August 31, 2014

Anthropomorphic Bees

Flora 717 is a worker bee and the protagonist of Laline Paull's The Bees. It may sound completely far-fetched to write a story from the perspective of a bee but insanely it worked amazingly well. This author clearly did her entomological research. The story revolves around a sanitation bee born to a hive where she is at the lowest rung of society (in fact, others in her kin have not developed speech and she is marked as an oddity). At every turn, she defies convention and strikes out on her own course. Fraught with class division, religious fanaticism, and sexism The Bees gave me an entirely new insight into bee behavior...and made me crave honey. If you're looking for a book unlike any other then I encourage you to give this one a shot...unless you're terrified of bees in which case you'd best steer clear.

My next book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last year: The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. Pak Jun Do is a loyal Korean citizen fighting to stay alive in an ever-changing and violent society. He is a professional kidnapper and eventually the rival of Kim Jong Il. The book purports to be a tale of corruption, violence, and also love. Well, I'm certainly intrigued!

August 27, 2014

Humanity: Tender, raw, and always a surprise

Have you ever been enjoying a book so much that you feel like racing through it just so you can find out what happened to the characters at the end? Conversely, have you ever wanted to linger for an indeterminate amount of time over a narrative because you just didn't want their story to come to its inevitable conclusion? Well, I experienced both of these emotions simultaneously while reading Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists. Each chapter revolved around a different individual with ties to the newspaper and each chapter heading was a different headline from the paper. At the conclusion of each chapter, a snippet of history regarding the evolution of the paper was inserted which coincided with the information the reader had just learned about an individual from the present day. It's a mystery to me how he wove everything together so effortlessly but I fully appreciated that the pieces of the story were all interconnected to create a cohesive tale about a newspaper with more drama behind the scenes than on its pages. A brilliant read which I highly encourage you to pick up and give a shot.

As I've mentioned before, I have quite a long TRL (To-Read List if you're new here) and I've been steadily trying to knock books off of it. This next one has been on it ever since I heard about its release earlier this year. The Bees, by Laline Paull, is the story of a bee (nope the title wasn't misleading) who defies the conventions of the hive when she challenges the Queen. It is a story of a female heroine of the bee persuasion (I might be chuckling as I write this) who chooses her own path even in the light of fierce opposition. Considering my fascination with insects (and arachnids), it was really a no-brainer that I would read this but I do have to say that I'm incredulous as to how Paull is going to pull this off. We shall soon see!

August 25, 2014

What just happened?

Have you ever been so invested in a story that you were pretty much oblivious to anything else while in its grip? Well, that's exactly what happened to me when I was reading The Rise & Fall of Great Powers. Tom Rachman put some kind of spell on me and when I reached the end I was completely set adrift. In fact, I can't seem to summarize exactly how I feel about the book now that I've finished it. Clearly, I felt it to be a compelling read as I immersed myself in it utterly and totally. However, I can't seem to articulate my feelings now that it's concluded. I guess that makes sense as a large part of this book is the importance of time and how it's all relative (reminds me of a line from Doctor Who but I won't get into that here). I hesitate to put this book into any kind of niche because I think it stands alone and separate unto itself. I can't help a feeling a bit melancholy now that it's done but the knowledge that a) I can return to it anytime I want and b) I have another book by this author waiting to be read keeps me going. :-) If you want a book that will transport you, intrigue you, and baffle you then this is the one for you. READ IT.

As I mentioned in my last post, I picked up both of Rachman's books when I was at the library. His first book, The Imperfectionists, was an international bestseller (not hard seeing why as his second book was mind-blowingly amazing). This book centers on an English-language newspaper that's on its last legs. However, the story seems to be about the individuals working at the news agency who are all living distinct and complicated lives. I AM ALREADY ITCHING TO GET STARTED.

I hope you guys are having a fantastic Monday and I look forward to meeting you back here shortly for more reviews!

August 22, 2014

Spoiler alert: It wasn't mannequins

Horrorstor was an incredibly quick, fast-paced read. I have to say that the story veered off in a direction that I was completely unprepared for (despite reading the blurb). It's somewhere between horror, thriller, and paranormal. I don't want to give anything away because I think you'd enjoy the journey a lot more with the mystery intact. I will say, however, that I enjoyed the visual aspect of the book which incorporated furniture ads like those you might see in an Ikea catalog. It was a unique approach to horror and I think you guys would get a kick out of it.

There's an author that's been on my radar for a while now (thanks to the many literary newsletters I subscribe to) and I'm happy to say that I've picked up both of his novels to review. The first one is his newest, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers. The author is Tom Rachman and he's being hailed as "one of the most exciting young writers we have". The story revolves around a woman with the odd sounding name of Tooly who is herself an odd sort of person. She owns a bookstore in a small town in Wales where she spends the majority of her days reading. However, it's her past that takes up a good chunk of the book and its mysteries are unraveled in pieces as the story progresses. At about a quarter through, I can already feel my excitement building for the astonishing conclusion (which I'm sure is going to be astonishing based on the nuggets already revealed). Review to be posted shortly!!

I hope you guys are enjoying your last few weeks of summer (or maybe you're like me and in denial that it's concluding at all) and you're reading HEAPS AND HEAPS of books. :-D

EDIT: I was just sent the link for Horrorstor's book trailer so I thought I'd share! :-D

August 19, 2014

The endurance of the human spirit or The Halifax Disaster

It's a little unsettling to me that prior to reading Curse of the Narrows I had never heard of the explosion that caused so much devastation in Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 6, 1917. When the munitions ship, Mont Blanc, collided with the Belgian Relief vessel, Imo, on that fateful day none of the inhabitants in Richmond could have predicted the loss that their town would incur. I have to admit that at the outset of this book I was struggling to comprehend what was occurring as much of the language was 'nautical' in nature which I've always found confusing. However, once Mac Donald began discussing the 'human element' I was hooked. Basically, the entire town was decimated in a matter of moments and thousands were killed, injured, orphaned, and made homeless. Oppenheimer used the statistics from the blast to calculate the effects of an atomic bomb (and used these calculations to create the bombs used in Nagasaki and Hiroshima). One of the unique factors in this event was that there was an historian on the ground that immediately began rounding up accounts and taking interviews in order to preserve the details of the day and the days and months preceding it. I highly encourage any fans of history (in particular WWI-era) to give this book a try. Additionally, the Appendix and Notes at the end of the book were absolutely phenomenal which is always one of my favorite parts in any nonfiction work and if you aren't reading these I highly encourage you to do so. :-D

Next up is Horrorstor (imagine the last 'o' has those little dots over it) by Grady Hendrix. I'm already impressed with the book based on its packaging (yeah, yeah don't judge a book blah blah blah) because it looks like a retail catalog. The reason for this is that the setting for the book is a furniture superstore called Orsk. When five employees agree to spend the night in the store to discover who is causing havoc each night they discover more than they had bargained for. O_O It's a horror story in a furniture store! (I am genuinely wary of mannequins so I really hope they don't turn out to be the baddies in this.) I can't wait to report back to you guys with my review!!

August 15, 2014

Now did John Murray say that or was it John Murray? Wait, maybe it was John Murray.

As you'd expect from a book which has the word 'dynasty' in the title The Seven Lives of John Murray: The Story of a Publishing Dynasty was chock full of DATA. SO MUCH DATA. As you'd expect, there's a lot of history wrapped up in a publishing agency which was opened in 1768 and lasted until 2002. Full disclosure: I had never heard of John Murray Publishing (or so I thought until I unearthed this blog entry I had written in 2010). You might not have either but you've definitely heard of some of the authors they've published throughout the years. For instance, John Murray II (you're maybe getting the meaning behind the book title right about now) published Lord Byron, Jane Austen, and Sir Walter Scott. John Murray III brought Charles Darwin on board for his work On the Origin of Species which you may have heard about... Throughout its many years, the agency was well-known for its educational material such as medical textbooks, history books, and general science books. When the company was taken over this was what was deemed most viable although the Murray Archive which contained scores of correspondence and manuscripts from a variety of authors and other personages (what?) was valued at £45 million. O_O If you're interested in publishing or simply like to know historical facts about a company that lasted more than 200 years then you can't go wrong with this book.

This next book was recommended to me by a dear friend/adopted Grandpa who told me it was right up my street. (He's probably right.) The book is called Curse of the Narrows by Laura M. Mac Donald and it chronicles the horrifying disaster that occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 6, 1917 and the days that followed. When a munitions ship collided with another ship at harbor the results were absolutely catastrophic. Not only was there a massive explosion but a tsunami and snow storm were also triggered. Mac Donald utilized resources left from the explosions's official historian as well as other primary documents from the period to craft this nonfiction work. I can't wait!

August 10, 2014

An American Ambassador in Berlin during the rise of the Third Reich

I knew going into this that it wasn't going to be a book that I could immediately walk away from once it was finished. About a quarter of the way through, I was already making notes about what other books about the period I was going to add to the TRL (To Read List if you're new here). Erik Larson continues to be a master at narrative nonfiction and In the Garden of Beasts is an engrossing story that you can't help but feel you're experiencing right alongside the protagonists. William Dodd was placed in Berlin as Ambassador by Roosevelt himself and most of those back in the State Department felt he was a poor choice. He didn't fit the mold by any means and I think that is why he was a good choice. He was a man of few means but of many (eloquent) words. He said what was on his mind and only afterward wondered if he should have been more "diplomatic" in his dealings with those in power in Germany. Years later, the Nazis taunted that he had no real impact while he was there and that he was much disliked by the German people.  If he was so unimportant and insignificant why did they feel the need to publicly deride him as he was on his deathbed? Also, there was Dodd's daughter Martha who changed beaus about as often as most people change their clothes. A lot of the material used in the book came from her memoir and letters (as well as a variety of other sources such as Dodd's diary).  Larson portrays the view that most Americans had of Germany pre-WWII which in hindsight makes us look idiotic, naive, and callous. We were too engrossed in our domestic affairs to truly see the atrocities that were already occurring and the power that was being amassed under Hitler to put a stop to one of the most horrendous wars of all time. If you're curious about this time in history or if you simply want to learn more about a simple man trying to accomplish big things with little to no support from his government then you should definitely check this one out.

Have you ever been looking over the books on your shelves and seen one that you had no recollection of obtaining? Well, that happened to me but I've finally recalled why/when I got this one. The book is The Seven Lives of John Murray: The Story of a Publishing Dynasty by Humphrey Carpenter and I picked it up in 2010 when I was going to London to study Library Sciences. Apparently I didn't get around to reading this one but found it interesting enough to keep. This is the biographical tale of one of the biggest publishing houses in the world from 1768 - 2002. It was begun by Carpenter but unfortunately he passed away before its completion and therefore it was edited and finished by Candida Brazil and James Hamilton. According to the back cover, there were many controversies and sagas surrounding this most esteemed publishing house which involved Jane Austin, Byron, etc. Ummm yes please!

August 3, 2014

Spiritual Discovery

Anyone who has read Paulo Coelho knows that his stories are often fantastical tales that center on the mysteries of the spirit. Brida is the story of a woman on a journey of self-discovery who finds spirituality through magic. There were some definite surprises in this book. For example, sex is used as a means of obtaining spiritual power. After having read his explanation in the afterword I guess I can understand where he was going with that but it was a bit of a shock to the system when I actually read it in the context of the story. Without giving too much away I can say that there are two different sides to the 'magical coin': The Tradition of the Moon and the Tradition of the Sun. By studying either of these the individual is opening themselves up to God and all that He created. I liked it but in my opinion The Alchemist was far and away more powerful. If you're interested in his take on magic vs spirituality vs religion then I encourage you to give this book a try but if you're only reading it because you liked The Alchemist (oops) then you might be in for a shock.

The next book up for review is one that I was so excited about that I actually pre-ordered it as soon as I heard that it was coming out...and then it languished on my living room end table doomed to dust and sadness. :'-( And then today I decided that it was time to read it!! XD The book in question is Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin. Besides being an absolute mouthful this book has all the earmarks of being one that completely knocks my socks off. Longtime readers of the blog might remember when I first found out about the awesomeness that is Erik Larson and his gift of writing the narrative nonfiction. (If you haven't read The Devil in the White City you are seriously missing out.) This book is about an American ambassador sent to Berlin with his family. At first, they're all caught up in the glitz and glam of the Third Reich until the horror unfolds before their very eyes. I'm already filled with suspense. O_O

I hope you guys are having an absolutely amazing weekend and that your week will be even better. KEEP READING!!