Thursday, August 30, 2012

Movie Review: COLD COMFORT FARM (1995)

Cold Comfort Farm (1995).  95 min.  Directed by John Schlesinger and starring Kate Beckinsale, Eileen Atkins and Joanna Lumley. IMBD. PG.

So I've already told you how much I loved the book Cold Comfort Farm; naturally I had to get my Netflix streaming going and watch the movie, which I'm glad to say is nearly as delightful as the book.

The movie is a sunny and faithful adaptation of Stella Gibbons' wonderful novel about the smart Flora Poste who moves in with her country-bumpkin relatives and goes about making their lives- and hers- better.  Kate Beckinsale is as charming as you'll ever see her at Flora  and a who's-who of English actors round out the Starkadders. Ian McKellan is unforgettable as the fire-and-brimstone Amos Starkadder ("There'll be no butter in Hell!") and Eileen Atkins is also wonderful as put-upon Judith Starkadder, who only wants to avoid the wrath of her mother, Aunt Ada Doom ("I saw something nasty in the woodshed!"). Rufus Sewell is a hilarious (self?) parody of the brawny farmboy beefcake Seth and Stephen Fry is great as Mybug. 

The story had a little more punch for me on the page than on the screen; if you're deciding whether to read it or watch it, I'd say read it, and then watch it if you want to. Although it's rated PG there are some sexual references. The movie is terrific but you really don't want to miss out on the book!

Rating: RUSH to see it! (movie equivalent of BUY)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

REVIEW: Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons. Originally published 1932; this edition 2006, Penguin Deluxe. Literary Fiction. Humor.

I don't think I can really call this a review- it's more like an appreciation. Cold Comfort Farm may be the world's most perfect novel.

Cold Comfort was Stella Gibbons' first novel and by no means her last, and it was meant to be a parody of a certain kind of pastoral English novel; in Gibbons' version, a no-nonsense city girl, Flora Poste, moves into her cousins' country farm and rather than being won over by the rural delights she encounters, she sets about making it better. What makes Flora wonderful is that she isn't trying to really change anyone- she just wants everyone to be the best versions of themselves they can be, and she's willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Flora is a young woman of good breeding but limited means; when her parents die, she either needs to find a place to live or a job, and since she's far too ladylike for work, she contacts her relatives and asks to be taken in. The best offer comes from her distant cousin, Judith Starkadder, of Cold Comfort Farm, and Flora moves in right away. What she finds is a barely functioning rural homestead filled with miserable and eccentric and basically good people who just don't know how to run their own lives. They live under the thumb of ancient Aunt Ada Doom, a gloomy matriarch who "saw something nasty in the woodshed" and insists that none of her brood ever leave Cold Comfort. Flora thinks that won't do at all.

As I said, what makes Flora wonderful is that she doesn't think she's better than her country cousins- she just thinks they can be better at being themselves and she sets about helping them with great enthusiasm. Cold Comfort Farm is an absolute delight and you should read it right away if you haven't already. It's sweet, it's funny, its characters are unforgettable and Gibbons' writing is as close to perfect as you'll ever find in English. You should get the Penguin Deluxe edition if you can for its fantastic cover by artist Roz Chast, and then you should drop everything else and read it immediately. It's a book to buy and keep forever.

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fall Books to Grab

So, summer's almost over (sigh) and the fall book season is about to begin. I've been gathering galleys like leaves falling from the trees (lousy metaphor) and will be reading many of them over the next few weeks. I don't have every single one of these in my possession at the moment, but here are the fall books I'm most excited about:

(Blurbs are all from publishers' copy.)

The Forgiven, by Lawrence Osborne, Random House/Hogarth. "This stylish, haunting novel by literary travel writer Lawrence Osborne explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of Moroccan Muslims and Western visitors who converge on a luxurious desert villa for a decadent weekend-long party." (back of book blurb)

The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers, Little Brown. "'The war tried to kill us in the spring,'" begins this breathtaking account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger."

The People of Forever are not Afraid, by Shani Boianjiu. Hogarth. It's a war story about the Israeli Defense Force, told in short stories. " In a relentlessly energetic voice marked by caustic humor and fierce intelligence, Shani Boianjiu creates a heightened reality that recalls our most celebrated chroniclers of war and the military, while capturing that unique time in a young woman's life when a single moment can change everything."

Death in Breslau, by Marek Krajewski, Melville House. The first in the Inspector Eberhard Mock Quartet set in 1933 Occupied Breslau: "Two young women are found murdered on a train, scorpions writhing on their bodies, an indecipherable note in an apparently oriental language nearby..."

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante, Europa Editions. The latest from the acclaimed author of Troubling Love and The Lost Daughter. "A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship."


Roundhouse, by Louise Erdrich. HarperCollins "...A riveting, exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp on manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family."

Cold Light, by Jenn Ashworth. William Morrow. Her followup to A Kind of Intimacy is "the tale of two fourteen-year-old girls, best friends, and one terrible winter when lies, secrets, jealousy and perversion ended in tragedy more tangled and evil than tight-knit community can possibly believe."

The Thursday Night Men, by Tonino Benacquista. Europa Editions. "For some of them, it was an opportunity to meet anonymously, among men, to talk about women. Others were in need of solidarity, and this was their last refuge, where the deep wounds from a never-ending battle would have time to heal. For everyone , now matter where they were from or what they had experienced, it was first and foremost a place to tell a story."

The Polish Boxer, by Eduardo Halfon. Bellevue Literary Press. "...covers a vast landscape of human experience while enfolding a search for origins: a grandson tries to make sense of his Polish grandfather's past and the story behind his numbered tattoo; a Serbian classical pianist longs for his forbidden heritage; a Mayan poet is torn between his studies and filial obligations..."

Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane. HarperCollins. "...transports you back to the fascinating 1920s of bootlegging, underworld betrayal, complex family histories and police corruption."


Climates, by André Maurois. Other Press. "This magnificently written novel is imbued with subtle yet profound psychological insights of a caliber that arguably rival Tolstoy. Here Philippe Marcenat, an erudite yet conventional industrialist from central France, falls madly in love with and marries the beautiful but unreliable Odile despite his family's disapproval. Soon Philippe's possessiveness and jealousy drive her away..."

And Two of My Personal Must-Reads for January 2013:

Ratlines, by Stuart Neville. Soho Crime. I loved his Ghosts of Belfast and can't wait for his latest. "Ireland, 1963. As the Irish people prepare to welcome President John F. Kennedy to the land of his ancestors, a German national is murdered in a seaside guesthouse. Lieutenant Albert Ryan, Directorate of Intelligence, is ordered to investigate. The German is the third foreigner to die with in a few days, and Minister of Justice Charles Haughey wants the killing to end lest a shameful secret be exposed..."

There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Penguin. I read her last collection, the Shirley Jackson-nominated There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby, and loved it. This collection is a more realistic collection about different kinds of love, set in the bleak post-Soviet landscape of dingy apartments, danger and discontent.

What are you looking forward to this fall? Big names, debuts, sequels, stand-alones, you name it- tell me what's going to be in your book bag in the coming months!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Salon - Restarting

It's been a while since I did a Sunday Salon but I feel like restarting this particular meme on the blog. It's a chance to ramble a little, in ways that I wouldn't probably do on a regular post. I kind of miss talking to you like this!

I've spent the past week alternately sick and trying to learn crochet. I picked up a book a while back called Bead Crochet Jewelry which gives some excellent advice for beginners. I picked up a skein of yarn for a dollar at a charity shop and a crochet hook (size H) at the craft store next door and got started learning basic chain and crochet stitches, then started practicing on thinner bead cord and a smallish crochet hook (size 4). I'm starting to get the hang of stitching with the smaller hook and thread and the next step is to add some beads to the yarn so I get used to chaining with beads. Then I'll try it with the bead cord and go from there. I also managed to pin-baste a baby quilt for a friend, but then the sick took over and I spent the rest of the week asleep.
Reading-wise, I've been enjoying Diego da Silva's I Hadn't Understood, a crime novel/satire about the Italian legal system, which I'm reading for the 2012 Europa Challenge. You guys, if you even read 1 Europa Editions book this year, pretty please consider joining the challenge. One book is the minimum level and we'd love to have you! We're planning a holiday swap starting in the fall and you don't have to be a challenge participant to join in. Think about it!

This week I have my Fall Galleys post coming up and a book and movie review on Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, which is also going to be my September Staff Pick at the bookstore. My pick for August, Jetta Carleton's The Moonflower Vine, has been selling well and I hope to convince lots of customers to try Cold Comfort, too.

What are you up to today? I hope you have a great Sunday. More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What's New on the Shelf 8/24

 Just a couple of new things this week! But I've been reading like crazy, I have, so it's okay, right?

I want to read all the Elena Ferrante I can get my hands on in preparation for the release of her next book, My Brilliant Friend, this fall. So I was glad to be able to order Troubling Love from work.

I also picked up Flann O'Brien's The Dalkey Archive at a used bookstore in Boston, Pazzo Books. This is a comic novel about a village in Ireland; I was curious about it because the Dalkey Archive Press is named for the book and I love them!

That's it for me this week. Still working on my fall-galleys post. Just been lazy! That could change any minute now.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

REVIEW: Tropic Moon, by Georges Simenon

Tropic Moon, by Georges Simenon. Published 2005 by NYRB Classics.  Crime fiction. Translated from the French.

As part of my recent spate of crime-fiction reading I thought I should check out Georges Simenon, the incredibly prolific French author and master of the genre; he wrote over 200 novels, 150 novellas and many pulp novels under dozens of pseudonyms. I first read about him in any detail in Carmela Ciuraru's great book Nom de Plume. Her descriptions so intrigued me that I knew I had to get to know this writer better, and soon.

His crime novels can be divided between the many Inspector Maigret novels and many standalones; Tropic Moon is a standalone, the atmospheric, melancholy and slow-paced story of Joseph Timar, a Frenchman come to Gabon to make his fortune at the height of French colonial presence there. Right away he falls in with Adèle, the manager of his hotel, a refuge for expats. One night, an African boy is murdered, and Adèle's husband dies suddenly.  In the aftermath of the murder, Adèle and Timar depart for the jungle and a scheme of her devising.

Simenon keeps his descriptions spare and flat but Timar's numb and uncomprehending mental state as dark things go on around him is the real focus of this brief and captivating novel:
He had barely gotten to Libreville before he found himself in an office with Adèle seated next to a notary and using her finger to point out the various deletions and corrections that should be made. The concession was in Timar's name, but there was a binding contract between him and widow Renaud [Adèle], who brought two hundred thousand francs to the deal, a hundred thousand for the concession and the rest for improvements to the land. Every foreseeable event had been accounted for, everything was in order, and Timar, who didn't have any objections, signed the papers he was handed one by one.
There wasn't much of a murder mystery, just the mystery of Timar's soul and Adèle's and how they both reflect the brutal realities of colonialism. I didn't love it, but I'll read more Simenon anyway.


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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blogiversary Giveaway Winner!

The winner of my blogiversary giveaway is Alyce of At Home With Books, one of my favorite blogs and one that I've been reading practically since I started blogging.

She chose to receive a copy of Patrick DeWitt's delightful The Sisters Brothers, which I will ship off to her this week.

I'm so excited, one of my favorite books to one of my favorite bloggers! Thanks to everyone who entered and/or stopped by to wish me a happy blogiversary!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

REVIEW: Drowned, by Therese Bohman

Drowned, by Therese Bohman. Published 2012 by Other Press. Literary Fiction. Translation.

If you're in the mood for a good, atmospheric, genuinely scary domestic mystery, you need to pick up Drowned, the debut thriller by Swedish editor and columnist Therese Bohman. Set in an idyllic countryside summer home in a tranquil wood where adders nonetheless slither through the grass, Drowned is the creep-out read of the summer.

Young Marina is visiting her older sister Stella and Stella's boyfriend at their country house filled with books, flowers, wonderful food and music. Stella is a horticulturalist who grows lovely orchids; Gabriel, the boyfriend, is older, a famous writer stalled on his current work. Here, Marina can let go of the worries of her own failed relationship and discontented career and indulge in a kind of fantasy life. But it soon becomes clear that Gabriel and his relationship with Stella are deeply flawed. A kind of closed-up, hothouse feeling takes over as Marina becomes sexually involved with the mercurial Gabriel. And tragedy strikes.

Drowned is a really quick read, deceptively so. Bohman writes incredibly descriptive, atmospheric prose; you can feel every sensation Marina feels, and yet at the same time she writes Marina's emotional life with detachment, almost blankness, as if to bring to life Marina's alienation and distance from the events going on around her. It's like she's sleepwalking through her life with Gabriel and Stella, or like she's underwater looking up at the surface and unable to understand what she's seeing. But we understand, little by little, the devastating scene unfolding.

If you liked things like Await Your Reply or Gone Girl, Drowned should be next on your list.


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

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Someday" Books or Literary Dust Bunnies

The other day I was reading a great post on the The BookArtista about "someday" books, those books that are so overwhelming and large and serious that they just sit on your shelf forever. You don't want to get rid of them, because you do want to read them, but there just never seems to be time.

I think this phenomenon must be particularly acute with bloggers, what with the constant inflow of new books and the pressure we put on ourselves to stay current with new releases. Oh yes, I'll read Middlemarch someday, we say, right after I get through all the fall releases. Then it's winter and then- well, you get it.

Some of my literary dust bunnies include
  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot,
  • The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing,
  • Paul Scott's Raj Quartet series, made more pressing and/or guilt-inducing because I'm watching the BBC television series, which I first saw on public television when I was a teenager, and
  • Don Quixote.

I recently weeded an old translation of Quixote I picked up at a yard sale and replaced it with the shiny new translation by Edith Grossman, and I plan to bring it with me when I go on vacation. It's the only book I'm bringing and I don't think I will finish it in two weeks, but I'll make a good try anyway.

What books have been gathering dust on your shelf, and do you have any plans to brush them off and give them a go?

Friday, August 17, 2012

What's New on the Shelf 8/17

Just a couple of new things this week. I'm trying to slow down my book buying. I know I keep saying that! But I'm out of credit at my favorite used bookstore and I need to save money for vacation in October and other things.

I picked up A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth, because she has a new book coming out soon that I've dipped into and I want to read her first book first.

Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga's second novel just came out in paperback. I don't know much about it but it's by the author of one of my favorite books of the last few years, The White Tiger, so I figured it's worth the risk of picking it up.

I also have a ton of fall galleys I'm looking at, but maybe I should do a separate post on those. Yes, I think I will, next week, and that way you can tell me what you're intrigued by, too.

What's new on your shelf this week?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

REVIEW: Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov

Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov. Published 2011 by Melville House. Fiction. Crime Fiction. Translated from the Russian.

The last in my little mini-series of reviews of Melville House's International Crime line is the first book in Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov's Penguin series, Death and the Penguin. This book is laced throughout with both black humor and tenderness, but it's still a crime novel about murder and death.

We start off with Viktor Zolotaryov, a poor writer living in Kiev whose best friend- only friend- is a penguin named Misha, whom Viktor has rescued from a closed-down zoo. Soon, though, Viktor gets a job writing "living obituaries" of people who have not yet died- though they do die, and not long after Viktor pens their obits. At the same time, Viktor takes in little Sonya, the young daughter of a friend, and Nina, a young woman he initially hires to look after Sonya. Tentatively, the four form a family that becomes threatened by the mafiosi behind the obituaries.

Of the three crime novels I've reviewed this week, Death and the Penguin is definitely the lightest and silliest, but there is an undercurrent of tragedy in Kurkov's depiction of the chaos of post-Soviet Ukraine, where people are adrift and almost everyone is a criminal or threatened by criminals. At the same time, the serious stuff never overwhelms the surreal and comic side, or the tender, bittersweet side. You'll have to read to find out how exactly Viktor comes to own Misha, how Misha becomes a pawn and how he eventually saves the day for Viktor and his new found family. Kurkov is the author of 13 novels and definitely knows how to tell a story, and he knows how to tell one unlike anything you've read before at that.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Melville House.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

REVIEW: Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni

Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni. Published 2011 by Melville House.
Crime Fiction. Translation.

So I guess this is unofficially Melville House International Crime week; I'm trying to catch up on my crime fiction reviews and it just so happens a bunch of them are from the terrific publishing house and its fun International Crime line, which includes books from all over the world including crime writers that are very successful worldwide and little-known inside the U.S. Melville hopes this will change and so do I!

Today I want to tell you about the fab Jakob Arjouni and the first book in his Inspector Kemal Kayankaya series, Happy Birthday, Turk! Set in Frankfurt, Germany, the book covers the investigation into the murder of a Turkish immigrant in a seedy part of town. Kemal Kayankaya, a private investigator and himself an ethnic Turk raised by a German family, takes the case after the deceased's wife comes to him. Kayankaya, culturally German but marked out as different in a society valuing conformity and order, is in a difficult position both with the Turkish family he's trying to help and the German authorities he needs to both utilize and avoid to solve the case.

The case brings him into contact with drug users and dealers, prostitutes and pimps, as well as a thoroughly conventional retired German cop who helps him with information. What I loved about this book, and what distinguishes it from other crime novels and procedurals I've read lately, is Arjouni's hysterical sense of humor. I must have laughed once on every page- at least. A favorite passage, about dinner at the cop's house as Kayankaya tries to play nice:
The Löffs' dining room looks like the showroom of a plastics factory, a space designed for messy little kids. The pale yellow walls are adorned with recipes encased in plastic. The chairs and the dining table are bright orange, and he floor is covered with dark green linoleum. Our place mats were washable plastic. All it needed was an open drain, and the place could have been cleaned with the garden hose.

Mrs. Löff shoveled sausages, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut onto my plate. I twisted the tops off two bottles of beer.

There were a great many half-raw chunks in the homemade mashed potatoes. But they were homemade.

"You can really tell this isn't that instant stuff."

Mrs. Löff thanked me for the compliment.
And so on. After several beatings, a gas attack and  uncovering some corruption, he solves the case, but not in the way I expected. That's another thing I liked about the book- the bittersweet twist ending. I have three more books in this series on deck and I would definitely recommend it to noir/crime readers looking for something off the beaten path. It takes place in the same kind of seedy underworld as many noirs but the specific geographic and cultural location, not to mention the humor, make it different too. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Arjouni's world and hope to return soon!

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

REVIEW: He Died With His Eyes Open, by Derek Raymond

He Died With His Eyes Open, by Derek Raymond. Published 2011 by Melville House. Literary Fiction. Crime Fiction.

I first heard of Derek Raymond's frankly fantastic He Died With His Eyes Open at last year's Boston Book Festival, when I stopped by Melville House's booth and their marketing rep pressed it into my hands, saying it was one of the darkest- and one of the best- things he'd ever read. I've been on a bit of crime (fiction) spree this summer and read it in a couple of days while on vacation back in July. Wow.

The book is great, gripping and poetic crime fiction. The book starts with the brutal murder of a middle aged alcoholic in a seedy part of London; the police almost can't be bothered to investigate, thinking what's the point, it's probably just a case of one lowlife killing another. The book is set in Thatcher-era Britain, and the poor are garbage to anyone above their particular station. So, who cares. But the head Detective Sergeant of the Department of Unexplained Deaths cares, because this man, Charles Staniland, was a human being whose life had value and dignity, and he sets himself to the task of finding his killer. As he investigates, he finds that the victim was a talented man though failed in life and love, who had unfortunately hooked up with wrong femme fatale. But then, is there ever a right one?

He finds Staniland's voluminous taped diaries and learns that Staniland was an educated man with an artist's eye and an aesthete's soul:
Nobody who mattered like his sculpture [Staniland says of an artist he admires]; when I went over to his council studio I understood why. His figures reminded me of Ingres crossed with early Henry Moore; they were extraordinarily graceful, and far too honest to mean anything whatever to current trendy taste. There was  quality in them that no artist nowadays can seize anymore; they expressed virtues--toughness, idealism, determination-- that went out of style with a vanished Britain that I barely remembered. I asked him why, with his talent, he didn't progress to a more modern attitude, but he said it was no use; he was still struggling to represent the essence of what he had experienced in the thirties. 'What I am always trying to capture,' he explained, 'is the light, the vision inside a man, and the conviction which that light lends his action, his whole body...'"
Sounds like what Raymond is trying to do here, too. He Died With His Eyes Open is the first of five crime novels set in the "Factory," the Department of Unexplained Deaths, and for all its bleakness, violence and death, there is something touching and optimistic about the unnamed detective's utter belief in the worth of every human being, no matter how marginalized or alienated from society. And the book is totally addictive reading. More than that though, it's a beautifully written literary novel that just happens to be about a cruel murder. It's violent and dark, for sure, but Raymond writes with heart and from a place of real kindness. I loved this combination of disturbing subject matter and generous point of view.  I can't wait to read more from Derek Raymond!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Melville House.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What's New on the Shelf 8/9

Picked up a few things this week- four new and one used book, including some blogiversary treats. 

Bead Crochet Jewelry, by Bert Rachel Freed and Dana Elizabeth Freed is a post-apocalyptic, metafictional meditation on life and death in suburban America following the takeover of the U.S. government by a band of freewheeling knitters. No, it's a craft book about making jewelry. It was a blogiversary gift to myself.

Drowned, by Therese Bohman, is a romantic thriller from Europe and the highly dependable Other Press. I just can't stay away from their books these days but I'm saving this one for a dark and stormy night sometime soon.

City Boy is a bit of American realism by the wonderful Jean Thompson, author of a book I was in love with last year, The Year We Left Home. I hope to read this one soon. She's a favorite of David Sedaris, too.

For my blogiversary, my husband treated me to two novels by the wonderful César Aira, an Argentinian writer whose book Varamo I loved earlier this year. The books are How I Became a Nun and Ghosts. Can't wait!

What's new on your shelf this week?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Oh My God I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing

Happy Blogiversary to me, happy blogiversary to me, happy blogiversary to meeeeeeee- happy blogiversary to me!

I mean, I can't believe I've been blogging for five years. Where did the time go? Five years ago I was wondering what to read next and now I've got more books, and more ideas about what to read, than I know what to do with. I also have an awesome job at a fab indie bookstore, loads of bookish friends and a whole lot of great experiences to boot.

In the past year, the funnest things were working on the Europa Challenge, getting to speak at an area literary festival (hi, Salem!) and starting working as a bookseller. 

Over the next year I'd like to see how I can contribute to the literary world as a bookseller and continue to use my blog to promote the books I love and share with like-minded readers.

Thank you to each and every person who ever clicked, commented or lurked. Let's see if I can make it to year six.

So here's my present to one of you- a personalized recommendation along with a copy of the book.  Here's the rules:
  1. You must have a U.S. shipping address. I'm sorry, folks, I just can't afford to ship abroad.
  2. You must leave a comment on this post with your email address. Entries without an email address will be discarded, no exceptions. Don't make it hard for me to figure out how to contact you when I'm trying to send you a gift.
  3. You have until August 21 at midnight EST to enter.
  4. I'll pick a winner around the 22nd, contact that person and then you can tell me what you like to read. Alternatively, you could just pick something from the books I've reviewed this year. Either way works for me.
  5. You have 48 hours from when I contact you to reply, or I choose another winner.
  6. I'll buy your book from an independent book store (most likely the one I work at) and mail it to you Media Mail.
Sound good?

Friday, August 3, 2012

What's New On The Shelf

So I'm going to continue to do these new-books posts but I'm changing it to my own personal meme, What's New On The Shelf. That way, I can do it any day of the week. If you want to join in, steal the button and leave me a comment so I know you're in. You don't have to, but I'd love to know so I can come visit and see what's new on your shelf!
Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman is this year's Shirley Jackson Award winner for the Novel and it just looks so darn good. I read the 2011 winner, Victor LaValle's Big Machine, though I didn't love it. This one, about an Appalachian family and terror, sounds more up my alley.

I was very pleased to receive from Hachette Book Group a galley of Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds. I dipped into a store galley enough to know I wanted to finish it, but I had to give it back. Now it's mine! It's about the war in Iraq, and I'm fascinated by the war novels that have come out this year. Already the two I've read are going to be favorites, so I'm interested in this one, too.

Yok, by Tim Davys, is the final volume of the Mollisan Town Quartet series, which began with Amberville and its followup, Lanceheim. My goal is to finish the series this year.

My favorite used-bookstore find this week is Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, his memoir of living in Paris. How can I resist any longer?

That's it for me. What's new on your shelf this week?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

REVIEW: Lanceheim, by Tim Davys

Lanceheim, by Tim Davys. Published 2010 by HarperCollins. Crime Fiction. Translated from Swedish.

Lanceheim is the sequel to the plush-toy crime novel Amberville and the second in the Mollisan Town Quartet series by Tim Davys, a pseudonymous Swedish writer. More original and multilayered than Amberville, it's a puzzle and an enigma.

Mollisan Town is a land populated entirely by living stuffed animals, creatures made of fabric and stitches but otherwise as human as you or I. It's divided into four districts, not coincidentally the same as the four books in the series- Amberville, Lanceheim, Torquai and Yok. Yok comes out today and it's the publication of the final volume that spurred me to move forward in reading the series. I own all four volumes now and intend to keep going and finish this year.

In the mean time though, I read Lanceheim, very different, as I said, from its preceding book. Amberville was a fantasy noir; Lanceheim is harder to characterize. The story centers on a strange creature named Maximilian, different from all other Mollisan Town creatures in that he gets bigger over time, has fabric that gets red in the sun and even changes his appearance as he grows. He is raised by Eva Whippoorwill and Sven Beaver, who find him in the forest. Over time he becomes a shadowy figure, a prophet and the center of a strange religious movement. He utters strange things; he makes no sense but he seems to have the power to heal. Two stuffed animals narrate the story- Wolf Diaz, Maximilian's most loyal follower and oldest friend, and Reuben Walrus, a composer who is slowly going deaf, and is desperate to find the legendary Maximilian and be healed of his illness which is destroying his life along with his hearing. But in Mollisan Town, everybody has a secret, even those whose secrets seem to be told.

This series has not fared well commercially and it's easy to see why. It's just not like anything else out there, and the books tend to get lost in the general fiction section when they should be shelved in fantasy next to their big brothers Robert Rankin and Terry Pratchett. Davys's books aren't anywhere as funny as Rankin and Pratchett; they're quite serious and even solemn in tone, but their fantasy-laced world of plush is hard to sell to the reader of general fiction.

I enjoyed Lanceheim; I found it more challenging than Amberville and a very satisfactory entry in the series. There was plenty of suspense to keep me turning the pages, and Davys creates some very complicated, engaging and surprising characters. Wolf Diaz keeps us guessing right till the end, and Maximilian is a strange and possibly unique creation. I want to see what else Davys has in store for us with the next two novels in the series, Torquai and Yok. I'll definitely keep you posted!


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