Friday, October 29, 2010

The Language of Trees by Illie Ruby

The book synopsis from the author's website:

The Language of Trees: A NovelGripping, suspenseful, magical, and richly atmospheric—a story told from several distinct and unforgettable viewpoints—Ilie Ruby’s haunting debut novel, THE LANGUAGE OF TREES is exhilarating fiction that announces the arrival of a truly extraordinary storyteller. 
In the sprawling lake region of Canandaigua, New York—a place where some families have secrets they would do anything to keep—little Luke Ellis disappeared. Now, over a decade later, his teenage sister, Melanie, has vanished, abandoning her infant son. As the frantic search for Melanie ensues, Grant Shongo, a Seneca healer, finds himself caught up by a spirit that draws him into a world where nature and the spiritual realm are intertwined and nothing is as it seems. It is only with the help of his childhood love, Echo O'Connell, that the mystery of the Ellis children can be put to rest. But before the healing must come the forgiveness. Written in a magic realist vernacular, THE LANGUAGE OF TREES examines the tremulous bonds between parents and children, lovers and friends, and restless spirits—both living and not. It is a story that will make you believe that the spirits of those we love watch over us, that people can heal each other, and that if you can truly forgive yourself, the world will return to you all of your forgotten dreams. 

I don't know what it is but 2010 has so far been producing a wonderful array of debut writers. I'm obviously not complaining, I'm actually loving it. For an avid reader like me, it's always great to experience a work of such talent as Ilie Ruby's. And to read The Language of Trees by Ms. Ruby, it truly is an experience, and one that I will not soon forget.

Simply put, The Language of Trees took me by surprise and in the end I realized I cared for the story, for the people in it more than I had thought I would when I began reading the novel. I admit that the beginning was a little difficult for me to get get through but I didn't have to wait long to be rewarded. Only after fifty pages or so, the story took off and took me to unexpected places. I was rooting for pretty much every character in there because Ms. Ruby somehow made them all important in their own right, just like in real life, everyone you encounter on your path is significant in one way or another even if you're not aware of it.

There's Melanie, the former drug addict who is not physically present for most of the novel but the more she's searched for by her mother and her life partner, Lion, the more I got to know her, care for her and feel for her pain. Lion is an altogether different story. He might very well be my most favorite person from the book (although there are quite a few strong contenders), mostly because his love for Melanie is almost supernatural, it's so strong and he hurts so much when he can't find her. I won't even tell you how many times I've come close to having my heart broken. I won't describe every character here for you even though I'm tempted because they are all worth the time and attention, I just don't want to spoil your reading.

Characters are not the only things worth talking about in The Language of Trees. I admit that I am a fan of magic realism and I was thrilled to find elements of it in Ms. Ruby's novel. Especially because it was pulled off really well and it was convincing, which is not an easy feat in my opinion. The reference and big influence of Native American, specifically Senecan, mythology on the story is yet another great part of the book. I somehow can never get enough of Native American traditions and culture, they hold that special mystic atmosphere for me which always makes a book richer if introduced adequately. Last but not least, the writing is simply magical. I found myself contemplating individual sentences and paragraphs many times before I would move on to the next one. I also wrote down many of them because I want them committed to my memory. Quite a few thoughts and observations there moved me deeply and they might ultimately be the reason that I will one day want to reread this novel.

Special thanks to Ilie Ruby for sending me a copy of her book for review.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lonesome Dove Readalong - Chapters 31-40

Amy from My Friend Amy provided this week's questions. She is also loving the novel. I am not loving it yet, but I do like it more and more with each week and even if I do not fall head over heels for it at the end of the readalong, it will have been worth it.

As usual, you can read the answers to the questions that Leah and Melanie gave also on My Friend Amy's blog. Mine are below.

1 )Gus starts off this section, saying, "Here is where we all find out if we was meant to be cowboys." when Deets predicts a storm. Newt later observes that the only person who hadn't performed well in the storm was Sean. Did you predict at this point Sean would be the first casualty? How did his death impact you? What did you think of the way Gus and Call handled it?

I had no idea that Sean was going to die, especially so suddenly and such a cruel death. But after it happened, I started thinking that maybe the reason McMurtry introduced the brothers in the novel was so he could use one of them (who knows maybe Alan will be next) as the first casualty, someone the reader doesn't care about enough to be turned off by such a quick death. Sean seemed to me sort of a 'collateral damage' if you will.

2)Elmira and Loraine are both traveling on their own in the company of men. What do you think about the differences in their two situations? Which situation would you rather be in?

Unquestionably, I'd choose Lorena's situation. The people she is around know her, she feels comfortable around at least one of them, Gus and I honestly don't think they would hurt her. Elmira, on the other hand, has really gotten herself in quite a situation here. She now owes a debt to the guy who wants to marry her and killed another for Elmira's protection. I have no idea how she'll get out of it but there's some dangerous times awaiting her, in my opinion.

3)Roscoe is a bit pathetic out looking for July on his own when he runs across Louisa Brooks who proposes marriage in no time. What did you think of this unique character of Louisa and Roscoe's reaction to her? 

I think the whole thing is hilarious! Although I was a little bit worried there that Roscoe will stay with Louisa and my plans for him fitting right in with Gus and Call would come to naught. As of right now there's still some chance, lol! I do think that they would make a fun couple, though.

Some final thoughts: I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I'm developing a dislike towards Jake. He's really kinda lazy, he whines a lot and comes across as a phony person altogether.

Friday, October 22, 2010

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

Book synopsis from the publisher's, Other Press, website:

By Fire, By WaterLuis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands.  But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.
When I first heard of By Fire, By Water, I was instantly drawn in and knew I needed to read it. I finally got to meet Mr. Kaplan at this year's BEA and seeing how nice of a person he is made me want to read his debut historical novel even more. (I know, I know, the decision to read a book shouldn't be contingent upon a personality of a writer, but if you're honest with yourself, it really does make a difference). But then I started to worry a little, thinking what would happen if I didn't like the book, if it didn't live up to the hype it was already getting. let me just tell you this (and I'm sure for most of you, it's not a surprise), I needn't have worried at all.

I got immersed in the story of Luis, in the story of Migdal, and in the intrigues and cruelties of Inquisition, completely and irrevocably. What a breath of fresh air By Fire, By Water is! Not only is it historically accurate (as far as I could tell and confirm) but it's most importantly told in a convincing and interesting way, especially the parts that cannot of necessity be ever confirmed to be accurate or not. This book reads like a best adventure novel (even though it isn't, per se) with action flowing smoothly and everything falling into place at the right time. But I was most surprised at the emotional value By Fire, By Water has. I admit to not having read many books on Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition or on the ordeal of the Jewish people in said times. Mr. Kaplan has definitely sparked a fire in me to keep reading on and to find out as much as possible. And isn't that the ultimate purpose of historical fiction? For me, it is. If after I'm finished with a book I'm pulled into the world the author created and intrigued enough to find out more, I consider the book the ultimate success.

Mitchell Kaplan's By Fire, By Water is such a success. It's a perfect historical novel for both the readers who just want to try this genre out and the 'old pros'. There isn't a dull moment there, the writing is lyrical and almost every sentence engaging. It's truly a book worthy of a spot in your personal libraries.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

September Reads

I have to say that I exceeded my own reading expectations  in September. Nowadays, I don't have so much time to read as I used to even a year ago, so eight books in one month is a pleasant rarity. The fact that most of the books were fun, quick and engaging stories didn't hurt.
The Language of Trees: A Novel

The best read this month belongs to The Language of Trees by Illie Ruby (the review is coming up soon).It's a surprinigly beautiful debut novel with elements of magic realism and I can't wait to read more from Ms. Ruby.

The King's Mistress: A Novel
Unfortunately, there was also a disappointing read this month, King's Mistress. In the end I liked the book, it wasn't horrible at all but the main character, Alice was just way too sugary sweet for me, as opposed to the real life Alice who was supposedly an evil, conniving character disliked by everyone. I think the book would have been so much more interesting and intriguing, had Ms. Campion retained some of the darker qualities of Alice.

1. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

3. Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini

4. King's Mistress by Emma Campion

5. The Palace (St. Germain novel) by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

6. The Alibi Man by Tami Hoag

7. The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller

8. The Language of Trees by Illie Ruby

As a side note, I started hosting another blog, Insanity Tested Daily, dedicated to all the turmoils and joys of my personal life. I'm doing that mainly because I want this blog to return to its original purpose, reading and books only.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lonesome Dove Readalong - Chapters 21 -30

This weeks questions are provided by Melissa from Gerbera Daisy Diaries and if you'd like to see her answers, as well as Amy's and Leah's, please visit My Friend Amy.

1) Xavier issues an impassioned plea to Lorena to stay in Lonesome Dove and marry him. Do you think his motives are sincere? Or is he doing it for business? Also, here is another chance for Lorena to bypass the cattle drive and go directly to San Francisco (which we are to believe is her goal), but yet she turns it down. Why?

I don't know what to think about this whole scene. It actually was very surprising and a little bit confusing that Xavier reacted so strongly to Lorena's leaving. I suppose his motives may have been sincere and he simply never really expected Lori to leave. That's probably why he waited until the last minute. His crying and begging were probably due to the overall shock at the whole situation. Let's face it, the cattle crew's lives are not the only ones changing. Once they all leave, Lonesome Dove will never be the same either and Xavier isn't very partial to change. I want to believe he did care for Lorena but never had to reveal his feelings since she was staying right under his roof and he believed that it would never change. As far as Lorena's decision goes, I think it's partly due to her not wanting to take any more chances with men promising her better future (she did get burned a couple of times there) and part her unwillingness to possibly spend the rest of her life with a man she wasn't physically attracted to (she is a young, beautiful woman and has a right to try and choose who she wants to be with).

2) We are shown Newt’s inexperience and youth when he asks, “how far is it, up north?” To which Captain Call responds, “it’s a ways farther than you’ve been.” But the reader is privy to Call’s internal thoughts that reflect more directly on Gus:
It struck Call that they should have educated the boy a little better. He seemed to think north was a place, not just a direction. It was another of Gus’s failings – he considered himself a great educator, but yet he rarely told anyone anything they needed to know.
What do you think about Call’s assessment of Gus? Any thoughts?

I don't really have many thoughts on this one. Both Gus and Call are sort of enigmas to me still and I don't know what to think of either of them, although it seems as if they are perceived by others, specifically residents of Fort Smith, as some king of legendary and dangerous Rangers. I guess Call feels disappointed with Gus a little and maybe a little tired of him as well. This journey to Montana is a big undertaking and call may just be feeling stressed and frustrated.

3) We finally see the flip side of Jake’s story– Ft. Smith, Arkansas – what do you think of July? Roscoe? Elmira? Peach?

First of all, I think this part of the book was actually pretty funny, especially the scene were Peach wrings the rooster's neck while telling July to go and look for Jake. I guess, if nothing else, this was the convincing factor for July. I didn't warm up much to Elmira. I think she's selfish, despite what had happened to her before she married July. It still didn't give her the right to deceive and use him the way she did and then abandon her own son in search for her own adventure. Personally, I like Roscoe the most, I think he will catch up with the crew and fit right in with Gus and Call, Gus especially.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lonesome Dove Readalong - Chapters 11 -20

This weeks questions are provided by Leah from Amused By Books and if you'd like to see her answers, as well as Amy's and Melissa's, please visit My Friend Amy.

1) Obviously Texas and Mexico border each other and we've learned that Call and Gus used to be Rangers. Their job was to control the borders. Any Mexican caught stealing horses or cattle on the Texas side was hung or shot, yet they are going down to Mexico to gather their horses and cattle for the drive to Mexico. Newt observes this juxtaposition and so do we? Thoughts?

I didn't really think much of it, other than the obvious observation on a double standard of their morals, although I'm not sure it even goes that deep. This book being my first venture into the world of 'wild, wild West', I think that maybe this is just how life operated then. Mexicans stole from Texans and vice versa, Mexicans got hanged for it if caught and vice versa. I believe it was Jake who noticed that death would likely be his fate if he escaped to Mexico. The only thought of mine worth mentioning is maybe on Newt himself. Because he's the only one who did notice that what they were doing was punishable by death if done by a Mexican, it speaks volumes on his youth and innocence and how he views the world around him. I hope that good things await this boy.

2. Call has to go gather men to work on his cattle drive. We get a glimpse into home life in Texas. Some families are eager to give up their eldest sons to have less mouths to feed and some are doing much better. What did you think of these glimpses?

Mostly, these glimpses just created for me a very sad and gloomy picture of the South. I know that there must be a place teeming with life somewhere there but it's hard for me to imagine it. All I can think of is emptiness, a couple of the families, some with more than others but not necessarily rolling in dough either, all just existing but not really living.

3. Lorena will do anything to get out of Lonesome Dove, even if means being the sole woman on the cattle drive to Montana. Would you have done the same? Thoughts on what might be up ahead for Lorena?

 I definitely would have done the same. She really has nothing to look forward to in Lonesome Dove, especially when pretty much all that matter will leave. Life has somehow just happened to Lorena so far. It's about time she started directing what comes next. She will definitely be a source of dissent because every man in there wants her and will probably think nothing of wanting to 'have a poke' since she is a prostitute after all. There are also a couple of them who are in love with Lorie and that may turn into some dangerous situations.

Final thoughts:

I am liking this book more and more, a lot better than last week. I am genuinely looking forward to what happens next and am rooting for a few characters there. Something tells me this this novel will be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I know it's crazy but I have another blog.

As the title implies, I'm perfectly aware of the madness of this undertaking but i thought, what the hell, my life is crazy and busy, it might as well get crazier!

Anyway, the blog is called Insanity Tested Daily and it will be about my crazy life, the glimpses of which I've shown here on this blog over the two years. I want Reading Extravaganza to be exclusively about books and reading (its original purpose, by the way) but I also want a separate place to record my personal life with my struggles, current and the ones to come, my joys and sorrows, surprises and disappointments, hence the new blog.

I have only written one post, haven't had a chance to really beautify it so far, but please do visit if you have a spare minute. I'd love your company.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm

Heart of Lies: A NovelBook synopsis from author's official website:
Leo Hoffman was born with a gift for languages. When his dreams for the future are destroyed by World War I, the dashing young Hungarian attempts to use his rare talent to rebuild his life, only to find himself inadvertently embroiled in an international counterfeiting scheme. Suddenly Leo is wanted across the European continent for a host of crimes, including murder. Left with no options, he must escape to Shanghai with his lover, carrying with him a stolen treasure that could be his salvation . . . or his death warrant. But the gangsters who control the decadent Asian city have no intention of letting him outrun his past. And when the Japanese invade, one wrong move could cost Leo Hoffman everything he holds dear.
An epic tale of intrigue, passion, and adventure, Heart of Lies heralds the arrival of a remarkable writer.
Heart of Lies truly is a page-turner. Which is sometimes difficult to achieve when you write a historical fiction novel. But Ms. Malcolm makes it look easy and natural.  I don't mean to take anything from debut authors but a lot of times that very first novel seems like a test ride and they improve as they write more books. Heart of Lies however doesn't read like a debut at all. It reads instead like a book written by a seasoned writer. The pace and action are flawless, everything falls into place at the right time and there is enough difficult and sad things happening to make the story of Leo's life believable. Leo Hoffman is a main character and also the most likable in my opinion. Driven by the want of revenge, he gets himself in life-threatening trouble that will shape his whole life. But he also finds love that will be his saving grace and a force to keep going and not giving up. Despite some of his bad choices, I liked him because of his capacity for loving another human being so much. I know that it probably is more a romantic notion than anything else and real life rarely works this way, but it was just pure fun to let myself be immersed in the world of Leo's complicated, yet somehow chivalric feelings.

The action of Heart of Lies takes place between the two World Wars, mainly in Shanghai. This was an interesting aspect of the novel because I don't know much about the political and historical scene in that part of the world, in that period.  I enjoyed reading about the decadence, the lavish parties and the life of the rich that in reality turned out to be so fragile in the face of an impending war. All and all, there wasn't much in this intriguing tale of love, adventure and espionage that I didn't enjoy, if anything at all. If you're looking for some fun reading, with a little bit of tears, nail-biting, anticipation of what's coming next and a good look into history, then Ms. Malcom's Heart of Lies is the one book you should try. And the best part is, there is book two, Heart of Deception coming out soon.

Special thanks to Nicole B. from The Book Report Network for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lonesome Dove Readalong - Chapters 1-10

Amy from My Friend Amy, together with Leah from Amused by Books and Melissa from Gerbera Daisy Diaries came up with this idea of reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry together over a prolonged period of time. Lonesome Dove is quite a chunkster and since I've had it on my shelf for a long time, I decided it was a great opportunity to jump on the wagon and finally get myself to read this classic. I think the fact that we'll actually be discussing what we read is what appeals to me the most because since I'm going to read a 900+ book, I might as well get something out of it. Anyway, today is the first discussion and if you'd still like to join, My Friend Amy's post has all the details. Amy is also the one to host the first discussion. Her, Leah and Melissa's thoughts on the first 10 chapters can be read in that post.

Lonesome Dove

I decided to answer the questions in my own post. Here it is:

Have you read Lonesome Dove before or watched the movie? If so, why are you interested in revisiting the story? If not, why read it now?

I have never read Lonesome Dove, nor have I watched the movie. To be honest, I am not particularly drawn to western types of books or movies. Then why read this one? Because it is an American classic and I like to consider myself well-read (I know, it's a little bit conceited and not humble at all but it's fun nonetheless) but in order to be at least 10% true to that statement, I think Lonesome Dove is the one book in the western genre that has to be read, if I never read another one in my life.  I know I'm not making much sense. Lonesome Dove is a must-read and that's that.

The beginning feels like a strong set-up of character. Are you particularly drawn to any of the characters and their story?

The beginning feels so strong in setting-up of characters that it actually borders on boring, in my opinion. I want to feel drawn or interested in at least one of the characters but so far I couldn't care less about any of them. I know I wrote that Lonesome Dove must be read in my previous paragraph, but the first 100 pages didn't feel particularly inviting. I really hope it gets better.

What do you like best or feel is strong in the story so far?

Unfortunately, nothing so far. If it weren't a classic and if I didn't commit myself to the readalong, I probably would put Lonesome Dove aside for some later (much later) time.

Melissa, Leah and Amy are truly enjoying this book, a lot, lot more than I am so I take it my view might be a little twisted :). Certainly don't take my word for it and get discouraged if you ever want to read Lonesome Dove, but rather read what the girl have to say about it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How do you guys do it?

As some of you probably noticed, I haven't been posting much on this blog of mine. There are a couple of reasons and I will explain. Mostly, it's because my eight-month-old son is quite a rambunctious boy, to say the least. I'm going to be honest and state that I didn't expect him to be quite so active and so, so different from my girl who, as an infant, was at least sleeping through the night at Aleksander's age. But, they do say that boys are completely different creatures than girls.

Anyway, my energy, my attention and most of my time goes to Aleksander and to Karolina, who is now in sixth grade and needs my love and attention, which is actually quite easy to give because she is an easy girl to love. And thank goodness, she loves her brother and her brother adores her, he actually goes crazy happy at the sight of her, every day she comes home from school. I don't want to make you gag people, but it really makes my heart sing when I see these two together.

Needless to say though, I hardly have time to read and have to choose nowadays between reading time and blogging time. it is still an easy choice for me. Reading remains the love of my life and as much as I enjoy blogging, it's not my first choice to spend the precious few moments I have for myself.

All I have written above brings me to the main point of this post. It looks like I am pregnant again!!! I don't want to of course feed you TMI, but trust me when I say I tried my darnest to not to get pregnant. Now, I have not gone to the doctor's yet because I currently have no insurance and am in the process of getting one (which trust me is not a pleasant experience), so no blod tests have been done but four pregnancy tests have been positive. All I can say I suppose you can't cheat destiny and it's just meant to be. Doesn't make it easier on me though. I am in total shock and I am scared shitless of what's coming.

Hence the title of this post. I know that a lot of you out there are wonderful moms who have more than two children, some of you may even have had them one right after another and I also know that somehow you manage to survive. Can you tell me your secret? I know that I may sound as one sad human being, but I honestly do not know anyone in my environment who could give me any support or advice or encouragement. My wonderful sister (bless her heart) barely manages her two little buggers and her husband and her job, my parents don't even know that I'm pregnant yet and my relationship with them is such that as a 33-year-old woman and a mother of two, I am afraid to break the news to them because they will be mad as cows when they find out. Isn't that ridiculous?!!I know it is but it doesn't lessen my anxiety one bit. I am even nervous to go and talk to my midwife because the first thing from her mouth when I had Aleksander was to for me to make sure I find an effective contraceptive method so  I wouldn't get pregnant again. I really have nowhere to turn to just talk and be happy that another living being, just as precious as my two children, is going to join us. Which by the way begs the question: What sick and sad world do we live in (or at least I live in) where news of pregnancy is no longer happy news, no longer a reason for celebration of a miracle that it is?! Rather it makes me feel that it would be easier to announce an illness than another pregnancy, it would get me more emotional support and offers of help. 

I am not sure that I'm making much sense here but all in all, I just would like to hear from all you moms out there and all you friends that I know I have in the blogosphere. I value your opinion and even by reading your blogs, I know that what's coming is doable without going insane if only I have some friendly souls around me.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Alice Knew giveaway results.

What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper
The giveaway ended and the winner is chosen.

What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen goes to:

Melanie !!!!!!!


Also, thank you to all of you who visited my blog and participated in this giveaway. There will be more of them coming up soon, so I hope you'll get to visit again.