January 27, 2009

Fleet Foxes

Product Description:

Seattle's Fleet Foxes traffic in baroque harmonic pop. They draw influences from the traditions of folk, pop, choral, gospel, sacred harp singing, West Coast music, traditional music from Ireland to Japan, film scores, and their NW peers. The subject matter ranges from the natural world and familial bonds to bygone loves and stone cold graves.

Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut is one of the best albums I've heard in a long while. Since it's on the January play list at Barnes & Noble, I get to hear it several times a day at work. (Not that I'm complaining!) For the first few days we played the album, I had this nagging sense of déjà vu. I was curious about the group, anxious to figure out who they reminded me of. Then it came to me -- David Crosby and Neil Young! Of course, I would have discovered this a bit sooner had I gone to Amazon and read the following:

From Amazon.co.uk:

It's now twenty years since grunge emerged from then culturally isolated Seattle and Fleet Foxes, the eponymous debut album from the city's latest heroes, demonstrates just how much American independent rock has mutated in that time. The five young members of Fleet Foxes make up a very different sort of rock band, describing their own music as "baroque harmonic pop jams". Even that understates the depths of the quintet's effortless vocal harmonies and gently woozy, folky feel. Of their contemporaries only the enigmatic Midlake and My Morning Jacket at their most fragile come close, but neither could have cooked up the Beach Boys spiritual of "White Winter Hymnal" or its more powerful companion piece "Ragged Wood". In fact Fleet Foxes happily admit to aspiring to an earlier tradition--not just obvious antecedents like the Byrds, the Association, Neil Young and, especially, David Crosby's famously unfocussed solo album If Only I Could Remember My Name but ancient English folk songs and their later American descendents. All were hunted and gathered from the internet--songwriters Robin Pecknold and Skye Skjelset are barely in their twenties. Add a host of unlikely instruments and the results are stunning, the complete antithesis of mainstream stadium indie that has followed Arcade Fire. Still, the cover features a Bruegel painting of peasants that might have graced any Black Sabbath sleeve. In that way at least Fleet Foxes salute a local tradition. -—Steve Jelbert

Well, at least I recognized the cover art, thanks to all those art history courses I took several years ago. And now that I think of it, there is a bit of a Beach Boys sound to this album. That's one group that never occurred to me. They've also been compared to Supertramp. Whomever they sound like, I do love this folksy music!! Click here to listen to a snippet of each track. Then tell me what you think. I'm going to treat myself to the album. This is one I want to own (rather than download), so I can read the liner-notes.

January 24, 2009

In the Woods

In the Woods by Tana French
2007 Penguin Books
Finished on 1/16/09
Rating: 4.75/5 (Excellent!)
Winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel

Product Description:

The debut novel of an astonishing new voice in psychological suspense.

In Tana French's powerful debut thriller, three children leave their small Dublin neighborhood to play in the surrounding woods. Hours later, their mothers' calls go unanswered. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, Detective Rob Ryan—the found boy, who has kept his past a secret—and his partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the same woods. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him, and that of his own shadowy past.

In the Woods may only be the second book I've read this year, but I already know it's going to wind up on my Top Ten list for 2009! What an amazing debut by Tana French. Complex, flawed, yet highly likeable characters, combined with exceptionally rich details and language, draw the reader into this breathless psychological thriller. I found myself marking page after page, sorting through clues, eager to solve the mystery before Ryan & Maddox. And, now that I've finished the story, I find my thoughts drifting back to various scenes, missing the duo, who at times reminded me of Dennis Lehane's Kenzie & Gennaro. I do believe Cassie is my new literary girl crush. She's intelligent, determined and very tough; much like Smokey (Cody McFadyen's main character), Sunny (Robert Parker's heroine) and Clarice (The Silence of the Lambs). Definitely not a goofy klutz like Stephanie Plum!

French's main characters aren't the only aspect of this procedural mystery that bring to mind Dennis Lehane's mysteries. French's writing has a similar literary quality to that of Lehane's. Passages such as the following make this much more than your typical brain-candy mystery:

Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s. This is none of Ireland's subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur's palate, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue. This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat, Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping chants, One! two! three! This summer will never end. It starts every day with a shower of Mr. Whippy notes and your best friend's knock at the door, finishes it with long slow twilight and mothers silhouetted in doorways calling you to come in, through the bats shrilling among the black lace trees. This is Everysummer decked in all its best glory.

On the joy of finding one's true calling in life:

Out of absolutely nowhere I felt a sudden sweet shot of joy, piercing and distilled as the jolt I imagine heroin users get when the fix hits the vein. It was my partner bracing herself on her hands as she slid fluidly off the desk, it was the neat practiced movement of flipping my notebook shut one-handed, it was my superintendent wriggling into his suit jacket and covertly checking his shoulders for dandruff, it was the garishly lit office with a stack of marker-labeled case files sagging in the corner and evening rubbing up against the window. It was the realization, all over again, that this was real and it was my life. Maybe Katy Devlin, if she had made it that far, would have felt this way about the blisters on her toes, the pungent smell of sweat and floor wax in the dance studio, the early-morning breakfast bells raced down echoing corridors. Maybe she, like me, would have loved the tiny details and the inconveniences even more dearly than the wonders, because they are the things that prove you belong.

I love the cadence of that passage!

Just as the narrative began to lag ever so slightly, a new discovery was revealed and the intensity rushed back. It was at this point that I knew the book was going to be a winner. I found every opportunity to pick up the novel, neglecting household obligations and chores. I was unable to stop myself from reading late into the night. I was eager to discuss specific details of the narrative with several of my coworkers, not waiting patiently for our book group to meet. I told my husband, repeatedly, what a great book I was reading. I made a mental note to set a Favorite Mysteries endcap in March, leading, of course, with In the Woods. I composed a fan letter in my head to Tana French. And, as I poured myself a bourbon after a long, exhausting day, my thoughts returned to Rob, Cassie and Sam, remembering their evening ritual of dinner and drinks while discussing the case.

Oh, this would make such a fabulous movie!

I do have one minor quibble which involves the initial conversation with the family when the detectives inform them of Katy's death. The parents and older sister all referred to Katy in the past tense, jarring me from my engrossed state of literary bliss. I don't think anyone would argue that most people who have lost a loved one spend days, if not weeks and months, referring to that person in the present tense. While French may not know this from personal experience, it is a detail that should have been caught by her editor. (Although for French to have made too much of that issue would have been a cliche, of course.)

I don't remember when I first heard about In the Woods, but more than likely it was either Stephanie or Iliana's reviews that caught my attention. It wound up a winner with my book group this month and we're all anxious to read French's follow-up thriller, The Likeness, in which several characters from In the Woods return. From what I've heard, this sophomore work is even better than French's debut. If that's the case, I may have discovered my first 5/5 read for 2009. In the Woods is a gripping story of loss and survival, friendship and secrets. While some of the details in the plot were left dangling, I was thoroughly entertained and completely engaged, and I look forward to many more books by Tana French.

January 23, 2009

Entertainment Weekly's "New" Classics List

I love lists! I spotted this particular list over on Bookogged's blog and had to share it. I've marked all the books I've read in RED (27/100). Some were read (or re-read) after starting my blog, so hover over the titles to find links to my reviews.

The books I own (and have yet to read) are in GREEN. Any suggestions about the latter? What should I read first? And, yes, Jen. I know. Lonesome Dove. ;)

Oh, and my Top Ten from the list?

Bel Canto
The Things They Carried
The Lovely Bones
The Poisonwood Bible
The Giver
The Kite Runner
A Prayer For Owen Meany
Eat, Pray, Love

1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding (1996)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1999)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World’s Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (199
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1999)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators’ Ball, Connie Bruck (1989)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

January 21, 2009

Top Reads of 2008

Click to enlarge

In no particular order, here are my Top Reads for 2008. Click on the titles to read my review.

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

The Girl With No Shadow by Joanne Harris

A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Face of Death by Cody McFadyen

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

The Darker Side by Cody McFadyen

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

The Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I've been keeping track of my reading stats since 1999. I'm not sure if I included the books I gave up on in my totals in those early years, but I've since stopped. Here's how the past decade has gone:

1999 42 read
2000 60 read
2001 63 read
2002 72 read
2003 88 read
2004 82 read (this is the year I stopped including books I gave up on)
2005 57 read (quit on 12)
2006 73 read (quit on 17)
2007 58 read (quit on 9)
2008 46 read (quit on 6)

So, between working full-time in a bookstore and maintaining 3 blogs (books, cooking and photographs), plus keeping up with all my favorite bloggers, I didn't allow much time for reading. I hope to remedy that in 2009!

A few more stats in 2008, for those who might be interested:

Male Authors 15
Female Authors 31
New-To-Me Authors 27
Epistolary 4
Current Affairs 1
Audio 0
Fiction 39
Nonfiction 7
Historical Fiction 7
Classics 0
Poetry 1
Teen 1
Kids 1
Science Fiction 4
Fantasy 1
Horror 0
Romance 4
Culinary 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 4
Mystery/Thriller 3
Re-read 1
Advanced Reader Copy 15 (!!)
Borrowed from Library 5

January 20, 2009

January 15, 2009

The Annotated Sailing Alone Around the World

No review (yet). Just a shameless plug for my husband!

From Amazon:


A classic book. . . . Slocum's writing is as elegant as his thirty-seven-foot sloop, SPRAY, whose crossing of the Atlantic he describes vividly. --New Yorker

A literate and absorbing yarn published in 1900 and still in print. . . [Slocum's] story is a convincing tale of the intelligence, skill and fortitude that drove a master navigator. --New York Times

As a writer Slocum is given to plain understatement, dry wit, wry humor and Yankee observations about nature that led some to call him a sea-locked Thoreau. . . . He offers descriptive glances at the sea, in storm or calm, that can rival those of Joseph Conrad. --Smithsonian

Product Description

Joshua Slocum's The Annotated Sailing Alone Around the World is a classic, beloved by sailors the world over who have enjoyed this engrossing tale of a man who sails around the world alone in a small wooden sailboat built with his own hands. This edition is thoroughly annotated by teacher/journalist Rod Scher, who provides explanation, commentary, clarification, and "In the News" sidebars for historical context that will make Slocum's masterpiece more accessible to today's readers, sailors and landlubbers alike.

About the Author

Joshua Slocum was the first man to sail alone around the world. It was a feat that made him the patron saint of small boat sailors everywhere. His voyage, retold in Sailing Alone Around the World, took place from 1895 to 1898. It made Slocum and his little boat SPRAY forever famous.

Rod Scher received his M.Ed. from the University of Oregon. A longtime boating enthusiast, writer, and former English teacher, he is currently VP of Technology for Class.com, where he spends much of his time developing educational software while plotting ways to get back out on the water. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

January 11, 2009

A Month in Review - December '08

Good grief! Looking back over the year, it appears that my average is about 3.5 books per month. I finished three in December, so I guess I'm right on track. Started a fourth, but gave up after about 50 pages.

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

Wife in the North by Judith O'Reilly (4/5)

A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve (2.5/5)

Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor (3.5/5)

Journey into Christmas and Other Stories by Bess Streeter Aldrich (DNF)

Favorite of the month: Wife in the North by Judith O'Reilly

Books Read 3
Male Authors 0
Female Authors 3
New-To-Me Authors 2
Epistolary 1
Audio 0
Fiction 2
Nonfiction 1
Historical Fiction 0
Coming-of-Age 0
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Teen 0
Children's 0
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 0
Horror 0
Romance 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 1
Essays 0
Culinary 0
Mystery/Thriller 0
Re-read 0
Mine 3

Note: Only books completed are counted in the above totals with, of course, the exception of the DNF category.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

And the winner is....


Post a comment with your snail mail address (I won't approve the comment, so only I will see the information) and I'll get the book off to you on Tuesday. Enjoy!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
2009 Ballantine Books
Finished on 1/5/09
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
ARC - Due out on January 27, 2009

Publisher's Blurb

In 1986, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. The hotel has been boarded up for decades, but now a new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, memories take him back to the 1940s.

At the height of the war, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student, at the exclusive Rainier Academy. They forge a friendship—and an innocent love—that transcend the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family are evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Now Henry is trying to make sense of the past—to explain the actions of his nationalistic father; to bridge the gap between himself and his modern Chinese American son; to confront the choices he made many years ago. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable portrait of a couple whose story teaches us the power of forgiveness.

Jamie Ford is the son of American and Chinese parents and an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. An award-winning short-story writer, he lives in Great Falls, Montana. This is his first novel.

I received this book from the publisher back in August, but didn't feel compelled to pick it up until after Christmas. What luck that it was my first completed book of the New Year; it's a winner! I love the time period and location (a bit reminiscent of Gutterson's Snow Falling on Cedars) and especially enjoy coming-of-age stories, so this was right up my alley. The narrative is set in 1986, flashing back to the years between 1942 and 1945 when Henry and Keiko are in the fifth grade.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is bound to be a popular selection among book groups, particularly those in the Pacific Northwest. I enjoyed the story, although at times thought it read more like a young adult novel than general fiction. The writing is occasionally simplistic and I finished reading the novel without a single lyrical passage to share. And yet, I couldn't put this book down! I found Ford's book much more satisfying than Sandra Dallas' Tall Grass (another coming-of-age novel depicting the internment camps during World War II), particularly enjoying the references to Seattle's jazz history, including that of Oscar Holden.

Here are a couple of photos from the author's website. Go here to see more.

VJ Day in Seattle

I'll be anxious to hear what others think of this debut novel. If anyone would like my ARC, please leave a comment, stating specifically that you'd like to be entered in the drawing, and I'll pick a name one week from today.

January 10, 2009

Address Unknown

Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor
Fiction - Epistolary
1938 Washington Square Press
Finished on 12/29/08
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Product Description

When it first appeared in Story magazine in 1938, Address Unknown became an immediate social phenomenon and literary sensation. Published in book form a year later and banned in Nazi Germany, it garnered high praise in the United States and much of Europe.

A series of fictional letters between a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco and his former business partner, who has returned to Germany, Address Unknown is a haunting tale of enormous and enduring impact.

I finished this book in one sitting -- well under an hour. I first read about it on Nan's blog and she later reminded me of it when I was getting my epistolary endcap together for work. While brief, this book packs a powerful punch. The ending caused me to sit up and flip back through the pages, re-reading a few of the letters.

Nan has written a lovely review that shouldn't be missed!

January 4, 2009

A Wedding in December

A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve
Contemporary Fiction
2007 Little, Brown and Company
Finished on 12/29/08
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

At an inn in the Berkshire Mountains, seven former schoolmates gather to celebrate a wedding—a reunion that becomes the occasion of astonishing revelations as the friends collectively recall a long-ago night that indelibly marked each of their lives. Written with a fluent narrative artistry that distinguishes all of Anita Shreve's bestselling novels, A Wedding in December acutely probes the mysteries of the human heart and the endless allure of paths not taken.

Meh. I picked this off my shelves on a whim, looking for a comfort read to settle into during the Christmas season, and decided on A Wedding in December simply because of the title. It took quite a while to get interested and I considered throwing in the towel on several occasions. Initially, I didn't care for the story-within-a-story about the Halifax Explosion of 1917, but ironically, it was that piece of history that held my interest once I got further along in the book. I never came to care for any of the characters in this novel and I'm fairly certain they'll be long forgotten before the end of the month. Shreve is one of those hit-or-miss authors with me. I loved Fortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife but didn't think much of Light on Snow or The Weight of Water.

For more information about the Halifax Explosion, go here.

January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Health enough to make work a pleasure,

Wealth enough to support your needs,

Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them,

Grace enough to toil until good is accomplished,

Charity enough to see good in your neighbor,
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others,
Faith enough to make real the things of God
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe