Thursday, January 22, 2015

Introducing... Eating Sarah by Janet Martens

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

I traced the scarlet lines across the young girl's body as she squirmed in the evening sun. She lay on the table in front of me, staring off into the cloudless sky. Her hair danced in the wind like blades of grass in a hailstorm. She was bound, of course, and a fresh gag had been placed in her mouth, but still she fought. I examined her features, soaking in like compliments. Tiny whimpers escaped her pale, chapped lips. I swallowed hard, my stomach desperate for her.

-- Eating Sarah by Janet Martens

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Introducing... Poole's Paradise by John Vorhaus

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

"Shut up! At the end of the day, can you not just shut the hell up?"

He grinds a knee into my back and jams both guns against my head.

-- Poole's Paradise by John Vorhaus

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

REVIEW: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra


In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.

For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Hogarth (first published January 1st 2013)
ISBN 0770436420 (ISBN13: 9780770436421)

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. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is his first novel.

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My Thoughts
On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.
One night Russian soldiers bust into the house of Dokka in a small village in Chechnya. Dokka orders his young 8-year-old daughter Havaa to escape into the woods with the small blue suitcase that she had packed and ready at a moment's notice. Dokka is hauled away by Russian soldiers and his house burned to the ground.

Havaa is a charming little girl who dreams of being a marine biologist, a dutiful daughter who helps her father in every way she can. And when he tells her to grab her suitcase and whisks her away to the woods behind their home, she does as he says and waits-- waits in the woods with her little blue suitcase until Ahkmed finds her.

Dokka's neighbor Ahkmed searches the woods for Havaa, and shuttles her away to the safety of his own home, where he lives with his ailing and bedridden wife Ula, but determines that Havaa is not safe in the village. The soldiers will return for her. So he takes her to the nearby hospital, to leave her in the care of a doctor he's never met before, but learned of from a passing refugee.

Sonja is the only doctor at the local hospital. She is responsible for the care of everyone that comes through her doors, from injured soldiers and civilians with missing limbs and mortal wounds to women giving birth. Sonja was always the brilliant academic daughter overlooked by everyone, outshined by her beautiful younger sister Natasha. Now after many hard hits and years of war and loss, she is toughened and embittered, and searching for her missing sister.
Her existence was so narrow, her energies so focused, she lived like a nail driving through the surface of daily routines and disappointments.

Sonja is none too happy to be burdened with the care of a young girl, but agrees reluctantly to do so with the offer of Ahkmed's services (he trained as a physician, but his skills are greatly lacking in that area).

Sonja’s sister Natasha was always envied for her beauty. Natasha seemed to have always been the only one who recognized how special her sister was, and Sonja never really seemed to resent the way the very presence of her sister usurped all recognition from Sonja herself.

Everyone knows when someone in the village goes missing, they will wind up at the Landfill where all of the missing turn up, and the blame can be laid at the doorstep of Ramzan, the village informant who was once a good friend of Dokka. Ramzan's kind father Khassan is much shamed by his son's activities, and has been ostracized by the village because of his son.

Havaa was a very likable little girl; very endearing. Ahkmed was a good, selfless man. Although Sonja was tough and detached, she showed through her actions that she was a woman of real character and depth.

I found that it could be difficult keeping track of the characters. Foreign names are often difficult to keep in mind, as they are so unfamiliar. But part of that is my fault. I was so distracted while reading this book that I’d only get a few pages before putting it down. It made it hard to retain some of the characters and get it all straight in my head. But even while being distracted and a little detached from the book, I sensed this book was a bit of genius and beauty, bound and titled. The way that the author would express things really moved me.
At the kitchen table she examined the glass of ice. Each cube was rounded by room temperature, dissolving in its own remains, and belatedly she understood that this was how a loved one disappeared.
“I was thinking of someone I lost many years ago,” Khassan said. “She called me a coward once. It wasn’t what she said, but the way she said it. As if her judgment just passed through me. As if I were a cloud.”

This is really a character-driven story. The timeline shifts back and forth from present to past, and from the viewpoint of one character to another. The transition from past to present and vice-versa is assisted by a timeline at the top of each chapter, reflecting the year the current narration is taking place.

The narrator is all-knowing, and will share tidbits of information about the future and past and present that the characters themselves don’t know.

I found myself thinking during the final quarter of the book that this story is like a tapestry. Many of the characters and events were interwoven, and they would only come to light as the tapestry grew and developed. Really beautiful and brilliantly executed.

The book title comes from a thick medical book that a character pulls off the shelf and finds at the bottom of page 1322:
Life: a constellation of vital phenomena-- organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.

My final word: This is one of those rare and uncommon novels that you come across every now and again. Provocative and riveting, it is a beautifully written story with well-developed characters that you can really care about. A lyrical and intelligent tale of war-torn Chechnya, I found myself moved. I feared for the safety of those in danger, was sickened by the brutality and indifference, and yearned for the security of all. In the end, I found this to be a hard-hitting novel that is soft in all the right places.

Buy Now:

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My Rating:


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.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Introducing... A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones. While the girl dressed, Akhmed, who hadn't slept at all, paced outside the bedroom door, watching the sky brighten on the other side of the window glass; the rising sun had never before made him feel late. When she emerged from the bedroom, looking older than her eight years, he took her suitcase and she followed him out the front door. He had led the girl to the middle of the street before he raised his eyes to what had been her house. "Havaa, we should go," he said, but neither moved.

-- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mailbox Monday (1/5/15 edition)

 Image licensed from
Copyright stands

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

Poole's Paradise by John Vorhaus

WHEN YOU'RE ALEXANDER POOLE, EVERYONE'S YOUR TEACHER A skeevy stereo salesman, master of the bait and switch. A flaky folk singer and his dog that reads Tolkien. A drug dealer loan shark with a passion for trees. A ballsy townie chick who turns you on to Springsteen. Your wiseass roommate whose favorite pastime is smoking your dope. Your first college girlfriend who has sex with you to confirm that she's gay. Even your one true love. Together they point you to paradise - Poole's Paradise - but what will it cost to get in?

I received this book from the author, and I've found Vorhaus books are always just a fun read!

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

A gorgeous literary debut about an elderly woman’s last great adventure walking across Canada. A beautiful novel of pilgrimage, of fulfilling lifelong promises, of a talking coyote called James, of unlikely heroes and hundreds of papier-mâché animals…

Eighty-two-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from rural Canada eastward to the coast.

Her husband Otto wakes to a note left on the kitchen table. I will try to remember to come back, Etta writes to him. Otto has seen the ocean, having crossed the Atlantic years ago to fight in a far-away war. He understands. But with Etta gone, the memories come crowding in and Otto struggles to keep them at bay.

Russell has spent his whole life trying to keep up with Otto and loving Etta from afar. Russell insists on finding Etta, wherever she’s gone. Leaving his own farm will be the first act of defiance in his life.

As Etta walks further toward the ocean, accompanied by a coyote named James, the lines among memory, illusion, and reality blur. Rocking back and forth with the pull of the waves, Etta and Otto and Russell and James moves from the hot and dry present of a quiet Canadian farm to a dusty burnt past of hunger, war, passion, and hope; from trying to remember to trying to forget; and inspires each of its characters to visit the sites they’ve longed to see and say the things they’ve longed to say. This is dazzling literary fiction about the rediscovery and care of the soul, and the idea it’s never too late for a great adventure.

I won this book via the last Dewey's Readathon.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child's welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.

But Fiona's professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses. But Jack doesn't leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

And these books I got through SantaThing (with LibraryThing):

Necroscope by Brian Lumley


Except to Harry Keogh, Necroscope. And what they tell him is horrifying.

In the Balkan mountains of Rumania, a terrible evil is growing. Long buried in hallowed ground, bound by earth and silver, the master vampire schemes and plots. Trapped in unlife, neither dead nor living, Thibor Ferenczy hungers for freedom and revenge.

The vampire's human tool is Boris Dragosani, part of a super-secret Soviet spy agency. Dragosani is an avid pupil, eager to plumb the depthless evil of the vampire's mind. Ferenczy teaches Dragosani the awful skills of the necromancer, gives him the ability to rip secrets from the mind and bodies of the dead.

Dragosani works not for Ferenczy's freedom but world domination. he will rule the world with knowledge raped from the dead.

His only opponent: Harry Koegh, champion of the dead and the living.

To protect Harry, the dead will do anything--even rise from their graves!

This was one of my ex-husband's favorites, but I've never read it.

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

From the award-winning author of the Mars Trilogy comes a thrilling new novel....

Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the Hugo and Nebula award-winning Mars trilogy, is one of the most original and visionary writers of fiction today. Now, in his latest novel, he takes us to a harsh, alien landscape covered by a sheet of ice two miles deep. This is no distant planet--it is the last pure wilderness on earth.

A stark and inhospitable place, its landscape poses a challenge to survival; yet its strange, silent beauty has long fascinated scientists and adventurers. Now Antarctica faces an uncertain future. The international treaty that protects the continent is about to dissolve, clearing the way for Antarctica's resources and eerie beauty to be plundered. As politicians and corporations move to determine its fate from half a world away, radical environmentalists carry out a covert campaign of sabotage to reclaim the land. The winner of this critical battle will determine the future for this last great wilderness....

 Jennifer Government by Max Barry

In Max Barry's twisted, hilarious and terrifying vision of the near future, the world is run by giant corporations and employees take the last names of the companies they work for. It's a globalised, ultra-capitalist free market paradise! Hack Nike is a lowly merchandising officer who's not very good at negotiating his salary. So when John Nike and John Nike, executives from the promised land of Marketing, offer him a contract, he signs without reading it. Unfortunately, Hack's new contract involves shooting teenagers to build up street cred for Nike's new line of $2,500 trainers. Hack goes to the police - but they assume that he's asking for a subcontracting deal and lease the assassination to the more experienced NRA. Enter Jennifer Government, a tough-talking agent with a barcode tattoo under her eye and a personal problem with John Nike (the boss of the other John Nike). And a gun. Hack is about to find out what it really means to mess with market forces. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

BEST OF 2014

Well, 2014 was actually a rather lackluster year where reading was concerned. There wasn't a whole lot to get me excited, and by the end of the year I had lost my passion for reading. I'm hoping to reignite the fire again. However here are the top five books I read in 2014:

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.

Fascinating, eye-opening and written with intelligent compassion, this nonfiction read is my top pick for the year. I really loved it!

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. 

Although these books are listed in no particular order, this book was probably my second favorite of the year. While a hard read, it was still a fun read, and it made me go buy the first in the series!

 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.

A charming story with well-crafted characters in a bleak setting. 

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Triumphant…Big, visceral, achingly humane." —Jennifer Egan

In this evocative and thrilling epic novel, fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan's New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm--an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours and half the city in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi's old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy: Cam, a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army; Anton, a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo's prewar skyline but is now charged with destroying it; and Billy, an Occupation soldier who arrives in the blackened city with a dark secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will shape Yoshi's journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption.

A lovely literary creation about an ugly moment in time. 

100 Tough Questions about God and the Bible by Stephen M. Miller

A bestselling author tackles 100 tough questions both Christians and nonbelievers ask, reporting popular viewpoints among biblical scholars and inviting you to draw your own conclusions. 

I thought the author did a great job at remaining unbiased in answering some tough and oftentimes controversial questions. 

So those are my top picks for 2014. Here's hoping that 2015 is more literarily exciting!