Friday, March 30, 2012

Vladimir's Mustache by Stephan Eirik Clark

Set against the backdrop of Russian history from the time of Peter the Great to the years of the post-Soviet collapse, the nine stories in Vladimir's Mustache — familiar to readers of Ninth Letter, Cincinnati Review, Witness and Salt Hill — represent a rare feat of ventriloquism and range. From an Italian castrato who longs to sing for the tsar, to a method actor who learns the danger of losing himself in a role after he is cast as Hitler, to the men and women who meet through “mail order bride agencies, all of Stephan Eirik Clark’s stories are told with a humor that’s never far removed from an underlying sadness. Regardless of where he situates his attention, Clark writes with a voice that never falters, telling with great emotional honesty the story of men and women who are trapped by circumstances, alienated by history, or irrevocably estranged from the culture at large.

I very much enjoyed reading this short story collection. It is full of well written scenes and poignant observations that will capture the interest of any short story lover out there.

What makes the collection so interesting, is that, although the stories are varied, there is a nice sense of interconnection, making a cohesive book. The writing is simple, clear, and it gets out of the way so that the plot can come through. The author is obviously someone with a good sense of pacing. This is incredibly important in short stories, so it’s always a pleasure to read an entire collection that moves this smoothly.

I can definitely recommend this book to all lovers of literary fiction and short stories. It makes for a very entertaining read.

Follow Friday

Q: Do you read one book at a time or do you switch back and forth between two or more?

Most of the time I have two print books going at the same time, and two ebooks as well. It's not unheard of, however, for me to add yet another print one if I need to read it quickly for a blog tour or something like that.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Booking Through Thursday

Are there any fictional characters whom you have emulated (or tried to)? Who and why?
What literary character do you feel is most like you personality-wise (explain)?

Both tough ones today. Hmm. I can probably say I've tried to emulate characters like Hermione, the smart type that are not afraid to be the ones with the answers. Or Sherlock Holmes, even, and be able to read people with one look.
I, however, feel like I'm similar to Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. Okay, let's not feak out, I'm not going around murdering old pawn brokers. What I mean is that Raskolnikov is a bit of a recluse, with many unresolved issues within himself. He is at constant battle with his brain and his heart, placing reason above all else, yet strugling to live a "normal" life. One of the reasons why I love that book so much is because I can identify completely with the power struggle going on in his brain.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

I love historical fiction. When at their best, they can draw the reader into its pages in a way that much of the contemporary stories don’t. Which is why I was a little disappointed with this book. The premise is fantastic, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Nuns trained in the art of death. It is intriguing to even consider what the plot line will encompass.

The beginning doesn’t disappoint. It sets a good atmosphere for the rest of the novel, mixing in a magical element with a very real time period and place. The trouble with the pacing begins shortly after Ismae meets Duval. That’s when it slows down to a dirge. There are so many political elements in the story that sometimes makes the reader want to skip over paragraphs. Towards the end of the book, the pace picks up again, almost making up for the slower middle. Almost.

Ismae is a good heroine, with enough spunk to keep us interested. She is definitely not one of the damsels in distress we are so bored of reading about in young adult books. There are some things about her, though, which make little sense. For example, her fierce loyalty for a duchess she only just met, when she’s been pretty cold and distant, almost cutthroat, through the rest of the book. The shift in attitude is too abrupt. Or at least it was for me.

All in all, though, this is a different sort of book than you might see geared towards young adults. If anything, this uniqueness makes it worth reading.

The Last Three by Almon Chu

"'Just three more stops,' I thought to myself. I gripped my knife, the handle digging into my flesh. I closed my eyes and tried to think of Eris." A descent down the path of self-destruction, does salvation lie around the corner or is it merely an illusion? The Last Three is a captivating story of a lost soul on the streets of a modern dystopia.

This novella was a complete surprise to me. I didn’t expect to find so many levels of meaning throughout its pages, as sometimes stories or novellas can feel rushed and not mined for all the nuances they could actually have.
This one, however, is a good example of how one can be written correctly.
The city, the grunge that fills it, is a definitely a protagonist in these pages. As many classical authors have done before, the scenery becomes much more than just background noise, instead coming to influence the characters and their actions. I loved the vivid descriptions of the world around Jon, the protagonist, the world that invades his head more and more with each page.

The other thing that is striking is the “realness” of the story. It is harsh and to the point, leaving the reader with a feeling of having lost his or her footing. The writing style accentuates this with short, striking sentences that bang around in the reader’s head long after the novella is done.

This is one of those pieces of writing that I feel confident in recommending to all of you who love literary works that make you think. I say go buy a copy!

WWW Wednesday

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently, I'm reading The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

And The Iron King (Iron Fey #1) by Julie Kagawa

I just finished reading A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash. You can read my review here.

Next, I'll probably read More Than You Know: A Novel by Penny Vincenzi

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Blog Tour: The Dawn Of Angels by Vivienne Malynn, Sean Kade

Left by her mother at a young age, Kyra has grown-up in the foster system, leaving her angry and hateful towards the world. The only person she can trust is Hammond, her case worker who has watched over her since the time her mother left. When Hammond places Kyra in a foster home located in a small town, strange things begin happening and Kyra starts unraveling the mystery of her past. When Kyra’s life is threatened, she is saved by an angel, her guardian angel, Ashur, who falls from heaven to save her. Together, Ashur and Kyra must figure out why her life is in danger and stop a strange cult from bringing about the end of days.

This was an okay read. I don't generally give books such a bland rating, but I'm ambivalent as to how I feel about it

The best thing about it was the setting. There is a rich atmosphere which really helps bring the reader into the protagonist’s world. All the side characters, with their quirks, add to this by providing background “noise”. There’s quite a bit of mythology in the book, which, for me, was very interesting and which added another level to the basic storyline.

I did not, however, enjoy the plot’s love aspect. This is yet another book in which the main characters fall head over heels in love in two seconds flat, and that doesn’t work for me. It hurts the plot and makes the whole thing less believable. But actually, the pacing in the whole book, not just the romance, was too fast. There were many times where I found myself wishing for a bit more writing, more filling out of chapters and scenes.

Perhaps young adult readers will enjoy this more than I did, but I cannot recommend it as highly as I would have liked.

A Land More Kind than Home b y Wiley Cash

A Land More Kind than Home is a stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, and a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town.

For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grownups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he isn’t supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess’s. It is a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he’s not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.

Told in three resonant and evocative voices—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and its moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past—A Land More Kind Than Home—is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with remarkable assurance and truth, and they show us what an extraordinary promise Wiley Cash has made with this first novel.

This was a wonderful book. It’s one of those that make you feel something in each page. This is what every author strives for, but it is rare to actually see.

The atmosphere, with its Southern Gothic feel, grabs you as soon as you read the first page. You can sense tension in the pages, in every line, and you know that something brutal is about to happen. The interesting thing is that, when that brutality actually happens, we are so invested in the characters that we feel it at an almost physical level.

Something I do wish had been done differently, though, are the different character voices. Since we do switch viewpoints a lot throughout the book, I do wish the characters had more distinct voices. They are pretty similar, even in expressing their own thoughts and I think the book would have been all the richer if there’d been an actual shift the reader could experience.

The writing, though, is gorgeous. It is rather stark, but so effective in its bareness. I can definitely recommend this book to all of you who love literary fiction, or even some of you who like the Southern Gothic genre. I will be looking forward to this author’s next novel.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

From The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

"Cregan got a fire going, and afterward, Mott instructed us to gather around so that Conner could talk to us.
'Talk to us?' I said. 'When do we eat?'"
pg. 20 (ARC)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Musing Mondays

This week’s musing asks…

Have you ever found a book out of the blue, read it, and then had it be surprisingly good — one that stuck with you for years? If so, what book was it?

I've found many in that manner, but one which has really stayed with me since I read it is Caribou Island by David Vann. This book is just incredible and I don't even remember what it was that caught my attention enough to get it, I'm just so glad I did!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Void by Bryan Healey

She believes I am all but dead.
But I can hear her...

I've been still for many years now, my eyes closed, my body sunken, my muscles wilted, a soft, seductive beep-beep-beep of life-sustaining machinery just behind my head. I don't know why they keep me here, or why they bother to keep me alive; and yet they do. And they come and go, night and day and night, men, women, children, even an occasional pet; nurses, doctors, family, friends, strangers; they talk to me rarely, sometimes to themselves, and frequently to each other, or to no one. And they have very much to say, I have found.

They don't know that I can hear them...
But I can.

I received a preview of this book months ago and loved it, which is why I was thrilled to get a chance to review it in its entirety.

This is a heartbreaking story. It’s difficult to write about topics such as these, about sicknesses that affect entire families, but it is even more difficult to write it from the sufferer’s perspective without falling into melodrama. For me, this book’s author did a wonderful job of achieving a truthful, sensitive yet not overdone storyline. The way the book is set up helps with this, since the reader doesn’t even know why the main character, Max, is in a vegetative state. We realize it’s not nearly as important as what Max is thinking and feeling. That there are no chapters also works very well, since in the void the protagonist lives in there is no real sense of time. The characters are real to us, even though we don’t get much more that their voices, their dialogue. That takes skill to do. To make us care about people who barely do anything but talk throughout the novel.

It was a moving story to read, and though there were some repetitions, a few too many exclamation points, trivial things like that, I can easily recommend this. It is a quick read which follow you long after you finish reading it.

Follow Friday

Q: What is the longest book you’ve read? What are your favorite 600+ page reads?

The longest I've read has probably been Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (unabridged). It is around 1,500 pages.
I recommend that one, of course, but also many of Stephen King's novels which are well over 600 pages. Also, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky; The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett ; The Count of Monte Cristo (one of my favorites) by Dumas. There are lots of other.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon

When beautiful but aloof Claire Harkness is found dead in her dorm room one spring morning, prestigious Armitage Academy is shaken to its core. Everyone connected to school, and to Claire, finds their lives upended, from the local police detective who has a personal history with the academy, to the various faculty and staff whose lives are immersed in the daily rituals associated with it.

Everyone wants to know how Claire died, at whose hands, and more importantly, where the baby that she recently gave birth to is a baby that almost no one, except her small innermost circle, knew she was carrying.

At the center of the investigation is Madeline Christopher, an intern in the English department who is forced to examine the nature of the relationship between the school's students and the adults meant to guide them. As the case unravels, the dark intricacies of adolescent privilege at a powerful institution are exposed, and both teachers and students emerge as suspects as the novel rushes to its thrilling conclusion.

What’s best about this book is the atmosphere. There is a great sense of oppression that works very well with the story line. It enhances the mystery much more than if the action had been spread out through different locales. And really, the way the book starts is intriguing, catching the reader quickly and effectively. The problem is that it’s not consistent writing. There are a lot of what I felt were extraneous moments, which took away some of the great tension that the writer had spent time building. I realize that there needs to be moments where the storyline relaxes, but it seemed like by the second half, that’s all the book was. Just a bunch of unconnected moments tied together.
There were many well-written scenes, but they tend to take place towards the beginning of the book. It’s like the end loses steam. The epilogue in particular I felt need to be much shorter, much more concise. There was too much going on.

The characters, Madeline for example, and Matt, were crafted nicely, so that at least their scenes stayed interesting throughout most of the book. The rest kind of flitted through the pages without leaving too much of an imprint on the reader’s attention.

This had the potential to be a wonderful book. For me, it got a little lost in some of its plot points, so I can’t recommend it like I would have liked to.

Supervillain: The Concise Guide by Ras Ashcroft

Are you tired of living a humdrum life? Is there little to look forward to except a dead-end job and more news headlines that remind you of your insignificance in the world? Do you think the future of humanity depends on your potent leadership skills? Well forget about the nonsense of running for political office and become a supervillain instead.

Fancy degrees and qualifications are not required. With this concise guide, you will learn all the basic tricks of the trade. Ease into your first seedy business, create a large organisation with interests in finance, media and politics, and build a powerful military force. Eventually you will launch your crusade to rule the entire planet.

Take your shot at world domination – and hit the bull’s-eye.

This was definitely an entertaining read. It is a guide-book on how to become the best super-villain you can be. The premise alone is hilarious.

The chapters are set up as any guidebook’s, but they cover such topics as how to fix your persona to give off that wonderful evil feel, and how to go about achieving planetary control. It gets funnier and funnier as you read on. It is very much tongue-in-cheek, but the writing is handled nicely, with a good sense of pacing, which keeps the reader amused.

One of my favorite sections in the book was the interviews with two convicts, but the whole thing is delightful and a quick read. I can easily recommend this to anyone needing a good laugh.

Booking Through Thursday

Ever read a book you thought you could have written better yourself?

Oh, this is a hard question. Most of the time when I feel the book is not written as well as it should, I don't really wish I could write it over myself. I kind of want to put it away and never think about it again. It's never a book that I feel that strongly about.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck

As a faithful Mormon, Soren Johansson has always believed he’ll be reunited with his loved ones in an eternal hereafter. Then, he dies. Soren wakes to find himself cast by a God he has never heard of into a Hell whose dimensions he can barely grasp: a vast library he can only escape from by finding the book that contains the story of his life.

In this haunting existential novella, author, philosopher, and ecologist Steven L. Peck explores a subversive vision of eternity, taking the reader on a journey through the afterlife of a world where everything everyone believed in turns out to be wrong.

This is a book that definitely stays with you after you finish reading it. I closed it last night and this morning it was still haunting me, poking me in the side for me to think about it just a bit more.

It’s not an easy one to classify. It’s fiction, sure, but there’s a bit of satire, a bit of philosophy, a bit of horror, a bit of everything, really. The writing is sparse and careful, setting the mood as well as the descriptions do. For me, it was a pretty claustrophobic read. Since the book takes place only in this version of hell that the author has created for us, with unending stacks of books and almost infinite corridors and floors, there is an oppressive atmosphere to the story. The reader begins to feel trapped. Quite scary and therefore, effectively done.

The book will provoke you to ask yourself questions about life, about theology and what it means to believe in our heavens and hells, so this is not a light read, although it is a short novel. I can recommend this easily, since I enjoyed it very much. Once you start it, it’s a tough one to put down.

WWW Wednesday

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently, I'm reading A Land More Kind Than Home: A Novel by Wiley Cash

And Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

I just finished reading This Mobius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese . You can read my review here.

Next, I'll probably read The Void by Bryan Healey

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

From A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck
"The people gathered around as I came to a sweaty stop near where they were gathered taling quietly. I introduced myself and told them what I was doing."
pg. 43 (ARC)