Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Literary Fiction and What the Heckfire Is It?

So, I made it pretty obvious that this ole blog took a dramatic turn toward literary fiction in the not-so-distant past. Hello "Skewing literary fiction one novel at a time..." tagline. And since I'm so darned interested in literary fiction all of a sudden, you can bet there's a reason. A few of them, actually.

#1. My brain was feeling ignored. I took a promotion to Program Chair of General Education back in October at the college where I've taught full-time for two years. When I was considering throwing my hat into the ring for this position, I specifically asked my then-boss, now-fellow-PC what percentage of the job is stressful and what percentage is just annoying. As it turns out, this job is 10% stressful and 90% annoying. I supervise anywhere from 14-30 adjunct faculty and a team of three full-time faculty in any given term. In short, I teach, I do A LOT of paperwork, create a schedule for the classes, faculty observations and coaching, faculty development, etc. There's a lot to it, I wear a lot of hats, I'm very involved on campus, but it's not that hard. What's hard is juggling the oddball schedule, long hours, and pure exhaustion with home and family time. What I found is that my reading quality was going down, down, down. Two years ago I only read ONE novel all year. And that's just madness.

In part, my decision to focus on literary fiction is a calculated move to challenge myself a little more. I often found myself veering toward books I only felt so-so about because I was too tired or stressed to read some broccoli literary fiction. Generally, I find literary fiction rewarding to read and I appreciate it, even when I don't really like it that much. *coughGOONSQUADcough*

Do I still read other stuff because it makes me happy? Hell yeah. Literary fiction just so happens to be making me happier than most other reading material right now. We'll see how long this phase lasts.

#2. I'm lazy. I said it. Reading my way through my favorite blogs, I always saw books that looked super-tasty, but I wouldn't pick them up because that would require effort -- asking for them on NetGalley, requesting them via e-mail from a publicist, actually buying a book. I still don't buy many books, but I am far more apt to add myself to a library holds list and actually finish the book before it has to go back to the library.

#3. I'm still trying to figure out what constitutes literary fiction. It's an ongoing debate and it ruffles feathers sometimes, and right now, my definition is pretty simple. Novels that have some lofty goal, theme, or artfulness involved in their creation. In short, I think authors who write literary fiction might have more of an agenda than the average bear. That's not positive, it's not negative, it just is what it is. I can't name one novel I've read in the "clearly marked and marketed as literary fiction" category that didn't have some purpose: to wow me with form, wow me with character development, to wow me with its deeply thematic nature, etc.

Obviously, this definition and my previous statement beg the question, "If a 'literary fiction' book doesn't wow you, is it then not literary fiction?" And my response would be, "Shuddup! That's silly." Case in point: I hated Freedom by Jonathan Franzen to the depths of my soul, but I can still point at it and declare with confidence, "That's literary fiction." And I didn't even appreciate that one. Just hated it. Franzen was trying to make a point, he just made me want to die before I could get all the way to it.

So far this year I've read 10 books that I would consider literary fiction (one DNF, Franzen!), and it's been a rewarding time. I feel a little "fuller" than I have in the last couple of years, which makes me a very happy reader and a happy blogger.

I really would like to know how y'all feel about literary fiction in general.  Do you have a definition for literary fiction? Do you crave it? Avoid it? Feel like it's unnecessarily elevated? Underappreciated? What say you?

I'm sure I'll have more to say as the year rolls on and I amass reviews under my belt, but that's how I'm feeling so far. More to be announced!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Reading - Dipping and Diving

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly event to list the books finished last week, the books currently being read, and the books to be finish this week. It was created by J.Kaye’s Book Blog, but is now being hosted by Sheila from One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books!

It IS Monday! Oh, Monday. Please be a good one. I have a few hours at work this morning to free-work and then the meetings kick in around 1pm. I'm hoping I can squeeze in at least a couple of minutes of reading at "lunch" today. We'll see.

Finished last week: Goon Squad, yadda yadda

Reading now: I'm dipping and diving (thus, the title). When I was browsing at the library last week, I picked up my next choice for my personal Tournament of Books challenge: Bloodroot, by Amy Greene. I've only read about 20 pages, and I like it so far, but my motivation to actually pick it up seems low and slow.


I also happened to spot Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag while I was browsing and remembered Wendy's review over at her CaribousMom blog. I've only read a few pages of this one, too, but in that short span of pages I'm reminded of the tension in one of my favorite novels, What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt. The subject matter is quite different, and we'll see how it plays out, but so far that's the impression I have up front. Very promising indeedio.

Finally, I am bound and determined to finish the graphic novel, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, by Andrew Roslan, this week. The story is fine, but the illustrations are not grabbing me at this point. While I'm not opposed to black and white illustrations these seem oversimplified and too cartoony and don't quite jive with the tone of the book. It's about Amelia Johnson's struggle with cancer, and her request as she's nearing death, that her two best friends (meeting for the first time) make a road trip to meet some of her favorite people and visit her favorite places.
And that's what I'm reading. What about you?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Sunday Salon - Backlist Beauties

I've always been a friend of the backlist books. In other words, hype makes me nervous and if there's too much hype it translates into too much pressure, and then it's not fun anymore, and I don't call and I don't write. You know the story.

I've been reading far newer fiction lately going against my natural instincts as a reader and diving headlong into the super-hyped. Weird for me. Fun, but weird. So in an effort to call attention to some of the backlist beauties I've run across during my Sunday morning mama-time bookstore browsing, I thought I'd toss this post out into the ether and see what feedback y'all can provide.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin -- Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this spellbinding historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole–and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.

So, the "universally beloved" thing doesn't do much for me, because I'm probably one of eight people in the world who haaaates Alice in Wonderland. It made me want to stab myself in the nostril with a croquet club...stick...thing. BUT, I like pretty covers, and the cover of this book is very pretty and it sounds downright interesting. I happened to see it when I passed it last week and was reminded that, Hey! I've heard of that on ze blogs! I shall own it. Or library it.

The Keep by Jennifer Egan -- Two cousins, irreversibly damaged by a childhood prank whose devastating consequences changed both their lives, reunite twenty years later to renovate a medieval castle in Eastern Europe, a castle steeped in blood lore and family pride. Built over a secret system of caves and tunnels, the castle and its violent history invoke and subvert all the elements of a gothic past: twins, a pool, an old baroness, a fearsome tower. In an environment of extreme paranoia, cut off from the outside world, the men reenact the signal event of their youth, with even more catastrophic results. 

Even though I've completed -- and didn't love -- A Visit from the Goon Squad, I'm game for The Keep. I also have her 2009 novel, Look at Me, on my stacks. BUT, I'm a glutton, and this one looks completely droolworthy. I think I also remember this one being discussed in my online book groups and maybe around the blogosphere in 2007. I've slept since then. Either way, I'm all over it now.

Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato -- Fear doesn't come naturally to Mathilda Savitch. She prefers to look right at the things nobody else can bear to mention: for example, the fact that her beloved older sister is dead, pushed in front of a train by a man still on the loose. Her grief-stricken parents have basically been sleepwalking ever since, and it is Mathilda's sworn mission to shock them back to life. Her strategy? Being bad. Mathilda decides shes going to figure out what lies behind the catastrophe. She starts sleuthing through her sisters most secret possessions—e-mails, clothes, notebooks, whatever her determination and craftiness can ferret out.

I fell in love with the cover of this one ages ago. How could I not? It's my favorite color scheme, and it's all silhouetty and creepalicious. I'm also slightly embarrassed because I read and commented on a review of this book just last week and now I can't remember to save my cotton-pickin' life who it was! Remind me, if you're reading. This one sounds quite sinister and possibly heartbreaking. Why not make it a summer read!?!

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer -- Viktor and Liesel, a rich Jewish mogul married to a thoughtful, modern gentile, pour all of their hopes for their marriage and budding family into their stunning new home, filling it with children, friends, and a generation of artists and thinkers eager to abandon old-world European style in favor of the new and the avant-garde. But as life intervenes, their new home also brings out their most passionate desires and darkest secrets. As Viktor searches for a warmer, less challenging comfort in the arms of another woman, and Liesel turns to her wild, mischievous friend Hana for excitement, the marriage begins to show signs of strain. The radiant honesty and idealism of 1930 quickly evaporate beneath the storm clouds of World War II.

And on this last one, I'm doing the guilty dance. It's a bit like the pee pee dance but not nearly as animated and much drier. I downloaded this book ages ago -- when I first got my Nook -- because I read a review over at Frances' place. Between the blurb and her review and the cool cover and all, I simply couldn't resist. And there the book has remained for a year. That makes me a slacker -- I'll wear the crimson S on my chest. I hope this one knocks me over after waiting so long to read it.

And there you have it -- the not-so-new books that are calling to me the loudest these days.  

Have you read them? What's on your backlist wishlist?

Note: I'm sorry I've published this thing three times. Your feed readers all loathe me right now. I drafted it a couple of days ago, set the time wrong when I edited today, and finally spelled "Sunday" wrong. Yeah, I'm an English professor. Woohoo!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Rise of the Insensitive Picture Book

Yes, I stole this one from Amazon. You can't really click to look inside!
 It's happened, and some of you will probably remember this. There was an episode of Sex & the City a bazillion years ago when Carrie Bradshaw ended up in a publishing office and pitched a ridiculous idea for a children's book for adults about a little girl named Kathy and her cigarettes. The editor looked at her crossways at first but then started to clue in on the irony and suddenly it became a BRILLIANT idea! One that did not fly, unfortunately.

Now it seems the "ridiculous" idea of children's books--not remotely meant for children and bordering on crass--has come true as evidenced by Adam Manbach's Go the F to Sleep and another book I read last weekend: The Littlest Bitch by David Quinn and Michael Davis.

People are either ok with these books or hate them to the depths of their very souls. Bottom line. End of story. Case closed. Of course, probably unsurprisingly, I am totally fine with it. Easygoing liberal right here! When I first heard about Manbach's Go the F to Sleep I immediately jumped on YouTube and watched a reading of the book and laughed like a maniac. The poetic verse always ending with some derivative of "go the F to sleep" along with the lighthearted, almost whimsical, illustrations hit the perfect note.

Two weeks after Greyson was born, still sleep deprived and recovering from a C-section, I got together with a group of girlfriends from high school. It was the first time we'd all been in the same room since graduation in the late 90s. At this point we have all have kids, husbands or steady "others", and we had plenty to catch up on. I will NEVER forget my friend Crystal's advice and admission that went something like this.

"You will not always like your child. There will be moments when you decidedly dislike your child. Let's face it, at this point in the game he's a stranger who doesn't speak your language and will often scream at you for hours at a time. It's OK not to like him sometimes."

Holy liberation, Batman! Crystal is, like, perfect -- so to hear her say something like this was a lightbulb moment!  There are times in parenthood when every person faces THE FRAYED NERVES (all caps for a very good reason), and that's what Go the F to Sleep really touches on -- those long nights when you've done everything in your power and nothing seems to work. When you give up, doze off, and later find your child sleeping of his or her own accord because they decided it was time. In that way, it's really a preview of the teenage years. Ha!

It's good satire. It works!

The Littlest Bitch is quite a different story. It's about a little girl, mature beyond her years, who is...well...a bitch! She has a business executive mentality from her childhood on up through adulthood. She reads Newsweek in pre-school, counsels her parents on investments, and ends up running her own company. Physically, she never grows, and in fact, as she ages and becomes progressively nastier, she begins to shrink until she disappears in an ironic turn of fate.

There's not so much of the satirical in The Littlest Bitch. It's just funny to say, funny title, funny story, but doesn't ring with the same aching truth that Go the F to Sleep manages to pull off. In this way it was a sub-par "adult" picture book and far less effective for me personally.

So that's it. I suppose my attitudes about this trend speak to my laid back parenting and my realist attitude. My child is a turd sometimes. I'm OK with that. We do our best to raise them super-right, but there are days that are grand and there are moments that suck, and that's what makes it all so memorable and worthwhile. Some of the tongue-in-cheek picture books will succeed in capturing these moments and others just go for an easy joke. I will be interested to see if and how this trend grows in the future. For now, I will be keeping an eye on Adam Mansbach.

Go the F to Sleep - Snuggle
The Littlest Bitch - Skewer

Go the F to Sleep
Pub. Date: June 14, 2011
Publisher: Akashic Books
Format: YouTube video
ISBN-13: 978-1617750250
Source: Also YouTube

The Littlest Bitch
Pub. Date: March 8, 2010
Publisher: Sellers Publishing
Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1416205685
Source: Read in-store at my local indie: A Real Bookstore

Postscript: And it should be noted that Mansbach is certainly not the first to write a subversive book like this. And there have been many subversive books for children. However, this trend seems to have become one of those media and ideological storms that come around every so often.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad is the darling of last year's "Best Of" and "Must Read" lists. I tend to clear a wide berth around novels having anything to do with show business, so it took a good deal of Pulitzer and Tournament of Books attention to entice me into reading this one. Given all the hype, I figured it was worth at least taking the chance and when I found the trade paperback on sale, I snapped it up.

What did I get for going against my natural inclination to stay away from show business books? A solid, "meh," that's what.

If you follow my Twitter feed or are my Goodreads buddy, you've seen the word "slog" out of me quite often over the last week in regards to the ole Goon Squad. While parts of it were captivating and titilating and all those other good atings, there were stretches that made me want to clean the house, change the cat litter, or do just about anything else except read. Quite simply, I forced myself to finish it.

Now, before you stop reading (are you still reading?) and just assume it's a wash, it's not really.There were really good parts, but they were a little too few and far between for me to love it outright.

If you haven't already heard, Goon Squad is a collection of loosely related chapters hinging on a few key characters and the loads of peripheral characters that float in and out of their lives.  It's damn hard to explain so go on over and read Janet Maslin's NY Times Review if you want a really good blurb and a specific example of how the stories relate. My somewhat flippant blurb goes like this: the key figures are Bennie, an aging music producer, and Sasha, his kleptomaniac assistant. The book spans from the 1980s when Bennie is a burgeoning punk rocker to the future when the U.S. is a growing desert and babies all have hand-held devices remarkably like iPads. And they buy music. Why wouldn't they? At that point Bennie is thoroughly pissed off with music and stages a surprising comeback for himself and another sad sack you'll get to know along the way. Nothing is chronological, so it's a big cluster following who's who and why they're nuts.

Jennifer Egan is undoubtedly hella talented. The book is superbly plotted and I was really stunned that she was able to carry off what often seemed desultory connections between the characters and made them into something more meaningful -- a short story cycle with some semblance of cohesion among all the noise. There were moments of pure humor, pure heartbreak, and then there were long stretches of "meh" that just drove me nuts. Without some of the "meh" this would've been a clear winner for me. As it is, I'll probably remember a few key moments and quickly forget the rest. The point of this book? A simple one: time is a goon. It'll hunt you down, kick you in jewels, and move right on to the next hit.

I do plan to read more of Egan's work. The Keep looks downright droolworthy and I already own Look at Me.This book also cements the fact that Pulitzer and I have an extremely hit and miss relationship. Some winners I love, some I loathe, and some would make really good coasters.

Snuggle - Skewer

Pub. Date: March 22, 2011
Publisher: Anchor
Format: Trade Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0307477477

Source: Purchased at a local bookstore

Monday, June 20, 2011

Post-Vacation Monday Reading

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading This Week? is a weekly event to list the books finished last week, the books currently being read, and the books to be finish this week. It was created by J.Kaye’s Book Blog, but is now being hosted by Sheila from One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books!

My week of vacation is over, and I got absolutely nothing accomplished. I mentioned earlier that Greyson passed along some tropical daycare super-virus to the whole family on the 11th, and a week later I'm still reeling and sporadically ill. Everyone else seems to be fine -- so I suppose I'm just the lucky one with the botched immune system. *le sigh*

Amidst all the illness, I still managed to scrounge out some reading time. I finished ROOM, and you've probably already seen that review. I had expected to whip through several other books on my vacation, but like so many other plans, that one went down the toilet. Pun totally intended.

I spent a portion of Friday at THE BEST INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE IN THE LAND. a Real Bookstore in Fairview/Allen, TX. I had no idea what a beautiful, pristine, helpful, awesome, indie I had right down the road from my house! I'll do a whole post on their supreme fabulousness later in the week, so keep an eye out.

I mention the store now because it prompted the only completed reading experience I've had since ROOM. While Chuck was browsing the graphic novels section for some artistic inspiration, he found The Littlest Bitch by David Quinn, Michael Davis, and Devon Devereaux. It's clearly marked a "not for children children's book" so there's no chance anyone can poo-poo it for being a bad influence. I'm also preparing a review post of this one, and the smash Go the F*CK to Sleep, for later in the week.

I'm currently reading Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning, A Visit from the Goon Squad. I had some serious doubts about its awesomeness when I first began, but I'm coming around a little bit. I spent a few hours reading at Barnes and Noble yesterday, and with a little extended time to sit and ponder, it's not so bad. I don't think it'll even remotely touch my love of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, it's Tournament of Books buddy, but we shall see.

I'm also in the middle of a graphic novel from NetGalley, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson. So far it's so-so.

So what are you reading? Greedy booknuts need to know!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Everything Beautiful Began After

I'm happy to report that I'm slightly ahead of the curve on this book. It's my understanding that it will be on tour in July, and as soon as I saw it on NetGalley I had to snap it right up.

Simon Van Booy has been a sentimental favorite of mine ever since his first short story collection, The Secret Lives of People in Love, came through when I was editing the Estella's Revenge E-Zine. Nancy from Bookfoolery and Babble adored it, and I followed shortly after.

I've said from the beginning that Van Booy has an old world feeling in his writing, and this one delivered in that regard. Set in Athens, Henry is a genius, drunkard, American, in love with Rebecca. Rebecca is a French ex-flight attendant, artist, in love with Henry. Henry is a British archaeologist, hottie, tortured soul.

And they're all tortured souls in some way-- haunted by death, betrayal, and crappy family. They find each other in a twisted love triangle heightened by the unlikely friendship that grows between George and Henry. Going into this novel, and from reading the blurbs, I really thought it would be about the love triangle. And that's not new! But it really isn't so much. A REALLY BIG EVENT, which I won't talk much about for fear of spoilers, changes the trajectory of this novel in a big, big way. All of a sudden it was no longer about a triangle, and it morphed into more of a story of triumph and overcoming grief and insurmountable psychological trauma.

This novel was gri-tty in spots. It wrung me out and left me feeling a little dazed, in fact. I seem to have read two of the most emotional novels I've ever had in my hands within a week of each other! ROOM made me tear up, as did this one, and both were laced with moments when I cringed, or cursed the characters in my head, or just felt downright pissed at the story arc. In a good way. I was invested.

Van Booy's writing shines in this one just has it has in his short stories. Because he does a good bit of description and sweeping figurative language, I was actually a little distressed that it would be too wordy and drawn out in the beginning. I was wrong, though! Dead wrong. The beautiful writing really helped sweeten the darker moments in this novel.

While I could pull out some quotes from the novel, I'm both lazy and a visual learner, so I'll share a video of Simon reading one of his short stories instead. His accent is dreamy, eh?

If you've ever wanted to try Simon Van Booy's work, you can't really go wrong with his short stories or this novel. But if you're more of a novel fan, I can't imagine that you wouldn't like Everything Beautiful Began After. If you don't like it, come back here and we'll Jello wrestle until I convince you.

Snuggle -- Skewer

  • Pub. Date: July 1, 2011
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • Format: e-book
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061661488
  • Source: NetGalley

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Return to the Living and ROOM

Greyson came down with his first virus over the weekend and was kind enough to pass that along to me. That means I've been caring for the sick or sick myself for the entirety of my vacation from work so far. Let's just hope things go up from here!!!

Monday, when I was still well, Chuck blessed me with a few hours outside the house. I was on page 31 of Emma Donoghue's ROOM that morning, and by 11:30 that night, I was done. I read in starts and fits when time allowed, but everyone was right when they said it was unputdownable.

I've been thinking over exactly what to write in this review ever since I finished the book. Given all of the blog coverage I'm certain I don't have much to add that's new, but I can tell you this: I'm having a really hard time being a smartass about this book. That is, there's no sarcasm or flip attitude here. This book deserves more than that. I can only tell you about my visceral reaction to it.

I've mentioned along the way, I've actually tried reading this book twice before. The first time I got hold of a library copy and with other things to read and lacking the time to adjust to Jack's voice in the novel, I returned it unread. Then I checked out the audio version from Overdrive and found it even more difficult to stomach listening to Jack's narration. As a newish mom, I was simply terrified of this book. Thanks to Heather and Les and others who assured me it would be OK and that I'd likely be glad I read it.

I am glad I read it, though it was not easy going. I have to say, this is probably the most agonizing book I've ever read. I found myself sitting in the cafe at my local Barnes and Noble, gripping the table, hunched over the book, nearly in tears. And that was at the mid-point!!! I don't know that I've ever had such an anxious physical reaction to a book. Donoghue's writing is powerful, charged with emotion, and just downright excruciating at times.

Going into this novel I was prepared to experience a level of sensationalism and needless violence comparable to Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, which I abhorred. However, Donoghue pulled it off. The big "climax" that I expected was situated in the middle of the book, so the scope of this novel was much larger than I'd anticipated. It's not just about Ma and Jack being held captive -- it's also about learning to live in the world after a debilitating tragedy and psychological damage. This, for me, was key to making this novel palatable. There's redemption and healing in the book, whereas Living Dead Girl just felt like a barrage violence, abuse, and hopelessness. I could not have finished ROOM if that's all there was for Jack and Ma.

A colleague of mine at work also read and recommended this book, and his comment was: This goes to some really dark places. And boy, he wasn't kidding. The things that Ma and Jack have to do to survive at some points in the book are just heartbreaking, and for me as a mother these were the hardest bits to read. I tear up just thinking about it.

Is ROOM worthy of all the buzz? Yes, I think so, and I had serious doubts from the outset. Each reader has a different set of criteria for how they judge a book, and for me a large part of that process has always been the emotional or intellectual impact of a novel. ROOM is certainly an accomplishment on the emotional front. I don't think I'd read it again, because I just don't think I can, but thanks so much to everyone who recommended it. I'm glad I jumped in and gave it another try.

Snuggle  -- Skewer

Pub. Date: September 2010 

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Format: Hardcover, 336pp
ISBN-13: 978-0316098335
Source: Library

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Sunday Salon - Unbridled Buying!!!

It's been an exciting weekend in books. I finished up Simon Van Booy's first novel on Friday night, and I'll post a review of it tomorrow. Now I'm waffling between books trying to decide exactly what's going to stick. I'm about 50 pages into Jael McHenry's The Kitchen Daughter, and while it's OK, it's not exactly blowing my skirt up. I also got my hold copy of ROOM from the library, but I haven't decided if I'm in the mood for it either.

Thursday night, when I was messing around in my Google Reader, I saw a post from Vasilly and was reminded of Unbridled Books' special e-book offer: 25 e-books on sale for 25 cents each. After looking through the list of participating indie bookstores,  I took the opportunity to register for an account at a local indie, A Real Bookstore in Fairview, TX. I had no idea it existed until I decided to take advantage of the promo, and now I can't wait to visit in person!

I found some great books in the Unbridled list, and snatched up five books for $1.35 (including tax). A steal, I tell you!

Here we go:

Breath and Bones by Susann Cokal - In 1884, Famke Summerfugl is ousted from her convent in Denmark for . . . sensuousness and pulled from servitude by a second-rate painter named Albert Castle. Loving to be looked at, and able to stand perfectly still without shivering, Famke is the ideal artist's model. When Albert takes his eight-foot masterpiece and leaves his model behind, Famke sets out over the Atlantic, convinced that she is his muse. Following Mirabilis, her highly acclaimed debut, Susann Cokal blends pre-Raphaelite painting, American brothels, Utahan polygamists, a bit of cross-dressing, a dynamite-wielding labor movement, one California millionaire, and the invention of electircal sexual stimulation (as treatment for consumption) into a comic novel that gallops across the American West.

Captivity by Deborah Noyes - The background for this love story is the strange, true tale of the Fox Sisters, the enigmatic family of young women who, in upstate New York in 1848, by pretending to speak with the dead unwittingly (but artfully) gave birth to a religious movement that touched two continents: The American Spiritualists. But the core of this lyrical novel is the tragedy of Clara Gill, a reclusive woman of a certain age who has isolated herself following the scandalous loss of her beautiful young lover. Clara's reluctant admission that the Fox Sisters might show her a way to live with love once more carries the reader into what it means to hope in the darkness.

The Good Doctor Guillotin by Marc Estrin - The Good Doctor Guillotin follows five characters to a common destination—the scaffold at the first guillotining of the French Revolution:

Here we go...

Panopticon by David Bajo - As the California borderland newspaper where they work prepares to close, three reporters are oddly given assignments to return to stories they've covered beforeeach one surprisingly personal. The first assignment takes reporter Aaron Klinsman and photographer Rita Valdez to an abandoned motel room where the mirrors are draped with towels, bits of black tape cover the doorknobs, and the perfect trace of a woman's body is imprinted on the bed sheets. From this sexually charged beginning on land his family used to own Klinsman, Rita, and their colleague, Oscar Medem understand that they are supposed to uncover something. They just don't know what.

Rain Village by Carolyn Turgeon - Young Tessa is a diminutive girl, far too small for farm work, and the object of ridicule by both her own family and the other children in their isolated Midwestern community. Her father seems to believe in nothing beyond his crops, certainly not education for his misfit daughter. When a mysterious, entrancing librarian comes to town, full of fabulous stories, earthy wisdom and potions for the lovelorn, she takes Tessa under her wing, teaching her to read and to believe in herself — and a whole new magical world of possibilities opens up.
Have you read any of these? Something else from Unbridled?? They all sound great, so I'm having an even harder time choosing what to read next!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: The Night Circus

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we readers are eagerly anticipating.
Right now I'm eagerly waiting on...

The Night Circus is Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, and I simply can't wait! From Morgenstern's website:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Doesn't that just sound magically delicious??? I adore the cover, I'm newly addicted to Morgenstern's blog, and I even like the book trailer (which is usually not my bag). This one is set to release in September.

Purty Words: Everything Beautiful Began After

George loved every aspect of language. He loved to see it written, to hear it used, to feel its sounds in his mouth. What couldn’t be felt in real life could be felt through language—through the experience of another by setting of marks upon a page. It was unthinkable, yet it worked (30).

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

This passage was worth highlighting in my e-galley! There are more where this came from!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

I could lick this cover...

This is a perfect example of why Jim Tierney is my favorite illustrator. His covers are beautiful! This one is from the Penguin UK "Essentials" series. See more of  the Essentials here and more of Tierney's covers here.

The Final Word: C by Tom McCarthy

I didn't realize until the end that the black parts are Morse Code! Duh!
I'm instituting a new rating system here at Estella's Revenge that fits nicely with my new vision of skewering literary fiction. It's very simple, ya see...I will rate the books I read "Snuggle" on the positive side or "Skewer" on the negative. I'll get to my rating of C shortly.

It feels like it took for-FRACKIN'-ever to finish C. On the one hand, there's been a good bit of work twirliness going on, but on the other hand, the last 1/4th of the book was an asswhip (specialized literary term). I mentioned all of the protagonist's weird lifestyle "things" last time: incestuous, suicidal sister; wonky bowels; WWI bomb dropping. Since my last check-in, Serge Carrefax spent some time in a Nazi work camp, cavorted with actresses and spiritualists, and had a tryst in an Egyptian tomb. The real asswhippery stems from the fact that Serge gets hooked on heroin during his WWI flying days and the novel gets progressively more jumbled and harder to follow as he becomes more inebriated.

Final thoughts on the book: pretty brilliant in a lot of ways. There are endless interpretations of the title. There are a lot of "c" words and themes one could fashion around them. I stick to my previous interpretation, that for me C is largely about connections. Given all the screwed up happenings in Serge's life, he's looking for connections between his interest in wireless technology and the larger world. He's looking for connections to other humans after his sister kills herself. It can be very difficult to like Serge since he's a pretty aloof, disconnected, dysfunctional guy, but I thought it was fitting. This story would've been a completely different and largely uninteresting novel if Serge weren't a bit of a social underachiever. He wouldn't have done half of the stupid, weird things if he weren't a little damaged.

I've read several reviews of this novel, including Jennifer Egan's assessment in the New York Times. The term "Postmodern" gets tossed around a lot in reference to this novel, and I have a problem with Postmodernism insofar as the definition is RIDICULOUSLY BROAD. However, I think Postmodern novels can turn a lot of readers off. Different strokes for different folks, but I conclude that this novel is Postmodern in that it requires the reader to make a lot of connections and make sense of a LOT of information flying at them -- just like Serge. There's an element of involvement required of the reader that I really enjoy and makes me very happy to have read this book.

So, that rating thing...

Looking forward to more from McCarthy!
While I often wanted to skewer Serge Carrefax himself, I ultimately really enjoyed the ride, which means C deserves a snuggle from me. It's a book I would re-read and most certainly get a whole slew of new things out of it on a second romp. Sounds snuggle-worthy to me.

Pub. Date: September 2010 
Publisher: Knopf
Format: Hardcover , 310pp
ISBN-13: 978-0307593337
Source: Ye olde library.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Snively Saturday and Tag Line Switcheroos

Happy frackin' Saturday. Scheduled a mandatory faculty meeting this morning and 3 of 10 showed up. I'm just going to whine now, thankyouverymuch. I'll spare y'all though and go home and whine to Chuck. By the pool. With a beer.

But before I head home to my laptopless condo, I thought I'd do a little Saturday posting.

I announced a while ago that I'm making a concerted effort to read more literary fiction this year with my personal Tournament of Books reading challenge, and I thought it was time for a new tagline to reflect my goal. My taglines started with "A baby in one hand and a book in the other," after Greyson's birth,  I moved on to a quote from Great Expectations, and now I've arrived at my favorite so far...

"Butchering literary fiction one novel at a time..."

Because, let's face it, I'm picky, fickle, kind of outspoken and sassy, and generally a smartass. Some lit fiction and I get along just fine, and sometimes I want to skewer the book AND/OR the author, too. *coughFREEDOMcough*

New on my stacks and prime for some snuggling or some skewering are...

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon van Booy and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I loooove me some Simon Van Booy ever since the Estella's Revenge E-Zine days when I first encountered his short story collection, The Secret Lives of People in Love. This is his first novel, and I'm really pulling for more snuggle and less skewer. I have high hopes! I'll be reading this one quickly since the e-galley expires on 7/5/11.

The other book is Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. I actually haven't gotten the NetGalley thumbs up on this one yet, but I'm doing a little e-galley dance that it's approved soon. It looks de-lic-ious.

I hope you're all having a great weekend. My laptop will be back in my itchy little bloggy hands this afternoon or tomorrow, so expect some Tweeting and some Tumbling. I'm having social network DTs.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


It's taken me a while to make a big dent in Tom McCarthy's Booker-nominated, C, so I thought I'd post while in progress on this one.

From the outset, I wasn't too sure about this novel. It's a huge tangle of weird happenings in the life of one very odd and detached duck, Serge Carrefax. His father tinkers with early wireless technology while running a school for the deaf. His sister Sophie is an obsessive, cold, somewhat incestuous mess of a science nerd. He goes to a spa in Germany to have his bowels set right. He flies a plane in WWI where he becomes a drug addict. And that's only up to page 173 of 310.

The story is weird, dark, droning in spots. Despite those not necessarily positive descriptors, I am absolutely captivated by this book. It's clever, full of wordplay and historical references, and there's a lot of twistiness!

If I were to rationalize the title at this point -- beyond Carrefax, caul, and some other key words that hit the reader over the head -- I would say this book is about connections. The odd, seemingly loose ends that all come together to form a life. While Serge himself is not terribly likable or extraordinary, the coincidences and trail of plot twists in his life are pretty amazing, if often tragic.

If you want to be titillated, check out the passage below. Serge is flying over the landscape of WWI and knows that tunnelers have been planting bombs underneath the Germans' trenches. This is what he imagines as he sails over the front:
Serge becomes fascinated with these tunnellers, these moles. He pictures their noses twitching as they alternately dig and strap on stethoscopes that, pressing to the ground, they listen through for sounds of netherer moles undermining their undermining. If they did hear them doing this, he tells himself, then they could dig an even lower tunnel, undermine the under-undermining: on and on forever, or at least for as long as the volume and mass of the globe allowed it--until the earth gave over to a molten core, or, bypassing this, they emerged in Australia to find there was not war there and, unable to return in time for action, sat around aimlessly blinking in the daylight...
That's all for now, but I'll be back with my final thoughts when I'm done with this one. I suspect I'll spend a few late nights wrapping it up!!! It's worth slowing down and taking in.
Images by Freepik