Sunday, December 28, 2014

REVIEW: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

Synopsis

An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom.

The Underground Girls of Kabul
is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults.

At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.


Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 16th 2014 by Crown (first published January 1st 2014)
ISBN 0307952495 (ISBN13: 9780307952493)



About the Author

Jenny Nordberg is a New York-based foreign correspondent and a columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

In 2010, she broke the story of "bacha posh" - how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan. The Page One story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, and Nordberg's original research in the piece was used for follow-up stories around the world, as well as opinion pieces and fictional tales.

Today, THE UNDERGROUND GIRLS OF KABUL is the only original non-fiction work on the practice of bacha posh, going deep into issues of gender and culture in Afghanistan. Jenny Nordberg is to date the only researcher in the world who has explored the practice of bacha posh in a systematic and comprehensive manner.

Together with The Times' investigative unit, Nordberg previously worked on projects such as an examination of the American freight railroad system; a series that won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, and U.S. efforts at exporting democracy to Haiti.

She has also produced and written several documentaries for American television, about Iraqi refugees, Pakistan's nuclear proliferation and the impact of the global financial crisis in Europe.

In Sweden, Nordberg was a member of the first investigative team at Swedish Broadcasting's national radio division, where she supervised projects on terrorism and politics. Nordberg has won awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, The Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and Guldspaden; Sweden's premier investigative journalism award.

Jenny Nordberg holds a B.A. in Law and Journalism from Stockholm University, and an M.A. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.


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


My Thoughts
The transition begins here.
Author Jenny Nordberg began to hear hints of something hidden in Afghanistan. Hidden within a culture that values men over women, and the birth of a baby boy is something to celebrate while the birth of a baby girl can lead to shame and public ridicule, there is a hidden tradition carried out by some families, whereby young girls are raised as boys. These girls are referred to as bacha posh.
Having at least one son is mandatory for good standing and reputation here…
A baby boy is triumph, success. A baby girl is humiliation, failure. He is a bacha, the word for a child. A boy. She is the “other”: a dokhtar. A daughter.
She says of a little girl baby only a few hours old: “...she is naqis-ul-aql, or ‘stupid by birth,’ as a woman equals a creature lacking wisdom due to her weak brain.
There are different motivations for having a daughter live as a bacha posh. Some do it in order to improve their reputation and standing after having only daughters, while others do it for the convenience of having a "son" to assist with things like running errands and escorting the other daughters in the family (in a society that forbids women and young girls to go out unsupervised without a male present). And yet others do it for the benefit of the girl, in order to allow her to have the experience and confidence that comes with living as a boy. They are entitled to sit with their father and his friends, to work, to play in the street. There are special benefits allowed young boys that girl's are not permitted.
That life can include flying a kite, running as fast as you can, laughing hysterically, jumping up and down because it feels good, climbing trees and feeling the thrill of hanging on. It is to speak to another boy, to sit with your father and his friends, to ride in the front seat of a car and watch people out on the street. To look them in the eye. To speak up without fear and to be listened to, and rarely have anyone question why you are out on your own in comfortable clothes that allow for any kind of movement. All unthinkable for a girl.
There have been attempts in the past to change the culture surrounding the subjugation of women. The royal couple Amanollah Khan and his queen Soraya in the '20s fought for women's rights, pushing for their education and banning their sale into marriage. However amid a backlash and the threat of a coup, Amanollah Khan had to abdicate in 1929.

Here in America we tend to oversimplify this issue. We think Afghanistan simply needs to change their culture of making women second-class citizens who live at the whim of the men in their lives. However we don't understand the complexity of the issue, in a society that views the years before puberty of both men and women as simply "preparation for procreation". Their economy is essentially based heavily on the ability to sell daughters into marriage and to form tribal alliances.

At one point, the author asks people about the differences between men and women. Men give a list of varied responses, such as women are more "sensitive" or more "emotional". But the majority of the women give the same answer...
Here is the answer: Regardless of who they are, whether they are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, Afghan women often describe the difference between men and women in just one word: freedom.
Which led me to think: In the West, we focus on things like women being forced to cover their heads. However it is so much simpler than that. The women would happily cover their heads as an expression of their faith, if only they could have freedom: the freedom to choose to leave the house, to travel, to go to school, to choose whether or not to marry and whom to marry, whether or not to have children. This is why every Afghan woman wishes she were a man. Men have freedom; women do not.

My final word: I absolutely loved this book! It made me realize how complicated this issue is. You can't just say, "Women should be treated equally..." and expect that is it. This is a cultural issue that has developed over thousands of years, and has economical implications as well as many other things. It is something that needs to be slowly changed, and it is something that needs to be changed from within by the Afghan people. The author uses the stories of multiple girls who have lived as bacha posh to illustrate the benefits and downfall of this practice. The book was well done, although the transition between subjects was sometimes difficult to follow, and you'd have to try and figure out who was being written about now. 

And while Afghanistan is a hard world for a woman to exist, it isn't much better for the men of Afghanistan.
This can be an awful place to be a woman. But it’s not particularly good for a man, either. -- Carol le Duc
This was an unquestionably fascinating read, and a favorite of 2014! 

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound

My Rating:






Disclosure:

I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley, 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.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

REVIEW: Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

Synopsis

Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property. On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents--some seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris. The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded "water treatment." She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home? Blue Asylum is a vibrant, beautifully-imagined, absorbing story of the lines we all cross between sanity and madness. It is also the tale of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the undeniable call of freedom.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2012)
ISBN 0547712073 (ISBN13: 9780547712079)



About the Author

Kathy Hepinstall was born in Odessa, Texas, and spent a large part of her childhood two hours from the Louisiana border, where most of her relatives
reside. She lives in Austin, Texas. 


Check out the author's website


My Thoughts
When Iris dreamed of that morning, the taste of blood was gone, and so was the odor of gun smoke, but her other senses stayed alive.
Iris was sent to an asylum, because a group of officials (all men) deemed her mad. What brought on this diagnosis? Surely she did something terrible! Yes, she did! She dared to defy her husband, and only a mad woman would defy her husband or show displeasure with her life.

When she arrives, she is treated by Dr. Cowell, the resident doctor at the asylum on Sanibel Island, where he lives with his wife and his son Wendell. Dr. Cowell's wife is a bit loony herself, and Dr. Cowell just keeps her medicated. His son Wendell is troubled. Actually Wendell is a normal boy, but he thinks he is crazy, because he has raging hormones and obviously no one has ever explained "puberty" to him.

I didn't care for the way Wendell was written. The character thinks like a boy, but speaks like a very mature and proper man. The two just didn’t jive.

I liked the use of metaphors in the book. For example, there was the description of a strangler fig, and the way it grows up another tree, sapping it and eventually killing it, and then the term was used a couple of times in reference to women in the book. But I noticed that no men were never referred to as strangler figs.
Tawny, bare legs showed under her dress. Her breasts and lips were full. She was asking for trouble simply by existing, by growing up. No fault of her own. A strangler fig.
And there were other inmates in the asylum that obviously belonged there. My favorite was the woman who refused to be a widow, who continued to live in an imaginary world where her husband still lived, and they still danced together.
Morning arrived as it always did for the old woman who refused to be a widow. She turned on the bed and kissed her husband on the cheek, then smoothed back his white hair. 
My final word: This was a pretty enjoyable book. I had a personal connection, since Sanibel Island is located just a short drive from my home, and I am quite familiar with it. I loved the author's use of metaphors. I loved some of the asylum's residents. I did not like the doctor or his wife. You had to feel for his son Wendell though, who is trapped on an island as an only child, with no other children to play with. The only people around with whom he may interact are mentally ill. Then he meets Iris, who he senses is not really mentally ill. I thought this was a good story, if not especially exciting, and the author moved it along well.

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound

My Rating:

Monday, November 3, 2014

QUICK REVIEW: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Synopsis

An American classic and great bestseller for over thirty years, A Separate Peace is timeless in its description of adolescence during a period when the entire country was losing its innocence to the second world war.

Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.


Paperback, 204 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Scribner (first published 1959)
ISBN 0743253973 (ISBN13: 9780743253970)



About the Author

John Knowles (September 16, 1926 - November 29, 2001), b. Fairmont, West Virginia, was an American novelist, best known for his novel A Separate Peace.

A 1945 graduate of the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, Knowles graduated from Yale University as a member of the class of 1949W. A Separate Peace is based upon Knowles' experiences at Exeter during the summer of 1943. The setting for The Devon School is a thinly veiled fictionalization of Phillips Exeter. The plot should not be taken as autobiographical, although many elements of the novel stem from personal experience. In his essay, "A Special Time, A Special Place," Knowles wrote:

The only elements in A Separate Peace which were not in that summer were anger, violence, and hatred. There was only friendship, athleticism, and loyalty.

The secondary character Finny (Phineas) was the best friend of the main character, Gene. Knowles took to his grave the secret of whether Finny was all a part of his imagination, or an actual friend whose true identity was never spoken.

Gore Vidal, in his memoir Palimpsest, acknowledges that he and Knowles concurrently attended Phillips Exeter, with Vidal two years ahead. Vidal states that Knowles told him that the character Brinker, who precipitates the novel's crisis, is based on Vidal. "We have been friends for many years now," Vidal said, "and I admire the novel that he based on our school days, A Separate Peace."

Knowles' other significant works are Morning in Antibes, Double Vision: American Thoughts Abroad, Indian Summer, The Paragon, and Peace Breaks Out. None of these later works were as well received as A Separate Peace.

A resident of Southampton, New York, Knowles wrote seven novels, a book on travel and a collection of stories. He was the winner of the William Faulkner Award and the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In his later years, Knowles lectured to university audiences.



My Thoughts
I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before.
This is a classic and the story of boys at a prep school. Gene and Finny are roommates and good friends. Finny is athletic, charming and easy-going. Gene is more academic, and seems envious of Finny. There is an incident involving a fall from a tree that changes everything.

I had a hard time with this book. It is a relatively fast read at just over 200 pages. I think you can't help but envision Dead Poet's Society (one of my favorite movies) as you read it. The writing is good and the characters well developed. However I just found it boring. I kept waiting to be drawn in, and that never happened. In fact, I went to my book club discussion for this book, and couldn't even remember any details about what had happened. It is one of those books that within a day or two of completing it, I had completely forgotten it.

So if you like the classics, like books about the human psyche and the relationships between young boys discovering themselves, give this quick read a try. For me? I just never got it.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound

My Rating:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

READATHON: End-of-Event Meme


Well, it's that time! We've reached the end of the road of this read-a-thon. I was able to participate this year much more than the last year or two, since we've discovered that I'm anemic and have been treating it. I slept through much of the last read-a-thon.

End of Event Meme:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I think it was around Hour 19 that exhaustion finally hit me, and I gave in to sleep. I was going strong up to that point!
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Nope. I always read whatever I have on my list for reviews, and they usually aren't "exciting" books. One of these years, I need to enjoy a good horror story or something!
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope! It keeps getting better each year!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? It looked as if you guys are really getting the whole prize scenario down, with the form and all. Excellent work!
  5. How many books did you read? Just one, but I think it is the first time I've read an entire book during the read-a-thon.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Well, I didn't really enjoy it. I thought it was a pretty boring book, but it was the one selected by my book club for this month.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? That would be the one I read!
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? n/a
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'll always try to participate, and I'll always try to be a reader. A cheerleader, I am not!
So it was a great read-a-thon! I was able to hang in this year until around Hour 19 or 20 without any trouble! Thanks to all that make it possible, and we'll see you next time!

READATHON: Best of the Best Challenge (Hour 22)


Lisa from over at Lisa's World of Books is hosting a challenge for the best of best of your reading year. I didn't realize until this moment what a lackluster year I've had so far this year. Looking over my list of books that I've read this year, I realized that there are so few that I'm excited about, but here are my choices:

Best Setting of Your Reading Year

Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes

A terrible loss. A desperate journey.
A mother seeks the truth.


In December of the year 1377, five children were burned to death in a suspicious house fire. A small band of villagers traveled 200 miles across England in midwinter to demand justice for their children’s deaths.

Sinful Folk is the story of this treacherous journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village.

For years, she has concealed herself and all her secrets. But in this journey, she will find the strength to claim the promise of her past and find a new future. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption.



Why? I could picture this entire book in my head. If you've ever seen Game of Thrones and know the barren cold of the North, then you know the setting for Sinful Folk. The author did a great job developing the setting.


Best Mystery of Your Reading Year

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Twelve years ago, Eve Lattimore’s life changed forever. Her two-year-old son Tyler on her lap, her husband’s hand in hers, she waited for the child’s devastating diagnosis: XP, a rare genetic disease, a fatal sensitivity to sunlight. Eve remembers that day every morning as she hustles Tyler up the stairs from breakfast before the sun rises, locking her son in his room, curtains drawn, computer glowing, as he faces another day of virtual schooling, of virtual friendships. But every moment of vigilance is worth it. This is Eve’s job, to safeguard her boy against the light, to protect his fragile life each day, to keep him alive—maybe even long enough for a cure to be found.

Tonight, Eve’s life is about to change again, forever. It’s only an instant on a rainy road—just a quick text as she sits behind the wheel—and another mother’s child lies dead in Eve’s headlights. The choice she faces is impossible: confess and be taken from Tyler, or drive away and start to lie like she’s never lied before.


Why? This was an interesting story. Built on top of this "whodunit" mystery of who was responsible for a hit and run that killed a neighborhood girl, there is this boy with a rare genetic disease that forces him to live in the night, where he wanders his neighborhood and learns his neighbors' secrets.


Best Series Book of Your Reading Year

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

#1 New York Times bestselling novelist Greg Iles returns with his most eagerly anticipated book yet, and his first in five years – Natchez Burning, the first installment in an epic trilogy that weaves crimes, lies, and secret past and present into a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern mayor and former prosecutor Penn Cage.

Why? I've never understood why this book is described as "the first in a trilogy", as it is the fourth book in a series involving the character Penn Cage. Perhaps it is the first that takes place in Natchez? Regardless I really enjoyed the writing and it held my attention throughout. This was a really exciting story about an attorney trying to solve murders that took place during the civil rights era, now decades later. It was so good, that I now want to go back and read the first three books showcasing Penn Cage.


Best Non-Fiction Book of Your Reading Year

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg 

An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom.

The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults.

At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.


Why? This book is absolutely fascinating! In the West, we tend to simplify things, but the issues in Afghanistan are so much more complicated than we want to acknowledge, and this book delves into what leads many parents to turn their daughters into boys, at least for a few years leading up to puberty, and some that remain this way long beyond.


So those are my favorites so far this year. I hope maybe someone else out there who reads this will give at least one of these books a try!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

READATHON: Pet Parade (Hour 16)



Estella over at Estella's Revenge is hosting this hour's challenge, and asking read-a-thon participants to post a picture of what their pet is doing right now.

Well, I have a lot of them in my house, but right now I have this going on in my lap...

This is Shotsie, one of my three cats.

And at the foot of the bed we have this going on...

That's Zook. He's one of my two dogs, and he's jealous that Shotsie is in my lap.

And now back to reading!

READATHON: Book Spine Poetry (Hour 15)


Irish at Ticket to Anywhere is hosting a mini-challenge this hour, challenging people to create poetry from book spines. This isn't my best book spine poetry work, but here is my attempt:


The bird sisters.
The third son.
The forgotten girl,
fiendish Katie Gale.
My mother's secret
autobiography of us.

READATHON: Mid-Event Survey (Hour 12)


Wow! I can't believe we're halfway through the read-a-thon! Both because I've read so little, and because I've slept so little. Usually reading makes me sleepy, and I have to take a few quick naps, but not a single one today! But coughing isn't really conducive to reading...

Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now? Still on A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I'm determined to finish it before I start on another!
2. How many books have you read so far? That's it. Just reading the one for now.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Still looking forward to trying out A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Tons of distractions, and most are caused by me (and five little furry devils that are running around), and technology. I have a short attention span. So I read for 20 minutes, and get distracted. Read for another 10, get distracted. Read for 30, and...   ....   ....  what was I saying?
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Just that it is going by so fast this year. I guess that's what happens when you get treated for anemia, so you aren't spending all of your time just trying to stay awake!

Okay. Now I'm off for a quick shower, and then more reading. I'm in the final stretch with this book, and I'm determined that this will be the first read-a-thon that I read an entire book (even if it's a short book)!

READATHON: Name Your Read-a-Thon (Hour 6)


Felicia "The Geeky Blogger" is hosting a read-a-thon challenge for you to use your read-a-thon book stack to create a name for your read-a-thon. My stack is...

...and my read-a-thon name is "A Wild Constellation of Vital Peace".

READATHON: Coffee or Tea?


Coffee or tea? Tea, please! Normally I prefer peppermint, or sometimes Blackberry-Sage or Ginger Peach. But given my illness this morning, I'm opting for Honey Chamomile!

#TeamCSLewis

READATHON: Opening Meme

Good morning! I'm a little late getting started this morning. I've been a bit under the weather, and am drugged up on cough medicine. We'll see how much reading I can get done with medicine-brain!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? A beautiful Southwest Florida! We're currently experiencing a "cool snap", which has us experiencing some lovely '60s in the mornings!
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Probably A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. (I've actually already finished The Underground Girls of Kabul seen on the sidebar. Excellent book!)
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? The pacific veggie pizza I plan to have delivered from Dominos later: white sauce, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, onions, tomatoes and banana peppers with feta cheese and provolone on a thin crust. It's so good!
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I'm a divorced 40-something. I work in the technology field, selling and supporting software for a small company. I lived on the east coast and in the Pacific Northwest before moving back and now own my own home near my hometown. I share my home with two dogs, three cats and a bird (and currently my brother and his parrot as well).
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I probably won't do anything differently. The last couple of years I've taken it easy. No pressure. If I want to sleep...then I sleep. If I want to run out for something...then I do that. The goal is to simply get a lot more reading in than usual.

So here's hoping for a productive read-a-thon. I hope everyone enjoys their day!

Friday, October 17, 2014

ON MY RADAR (10/17/14 edition): Books that have hit my radar

Here are some books that have recently hit my radar and set off my alarm bells...

Mr. Bones by Paul Theroux

A dark and bitingly humorous collection of short stories from the “brilliantly evocative” (Time) Paul Theroux   A family watches in horror as their patriarch transforms into the singing, wise-cracking lead of an old-timey minstrel show. A renowned art collector relishes publicly destroying his most valuable pieces. Two boys stand by helplessly as their father stages an all-consuming war on the raccoons living in the woods around their house. A young artist devotes himself to a wealthy, malicious gossip, knowing that it’s just a matter of time before she turns on him.

In this new collection of short stories, acclaimed author Paul Theroux explores the tenuous leadership of the elite and the surprising revenge of the overlooked. He shows us humanity possessed, consumed by its own desire and compulsion, always with his carefully honed eye for detail and the subtle idiosyncrasies that bring his characters to life. Searing, dark, and sure to unsettle, Mr. Bones is a stunning new display of Paul Theroux’s “fluent, faintly sinister powers of vision and imagination” (John Updike, The New Yorker).


Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 30th 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2014)
ISBN 0544324021 (ISBN13: 9780544324022)

 


Malice by Keigo Higashino

Acclaimed bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he’s planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems.

At the crime scene, Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka’s best friend, Osamu Nonoguchi. Years ago when they were both teachers, they were colleagues at the same public school. Kaga went on to join the police force while Nonoguchi eventually left to become a full-time writer, though with not nearly the success of his friend Hidaka.

As Kaga investigates, he eventually uncovers evidence that indicates that the two writers’ relationship was very different that they claimed, that they were anything but best friends.  But the question before Kaga isn't necessarily who, or how, but why. In a brilliantly realized tale of cat and mouse, the detective and the killer battle over the truth of the past and how events that led to the murder really unfolded. And if Kaga isn't able to uncover and prove why the murder was committed, then the truth may never come out.

Malice is one of the bestselling—the most acclaimed—novel in Keigo Higashino’s series featuring police detective Kyochiro Kaga, one of the most popular creations of the bestselling novelist in Asia.


Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 7th 2014 by Minotaur Books (first published September 1996)
ISBN 1250035600 (ISBN13: 9781250035608)



The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman

As much F. Scott Fitzgerald as Dean Koontz” (#1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs), Christopher Buehlman excels in twisting the familiar into newfound dread in his genre-bending” (California Literary Review) novels. Now the acclaimed author of Those Across the River delivers his most disquieting tale yet...

The secret is, vampires are real and I am one.
The secret is, I’m stealing from you what is most truly yours and I’m not sorry...


New York City in 1978 is a dirty, dangerous place to live. And die. Joey Peacock knows this as well as anybody—he has spent the last forty years as an adolescent vampire, perfecting the routine he now enjoys: womanizing in punk clubs and discotheques, feeding by night, and sleeping by day with others of his kind in the macabre labyrinth under the city’s sidewalks.

The subways are his playground and his highway, shuttling him throughout Manhattan to bleed the unsuspecting in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park or in the backseats of Checker cabs, or even those in their own apartments who are too hypnotized by sitcoms to notice him opening their windows. It’s almost too easy.

Until one night he sees them hunting on his beloved subway. The children with the merry eyes. Vampires, like him…or not like him. Whatever they are, whatever their appearance means, the undead in the tunnels of Manhattan are not as safe as they once were.

And neither are the rest of us.


Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 7th 2014 by Berkley Hardcover
ISBN 0425272613 (ISBN13: 9780425272619)


Thursday, October 16, 2014

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Synopsis

What do you do in your teenage years when you realise what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes - and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, 14, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde – fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer! She will save her poverty stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer – like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontes - but without the dying young bit.

By 16, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realises she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease, with a soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays. As beautiful as it is funny, How To Build a Girl is a brilliant coming-of-age novel in DMs and ripped tights, that captures perfectly the terror and joy of trying to discover exactly who it is you are going to be.


Paperback, 352 pages
Published July 3rd 2014 by Ebury Press (Fiction)
ISBN 0091949025 (ISBN13: 9780091949020)


About the Author

Caitlin Moran had literally no friends in 1990, and so had plenty of time to write her first novel, The Chronicles of Narmo, at the age of fifteen. At sixteen she joined music weekly, Melody Maker, and at eighteen briefly presented the pop show 'Naked City' on Channel 4. Following this precocious start she then put in eighteen solid years as a columnist on The Times – both as a TV critic and also in the most-read part of the paper, the satirical celebrity column 'Celebrity Watch' – winning the British Press Awards' Columnist of The Year award in 2010 and Critic and Interviewer of the Year in 2011. The eldest of eight children, home-educated in a council house in Wolverhampton, Caitlin read lots of books about feminism – mainly in an attempt to be able to prove to her brother, Eddie, that she was scientifically better than him. Caitlin isn't really her name. She was christened 'Catherine'. But she saw 'Caitlin' in a Jilly Cooper novel when she was 13 and thought it looked exciting. That's why she pronounces it incorrectly: 'Catlin'. It causes trouble for everyone.



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


 
My Thoughts
I am lying in bed next to my brother, Lupin.
Johanna Morrigan is a fourteen-year-old overweight “nothing” who recreates herself over the summer as Dolly Wilde, adventurous and fun-loving music critic.
I want to be a self-made woman. I want to conjure myself out of every sparkling, fast-moving thing I can see. I want to be the creator of me. I’m gonna begat myself.
She is desperate to find a way to save her family after their government assistance is reduced and devises a plan to become a music critic to make money.

She is also obsessed with the idea of sex and losing her virginity, and begins to work hard at resolving this situation.
Rich’s mouth is so huge and billowy-- it’s like an endless feast, a banquet of man that I have finally been invited to.
She builds herself, then rebuilds herself, and rebuilds again.
But it’s okay-- I’ve got plenty of time...When you’re seventeen, the days are like years. You’ve got a billion lifetimes to live and die and live again before you’re twenty...You’ve got plenty of time left to make things right.
Johanna lives at home with her dysfunctional parents and siblings. Her father is an alcoholic dreamer who supports his family on government assistance while he drunkenly awaits his big break into music. Her mother appears to have given up on life, suffering from post-partum depression after the unexpected birth of twins. And she finds herself at an awkward stage with her brother Krissi, where he is pulling away into adulthood (and away from her oafish behavior), and Johanna finds she misses him.

The story starts when Johanna is fourteen, but fairly quickly it jumps a few years to Johanna at seventeen as her recreated self Dolly Wilde. I appreciated the idea of recreating yourself in this image of who you wish to be-- especially for a young person who hates themselves.

However this book felt annoyingly juvenile at times. It was a little too "YA" for my taste. I found myself being simultaneously amused and somewhat bored by both the characters and the story. When trying to put my finger on the the feeling, I thought, "It feels like laying around in a hammock on the weekend, bored with nothing better to do, and watching a bunch of pre-adolescent kids being obnoxious and entertaining themselves. If there were something better to do, I'd get up and leave."

The story was very crass and childish. I'm not saying that it was "offensive", as I'm not easily offended, and I in fact love a little crudity in my characters. However this story was just crass and juvenile, and I found myself mentally shaking my head as I would if this girl were talking to me in person, wishing she would mature, because despite her embellished accomplishments, she was very immature. Perhaps that is part of the problem for me. My mother always told me that I was "born to be 40" when I was a kid. I was always mature for my age. So while I "get" aspects of this novel and can see my juvenile-self in certain moments, overall I was never this immature and couldn't identify with much of it.

But I do issue a heavy warning to those who are easily offended. The book is full of vulgarity, distasteful references, coarse behavior, and sexual situations. So tread carefully.

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the full tour schedule on their website:

Monday, September 29th: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, September 30th: The Scarlet Letter
Wednesday, October 1st: Fourth Street Review
Thursday, October 2nd: Lit and Life
Tuesday, October 7th: The Steadfast Reader
Wednesday, October 8th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, October 9th: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Friday, October 10th: Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, October 13th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, October 14th: Bibliotica
Tuesday, October 14th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, October 15th: guiltless reading
Thursday, October 16th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Friday, October 17th: Books √† la Mode
Monday, October 20th: Consuming Culture
Tuesday, October 21st: Drey’s Library
Wednesday, October 22nd: The Whynott Blog
TBD: Book Addict Katie

My final word: This book actually consisted of some decent writing which had the ability to move the story along at a steady pace. And it was a peculiar story, which gave it a little interest, but I found it essentially lifeless. It was just "okay" for me-- a momentary distraction that I will quickly forget.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound

My Rating:






Disclosure:

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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mailbox Monday (10/13/14 edition)

 Image licensed from bigstockphoto.com
Copyright stands

Mailbox Monday is hosted here. I've received a couple of new books recently:

The Forgotten Girl by David Bell
 
The past has arrived uninvited at Jason Danvers’s door…

…and it’s his younger sister, Hayden, a former addict who severed all contact with her family as her life spiraled out of control. Now she’s clean and sober but in need of a desperate favor—she asks Jason and his wife to take care of her teenage daughter for forty-eight hours while she handles some business in town.

But Hayden never returns.

And her disappearance brings up more unresolved problems from Jason’s past, including the abrupt departure of his best friend on their high school graduation night twenty-seven years earlier. When a body is discovered in the woods, the mysteries of his sister’s life—and possible death—deepen. And one by one these events will shatter every expectation Jason has ever had about families, about the awful truths that bind them and the secrets that should be taken to the grave.


The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan
 
A young sheriff and a hardened killer form an uneasy and complicated bond in this mesmerizing first novel set on the plains of Montana.

Steeped in a lonesome Montana landscape as unyielding and raw as it is beautiful, Kim Zupan's The Ploughmen is a new classic in the literature of the American West.

At the center of this searing, fever dream of a novel are two men—a killer awaiting trial, and a troubled young deputy—sitting across from each other in the dark, talking through the bars of a county jail cell: John Gload, so brutally adept at his craft that only now, at the age of 77, has he faced the prospect of long-term incarceration and Valentine Millimaki, low man in the Copper County sheriff’s department, who draws the overnight shift after Gload’s arrest. With a disintegrating marriage further collapsing under the strain of his night duty, Millimaki finds himself seeking counsel from a man whose troubled past shares something essential with his own. Their uneasy friendship takes a startling turn with a brazen act of violence that yokes together two haunted souls by the secrets they share, and by the rugged country that keeps them.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ON MY RADAR (9/23/14): Books that have hit my radar

Here are some books that have recently hit my radar and set off my alarm bells...

Biblical by Christopher Galt

A strange phenomenon is sweeping the globe. People are having visions, seeing angels, experiencing events that defy reality. Bizarre accounts pour in from distant places: a French teenager claims to have witnessed Joan of Arc being burned at the stake; a man in New York dies of malnutrition in a luxurious Central Park apartment; a fundamentalist Christian sect kidnaps and murders a geneticist. Then there is the graffiti WE ARE BECOMING that has popped up in every major city around the world, in every language. And everywhere people are starting to talk about John Astor, the mysterious author of the book that seems to be at the center of it all. After a rash of suicides around the world by individuals experiencing the time traveling hallucinations, psychiatrist John Macbeth and a team of FBI agents and scientists assemble to find out what s going on before it s too late. Is this a spiritual phenomenon or something more sinister?


Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

EDGE OF ETERNITY is the sweeping, passionate conclusion to Ken Follett’s extraordinary historical epic, The Century Trilogy.

Throughout these books, Follett has followed the fortunes of five intertwined families – American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh – as they make their way through the twentieth century. Now they come to one of the most tumultuous eras of all: the enormous social, political, and economic turmoil of the 1960s through the 1980s, from civil rights, assassinations, mass political movements and Vietnam to the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, presidential impeachment, revolution – and rock and roll.

East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers she’s been spied on by the Stasi for years and commits an impulsive act that will affect her family for the rest of their lives.…George Jakes, the child of a mixed-race couple, bypasses a corporate law career to join Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department, and finds himself in the middle not only of the seminal events of the civil rights battle, but a much more personal battle of his own.…Cameron Dewar, the grandson of a senator, jumps at the chance to do some official and unofficial espionage for a cause he believes in, only to discover that the world is a much more dangerous place than he’d imagined.…Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Nikita Khrushchev, becomes a prime agent both for good and for ill as the United States and the Soviet Union race to the brink of nuclear war, while his twin sister, Tania, carves out a role that will take her from Moscow to Cuba to Prague to Warsaw – and into history.

As always with Follett, the historical background is brilliantly researched and rendered, the action fast-moving, the characters rich in nuance and emotion. With the hand of a master, he brings us into a world we thought we knew but now will never seem the same again.


Monday, September 22, 2014

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

Synopsis

Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution, this incandescent debut novel follows three generations of family—fathers and daughters, mother and son, master and slave, characters who yearn for redemption amidst a heady brew of war, kidnapping, slavery, and love.

Drawn to the ocean, ten-year-old Tabitha wanders the marshes of her small coastal village and listens to her father’s stories about his pirate voyages and the mother she never knew. Since the loss of his wife Helen, John has remained land-bound for their daughter, but when Tab contracts yellow fever, he turns to the sea once more. Desperate to save his daughter, he takes her aboard a sloop bound for Bermuda, hoping the salt air will heal her.

Years before, Helen herself was raised by a widowed father. Asa, the devout owner of a small plantation, gives his daughter a young slave named Moll for her tenth birthday. Left largely on their own, Helen and Moll develop a close but uneasy companionship. Helen gradually takes over the running of the plantation as the girls grow up, but when she meets John, the pirate turned Continental soldier, she flouts convention and her father’s wishes by falling in love. Moll, meanwhile, is forced into marriage with a stranger. Her only solace is her son, Davy, whom she will protect with a passion that defies the bounds of slavery.

In this elegant, evocative, and haunting debut, Katy Simpson Smith captures the singular love between parent and child, the devastation of love lost, and the lonely paths we travel in the name of renewal.


Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Harper
ISBN 0062335944 (ISBN13: 9780062335944)



About the Author


Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She attended Mount Holyoke College and received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has been working as an adjunct professor at Tulane University as an adjunct professor at Tulane University and is the author of We Have Raised All of Us: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835. She lives in New Orleans.






Check out the author's website
Check out this video about the book!


My Thoughts
On days in August when sea storms bite into the North Carolina coast, he drags a tick mattress into the hall and tells his daughter stories, true and false, about her mother.
This story begins with vibrant 10-year-old Tabitha who lives on the North Carolina coast with her father John. Her mother died in childbirth, so she never knew her, but she and her father have a good life together. Tabitha is a daughter of the sea, having been raised  with the stories her father has told of his days as a pirate. She dreams of traveling the seas herself, but her father keeps her safely ensconced on shore.

After Tabitha comes down with yellow fever, her grandfather Asa draws close to the only thing left of his own daughter and his family, having lost his own wife in childbirth as well.

This story leads to reminiscing and goes back into the past to show how we came to the present. We learn about John's deceased wife Helen, her life and how he won her heart.
He laughed at the pit of a plum.

"You kissed me with the fruit still in your mouth," she said. He had not remembered.

These were her treasures, the bits of life she collected to remind herself of life, the tokens of experience. Her story of land and sea.
We learn of the friendship that had developed between Helen and her slave Moll, who was "given" to her as a gift on her tenth birthday. We see the tragedy of Moll's life, and how every hope and dream she has exists in her eldest child Davy.

We witness a fresh start for John, and in the end of his life, Asa finds himself filled with regret for the things he has not done, and for his lack of kindness and consideration in his relationships.
Regret only exists once the opportunity for change is gone.

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Monday, August 25th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, August 26th: BookNAround
Wednesday, August 28th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, August 28th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, September 2nd: Jorie Loves a Story
Wednesday, September 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, September 4th: Book Hooked Blog
Monday, September 8th: The Book Binder’s Daughter
Wednesday, September 10th: Passages to the Past
Thursday, September 11th Kritters Ramblings
Friday, September 12th: Consuming Culture
Saturday, September 13th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, September 15th: 5 Minutes for Books
Tuesday, September 16th: BoundbyWords
Wednesday, September 17th: Spiced Latte Reads
Thursday, September 18th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, September 22nd: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Friday, September 26th: Silver’s Reviews

My final word: This is a well written story with well developed characters. It's a melancholy tale full of ghosts and haunting memories. Overall I liked it. The book is divided into three parts, and I found that the first part wound up being my least favorite. My fondness for the story grew as the story built, with Davy becoming probably my favorite character. In the end, I was left with the sea as the past and the land as the future-- and the future is full of hope and possibilities.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Indiebound


My Rating:






 
Disclosure:

I received a copy of this book to review through the publisher and TLC Book Tours, 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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Introducing... The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

On days in August when sea storms bite into the North Carolina coast, he drags a tick mattress into the hall and tells his daughter stories, true and false, about her mother. The wooden shutters clatter, and Tabitha folds blankets around them to build a softness for the storm. He always tells of their courting days, of her mother's shyness. She looked like a straight tall pine from a distance; only when he got close could he see her trembling.

-- The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ON MY RADAR (9/17/14 edition): Books that have hit my radar

Here are some books that have recently hit my radar and set off my alarm bells...

Perfidia by James Ellroy

The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. The United States teeters on the edge of war. The roundup of allegedly treasonous Japanese Americans is about to begin. And in L.A., a Japanese family is found dead. Murder or ritual suicide? The investigation will draw four people into a totally Ellroy-ian tangle: a brilliant Japanese American forensic chemist; an unsatisfiably adventurous young woman; one police officer based in fact (William H. "Whiskey Bill" Parker, later to become the groundbreaking chief of the LAPD), the other the product of Ellroy's inimitable imagination (Dudley Smith, arch villain of The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, White Jazz). As their lives intertwine, we are given a story of war and of consuming romance, a searing exposé of the Japanese internment, and an astonishingly detailed homicide investigation. In Perfidia, Ellroy delves more deeply than ever before into his characters' intellectual and emotional lives. But it has the full-strength, unbridled story-telling audacity that has marked all the acclaimed work of the "Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction."


An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

The first history of the United States told from the perspective of indigenous peoples

Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. Now, for the first time, acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz offers a history of the United States told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and reveals how Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the US empire.

In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. And as Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture, through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and in the highest offices of government and the military. Shockingly, as the genocidal policy reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson, its ruthlessness was best articulated by US Army general Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them only by exterminating them.”

Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes US history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.


My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Terribly unhappy in his family's crowded New York City apartment, Sam Gribley runs away to the solitude and danger of the mountains, where he finds a side of himself he never knew.








 Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

 Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

QUICK REVIEW: Neverhome by Laird Hunt

Synopsis

An extraordinary novel about a wife who disguises herself as a man and goes off to fight in the Civil War.

She calls herself Ash, but that's not her real name. She is a farmer's faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. Neverhome tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.

Laird Hunt's dazzling new novel throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind. It is also a mystery story: why did Ash leave and her husband stay? Why can she not return? What will she have to go through to make it back home?

In gorgeous prose, Hunt's rebellious young heroine fights her way through history, and back home to her husband, and finally into our hearts.


Hardcover, 256 pages
Expected publication: September 9th 2014 by Little, Brown and Company (first published September 1st 2014)
ISBN  0316370134 (ISBN13: 9780316370134)



About the Author

Laird Hunt is the award-winning author of a book of short stories, mock parables and histories, The Paris Stories (2000), originally from Smokeproof Press, though now re-released by Marick Press, and five novels from Coffee House Press: The Impossibly (2001), Indiana, Indiana (2003), The Exquisite (2006) Ray of the Star (2009) and Kind One (2012), which was a finalist for both the 2013 Pen/Faulkner award and the 2013 Pen USA Literary Award in Fiction and the winner of a 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction. A new novel, Neverhome, will be published in the United States by Little, Brown and by Chatto in the UK. His translation of Oliver Rohe’s Vacant Lot was published by Counterpath Press, who also published his co-translation with Anne-Laure Tissut of Arno Bertina’s Brando, My Solitude. He is published in France by Actes Sud, and has novels either published or forthcoming in Japan, Italy, Spain, Germany and Turkey. His writings, reviews and translations have appeared in the United States and abroad in, among other places, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Bomb, Bookforum, Grand Street, The Believer, Fence, Conjunctions, Brick, Mentor, Inculte, and Zoum Zoum. Currently on faculty in the University of Denver’s Creative Writing Program, where he edits the Denver Quarterly, he has had residencies at the MacDowell Colony and the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, and was in residence at Marfa (Lannan Foundation) this past summer. He and his wife, the poet Eleni Sikelianos, live in Boulder, Colorado, with their daughter, Eva Grace.

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


My Thoughts
I think we both of us knew from the start where the conversation was wending but we talked on it, took it every angle, sewed at it until the stitch stayed shut. I was to go and he was to stay.
During the heat of the Civil War, young Constance changes her name to Ash, and dressed as a man she leaves her husband Bartholomew and their home in Indiana to join the fight.

I'm a little conflicted with this book. On the one hand, it was a bit slow and meandering. I noted early on that the writing could be a bit boring at times.

However on the other hand it was an intriguing story line, with little bits of human observations that were spot on. I loved little things like the time she talks about when she was preparing to disguise herself as a man, she would put on pants at night and run until it felt natural. You see, women don't run or wear pants, and if she was going to portray herself as a man, running and wearing pants would have to be natural. Besides it was just plain fun, running with abandon and without self-consciousness!

Sometimes I would get the feeling that there was a deeper meaning to life hidden within the words...
The rain came down hard through the lilac bush. I don't know why I was sitting under it. There is shelter and then there is the idea of shelter. Shore up under the second all you want. You still get wet.
Unfortunately I found that this book was sort of like TV with me-- I found that I missed a lot. I would read mention of something later in the story that I didn't even remember happening to begin with.

My final word: This was a pretty good story, but it felt a bit disjointed and superficial. For a first person narrative, I felt surprisingly detached from Constance/Ash, and much of the story felt like flashes of images and small glimpses into the person that Constance truly is, preventing me from feeling as if I really knew her. And I was especially not fond of the ending of the book. But overall it was a pretty good story. It just fell short of my expectations is all, and I think it's a book that won't linger with me for the long haul.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound
Hachette Book Group


My Rating:





Disclosure: 

I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley, 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.