Friday, December 19, 2014

Currently reading...

I've just started reading Okey Ndibe's debut novel, Arrows of Rain.  I'm only a few chapters in, but can already tell that this is going to be a great read.  The story is described as a "powerful fable about the colonial legacy of corruption and the power of story to overcome injustice. It is silence that is the true villain of in this novel."  How incredible does that sound?  As for the plot of the story itself:  "In the fictional country of Madia (based in part on Ndibe's native Nigeria) a young prostitute runs into the sea and drowns. The last man who spoke to her, the "madman" Bukuru, is asked to account for her last moments. When his testimony implicates the Madian armed forces, Bukuru is arrested and charged with her murder. At the first day of trial, Bukuru, acting as his own attorney, counters these charges with allegations of his own, speaking not only of government complicity in a series of violent assaults and killings, but telling the court that the president of Madia himself is guilty of rape and murder. The incident is hushed up and Bukuru is sent back to prison. But a young journalist manages to visit him, and together they journey through decades of history that illuminate Bukuru's life, and that of the entire nation."

I've read the part where the body is discovered and a crowd surrounds it until the police arrive.  The lifeguard tells his version of what happened repeatedly, playing up to the large crowd.  A journalist stands by and says nothing, but takes note of everything happening.  Its his first assignment and his editor had dispatched him to the beach on New Year's Day to get reactions from people regarding the "latest farce" in government.  Armed with pen and paper, he stumbled upon the murder of a prostitute instead. From the beginning we can tell that the police take no real interest in investigating this woman's death and would rather be anywhere but at work.  They arrest a man who claims to have attempted to help the woman and soon we are in the courtroom where he is representing himself before the court.  As the dialogue continues it is rather apparent that he will be sentenced as guilty - the judge and prosecuting attorneys get riled up when the accused brings up the name of the president and declares the vice squad guilty of rape.  The crowd in the courtroom love the drama and "ooh' and "ahh" throughout the short trial.  After holding the accused in contempt, the judge decides to postpone the trial until later.  And now the reporter who wrote about the murder on the beach and attended the trial has just received a mysterious phone call telling him to dress appropriately and meet someone the next day.  Worried that it could be a ruse to arrest him or kill him for writing about the murder on the beach, he decides to attend the meeting and leaves a note in his desk for someone at work to find in case he goes missing.  Talk about covering his bases.  Anyhow, the meeting winds up being a ruse to get the reporter to meet with Bukuru (the accused).  Apparently, the president wants to poison Bukuru, so he fears for his life.  He wants Femi (the reporter) to write his story - he will jot down what he remembers and smuggle it to Femi, who will in turn write about it in the paper.  He calls himself an underdog and Femi is taken with that term and agrees to help Bukuru.  And now I'm about to read what Bukuru remembers.

Talk about a riveting read.  I am hooked.  I can't wait to read what Bukuru has written to Femi, especially as he plans on sharing about his past (which I'm sure will be interesting).  As for Femi, I'm hoping he can handle the task of telling Bukuru's story.  The idea of a story as a defense mechanism is exciting to me - words do have power and I am thrilled to see how they will work out in Bukuru's case and defense.  I can't wait to get back to this book later today.

Hope you all are enjoying some great reads this holiday season!  Happy reading!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More Mini Reviews...

I just finished reading another book last night.  It had been days since I last read a book, so I picked it up on a whim and wound up staying awake til the wee hours finishing it.  With all the holiday fun (baking, shopping, tree trimming, visiting, wrapping, etc.) I've only read a few bits and bobs.  I'm hoping to get another book in this week.  As for my reviews, they have been placed on the back burner for now.  So, I figured a few mini reviews would tide me over until I can get back on track with my blogging.  Here goes:

 Tom Bettany finds out that his son is dead - he was stoned and fell from the balcony.  Shocked by the tragic news, he returns to London to find out the truth about his son's death.  The more facts he uncovers, the more likely it seems that his son was murdered.  Talk about drama, mystery, thriller, and espionage all rolled into one.  Nobody Walks by Mick Herron packs quite a wallop with its quick-pace, suspense-filled scenes, and grittiness.  I loved getting to know Bettany and following him on his mission to uncover the truth - he was a force to be reckoned with.  Definitely a must-read for fans of Herron's works and fans of crime-thriller novels.  This is one book you won't want to miss!

Happy (belated) Birthday, Jane Austen!!  To celebrate Austen, Quirk Books published a wonderful book filled with the beautiful covers from her six novels - 200 years worth of covers!  Alongside the covers are wonderful and insightful commentaries about the history and details surrounding the covers, quotes, and essays regarding Austen-related topics.  This book is a MUST-HAVE for any fan of Austen.  I know that I absolutely loved flipping through the pages and taking in the colorful designs and artwork.  The images were fantastic!  And the essays about Austen were fascinating.  Love. Love. Love!!!
By the Book is about authors sharing their love of books.  "65 of the world's leading writers open up about the books and authors that have meant the most to them" - how delicious does that sound?!  How could I not want to read this book and find out what some of my favorite writers have loved reading.  Plus, we get to know these authors a little better as they share with us their writing habits, inspirations, and pet peeves.  This book is touted as "a book party not to be missed" - how fun!?!  I LOVED dipping in and out of this book over the past few weeks.  Getting to know each and every one of the authors was fascinating and rather captivating.  There were times when I just couldn't stop reading and wound up befriending ten authors in one sitting.  I would most definitely recommend By the Book to every book lover I know - you will most definitely fall in LOVE with this book!!
The Final Silence is the fourth book featuring Jack Lennon and it is terrific!  Filled with dark, gritty details and lots of action, this novel will have you turning pages faster than you can say "crime thriller".  Jack Lennon is a detective whose job is pretty much on the fence - what with his lust for drugs and alcohol.  This man is on a downward spiral and the only thing keeping him afloat is his daughter, Ellen.  When Jack gets a call from an old girlfriend his life gets turned inside-out and upside-down pretty quickly.  Fast-paced, lots of twists and turns, this is one crime-thriller/noir-ish novel you don't want to miss!!  I enjoyed getting lost in Northern Ireland and meeting Jack Lennon via Stuart Neville - this book was riveting!!
What an interesting book about George III and his family.  I enjoyed getting to know more about his personal life and through Hadlow's impeccable research we are able to do so.  She shares with us about George's "royal experiment", which is to create a royal family that would function happily and rather smoothly.  He wanted his "royal experiment" to succeed and become a model that his subjects would be able to follow and create in their own families.  Talk about wishful thinking!  However, Hadlow does show that George did sort of succeed with his "royal experiment" and I found the whole story absolutely fascinating. I'm not usually one for a historical biography, but this book read like a novel (which made it a rather compelling read).  I would definitely recommend this one to history buffs - you will love it!!

 As a love of Greek mythology and literature, I was excited to read Adam Nicolson's book, Why Homer Matters.  Nicolson explores Homer's Illiad and Odyssey, as a means for examining life, nature, and humanity.  This is truly a book written by a man whose love for Homer shines through and through.  His explanation of the poems and their meanings is thought-provoking.  Nicolson tackles a subject rich in history and brings it to the present by relating it to modern day.  He writes an incredibly interesting book that will have fans of Homer excited and inspired.  Definitely a must-read!
A fantasy-lite romance novel.  Talk about a genre I wouldn't normally read.  Yet, I found myself staying up all night just to finish it.  What can I say?  I wanted to read more about the romance.  In Moth and Spark, we have Prince Corin and Tam, young lovers struggling to figure out whether they should or shouldn't be together.  There are class issues to deal with, alongside the impending war of their country - too much drama!  And there are dragons, quests, danger, prophecies, and so much more.  Oh, and love.  Yep, Corin and Tam are infatuated with each other - more like, obsessed.  I loved reading all about their passions for their country, their powers and each other.  Anne Leonard has written one heck of a debut novel - chock full of bewitching scenes in a fascinating world.  I can't wait to read more of her work!
And there you have it, a few of my recent reads.  Talk about an eclectic mix, eh?  Now, I'm off to finish writing out Christmas cards and bake some banana bread.  Happy reading!!

Thank you to the publishers for providing me with copies of these wonderful tomes!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories by Hilary Mantel

(Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book!)

Love. Love. Love.  I absolutely LOVED The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel.  It is now one of my favorite short story books.  I can't believe I waited so long to read her work - what was I thinking?!  I suppose it doesn't really matter since I am now officially hooked on Mantel.  I plan on reading her highly praised novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies next year.  I can't wait!!

As for this book of stories - Whoa, Nelly! I don't even know where to begin.  I just know that I thought it was fan-bloody-tastic!!  The stories are absolutely terrific - they are well written, chock full of relatable characters, and completely unforgettable.  I found them all to be thoroughly engaging, thought-provoking, and unputdownable.  I stayed up all night reading this book and enjoyed every minute of it.   These were just such great stories to get lost in.  I keep thinking about the couple in the taxi - the horror!  Oh, and the two little girls who spend their time sneaking up to the 'rich' people's home and peeking in the windows - they are consumed by this idea that something or someone is being hidden in that house.  There's also the title story about a woman who decides to help the man set on assassinating Thatcher - secret door, anyone?  And then there's the story about the woman who finally decides to ask her husband to help her get rid of a visitor who can't seem to stay away from her - this one was my favorite short in the book.  All of these wonderful stories are connected by Mantel's exploration of disconnection, displacement, and isolation - she manages to show the ugly, raw reality of people struggling with feelings of discord, loneliness, unhappiness, and general dislocation.  Her stories are sad, funny, horrific, satirical, and amusing.  They keep you on your toes - which I loved!  Mantel's writing is truly amazing. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mini Reviews...

You guys, I have been reading like crazy lately.  So many books, so little time.  And yet, I somehow manage to read a few books a week. I am loving this reading frenzy - its fabulous!  Of course, my blogging has fallen to the wayside as a result.  I'm just so busy lately, plus the holidays are here - well, you know what I mean.  Anyhow, I figured a great way to get me blogging again was to post some mini reviews.  So, here goes:

Fun and fast read that you will gobble up in under an hour.  Its filled with creative and imaginative text conversations between characters from some of literature's most famous works.  Think Rochester using all caps to talk at Jane and Hamlet's teen angst popping up in his replies to his mother's concerned texts.  This book is truly a delightful read for the literary-obsessed.  I know I loved all the snark, humor, wit and silliness dispensed throughout this quirky read - it was fantastic!!

As a fan of Lovett's last novel, The Bookman's Tale, I just knew I would enjoy his latest book, First Impressions.  A mix of historical fiction and murder mystery, this new story takes us on quite the adventure.  We have Jane Austen penning P&P (aka First Impressions) and falling in love to provide the historical context for modern day Sophie's search for an illusive novel that everyone seems to want, but no one can find.  There is romance, danger, mystery, murder (possibly), books, Austen, and so much more in this fun and thrilling read.  Its a treat for fans of Lovett, Austen, old books, and love.
What a disappointing read!  After hearing King talk about this book being his return to scary, I really did expect one creepy read.  Well, it was not scary in the least.  Even the Frankenstein-ish aspects were not spooky.  Nope, this book was simply about death (what happens after death?) and drug addiction.  I know King had a problem with drugs, so perhaps that's why he considered this book a horror story - since it was a horror he had experienced first hand. I was expecting more from this book, but in the end was just happy to be done with it.  I think I'll be taking a break from King for a while.
Precious Ramotswe is one of my favorite characters and I absolutely love getting caught up in her life.  So, of course I was absolutely thrilled to get my hands on a copy of Alexander McCall Smith's latest installment in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.  Once again Precious has cases to solve, business hiccups to deal with, and several other dramas to endure.  And like always, she manages to get through it all with her usual determination, grace, and intelligence. Plus, her family and friends help her along the way as well.  I'm going to be sad when Smith stops writing these books, so until that happens I will happily devour them as they come out.  Here's to hoping that he's working on another one as I type this.
Disappointing dystopian  YA novel.  Basically, there is something causing humans to kill themselves and others.  What that "something" is no one really knows.  All they know is that in order to prevent death from happening they need to shut their eyes (or wear a blindfold).  Yep, apparently its something that if you see it you will want to die.  Anyhow, this book goes back and forth in time and pretty much winds up where you expect it to.  At first I liked where the story was going, but then the more I read and the more predictable it became - well, I just lost interest.  Definitely not a good read.
I read the first book in this trilogy and was underwhelmed.  Of course, I had to read the second one to see if if would improve.  And, it did.  Well, sort of.  I'm still not sure where this story is going, but I know that I enjoyed reading it more this time round.  Once again Cassie and the motley crew she is now a part of continue to fight for their lives against the aliens' many waves of destruction - they want to exterminate the human race (ahhhh!).  The Infinite Sea is a thrilling and adventurous read that I really did enjoy.  I'm definitely looking forward to the last book.

Veronica Mars is once again on the case.  This time round she has to find a serial rapist and murderer, before he strikes again.  Plus, she still worries about her dad (especially considering that he was almost killed in the last book) and struggles to figure out how she'll cope with Logan leaving her again for work.  She's confused, angry, determined, smart, and riled up - basically, she's her usual Veronica Mars self.  I loved the TV series and now I'm really digging these books.  They have a bit of noir-ish feel to them, along with a great cast of characters to read all about.  I'm definitely hoping that they keep churning out more of these books, because they are a great way to touch base with Veronica Mars and the seedy underbelly of Neptune, along with the constant battle between the rich and the poor. 
What would you do if you found out that you had one year (this has to happen before you turn 30) to see the 6 types of love that exist and write about them in an old journal that has been passed down from one 'gifted' woman to the next or else you would be doomed to never experience true love?  And this 'gift' is the ability to see love - like, you see a couple and suddenly your eyesight blurs or begins to notice colors around them and you realize that these two people are absolutely, truly in love with one another.  What would you do?  Would you believe the woman telling you this or would you think she's crazy?  Well, in Sarah Jio's latest novel, Jane believes Colette (the woman who told her this news) and begins to understand and see the various types of love all around her.  The book was predictable and a bit sappy, but it really was sweet and made for a fun read.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of her works. 
This book is a 'single white female' of the older woman variety.  Grace is married to a popular author.  They have one daughter and appear to live charmed life.  Except, Grace is extremely unhappy with her marriage - all her husband does is bully her and verbally abuse her.  Of course no one knows this dark secret, because Grace pretends they are happy.  Plus, Grace also has a mother who is an alcoholic and manic depressive - another deep, dark secret she hides from the world.  Talk about too many secrets, eh?  Well, the story finds Grace slowly being replaced by the very assistant she found for her husband.  Soon, she is being heavily medicated by a crackpot psychiatrist the assistant recommended - and her husband even wants to have her committed!! So, Grace flees.  She literally escapes the hospital and flies to London to meet up with a dear old friend and finally take full control of her life.  All the while, Beth (the assistant) has taken over her house, monies, husband, jobs, and life.  Its crazy, creepy, and such an addictive read.

I love the TV show GIRLS, so I was super excited to learn that Lena Dunham had written a book of personal essays.  I stayed up all night reading the book and absolutely loved it!  The essays were funny, sad, quirky, observant, smart, and totally relatable.  I found myself nodding along, smiling, getting upset, and even tearing up at times as I read Dunham's essays on college, friendship, writing, sex, love, and rape.  Her personal stories were terrific - they were candid in nature and showcased Dunham's talent for writing.  I found myself easily immersed in her world, her history, and her life.  And, I found myself inspired by her.  Not That Kind Of Girl is a worthwhile read that I would happily recommend to fans of GIRLS and Dunham.  You will LOVE this book!!
And there you have it, a smattering of the books I've recently read.  I may not have loved them all, but I did enjoy reading a variety of genres - I'm really trying to mix it up.  What about you?  Any good books to recommend?  Well, I'm off to finish reading my copy of Vogue and then watch The Pioneer Woman's Cowboy Christmas Special on Food Network.  Cheers!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Non-Bookish Thoughts...

Its Christmas month - hurrah!  This means yuletide treats, lots of decorations and festive music, and some lovely pressies to exchange with loved ones.  It also means lots of quality family time.  How exciting!! Of course, all of these things translates to one heck of a busy month.  My reading will most definitely take a dive during the month of December, but I'm okay with that.  I figure as long as I read at least one book a week, I'm ace.  Anyhow, I just wanted to share what I've been up to lately:
  •  The Walking Dead mid-season finale.  Ugh! I have to admit that I wasn't surprised Beth was killed off.  her story line lacked and they really needed to get away from that crazy hospital. I did feel bad watching Daryl crying as he carried her body out of the hospital.  One tweeter wrote, "When Daryl cries, the world cries."  How true! LOL!  I did enjoy watching Morgan at the end - seems like he was tracing their steps and now has confirmation that Rick Grimes is near.  I'm really looking forward to seeing where the next half of the season takes up (especially as this half was a bit lackluster at times).  Here's to a Rick and Morgan reunion!
  • My sister and I bought our mom and dad a new dining table for their house.  Its their Christmas gift.  Our mom is so excited.  It gets delivered tomorrow! Can't wait to have Christmas dinner on it.
  • I've been culling my closet and its been rather eye-opening.  I had completely forgotten about so many of the things I'd shoved in there.  I have so many cute handbags whose dust bags are collecting dust because I never use them - ack! I took down one of my old MJs to start using NOW.  I can't believe that I was telling my sister I wanted a new leather Longchamp for Christmas - talk about handbag addiction!!  And then there are all my Havaianas languishing in a basket.  I've been wearing the same pair forever.  What is wrong with me!?!  Anyhow, I'm filling a few bags with clothes, shoes, and handbags to donate - so, its working out.  Of course, its a work in progress, as I tend to want to hold on to things for much too long.  Like my worn out converse that used to be black and now resemble a murky grey color - ugh!
  • I'm backing this weekend, which means I've been going through my cookbooks this week.  I love giving out homemade treats to family and friends.  I usually wait a little later in the month to do it, but am in the mood to bake now.  So, I've written my lists of ingredients to buy and people I want to gift these yummy yuletide desserts to.  My sister is going to help.  We are making fudge, pecan bars, linzers, mini-loafs of banana bread, and scones.  Delicious!!
  • I just read an article in my new copy of Vogue about regifting.  They referenced the Seinfeld episode where Elaine discover that Tim Whatley (aka Walter White) has regifted the label maker she gave him to Jerry. I love that episode!! Of course, I love any Seinfeld episode, so I'm rather biased.  Anyhow, this article got me to thinking about the idea of regifting.  Everyone does it, even if they don't admit it.  I know I've done it a few times with gift cards I'd received and didn't think I'd use.  However, tangible gifts that were given to me by close friends or family I tend to keep (even if I don't particularly like it).  I tend to think about the thought put into the gift and decide that its a keeper.  What about you?  Do you regift?  Is it really that bad to regift?
  • And finally, I got this book in the post earlier this week:
    How exciting!! Reading a new Murakami during the holidays - I love it!! The book came shrink-wrapped and when I opened it, I couldn't help but smile.  I just know that I'm in for something special with this book and can't wait to read it.  I'm hoping to get to it tomorrow.  And now, I'm off to watch Little Women on the telly.  I watched The Thing Called Love earlier ( I love this movie!!! ) and the menu said that Little Women was coming on soon.  So, I have to watch Laurie grow smitten with Jo.  Hope you all have a great weekend filled with lots of books!