Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Top 10 Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2014

Given I have to read about 30 to 36 books from my TBR pile before I start getting new books, this list may seem to be somewhat overambitious. But here's a list of 2014 books I plan to read, either this year or next year.

1. The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman: This is the third and final (?) novel in his Magicians series, which some wag characterized as "Harry Potter says (12-letter expletive)." Both my daughter and I enjoy this series, which brings great emotional depth to tropes familiar to fantasy fans. It will be interesting to find out how the main character, banished from the magic kingdom, gets to come back, and we'll see if a wonderful character from the first book will, in some fashion, reappear.

2. The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness: I read the first two in the All Souls trilogy -- A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. Harkness, a history professor, lacks some of the polish of more experienced fantasy writers (her prose is a little to pedestrian), and she can get bogged down in the ripped-bodice-romance side of the plot involving a history professor-witch (of course) and her vampire lover. Otherwise, this saga is enthralling, both for the period detail (time travel in book two) and the complicated, intriguing secret-history plot involving races of witches, vampires, daemons and humans.

3. Lila by Marilynne Robinson: This novel is another follow-up to the Iowa community she wrote about in Gilead and Home. Gilead was a beautiful novel, but I haven't read Home yet. So I believe I should read Home before I read Lila. Also maybe Housekeeping.

4. The Gospel of Loki: I found this one one somebody's Waiting on Wednesday entry. Joanne Harris (Chocolat) relates the rise and fall of the Norse gods through the trickster Loki. Apparently, Loki gets the last laugh here, and the novel could be a lot of fun.

5. Raising Steam: Terry Pratchett's latest involves Moist von Lipwig, the hero of the Discworld novels Going Postal (one of my favorites) and Making Money, as well as some goblins and the invention of the steam engine. Well. Sometimes his books are more fun to listen to (narrated by the great Stephen Briggs) than to read, so we'll see if the library stocks the audio version.

6. Love and Treasure: Ayelet Waldman's novel concerns the Nazi looting of art treasures, the Holocaust, historical romance and other stuff. And why not?

7. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman -- I've never read anything by Hoffman, but this novel seems like a place to start. It's about a sideshow in Coney Island and about the owner's daughter, a strong swimmer who plays a mermaid. I liked The Tiger's Wife and The Night Circus, and this novel seems to be in the same kind of genre.

8. Updike: Adam Begley's biography is getting a lot of buzz among Updike aficionados. It's hard to imagine what more he can add to the voluminous writing Updike did about himself, but I'm willing to take a look. I visited Updike's childhood home in Shillington, Pa., last year; it's being renovated, but I did walk some of the streets where he grew up. Very hilly.

9. A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World: Competing pizza franchises rule the world? Rachel Cantor's novel sound like a fun read -- a real slice of life. Ha ha.

10. The Confabulist: A novel about Harry Houdini's life and death. Steven Galloway expands the genre of novels about magicians, and I'm ready to be taken in. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Teaser Tuesday: 1/14

For the Teaser Tuesday web meme:

Instructions for a Heat Wave by Maggie Farrell, page 141:

Aoife stands on the pavement, just outside the gate, turning to look one way up the street and then the other, as if she's fogotten where she's going. Oddly weighty the British money feels in her hand, her purse bursting open, holding too may currencies: dimes and two-pences, nickels and ten-pence pieces.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Reviews: 1/1/2014-1/12/2014

These reviews are all off my 2014 TBR lists; two are titles from 2013, and one is a paperback I had for a long time.

Nine Inches: Stories: Tom Perrotta remains one of my favorite authors. These stories hit on some of the same themes from his previous novels of suburban angst -- lonely people (teens and middle-aged men and women) who choose to do things that will come back to haunt them in an exurban universe that is more or less out to get them. These stories are funny, cannily told and frequently heartbreaking. In one, a lonely woman whose son won't come back to visit becomes drawn to a cult that makes girls go out in winter without jackets; in another, a pediatrician finds his mojo -- sort of -- playing the blues in the back of a guitar store. Some people get second chances; some regret chances missed; and some just opt out entirely. Perrotta is in fine form, seeding the green lawns and flower beds of despair. And no, the title has nothing to do with what you're thinking -- it's the distance middle-schoolers must stay from each other while dancing. CHALLENGES: What's in a Name Challenge (a book with a number spelled out), 52 Books in 52 Weeks, TBR Pile.

The Two Hotel Francforts: A Novel: David Leavitt also is one of my favorite authors. After large historical mural he brought forth in excellent "The Indian Clerk," he moves to a much smaller canvas with The Two Hotel Francforts. Like "Clerk," Francforts is a historical novels about exiles -- two couples living in limbo at hotels in Portugal after fleeing the Nazis in France. Leavitt probes deeply into his two main characters: Peter Winters and his wife, Julia. The Winterses fled to Paris so Julia could escape her New York family, but now their relationship, based on neuroses and boredom, threatens to unravel as they seek passage back to the States. Meanwhile, they encounter another expat couple -- the Frelengs -- with whom they become entangled. Leavitt's narrator tells the tale from the perspective of a time long after the events, and his occasional asides hinting of what has happened lend the tale a strong sense of foreboding. Once more, Leavitt explores human desires amid chaos and frailty. CHALLENGES: TBR Pile52 Books in 52 Weeks, European Reading Challenge (Portugal).

Brendan: Frederick Buechner followed up his classic "Godric" with this tale of a sixth-century saint, Brendan the Navigator, as told by his close friend and aid Finn. Buechner's faux-Gaelic prose makes the novel somewhat difficult to read at first, but once one gets used to the slightly off-kilter rhythms, the story emerges as one full of humor, fantasy and poignancy. Brendan, taken from his parents at age 1, is raised to be a priest just a generation after St. Patrick has brought Christianity to Ireland. Beliefs in local myths and gods mingle with Christian tenets, sometimes comically and sometimes tragically. After an adventure selecting a new Irish "king," Brendan decides to be a "blue martyr," setting off on two long sea journeys in search of a heaven-like country of the young. He encounters whales, icebergs and, perhaps, Florida. Brendan is a faithful Christian seeking God's plan for his life, even as he stumbles through wrath and regret. This poignant tale is about existential faith and grace and tries to suggest how we can find our own way as we travel the paths of saints. CHALLENGES: TBR Pile52 Books in 52 Weeks, European Reading Challenge (Ireland), Roof Beam Reader.

Currently reading: Instructions for a Heat Wave by Maggie O'Farrell
Next: & Sons by David Gilbert









Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Jan. 8

For the Waiting on Wednesday web meme:  Magician's Land by Lev Grossman. Grossman's first two novels, The Magicians and The Magician King, are highly intelligent riffs on the Harry Potter and Narnia novels with a strong contemporary attitude. A young man named Quentin is recruited to a school for young people with strong magical abilities, and his choices have repercussions in this world and in a world of magic he and his fellow students discover and later rule. He makes horrendous mistakes that have terrible costs, as do the other characters. What's more, the magical realm of Fillroy has its problems, too. The ending of the second book -- an exile and an explanation -- was so strong that I'm wondering where he has to go with the third book, but I'll read it eagerly when it comes out in August. Grossman makes you feel all the pain and suffering of his characters as well as the unexpected joys of being a magician.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Teaser Tuesday -- Jan. 7

For the Teaser Tuesday webmeme:

From: The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt, page 53:

"Of all the ironclad arguments I had made against her staying in Europe, theone she had the hardest time refuting was that she was Jewis. On tis point she had always been touchy -- and not because she was anti-Semitic."


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

TBR Pile books 2014

These are the books I plan to read for the 2014 TBR challenge at The Roof Beam Reader: http://roofbeamreader.com/2013/11/27/announcing-the-2014-tbr-pile-challenge/. I'll add some commentary on why I haven't gotten around to reading these titles yet. I also wil participate in the Take Control TBR Pile in March 2014, probably with books published in 2013. http://caffeinatedbookreviewer.com/2014/01/take-control-tbr-pile-march-2014-challenge.html

1. Swan's Way: I bought this volume several years ago, read the first few pages and then put it aside. I will come back to in in earnest, because this kind of reading is good for me and will count toward a Classics challenge and the Chunkster Challenge, in which I'm also participating. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/378309

2. Wolf Hall: I picked this up used at a bookstore in Asheville, N.C., and while the first few pages were inviting, I got distracted by classwork. Now is the time to finish it and add it to the Chunkster Challenge. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/317928695

3. Freedom: Like The Corrections before it, I procrastinated on reading this Franzen title, even though his first two books -- The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion -- are among my favorite novels. Maybe it's the bird-watching. I'm not a bird-watcher. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/548616620

4. Shelter -- This novel by Susan Palwick is a noted long SF novel that features a Mister Rogers AI. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/84904017

5. A Star in the Family -- I'm going to read a novel a yar by Irvin Faust, who was the head guidance counselor at my high school as well as a noted writer. I've owned this book at least since the 1980s. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1111271

6. Cryptonomicon -- Yes, it's incredibly long. But I read the Baroque Cycle, which served as a kind of prequel for this volume, and Neal Stephenson usually goes down easy. Plus my dad read it. 

7. Brendan -- Frederick Buechner's novel about an early Irish saint follows up his more well-known Godric. It's written in imitation of a directly translated Gaelic, which makes the novel somewhat difficiult to read. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/15365751 FINISHED 1/11/2014 

8. Terrorist -- John Updike is one of my favorite authors. This title split the critics and apparently has a controversial ending, but I want to read it anyway. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/62331102

9. Three Girls and their Brother -- I bought this well-received title by Theresa Rhebeck in 2008 at the Strand. It's supposed to be highly entertaining. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/216929780

10. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell -- Yes, at last I'm going to read this in the summer, because nothing says summer in Alabama like early 19th-century wizards. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/54372887

11. The Complete Novels of Flann O'Brien -- I have a volume that contains all the novels. The nice part of rading an omnibus volume like this is you can read one novel (out of order), read other stuff, then come back to it. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/154799614

12. The Colour of Magic -- This is Terry Pratchett's first Discword novel, and I'd like to read it before the latest one, Raising Steam, comes out.http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/9533162

Alternatives:

13. The Guy Under the Sheets -- I know it's weird, but Chris Elliott is one of my favorite writers. His spoof novels Shroud of the Thwacker and Into Hot Air were hilarious, and I've owned his kind of fake memoir for a couple of years. Time to read it now. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/778419269

14. The Man With the Wooden Hat: Jane Gardan's follow-up to the wonderful Old Filth; it promises to go deeper into the fascinating life of a well-traveled man who ends up a judge in Hong Kong.

15. Home: Marilynne Robinson has another book out that will function as a follow-up to her wonderful Gilead, so I think I should read this second book, which I've owned for quite awhile.