Saturday, May 31, 2014


I have big news!  June is Audiobook Month.  You know that book that everyone is talking about this year?  The one that won the Pulitzer for fiction?  And that also won Audies for the best Literary Fiction Audiobook and Best Solo Narration?  YES!  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which has been on my TBR list for months.  I get to give it away! 

The Audio Publisher's Association, the voice of the audiobook industry, has picked my campy little blog to give away The Goldfinch, as read by David Pittu.  I recently enjoyed listening to Pittu read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eudenides, and I am certain that you will love hearing him read this one.

A blogger was chosen to give away an Audie winner every day in June.  You can follow the giveaways on Facebook and Twitter, #audiomonth or #Audies2014.  Some blogs that my readers might want to check out are Geeky Blogger's Blog Book, which is giving away Dr. Sleep by Stephen King on June 9, Oddiophile, which is giving away the Audio Book of the Year, Still Foolin' Em by Billy Crystal on June 11, Wholly Books, which is giving away another copy of The Goldfinch on June 15, and Bookgooine, which is giving away another Pulitzer winner, Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King on June 17.

So, here are the rules:  One entry per person per day, between now and June 12 at 6:00 p.m..  A winner will be randomly chosen by Rafflecopter on June 12, and will be posted here.  I will also try to contact the winner via the email you give with your Rafflecopter entry.  If the winner does not respond within 5 days, another winner will be chosen.  The winner must have a US shipping address.  Have fun, and check out the other giveaways!  I'd also love to know what audiobooks you have loved, so please leave a comment, and tell me what books make for great listening.

Thanks to Hachette Audio for making this audiobook available to us! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Still Listening to:  The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Still Reading:  Great House by Nicole Krauss

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Typical Book Group Report - 20 Typical Book Group met last night to discuss The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith.  There were 7 of us there, and 6 of us had read the book.  Some of the members are big fans of J. K. Rowling, who is the actual author behind the Galbraith pseudonym, but none of us usually read detective stories. 

We all found that we liked The Cuckoo's Calling, and that we might read the next book in the series, which will be coming out shortly.  What we talked a lot about were all of the different story lines and red herrings.  Galbraith/Rowling did a great job of tying everything together at conclusion, and there weren't any questions left unanswered.  But some of the characters and plot twists were completely unnecessary, and only served to keep the reader guessing.  That may be exactly what appeals to detective story readers, but it was a little much for us.

We did not talk much about Robin, even though the story is hers as much as it is Strike's.  Strike is the detective and Robin is the temporary assistant, but she enmeshes herself in the plot completely.  Rowling, a woman, was trying to write as a man, and we talked about some of the hints that the writer might actually be female.  Apparently some critics said that a man would never include a fashion storyline in a novel, while others were saying that the author was obviously a man because a woman author would never let a "normal" man like Strike sleep with a supermodel.  The way that Robin became essential to the story might also have been a hint that the writer was female.  But then, if I hadn't already known that the author was a woman,  the choice of the name of the trusty sidekick might have made me think it was a man writing.  After all, if she's Robin, does that make Strike a certain comic superhero?

Next month we'll discuss We are Water by Wally Lamb. 

Still Reading:  Great House by Nicole Krauss

Still Listening to:  The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Sunday, May 18, 2014

On to the War

When I finished reading The Furies by John Jakes I was pretty sure that the next book in the series, The Titans, would take place during the Civil War.  But I had no idea that it would take me almost 3 years to get around to reading it!  The Titans is the fifth book in the Kent Family Chronicles, a wildly popular eight book series that my parents read in the 70s.  The Kent Family Chronicles tell the story of the Kent Family (obviously!) and its journey from Europe in the mid 1700s, through 1877.  The Titans focused exclusively on the months leading up to the Civil War, and the first year of battles, 1860 through 1862.

There are three intermingled stories in The Titans.  The first is that of Michael Boyle, a trusted advisor and friend to Amanda Kent, and the person who became the guardian of her son, Louis, when Amanda died.  Louis' role in The Titans is fairly minor, but he is set up to be a bad guy in book 6, The Warriors.  Louis plans to profit from the war by selling goods to both sides through shell corporations.  Michael finally gives up trying to help Louis and joins the Union Army to make the separation complete.

The second story is that of Jephtha Kent, Amanda Kent's cousin.  Jephtha was a preacher working against slavery in The Furies.  In The Titans, Jephtha has quit the church, and is working as a news paper reporter for a pro-Union paper.  Jephtha has three sons, but his former wife, Fan, won't let him see the boys.  Fan is on the side of the Confederacy, and she and the boys live in the South.  Fan and Jephtha cross paths again when her new husband brings Fan and one of the boys to Jephtha's home city of Washington D.C. in order to try to stir up anti-Union sentiment.

Jephtha's oldest son, Gideon, is the protagonist in the third story.  Gideon is a headstrong Confederate soldier, who is confident that the South will be able to force the North to back down and allow them to secede in a matter of days. 

An interesting piece of Civil War history that I had never considered was how vulnerable Washington D.C. was in the early days of the war.  The South was sure that if they could seize the capital, the North would surrender.  D.C. was so close to the Confederacy, that it is easy to see why they would be confident that it would fall.

A nice thing about The Titans, especially for me, a person who waited 3 years between book four and book five, was that the characters frequently reminded the reader of what had happened in earlier books by telling about the family history and legends.  The Titans also wasn't as Forest Gump-ish as The Furies.  Because all of the action took place over two years and within a specific region, there was less opportunity for the characters to meet the famous people of the day.  There was also less talk of the inventions and trivia.

If you have made it this far in The Kent Family Chronicles, yes, push on and tackle The Titans.  If this would be your first introduction to the Kent Family, you should probably start at the beginning, with The Bastard, which I think was my favorite book in the series so far.  The Titans was better written than The Furies, and would be interesting to anyone who loves reading about the Civil War.  I have added The Warriors to the collection of books in my nightstand waiting for me to read them, but it may be another three years before I get there.

This is one more book down for the Rewind Challenge!

Next Up:  Great House by Nicole Krauss.  This is one for the Year of Re-Reading Challenge.

Still Listening to:  The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Life in the Snow Globe

The blurb on the back of The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham says that it is the story of Barrett, who sees a light which causes him to turn to religion, and of his brother Tyler, who uses drugs to try to enhance his creativity while he writes a song for his dying fiance.  While that it is accurate, it is such an oversimplification of The Snow Queen that it almost does the book a disservice. 

Barrett does in fact see a light, and attach significance to it.  He feels like the light is trying to tell him something, and he hopes that it is saying what he wants to hear.  Barrett lives with his brother, Tyler, and Tyler's fiance, Beth, in New York City in the early twenty-first century.  Beth owns a clothing/resale/hipster store in Brooklyn with her friend, Liz.  Barrett also works at the store.  Tyler is a bartender who is trying to break through as a music artist. The Snow Queen is the story of these four characters and their relationships, told primarily from the perspectives of Tyler and Barrett.  Beth is seriously ill, but the story somehow avoids being sentimental about her condition. Through the course of the novel, Tyler and Barrett accidentally find their best selves, while looking for something else.

There is a lot about The Snow Queen that reminded me of Cunningham's earlier novel, The Hours.  Both have New York as a setting, and feature a gay man and the women who love him.  In both stories the gay men cannot seem to part with their mother's upholstered furniture, and a character is drawn to high windows, from which he may or may not jump.  I listened to The Snow Queen on audiobook, and at the end of the story there was an interview with Michael Cunningham, in which the interviewer suggested that all of the characters from Cunningham's books seem like they could be friends with each other.  I found that observation to be dead on, and could easily see the characters from The Snow Queen popping over to visit with the characters from The Hours.

In a way, The Snow Queen is also a twenty-first century version of the musical, "Rent".  If the characters from "Rent" aged gracefully, they could have become Barrett, Tyler, and their friends.  Rent was also set in New York, and was the story of two boys in their early 20s and their friends trying to find their place.  Like Tyler, Roger from "Rent" believed that if he could just write one great song, everything would change.  Both Tyler and Roger also turn to drugs, and the woman that each loves faces death.  The stories also include meaningful gay relationships, and in both, New Year's Eve is a turning point.

The writing in The Snow Queen was incredible. I think that if I was reading the book in paper form rather than listening to it, I would have underlined tons of passages.  One thing that I really appreciated about this book is that it is the first that I can recall that was focused on the first decade of the twenty first century and set in New York, which did not mention 9/11.  It seems like 9/11 references have become compulsory and it was nice that while this story included lots of George W. bashing, Cunningham was able to resist the need to address the day itself.

The audiobook was narrated by Claire Danes, which I couldn't understand at first.  I couldn't figure out whose voice she was supposed to be.  I found myself wishing for Jeff Woodman or Wil Wheaton, as they seemed like obvious voices for hipsters like Tyler and Barrett.  I knew that they didn't choose Danes just because she was the most famous voice they could find, but then why?  I liked Danes best when she was talking for Liz, but Liz accounted for less than 10% of the speaking in the story, so they couldn't have chosen Danes for that reason.  Twice, characters referenced God as being a woman.  Could Danes have been intended to be the voice of God, or of Barrett's light, or of the Snow Queen?  By the end I knew that Danes was the right person for this role.  If Woodman or Wheaton had been reading, I wouldn't have ever been able to tell if Barrett or Tyler was speaking, since they said so much in a similar way.  Danes was simply the voice of the story.

I listened to this book at the request of Esther Bochner of Macmillan Audio.  I received a free copy of the audiobook, but other than that, no promises were made and no payments were received. 

This is another book down for the Audiobook Challenge.

Next Up on CD:  The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Still Reading:  The Titans by John Jakes

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Who Done It

The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith, is the story of Cormoran Strike, a private investigator who is down on his luck.  At the beginning of the novel, Strike has serious money troubles, and has just been dumped by his girlfriend.  He also can't keep a secretary, and has hired a temp, Robin, to help him out.  Unknown to Strike, Robin has always wanted to be a detective.  On her first day at the office, the older brother of one of Strike's childhood friends hires Strike to investigate the murder of his sister, a famous supermodel named Lula Landry, who is thought to have committed suicide. 

Galbraith works overtime to make Strike a multi-dimensional character.  He is said to be over six feet tall, stocky, and very hairy.  He is also the illegitimate son of a famous rock star.  Did I mention that he lost a leg while he was serving in the military in Afghanistan?  The reader learns all of this very early on, and at first it felt like it was just too much.  As the story continues, his size is frequently mentioned, and his parentage opens doors, making celebrity witnesses more willing to talk with him.  The interesting question is why Galbraith makes him an amputee.  Having served in the military gives Strike credibility with the police, but he didn't have to lose a limb to be credible.  While the missing leg is mentioned a lot in the story, it is never an excuse, and is never something Strike uses for sympathy.  Galbraith seems to be celebrating the abilities of injured veterans more than anything else.

Lula was almost as multi-dimensional as Strike, being a mixed race celebrity who was adopted by a wealthy white family, and who struggled with mental illness and drug use while trying to find her birth family.  This gives Strike a lot of leads to follow, and the reader lots of conclusions to jump to.  There is one reason why I don't read many mysteries or detective novels: the ending.   If I can figure out who did it, I'm disappointed that the author wasn't smart enough to surprise me. If I can't figure it out, I'm irritated that the author left out an important clue or grasped for unreasonable conclusions. Such was the case with Cuckoo, but I have to say that even with the last minute twists, I enjoyed the ride.

As you likely know, Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling.  She published The Cuckoo's Calling under a pseudonym, but the secret didn't keep.  Although the novel hadn't sold so well as Galbraith's, once it was known to have been written by Rowling, it became a best seller.   Rowling mixed in a twist from her own life with Lula being concerned about the press tapping her phone.  This added to the contemporary and real feel of the story, and helped Rowling to add a few red herrings.  By the end of the book, the professional relationship between Strike and Robin is developing, with each of them being impressed by the other's abilities.  The novel ends leaving the reader wanting to know what will happen next between them.  I think we'll find out in the second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm which will be available next month. 

I read this book for The Typical Book Group, and we will be getting together to discuss it soon.  In terms of Challenges, this is one more down for the Audiobook Challenge and the I Love Library Books Challenge.  The Cuckoo's Calling was read by Robert Glenister, who is a British actor.  Glenister was a great reader, and I can't imagine Strike's voice any other way.

Next up on CD:  The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

Still Reading:  The Titans by John Jakes

Friday, May 2, 2014


Once again, I tackled my library's semi-annual used book sale, and came out a winner.  This year, there was nothing that I went in wanting, but I found a few things that I couldn't leave without.

To start with, I picked up a few popular books that my friends and fellow bloggers have recommended, including The Art of Fielding by Carl Harbach, The Son by Philipp Meyer, and The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman.

My prize find is an Advance Reader's Copy of My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, which I've read reviews of, and toyed with reading.  I didn't add it to my TBR list because it seemed stupid for me to try to read a book based on Middlemarch, when I had never read the original.  So, when I found My Life in Middlemarch, I went straight to the classics section to try to find a copy of Middlemarch by George Eliot to buy too.  The irony is, I actually donated a copy of Middlemarch to this sale just last week, after deciding that I was never going to read it, and I couldn't even find my own copy to buy back!  Oh well - it shouldn't be that hard to find a copy elsewhere.

I also made a few questionable choices.  Given that a have an enormous nightstand full of books that I haven't read yet, do I really need to pick up a book that I've never heard of?  Apparently, I do.  I couldn't pass up Sunflowers:  A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh by Sheramy Bundrick.  I'm such a sucker for books about the stories behind old paintings.  Then, when I saw Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, I had to grab it.  Even though it's a large print edition.  I know I should have left that one for someone who actually needs large print versions of books, but there weren't any other copies.  I promise to donate it back after I'm done...I promise to donate it back after I'm done...I promise to donate it back after I'm done.

All in all, a pretty good sale!  Stay tuned for the reviews.

Still Reading:  The Titans by John Jakes

Still Listening to:  The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
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