Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Chocolate Lady's First Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop 

Welcome to the new Book Blogger Hop!
If you want schedule an upcoming post, click here to find the appropriate prompt question. To submit a question for a Book Blogger Hop, fill out this form.

What to do:

1. Post on your blog answering this question:

  This week's question is submitted by Elizabeth @ Silver's Reviews is Can you pass by a book store without stopping in?

2. Enter the link to your post in the linky list below (enter your Blog Name and the direct link to your post answering this week’s question. Failure to do so will result in removal of your link).

3. Visit other blogs in the list and comment on their posts. Try to spend some time on the blogs reading other posts and possible become a new follower.  The purpose of the hop is to give bloggers a chance to follow other blogs, learn about new books, befriend other bloggers, and receive new followers to your own blog.

 My Answer:

The truth is for me, it really depends. I have more of a hard time not stopping at a window of a book store (unless I'm in a hurry to get somewhere, of course) than I do going into one. Used book stores that have specialties that aren't of interest are the easiest to not go into as well as pass by without stopping to look into the window. Shops I know well and pass by often, are also easy to not stop into, but I do slow my steps down when passing by their windows (and about half the time do have to pause to see if there's anything new). But put me somewhere that I've never been to (or seldom get to) and I'd be hard pressed to not stop by the window and at least have a short wander around.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Reading of Maggie O'Farrell's Novels

One of my favorite authors: Maggie O'Farrell

There are very few authors I find compelling enough to want to read every one of their books. One of those few is Maggie O'Farrell. I first discovered O'Farrell's work with her fourth novel, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. This intriguing book about an elderly ex-mental patient released to the care of her niece is somewhat of a mystery novel that includes elements of a coming-of-age story.

After enjoying that book, I immediately went to find her earlier works. The first one I found was her second novel, My Lover's Lover. The mystery in this one borders on being a ghost story. In this book a woman soon finds out the room she's moved into was previously occupied by her roommate's girlfriend, the same man that she's now involved with.

The next book I read was O'Farrell's third novel, The Distance Between Us. Here two people running from their pasts - one in Hong Kong, and another in London - come together in a small B&B in a small Scotland town, where secrets are hard to keep.

When I found out that O'Farrell's debut novel was out of print, I despaired in ever getting a copy. Imagine my delight when I saw a used copy of After You'd Gone in the window of a small Oxfam shop in London. This story revolves around Alice, and the book opens with the narrator talking about the day she tried to commit suicide. That grabbed me right away, and I soon realized why O'Farrell's writing became so popular.

Waiting for her fifth work, The Hand that First Held Mine, was somewhat frustrating, but well worth the wait. This story is about two people, separated by 50 years, and how their lives collide. Here too, O'Farrell inserts many mysterious elements. Be warned, however - this book had me weeping like a baby at the end, and that had nothing to do with its winning the Costa Prize!

Finally, along came Instructions for a Heatwave, which many might consider her greatest work to date (although I'm still partial to Esme Lennox, myself). Here O'Farrell follows a whole family as they go looking for Robert Riordan who in the middle of the 1976 heat wave, walks out the door and disappears. As they follow him back to his hometown in Ireland, the mysteries of his past as well as each of the members of his family come to the fore. This is by far O'Farrell's most complex work, with secrets coming from every angle.

As you can see, O'Farrell likes a mystery almost as much as she likes a romance. What makes her writing so interesting is that she steeps her characters in secrets, which makes her readers compelled to know more about them better. I just love how she builds a story around these fascinating people, and allows us to delve into the darker corners of her character's lives. This combination, even when there's a romance or love affair involved, is what keeps O'Farrell firmly in the contemporary, literary fiction genre, without ever stepping into the "chic-lit" category. This is also why I've already ordered my copy of her next book, This Must Be The Place, which is due out in mid-July!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Paths of love and sorrow

An Undisturbed Peace by Mary Glickman

In 19th century America, as the government worked to disenfranchise the country's native tribes and push them off their lands, waves of immigrants came in their wake, hoping to make their dreams of freedom and prosperity into a reality. Mary Glickman's latest novel follows one such immigrant, a Jew, Abrahan Bento Sassaporta Naggar who leaves London, for the new world to work for his uncle as a traveling peddler. Through his travels, Abe encounters Marian, the beautiful Cherokee woman also known as Dark Water. While Abe falls for the mysterious Marian, she is still in love with the black man who was her parent's slave. This trio of personalities comes together on the backdrop of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which lead to the infamously shameful "Trail of Tears."

What I find interesting about Glickman is that she likes to find the connections between Jews and other population groups in America's history. Here she brings Jews in contact not only with Native Americans, but also with black slaves. Since the Jews are a people with a long history of suffering and oppression themselves, Glickman finds these connections to draw certain parallels. In this novel, Glickman draws comparisons between the injustices leveled against the Indian nations in America with Jews chased out of their homes from antiquity through modern times. However, Glickman doesn't connect the dots for the reader herself, but rather allows the reader to read this into the narrative. In this way, she explains why Abrahan is so easily able to sympathize with the plight forced upon these native people.

More importantly, rather than focusing fully on just the historical aspects, Glickman brings us a cast of characters which demonstrate this, and develops a story which combines human interest with a part of the past that most readers know little about. The real magic here is how Glickman makes each of these characters so unique and puts them into highly plausible situations, so that we can witness their reactions and then cannot help but feel for them. Placing them all on this monumental backdrop only heightens the story of Abrahan's love for Dark Water/Marian, together with her suffering surrounding the slave Jacob. Of course, just as much as Abrahan realizes that a life with Marian is impossible, so too does the Cherokee nation forbid members of its tribe to intermarry with black slaves.

This is one of those rare examples of when a historical novel is the perfect balance between fact and fiction. This is particularly difficult to do when part of the past is lesser known to the public in general. Often authors who write about such eras give into a temptation to be overly explanatory, which can feel both patronizing and is usually boring. Glickman avoids this, for the most part, with only one section of the narrative being a little slow going early on in the story. However, once you get past that, you'll find that Glickman melds the reality of the times with these beautifully developed characters into a plot that feels increasingly compelling. Furthermore, I was especially pleased that Glickman was able to bring this novel to a very emotional conclusion that felt both honest and heartfelt, as well as perfectly in character. For all this, I think this book deserves a healthy four and a half stars out of five, and I can warmly recommend it.

"An Undisturbed Peace" by Mary Glickman, published by Open Road Integrated Media, for release February 2, 2016, will be available from, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the author for sending me an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

Saturday, January 9, 2016



Sourcebooks Launches Reader Voting Campaign to Grant Money to Community Bookstores

NAPERVILLE IL (January 8, 2016) — Independent publisher Sourcebooks announces the “Readers, Recommend Your Bookstore” campaign, which will give grant money to three nominated bookstores. The “Readers, Recommend Your Bookstore Campaign” is inspired by the phenomenal support booksellers have given The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, which was selected as the #1 Indie Next Great Read for January 2016

Katarina Bivald’s international bestselling debut novel, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, is a charming, big-hearted story about the joy of books and the transformative power of community bookstores. 

“Bookstores are the heart and soul of their community and have enormous impact on readers’ lives,” said Dominique Raccah, founder and CEO of Sourcebooks. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend inspired us to create a campaign that will not only give back to a few deserving bookstores, but hopefully highlight all the many wonderful bookstores that service communities across the country.”

Anyone can nominate their favorite bookstore at Sourcebooks will award the winning bookstore with a $3,000 prize; two additional bookstores will each receive a $637 prize (the population of Bivald’s fictional Broken Wheel, Iowa). In addition to bookstores receiving prizes, weekly giveaways for those who nominate will be held throughout the campaign. Voting began January 4, and runs until February 19, when the winning bookstores will be announced.

And don't forget to read my review of this book here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Nothing Lost in Translation

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katrina Bivald

Long ago, there were people like Selma Lagerlöf and Astrid Lindgren. More recently, we have the likes of Stieg Larsson, Fredrik Backman, Jonas Jonasson, and Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, among many others. All of these people are Swedish authors whose works are increasingly popular, not only in their original Swedish, but perhaps even more so in their English translations. While this is hardly an exhaustive list, I think we should now add Katrina Bivald.

This is precisely the type of writing and story I just adore - particularly when you feel immediately that nothing could possibly have been lost in translation. Bivald brings us this charming tale of Sara, the quiet, young Swedish bookworm, who befriends Amy, an old woman living in a tiny outpost in Iowa with whom she has been corresponding. When Sara's job at her bookshop ends when the store closes, she decides to take Amy up on her offer to visit. However, when Sara arrives in Broken Wheel, the town seems all but deserted, because practically everyone is at Amy's funeral. Normally, this would have ended the Sara's visit, however normal isn't a word that suits either Broken Wheel or Amy. Furthermore, no one in Broken Wheel wants "Amy's Guest" to leave, and Sara doesn't really want to go back to what's left of her normal in Sweden just yet.

All this sets the stage perfectly for a lovely little romp, which Bivald intersperses with a carefully selected sampling of some of the charming letters that Amy wrote to Sara. Using this mechanic we get to hear from the deceased Amy, and get background on both the town and the woman without having some other character tell fill Sara in (which would have been ultimately boring). Since Sara knows so much about Broken Wheel through these letters, it isn't at all unusual that she feels (somewhat) comfortable being around them. However, Bivald's description of the uneasiness that Sara does feel, works perfectly with her shy character. That, of course, explains why the town warms to her so quickly. I would even go so far as to say that with this book, Bivald has orchestrated a lovely little dance between Sara, Amy's memory and the town of Broken Wheel. For that, she can unashamedly take a well-deserved bow.

Essentially, this novel is something of an extended love story. Bivald shows us how the town loves Amy, how Sara loves books, how Amy and Sara care for each other, as well as how Sara and the town grow to love each other. With all this love bandying about, throwing a little romance into the works seems like a logical step. However, one of my problems with this story is that there are some slightly far-fetched aspects to some of the romances here. Yes, I did say "romances" - meaning more than one, and that is my other problem with this book - personally, a little romance can go a long way, and I think Bivald laid just a touch too much of that on here. Despite this, because Bivald writes such sympathetic characters, you can't blame her too much for wanting them all to find true love. In truth, his only somewhat bothered me, and it certainly didn't ruin the story for me; but I'm thinking that many male readers might not be as forgiving.

There is one other thing that I noticed about this novel, and it makes this book particularly unique. That is, the setting for this story. No, I'm not talking about an unknown, tiny Iowa town, but the fact that Bivald centered her story in the USA. From what I can see, her compatriots' very successful translations all take place within their home country. Of course, these authors are just following the "write what you know" rule, and that's perfectly fine. If the story is compelling enough, someone will translate it for a larger audience. Bivald, on the other hand, wrote a book that practically begged for an English translation, because all of the action takes place in America. Even if this was a marketing ploy, it doesn't really matter because Bivald and her translator pull this off so nicely.

That's why I'm saying that nothing was lost in translation here. Katrina Bivald brings us not only sympathetic characters and a sweet story, but she places it all in a setting that feels inviting, even if we've never set foot in the type of backwater that is Broken Wheel. The icing on the cake is what Sara gives to Broken Wheel that wins the townsfolk's hearts. That, of course, you can probably guess from the title of the novel. All told, this is such a charming story, and so gently written, that if it didn't have a touch too much romance, it would certainly have gotten a full five stars. As it is, I don't think that foible was bad enough to make me mark it down by more than half a star, and I'm certain this book is a winner. Thank you for this, Ms. Bivald, and I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

"The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend" by Katrina Bivald, published by Sourcebooks Landmark, US release date January 19, 2016 (already available in Europe) is (or will be) available from, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review via NetGalley. 

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Member of the official Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend blog tour. 
Click below to enter the raffle for a free copy of this novel!


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Nobel Introduction?

Vintage Munro - a collection of short stories by Alice Munro

In 2013, Alice Munro received the Nobel Prize for Literature. What made this award unique was that it was the first time they gave it to an author who exclusively writes short stories. To honor this, Vintage books put out a revised collection of short stories, which includes the presentation speech by Professor Peter Englund. In that speech, he notes "… Alice Munro is often able to say more in thirty pages than an ordinary novelist is capable of in three hundred," calling her "the master of the contemporary short story." That's high praise indeed, which isn't surprising for a Nobel Prize.

It isn't like I make a point of reading works by every Nobel Prize laureate, but I was intrigued to see if Munro's works were as amazing as Swedish Academy said they were. Of course, choosing which book of hers was the problem, so when I happened on this special edition, I figured it would be a good introduction to Munro's writing. However, now that I've read it, and looked into the previous edition from 2004, I'm not so sure.

Let me be clear, my disappointment in this collection is certainly not the fault of Munro's writing. That, I can assure you, is just beautiful. In fact, this is exactly the type of writing I particularly enjoy. That being, simple prose that gets to the heart of the characters; she never gives too much away and always makes her readers think. I particularly liked how Munro populates many of these stories with characters that seemingly have no connection to one another, just as she weaves their lives together. Furthermore, Munro's language has a quiet, subdued quality to it that lends to the atmosphere of the subtle revelations found within her narratives. To top it off, in each of the stories in this collection, there's also something sinister or untoward going on, either hidden or obvious. This underlying imbalance gives Munro a reason to show which of her characters can figure out how to keep from falling into an abyss, and which ones fail. This makes these stories perfectly fascinating.

So if the artistry of these pieces isn't in question, then why can't I give this book a full five stars? Actually, in this case, I think I have to separate my rating into two categories. For each of these individual stories and everything about them - the characters, development, plots and style - I couldn't give them less than five out of five stars.

However, as a collection, I found this book to be less than satisfactory. While reading this book, I couldn't help feel a sense of something one-dimensional here. This might have been my own expectations, since I was hoping for something a bit more varied. By this, I mean that I had the distinct feeling that most of these works came from a similar period of Munro's writing career, with the exception of the last story, which felt was much newer (and seemed the only contemporary story of the collection). Imagine my surprise when I went to look up the original publication dates of these pieces and found that this assumption was absolutely correct. 

When I looked up the contents of the previous version of Vintage Munro published in 2004, I found that all the publisher had done was add one story from her last collection to the original five they had included 10 years before (which presented works from 1982-2001). It seems to me that for such an acclaimed writer who has been publishing stories since 1950, the publishers could have been a touch more original. I'm sorry, but taking an old compilation, adding only one of her most recent stories and slapping on the presentation speech (just to call it the "Nobel Prize Edition") just doesn't make the grade for me. Back in 2004, maybe people thought this overview of Munro's work was an adequate representation, despite the few pieces included. Unfortunately, for a Nobel Prize winner, this is a sad excuse of a tribute. Even worse, to me it looks like laziness combined with opportunism, on the part of the publisher. 

Therefore, while I loved these stories, each on their own, I can't really recommend this particular compilation of her work. I guess I'll just have to pick out the next works I want to read by Munro all by myself, and not rely on what her publishers think is a good sampling.

For the stories, I give this:

For the compilation, I give this:

The Nobel Prize Edition of "Vintage Munroe" is available from, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

My 2015 Reading Statistics

This past year has been an intense one - not because of my reading, but because of my "day job" and everyday life in general. So getting away from it all with books has been especially important for me. As I wait on a book tour to publish one of my reviews, and work on another, I noticed that a fellow blogger, Stuck in a Book, posted his 2015 reading statistics, which I liked so much, I stole it from him; so here goes my 2015 reading statistics.

Number of books read
According to Goodreads, I read 32 books this year, of which I've published reviews for 30 of them. That is down from 2014, but I had more free time that year (as well as more instances where I had time to kill and used those as opportunities to read). I've also put down 30 books for my Goodreads 2016 challenge, and if things stay the way they are, I don't think I'll surpass it by much.

Male/female authors
Only 9 by men, and 32 by women - that makes some sense. I probably do tend towards female writers. However, I don't think either men or women dominate the genres I tend to read.

I read only one non-fiction book this past year, and all the rest were fiction. Yes, I'm into escapism, and I feel no compulsion to change that. Even the one non-fiction book I read had something to do with literature! While Stuck in a Book didn't put this into his list, I would like to note that I read only two collections of short stories this year, and I hope that next year I will read more. In fact, I'm almost certain of it since I already have two collections on my 2016 reading list.

Books in translation
I only read three translated books this past year, but that's about par for the course for me. Mind you, I already purchased two translated books for reading this coming year, and I'm hoping I'll get another one by an author I adore, so who knows if that will rise next year.

Graphic books
One, but I didn't add it to my Goodreads lists and don't consider it among the books I read or would ever review because it was total and utter crap! (The author invited me to read it and it was one of those Amazon specials, but YUCK!)

Most-read author
Sorry, I simply don't read enough books to read more than one by the same author in the same year. However, of the authors I read during 2014, I read books by six of them again in 2015. If we consider this, the winner is Rachel Joyce - I read her Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy this year, and last year I read Perfect as well as her short story A Faraway Smell of Lemon. (Note to Rachel Joyce: please publish another book; I need to read your writing again!)

Oldest book
I did start reading Selma Lagerlöf's Jerusalem, published in 1902, but I got bored with it so I gave up. I also read the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman published in 1892. I don't count this among my 2015 books since I read it as research for a review of another book. However, after loving that story, I did buy a collection of her works including her novella Herland that includes this story. I hope to read this during 2016. With those out of the way, the oldest published book I read this year came out in 2010! That's no surprise because I'll read an ARC of a book over an already published one, every time!

Sorry, but this category doesn't speak to me at all. Since my dyslexia makes me a slow reader, and with time limitations due to my "day job," I just don't have the luxury of re-reading books. In fact, aside from the novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, I don't think I've ever re-read any book (I read that one three times, at least).

New-to-me authors
Of the 32 books I read, 21 were by authors I was reading for the first time! Yeah, I love reading works by authors who are new to me, and if it's their first novel, all the better!

Most disappointing book
There is no doubt in my mind that Ann Packer's novel, The Children's Crusade, was a true disappointment. Not because the writing wasn't good, but because, well, it just didn't work as a whole.

Best title
Could anyone resist reading a book called Food Whore? I couldn't, and brava to Jessica Tom for that (by the way, I hope that if they make the film of this book, they don't shy away from using the original title).

Worst title
The most inappropriate book title was The Light of Hidden Flowers by Jennifer Handford. I liked the book but the title is pretentious (as is the cover) and doesn't fit the atmosphere of the book at all.

Animals in book titles
Here's another category that's not for me since I'm not much of an animal lover. This is partially due to allergies, so I tend to prefer people or my solitude. The only book that comes close is Various Pets Alive and Dead by Marina Lewycka.

Strange things that happened in books I read in 2015
Ordinarily, this category would be very slim for me, but I think this year it will have more than usual. For example, practically everything that happens in Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie is strange. Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last is also full of weird goings on. In fact, strange things happened in practically every book I read. This goes from crazy disguises that fall apart the middle of meals, a seemingly ferocious dog protecting a seven-year-old girl, and a man imagining he's found a secret room at work. What surprises me is that there are so many more examples to choose from, but these stand out as the strongest ones.

Thank you Stuck in a Book, for this great blog post idea! 

For my overview of my favorite 2015 books, read my blog post here.

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