Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wondrous Words Wednesday

the pieces that are left when something breaks, falls apart, is destroyed, etc.

1: of or relating to a sensory threshold
2: barely perceptible
3: of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition: in-between, transitional

an alcoholic drink containing liquor (such as rum) mixed with water

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

Title: The Word Exchange
Author: Alena Graedon
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday

April 8, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Find it on:
Set in the near future, The Word Exchange takes place in a world where print is almost extinct and people can biologically interface with smartphone-like devices called Memes. Anana is searching for her missing father, following a single clue he left behind. She follows a trail which uncovers a secret society and the true intentions of the corporation behind the Meme, all while the English language begins to decay thanks to a "word flu" pandemic.

The way the technology worked and how the word flu spread make me skeptical. I'm not sure if I felt like details were too scarce, if the details weren't consistent enough, or if I wanted things to be more grounded in reality. Also, the characters seemed flat and one-dimensional. During what should have been signification moments of interaction between characters, I didn't feel anything for them at all; it felt like filler. Some more background would probably have helped me connect with them.

I did enjoy the way Graedon uses (and tinkers with) language throughout the novel. I wondered if the story would eventually dissolve into gibberish at some point. The premise behind this dystopian world is what kept me turning the pages, and that is what kept me wanting to read more. When it was all over, though, that wasn't enough to make me feel like I loved this book.

Side note: I'd like to mention that I was thrilled with how Knopf Doubleday handled the footnotes in the e-book version. It was great to never have to leave the page I was currently reading: when I tapped on a footnote's number, the note was displayed in a small pop-up frame. (I'm not sure if this will be true across all devices, but that's how the epub worked on my Nook.)

Even though this one fell flat for me...Whatever the future brings when it comes to technology, The Word Exchange will certainly come to mind!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spotlight & Giveaway: Night In Shanghai by Nicole Mones

Avid historical fiction lovers, you're in for a treat! Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours has offered a copy of Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones to one of my lucky readers (US only). Visit the complete tour schedule to check out reviews by other bloggers.
In 1936, classical pianist Thomas Greene is recruited to Shanghai to lead a jazz orchestra of fellow African-American expats. From being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with servants of his own, he becomes the toast of a city obsessed with music, money, pleasure and power, even as it ignores the rising winds of war.

Song Yuhua is refined, educated, and bonded since age eighteen to Shanghai’s most powerful crime boss in payment for her father’s gambling debts. Outwardly submissive, she burns with rage and risks her life spying on her master for the Communist Party.

Only when Shanghai is shattered by the Japanese invasion do Song and Thomas find their way to each other. Though their union is forbidden, neither can back down from it in the turbulent years of occupation and resistance that follow. Torn between music and survival, freedom and commitment, love and world war, they are borne on an irresistible riff of melody and improvisation to Night in Shanghai’s final, impossible choice.

In this impressively researched novel, Nicole Mones not only tells the forgotten story of black musicians in the Chinese Jazz age, but also weaves in a stunning true tale of Holocaust heroism little-known in the West.
When reading Night in Shanghai, you can't help but notice the incredible care and imeticulous attention to detail Mones took in her research. The perspective is certainly unique, too: I think of jazz as being so American; I didn't realize there was a Chinese Jazz age at all. There is a noticeable difference between the freedoms and lives of both African-American expats and women in Shanghai and the United States during this time.

This giveaway is open to US readers only, and will close at 11:59 pm (CST) Sunday, April 20.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Salon

I'm sitting in The Leisure Club (my favorite place in downtown Pensacola), enjoying a latte and listening to "Believe" by The Bravery, which is playing overhead.

Recently Finished:
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
You know, this one didn't quite live up to the hype for me. Still very enjoyable, though. I'll be gathering my thoughts and hope to post a review later this week.

Recently DNF:
Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones
I sooooo wanted to love this one! But it didn't click with me, and I really think it could be a timing thing (especially considering my recent slump). I read enough to be able to tell it could be an amazing read for a certain type of reader, though! I'll say a bit more and spotlight it tomorrow as part of a tour.

Currently Reading: 
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
This is my first time reading Maggie Shipstead, and I'm completely in love with her writing and character building. I want to ignore everything else in my life and get lost in this book. *sigh*

Can't Wait To Read:
Stand Up Straight and Sing! by Jessye Norman
Looooove Jessye Norman! Just opened her autobiography. Looking forward to reading about her in her own words. I'd heard a lot of stories from my late piano teacher, who taught her accompanist. ;)

Holy Week begins today. Musically, this is my favorite time of the church year. So, speaking of Jessye Norman, I'll close with this:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Salon: Always the Bird

This past week hasn't been great on the reading front, simply because I've been exhausted and kind of distracted with other things. It hasn't been that I don't want to read, so I don't feel like I'm in a slump. I'm currently reading The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon and Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones.

This morning I have one of my piano students covering my regular church job (great experience for her!) and I'm playing an orchestra gig at the large Presbyterian church downtown. Their choir is singing Mack Wilberg's Requiem and wow, is it stunning... reminiscent of both Aaron Copland and Eric Whitacre, in many ways. I'm playing flute and piccolo; I get to play a sweet little bird part on piccolo during "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place" (along with the principal flute - so really, it's a bird duet!). We flutists always end up being the bird... ;)

I feel like a broken record, constantly saying I hope to have more reading time in the week to come. Over the course of a month it seems to work out just fine, somehow.

Hope you all have a great week!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Review: No Book but the World by Leah Hager Cohen

Title: No Book but the World
Author: Leah Hager Cohen
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover

April 3, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

Find it on:
Ava and her brother, Fred, grew up in a peaceful, idealistic environment; free to roam and explore the world around them, free to make all of their own decisions. Fred showed signs of mental impairment, but his parents chose to give him the space to develop naturally into his own person, without labels or stigmas. When Fred is later accused of a horrific crime, Ava is forced to reflect upon their childhood and their parents' choices.

The narrative often moves in and out through time, between childhood memories and the crisis of present day. These are not presented in well-defined sections; rather, they weave in and out as Ava (and others) muddle through the attempt to make sense of what has happened. And the ending... wow. It was gut-wrenching. Like I'd been punched in the stomach.

No Book but the World brings up tough questions for its characters and its readers: At what point is the gift of autonomy not in the best interest of the child? Where is the line drawn between permissive parenting and neglect? How does one know when idealism needs to take a back seat to reality?

Leah Hager Cohen treats these questions and her characters with the utmost respect, compassion, and thoughtfulness. This is a compelling novel well worth reading.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

I'm excited to be a part of the blog tour for Tessa Hadley's Clever Girl. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy. This tour began March 4 and finishes up April 3; be sure to check out the complete tour schedule and read the reviews posted on other stops for other perspectives!

Title: Clever Girl
Author: Tessa Hadley
Publisher: Harper Books

March 4, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

Find it on:
Clever Girl follows the life of Stella, the daughter of a single mother, from her childhood through middle age.

The writing is spectacular. Hadley's prose made me feel as if I could see Stella's history and her current life all at once: Stella as the young girl I met at the beginning of the novel, and at the same time, Stella as the adult narrator, a mother with two children.

However, I had issues with Stella's relationship with her mother and stepfather, as well as her connection to a creepy teacher who turns into a dear friend. The dynamic between Stella and these characters shifted suddenly and without much (if any) explanation. I had trouble believing or understanding these shifts; a bit more detail would have remedied that.

This novel has a definite sense of ennui throughout, which may not be appealing to some readers. There is plenty of drama in Stella's life, but plenty of ordinary as well. I think readers who enjoy character-driven novels (I couldn't help but think of Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings) will enjoy Clever Girl.