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bookishcat

lit loquacity

BA in English. Ardent Reader. Kindle Fan. Unapologetic Introvert. Fervent Feminist. Recovering JD. Lazy Buddhist. Absent-minded Searcher. Occasional Writer. Novice Runner. Cat-owner. Life Co-Conspirator (LCC). Cordial Critic. Liberal Midwesterner. Geeky Nerd. Mind nomad.

Currently reading

Glow: A Novel
Jessica Maria Tuccelli
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
Philip Pullman, Jacob Grimm
There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories
Anna Summers, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Haroun And The Sea Of Stories (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

Haroun and the Sea of Stories - Salman Rushdie read this book.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight: Read this if

Reconstructing Amelia - Kimberly McCreight

You should definitely read this if:

  • You're looking for a fast, gripping, unputdownable novel.
  • You can follow novels that jump around on a timeline.
  • You're a recovering bully.
  • You've been wondering what would happen on a darker version of The Gilmore Girls.
  • You want to see how a novel could seamlessly combine a mystery with the intricacies of female relationships with one another, with a little law firm & private school politics thrown in. 

Don't read this if: 
  • You're a very recent bullying victim.
  • Anything that discusses sex or sexuality makes you queasy.
  • You find minor mistakes in timelines hopelessly distracting (--> I read an uncorrected proof, and am hoping that has been resolved in the final edition or that I just read something wrong). 
  • You prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of what your teenager is doing. 
  • You don't like starting at the end and working your way backwards (sort of). 
Source: http://www.bookishhabits.org/2013/04/reconstructing-amelia-by-kimberly.html

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl

I'm wavering on how to rate this, because the first 2 parts were barely 3 stars, while the 3rd part was 4-5 stars... Hmm.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles: A Novel

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles - Ron Currie Jr. (Psst - CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a SIGNED COPY of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr! Enter by the time you go to sleep March 4.)I couldn't get enough of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles in the very beginning... and the second half. I am required to admit: There were moments during which I did not enjoy this novel... for a few bits in the the first half. In the end, I loved it, but it was definitely touch and go until Mr. Currie killed himself. Er, his character did. Er, attempted to kill himself.I'm not spoiling anything, I swear; the impending suicide is laid out in first few pages. Why touch and go? Perhaps the very distinct maleness of the downward spiral, the violence of the sex (a little hard to stomach if you know my background), the one-that-got-away-ness (do all of you boys have a girl (or boy) that got away because you were a moron?) were all less than appealing to me, but then, I wasn't reading as fast as I should have. Had I been, I would have had the beginning's discussion of truth vs fiction fresh in my mind, the play on reality and perception, the relationship of narrator to writer to reader. I mean, the book begins with a comment on the audacity of epigraphs - how can you not end up liking it?The novel is a continuous commentary on perception vs reality, fiction vs truth, and even the Singularity.(FLPM is actually the second book I've read in the past few months that mentions the singularity, and that mentions Garry Kasparov's defeat by a computer...is that eerie? Or just a normal case of synchronicity?) Anyway, to sum up...(more)

Me Before You: A Novel

Me Before You - Jojo Moyes I normally wouldn't give a novel like this a second glance. The story of an aimless, accidental caretaker and a cranky, young quadriplegic told by an author of romance novels? Probably not the best tea for my cup, and yet, some intangible thing about this one compelled me to give it a go. And good thing! I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, tinged with much more sweet than bitter, giving glimpses into the lives of the very well off and the not so well off, which can differ drastically whether you're talking about wealth of finances or wealth of spirit or circumstance... Full review here.

The Darlings: A Novel

The Darlings - Cristina Alger I'm back, for the moment, fresh with impressions of The Darlings by Cristina Alger, a novel that is a rough equivalent of (Gossip Girl + Edith Wharton - romantic drama) x Bernie Madoff + Bonfire of the Vanities + (Damages - murder schemes).With the elite of the 1% and the financial tailspin of 2008 as subject matter, it would be easy to dismiss this novel as something to avoid, but you really shouldn't. It's a compelling read, driven by the interplay of characters not only from inside the upper echelons of Manhattan "royalty," but also by those lingering on the outside, less mired in glittery facades. Though I was put off by some of the characters in the beginning, many managed to grow on me. None perfect, but none completely villainous either. All human... Full review here.

The Lola Quartet

The Lola Quartet - Emily St. John Mandel The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel is another of those novels I picked up because something about the title and the cover (there I go again, initially judging a book by its cover) intrigued me. It turned out to be a pleasure to read - a well-paced mystery exploring all those complicated issues surrounding the juxtaposition of who we are compared to who we thought we'd become.The novel is named for a high school jazz quartet consisting of most of the novel's central characters, who are pulled back together years later by a dangerous coincidence. Gavin Sasaki is a fedora-sporting, noir-loving, soon-to-be disgraced journalist on an assignment in his Florida home town when his sister informs him that she has come across a young girl who looked exactly like she did when she was that age. They suddenly both wonder what became of Anna, his high school girl friend, who seemed to vanish after his senior year of high school, right before he moved to New York. The picture his sister takes of the eerily familiar-looking child leads to an unforeseeable chain of events as the mystery slowly unravels. We spend a little time with each of the main characters: the members of the original quartet, and Anna. The story also shifts between past and present, giving us glimpses into how each came to be living a life so far from their youthful, hopeful renderings of the future.He stopped halfway to look up at the sky. He'd been reading about constelations recently, and had fallen particularly in love with the North Star. It always took him some time to find it in the haze of the streetlight, but there it was. True north, the direction of his second life, New York. He felt in those days that he was always on the edge of something, always waiting, his life about to begin. Everyone seems to be in some state of flux - and none of their lives have turned out remotely as they'd imagined. Their self-imposed isolation and loneliness doggs them all in varying ways, but they also manage to find solutions to their stases - although whether or not they are good solutions is up for debate. Nevertheless, the novel manages to end on a hopeful note.I also had the good fortune to meet the adorable Ms. Mandel yesterday evening at Left Bank Books, one of my favorite local bookstores! It was not the largest turnout, but the four of us managed to have a nice time sitting in a circle, chatting about the novel, writing, and musing about life in general. Meet the author events always seem to have a certain level of awkwardness (or, perhaps it's just me that's awkward!), but this one felt more intimate, like a new book club getting off the ground. At any rate, I highly recommend both reading The Lola Quartet and meeting the warm and unassuming Emily St. John Mandel if you get the chance. I've already picked up a copy of her second novel, The Singer's Gun, and hope it won't remain in my substantial TBR pile for too long.*I originally received this novel from NetGalley & Unbridled Books in exchange for my review, but have since bought a hard copy.

The Forgetting Tree: A Novel

The Forgetting Tree - Tatjana Soli The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli isn't my normal reading fare - tragedy, death of a child, cancer - I mean, UGH, how joyless. These subjects have the makings of a book I usually wouldn't even consider reading. But something made me take a second look. Perhaps it was the setting - a California citrus farm - coupled with the fact that I'd meant to read Soli's other novel - The Lotus Eaters - for quite a while. Whatever the case, I'm happy I had the opportunity to read this strange, melancholy tale. The story opens with the events surrounding the death of Claire's eleven-year-old son, juxtaposed against her birthday party only the day before, during which everything in her family's life seemed to be falling into place, finally. Such contentment never lasting long, the family is shattered after Josh's senseless killing, and Claire's marriage ultimately cannot weather the grief, though they'll always remain connected by the pain they shared:How to explain that after twenty or more years, a marriage, if it had ever been real, could no longer by sundered by a piece of paper. In two decades--the same time it took to raise a human being--a marriage became its own entity. Life intervened, yes, a decision was made that life together was too painful, but the marriage itself lived on, a kind of radiological half-life. We rejoin the family many years later, just as Claire is diagnosed with breast cancer, and her family has moved on, moved away, only Claire remains doggedly attached to the citrus farm. Neither of her daughters is willing to move back to the ranch to care for Claire, nor is Claire willing to leave the ranch. And so a caretaker must be hired. Enter: Minna, a gorgeous, mysterious force from the Caribbean, a spinner of fanciful tales that all seem willfully to believe against their better judgment. After all the family had been through, Claire preferred the comfort of a stranger: It was impossible to be in [her family's] presence--the undertow of the past was too strong, a constant replaying of some infatuation, some slight. Only with strangers, new acquaintances, could one gage who one was in the present, try on whom one might become. Minna proves to be both lovable and despicable, showing great warmth and insight mixed with manipulative spitefulness. Only later do we get Minna's backstory, which, though certainly horrific, only partially explains her less noble behaviors and her attachment to the mystery man on other end of her late-night phone calls. The Forgetting Tree is an imaginative and unique take on the reconstructing of ourselves that must occur after tragedy, belated or not. Claire's blind acceptance of Minna's obvious nonsense could become irritating at times, but irritating the way a parent's insistence on giving his or her child a 173rd chance is irritating. But both Claire and Minna manage to rebuild themselves inside-out as they only could in the presence of an outsider, a compassionate stranger.*I read this book courtesy of TLC Book Tours and St. Martin's Press.

The Forrests: A Novel

The Forrests - Emily Perkins The Forrests by Emily Perkins is a novel told in a series of gymnastically articulated snapshots, each chapter vividly reflecting a different point in the lives of two sisters, Dorothy and Eve Forrest, who move from New York City to Auckland, New Zealand when they are around 7-8 years old. Though their parents come from money, they have wasted their trust funds, forcing the family to lead stressful and haphazard lives. Dorothy and Eve have two other siblings, Michael and Ruth, that reside on their periphery, but never quite fully engage with the other two.Admittedly, I had a hard time getting into this book, the first chapter seeming to jump all over in time within a paragraph or two. (I have an obsession with fitting events into a sequentially accurate timeline - I'm fine with jumping around in time, as long as I can place where in time I am.) But by the second chapter or so, the novel began to hit its stride: Perkins' colorful descriptions bringing to life each vignette in a different way. She could precisely capture those moments between childhood and adulthood where everyone else's lives seem shinier than yours, and she also manages to capture those bits in which we learn to put on those shiny, everything's-totally-fine appearances (or at least, we believe we're fooling those to whom we're talking).Perkins' prose is enchanting, her descriptions uniquely acute. But what the novel gives us in pointed clarity it lacks in depth of field. It's as if in each snapshot, we're given one point of hyperfocus with everything else blurred in the background, darkening at the edges. I never felt I really got a sense of either Dorothy or Eve's separate characters, and their lives seem to be missing a certain fullness that they beg to portray.Despite a few of its shortcomings, The Forrests pulled me into its glimpses of these women's ordinary but not-so-ordinary lives. Dorothy (and Eve, to an extent) survive but never escape their strange family and upbringing, but manage to find small bits of happiness along the way despite themselves. I'm happy I was given the chance to read the novel, courtesy of Bloomsbury USA, NetGalley, and TLC Book Tours. Check out what other reviewers had to say about the novel here.

Wife 22: A Novel

Wife 22 - Melanie Gideon Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon has been compared to Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones Diary and it's easy to see why. Of my own small reading repertoire, I'd say it's a cross between Bridget Jones and Domestic Violets, a story about a middle-aged copywriter wannabe writer going through an early mid-life crisis.Wife 22 is a modern-day story of middle-age, fraught with family and marital tensions, told in humorous and insightful anecdotes varying in structure from traditional prose and dialogue to mini-plays to google searches to email correspondence to facebook status updates and chats. Alice is 44 with a cranky, self-righteous teenage daughter and near-teen son she suspects is gay, married for 20 years to distant William. She teaches drama part-time at a local elementary school; William is a creative director at an ad agency. There worlds no longer seem to overlap much at all, and unhappy Alice signs up for a study of 21st century marriage that she finds in her spam folder, which assigns her the code name wife22. Researcher 101 is her contact, and he feeds her a few questions a week from the survey. Alice finds that the anonymity of the survey lends itself to greater honesty, and she relates intimate details of her life with a humor, frankness, and attention to detail that has been missing in her present. She feels guilty for keeping her marriage survey participation from her husband, and, after her communications with Researcher 101 start to go beyond harmless flirtation, eventually confesses to 2 of her closest friends, who both tell her to cut if off before she does something rash. The novel is full of exchanges like: "Can we tell people?" asks Peter."What people?" I say."Zoe.""Zoe's not people. She's family," I say."No, she's people. We lost her to the people some time ago," says William.as well as witty advice such as: "Humiliation is a choice. Don't choose it."Though I found the format a little trying and gimmicky at first, it ultimately worked for me as Alice grew on me. Is Alice imperfect? Of course. Selfish? Definitely - but aren't we all? Trying to figure out how to navigate life with all the gadgetry and online-connectedness we're supposed to be experiencing? Absolutely. But Alice is a very relatable character, even if she makes much different choices than I might make (or think I might make - she has higher meanness tolerance levels than I do). She's goofy and funny and frazzled but not to the point of ridiculousness (like the Bridget Jones in the movie version). She survives her crisis and manages to circle back to herself - the end is satisfying in it's slightly unpredictable obviousness (even if one could see it coming halfway through the book... it's the how that's fun). One thing to note, as I was reading the ebook version: The questions to the survey are in the appendix at the end. While reading, it just seemed that the reader was supposed to guess the question, which often was possible, but sometimes annoying. I'm not sure if knowing about the questions would have enhanced or detracted from my reading experience, but there is.Either way, reading Wife 22 was a pure delight and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a light summer read with a little bit of depth to it.*I received this book compliments of Ballantine Books via NetGalley.

Club Dead (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, Book 3)

Club Dead  - Charlaine Harris In desperate need of a guilty pleasure, palate cleansing read. And it's summertime. And so.

The Earthquake Machine

The Earthquake Machine - Mary Pauline Lowry I had high hopes for The Earthquake Machine. The author has lead what seemed an unconventionally interesting life, and the premise of a young girl adventure, a girl learning independence and resourcefulness - in a book for young adults not shying away from topics of violence, sexuality, and spirituality - sounded incredibly promising. Unfortunately, this novel fell dreadfully short of such expectations. The story was disjointed, confusing, and contrived to the point of unbelievability - and wholly inappropriate for the young adult age category of 12 and up. Well, I will say that with a grain of salt. It's slightly more explicit than what I remember of VC Andrews novels, and I may have read those when I was 13 or 14. But you don't find those on YA shelves at the bookstores. (For the record, Flowers in the Attic is a very deceptive title. I think I thought I was reading Flowers for Algernon or something classic. I was not.)I am obligated to warn that this review will be replete with spoilers, as it is the only way I can offer the problems I had with story and the subject matter's presentation. Since I definitely do not recommend reading this book, I do recommend reading this synopsis, if you would like to know exactly why you shouldn't read it. This is going to be long. But I must share my pain.To start, the book treats bipolarism as if it should not be treated with drugs. The first chapter sets us up: Rhonda's home life is boring and torturous - her pharmacist dad is drugging up her "crazy" mother - who it is implied is bipolar - without a proper doctor's prescription, which, yes, is bad, but we are offered no explanation as to why she wouldn't just see a proper psychiatrist. The drugs "flatten" her mother; Rhonda is convinced her mother would be much better without them, in her natural crazy state, it is assumed. This theme of not treating bipolarism is alluded to throughout the book. Within the first 5 pages, Rhonda is masturbating in the bath, with her head underwater, assumedly having discovered autoerotic asphyxiation at the ripe old age of 14 ("the dizziness from not breathing made the colors brighter"). This is Rhonda who still maintains a boyish figure, and has not developed at all yet, nor started her period. But apparently she has been compelled to figure out the complicated female orgasm before her hormones have even kicked in, along with breath play. Oh, and her mother walks in on her and thinks she's drowning and flips out. Enter: shame, and self-blame for what follows. Really? Rhonda has one real friend named Jesús, the family's gardener, who is an undocumented worker from Mexico. She has learned fluent Spanish - so fluent that she sounds "just like a Mexican" - simply by listening to him.After Rhonda's mom goes off the deep end, spurred by Rhonda's sexually precocious autoerotic asphyxiation episode, Jesús paints the bottoms of all the trees white. (These events are unrelated.) The neighbors get upset and retaliate by having him deported. And he is sent back to Mexico. Immediately. Because it's that fast and easy. He goes back to living with his mom. Being deported is that inconsequential. Rhonda overhears her quietly evil father get a gun out of the closet, load it, and lay it on the desk, telling her mother to "do the right thing." Her mother then blows her head off. Rhonda gives us a lovely (read: unnecessarily graphic) description of the inside of her mother's head, as well as the brain matter on the wall. (We are still in the first chapter.) Neither she nor her father have much of an emotional reaction to this incident. Next Rhonda is set to go on a father/daughter float trip in Big Bend National Park with two of her girlfriends from school. Her father predictably bails at the last second to hang out with his pharmacist mistress. Rhonda goes along anyway. While everyone is asleep, Rhonda approaches the guide with silver in his hair, motions for him to open his knees, and cuddles in between his legs with her back to him. Because that's completely natural. (No, seriously. This is presented as totally normal, acceptable behavior on 14-year-old Rhonda's part, Rhonda who has been described as quiet, thoughtful and bookish.) Then, of course, the dude can't help but feel her... down her pants, and she immediately has "the Feeling." She runs back to her tent. There is much inner talk of her wanting to stab him in the eye with her knife, or hoping he will have sex with her. Now, I was lucky enough to have not been molested as a child, so I cannot speak to the normalcy of these feelings and do not pretend that I can. However, the book seems completely uncommitted to whether this was molestation or just a normal, totally okay sexual encounter for a 14-year-old to have with some dude that's three times her age. Maybe mid 30s and prematurely greying. But still. Wholly inappropriate, though not made to be so in the book. The next day she decides she is suicidal and so falls off the raft to try to drown herself in the Rio Grande. (In Texas. In Big Bend. Is it ever deep enough for that to happen there? I didn't think so, but I'm no expert.) Mansk the molester morphs into savior, jumps in the water and rescues her. That night at camp Rhonda waits for everyone to go to sleep, and approaches the molester to solicit him for sex (" 'I want you to do it to me.' "). He laughs at her and says no way, that she's nuts. Rhonda is crushed and violently enraged by this rejection. More talk of stabbing him in the eye and other violence. Instead, she decides to run away to Mexico in the middle of the night to find Jesús, her only friend, who lives in Oaxaca (that's way south in Mexico, btw - and pronounced Wahackah - just fyi). So she steals some money from one of the dads, who is also less than a stellar human being, surprise surprise, packs some food and clothes in her bag, walks down the river a little way, decides she should strip naked and pack her clothes in her bag too, to prevent them from getting wet, the Rio Grande being so very deep, floats down the deep river with a current, (is my dubiousness coming through loud and clear?) (in)conveniently has to let go of her pack with the clothes because she doesn't have enough energy to swim to the other side after floating for so long downstream (don't worry; she's conveniently tucked the money into her hair) and has to emerge from the river stark naked (REBIRTH!!), with just her sandals (those she left on, it being so easy to swim with shoes) , IN THE MEXICAN DESERT. She then... survives! She doesn't even get thirsty, she survives so fast. Conveniently, she finds some guy sleeping with a pack of burrows, hops on one, and within half an hour she's found a border town! How lucky! And no one molests or kills or even looks with unsavory eyes at the naked gringa. Totally believable, right? So I think I'm just through chapter 2 by now. You can read the rest, after all, if you stop here! But I wouldn't recommend it. It doesn't get any better, and just gets more contrived and farfetched after that. Since you're probably not going to read, the highlights: After dressing as a boy, renaming herself Angel, tripping on peyote, taking a bus in the wrong direction than getting out in the middle of the night in the middle of a jungle, starving herself to keep her boyish figure, escaping a bandit-boy circle jerk in the jungle, tricking a smarmy artist dude and his carpenter wife (how offensive, the Mexicans think, a woman wants to be a carpenter?) into driving her to Mexico city, getting abducted by female banditas dressed as men (they weren't taken seriously as bandits dressed as women), having the smarmy dude's pin word come to her from the Virgin Mary (SLIT), bailing one of the banditas out of jail, and taking a taxi to the town where Jesús lives, she finds Jesús and starts living with him and his mom. But he won't teach her how to carve alibrijes, as he'd promised, on the other side (of the river/border): men carve; women paint. That's only, it turns out, because his mom is old and not so good with the painting anymore. So Rhonda learns to cook and paint, befriends an elderly American woman in the neighborhood, reads a book about an old fashioned vibrator - great for curing hysteria, finds an old-fashioned vibrator ("the earthquake machine" - yup, this young adult novel is named after a vibrator), has "the Feeling" and feels less hysterical (because, you know, nothing cures an overly depressed or emotional woman/girl like a good lay... or orgasm... and this is definitely a message we want to give to young, impressionable girls), shares it with the neighbor elderly lady and watches her use it (um, what?), then travels with Jesús and his mama to Mexico City to sell their alibrijes. There, Jesús and the mom are crushed in the hotel after a massive earthquake, forcing Rhonda to return to Texas. Rhonda is devastated and angry and wants to grind away her pain. No really. With her hips. Because she's still totally and completely obsessed with sex and The Feeling. On the way back home, she easily finds Mansk the molester, determined to stab him, or something vicious, but instead they have some violent, bloody but totally consensual sex (she's 15 now, so, very mature and in control), and then part ways. She bribes her dad into supporting her and her education while going to live with her fun-loving godmother. The end. I've spent way too much time summarizing, but I didn't know how to explain my criticism otherwise, and I haven't even begun to explain how put off I was by this book. The feminist message is so weird and skewed and misguided and unabashedly in your face that it's completely lost in the preposterous ridiculousness of the story. I can see what the author was trying to accomplish; but the novel utterly fails on that point, especially with the violence with which sex is presented. I strongly believe girls can have non-harlequin, non-crazy-violent adventures that actually explore maturing and independence in a healthy way. This is just not that story. I am not the last word - most reviews I found out there were gushing and raving about how fantastic this book is, or at worst lukewarm on the subject. Goodreads, normally a good like-ability barometer for me, averages the ratings at a 3.8. I am the sole 1 star, and I rarely rate books 1 star. Lowry herself seems like a really interesting and lovely lady; I just did not enjoy her book, nor do I think it's remotely appropriate for younger audiences. She kindly provided the book to me in exchange for my honest review. I hope I wasn't too harsh. Some disclaimers about myself to help you decide whether or not my opinion or where I'm coming from might jive with your own tastes: - I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic school from kindergarden to 8th grade.- I am no longer Catholic; have not been since I was a teenager. - I do volunteer work with victims of sexual violence on a regular basis. These factors may come into play more for myself than others when judging the violent nature of sexuality's portrayal in the book.

A Partial History of Lost Causes: A Novel

A Partial History of Lost Causes - Jennifer duBois Let's just start with: I adored this book. It's going on my list of all-time favorites. It was beautifully written, with hilarity and sarcasm etched in to take the sting out of the overall sadness of the characters' situations and the painful, ridiculous decisions made along the way. To be honest, I decided to read A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois because I loved the title and I loved the cover, and the description sounded unique and interesting. I'm obviously glad I did. The story is told in chapters which alternate between the perspectives of two main characters: Aleksandr Bezetov, a world champion chess player turned political activist, and Irina Ellison, a 30-year-old English lecturer with Huntington's disease and a passive interest in chess. I know, I know: sounds fairly dreary, but it's not! More, poignant and sagacious, with artful yet casual wordsmithery and humor tinged with sadness. The novel begins with a description of Aleksandr's move to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) back in 1978 to hone his chess skills, and admittedly, it takes a chapter or so to get pulled into the story, though we get a glimpse of the main theme - and Aleksandr's latent political leanings - right away: He didn't care for the billboards and didn't believe in the slogans, but nobody else did, either. He regarded Communism as a kind of collective benign lie, like the universal agreement among human beings to rarely discuss the fact that everybody would one day die.Here we have the basic themes - Russia's stifled political landscape, the harsher realities of life we pretend to ignore in polite company. And once we meet Irina, with her fatalistic "practicality" dripping with sarcasm and her oh-cut-out-your-whining Harvard Square chess opponent Lars, the story picks right up. Irina admits her faults openly: I liked the bitter cold the best; it narrowed the meandering, self-indulgent courses of my mind into a focused dissatisfaction with what was right in front of me. This, I'll be the first to admit, was an improvement. Irina's chapters are told in the first person; she is the messier, more relatable character in the book. We get Aleksandr's story in the third person, and he remains somewhat cold, calculating and distant (which makes sense, since he's surrounded and defined by chess, cold Russian winters, and political conspiracies), though eventually shows more humanity by the end of the novel. They are both dealing with their own fallibility, meeting after Irina determines that her father's letter to the chess player, asking him how to fail with dignity, has not been adequately addressed or answered. I'm not doing this book justice, but suffice it to say, you should read it, unless dealing with issues of mortality and consequence makes you squeamish. I can't wait to see what DuBois comes up with next - it's hard to believe this is her first novel. Also: it's out in paperback next Tuesday, if that puts you over the edge! *I read this book courtesy of NetGalley - and my local public library, after my digital ARC expired!

Slant of Light (The Daybreak Series)

Slant of Light - Steve Wiegenstein Giveaway! Enter to win a copy here by June 18th!

The Vanishers

The Vanishers - Heidi Julavits I must admit, the bright pinkish, floral cover of this novel, as well as the description about mother-daughter psychic damage, gave me pause, as I generally don't like touch-feely fiction unless I'm in a particular mood, but Knopf often publishes books I like, and I decided to give this strange sounding plot a whirl. While this will not go down on my list of all-time favorites, I may have to start list for best books with improbable plots just to put this one at the top. The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits turned out to not be in any way touchy-feely, and is in fact a rather dark and humorous tale wrought with anxiety and unwitting revenge. What? Exactly. The Vanishers tells the sporadic, sardonic tale of Julia Severn, a young psychic prodigy who unexpectedly meets her match in her mentor at an elite university for parapsychology. Or rather, unexpectedly discovers she is her mentor's match. She then begins to suffer from a myriad of mysterious ailments, presumably somewhat psychosomatic at their root, or psychically afflicted by her mentor, and is accosted by some odd characters (one is described later as emitting a "carcinogenic unhappiness") that claim they can help "cure" her. They describe the process of disappearing oneself from one's life when it becomes to much -"vanishing"- as an alternative to suicide. Not that Julie's necessarily suicidal, but they had heard of her psychic prowess and needed her help to track down some long lost film. In order to recover, they tell her, she will have to "vanish" herself. The plot has many twists and turns and unlikely connections, and is anything but conventional. Julavits uses many vivid descriptors, which at times subtly imply the novel's themes, such as "With her doll eyes blinking from her scavenged face, she resembled a person buried inside another person." Julie's own mother had committed suicide when she was a baby, and elements of how it affected her relationship with her father, who would only wax philosophical when asked to describe what sort of mother she would have been: My response would not be a truthful attempt to answer your question, it would be an attempt to compensate for your loss by creating an ideal person whose absence you can mourn unreservedly. However, this puts me in the position of making her into someone she was possibly not; it forces me to falsely represent her to you, and in doing so I become, not the keeper of her memory, but the re-creator of her past, and that role makes me uncomfortable; also I believe it is, in the long run, a disservice to her, because you will grow up missing a mother that you would never have experienced, had she not died. And this strikes me as a second kind of death, a more complete and horrible death, to be annihilated and replaced by a hypothetical person who is not remotely you, thus I think it is better that she remain a quasi-mystery, a pleasant unknown, than an absence filled with compensatory narratives supplied by your guilty father.Elements of suicide, the past intersecting the present, revenge, and the precarious relationships forged between women are woven throughout the story. Because I’d decided—this kind of hating, this kind of fault-finding, this kind of symbolic matricide, it had to stop. If I’d formed an allegiance to Irenke, it was because I’d decided that to befriend Irenke was to ensure that my mother’s death did not perpetuate more pointless, self-defeating rivalries among women who, in the end, were only killing themselves.I cannot do the plot much justice here, and it's complications almost run away with themselves, but the uniqueness of the storyline won me over in the end. *I received this copy courtesy of Knopf Doubleday via NetGalley.

The Rook: A Novel

The Rook - Daniel O'Malley To say I enjoyed The Rook by Daniel O'Malley* would be a painful understatement. This was the most fun I've had reading in quite some time. Now, if you are not into books or stories that have anything to do with the supernatural, don't get too excited; this book is most definitely not up your alley. However, if you are, and you've just been waiting for something like the x-men running an MI-5-type secret branch of the government, complete with a secluded boarding school, dangerous conspiracies, campy humor and an amnesiac superhero protagonist, well, you should read this. Right now. The book opens with Myfanwy (I keep having to check the spelling - it's a Welsh name, the novel explains, and is pronounced like Tiffany with an M, it says, although later it seems that might not be accurate after all, but it's ok, because most of us do not have Welsh alter-egos monitoring our inner mispronunciation of Welsh names and words) Thomas standing in the rain surrounded by dead bodies wearing latex gloves, and she has absolutely no idea who she is or what's going on. She reaches into her pocket and finds a letter from her former self who had been warned something like this could happen & was uberprepared for just such a thing. And so we are introduced to the former Myfanwy Thomas, whom we learn about through her series of meticulously written letters describing who she was and as much as she knows about the conspiracy that lead to her amnesia. We learn about her job as a "Rook" (yes, after the chess pieces) with the super secret super powered Chequy, the supernaturally-inclined version of the MI-5. In order to determine who has stolen her memories and who is out to destroy her, amnesiac Myfanwy must fake her way through her role as a high-level executive with the aid of the letters and a binder chock full of histories of the organization and the high-leveled people with in it. That's the basic premise, and I don't want to say too much more for fear of giving anything away. I'm not saying this is a literary masterpiece, but it's a fantastic, imaginative, highly engaging, smartly ridiculous and cleverly wrought story. If you happen to have enjoyed Joss Whedon & The Bourne Identity, I think you'll really like this book. *I received this book courtesy of Little, Brown and Company through NetGalley.