of my return it has been stunningly beautiful weatherwise here, thus keeping me far from the computer. However, I have been diligently reading books and acquiring books and considering the possiblity of acquiring still other books.

For example, both times I ended up tooling about the Philadelphia airport waiting out my layover (which I really don't mind because I've got a serious airport people watching/airport addiction plus, you may have noticed, I like to read) on my way to and from Florida I seriously contemplated buying Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain which was looking out at me oh-so-tantalizingly from that airport Borders shelf. Aside from my possibly being one of the last five book bloggers on the earth that haven't read it, um, it looks really good, and if this Raven Stole the Moon is any indication, it's probably excellent, just like everybody says. Facing the prospect of eviction and put off by the thought of carrying yet one more thing about on my journeys, I dutifully resisted. Nonetheless, if had about 750 fewer books and/or countless hours of free time and/or a really really really big house, I would have bought it. What, pray tell, does this have to do with anything? Well, um, not much really - sorry. ;-)

What I'm trying to say is, I think, that I really really liked Raven Stole the Moon, and it made a horrible companion of me on vacation because I kept wandering off to read it and ignoring my hosts. Now here's the part where I was going to stop babbling on and actually write a review, but this post is getting awful long, and I'm not feeling very cerebral, so I think I am, instead, opting for yet more babbling.

Raven Stole the Moon is definitely part of an epic good reading streak for me. Everything I'm reading is totally taking me in and reminding me why I love this reading stuff. Trigger by Susan Vaught started it off. Then I read an excellent middle-grade-y/YA book called Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham (review forthcoming). Precocious first person narrator with heart, a treacherous adventure, some good old fashioned coming of age - recipe for awesomeness. Then the aforementioned Raven Stole the Moon which was not what I was expecting which is actually a good thing, and it had just the right blend of mystery and suspense to go with its deeper themes to make it the ideal vacation read. I was entirely taken in and so oddly just satisified with the entire thing.

Then, at long last, I broke out that copy of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It which I couldn't resist buying quite some time ago, but never quite got around to it despite (it seems like) everyone's heaping praise. Happily for me, it more than lived up to all the hype. When I got home on Saturday afternoon, I was only about 120 pages in. On Sunday I devoured the rest in a few hours, which is decidedly unlike me. I'm terribly distractable, but this book made me forget all about all the stuff I had to do, that I had to go back to work the next day (notorious ruiner of many a Sunday night!), that there were other people in the house, and pretty much everything else. In fact, I was so into it that the house could have been on fire and I might not have noticed. In fact, it was the perfect example of the "out of touch with reality" quote in my blog header, so much so that when I did manage to lay the book down for a minute or so that the happenings seemed so imminent in my mind that it felt like they might actually be happening which is, admittedly, a bit frightening since it's a book about the moon getting knocked closer to earth and totally decimating the planet and the struggle to survive that follows. Vivid, indeed.

I've just started The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen which is notable for being the first time LibraryThing Early Reviewers has actually chosen the book out of the month's batch that I would have chosen for myself if I'd had to pick just one. I've been looking forward to reading it every since it graced my mailbox, so I hope it continues the great reading streak.

I had so hoped that this post would be a book review, but alas it is not to be. Then, I do miss doing this on occasion, this brainless gushing about books. Perhaps, just perhaps, it will clear my mind enough that actual thoughtful reviews might emerge in the near future now that the gushing is all over with.......or is it?