Friday, January 30, 2009

Article by author Geraldine Brooks

This week I am reading (and greatly enjoying) People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I hope to have a review of this book completed over the weekend or early next week. I will also be giving away a copy of the book. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on faith by the author.

By Geraldine Brooks,
Author of People of the Book

"How come your novels always have vicars in them?"

The question came as part of the Q and A after a talk I'd given on my second novel,
March, whose protagonist is a minister with the Union Army during the Civil War. My first novel, Year of Wonders, had featured a clergyman leading a rural Derbyshire village through a year of plague. My questioner had no way of knowing it, but the novel I was just then finishing, People of the Book, also had a priest in it. And a rabbi. And an imam. Sort of like the set up for a bad joke. I hadn't consciously set out to write about religious people and yet they kept popping up in my fiction like uninvited guests at a party. I mumbled something about being attracted to stories of the past, when religious leaders loomed so large in people's lives, shaping fates and dictating behavior. But later I realized that answer was woefully incomplete.

My life has been one big oscillation between the attractions and the repulsions of faith. Raised Catholic in an old-fashioned, heady and sensuous Baroque style (incense, Angelus bells, lace mantillas, dripping wax and stained glass; the gleaming starburst of the monstrance and the litanies of Mary that taught me metaphor -- Lily of Valley, Mystic Rose, Star of the Sea) I had felt the disconnect very early between what the prayers said and how the people around me lived: "To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears" was an odd sort of prayer for merry little schoolgirls growing up in the sun-splashed, hedonistic paradise that was Sydney in the early 1970s. By the time I was a teenager I'd decided it was all a patriarchal plot to suppress women and thwart positive social change, buying people off with fairy tales about rewards in the next world instead of a decent life in this one. And I hated the way religion so often isolated people into little gnarly knots of Us and Them.

I was an atheist. So why did I pray? Whenever I heard and ambulance siren, the little thought balloon would go up: "Please help them." There was no recipient for this message, I knew that. Nor the other kind: "Thank you for this" -- sunshine, seascape, flower, glass of good wine, loaf of bread.

In 1984 I married a Jew and converted to his faith, not that he actually had one, being an even more strident atheist than I was. Most people were baffled by my decision: "You don't believe in God, why would you do that?" God, I explained, had nothing to do with it. It was all about history. Since Judaism is passed through the maternal line (a fact I admired for its hard headed pragmatism as well as its feminist implications) there was no way I was going to become the end of a line of tradition that had made it through Roman sackings, Babylonian exile, Spanish Inquisition, Russian pogrom and Shoah. To have a child who would not be a Jew was, to me, the same thing as adding one more loss to the toll of the Holocaust.

And I like the prayers: the mournful, sinuous melodies and the hard plosive consonants of Hebrew words that sounded like a desert wind slapping against a goat hair tent. They're my kind of prayers, mostly; little noticings of the good things in life, like the bread and wine, the first crescent of new moon, the dew on the grass in the morning. And I felt comfortable with the fact that in synagogue, what you bow to is not a deity, but a book.

Salman Rushdie once observed that there's a God-shaped hole in modern life. I fill it by prayers that go wafting off to no fixed address, and by writing novels about people who believe in a way that remains mysterious, elusive and fascinating to me.

©2008 Geraldine Brooks

Author Bio

Geraldine Brooks is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March and Year of Wonders and the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Previously. Brooks was a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. Born and raised in Australia, she lives on Martha's Vineyard with her husband Tony Horwitz, their son Nathaniel, and three dogs.

This article has been posted with permission from FSB Associates.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

Title: Gods Behaving Badly
Author: Marie Phillips
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: December 9, 2008
Format: Paperback, 292 pages
Age Group: Adult

Gods Behaving Badly is an amusing and irreverent look at the Greek gods in the twenty first century. Many of the gods are living together in a crowded house in London. The gods engage in infighting and sexual escapades even as their powers diminish. Alice and Neil are mortals who become manipulated by the gods. In Neil, the gods find an unexpected hero who does more than rescue Alice.

Gods Behaving Badly is a light, fun read. The personalities of the gods are consistent with the traditional stories even as they live in the modern world. While the gods barely see Alice and Neil as people (most think Alice has only gone on holiday when she does not show up to work for weeks), Phillips creates a more in depth picture of their relationship for the reader. Phillips writes engaging and humorous dialogue and has great descriptive passages about the underworld.

The edition I received has a 'Reading Group Guide' in the back which contains an article by the author as well as discussion questions. The book may not be suitable for all book groups however, as there are numerous sexual references and some language.

Thank you to Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelf for hosting a Hachette Book Group giveaway and having Gods Behaving Badly sent my way.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Modern Magic by Anne Cordwainer

Title: Modern Magic
Author: Anne Cordwainer
Publisher: Clotho Press
Publication Date: February 2009
Format: Paperback, 360 pages
Age Group: Adult

John and Liz Prospero are siblings from a powerful magical family. Liz has no magic while John is destined to become one of the most powerful sorcerers of his time. Together they must face one of the largest threats the magical community has ever known.

Modern Magic is a story cycle - essentially a novel made up of shorter stories. This format worked really well for this book as it allowed the author to take us through a large amount of time while only focusing on the most important events. Each story is clearly labeled with a title and general date. Narration often alternates between Liz and John and Cordwainer labels this clearly as well.

Each story is independent and yet they all work toward the larger conclusion of the book. The stories are generally short and fast paced with great dialogue. Alternating between John and Liz gives the reader a chance to get to know and understand both main characters. The early stories provide great insight into the actions of the characters during the stressful situations they must face in later stories.

I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to fans of fantasy stories. It was a quick and enjoyable read. To get a feel for the book check out some of the sample stories available on Anne Cordwainer's website.

Thank you to Melissa at Clotho Press for sending me an Advance Reader Copy of Modern Magic. It will be officially released in February 2009.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Upbound by Peter Hassebroek

Title: Upbound
Author: Peter Hassebroek
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.
Publication Date: March 6, 2008
Format: Paperback, 219 pages
Age Group: Adult

Upbound is the story of Karl Stevenson and family secrets. Karl is seven when his Uncle Douglas dies suddenly and Karl refuses to believe that he is really gone. When his babysitter makes a passing remark about reincarnation, Karl finds hope in the idea that his new baby brother may actually be the reincarnation of his uncle. Upbound follows Karl through his teen years as he tries to find out more about his uncle and his family.

Based on the description of Upbound on the author's website, I thought the book would really focus on the idea that Karl's little brother is really the reincarnation of Uncle Douglas. However, I found the book much more about Karl's relationship to his family and the secrets they kept from each other. The family is disjointed, with the father obviously favoring his younger son. The mother is almost a shadow of a character as she is mainly described by other characters. Rarely do we see her in action. Karl is intrigued by his younger brother, Samuel, in the beginning but they grow increasingly competitive over the years.

I struggled in the beginning with the author's writing. Sentences seemed to be too long and were often held together by multiple commas. These lengthy sentences were sometimes convoluted and difficult to follow. However, once I made it past the first section of the book either the writing smoothed out or I became accustomed to reading it. While the middle section of the story was engaging, I found the ending ultimately disappointing as I still had unanswered questions.

Overall, this novel was a good first effort although I believe that it would have benefited from some additional editing.

Thank you to the author, Peter Hassebroek, for sending me an autographed copy of Upbound. An excerpt from the novel can be found at

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

1st in Series Challenge 2009

J. Kaye is hosting the 1st in a Series Challenge for 2009 on her blog. The rules for this challenge are pretty simple:

* Anyone can join

* Read 12 books that are the first in a series between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009.

You can sign up for the challenge here.

I think this challenge will overlap very nicely with the 2009 Support Your Library Challenge since I'm anticipating a lot of my 'first in a series' books will be checked out from the library. I would love some suggestions for new series!

Here is my list:

1. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy Series Book 1)
2. The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (Darkest Powers Trilogy Book 1)
3. Sword Quest by Sabrina Vasta (Sword Quest Series Book 1)
4. Once Bitten by Kalayna Price (The Haven Series Book 1)
5. The Side-Yard Superhero by Rick D. Niece (Life in DeGraff Trilogy Book 1)
6. Ill Wind by Rachel Caine (Weather Warden Book 1)
7. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (The Buckshaw Chronicles Book 1)
8. Storm Front by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files Book 1)
9. The Mask of Ra by P. C. Doherty (Egyptian Mysteries Book 1)
10. Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks (The Genesis of Shannara Book 1)
11. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments Book 1)
12. Dhampir by Barb & J. C. Hendee (Noble Dead Book 1)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge

J. Kaye is hosting several reading challenges for 2009 on her blog. I have never participated in a reading challenge before but I am excited to do so this year. For the Support Your Library Reading Challenge, J. Kaye is allowing participants to choose their challenge level. The options are to read 12, 25, or 50 books checked out from your local library this year. To sign up for this challenge check out J. Kaye's sign up post here.

Although I have a huge list of books that I want to read this year and many of them are available through either my local library or the new expanded library system, I am only committing myself to 12 books this year due to limited reading time. If I do manage to check out and finish more than 12 books I will list them here as well.

2009 Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge List

1. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
2. The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (Darkest Powers book 1)
3. Timeline by Michael Crichton (audio CD)
4. Ill Wind by Rachel Caine (Weather Warden book 1)
5. Heat Stroke by Rachel Caine (Weather Warden book 2)
6. Chill Factor by Rachel Caine (Weather Warden book 3)
7. Undone by Brooke Taylor
8. The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong (Darkest Powers book 2)
9. The Mask of Ra by P. C. Doherty (Egyptian Mysteries book 1)
10. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments book 1)
11. Dhampir by Barb & J. C. Hendee (Noble Dead book 1)
12. The Ultimate Smoothie Book by Cherie Calbom

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: October 1, 2008
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Age Group: Young Adult

Deirdre Monaghan is a very talented young musician. She leads a pretty normal life until she meets Luke Dillon. Suddenly, she beings to see things other people can't see and her life takes on a dangerous twist.

Maggie Stiefvater's first young adult novel, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, is a great read. Stiefvater's characters are complex and intriguing. The dialogue flows easily, even when Luke is forced to be cryptic about his situation and his part in what is happening with Deirdre. Emotions run high throughout the book as Deirdre struggles to understand her gift of sight, her family's history with the fey, and the current threat posed by the faerie queen. Stiefvater also blends historical faerie lore with the technology of today, creating a sense of drifting between times.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the sequel, Ballad, which is scheduled for release sometime this year.

Thank you to Brooke Taylor for sending me Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception.