Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blog update and wonderful news!!!!

I am very happy to announce that my baby boy, Aleksander Henry Gustavus was born on Tuesday, January 26, 2010. He weighed 9 pounds 5 ounces and measured 21 inches long. He is of course the most beautiful boy and a miracle.

I will not be updating my blog for a little while for obvious reasons but I hope to get back in a full swing of things shortly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On My Wishlist

On My Wishlist is a weekly meme hosted by Book Chick City, which will be posted every Wednesday. It allows us to share the books we haven't bought yet but are waiting to be bought and devoured. If you are anything like me then your wishlist is getting longer by the day! If you would like to take part and have your own 'On My Wishlist' post then you can find more info here.

I only have one book for this week but I just can't wait to get it especially that I don't have to wait all that long for it.

A Dark Matter by Peter Straub.

Some of you may know this author from collaboration with Stephen King. Mr. Straub and Mr. King wrote The Talisman and its sequel Black House. At least that's how I first got a taste of Straub's writing. However, I didn't get to really appreciate his skills until I read a couple of books he wrote on his own. I am now happy to see that Mr. Straub is giving us another mix of horror & thriller. Below are the details.

A Dark Matter will be released on February 9, 2010.

From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. In this tour de force from bestseller Straub (In the Night Room), four high school friends in 1966 Madison, Wis.—Hootie Bly, Dilly Olson, Jason Boatman, and Lee Truax—fall under the spell of charismatic wandering guru Spencer Mallon. During an occult ceremony in which Mallon attempts to break through to a higher reality, something goes horribly awry leaving one participant dead. Decades later, Lee's writer husband interviews the quartet to find out what happened. In Roshomon-like fashion, each relates a slightly different account of the trauma they experienced. Straub masterfully shows how the disappointments, downturns, and failed promise of the four friends' lives may have stemmed from this youthful experience, and suggests, by extension, that the malignant evil they helped unleash into the world has tainted all hope ever since. Brilliant in its orchestration and provocative in its speculations, this novel ranks as one of the finest tales of modern horror.

And here's some praise from other, well-known writers:

“Peter Straub's new novel is a terrifying story of innocents-high school students in the turbulent sixties-who stumble into horrors far beyond their understanding. A Dark Matter is populated with vivid, sympathetic characters, and driven by terrors both human and supernatural. It’s the kind of book that’s impossible to put down once it has been picked up. It kept me reading far into the night. Straub builds otherworldly terror without ever losing touch with his attractive cast of youngsters, who age beautifully. Put this one high on your list.”

-Stephen King

"Part Rashomon, part The Turn of the Screw. Peter Straub may well be the most important voice in suspense fiction today."

-- Lincoln Child

"American master Peter Straub takes the sweep of our freaky history over the past forty years, subjects it to all the elegant gifts of madness and arts of haunting of which he is the wicked king, and finds himself in possession of a masterpiece."

-- Michael Chabon, author of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Manhood for Amateurs

“I’ve been reading Peter Straub since I was a teenager, and his work is hardwired into my brain. A Dark Matter contains echoes of all that has been great about Straub’s previous work and builds upon it. This Rashomon-like tale is as spooky and frightening as anything he has written, but it’s also an intense and moving celebration of love. Out of the darkness comes, ultimately, a surprising and haunting sense of joy.”

-Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply

"Increasingly, Peter Straub brilliantly defies and blurs literary genres. A DARK MATTER is a page-turning thriller of every sort: psychological, sociological, epistemological. Plus, it's really scary."

--Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate At the Stairs

Also, I wanted to show you this awesome trailer from Unbridled Books for Spring/Summer upcoming titles. I wasn't especially waiting to get any of the books from this publisher, but I think that they did a great job with the trailer and that alone may make me go to the store and get soem of the books. Enjoy!

UBB Seasonal Starter Pack: Spring 2010 from Unbridled Books on Vimeo.

Friday, January 22, 2010

2-in-1: Sacred hearts by Sarah Dunant & The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley

1. Sacred Hearts  by Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts: A NovelSacred Hearts is a novel set in the 16th century Italian city of Ferrara. A young girl enters the convent of Santa Caterina to spend her entire life as Suora Serafina. It is obvious that Suora Serafina, formerly known as Isbetta, is put in this convent against her will and she fights fiercely to correct this grievous injustice done to her. Serafina's howling, violent tantrums and screams force another sister, Suora Zuana to remedy the situation before all gets out of control. Zuana is a dispensary mistress (what one might call a doctor nowadays) who had been placed in the convent many years before also against her will. Zuana and Serafina form a special bond while Serafina sorely tries the patience of the abess, Madonna Chiara and all other nuns in the convent. As it is, the times are difficult for all convents across Italy as the pope with the help of bishops imposes more and more rigorous rules. For now, Santa Caterina is safe but how they deal with rebellious Serafina and her strong will to manipulate them all and escape the imprisonment will ultimately decide the fate of the convent. And the midst of all these dangerous changes, one young girl makes a strong impact of all the nuns in Santa Caterina, the impact none of them wanted or anticipated.

Sacred Hearts is my second Dunant's novel and it was also my attempt at liking Ms. Dunant's writing. I was sorely disappointed with The Birth of Venus mainly because I relied on all the glorious reviews and expected a masterpiece. As it turned out, I barely managed to finish the book. I took on a different approach as I prepared myself for Sacred Hearts. I avoided reading reviews, especially the 5 or 4 starred ones, and assumed that it would be not so great instead of a read of a lifetime. I am not sure whether it was this strategy of starting at the bottom or if Sacred Hearts was simply better written, but I was this time pleasantly surprised. The story was quite intriguing, it all took place in a convent full of women who probably were put there against their will and taught to accept their fates. The historical background and Ms. Dunant's dedication made me appreciate the whole novel that much more. The book is dedicated to all the women that had been imprisoned in convents and separated from the outside world for no crimes of theirs really. It is a rather slow reading but then again, I don't think it ever were supposed to be a plot and action driven novel. There is an intriguing plot in there but the most interesting part is what an impact one girl can make on all others around her.

I especially liked the character of Suora Zuana, this intelligent and skilled in the art of medicine woman whose only misfortune was that she was born in the time when women weren't granted the freedom to seek out their own professions or expand on their interest and passions. Yet she managed to make something out of her life, even if it's spent in a convent. I say if you appreciate more of a literary historical fiction when more patience needs to be involved, you'll definitely appreciate Sacred Hearts.

2. The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley

The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel: A NovelThe story begins in 1914 when a Chinese princess, Eastern Jewel is caught spying on her father. This incident gives him an excuse to send the eight-year-old girl away to Japan. Eastern Jewel gets adopted by the Kawashima family and changes her own name to Yoshiko Kawashima. Japan becomes Yoshiko's true love and nothing gives her more happiness than the news that she became a Japanese citizen. However, as the time goes by, Yoshiko is made painfully aware that she never will be one of Kawashima's true daughters but rather a free human gift to sexually entertain Kawashima and his male guests. She doesn't despair though but turns into what one would call a sex addict nowadays. She also reinvents herself, partaking in the world of male population with fervor, takes fencing classes, smokes opium, dresses as a boy and above all else enjoys sex. And so the life of a future Japanese female spy begins. The novel is based on a real person and mostly real events. There really was a Chinese woman turned Japanese spy in the years between the two World Wars and during WWII.

I enjoy Asian fiction and was very excited to read about yet another figure in the history of China and Japan that I previously had had no idea about. The verdict: I could not have been disappointed any more. I thoughts I was going to read about this strong willed woman striving for independence in a society that treated females as a species below males in all aspects. Ms. Lindley wanted to show that despite what history's opinion of Yoshiko was, she was not a thoroughly bad person. I am not sure what measures were taken to make us readers see this princess spy in a forgiving light. All I saw was a corrupted woman who had sex with pretty much everyone that came her way. It was actually quite disgusting, especially Yoshiko's attitude to all the men that used and abused her. She thought all the time she was the one using her femininity for her advantage. Well, she wasn't. I was completely put off by this nymphomaniac person who destroyed everything and everyone in her way just to get what she wanted. She kept saying throughout the novel that her one true love was Japan but I just failed to see it as anything else other than an excuse for a more expensive form of prostitution.

I am no bigot, I am fine with sex scenes but what upset me the most is how Yoshiko's sex addiction is being justified as simply her means to live the life on her terms. I am just not sure that compromising her dignity was worth the false sense of independence, considering what she got in the end.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme, started by Bermudaonion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

Today's words all come from The Private Papers of the Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley.

I. venal ve·nal [ ve'en'l ] adjective

1. open to bribery: open to persuasion by corrupt means, especially bribery
2. corrupt: characterized by corruption
3. able to be bought: able to be obtained for a price

Here's how it's used in the book:

Money comes and goes but memories can be coloured for ever by one venal act.

II. damson [ˈdæmzən] noun

1. a small rosaceous tree, Prunus domestica instititia (or P. instititia), cultivated for its blue-black edible plumlike fruit and probably derived from the bullace

2. the fruit of this tree

This is what it looks like:

And this is how it's used in the book:

I bought satin shoes with little heels, and jade earrings that danced above the collars of my dresses and turned my eyes to the colour of damsons.

III. ju·ni·per [ jo'onipər ] (plural ju·ni·pers) noun


1. evergreen plant bearing cones resembling berries: an evergreen tree or bush with small purple cones resembling berries that are used in cooking and yield juniper oil.

Here's how it's used in the book:

By the glass door that led to the veranda, a small painted chest housed not only sake and vodka, but also the newly imported gin, that looked like water, smelled of juniper and tasted of sloe.

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's Monday and it's time for ... Borrowed Words

I have not posted any quotes for the longest time here but with this first 'Borrowed Words' in new year I hope to be more diligent about my weekly quote feature.
While reading  The Street of a Thousand Blossoms I came upon words that characterized one person's attitude towards reading and it is something completely different from my own, in fact, this sentiment is something I don't even fully comprehend in a way that living this way is unimaginable to me. I give you words borrowed from The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama:

In her mind, life was too short to

sit in classrooms, laboring over

words and numbers in

books. She preferred to live the

experiences herself, not just read

about them.

How about you? Do you agree, disagree or do you see the validity of it?

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

The Street of a Thousand BlossomsI heard many good things about this author, I finally got a copy of one of her books and then waited two years to actually read it :( And it still would probably have been unread, if it weren't for the girls in my bookclub who chose it as a monthly read.

The novel essentially tells the story of two orphaned brothers, Hiroshi and Kenji living in Tokyo and growing up under the care of their beloved grandparents. The readers follow the boy from their childhood, through the teenage years until their adulthood. In the thirty years much is happening. Tragedy strikes more than once, or even twice. Japan goes through tragic times together with the rest of the world fighting in WWII, millions of people die as a result of Hiroshima's and Nagasaki's nuclear bombing and in the midst of all that two boys grow up with dreams to become something more than just two more dutiful Japanese citizens.

As I have already mentioned in my bookclub, I fell absolutely and irrevocably under Gail Tsukiyama's spell. Her writing is exactly what I expect from the best literary fiction, it's very lyrical, with a lot of passages that I woud want to commit to memory and with wonderful characters. Why are they so wonderful, you ask? Because they are painfully human and very real. Not only Hiroshi and Kenji, but their friends, their grandparents and everyone they meet on the road of life, deal with life, death, loss, tragedy and happiness in their own ways and the more I got to read about them the more they seemed like people I'd love to know and the less like a characters on the pages of the book. Some are strong and determined to get what they want despite the circumstances, others just 'go with the flow' simply to survive and a few can't make it at all.

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms is not an action packed book, it's rather a panorama of people's lives in the midst and aftereffects of great tragedy. And because it's Japanese, the author imparts a lot of wisdom that I think I always like the most about Asian fiction. Most of it is simple but it has stronger impact on my own thoughts and actions than any self-help book out there. I know that not everyone will appreciate this novel for precisely the same reasons I loved it so much: it's not about one main plot so much as about the characters, relationships and dealing or not dealing with whatever may come. It's one of those books that once you get familiarized with the people in there, you pick your favorites, most intriguing or most tragic and then you just want the story to go on and on. You want to know what happens in their lives after you turn the last page. I am now ready to go to the bookstore and get every single book Ms. Tsukiyama penned.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On My Wishlist


On My Wishlist is a weekly meme hosted by Book Chick City, which will be posted every Wednesday. It allows us to share the books we haven't bought yet but are waiting to be bought and devoured. If you are anything like me then your wishlist is getting longer by the day! If you would like to take part and have your own 'On My Wishlist' post then you can find more info here.

 There are two books that I really, really would love to read. One is an upcoming release and another is an already known and widely read classic.

1. The Passage by Justin Cronin. I have already seen this ARC making rounds in the blogosphere and what I read sounds absolutely like the type of book I would love. Especially when Stephen King, my by far best authority on vampires, chaos and dystopian world, has this to say:

Every so often a novel-reader’s novel comes along: an enthralling, entertaining story wedded to simple, supple prose, both informed by tremendous imagination. Summer is the perfect time for such books, and this year readers can enjoy the gift of Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Read fifteen pages and you will find yourself captivated; read thirty and you will find yourself taken prisoner and reading late into the night. It has the vividness that only epic works of fantasy and imagination can achieve. What else can I say? This: read this book and the ordinary world disappears.
I have never asked for review copies but this time I am actually willing to beg (I would get on my knees if my humongous pregnant belly weren't in my way). Here's to hoping that the gods in Random House will listen :) !!!

2. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tina Nunnally. I have seen this book being reviewed in the past couple of months on a few favorite blogs of mine and I believe that it is a book that I read when I was 14 in Polish translation, fell in love with it and I properly forgot the title or the author :(. I have been looking for this book for years now and am currently getting ready to finally go to the store and buy it.

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Book List: What Made You Laugh?

Rebecca at Lost In Books came up with a meme that concerns lists. And I know that if you are a blogger and a book lover, you more likely than not love lists. I do! That's why I am so happy to announce the launch of this new meme that will have a new theme each week. Thank you Rebecca!

This week we are to list 3 Book Titles That Made Me Laugh Out Loud When I First Read Them. 

Considering that I actually do not laugh out loud all that much, especially when it comes to reading books, it was surprisingly easy for me to come up with three titles right away.

1. Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer. It was my very first Heyer's mystery and I just couldn't stop laughing or grunting in an effort to not annoy anyone with my laughter.

2. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore. I picked it up at my library one day when my daughter was participating in some library activity and I didn't bring my then current read with me. I started spitting my coffee right from the first page and finally had to stop reading because my efforts to contain the laughter where disturbing the library usual quietude.

3. Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore. It's number three but it's actually funnier than A Dirty Job. Before I read it, I'd had no idea that such a thing was even possible. Alas! With this book I didn't even try to not laugh out loud, no matter who got annoyed.

Friday, January 8, 2010

November & December Reads

I didn't post my November summary back in December because I only read 5 books which I figured didn't warrant a separate post. I decided instead to combine both months because I knew that my December reads wouldn't be all that great either :(

Here's what I read in November:

1. The Fourth Hand by John Irving

2. The Mosaic Crimes by Giulio Leoni

3. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

4. Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson

5. Nightwalker by Heather Graham

Audio Books

1. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

2. Willow by Julia Hoban

I was slightly disappointed with The Fourth Hand because Irving is one of my favorite authors of all time and this novel just missed the mark and didn't deliver the emotional punch I always expect from Irving's novels.

The best book of the month is The Looking Glass Wars. It's an absolutely wonderful and clever rendering of the known classic. Mr. Beddor managed to mix a new & refreshing outlook on what's really going on in the Wonderland with the absurd and bizarre atmosphere from Carroll's classic. And Gerard Doyle is officially on my list of favorite narrators, almost right up there with Jim Dale.

In December I read:

1. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

2. The Book Shopper by Murray Browne

3. The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson

4. Vital Signs by Robin Cook

5. The Devouring #2: Soulstice by Simon Holt

7. The Trickster by Muriel Gray

Audio Books:

1. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

2. Two for the dough by Janet Evanovich

The best read for December is hands down Soulstice. I am not a great fan of YA paranormal books but this series is awesome! Very scary with a smart plot and a great strong teenage girl for a heroine. Part one is The Devouring but if you happen to start with part two, it's okay. You won't get confused.

I was slightly let down by Child 44. It just didn't live up to my expectations of a fantastic thriller that were built upon the glowing reviews I read. It was okay but I feel I wouldn't have missed out on anything, had I not read it at all.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

BTT: Gifts

Here's what's in store today:

What books did you get for Christmas (or whichever holiday you may have celebrated last month)?
Do you usually ask for books on gift-giving occasions or do you prefer to buy them yourself?

For the first time since I was a kid, I have received a book for Christmas. And I got it from my own daughter (with the help from my husband). And it's also a book I had wanted to have since before its publication. Here's what I got:

Under the Dome: A Novel

I was very very happy to get it. I had been waiting for it for the longest time and now it's mine. As far as the second question goes, I probably don't ask for books as often as I should. Something tells me that even though everybody knows that I am a bookworm, they never buy me books because I never mention what books I want. I was very vocal about Under the Dome this holiday season and I got it, so if I drop more hints next time, the same will happen. Because my financial situation is dire to say the least right now, I simply can't afford to buy as many books as I used to. That's why I will now have to give straight answers when asked what I want for my birthday or next Christmas.

  What books did you get this holiday season?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Falling from the Moon by Lise Marinelli

It is now 2010 and I am still working my way through books I got at BEA'09 (Book Expo America) last May. Talk about procrastination! But I promised the authors I would read their books and would write about them, and no matter how late it is, I stick to my promise. Now, the reason it took me so long to read Falling from the Moon is that I got to meet Lise and the publishers of her book. I talked with the ladies (yes, Windy City Publishers are all female) and honestly fell under their spell. Everyone at the booth seeped excitement about Falling from the Moon and about their company. Ms. Marinelli and the girls from Windy City Publishers were such nice, easy going people that I dreaded not liking the actual novel. Having read the book, I am now only sorry I waited this long.

Falling from the Moon is a coming-of-age story in the '30s and '40s small Michigan town. We follow the lives of two families, the Harris's and the Conklin's, as the children grow up, the adults live with their secrets and almost everyone has a cross to bear. In the center of things is Adeline, an easy going and outspoken girl, a third child of George and Susie Harris and a best friend to Lucy Conklin. Adeline, or Addy as she's called by most of the people, knows how lucky she is to have loving parents, to live a fairly comfortable and worry-free life. She knows because she sees that her best friend Lucy and Lucy's older brother Jack have it much, much worse. Their mother died in childbirth, their father is an aggressive drunkard and they also have to take care of their youngest sister who is brain-damaged. Life is not easy for the Conklin children but they still manage to see life as glass half-full instead of half-empty. As Addy and Lucy grow up to be teenagers, relationships bloom. Lucy's in love with Earl, Addy's older brother and Addy shares a special connection with Jack. That is until Addy inadvertently looses Jack's trust, family tragedy strikes not once but three times and the kids all of a sudden have to grow up faster than they wanted.

I read Falling from the Moon in one day and was sorry that it ended so quickly. Usually, I am not a fan of growing-up, coming-of-age type of stories, but in this instance I have to say I was caught off guard. All the characters were very real, very believable and I could just see myself standing on the outskirts of the town, observing them all as the families struggle through life and try to make the best of what they have. I really liked Adeline, as a little girl and as a high school teenager ready to enter adult life. She is so full of life, she always knows what she wants and really pretty much never whines or complains. I was rooting for her even when her choices were horrible because I just somehow knew she would pull through. When I think of it, there really wasn't a single character in the book that I outright despised. There were a couple of candidates but in the end, nothing was black and white and this is probably what I like the most in any novel.

Lise Marinelli's writing style suited me perfectly. It's crisp, fresh and very straightforward. You won't find any convoluted, unnecessary 'page-fillers' here. Every page, every passage has a purpose, tells a story and leads a reader somewhere meaningful (I can't say where that is, it would spoil the book for future readers). The story is told by different narrators and I know that not all of you like that. Addy is the one that gets the most 'stage-time' but we also get to see the whole picture from other, important points of view. Personally, I like this style and when it's done well (as it is by Ms. Marinelli), I feel that it gives me more opportunities to know each character better. There really isn't anything that I could count as a minus in Falling from the Moon. Well, maybe that it was too short for me and the 'saga junkie' in me already sees the great potential for more stories about the Conklin's and the Harris's. I now hope and keep my fingers crossed that Lise will decide to turn Falling from the Moon into a true generational saga.

Lise Marinelli and Windy City Publishers will again be present during Book Expo America '10. If you are planning to attend, make sure you visit their booth to find out for yourself how nice they are.

Friday, January 1, 2010

TwentyTen Reading Challenge

I think this will be one of the most challenging reading challenge in 2010 but it sounds so interesting that simply couldn't pass it up. TwentyTen is hosted by Bart's Bookshelf. Here are the rules:

The aim is to read a total 20 books, over ten categories, in 2010.


Read 2 books from each category, making a requirement of 20 books total.

The categories are intended to be loose guidelines only, if you decide it fits, then it fits. (Apart from those marked **)

Categories marked with ** have tighter rules, and these must be followed.

Each book can only qualify for one category.

Crossovers with other challenges are allowed.

Books read from 01/01/2010 to 31/12/2010 are eligible.

I. Young Adult

Any book classified as young adult or featuring a teenage protagonist counts for this category.

1. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

II. T.B.R. **

Intended to help reduce the old T.B.R. pile. Books for this category must be already residents of your bookshelves as of 1/11/10.

1. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama (on my shelf since Sept. 2007)
2. The Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott (on my shelf since sometime in 2008)

III. Shiny & New

Bought a book NEW during 2010 from a bookstore, online, or a supermarket? Then it counts for this category. Second-hand books do not count for this one, but, for those on book-buying bans, books bought for you as gifts or won in a giveaway also count!


IV. Bad Blogger’s ***

Books in this category, should be ones you’ve picked up purely on the recommendation of another blogger count for this category (any reviews you post should also link to the post that convinced you give the book ago).


*** Bad Bloggers: Is hosted by Chris of
Stuff as Dreams are Made on.

V. Charity

Support your local charity shops with this category, by picking up books from one of their shops. Again, for those on book-buying bans, books bought for you as gifts also count, as long as they were bought from a charity shop.


VI. New in 2010

This category is for those books newly published in 2010 (whether it be the first time it is has been released, or you had to wait for it to be published in your country, it counts for this one!)

1. The Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
2. The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw

VII. Older Than You

Read two books that were published before you were born, whether that be the day before or 100 years prior!

1. Emma by Jane Austen (first published in 1816)

VIII. Win! Win!

Have a couple of books you need to read for another challenge? Then this is the category to use, as long that is, you don’t break the rules of the other challenge by doing so!


IX. Who Are You Again?

This one isn’t just for authors you’ve never read before, this is for those authors you have never even heard of before!


Up to You! (I am going for Romance, completely out of my comfort zone).

The requirements for this category are up to you! Want to challenge yourself to read some graphic novels? A genre outside your comfort zone? Something completely wild and wacky? Then this is the category to you. The only requirement is that you state it in your sign-up post.