Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm Missing...


Bran and Jon Snow,
 Tyrion, Sansa and yes, even those evil twins Jamie and Cersei Lannister. Well, actually maybe I can do without Cersei. I'm missing Winterfell, King's Landing and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms - the captivating world created by George R.R. Martin in his Song of Ice and Fire series. There's something to be said about reading a series. So far I've spent over 2000 pages (two books) with these people and thus I'm completely immersed in their lives. I need to find out what will happen to them next.

The upcoming season of the TV series will apparently incorporate parts of book three (Storm of Swords) as well. This was done in order to have more scenes with Jamie Lannister who doesn't play a big part in book two. That means I better start reading book three soon because Game of Thrones season two is about to start. The date - April 1st. Can't wait! Here's the trailer...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Muriel Spark Reading Week

Simon at Stuck in a Book and Harriet will be hosting the Muriel Spark Reading Week from April 23 to 29.  Thomas at My Porch made the great badge.

There's no set rules and regulations for this week. Just read one or more books by Muriel Spark (they're very short!) and let either of the hosts know through a comment at their blog. Posts could be about Spark's books, life, film adaptations or poetry. 

I'm not sure yet which Spark I'll choose for this week. I'd love to reread The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and see the film again but maybe I'll try one of her other books instead.

Coincidentally Open Road Media have just released eight ebooks by Muriel Spark. Therefore some of her harder to find titles will be easily available through just one click (that is if you have an ereader). Each of the ebook titles also features an illustrated biography of Muriel Spark including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s archive at the National Library of Scotland. Do check out Open Road's website for more details.

The eight titles released by Open Road are the following:

Are you joining the Muriel Spark Reading Week? Which ones are you planning to read or which ones do you recommend?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

If you haven't heard of The Art of Fielding then seriously you must live under a rock. I doubt another book has gotten this much publicity in recent years. Its been mentioned just about everywhere you look to the point that even non-readers would have come across a review or reference about it in newspapers and magazines. It has generated a lot of hype and glowing reviews. So much in fact that even the author's Harvard roommate together with Vanity Fair wrote a book about how The Art of Fielding was published (How a Book is Born). This itself should make an interesting read considering that Harbach toiled so hard on the book for ten years before finally being offered a $650,000 advance. After being disappointed by that other college novel that was released last year, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, I decided to crack the spine of The Art of Fielding and find out for myself what the hype is all about.

The book opens with an amateur late summer baseball game wherein Henry Skrimshander, a smallish player, impresses Mike Schwarz, another player on the opposite team with his fielding ability. A friendship is formed and Henry wins a place at Westish college and becomes the shortstop for the college team. The years pass and Henry is right on track but just when he's offered a chance at playing for a major league team, Henry literally throws a curve ball. I don't want to give too much away but suffice it to say I didn't see that coming at all. Besides all this there are three other characters in the book with their own stories - Henry's gay roommate Owen; Guert Affenlight, the college president who after being straight all his life is suddenly attracted to Owen; and then there's Guert's daughter Pella, the girl who comes in between Henry and Mike.

So was it good? Yes, it was. It had extremely likeable characters and though I know next to zilch about baseball, I loved the sporting aspect of the book. I think Harbach fared well in delivering what it's like to be in a team - the pressure to perform, the deep friendships that are formed, the camaraderie, the competitiveness and also the jealousy. It's a very good book considering it's his first.

Is it the next great American novel? Yes and no. I can certainly think of many other American novels that I prefer however it's probably one of the best ones in recent years. It's certainly all- American and  it's a book with themes that may not have been written about before. It's an ambitious novel and daring on several fronts and it's entertaining so I can understand why many people loved it.

So is it worth the hype? Yes. I wouldn't say it's wonderfully written. In fact some of the prose was wooden at times. Although I didn't love the book, I liked it a lot. It's charming and I guess Harbach succeeds mainly because of his appealing characters. I also believe in some of the themes and messages that Harbach was conveying. Ambition isn't everything. When it comes down to it, family and friendships are definitely the most important things in life. I'd happily give this book four stars out of five.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Orange Longlist 2012

The Orange Prize, the UK's only annual book award for fiction written by women, just announced its 2012 longlist. The Prize celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing throughout the world.

From the longlist, I've only read Gillespsie and I by Jane Harris and it was quite good. I read part of  The Night Circus a few months ago but abandoned it halfway. I was disappointed that the novel was more driven by setting rather than characters. However after all the praise its received, I'll just have to give it another go. I doubt I'll read everything on the longlist but oh, there are so many that look interesting! I've narrowed it down to eight books I'd love to read. I highly doubt I'll even read half of this before the shortlist is announced on May 29 but it's nice to make a list. Here they are in the order I'd like to read them (with blurbs courtesy of Amazon):

Song of Achilles  by Madeline Miller
Patroclus, a young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his son, Achilles. Achilles,is strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles and Patroclus joins their cause.

The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay
Mary-Margaret is seemingly a harmless enough young woman, ready and willing to help out in the Sacred Heart church in Battersea. It is the statue of Jesus on the cross Mary-Margaret is especially drawn to, and one day she decides to give Him a thorough and loving cleansing. But then something strange happens, and moments later she lies unconscious, a great gash in her head, blood on the floor. Soon a full-scale religious mania descends on the quiet church and Battersea.


The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy
Elizabeth Barber is crossing the Atlantic with her boyfriend, Derek, who might be planning to propose. In fleeing the UK - temporarily - Elizabeth may also be in flight from her past and the charismatic Arthur, once her partner in what she came to see as a series of crimes. Together they acted as fake mediums. Elizabeth finally rejected the game but Arthur continued his search for the right way to do wrong. She hadn't, though, expected the other man on the boat. As her voyage progresses, Elizabeth's past is revealed, codes slowly form and break as communication deepens. It's time for her to discover who are the true deceivers and who are the truly deceived.

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
Miss Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a "woman of business" and a spinster pioneer in the British women’s movement, independent of mind but naively trusting of heart. Distracted from her cause by the sudden return of a once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen’s failing marriage and obsessive affair with a young army officer. What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into an intriguing courtroom drama complete with accusations of adultery, counterclaims of rape, and a mysterious letter that could destroy more than one life.
Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg
A richly imagined novel about two people struggling to keep their love, and their family, alive in a place of extreme hardship and unearthly beauty. Everything lies ahead for Lizzie and Neil McKenzie when they arrive at the St. Kilda islands in July of 1830. Neil is to become the minister to the small community of islanders, and Lizzie-bright, beautiful, and devoted-is pregnant with their first child. As the two adjust to life at the edge of civilization, where the natives live in squalor and babies perish mysteriously, their marriage-and their sanity-are soon threatened.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina's assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina's research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor.

The Forgotten Waltz  by Anne Enright
A new, unapologetic kind of adultery novel. Narrated by the proverbial other woman—Gina Moynihan, a sharp, sexy, darkly funny thirtysomething IT worker—The Forgotten Waltz charts an extramarital affair from first encounter to arranged, settled, everyday domesticity. . . . This novel’s beauty lies in Enright’s spare, poetic, off-kilter prose—at once heartbreaking and subversively funny.
There But For The by Ali Smith 
At a dinner party at a posh London suburb, Miles Garth suddenly leaves the table midway through the meal, locks himself in an upstairs room, and refuses to leave. An eclectic group of neighbors and friends slowly gathers around the house, and Miles’s story is told from the points of view of four of them: Anna, a woman in her forties; Mark, a man in his sixties; May, a woman in her eighties; and a ten-year-old named Brooke. The thing is, none of these people knows Miles more than slightly. How much is it possible for us to know about a stranger? And what are the consequences of even the most casual, fleeting moments we share every day with one another?

So which ones on the longlist have you read? Which ones would you like to read?
    Here's the complete longlist:
  • Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg
  • On the Floor by Aifric Campbell
  • The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen
  • The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
  • Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan 
  • The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
  • The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki
  • Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
  • Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
  • Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
  • The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay
  • The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  • Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick
  • State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
  • There but for the by Ali Smith
  • The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard
  • Tides of War by Stella Tillyard
  • The Submission by Amy Waldman

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Separation

I recently saw A Separation, the Iranian film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It's a great movie and a must-see. At first I thought it was about a couple who file for divorce and fight for custody of their daughter but the film is so much more than that. It's better to go in knowing nothing so you'll be completely unprepared for its twists and turns. The movie is riveting and never boring. Do yourself a favor and see this movie! Or better yet, see it with friends and discuss it afterwards.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Midnight's Children Group Read

The Group Read for Salmon Rushdie's Midnight's Children has officially begun. This will be an extremely slow and flexible read-along covering  more or less 130 pages a month.  On the last day of each month, we post our reading response to each part. 

March 31 — Book One
April 30   — Book Two (Part A ending with ‘Alpha and Omega’)
May 31    –  Book Two (Part B starting with ‘The Kolynos Kid’)
June 30   — Book Three

What do we mean by slow and flexible? Midnight's Children isn't an easy read so to those participating please feel free to join in at your own pace. There's no need to follow the above schedule which just serves as a guideline.Personally, I'm not sure myself if I'll be able to read as much as the rest due to unexpected travel plans this month and in April. If you are interested then please sign up at either Arti’s blog and Bellezza’s blog and do check out other participants’ links as well.

Midnight's Children won the Man Booker Prize in 1981 and then went on to win the Booker of Bookers in 1993, which commemorated the awards 25th anniversary. The latter award was given after the public voted from a selected shortlist.

The synopsis from the Amazon website:
Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts. 

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