Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide, Boston Bibliophile Style

Shopping for books for the holidays? Overwhelmed by the offerings at your local indie, or just not finding what you're looking for? Here are some ideas to get you started. Most of these books should be readily available.

You can't go wrong with a fine edition, and a good quality hardback doesn't have to break the bank. My favorite is Everyman's Library, the reader's fine edition. The books are beautiful, lie beautifully in the hand and average around $25.00 each. Everyman's produces titles from every era in nearly every genre- the science fiction fan would love Isaac Asimov's Foundation or Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the literary reader will adore The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje or Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, and there are childrens' Everymans, as well as poetry and more.

If you want something specifically Christmas-themed, the new Everyman's Library edition of Dickens' Christmas stories features an introduction by Margaret Atwood. Win-win!
White's Books and Penguin Hardcover Classics offer great lines of fine editions readily available and affordable.  The other night I noticed a couple of  F. Scott Fitzgerald titles in stunning dustjackets, from Penguin. The Annotated Peter Pan (and other titles in the W.W. Norton Annotated series) would make a wonderful, treasured gift.

And fine editions tend to come in series- so you can make a holiday tradition of presenting a loved one with a beautiful book.

Want to give a beautiful book without shelling out for a hardcover? Penguin has three beloved classics in its Penguin Threads line- Emma, Black Beauty and The Secret Garden. They come with elaborately embossed covers showing truly gorgeous threadwork. They also feature French flaps, deckled edges and the inside covers show the back of the stitching! They're so pretty! Penguin's Ink line and 75th anniversary paperbacks are lovely and affordable, too.

Bookstores are overflowing with gift sets now, and they offer everything from Dover Classics sets of Jane Austen novels for $8.00 to Game of Thrones to collections of Orson Scott Card books to Deepak Chopra's trilogy of books about world religions to Newbury Award winners and more.

You can also make your own gift set. Want to give your friend a copy of Cutting for Stone? Make a gift set with The Tennis Partner and My Own Country. You know your friend will want Abraham Verghese's other books anyway, right? Or pick up a matching set of John Le Carre George Smiley novels from Penguin, starting with the iconic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

For office or hostess gifts, can I suggest NovelTea? At $12.50 for a box of 25 tea bags, you're giving the gift of relaxation that anyone can enjoy.

Coffee table books and cookbooks and other recent raves in nonfiction:
  • Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey, a stunning book from HarperCollins showing how the classic books were adapted for the silver screen. At $75 or so it's not cheap, but if you have a Potter enthusiast in your family, this book is a must-have.
  • Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of the late inventor, great for the Mac fan in your family, assuming of course that he or she doesn't already have it!
  • Catherine the Great, by Robert Massie, probably the definitive biography now of this great leader.
  • The Essential Pepin, by Jacques Pepin, an accessible collection of real-life recipes from the French master chef.
  • Flour, by Joanne Chang, a wonderful and slightly different baking book from the renowned Boston baker.
More gifts for the idiosyncratic reader:
  • For the literary fiction reader, The Doll, short stories by Daphne DuMaurier, just out in paperback. 
  • For the brainy teen in your life, Gandhi, the manga autobiography, by Kazuki Ebine, maybe given alongside Che and The 14th Dalai Lama, both out now.
  • For the crime fiction afficionado, a trio of crime novels by Massimo Carlotto: Death's Dark Abyss, Poisonville and Bandit Love, or Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseilles trilogy, all from Europa Editions.
  • For the nerd you love, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, Margaret Atwood's collection of essays on science fiction.
  • For the current events addict, Days of Fear, Daniele Mastrogiacomo's harrowing account of his capture and detention by the Taliban.
  • For the reader with an offbeat sense of humor, Death and Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov, a very silly light crime novel.
  • For the movie buff, Life Itself, esteemed film critic Roger Ebert's autobiography.
Or just ask your local independent bookseller for personalized suggestions, and have a wonderful book-filled holiday!

P.S. These suggestions are my own and not sponsored in any way. I received a review copy of Catherine the Great, Penguin's manga biography series and Death and the Penguin.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Musing Mondays: Books for the Holidays?

This week’s musing asks…
Will you be buying books for the holidays, this year? If so, for whom, and why?
Are you kidding? Yes, I'm buying tons of books for holiday gifts. I work in a bookstore! I put things aside for friends and family almost every day. I can't list out exactly what I'm getting for whom, but lots of my relatives and friends will receive books this year. I've bought a stack for my husband already, and some for other folks as well. I'm also updating my father in law's Moleskine book journal with more suggestions and ideas for his reading list.  It can be tricky to buy books for people; I've certainly not had a 100% success rate with gauging peoples' taste but if you know that someone wants something special, or if you know you've found the perfect thing, a book can be a wonderful gift.

Come back tomorrow if you'd like to see my holiday gift suggestions!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Salon: Holiday Fun and More

So my Thanksgiving was pretty great; we had our usual big day with my husband's family and mine, and a weekend filled with more family visits and traditions. Jeff and I did an abbreviated version of our annual post-Thanksgiving brunch; we had a smaller crowd than usual, and a tighter menu, but it was fine. Jeff put up our Christmas tree (although it's not decorated yet) and cleaned the house. Today after some relaxing I might bake a scone or a batch of cardamom-spice cookies for little treats for us.

I don't know when we're going to decorate, but Christmas has definitely arrived. We wrapped our first gift last night, and I've updated my iPod with Christmas music and bought my first new holiday tunes of the season- Jars of Clay's Christmas EP More Christmas Songs. What's your favorite music to listen to during the holidays? I used to make a point of buying a new Christmas CD (or two, or three) every year; nowadays I download songs and don't buy albums as much. Mistletunes.com is still my source for what's new and great in Christmas music every year.

I've been battling a cold all week but I think I won. I'm reading Days of Fear, by Daniele Mastrogiacomo, his memoir of being held hostage by the Taliban while serving as a journalist in Afghanistan. It's horrific but intense, incredible reading. And I'm still enjoying The Flight of Gemma Hardy; I'm about 3/4 of the way through this retelling of Jane Eyre set in 1960s Scotland and can't wait to see where it all ends up. When I finish that, I might have to start right in on Little, Big; I've just been hearing so many good things from friends that I can't put it off much longer.

This week at work was pretty busy. Black Friday and Saturday were quite busy; lots of folks came out to shop and buy. The store has a new owner with big plans, and lots of exciting things coming up. I hope to be involved in some of it!

Today? Who knows. Today's another one of those days that could end up being all errands and no time to relax. Besides grocery shopping I don't know what I have to do, so we'll see. There's always something that comes up! What did you do for Thanksgiving? What are you up to today? I hope you're having a great Sunday!

More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Finds

I'm hard at work at the bookstore today; I hope you're enjoying Black Friday and find some time to patronize your local independent bookstore this weekend. Here are this week's new books:

The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico is a coming of age story from writer and Twitter pal Sarah McCoy. She has a new book coming out soon but first I want to read her debut novel.

Tinker, Tailer, Soldier Spy is John Le Carré's classic spy novel, soon to be a movie. I've been curious about this book (and the other George Smiley books) for a while, and finally put one aside for myself.

The Wilding is Benjamin Percy's debut novel following his collection of short stories. I've read a few of the stories from his collection Refresh, Refresh, and I think he's an incredible and original writer. The plot of this book concerns three generations of men who go on one last camping trip in the wilds of Oregon. Sounds dark and wonderful.

Have a great weekend and let me know what you picked up this weekend! More Friday Finds at ShouldbeReading.wordpress.com.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope my U.S. readers have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your families today. And to help others have a good day too, please don't shop at any stores opening before 4 a.m. tomorrow morning! I love Black Friday shopping as much as anyone else but I'm truly disgusted by retailers who don't allow their employees to enjoy our national holiday by forcing them to work either during the holiday or mere hours into the next day. Show them it's not worth it by staying home.

Anyway enjoy your day!

And do shop at your favorite independent bookstore this weekend!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

REVIEW: My Friend Sancho, by Amit Varma

My Friend Sancho, by Amit Varma. Published 2009 by Hachette India. Literary Fiction.

My Friend Sancho is an unabashedly delightful cross-cultural love story set in modern day India, very much in the vein of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand or The Marriage Bureau for Rich People. Like these books, it visits serious issues but treats them with a light touch, and offers the readers both suspense and smiles, comedy and error.

Abir Ganguly is a reporter with a problem. He's called along for a routine police action against a suspected gangster that turns deadly; Mohammed Iqbal is a widowed accountant killed because the police think he's dangerous. Abir is then assigned a reportage piece profiling the dead man. To learn more about Iqbal, he interviews his daughter, Muneeza, who was present at her father's shooting and believes he was killed unjustly. She's outraged, and wants justice. Abir is attracted to her immediately, and thrown when he's then asked to profile the policeman who shot Iqbal, and to make both mens' story sympathetic. His growing fondness for Muneeza means he wants to believe that Iqbal was innocent, but his faith in law enforcement makes him skeptical. And, he's a Hindu and Muneeza is Muslim.

I loved this little book. It was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and it really is a little ray of sunshine. Varma has created a great character in Abir- hilarious, self-deprecating and sharp. Muneeza is adorable but a little remote; I would like to have had a little more from her point of view. I would love to see a sequel or even a whole series of books with these two, teaming up to uncover corruption or whatever in modern-day Mumbai. At the very least, I hope we see more from Varma, hopefully in the form of a U.S. release of this book or his next. (Sadly this book is not available in the United States!) If this book is sold where you live, I strongly advise you to pick up this wonderfully charming love story.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

REVIEW: Gandhi: A Manga Biography, by Kazuki Ebine

Gandhi: A Manga Biography, by Kazuki Ebine. Published 2011 by Penguin Books. Graphica. Nonfiction.

Gandhi is part of a new series of manga biographies aimed at teens being published by Penguin; other titles include Che Guevara (which I'll be reviewing soon) and The 14th Dalai Lama. But this volume takes as its subject Mahatma Gandhi, the famed and revered activist who lead his country out of British rule and into independence, through nonviolent civil disobedience.

But our story opens in 1880 Porbandar, in India. Eleven year old Mohandas has a confrontation with an "untouchable" and begins to learn about the inequalities in his society. The book continues showing key moments in his life- his journey to England to study, his move to South Africa, and more. The story focuses on his development as an activist, with as much emphasis on the issues and causes that galvanized him as on his spiritual beliefs. The book is well illustrated in the manga style (except that it reads left to right, Western style), with a nice variety of panel sizes and placement of text and dialogue. It's somewhat episodic and lacks detailed background or exposition.

I enjoyed reading this book and I think it would make a fine choice for tweens and up, including adults, wishing to learn the basics about this important figure and leader. I like the emphasis on deeds versus beliefs (though you'll certainly get a sense of what he believed and why); I like the message it sends about individuals making a difference, motivated by principal as well as the experience of injustice. The reader gets a nice sense of Gandhi's development in these ways, and how this ordinary man grew in influence and reach until millions followed him and an entire nation (or two, depending on your point of view) was lead out of the British empire and into freedom. It's an inspiring story and this book is a great starting point.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Musing Mondays: Who Influences My Choices?

 This week’s musing asks…
How do you decide to read a book by an author you haven’t read before? What sort of recommendations count most highly in making that decision?
A lot of the time, I just trust my own instincts- which is not to say I'm always right! I'm a very self-directed reader but when I take recommendations it'll be from book blogger pals or people who read a lot in the book's genre and know my taste. I read new-to-me authors all the time, probably more often than I re-read favorites, and most of the time I just pick something up at a bookstore and decide it looks interesting.

And now that I'm working in a bookstore (sorry, broken record) I've been slowly buying up lots of wishlisted books and outside-the-box reads I've had my eye on for ages. I'm sure you'll be seeing lots of those show up in my reviews!

More Musing Mondays at ShouldbeReading.wordpress.com.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Salon - I Have No Idea

So every Sunday I say I'm going to relax but it almost never happens. This Sunday? I'm going to relax! Maybe. There's nothing in particular on the calendar, and my husband is just home from a half a week away, so we might just end up spending most of the day at home. I've been struggling with some insomnia lately and I definitely need my sleep!

I'm reading a couple of things right now. I just read The Age of Miracles, a Random House book coming out next June. It was good. It's a coming of age story about a 13 year old girl struggling with a global catastrophe; the Earth's rotation has slowed. I don't know if I can review it here for a while but keep an eye out for galleys if you're a blogger. The reps think this will be a big book next year and I can easily see why. Now I'm reading another 2012 release, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey. This one is from HarperCollins and it's a retelling of Jane Eyre set in Scotland. I'm enjoying it so far! It seems like 2012 is going to bring some great reads. I'm also reading Good Offices by Evelio Rosario, a short novel set in a church in Colombia, published by New Directions. The regular priest and his assistant have gone for the night and left a different priest in place; their departure and the appearance of the new priest create some disruptions. Over the course of the night, secrets are revealed and truths confronted. It's a wonderful book so far.

What else? I'm participating in the 2011 Persephone Secret Santa and will be spending part of today putting together a little package for my giftee. I love doing a book swap and the Persephone swap is my favorite because I love their books and it's a fun way to meet like-minded bloggers and support a great small press. Maybe the Europa Challenge should do a Europa swap? Hmm. I'll have to think on that for next year! The Persephone swap is hosted by Claire and Verity.

That's it for me! Time to go curl up with some tea and a book. What are you reading or doing today? Have a great Sunday! More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Finds! What I Found at the Bookstore This Week

Coronation Summer, by Angela Thirkell, came from a pile at work. I'm a big Thirkell fan and was delighted to find one of her books in the stacks.

An Ermine in Czernopol by Gregor von Rezzori is a European novel that came for review from NYRB Classics. From the NYRB website:
Set just after World War I, An Ermine in Czernopol centers on the tragicomic fate of Tildy, an erstwhile officer in the army of the now-defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire, determined to defend the virtue of his cheating wife at any cost. Rezzori surrounds Tildy with a host of fantastic characters, engaging us in a kaleidoscopic experience of a city where nothing is as it appears.
I picked up Sarah Waters' Fingersmith after asking some pals for recommendations for good, recent LGBT-themed books. This one looks right up my alley, a Victorian mystery set in England.

I'm curious about the graphic novel adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, so I picked it up at work.

Little, Big, by John Crowley, was another recommendation, this time from Nymeth of Things Mean A Lot. She thought I might like it since I liked The Prestige. The publisher says:
Little, Big tells the epic story of Smoky Barnable -- an anonymous young man who meets and falls in love with Daily Alice Drinkwater, and goes to live with her in Edgewood, a place not found on any map. In an impossible mansion full of her relatives, who all seem to have ties to another world not far away, Smoky fathers a family and tries to learn what tale he has found himself in -- and how it is to end.
Have you read any of these? What did you think? What's new on your shelf this week?

See more Friday Finds at ShouldbeReading.wordpress.com.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

REVIEW: Tokyo Fiancée, by Amélie Nothomb

Tokyo Fiancée, by Amélie Nothomb. Published 2009 by Europa Editions. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

Amélie Nothomb's autobiographical novel Tokyo Fiancée tells the story of a young Belgian woman named Amélie who travels to Japan to work as a language teacher. She meets a young man named Rinri and the two embark on a sweet cross-cultural romance. Told from her point of view, Amélie learns about Japanese culture through the eyes of her admirer, and about herself as well.

The narrative style Nothomb employs is somewhat dry and matter-of-fact; young Amélie is a little self-centered but likable enough. She struggles with low-status work and tries to save money, and in her spare time she enjoys the attentions of her wealthy lover. When the romance ends, she soothes herself with some platitudes but gives nary a thought to the broken heart of the man she leaves behind. And he makes it easy on her.

I have to admit this was not my favorite novel because I do like to like the person I'm reading about but Tokyo Fiancée is still a worthwhile read, especially for those interested in learning about Japanese culture. It's the kind of book that puts forward its point of view without trying to seduce the reader; Amélie doesn't seem to care if you like her and she doesn't see anything wrong or questionable about her narcissism. It simply never seems to occur to her that there is any other way to look at her story, which makes her an unusual and memorable character. I'd recommend Tokyo Fiancée to readers looking for something different, for a book you haven't read before. Nothomb is a challenging and unusual writer, and readers looking for an in-your-face experience would do well to check her out.

Tokyo Fiancee
by Amelie Nothomb
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

REVIEW: Bossypants, by Tina Fey

Bossypants, by Tina Fey. Published 2011 by Reagan Arthur Books. Nonfiction. Memoir. Humor.

I'm a little late to the party with this one- it seemed like a lot of my friends were reading or listening to Bossypants as soon as it came out earlier this year- but I'm glad I finally got around to it. Like many of my friends, I chose to listen to the audio version, narrated delightfully by author Tina Fey. For the most part, I'm not a fan of author-narrated audiobooks- I think writers should write and leave the acting to actors- but Fey is an accomplished actress and comedian as well as a skilled writer, and she does a really wonderful job.

Bossypants is the story of Fey's life till now, concentrating on her early years in show business, improv comedy and television, culminating in her critically acclaimed series 30 Rock. She also talks about her colorful family, her crazy honeymoon cruise and her struggles balancing career and motherhood. It's also the story of an ordinary woman with a very public career who is trying to work out the same issues we all face in a rapidly changing world.

I listened to Bossypants on my commutes to work and found myself nodding and smiling along as she talked about her adventures and misadventures in life, career and family; I also appreciated her more serious thoughts about feminism, the growing power of women in the entertainment industry and the issues she faces around what to teach her daughter about all these things. I enjoyed listening to the background behind her appearance as Sarah Palin and what happened when the real Sarah Palin appeared on Saturday Night Live. When Fey isn't being serious, and even when she is, she's seriously delightful, thoughtful and insightful, and anyone who enjoys the occasional celebrity biography will enjoy this rather brainy entry into that genre.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Musing Mondays: Collecting and Reading What You Collect

This week’s musing asks…
Are you currently collecting any authors? Why?
Do you have all of their books? If not, why not? 
Did you buy all the books in the collection at the same time, or did you buy a book here, a book there? Have you actually read all of the collection? If not, why not?
I collect first editions of Booker Prize winning books but I don't buy the firsts until after I've read the books, unless I just happen to stumble across something cheaply, because they're very expensive. I don't have all of them and I probably never will, because some are just prohibitively expensive. And I don't want to buy the firsts of the books I haven't actually, you know, enjoyed.

I also collect Margaret Atwood first editions, a few of which I haven't yet read, but I've read most of her books. I'll pick up an A.S. Byatt first if I happen to find it reasonably priced but I don't seek them out. If I haven't read something in a collection, it's just because I haven't gotten around to it- same as my other unread books!

More Musing Mondays at ShouldBeReading.wordpress.com.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Salon- Time to Rest!

Ahhhhhh, rest. Today I'm putting my feet up and taking it easy, as much as possible. Oh sure, I have the usual Sunday grocery shopping to do, and Jeff and I might hit a local antiquarian book fair. But really? All I want to do today is relax. And whatever happens today, tomorrow I'm staying in bed until lunchtime!

I've been reading so, so slowly lately. I'm still working on Big Machine but I hope to finish today. After that I really want to start The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, by Beryl Bainbridge, for my first Europa Editions book this month. Then I want to start How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn. And the graphic novel of The Kite Runner. And... and... and I love working in a bookstore.

This week I finished the manga biography of Gandhi recently published by Penguin as part of their new series; Che Guevara is next and I'm really enjoying this series so far. I can't wait for an opportunity to sell these books at the store. The Gandhi book was a great introduction to the life of this extraordinary person. Che was a really different person and I'm looking forward to seeing how the book handles his life story. The desk where I spend much of my day is in the middle of the graphic novel/manga section of the store, so I'm always coveting all the pretties that come through. I have a pile growing to the side! I'm progressing painfully slowly through Revolution. The hardest part of the job is playing catchup on young adult and kids' books; I'm trying to add more to my reading but it's a slow process.

Well, I'm off to sip more tea and yawn. What are you up to today? I hope you have a great Sunday!
More Sunday Salon here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

REVIEW: Inverted World, by Christopher Priest

Inverted World, by Christopher Priest. Originally published 1975; this edition published 2008 by NYRB Classics. Science Fiction.

Inverted World is one of those books where the less you know when you start, the better. That said, there a couple of basic things. Unlike The Prestige, the other Christopher Priest book I've read (and reviewed here), Inverted World is much more straight-up science fiction. Like The Prestige, it's a puzzle, and a book whose premise and reality unwind slowly.

You could almost think of Inverted World as a kind of coming of age story. When we start, Helward Mann is reaching adulthood; he's entering a Guild, a professional society sworn to secrecy, and he's getting married. He lives in a giant moving, self-contained city called "Earth" that travels the world on tracks which have to be constantly laid, on a path that has to be constantly calculated, mapped and planned. He's never been outside the city before and knows nothing of the world that awaits him. Neither, it seems, do most of the city's inhabitants. And the people outside the city have a very difficult relationship with the city, as we come to understand.

As Helward comes to understand his world, so do we, and meanwhile we have Priest's characteristic puzzles to unravel. As in The Prestige, perspective is very important, but unlike The Prestige, we have characters whose perceptions of reality differ from each other- greatly. And we don't know where we are for most of the book. Is Helward on Earth, our Earth? What happened to this planet, whatever it is? What apocalypse lead to the world that exists, and the way people live now? Why is it some but not all people live like this? What is the nature of the outsiders? What is the nature of the city? What is its future?

Inverted World is a fantastic novel. It's not a white-hot page-turner per se but I'll bet that once you get started you'll be so intrigued by the mysteries Priest sets up you'll want to keep going and going. When the big reveal comes, it's pretty good; there's a truly jaw-dropping moment near the end I still can't get out of my head and I read this book back in the summer. Between the stunning The Prestige and this engrossing novel, Christopher Priest is a science fiction author that literary readers really need to get to know!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

REVIEW: The Prestige, by Christopher Priest

The Prestige, by Christopher Priest. Published 1997 by Tor Books. Literary Fiction. Science Fiction.

So, yes, The Prestige is the novel on which the 2006 film of the same name was based. But Christopher Priest's extraordinary novel is so much more than what you saw on the screen (and if you didn't see it, wait till after you've read the book, but do see it.)

The Prestige is a puzzle book, a book whose several stories layer and twist over and under each other. When the book opens, Andrew Westley is about to have a meeting with an enigmatic and very wealthy young woman, Kate Angier, who knew him as a child. Something happened when he was a child, and it's that something that Kate wants to talk about. Privately, Andrew has always had the sense that he was a twin, and that somewhere out there, maybe dead, was a missing brother he never knew. There is no evidence to support this feeling- it's just a feeling, and a feeling that will haunt Andrew until he can find out what that something is.

In the next chapter, we meet Alfred Borden via his memoir. Borden is a Victorian-era magician of some repute, engaged in a years-long rivalry with one Rupert Angier, another magician, whose diary we read next. Angier becomes obsessed with discovering the trick to Borden's most celebrated illusion and will stop at nothing to discover the secret and do the trick even better than Borden. The two men spy on each other, play tricks on each other and try to destroy each others' lives. Then we hear from Kate; then it's back to Andrew and the book's devastating conclusion.

Even if you've seen the movie, you don't know Andrew's story.

The Prestige is an amazing book, truly amazing. I would characterize the novel as a highly literary Victorian fantasy, maybe even as steampunk; if you've read The Night Circus and want to step it up a little, The Prestige is a great place to start. There's so much more going on here than the plot or the shocking reveals. Perspective and voice are everything; you never quite know who is speaking to you, who is telling the truth or lying, who you can trust. If you just read for plot you'll be flipping pages madly; if you want to read for more I would advise you to linger over Priest's many tricks and misdirections. It's a magic act in and of itself, this book, and one that I can't recommend highly enough to readers looking for a thrill ride unlike any other you're likely to come across. The Prestige will doubtless appear on my "Best of" list this year and it's one of the best books I've read any year. It's also a stunning introduction to one of the most exciting writers I've come across in years. Amazing, essential and challenging, The Prestige will keep you guessing and thinking long after the final curtain fall.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mailbox Monday! All About Small Presses

It's been a slowish week in books as far as what I got sent, but quality makes up for quantity in this as in so many cases.
The massive European novel Eline Vere, by Louis Couperus, came from Archipelago Books, a nonprofit press doing translations of European and world literary fiction. They describe the book thus:
Couperus, widely considered one of the greatest Dutch novelists, gained prominence in 1889 with this psychological novel inspired by the naturalist style of Zola and the innovative characterizations of Flaubert. Eline, withdrawn and subject to depression, accepts the marriage proposal of a family friend, only to break off the engagement, convinced that her sickly but charismatic cousin Vincent is in love with her. Vincent drifts in other directions. She travels, dreams, and deteriorates. Moving back to The Hague, she lives alone in a hotel, where during a nervous crisis she takes what may or may not be an accidental overdose. Award-winning translator Ina Rilke’s new translation of this masterpiece will be a literary event.

I won Ivan and Misha, a Russian-American novel in stories, from Dolce Bellezza. Thanks M! I can't wait to read this. From Northwestern University Press, the official book description:
In Ivan and Misha, Michael Alenyikov portrays the complexities of love, sexuality, and the bonds of family with boldness and lyric sensitivity. As the Soviet Union collapses, two young brothers are whisked away from Kiev by their father to start life anew in America. The intricately linked stories in this powerful debut, set in New York City at the turn of the millennium, swirl about the uneasy bond between fraternal twins, Ivan and Misha, devoted brothers who could not be more different: Bipolar Ivan, like their father, is a natural seducer, a gambler who always has a scheme afoot between fares in his cab and stints in Bellevue. Misha struggles to create a sense of family with his quixotic boyfriend, Smith, his wildly unpredictable brother, and their father, Lyov ("Call me Louie!"), marooned in Brighton Beach yet ever the ladies' man. Father and sons are each haunted by the death of Sonya, a wife to Lyov, a mother to his sons. An evocative and frank exploration of identity, loss, dislocation, and desire, Ivan and Misha marks the arrival of a uniquely gifted voice in American fiction.
Last but by no means least comes Three Weeks in December, by Audrey Schulman, an early 2012 release from Europa Editions. From the Europa site:
Told in alternating perspectives that interweave [the] two characters and their fates, Audrey Schulman's newest novel deftly confronts the struggle between progress and preservation, idiosyncrasy and acceptance. Evoking both Barbara Kingsolver and Andrea Barrett, this enthralling fiction, wise and generous, explores some of the crucial social and cultural challenges that, over the years, have come to shape our world.
Sounds like some good stuff! What came into your mailbox this week? Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia of  A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted at Mailbox Monday this month.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Salon - A Busy Sunday

It's been quite a week. I'm finishing up my week at the bookstore today. I don't know what more to say about that. It's been very busy and interesting!

I'm still reading Victor Lavalle's Big Machine, a truly strange science fiction-horror-who knows book about a recovering addict and cult member who is drafted into a secret society. I've been listening to the audio version of Tina Fey's Bossypants during my commutes; I like that one a lot and look forward to finishing it up this week. It's really short for an audio, only 5 hours or so- perfect for a week of commuting. I also started Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution last week, which is a slow read for me but enjoyable I suppose. It has a lot of teen angst, not my favorite subject. I don't think I'm going to have much time for reading today.

After these (after I either finish or put them down), I'm going to dive into this month's Europa Editions books for the challenge, Beryl Bainbridge's The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress and something else. I hope you're having a great Sunday.

More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Announcing the 2012 Europa Challenge!

The 2012 Europa Challenge is on!

The 2012 Challenge will run from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012.

In an effort to encourage participation, I've revamped the levels to make the minimum qualifying books 2. Here are the levels:
  • Ristretto Level (2 Europas-just try a little) 
  • Espresso Level (4 Europas-a little more)
  • Cappuccino Level (6 Europas)
  • Caffe Luongo Level (12 Europas) 
Like last year we'll be offering the following specialty challenges:
At any level, you can qualify as
  • A Connoisseur, by accepting the Perpetual Challenge;
  • An Expatriate, by choosing books from a single country or original language;
  • A Passport Holder, by choosing books from different countries or original languages.
  • You can also do the Tonga Challenge, and devote yourself to reading Europa's new line.
Participants must post to the Challenge blog, and we encourage you to post to your own, as well. It's a great way to meet bloggers interested in this great publisher, and to have the chance to win giveaways and interact with folks from Europa via Q&As from time to time.

To join, email europachallenge@gmail.com. You can visit the Challenge blog at EuropaChallenge.blogspot.com.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

REVIEW: French Leave, by Anna Gavalda

French Leave, by Anna Gavalda. Published 2011 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction. Translation.

French Leave is the story of a family of siblings. Garance, Simon, and Lola sneak off from a wedding in France to visit their brother Vincent, who works as a tour guide at a castle near the wedding site. Leaving behind Simon's high-maintenance wife Carine, the four of them talk over their memories and their lives and just generally enjoy themselves. Anna Gavalda's prose, via Alison Anderson's translation, is light and sweet. Garance narrates; she's sarcastic and tart but likeable and fun. Gavalda does a beautiful job showing the love and affection between all the family members.

It's hard to know what else to say about a book as simple in its premise and as short as French Leave. It's the perfect summer read, one of those books that just radiates sunshine. Now, maybe French Leave will bring back some of the lazy days of summer to your chilly fall. I've had another book of Gavalda's, Hunting and Gathering (not a Europa title, alas) sitting on my bookshelves for almost two years and reading French Leave makes me want to get to it sooner rather than later.

Pick this up and you'll breeze right through it- and you'll love every minute.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

REVIEW: The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton

The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton. Originally published 1962. Reissued 2009 by HarperPerennial. Literary Fiction.

The Moonflower Vine is another one of those rediscovered classics- a book that's been out of print for a while and brought back to our attention. Sometimes I think some of those books are undiscovered for a reason. But The Moonflower Vine is one that deserves our attention.

Author Jetta Carleton was an ad executive and later a book publisher; until very recently, The Moonflower Vine was thought to be her only novel (and it was the only one she published in her lifetime). And what a novel it is. Set in 1930s Missouri, it's a heartbreaking, wonderful story of the Soames family. When the book opens, three adult daughters return to their childhood farm for a summer reunion; they're happy and they love each other and their parents, still married and in their seventies. After this idyllic beginning, Carleton takes us one by one into the hearts and minds of each member of the family, laying bare their secrets, their shames and the love that pulses through their veins.

The patriarch, Matthew Soames, is a teacher and a stern father who has provided a home for his wife and children but never shows them the love he feels. Daughter Jessica chooses a life her parents never intended for her, while young Mathy rebels at every turn and dutiful Leonie sacrifices herself for her parents after tragedy strikes. Little Mary Jo, the baby, lives a life closest to that of the author, off to the bright lights of New York City. And mother Callie nurses a secret nobody ever finds out.

What I loved about this book is how Carleton crafts such rich interior lives for all of her characters, with so much compassion for them, but never loses sight of how much these people love each other. Their secrets don't tear them apart but rather define them as autonomous people who nonetheless need and cherish each other. Each character is touched by a powerful romantic love with the power to redefine that person's life;  how they wield the power of those loves will determine the course of their lives.

The Moonflower Vine deserves to be a very popular book and would appeal to lots of different kinds of readers. Literary readers and readers of popular and women's fiction will love this book alike. It's one of those special books you just want to press into the hands of everyone you know. I hope you get a chance to check it out.

Rating: BUY!

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.