15 April 2014

TLC Book Tour: Laura Kasischke, Mind of Winter

She woke up late that morning, and knew: Something had followed them home from Russia.
Those are the first lines of this psychological thriller by Larua Kasischke, author of The Raising.  The main character of the novel is Holly Judge, a woman who, because of her genetic predisposition to aggressive reproductive cancer, has adopted a baby from Siberia.  Her beautiful daughter, Tatty, is now fifteen years old, and on Christmas morning, as soon as Holly wakes up, she realizes that something is not right.  In fact, it is possible that something has always been wrong.  Her husband rushes off to pick up his parents from the airport, and leaves Holly and Tatty alone as snow begins to fall and soon turns to a blizzard and plans for Christmas dinner are cancelled. Mother and daughter are trapped in the house together, and Tatty's behavior is growing stranger by the moment.

This book scared the pants off me. Like, if I was home alone, reading this at night, I would get scared and have trouble sleeping.  Like this was me:

Kasischke creates so much tension, and the atmosphere of the book is just so creepy; it is a thrilling thriller for sure.

There are a lot of flashbacks to when Holly and her husband go to Siberia to adopt Tatty, and the reader spends a lot of time inside our narrator's head.  All of this makes you feel like you know Holly, which makes the ending even more of a surprise, and it is a surprise, a true twist ending:

If you are looking for a good, stay awake at night psychological thriller, this is your book.  I won't be thinking about it for weeks to come, but I was definitely thinking about it while I was reading.

Title:Mind of Winter
Author: Laura Kasischke
Publisher:Harper Collins
Date: 2014
 Genre:Psychological Thriller

276 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher and TLC Book Tours.  Please visit the other blogs on this tour here.

09 April 2014

My Reading Life: The Mirror in the Book

In an essay called "Good Readers and Good Writers," Vladimir Nabokov, somewhat pompously, claims that "the worst thing a reader can do" is "identify himself with a character in [a] book.  This is not the kind of imagination that I would like readers to use."  While I love Nabokov, and even the rest of this particular essay, I can't imagine that I would have become the reader that I am today without identifying with so many characters in so many books. In fact, these characters are such a part of me, that I find myself in a bit of a chicken/egg situation.  Which came first: who I was, or the characters that I became?

First it was Harriet the Spy and Matilda, quiet, bookish types like me that ended up going on great adventures or having magnificent abilities. How many young introverts carried notebooks and collected observations, attempting to solve mysteries just like Harriet? And for how many of us were those the sparks of our future careers as writers and readers- professional collectors of details and solvers of problems? 

Then there were the Boxcar children, that rag tag group of self-sufficient orphans who inspired me on many a night to pack a couple of shirts in a hankercheif tied to a walking stick, and to "run away" to the woods behind my house for several hours.  And I'll never forget the way that I saw every closet differently after reading The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, or the way that I saw the whole world differently after my first forays into science fiction with Madeline L'Engle.  But those adventurous new worlds couldn't replace the pleasure of recognition that I found amongst the girls in the Babysitter's Club- perhaps my longest love affair- who each had a different characteristic that I wanted for my own:  Kristy's spunk, Claudia's artistic skills and Stacey's fashion sense.  But mostly there was Mary Anne, who was so much like me, I felt like I was looking at myself, finally, in the mirror on the pages of those stories that I loved.

Then in my teenage years I looked to the manic pixie dream girls in Francesca Lia Block's early YA novels to see the self that I had become.  I was the girl that didn't quite fit in on purpose; I was a little chubby, wore blue lipstick, cut my hair short and dyed it with Manic Panic.  But in those books, I saw people like me, who also wouldn't have fit in walking the hallways of my small town high school.

There are so many other specific moments growing up and into adulthood when I found myself in books, and when identifying with characters made me feel less alone. There are even books, like the Great Gatsby, that only get better and better as I understand more fully what their characters are experiencing- the ennui of the time that stretches between youth and adulthood- and I see my emotions, if not my life, in Nick Carraway's.   As someone who struggles, sometimes intensely, with anxiety, I am so grateful that other people have expressed similar struggles on paper and that I can read them when I feel like no could ever possibly understand me.

When I went to graduate school, I started to see the writer that I wanted to be in the theorists and novelists that I was reading.  But I never would have gotten there if I hadn't started by wanting to become, or by already being, those bookish types in the books from my childhood.  As I teacher, I see all the time students who don't know yet exactly where they are going, and I am grateful that I always had books to show me the way, to show me who I was and who I wanted to be. My greatest wish is that some of my students will see themselves in the books that I assign, so that reading might become meaningful, and might open up other worlds and possibilities.  So, to come back to where I began, with Vladimir Nabokov, maybe it is a bad reader who reads only for the pleasures of identification, but perhaps the good reader starts from there, and then she builds her own future.

02 April 2014

Fact or Fiction: Sheila Heti's, How Should a Person Be, Alexis Smith's, Glaciers and a Couple of Memoirs of Mental Illness

It has been a while since I have posted about more than one book that I've recently read, connected by a tenuous thread (see other examples HERE and HERE). Reading Sheila Heti's book sandwiched in between Agorafabulous and Hyperbole and a Half inspired me to do it again though. Sheila Heti's book has been both critically adored and much maligned, and I would say that my reaction to it was somewhere in the middle.  The book is about a young woman character, named Sheila, who is trying to get her life started after college, but seems stuck in a group of friends, in a scene, in her life, which like the play that she is writing, seems to be going nowhere. Heti's voice is the highlight of the book.  She is funny and quirky in a way that is a little less twee than some other millenial art-novelists.  The character Sheila's ramblings about how people should be, or what art means, sound just like the ramblings of a twenty-something artist who both doesn't know what she is talking about, but is as sure as she ever will be that she knows exactly what she is talking about.  And then there are moments that give the reader pause like this one:

For so long I had been looking hard intro every person I met, hoping I might discover in them all the thoughts and feelings I hoped life would give me, but hadn't. There are some people who say you have to find such things in yourself, that you cannot count on anyone to supply even the smallest crumb that your life lacks.
 Although I knew this might be true, it didn't prevent me from looking anyway. Who cares what people say? What people say has no effect on your heart.
Something about certain passages in the book struck me as so honestly what it feels like to be half grownup, living in the place of privilege and almost oppressive freedom that Sheila comes from.  She wants to reject conventional wisdom, but in its place has only feelings and longings.  And she has her friendship with Margaux, a fraught female relationship that unveils to the reader the depth of Sheila's selfishness.

I liked the book, if only because of what it had to say about the place from which art so often comes.  Sheila is trying to write a play in the book, but the uneventful nature of her life prevents her from making compelling art. And maybe that is how we come to art, like How Can a Person Be?, which is not compelling on the surface, but underneath really has something to say about itself and about the process of making art. So much art being made today comes from this place.

During and directly after the time that I was reading Heti, I was reading memoirs by two other young, female writers: Sara Benincasa's, Agorafabulous! Dispactches from My Bedroom and Allie Brosh's, Hyperbole and a Half.  Both of these books are, at least partially, about their authors' struggles with mental illness.  Benincasa has suffered from debilitating agoraphobia, the onset of which occurs fairly suddenly when the author is in college and finds herself unable to leave her apartment.  Allie Brosh experiences serious bouts of depression, which she writes/draws about poignantly and also hilariously.  In fact, despite the sometimes seriousness of much of their subject matter (although Brosh does have lots of sections in the book about her dogs, which are not so serious), both writers approach their stories with humor.  I laughed out loud at both books.  Both women take the raw material of their lives, and become storytellers, without the pretense of the meta narrative in Heti.  And although I have always been the reader that appreciates difficulty and books that demand analysis, reading these two women, whose experiences so resonated with some of my own, I cannot deny the pleasures of identification.  And even though I could also see myself in Sheila, there were so many moments where I wanted to strip away all the words in between us, and to get to the heart of the matter: the struggle against loneliness when all you think about is yourself, the struggle to make art with so little raw material, and the desire to know everything, but to not be able to hold it because evrything is just so big and your life is just so small.

And this brings me to Glaciers by Alexis Smith, a novella sized book about another young woman.  This one is called Isabel, and she lives in Portland, and she loves old things that once belonged to other people, and she wants to go to Amsterdam, but thinks she probably never will.  On the back of the book jacket, Karen Russell claims that the book is "filled with kaleidoscopic pleasures."  This description of the book is better than the book itself.  The atmosphere of the book was totally reminiscent, for me, of the movie Garden State (a movie I happen to still love).  It is not without its "kaleidoscopic pleasures."  Not far into the first chapter I realized that how I would get the most out of the book, is if I just let its language wash over me, the images like ocean waves.  Alexis Smith is a wordsmith, a poet, but the tiny book is without a beating heart.  What is meant to be the heart perhaps, is the relationship between the book's subject (Isabel) and young soldier with whom she works, who she has a crush on, and who is called to return to duty.  As he leaves, we get this passage:

She has questions. For example: Can soldiers check their e-mail? Do they still receive packages from old ladies with notes of encouragement and hand-knit scarves? If I sent him a pair of my panties could he trade them for booze and M&M's?

And it feels like something Sheila the character might have written.  And the older I get ,the more I need my books to have both head and heart.

Title:How Should a Person Be?
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher:Henry Holt and Company
Date: 2012
 Genre:Literary Fiction

306 pages.
Where I got it: Bought it.

Title:Agorafabulous! Dispatches from my Bedroom
Author: Sara Benincasa
Publisher:William Morrow
Date: 2012 Genre:Memoir

252 pages.
Where I got it: Bought it.

Title:Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened.
Author: Allie Brosh
Publisher:Simon and Schuster
Date: 2013
Genre:Graphic Memoir

369 pages.
Where I got it: Bought it.

Author: Alexis Smith
Publisher:Tin House
Date: 2012
Genre:Literary Fiction

174 pages.
Where I got it: Bought it.

*I am a Powell's partner, and the images above are affiliate links.  If you click them and purchase a book, I will receive a small percentage of the payment to help support my reading habits:)

26 February 2014

TLC Book Tour: Isabel Allende, Ripper

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I had never read Isabel Allende prior to picking up this book, and it may have been an odd place to start.  Allende began writing this book with her husband, who is a mystery writer, but soon realized that the collaboration wouldn't work and continued on her own.  The book has been getting some press lately because of comments Allende made about the genre and about this book being an exaggeration of some of the conventions.  Although many readers were offended by Allende's comments, I think that the book is a clever, but reverent, send up of some of the conventions of the typical serial killer thriller.  The sleuth in the book is a high schooler, Amanda Jackson.  She, along with her online cohorts in the role-playing game Ripper, have decided to solve a string of crimes committed in San Fransisco, which have not yet been linked by the police in charge of investigating them.  The head investigator just happens to be Amanda's father, Bob Marin.  So, she and her "henchman" (her grandfather, Blake Jackson), have some inside access to the facts of the case.   As the string of crimes continues, and as they start to hit a little closer to home for the Jacksons, the collective of misfit Ripper players become more and more essential to the investigation.

Allende is playing with the conventions of the genre, but in a way that seems all in good fun.  As a reader, I found that this book is slower than most mysteries, as Allende takes her time exploring the inner lives of her characters, especially of Amanda's holistic healer mother, Indiana Jackson, and her friend/patient/lover, the ex-Navy SEAL Ryan Miller.  Although it is a slow burn, Allende does manage to build a lot of tension in the novel, and I suspected nearly everyone in the book, and couldn't guess who the killer was until the reveal (although I wasn't too surprised by the reveal, which is a sign of effective foreshadowing).  The last hundred or so pages went quickly, although I was disappointed by the end, which felt abrupt and a bit underdone.  The book lives in a strange middle ground between being character-driven and plot-driven.  Fans of fast-paced thrillers will likely find this book to be wanting- and I did too, sometimes.  However, I did enjoy getting to know the characters, and my attachment to them made the mystery all that more urgent and enthralling.  I just wish that the conclusion had been a little more satisfying.

Please visit the other stops on this TLC Book Tour!

Author: Isabel Allende
Publisher:Harper Collins
Date: 2014
Genre:Literary Thriller

475 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher and TLC book tours.

07 January 2014

TLC BOOK TOUR: Rachel Joyce, Perfect

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"I am only saying that hat and dog are words that someone has chosen. And if they are only words someone has chosen, it stands to reason they may have got the wrong ones..."

Rachel Joyce's second novel, Perfect, is a  slow burner.  It begins on a day on which eleven-year-old Byron Hemmings believes that two seconds will be added to the clock.  He believes that this will happen because his friend James Lowe has told him that it is so.  And so, Byron waits for the two seconds, and he believes that he finds them.  He thinks that he sees his watch jump forward just as his mother hits a little girl on a red bicycle in her brand new Jaguar on a road in the wrong part of town where she never should have been in the first place.  And from this moment, the two seconds seem to make everything in Byron's life unravel.

The novel is told from two perspectives:  Byron's during the summer of 1972 when all in his life changes, and Jim's, a man who has spent his life in and out of the mental hospital, Besley Hill.  At first, it isn't clear for the reader how these narratives are related, but as the story unravels, they begin to merge and slowly reveal themselves.  The mysteries of the story are subtle, but poweful.

What stood out to me most in the book is the aptitude with which Joyce writes in the voice of the young Byron.  Many narratives told from the perspective of children seem to make them overly precocious and mature, or they make them too simple, like caricatures.  Byron felt real, and watching his mother's suffering through his eyes, gave a whole new perspective on a story that is also about the discontent and isolation of a 1970's housewife. As a whole the novel is subtle, but lovely.  It is at its strongest through the middle as all of the character's lives begin to feel the impact of the accident that happens on the first few pages.  I recommend it for fans of subtle mystery and slice-of-life novels.

See other reviews on the TLC book tour.

Author: Rachel Joyce
Publisher:Random House
Date: 2014
Genre:Literary Fiction

386 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher and TLC book tours.

17 December 2013

Two totally different, but recent, reads...

Click on the images to buy the books from Powell's

1. Peggy Orenstein/ Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, and Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother/ Bloomsbury/ 2007/ 226 pages/ library

This memoir tells the story of writer Peggy Orenstein's long and difficult journey through infertility treatment.  From the title, the reader knows that she does eventually succeed in having a child (although to find out how, you will need to read the book).  I read Orenstein's book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, so I knew that I liked her voice as a writer, and she is a great guide through this difficult topic.

2. Veronica Roth/ Divergent/ Katherine Tegan Books/ 2012/ 487 pages/ bought

Pretty much everyone has already read Divergent, so I'm pretty late to this party.  I thought that the story was fun, and the conceit of the dystopia was pretty interesting.  I'll definitely be reading the best of the series, and seeing the movies, since, after all, The Hunger Games is almost over.

20 November 2013

TLC Book Tour: Joe Hill, NOS4A2

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Welcome to the TLC book tour for NOS4A2 by Joe Hill!

Vic smelled the vast vault filled with books before she saw it, because her eyes required time to adjust to the cavernous dark. She breathed deeply of the scent of decaying fiction, disintegrating history, and forgotten verse, and she observed for the first time that a room full of books smelled like dessert: a sweet snack made of figs, vanilla, glue and cleverness.
Joe Hill's complex romp, NOS4A2, is a horror novel, but it is so much more than that.  It is a book lovers book, first and foremost.  Not only does Hill reference old vampire legend, he is clearly a reader and the things that he loves make appearances in his weird and twisty tales.  For instance, their is a minor character, last name De Zoet, who likes to listen to the Frobisher Cloud Atlas sextet.  Not only is this Hill making an homage to David Mitchell, Hill's book has the same kind of dizzying tumbling through time that makes Cloud Atlas such fun to read.

And it is scary...

But it is hard to explain...

Vic McQueen, "the Brat,"  is a little girl, with an old bike that helps her find lost things.  When she wants to find something, she simply rides her bike into the woods behind her house, and a creepy old bat-covered bridge appears and takes her where she wants to go.  However, this time/space breach doesn't come without a cost.  Each time Vic crosses "her bridge," she experiences splitting headaches and pain that becomes more and more serious.  One day, she uses her bridge to find Charles Manx -child-murderer (sort of) and almost vampire.  Her decision to find him is one, it turns out, which will haunt her for the rest of her life. The lines in her life- between fantasy and reality, between the past and the present- become increasingly blurred, until she is forced to confront what makes her so special. 

The book is almost 700 pages long; however, it doesn't really feel like it.  The chapters are cleverly plotted, filled with cliff hangers, and they make it difficult to stop turning pages.  Although I wasn't so scared I wanted to put the book in my freezer...

I did get a little spooked taking my dogs out at night...

Author: Joe Hill
Publisher:William Morrow
Date: 2013

686 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher and TLC book tours.

29 October 2013

My Thoughts on A.S. King, Ask the Passengers

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This is the first A.S. King book that I have read, although I saw her speak at the wonderful Changing Hands bookstore in Phoenix, and I immediately know that I would have to pick up her books.  I have not been in the mood for YA lit for several months, but decided that this would be my read for Dewey's 24 hour read-a-thon earlier this month, and it ended up being the one book that I finished that day.

Ask the Passengers is A.S. King's third novel for young adults, and it tells the story of a young girl, Astrid Jones, who feels trapped by the rigidity of her family and her outwardly perfect hometown as she struggles with deciding whether or not to tell them about her recent exploration of different aspects of her sexuality.  Astrid is in her first relationship with a girl, although she refuses to define herself forever and always as a lesbian.  Astrid's mother and sister, she knows, won't understand her position, and won't accept her for who she is.  So she, along with some of her friends who are also hiding things, escape to a gay club for teens just outside the bounds of her town.  They can't hide forever though, and eventually Astrid has to confront the problems with her family that have nothing to do with her sexuality.

King's writing is truthful and empathetic, and shares commonalities with John Green without making her characters quite so precocious. But she is sensitive to the struggles of teenagehood, and of personhood, in a similar vein. This book really deals with something so fundamental- our tendency to define, and our knowledge that we are beyond those definitions- with such humor and even a little magical realism (which I usually don't like, but it worked here). I would have loved to read her as a young person, perhaps for different reasons than I enjoyed it so much now.  I know I will be reading her again.

Title:Ask The Passengers
Author: A.S. King
Publisher: Little, Brown
Date: 2012
 Genre:Contemporary Young Adult

293 pages.
Where I got it: Bought it

12 October 2013

Dewey's Readathon Master Post

Eeek, it is already Hour Six and I am just getting started with the readathon.  However, I did finish my household chores, and I did some yoga, so now I am ready to read.

I'm going to do the introductory questionnaire even though I'm late to the party:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Prescott, Arizona on a beautiful fall day.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I seriously didn't make a stack yet, but I think I am going to start with A.S. King.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?  I'm drinking a lot of Trader Joe's fall blend herbal tea lately, which is very cinnamon-y and I like it.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!  I am an English teacher, a wife, and a pug mom.  I have been having a slow reading and blogging year, but I'm trying to just go with it.
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'm not going to put too much pressure on myself today.  I'm just hoping to get a little reading done.

I'll be back to update later.  Onto the reading!

Update #1:  1:52 p.m.  Hour Nine

Reading:  Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

# of pages: 164

Feeling?:  Like I"m probably not going to do a ton of reading today, but I'm alright with that!

Up Next:  A collection of essays maybe?  Agorafabulous?  A thriller?

03 October 2013

TLC BOOK TOUR: Jennifer DuBois, Cartwheel and A GIVEAWAY!

Click on the image to purchase the book from my Powell's affiliate account

Jennifer DuBois' literary thriller Cartwheel is loosely based on the Amanda Knox case.  However, the title comes from an act-- a cartwheel -- done in an interrogation room, which has much more in common with the Jodi Arias headstand. I can't help but wonder if the title is a clue to the enigmatic end.  But, I don't want this post to be spoiler filled, so I'll go back to the beginning.  Lily Hayes, the novel's main character, has been accused of stabbing her roommate Katy to death.  At the time of her accusation, she is studying abroad in Argentina, dating a seriously strange and reclusive billionaire, and  living with a host family who may be harboring some secrets.  The novel is told in multiple points of view:  Lily's father, her sister, her boyfriend, the investigator from the state, even Lily herself.  The story unfolds slowly, teetering back and forth in time.  It feels almost like it is circling, spiraling in towards the central event of the book: the murder.  All of the characters, it seems, have something to hide.  Everyone just may be a suspect. 

It is definitely difficult to talk about the book without giving much away.  I thought the book was a lot of fun, and DuBois defnitely knows how to build tension.  This is a great fall book to curl up with, but make sure that you have someone to discuss it with after your done.  It's a doozy.

Just Kidding:)

Please visit some other reviews as well, at TLC BOOK TOURS.

Author: Jennifer Dubois
Publisher: Random House
Date: 2013
 Genre:Literary Thriller

326  pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher and TLC BOOK TOURS

*** A GIVEAWAY ***

The publisher is giving away a copy of this book to a lucky winner.  To enter, please leave a comment here, with an email address at which to contact you.  Maybe tell me about your favorite literary thriller.  I will pick the winner on Friday, October 11th.

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