Wednesday, May 25, 2016

REVIEW: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Synopsis

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.


Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by Hogarth
ISBN 0770436439 (ISBN13: 9780770436438) 



About the Author

ANTHONY MARRA is the winner of a Whiting Award, Pushcart Prize, and the Narrative Prize. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize and the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction, as well as the inaugural 2014 Carla Furstenberg Cohen Fiction Award. Marra’s novel was a National Book Award long list selection as well as a shortlist selection for the Flaherty-Dunnan first novel prize. In addition, his work has been anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where he teaches as the Jones Lecturer in Fiction. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe, and now resides in Oakland, CA.  

Check out the author's website
Like the author on Facebook
Follow the author on Twitter


My Thoughts
(Note: I'll expound on this a little bit in the next week.)

The Tsar of Love and Techno is an inventive and accomplished collection of interwoven short stories by the author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (my favorite read of 2015). The stories take place in the war-torn areas of Russia, Chechnya and Siberia, and have characters, places, items and/or storylines in common. The characters are very well developed, the storylines are fresh and innovative. The author's writing is top notch, and I've become a serious fan! Please read!

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Indiebound
 

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, 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.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

QUICK REVIEW: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Synopsis

A devious tale of psychological suspense involving sex, deception, and an accidental encounter that leads to murder. This is a modern re-imagining of Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train from the author of the acclaimed The Girl with a Clock for a Heart.

On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

From there, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they plot Miranda's demise, but soon these co-conspirators are embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse--one they both cannot survive--with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.


Hardcover, 312 pages
Published February 3rd 2015 by William Morrow
ISBN 0062267523 (ISBN13: 9780062267528)



About the Author

Peter Swanson is the author of two novels, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, and The Kind Worth Killing, available from William Morrow in the United States and Faber & Faber in the United Kingdom. His poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Soundings East, and The Vocabula Review. He has won awards in poetry from The Lyric and Yankee Magazine, and is currently completing a sonnet sequence on all 53 of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.


My Thoughts

Ted has a fortuitous meeting with Lily on a long plane flight. By the end of the flight, they are plotting the murder of his wife Miranda.

My final word: This book is written in the style of Gone Girl, switching narratives between characters, so it gives you that interesting perspective of seeing both sides. First you see one side of the story and perhaps sympathize with the narrator. Then you see the other side and sympathize with that narrator. Or maybe you see things through one set of eyes and think the other person is benign, but when you see things through their eyes you realize how malicious they really are. The switching of perspectives was handled really well. Great character development, smooth writing. Then there is a plot twist that had our whole book club gasping with surprise! This was my first novel by author Peter Swanson, but I have a feeling it won't be my last!


Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound


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 March 2016 selection for the Cape Coral Bookies.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Synopsis

Girls on Fire tells the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town's bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it's a secret that will change everything...


Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: May 17th 2016 by Harper
ISBN 0062415484 (ISBN13: 9780062415486)



About the Author
Robin Wasserman is a graduate of Harvard University and the author of several successful novels for young adults. A recent recipient of a MacDowell fellowship, she lives in Brooklyn, New York. Girls on Fire is her first novel for adults.

Check out the author's website
Follow the author on Twitter




 


My Thoughts
See them in their golden hour, a flood of girls high on the ecstasy of the final bell, tumbling onto the city bus, all gawky limbs and Wonderbra cleavage, chewed nails picking at eruptive zits, lips nibbling and eyes scrunching in a doomed attempt not to cry.
Hannah is essentially a "good girl", if a bit of an outsider. Lacey is the "bad girl" in school, who seems to throw her indifference in the faces of all who would question her place in society. These two girls somehow find themselves thrown together into a severely co-dependent relationship (think Thelma and Louise hyped up on some of Cobain's "teen spirit"). Hannah lacks any self-identity and simply transforms into what people expect of her. Lacey christens her under the new name of "Dex" and recreates her into her own goth image.

Then you have Nikki, the privileged mean girl in school who everyone follows as if she were the pied piper of vicious teenagers. The school is sent into a bit of a spiral by the suicide of the school jock, who was Nikki's longtime boyfriend. The pair were high school royalty.

Then there are the parents. The ever-embarrassing parents who never seem to "get" their troubled teens. Dex comes from a normal home with parents who care, while Lacey comes from a screwed up home life with an overbearing step-father and an alcoholic and dispassionate mother.

The story switches between the perspectives of Dex and Lacey (Us), and occasionally that of the parents (Them). Sometimes switching perspectives like this can be difficult to follow, but the author really handled it well and it was a useful tool and quite enlightening. It is interesting to see an act through the eyes of one person, and then to see the same act through those of another person. What may have first seemed cruel or selfish or self-motivated could actually have been motivated by compassion or fear or even love. And even an act motivated by love can be evil or cruel.
I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, May 17th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Wednesday, May 18th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, May 19th: Book Hooked Blog
Friday, May 20th: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, May 23rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, May 24th: 5 Minutes For Books
Wednesday, May 25th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, May 26th: Booksie’s Blog
Monday, May 30th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Tuesday, May 31st: The Book Diva’s Reads
Tuesday, May 31st: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog
Thursday, June 2nd: Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, June 6th: Lilac Reviews
Monday, June 6th: Booksellers Without Borders
Monday, June 6th: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, June 7th: StephTheBookworm
Wednesday, June 8th: A Book Geek
Thursday, June 9th: SJ2B House Of Books

My final word: This book is marketed as the author's first "adult novel", yet check Goodreads and you'll see the number one genre classification by readers is "young adult", and I have to agree with that. This book really took me back to my teen years. I could see a bit of myself in Dex and my friend in Lacey. There's a hard edge to the story and quite a bit of graphic sexuality and some violence, so it is not for the younger crowd. But it definitely fits into the young adult niche. I enjoyed the author's writing, which is very easy to read and engaging. The characters are well drawn and defined, and her technique with the ever-changing perspectives was expertly handled. There is a twist at one point that left me thinking, "Well, I did not see that coming!" Moments made me cringe, some made me angry, others made me ache for the individual. Overall this is one damn fine read!

Buy Now:

HarperCollins
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound

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 TLC Book Tours 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.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Synopsis

The bestselling author of the acclaimed standalones After I’m Gone, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know, challenges our notions of memory, loyalty, responsibility, and justice in this evocative and psychologically complex story about a long-ago death that still haunts a family.

Luisa “Lu” Brant is the newly elected—and first female—state’s attorney of Howard County, Maryland, a job in which her widower father famously served. Fiercely intelligent and ambitious, she sees an opportunity to make her name by trying a mentally disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death in her home. It’s not the kind of case that makes headlines, but peaceful Howard county doesn’t see many homicides.

As Lu prepares for the trial, the case dredges up painful memories, reminding her small but tight-knit family of the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Now, Lu wonders if the events of 1980 happened as she remembers them. What details might have been withheld from her when she was a child?

The more she learns about the case, the more questions arise. What does it mean to be a man or woman of one’s times? Why do we ask our heroes of the past to conform to the present’s standards? Is that fair? Is it right? Propelled into the past, she discovers that the legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. Lu realizes that even if she could learn the whole truth, she probably wouldn’t want to.


Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 3rd 2016 by William Morrow
ISBN 0062083457 (ISBN13: 9780062083456) 



About the Author

Since Laura Lippman’s debut, she has won multiple awards and critical acclaim for provocative, timely crime novels set in her beloved hometown of Baltimore. Now a perennial New York Times bestselling author, she lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her family.
 
Check out the author's website
Like the author on Facebook
Follow the author on Twitter






My Thoughts
When my brother was eighteen, he broke his arm in an accident that ended in another young man's death.
Lu is the new state's attorney in Howard County, Maryland. She has a lot to prove, being the first woman to fill the position, and having had her own father hold the position previously. Lu lost her mother shortly after her birth, and she and her older brother AJ were both raised by their loving but tough widower father and their somewhat detached housekeeper/cook Teensy.

Lu didn't have many friends growing up in the small town of Columbia, and was quite awkward in her childhood, but was very familiar with her big brother's group of friends when he was in high school.

While in high school, something happened one night while AJ and his friends were unsupervised at one of their houses-- something that will now come full circle many years later, landing smack dab in the middle of Lu's life.

I was introduced to the author through her novel And When She Was Good, which I enjoyed, but I liked this one much more. Flashing back and forth between childhood and present day, there is good character development from childhood to late adult, and the transitions were handled quite well. Often when there are these sort of flashbacks, it can be difficult for me to keep track of the timeline. To ease the leaps through time, the author uses dates to track present day, while glances at the past have chapter titles like "OH BRAVE NEW WORLD THAT HAS NO TREES IN IT" and "INTEMPERANCE".

This story has dual mysteries-- one from the present involving a murdered woman and one that resurfaces from the past. The story slowly builds both mysteries incrementally, while likewise building suspense. What really happened so long ago with her brother and his friends? Is there a connection to the present day murder?
I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, May 3rd: Reading Reality
Wednesday, May 4rd: she treads softly
Friday, May 6th: A Bookworm’s World
Monday, May 9th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, May 10th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Wednesday, May 11th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, May 12th: bookchickdi
Friday, May 13th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, May 16th: Back Porchervations
Tuesday, May 17th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, May 19th: Luxury Reading

My final word: I really liked this story. This is a mystery novel with some depth. While I often have difficulty with transitions between past and present, I thought the author handled those transitions well in this book. The flashbacks really helped with the character development, which resulted in more multi-dimensional characters. Author Laura Lippman reveals the dual mysteries slowly throughout the story, building tension and suspense, and leading Lu to uncover several unexpected secrets. The author masters the art of suspense, and this book will have you anxious to turn the next page. Thank you, Laura Lippman!


Buy Now:

HarperCollins
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound 


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 TLC Book Tours 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.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi

NOTE: This review was delayed due to illness, but better late than never! 

Synopsis

“Expertly depicting the anxiety and excitement that accompanies a new life, Hashimi’s gripping page-turner is perfect for book clubs.”—Library Journal (starred review)

Mahmoud's passion for his wife Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she's ever known. But their happy, middle-class world—a life of education, work, and comfort—implodes when their country is engulfed in war, and the Taliban rises to power.

Mahmoud, a civil engineer, becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime and is murdered. Forced to flee Kabul with her three children, Fereiba has one hope to survive: she must find a way to cross Europe and reach her sister's family in England. With forged papers and help from kind strangers they meet along the way, Fereiba make a dangerous crossing into Iran under cover of darkness. Exhausted and brokenhearted but undefeated, Fereiba manages to smuggle them as far as Greece. But in a busy market square, their fate takes a frightening turn when her teenage son, Saleem, becomes separated from the rest of the family.

Faced with an impossible choice, Fereiba pushes on with her daughter and baby, while Saleem falls into the shadowy underground network of undocumented Afghans who haunt the streets of Europe's capitals. Across the continent Fereiba and Saleem struggle to reunite, and ultimately find a place where they can begin to reconstruct their lives.


Hardcover, 384 pages
Published July 21st 2015 by William Morrow (first published June 30th 2015)
ISBN 0062369571 (ISBN13: 9780062369574)


About the Author

Nadia Hashimi is a pediatrician of Afghan descent. Both her parents left Afghanistan in the early 1970s and settled in the United States to chase the American dream. Her debut novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, was an international bestseller. She lives with her family in Maryland.

Check out the author's website
Connect with the author on Facebook
Follow the author on Twitter




My Thoughts
My fate was sealed in blood on the day of my birth. As I struggled to enter this twisted world, my mother resigned it, taking with her my chances of being a true daughter.
Fereiba grows up a young woman of Afghanistan. She never knew her mother, who died during her birth, but was left in the care of a loving father who quickly remarried to give his children a mother to care for them. Her step-mother Kokogul cares for her husband's children and is even kind or praising at times, but there is little she does that isn't self-motivated. She's always looking out for her own best interests, or those of her own biological children.

Fereiba is surrounded by a cloud of death. With the loss of her mother, she is viewed as cursed and her community keeps her at arm's length. Fereiba finds solace in her father's orchards, which is where she meets the neighbor boy Hamoud. With the orchard wall separating them and unable to lay eyes on one another, a young love affair blooms through their words. But as always is in Fereiba's life, tragedy strikes and love is taken from her.

But Fereiba eventually rediscovers love with Mahmood, an engineer. Together they grow a deep and tender connection, and a strong foundation for their growing family, all while their world is changing. The Taliban has been taking hold in Afghanistan, offering stability and security to a people who have been ravaged by war for so long. As the Taliban takes control, both men and women begin to bend under their strict laws. Fereiba must cover herself in public, she is forced to give up her job and cannot go out in public alone, and young girls may no longer attend school.

Then tragedy strikes once again as Fereiba loses her beloved Mahmood, and makes the decision to escape Afghanistan in an attempt to save her children and herself. And so begins their long journey to England.

I really liked this story. Your heart yearns for Fereiba to find love and security, and later as they desperately seek to find that in England, you find yourself yearning the same for her eldest child-- her son Saleem.
Love grows wilder in the gardens of hardship.
I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, April 26th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, April 27th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, April 28th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, May 2nd: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Tuesday, May 3rd: Lit and Life
Wednesday, May 4th: Lavish Bookshelf
Monday, May 9th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Tuesday, May 10th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, May 11th: Literary Feline
Thursday, May 12th: Ms. Nose in a Book
TBD: BoundbyWords

My final word: I really enjoyed this book. The characters are rich and the author's writing is effortless and beautiful and moving. It is fascinating to watch the world around Fereiba change as the Taliban gains a foothold. She goes from an educated young girl with the world in front of her to a woman hidden from that same world behind fabric and walls. But despite such hardships and tragedies in her life, she is a woman full of love and determination, driven to find safety and opportunity for her children. If you love books that allow you to explore other cultures, if you would like to see how Afghanistan used to be compared to what it has become, if you want to better understand why the Afghanistan people are some of the most loved in the world (known for their hospitality and generosity), this one is for you. Just lovely!

Buy Now:
HarperCollins
Barnes and Noble
Amazon

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.