Monday, November 16, 2015

Mailbox Monday (11/16/15 edition)

 Image licensed from
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Mailbox Monday is hosted here. I've received a few new books recently:

Thanks to the publisher, I got the first two books in the Elemental Journey series...

Earth (Elemental Journey Series Book 1) by Caroline Allen

In rural Missouri in the 1970s, thirteen-year-old Pearl Swinton has just had her first mystical vision. There is no place for Pearl’s “gift” in the bloody reality of subsistence farming and rural poverty. As her visions unfold, she must find her way in a family and a community that react with fear and violence.

When Pearl discovers that her Aunt Nadine, the family shame, has a similar gift, she bicycles across the state to find her. That trip unexpectedly throws Pearl into a journey to save her runaway sister and sends her into a deep exploration of herself, her visions, and her visceral relationship to the earth.

Told with fierce lyricism, Earth is a story about the importance of finding one’s own truth and sense of self in dire circumstances and against the odds. It is also a story about the link between understanding ourselves and our relationship with the earth.

In this first of the four-book Elemental Journey Series that will follow Pearl across continents and into adulthood, Caroline Allen introduces a form of storytelling that is unflinching in its honesty, filled with compassion, and underscored with originality. 

Air (Elemental Journey Series Book 2) by Caroline Allen

The second book in the Elemental Journey Series, AIR follows Pearl Swinton as she uproots and moves to Tokyo, where she hopes to live floating above the culture. Her encounter with Usui, a missionary who voluntarily makes himself homeless, brings her face to face with her own homelessness. AIR tackles core issues facing individuals coming of age in today’s world. How can anyone feel safe and at home, let alone find themselves, on an increasingly unstable planet? Where, truly, is home?

I got this one through Netgalley, but just got a hard copy in the mail from Blogging for Books. The author's book A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was one of my favorite reads of 2015:

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena—dazzling, poignant, and lyrical interwoven stories about family, sacrifice, the legacy of war, and the redemptive power of art.
This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts. In stunning prose, with rich character portraits and a sense of history reverberating into the present, The Tsar of Love and Techno is a captivating work from one of our greatest new talents.

And I also got these through Netgalley...

The Crime of All Crimes by Nicole Rafter

Cambodia. Rwanda. Armenia. Nazi Germany. History remembers these places as the sites of unspeakable crimes against humanity, and indisputably, of genocide. Yet, throughout the twentieth century, the world has seen many instances of violence committed by states against certain groups within their borders—from the colonial ethnic cleansing the Germans committed against the Herero tribe in Africa, to the Katyn Forest Massacre, in which the Soviets shot over 20,000 Poles, to anti-communist mass murders in 1960s Indonesia. Are mass crimes against humanity like these still genocide? And how can an understanding of crime and criminals shed new light on how genocide—the “crime of all crimes”—transpires?

In The Crime of All Crimes, criminologist Nicole Rafter takes an innovative approach to the study of genocide by comparing eight diverse genocides--large-scale and small; well-known and obscure—through the lens of criminal behavior.

Rafter explores different models of genocidal activity, reflecting on the popular use of the Holocaust as a model for genocide and ways in which other genocides conform to different patterns. For instance, Rafter questions the assumption that only ethnic groups are targeted for genocidal “cleansing," and she also urges that actions such as genocidal rape be considered alongside traditional instances of genocidal violence. Further, by examining the causes of genocide on different levels, Rafter is able to construct profiles of typical victims and perpetrators and discuss means of preventing genocide, in addition to delving into the social psychology of genocidal behavior and the ways in which genocides are brought to an end.

A sweeping and innovative investigation into the most tragic of events in the modern world, The Crime of All Crimes will fundamentally change how we think about genocide in the present day.

Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah Book Club pick Back Roads comes this fast-paced literary thriller about a small town police chief who’s forced to dig into her own shadowy past as she investigates the murder of a teenage girl.

On the surface, Chief Dove Carnahan is a true trailblazer who would do anything to protect the rural Pennsylvanian countryside where she has lived all fifty of her years. Traditional and proud of her blue-collar sensibilities, Dove is loved by her community. But beneath her badge lies a dark and self-destructive streak, fed by a secret she has kept since she was sixteen.

When a girl is beaten to death, her body tossed down a fiery sinkhole in an abandoned coal town, Dove is faced with solving the worst crime of her law enforcement career. She identifies the girl as a daughter of the Truly family, a notoriously irascible dynasty of rednecks and petty criminals.

During her investigation, the man convicted of killing Dove’s mother years earlier is released from prison. Still proclaiming his innocence, he approaches Dove with a startling accusation and a chilling threat that forces her to face the parallels between her own family’s trauma and that of the Trulys.

This one is from LibraryThing Early Reviewers:
We've Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey

A heartfelt, vital collection; the debut of an exciting new talent already hailed as one of George Saunders' "favorite young American writers"

In Patrick Dacey's stunning debut, we meet longtime neighbors and friends--citizens of working-class Wequaquet--right when the ground beneath their feet has shifted in ways they don't yet understand. Here, after more than a decade of boom and bust, love and pride are closely twinned and dangerously deployed: a lonely woman attacks a memorial to a neighbor's veteran son; a dissatisfied housewife goes overboard with cosmetic surgery on national television; a young father walks away from one of the few jobs left in town, a soldier writes home to a mother who is becoming increasingly unhinged. We've Already Gone This Far takes us to a town like many towns in America, a place where people are searching for what is now an almost out-of-reach version of the American Dream

Story by story, Dacey draws us into the secret lives of recognizable strangers and reminds us that life's strange intensity and occasional magic is all around us, especially in the everyday. With a skewering insight and real warmth of spirit, Dacey delivers that rare and wonderful thing in American fiction: a deeply-felt, deeply-imagined book about where we've been and how far we have to go.

I got these books through the Book of the Month club:

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic.

As psychologically thrilling as it is historically seminal, THE WITCHES is Stacy Schiff's account of this fantastical story-the first great American mystery unveiled fully for the first time by one of our most acclaimed historians.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins. Heading east, they are waylaid in the desert by a charming and manipulative dowser – a diviner for water -- and his cultlike followers, who have formed a colony in a mysterious sea of dunes.

Immensely moving, profoundly disquieting, and mind-blowingly original, Watkins’s novel explores the myths we believe about others and tell about ourselves, the double-edged power of our most cherished relationships, and the shape of hope in a precarious future that may be our own.

And these I purchased from Barnes and Noble:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

WINNER OF THE 2015 MAN BOOKER PRIZE FOR FICTION From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a masterfully written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

REVIEW: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich


From a remarkable new voice in Southern fiction, a multigenerational saga of crime, family, and vengeance.

Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.

In a sweeping narrative spanning decades and told from alternating points of view, the novel brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the mountain and its inhabitants: forbidding, loyal, gritty, and ruthless. A story of family—the lengths men will go to protect it, honor it, or in some cases destroy it—Bull Mountain is an incredibly assured debut that heralds a major new talent in fiction.

Hardcover, 290 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published July 1st 2015)
ISBN 039917396X (ISBN13: 9780399173967) 

My Thoughts
"Family," the old man said to no one. The word hung in a puff of frozen breath before dissipating into the early-morning fog. Riley Burroughs used that word the same way a master carpenter used a hammer. Sometimes he just gave it a gentle tap to nudge one of his kin toward his way of thinking, but sometimes he used it with all the subtlety of a nine-pound sledge.
This story covers several generations of Burroughs men, and sometimes it can be difficult keeping track as it jumps around. You may be current day with Clayton, then be in the 50s, 70s or 80s with Clayton's brother, father, grandfather or some other relative.

Clayton is the Burroughs man that "turned good" in a family of men that have broken many laws to maintain their way of life. As he explains to ATF Special Agent Simon Holly:
" don't understand how it works up here. Money isn't the endgame for my brother. It never was. It's simply a by-product of the lifestyle my father raised him on...

"...imagine the feeling you had the last time you took a few days off and packed the car, your girl, maybe a few beers and a camera, and set off to find a secluded spot in the mountains, or by a still pond or lake somewhere. You with me?

"...Now imagine that same setting, that pretty picture you got in your head, imagine that as the basis for your everyday. Imagine it's the foundation for work, family, relationships, wisdom, pain, all of it. It's a different mind-set. It's not a break from life for these people. It IS life, and the urge to protect it, and hold on to it, can be fierce."
Clayton's family lives in the mountains of Georgia, where they have lived and died for generations, fueling their way of life with the trafficking of moonshine, marijuana and meth-- and guns. Now Agent Holly has a plan to take the family down once and for all, with the help of Clayton.

For TV lovers, this book is Justified meets Longmire meets Sons of Anarchy. If you are familiar with the residents of Harlan County, then you'll be right at home with the Burroughs gang. Clayton has a Walt Longmire vibe, and then you can throw in a biker gang to boot.

My final word: Clayton is the hero you can root for, and it's hard to feel too bad for his kith and kin as their livelihoods are threatened. Clayton's wife Kate is admirable and sympathetic, having battled with Clayton's demons for years. There is a nice twist or two in the story to keep things interesting. I really loved the author's writing, and I was already a fan of the subject material (I love southern lit and stories about Appalachian mountain families and the like). The jumping back and forth between different perspectives and time periods can be tricky to navigate, but you settle into the format and it does get easier as the story goes on. There is nice tension and suspense, a couple of twists and turns, some colorful characters with some very good character development. However one area I felt it fell short was in the character development of Agent Holly. This book is going to make it to my "Best of 2015" list. I loved it!

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble

My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

QUICK REVIEW: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin


On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 2nd 2014 by Algonquin Books (first published April 1st 2014)
ISBN 1616204516 (ISBN13: 9781616204518) 

About the Author

Gabrielle Zevin has published six novels. Her debut, Margarettown, was a selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. The Hole We’re In was on Entertainment Weekly's Must List and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Every day newspaper articles chronicle families battered by the recession, circling the drain in unemployment and debt or scraping by with minimum-wage jobs. But no novel has truly captured that struggle until now." Publishers Weekly called the novel "a Corrections for our recessionary times."

Of all her books, she is probably best known for the young adult novel Elsewhere. Elsewhere, an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, was nominated for a Quill Award and received the Borders Original Voices Award. The book has been translated into over twenty languages. Of Elsewhere, the New York Times Book Review wrote, “Every so often a book comes along with a premise so fresh and arresting it seems to exist in a category all its own... Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin, is such a book.”

She is the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Eckhart) for which she received an Independent Spirit Award Nomination. In 2009, she and director Hans Canosa adapted her novel Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (ALA Best Books for Young Adults) into the Japanese film, Dareka ga Watashi ni Kiss wo Shita. She has also written for the New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered. She began her writing career at age fourteen as a music critic for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Zevin is a graduate of Harvard University. After many years on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she recently moved to Silver Lake, Los Angeles.

Check out the author's website
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My Thoughts
On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor's notes. 
AJ is the ornery proprietor of a small island bookstore. He lost his wife sometime ago, and his life is changed for the better when he unexpectedly finds himself the adopted father of a little girl. Meanwhile he navigates the complicated path to love with a book sales rep, all while dealing with some very Asperger-like qualities. And he does it all quite well.

There is a little mystery wrapped up in this romantic literary fiction, and I don't want to give away the mystery. Suffice to say that this was a pleasant and quaint read, and I rather enjoyed it. AJ's transformation warmed my heart, and I liked sales rep Amelia's quirkiness, along with precocious daughter Maya. They made for a charming trio! This would make a nice cozy winter read by the fireside!

My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

This book was the September 2015 selection for the Cape Coral Bookies.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

REVIEW: The New Sugar & Spice by Samantha Seneviratne


A wonderfully unique and unexpected collection of desserts that showcase spice over sugar, with 80 recipes that both reinvent classic sweets and introduce more unusual spice-infused desserts.

In Sugar and Spice, veteran food editor and recipe developer Samantha Seneviratne invites readers to explore a bold new world of spice-centric desserts. Each chapter centers on a different spice--some familiar, like vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger; others less expected (especially in sweet preparations), such as peppercorns, chiles, and cardamom. With fascinating histories, origin stories, and innovative uses for each spice, this book will inspire readers to rediscover and re-stock their spice drawers, and raise their desserts up to a whole new level of flavor.

Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Ten Speed Press
ISBN 1607747464 (ISBN13: 9781607747468) 

My Thoughts

We’re obsessed with sugar in this country, and we’ve overwhelmed our taste buds with the sticky sweet flavor of sugar. This book shows you how other spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaves, cloves and lavender can balance out the sweetness in desserts to produce more full flavors.

Author Samantha Seneviratne opens the book with an introduction on how she began baking and sharing her creations with her dearly beloved brother (whom she later lost), the hours spent in her grandmother's kitchen in Sri Lanka, and the transition that had her making over traditional American overly-sweet desserts to more full-flavored desserts spiked with things like cinnamon and cardamon. 

She then shares a chapter on “Baking Tips, Equipment, and Ingredients” before delving into the spices and recipes for which this book is named. The chapters are organized by spice ingredient:
  • Peppercorn & Chile
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Clove & Cardamon
  • Vanilla
  • Ginger
  • Savory Herbs & Spices (like Caraway, Bay Leaves and Lavender)
Each chapter has an introduction to the chosen spice named in it, replete with childhood memories surrounding how the spice was used in family recipes, the history of the spice, and buying and storing suggestions, before moving into the recipes themselves, which include lovely yummies like:
  • Golden Syrup and Berry Pudding Cake
  • New Love Cake
  • Indonesian Spiced Layer Cake
  • Pistachio and Chocolate Butter Cake
  • Pavlova with Lime Custard and Basil Pineapple
  • Butter Rum Snack Cake
  • Bay Leaf Rice Pudding 

My final word: I was so excited to open this book for the first time. It looks and feels high quality. There is beautiful photography throughout to entice you, charming stories shared by the author. The recipes are easy-to-follow and have some pretty common ingredients that should be easy to come by. I love complex flavors and textures, and this cookbook is right up my alley! This isn’t just a cookbook. It’s a memoir and world travelogue of the palate.

My Rating: 

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through Blogging for Books and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.