January 13, 2014

Book Review: Being Esther by Miriam Karmel

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , , , at 2:52 pm by The Word Jar

Being EstherFor Hazel and Wren this month, I reviewed Being Esther by Miriam Karmel. It’s a touching look at what it means, to you and the people around you, to get older. Esther is eighty-five years old, and though she still has her wit and humor, her body is defying her. Her daughter wants to put her in “Bingoville,” and Esther just wants to grow old with dignity. Karmel captures the voice of Esther perfectly. At times it felt like I could have been reading “Being Marjorie,” as before my grandmother passed, she and my mom had several of the same conversations/confrontations that Esther has with her daughter, Ceely. It can be a heartbreaking read at times, especially if you’ve been responsible for caring for an aging parent. But Being Esther is worth the read, not only to get to know Esther, but to find out what it’s like being Esther.

(To read my full review, please stop by Hazel and Wren.)

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December 12, 2013

Book Review: A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , at 2:27 pm by The Word Jar

A Questionable Shape CoverI’m pleased to announce that I’m now an Editorial Contributor for the fantastic literary community Hazel & Wren. More about them in a future post, but do go check out their website! My main job will be to write a monthly fiction review for their “What We’re Reading” column, and my debut review went live today.

I reviewed A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims, a zombie novel that rises above the terror and gore to new philosophical heights (for the zombie genre, anyway). Have you ever wondered what it means to *be* a zombie? Have you ever tried to see the world through their milky white eyes? Vermaelen, the narrator of A Questionable Shape, has done these things and more. Helping his friend Mazoch try to find his missing, and presumably infected, father before hurricane season begins in Baton Rouge allows Vermaelen plenty of opportunity to obsess over the behaviors of the undead, and he shares all of his theories about them in A Questionable Shape.

Head on over to Hazel & Wren to check out the full review.

May 7, 2013

Teaser Tuesday May 7: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , , , at 12:05 am by The Word Jar

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

* Grab your current read.
* Let the book fall open to a random page.
* Share with us two “teaser” sentences from that page.

You also need to share the title and author of the book that you’re getting your teaser from…that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

As always, please avoid spoilers!

*   *   *   *   *

I’d have never thought of Yellow 5 again without Ben reminding me. I wanted to tell him to make a list of things to recall, memories I couldn’t pluck out of my brain on my own.

After devouring Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, it seemed imperative to read her earlier works. These lines are from Dark Places, and I feel they may hold the key to figuring everything out. I’d love to meet Gillian Flynn someday, but only in a large crowd. I wonder what kind of person comes up with these kinds of novels. Love them, but not sure I want to be in a room alone with her!

What are you reading this week?

(Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Check it out for more teasers!)

May 7, 2012

Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , , , at 2:48 pm by The Word Jar

Nothing is hotter than Scandinavian thrillers right now, and Denmark is throwing its hat in the ring with The Keeper of Lost Causes by award-winning author Jussi Adler-Olsen. Adler-Olsen does what most recent Scandinavian imports do best—serves up a compelling, dark story with enough cruel twists to leave the reader thinking, “What is in that coffee over there?”

The Keeper of Lost Causes follows Copenhagen detective Carl Morck a few months after he has been shot on the job. When Carl returns to the force and refuses to play nicely with his fellow detectives, he is unexpectedly promoted to head up the new cold cases division, Department Q. Given only a stack of case files and Assad, a jack-of-all-trades assistant, Carl begins to investigate the disappearance of Merete Lyngaard, a rising politician.

The narrative alternates between Carl’s investigation and the real circumstances of Merete’s disappearance. The investigation bumbles along at times, with a few lucky breaks and a lot of help from unassuming Assad. But the chapters that follow Merete are tight, twisted, and intensely pressure-packed, leaving the reader wanting more but afraid to admit it (and more than a little worried that Adler-Olsen might gladly give it to them).

Adler-Olsen excels at weaving in the secondary characters and plots. While Carl comes across as a first-rate jerk and second-rate detective at times, Assad, with his secretive past and sundry talents, puts the clues together and makes a mean curry. The Keeper of Lost Causes spins an interesting investigation tale, but Adler-Olsen’s true talent is creating horrific crime scenarios. The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first* in the new Department Q series from Adler-Olsen, and he would do readers a favor by revealing more about Assad in future books, as well as keeping the terrifically twisted narratives coming.

* According to Amazon, The Absent One, the second Department Q case, is scheduled to be released August 21, 2012.

(Review copy source: Dutton via NetGalley)

January 24, 2012

Teaser Tuesday January 24: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , at 10:29 am by The Word Jar

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

* Grab your current read.
* Let the book fall open to a random page.
* Share with us two “teaser” sentences from that page.

You also need to share the title and author of the book that you’re getting your teaser from…that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

As always, please avoid spoilers!

*   *   *   *   *

I sit down and am prepared to feel the appropriate amount of anxiety, but I’m interrupted by a knock on my door–my open door. In my career, I’ve found that only annoying people knock on open doors.

Take one man stuck in a mind-numbing career as a copywriter for a soulless corporation. Mix with his dream of being a novelist. Stir in the fact that his father has just won the Pulitzer Prize. Add a dollop of marital strife, a spoonful of an office crush, a spot of Daddy issues, and one neurotic dog. Blend well and you have Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman, a fun read with an unapologetically witty and clever male protagonist. (That’s a good thing!)

What are you reading this week?

(Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Check it out for more teasers!)

November 15, 2011

Teaser Tuesday November 15: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , at 10:53 am by The Word Jar

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

* Grab your current read.
* Let the book fall open to a random page.
* Share with us two “teaser” sentences from that page.

You also need to share the title and author of the book that you’re getting your teaser from…that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

As always, please avoid spoilers!

*   *   *   *   *

As he sat in the airport bar and drank glass after glass of lemon-lime soda and ate handfuls of peanuts and pretzels, he had decided that, should someone ask, he was not a real child but a robot built and designed by a scientific genius. A childless couple had ordered him and he was now being delivered to them in Florida. Beep-bop-boop.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson is about a family with performance artist parents, Caleb and Camille Fang, who insist on including their reluctant children, Annie and Buster, in their very public performances. So far their performances have included Annie snitching on a woman (Camille) who is stealing candy from a candy store and Annie and Buster horrifically singing while trying to earn money, street-performer-style, for “their dog’s” operation, with Camille and Caleb in the surrounding crowd shouting about the kids being horrible performers. The scene I’ve taken my teaser from shows the family’s preparations before they all separately board a plane, with fake IDs, for an in-flight performance. As noted in the book, the date is July 1988–well, before our current airline security measures were implemented. These performances are interspersed between chapters about adult Annie, an actress, and Buster, a down-on-his-luck writer, and how their lives were affected by these performances.

An interesting read so far. Oh, and the boy’s name is Buster? Who doesn’t love a boy named Buster? (Fans of Arrested Development, anyone??)

What are you reading this week?

(Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Check it out for more teasers!)

November 14, 2011

Book Review: Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , at 9:53 am by The Word Jar

Fairy tales provide the backdrop for Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman. But these fairy tales bleed from the dark, gothic vein of the Brothers Grimm, not that of technicolor Disney. They are filled with difficult choices and moral repercussions reflective of the tumultuous life of their author and indicative of the mysteries and struggles facing the characters of Arcadia Falls.

Centered around the mysterious death of a student at Arcadia School, a secluded upstate New York boarding school, Arcadia Falls follows two threads—the life of Meg Rosenthal, a recent widow and new teacher at the academy, and the lives of the academy’s two founders, Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt, through a diary that Meg finds in her cottage. Meg accepts a teaching position at the school because she needs a source of income, but the position also allows her to return to her passion of fairy tales. Her college thesis focused on fairy tales, particularly The Changeling Girl, written by Lily Eberhardt, and coming to Arcadia School allows Meg to delve into the mysteries of Lily and Vera firsthand and walk in their footsteps.

Goodman uses this book to examine the many roles of women—mother, daughter, lover, teacher. The most interesting angle Goodman examines is the notion of woman as artist. The characters of Arcadia Falls, primarily women, serve as subjects to test the theory of whether or not women can be both successful artists and mothers, or if one profession ultimately suffers because of the other. Although both sides are argued throughout, the story provides a definitive final verdict.

While Arcadia Falls wraps up quite quickly and a bit too neatly, the journey through the upstate New York woods is well worth the time. A good gothic read for the autumn season.

(Review copy source: Ballantine Books via LibraryThing)

August 29, 2011

Coming Attractions, Book-style

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:53 pm by The Word Jar

Confession: I’m new to book trailers. In a far corner of my mind, I knew they existed as a publishing world marketing tool, but I never bothered to check any out. I assumed book trailers would be guilty of the same thing that movies based on books are guilty of–giving the reader preconceived ideas and images about the characters, places, and plots of the book instead of letting the reader *read* the book and form her own book-based universe.

Now that I’ve done some research and checked out a few book trailers, I’ve found that many of them aren’t what I expected at all. I envisioned short film versions of the books, but I found they are more like commercials for books. As with commercials for every product, there are hits and misses (as highlighted below). But in most instances, these book trailers are not guilty of anything except selling me on reading the books they are promoting. Even though book trailers can be entertaining, I still prefer to get my book recommendations from friends and family and other trustworthy review sources. (Full disclosure: The book trailers I highlight below are all for books that I had already planned to read. Whether or not a book trailer could make me want to read a book I hadn’t already heard of remains to be seen, but in one instance, the book trailer did make me a little hesitant to read the spotlighted book.)

And now dim the lights, here are your coming attractions…

A few weeks ago I featured the book trailer for Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. I just stumbled onto this book trailer while reading through some of the publicity it was receiving at BEA. It was my first time viewing a book trailer, and it is going to be pretty hard to top. It’s a winning combination of music, whimsy, and story description. It still makes me smile every time I watch it, so let’s feature it again.

Recently a publisher alerted me to another, quite different, book trailer. The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen is a Scandinavian thriller (who can get enough of those these days?) about a cop who recently got shot on the job and gets promoted to run a new department that focuses on cold cases. The first case handled by the new department is the alleged accidental death of a rising politician. Her body was never recovered, and some believe that she was murdered. In actuality (not a spoiler) she has been kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured for five years. The book trailer for The Keeper of Lost Causes effectively conveys the dark, twisted mood of the book.

Another book that’s coming up on my reading list is Just My Type by Simon Garfield. Just My Type is being described as an entertaining history of fonts, but I didn’t find the book trailer to be too entertaining. I still consider it a successful book trailer because it puts a unique spotlight on the book’s title and subject matter.

I’m disappointed to say the book trailer for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is a miss. The actors make the book trailer feel too much like a movie, and that is what I didn’t want book trailers to be. I imagined Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children being much darker than what the book trailer leads me to believe. With a grandfather telling his grandson this story, it feels lighter and more whimsical rather than dark and peculiar. The end of the book trailer delves into that darkness a little, but for now, I’ve moved this book a few notches down my reading list. (Another miss, from the same publisher, Quirk Books, is the book trailer for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Again, it’s the acting.)

And we’ll end on a high note. A hit for Quirk Books is the book trailer for Meowmorphosis by Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook. This is a close second to The Night Circus. If you don’t want to read this book after seeing this book trailer–hairball and all–I don’t know what will make you want to read it.

What do you think of book trailers? Are they an effective way for publishers to get people to read their books? What are your favorite book trailers?

July 12, 2011

Teaser Tuesday July 12: Dominance by Will Lavender

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , at 2:19 pm by The Word Jar

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

* Grab your current read.
* Let the book fall open to a random page.
* Share with us two “teaser” sentences from that page.

You also need to share the title and author of the book that you’re getting your teaser from…that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

As always, please avoid spoilers!

*   *   *   *   *

Richard Aldiss’s eyes remained open, that permanent smile etched on his face. He appeared to be waiting for something. An answer, perhaps. A solution to the puzzles of the dead.

I cheated a little this week, but that means you get a four-sentence teaser for the price of a two-sentence teaser! Dominance looks to be a promising summer thriller. Two students murdered at a college in the early 1980s; the convicted literature professor teaching a special class (from his prison cell) in an attempt to clear his name in 1994; and a copycat crime taking place in the present day. A little lighter (perhaps not the best word) than the fare I’ve been reading lately, so it will be a nice change of pace.

What are you reading this week?

(Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Check it out for more teasers!)

Book Review: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , at 9:34 am by The Word Jar

Alice LaPlante’s new novel Turn of Mind opens with retired orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jennifer White unsure of where she is. Sixty-four years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s, Dr. White studies her surroundings and uses social cues to figure out she’s in a police station. As she is being read her rights, she realizes something bad has happened. Although she doesn’t understand things at this point, she soon finds out her best friend, Amanda, has been murdered. Because four of Amanda’s fingers have also been surgically removed, Dr. Jennifer White is the main suspect.

The history of Jennifer and Amanda’s friendship unfolds through Jennifer’s faltering memories. As she remembers the many times she was able to confide in Amanda, Jennifer is genuinely saddened by Amanda’s death and upset that her failing cognitive abilities prevented her from helping her friend. At other times, recalling the numerous instances when Amanda schemed to reveal Jennifer’s devastating personal secrets, claiming such revelations would help Jennifer live a better life, she is secretly relieved that Amanda can do no more damage. Their friendship was a shining example of “Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer.”

LaPlante uses Dr. Jennifer White as an unsettling narrator. Jennifer’s first-person narration gives readers a unique insight into what it could be like to suffer from Alzheimer’s—finding people in your house you don’t recognize, coming back to the present in a place you don’t remember being just minutes before, losing your dignity in a facility staffed by people who view you not as a person, but another chart to be maintained. Readers share in Jennifer’s increasing confusion and memory loss, highlighted by exhilarating memories of successful, delicate surgeries and marred by increasingly erratic and violent episodes when Jennifer doesn’t know where she is or whom she is with.

Turn of Mind forces readers to be on their toes during this heart-wrenching, poignant descent deeper into Alzheimer’s. Afterall, how reliable can a narrator be when her recall is impaired? As Alzheimer’s grip on Jennifer’s mind becomes tighter, her lips become looser. She speaks her mind to people instead of trying to play along with social games she no longer understands. The progressive dementia eats away at Jennifer’s ability to maintain the lies surrounding Amanda’s murder. As readers go on this stunning, emotional journey with Dr. Jennifer White, they find that once Alzheimer’s strips everything away, only the truth remains.

(Review copy source: Atlantic Monthly Press via NetGalley)

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