Jul 192012
 

*This book was sent to me by the publisher Viking in exchange for an honest review.

In 1663 New Amsterdam, life is fragile. Attacks by Native Americans are a constant threat, as is attack from the British government or the competing companies. Orphans are a commodity, bought and sold by the orphanmaster for the best price. Blandine van Couvering escaped that fate. Orphaned at 15, she took over her father’s trade business with the help of a large African who, saved from the hangman’s noose, guards Blandine. Edward Drummond is a British spy, there to seek out the colony’s weaknesses. When orphans start to go missing, Blandine and Edward seem to be the only two who care, or at least, the only rational two. Witika fever has terrified the colony – the witika is the demon of the natives who can make a man desire human flesh, and when orphans turn up dead with witika masks and symbols near the bodies, New Amsterdam panics.

The Orphanmaster is an ambitious historical novel that, though incredibly spooky and suspenseful, suffers at times from information overload. Many chapters begin with information dumps about the history and geography of the area, which is interesting but definitely slows an otherwise tense novel. The Orphanmaster isn’t a traditional mystery in that it’s fairly evident who the devilish murderer is, but the aspect of adventure is enticing, as is the 17th-century colony and its inhabitants. The narration flips between telling the stories of Blandine and Edward to the story of the killer and a Native American under the influence of the witika.

Though slow in the beginning, The Orphanmaster thoroughly unsettled me and made me want to read more about New York and its origins. (Thankfully, I’ve got just the book for that…)

Curious? Leave a comment below, and you could win the hardcover book or the audiobook thanks to the generous people at Viking Books.

Psst! Click on the title to see if you won the giveaway for Shadow of Night or The Truth of All Things.

Jul 102012
 

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

*Warning: If you haven’t read A Discovery of Witches, you may not want to read further.

“Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown.”

A Discovery of Witches left off with Matthew and Diana traveling to 16th-century Britain, hoping to discover more about Diana’s powers and the now-infamous Ashmole 782, a document that could explain the origins of witches, vampires, and daemons. However, studying the past and timewalking into it are two different things, and Diana quickly learns that every aspect of her – from her voice and accent to her height and features – makes her stand out. As a witch mated to a vampire, Diana and Matthew certainly don’t need any additional attention. Witches are being hunted, and Diana’s powers are not strong enough to protect her. Plus, the Matthew of 1590 has obligations other than educating Diana. He must juggle family, espionage, and his place in the mysterious School of Night, as well as the friends who are curious about his new wife. Neither has an easy task, and life in Elizabethan London as newlyweds, as creatures, and as timewalkers challenges Diana and Matthew in ways they never anticipated.

In the opening pages of A Discovery of Witches, Harkness introduces Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Thomas Harriot, all friends of Matthew’s and all members of the School of Night. Matthew…such a namedropper. Want to make an academic – a historian, no less – squeal with excitement? Put her in the same room as these historical figures. Diana is overwhelmed. She’s thrilled to discover these living, breathing legends, but she’s also tense. A. She’s a witch. B. She’s from several hundred years into the future. and C. People have been hunting her. No big thang. Oh, and there’s a D. Chris Marlowe hates her. He’s a daemon, and he’s in love with Matthew. Two strikes against Diana.

Then, just as Diana grows comfortable with this rag tag group at Matthew’s table, the couple is off to meet Philippe, Matthew’s father. This section is totally Beauty and the Beast. Beast: Don’t look at me. I’m hideous. Belle: Let me love you, dammit.

Matthew is home, not only in place but in time. His father is alive. His home looks and smells and feels right. For this man who has lived centuries, coming home is fraught with emotion. In A Discovery of Witches, the relationship just sort of happens. Tingle, tingle, you’re meant for me. Shadow of Night is the courtship. It’s the makeout session and the listening to your favorite love song on the radio, but it’s also the chance for Matthew to face who he is and to ask Diana to accept it. It’s Diana’s awakening to her powers, her heritage, and her desires. It’s the part that made my heart go pitter patter because it’s so realistic. Ok, maybe you and your significant other don’t have to talk about how many people you’ve killed and drained of blood, but relationships aren’t all simple.

That said, everything changes in London. People are losing heads and being tortured as witches. It’s some treacherous territory. Matthew is in a precarious position as spy, vampire, and secret society member. Diana must find a witch willing to help her without placing her trust in the wrong person. Both must be cautious of their modern way of speech and manner and steer clear of the vampire priest godfather dude who isn’t happy that Matthew is back or that Diana is his wife. And this is where the book became tedious for me.

Understandably, Matthew is concerned for Diana. His protectiveness has increased to the nth degree in this book because torture! Vampire godfather! Witches should burn! But the issues I had with A Discovery of Witches were amplified in this book because of those restrictions. Diana is no bored, boring high schooler waiting to be whisked away. Yet no balance is struck between the two in Shadow of Night. Matthew is overprotective. Diana gets upset. Diana apologizes. I wanted to stamp my foot because each time it almost seemed like Matthew would pet her on the head and have ALL THE SEX and voila! No more pesky independent woman.

Again, these are dangerous times, but I repeat my comparison from my previous review: the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Jamie and Clare deal with very similar circumstances, yet Clare’s spirited nature and fight to be heard and seen as Jamie’s equal are the strongest parts of those books. There are sexytimes, but in the beginning the sex was often more adversarial as Clare fought for an equal partner. In Shadow of Night, Diana plays the role of victim and damsel too many times for my liking.

But even though I wish Harkness had written Diana differently, I can’t help but enjoy these books. I gripe, yes, but I gripe because I’m picky. The history, even though a bit lengthy, is incredibly fun, and the idea of these two strong intellectuals falling in love (a romance for academia!) is irresistible to me.

Verdict: Fun and a definite read for fans of A Discovery of Witches. But if you enjoy this series, I highly recommend Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Just ask Andi. :)

And you can win an audio copy of Shadow of Night, courtesy of Penguin Audio. Just leave me a comment (by midnight CST Friday, July 13, 2012) telling me why you absolutely must read/listen to this book.

Don’t want to wait? Buy your copy now for your Nook.

Don’t take my word for it: Jen at Devourer of Books loved this one. Iris, however, felt more like I did.

UPDATE: Congrats, Heather Lindskold! You won the audiobook version of Shadow of Night.

Jun 272012
 

How have I not yet managed to talk about the books I got at BEA? I will tell you, though, that I am so excited about the books I had shipped home. There are only 15 of them, but wow, do they look good. These 15 represent almost all different publishers, many of them independent. They range from stories about an artist who does reproductions to a biography of a body part. Of the 15 books, 8 are by women, 7 are by men. Three are distinctly nonfiction, with Naomi Wolf’s Vagina in a category of its own. In all their, ahem, glory…

From the top:

From the top:

  • Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City Who Made the World by Boris Johnson/Riverhead Books
  • Instant by Chris Bonanos/Princeton Architectural Press (October 2012)
  • The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell/The New Press (October 2012)
  • Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Translated by Mary Jo Bang/Graywolf Press (August 2012)
  • Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf/Ecco (September 2012)
  • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles/Penguin
  • Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Julianne Garey/Soho (December 2012)
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón/Harper (July 2012)

Which will I be reading first? It’s almost as though I’m afraid to break the spell, as though if I choose one, the rest will disappear. That said, I think I’ll start with the slimmest volume, Beside the Sea. Lori and Tara actually told me about the book, saying: “It’s about a mother who is planning to kill her children.” Pleasant, right? Except that my Master’s thesis was about women who kill their children throughout literature. Specifically, the title is The Dialectic of Maternity: From Medea to the Moderns. Snazzy, huh? Ok, so it sounds kind of ridiculous, but it’s interesting how many many time this sort of story repeats itself in literature (and in life). So that will be my first pick.

And for those of you who weren’t able to make it, I have a BEA bag just for you. In the Random House tote bag are the BEA edition of The New York Review of Books, Anne Lamott’s newest, Some Assembly Required, in audio, Next to Love by Ellen Feldman (this one is so good!), and A Fatal Debt by John Gapper. Something for everyone! The only rules are you cannot have attended BEA, and you must leave me a comment. Which book would you most love to get your hands on? Is there any particular publisher you’re interested in? Do you think I’ve got 15 winners in these stacks? Make sure you comment by next Tuesday, July 3, at midnight!

UPDATE: Rachel won the BEA bag o’ goodies. Congrats!

May 212012
 

*I received this book from the publicist Big Honcho Media through Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.

Maybe it was because after almost twenty years of marriage my husband and I seemed to be running out of things to say to each other. But when the anonymous online study called “Marriage in the 21st Century” showed up in my inbox, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life. It wasn’t long before I was assigned both a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101). And, just like that, I found myself answering questions…

7. Sometimes I tell him he’s snoring when he’s not snoring so he’ll sleep in the guest room and I can have the bed all to myself.

61. He was cutting peppers for the salad. I looked at those hands and thought, I am going to have this man’s children.

32. That if we weren’t careful, it was possible to forget one another.*

At his business dinner one night, William, Alice Buckle’s husband, makes an offhand comment in front of his coworkers about Alice’s “smaller life” – he doesn’t intend to hurt her, but Alice, already uncomfortable in the business suit that doesn’t feel quite right, is thrown. Her life is already off kilter. Alice’s birthday will mark her as the same age as her mother when she died. And Alice’s life may be small, but it’s not inconsequential. She directs school theater. She raises two children. She meets with her grief support group. But her husband, the man she fell madly in love with, sees her life as small. Going online becomes Alice’s solace, so when she receives the survey on marriage, the questions allow her to open up and relive the closeness and love she once felt for her husband. But in sharing the answers with Researcher 101, she becomes fascinated by his position as anonymous reliquary for her deepest secrets and desires, and the further she feels from her life with William.

My thoughts: Alice is so funny. Wife 22 has been compared to Bridget Jones’s Diary, and I can see why. Alice is just a bit older than Bridge. She thinks her son may be gay and is a little overzealous in her acceptance. Her daughter is slim and hoards junk food, so she’s afraid she’s bulimic. Alice is so concerned that her mother’s death left her without the proper tools to be a mom, that she fails to see that she’s doing it and has done it and is ok.

And I know people bemoan the Internet, but right or wrong, it’s there for Alice in those moments when no one else is or can be, and watching Alice connect…to the Internet, with her husband, and with her children/friends is a humorous, fun, heart-rending ride. I absolutely raced through this book. I loved it. I’m not married, and I don’t have kids, but I can relate to Alice. She is completely imperfect. She can be selfish and negative and really silly at times, but let me tell you. Last week on Twitter I was complaining because my new jeans are too big. Too big. This is a problem I was begging for a month ago. So Alice? High five right here.

She, too, is self aware. She knows that she can be unreasonable and selfish, but unlike many of us, she owns it. She feels as though her life is converging on her, and she doesn’t apologize for it. Instead, she confesses, “When I’m in pain I want everyone I love on the island with me, sitting around the fire, getting drunk on coconut milk, banging out a plan.” I can get on board with that. Is it inconvenient? Selfish? To hell with it. Alice wants what she wants, and for the first time in a while, she’s not afraid to say it. Double high fives.

Annnd…Random House has generously offered up two copies of Wife 22 for two U.S. readers of the blog. All you have to do is ‘fess up…what’s the last romantic gesture someone made for you that made your knees go weak? [Giveaway runs until midnight central time on Friday, May 25, 2012.]

GIVEAWAY RESULTS: Congrats Debbie and Con! Check your email for details. Thanks to everyone who commented. :)

Preorder this (out 05/29/12) from Indiebound or for your Nook.

* Alice’s answers are listed sporadically, and the questions are at the end of the book. I never flipped and didn’t feel the need to. In fact, I think Gideon would have been better off leaving them off entirely, allowing the reader to wonder instead what Alice is saying with each response. In other words, don’t peek. Just leave it and enjoy the story.
P.S. Check out my post on Afterwards to see if you won the giveaway!

Apr 232012
 

Yea! It’s here! World Book Night America is the product of a lot of different people’s and organizations’ hard work. As the website says, World Book Night is “a celebration of reading and books” – and I am honored to be a part of that. It is incredibly powerful to know that the US, UK, and Ireland will all be giving out books the same night.

When I applied to be a giver, I mentioned in my application that one of the locations I wanted to include is the downtown branch of my library. I’ve mentioned in the past that it is a gathering place for a lot of low-income or homeless people. Here’s the thing, guys: everyone always has a book in his or her hands. It’s fantastic. So for me to be able to give a book – one that these people could own – is really important to me. And as my mom mentioned, it kind of sucks to give homeless people books and not food…so she’s making sandwiches. Thanks, Mom – for making sandwiches and for thinking about it when my head is in the clouds. My mom and sis are both joining me, and after the library, we’ll either head to the park or to a local hospice center, depending on how many books we have left.

My birthday is Thursday, and honestly, I have to say this is the best present. WBN sent me a box of 20 books, and I get to give them to others!! Sorry, I just can’t quite get over it. Which book? Well, you guys know I rave about The Book Thief. It was my first choice from the list of 30 books to give out, and I got it! It’s ironic because when I first read this book, I went and bought two extra copies so that I could pass them on to other people (my mom and bff) to read and discuss.

I went to Barnes & Noble last Tuesday and picked up my box. They said there were actually 6 or so other boxes there, and I was so curious. How did other people in my area hear about it? If I weren’t a blogger, I don’t know that I would have known about World Book Night. Some bookstores and libraries are having events so the givers can meet, but unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case in my area. Ah well.

I promise to take photos and record my experience for you guys. I’m a little nervous. Giving away books sounds like a piece of cake, right? But what if they think I’m handing out religious tracks or pushing a political agenda? I would certainly be a bit wary of anyone approaching me with a “free” book. Yeah, right. Nothing in life is free. I can hear it now.

How will I combat this? I’m going to be a book pusher. I’ll be giving away The Book Thief, but the only thing I’ll be taking is, hopefully, a contentedness for having participated. I’ll try to use a bit of humor, disarm possible recipients with my charm (*snort*), and get those books out.

If you’re participating or have participated in the past, I’d love to hear your advice or your own anxieties. Where will you be giving away books and which book is it? No matter what, have fun tonight! And if you’re not a giver, keep an eye out for those who are. It should be a really neat experience.

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