Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dark Star - Alan Furst

Awhile back a friend of mine who used to work in the publishing industry recommended that I check out books by Alan Furst. He said Alan Furst is who I should turn to for good historical fiction/spy novels/war novels/etc.

So I borrowed his copy of Dark Star. It's a good spy novel but a bit overwhelming because it's so heavy on the history...and I was a history major in college!

The story takes place pre-World War II, in 1937. Andre Szara is a Polish-born journalist working for the Russian newspaper Pravda. While just doing his job, he gets coerced into working with the NKVD (Soviet secret intelligence). Setting up base in Paris, Szara becomes pretty much a spy for Russia. He travels across Europe as a spy and a journalist, enlisting the help of an agent in Berlin with whom he develops romantic connections.

Ok. So a spy novel. But Furst knows his history...sometimes a little too much. But I loved the cloak and dagger feel of the book and the time period was just crazy. I can't imagine traipsing around Europe right before WWII.

I'm going to definitely check out his other books. I recently won another one of Furst's books, The Spies of Warsaw, over at Medieval Bookworm so I'll let you know how that one goes.

You can preview Dark Star over at Google Books to see if it's something you might want to check out.

Have you read any Alan Furst novels or other good spy novels?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gone Tomorrow - Lee Child

All I have to say is that sometimes book promotions work. Very well. I get Random House's eNewsletter and they had an excerpt of the first chapter or so of Lee Child's latest Reacher Novel #13, Gone Tomorrow. Like the sucker that I am, I read it and was hooked. I posted the first sentence on my Friday Firsts posts last week.

First off, I must tell you I've never read a Lee Child novel and obviously have never read the first twelve Reacher books. That said, I don't think it makes a big difference if you had. It's like jumping into a Bond don't really have to have watched the first ones.

Jack Reacher is ex-military. He really lives nowhere. He has no luggage, no change of clothes. He's kind of substance living in the city...a.k.a. cheap hotel rooms and just living day to day. (Really, he is an interesting character. Makes me want to read the first book in the series.)

Anyway, here's Jack sitting on the 6 train heading uptown in the early early morning. Five people are on the train car with him and one is probably a terrorist. He then proceeds to break down the signs of what a terrorist looks and acts like. And she (it's a she) fits the bill to a T.

And that's what hooked me. It was really fascinating. And what kept me interested in the story was Jack's continuous snarky observations of New York and its people. Sometimes they cracked me up and usually I was like "YES!" that is totally what it's like. For instance, as he's scrambling to get away from (or follow someone, I forget), he gets bogged down by one of NYC's many Double Wide baby strollers for twins, triplets, etc. And I was like "YES! Have you ever been to the Upper West on a Saturday morning?!" And apparently he has.

So it was a good action book with a odd snarky lead character and it was fun. And he made fun of tidbits of NYC life which made me laugh.

Have you read any of the Reacher books?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Random Charlie Photo

I posted this via Twitter last night but thought I'd put it here too.

This is what our Charlie Dog loves to do all night long. He scopes out the 'hood. Burglars beware.

Housing Works Booksale

One of the great things I've found with using Twitter is that I get good updates regarding some of the bookstores and events in the City. I follow @HousingWorksBks and they mentioned a book fair going on this past weekend. My husband had to work so I tromped on down to the book sale alone. I seriously carried these ten books all over the City. What a workout! It was worth it though. 10 books for 10 bucks and I bought a tote. 1. Three Junes - Julia Glass
2. The Boleyn Inheritance - Philippa Gregory
3. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana - Umberto Eco
4. Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl
5. Cross Country - Robert Sullivan

6. The Lady and the Unicorn - Tracy Chavalier
7. The Five Forty-Five to Cannes - Tess Uriza Holthe
8. Anthropology of an American Girl - Hilary Thayer Hamann
9. Labyrinth - Kate Mosse
10. The Queen of Subtleties - Suzannah Dunn

Now I just need to find more room in our tiny apartment to house all my loot.

For past Housing Works posts: June 2009 Loot and June 2009 Post

Giveaway Winner!

And now for today's giveaway winner for the two Hilderbrand novels:

She says that she was new to the Book Blogger Appreciation week this year but she discovered tons of new blogs. And...she votes for a beach fetish on the book covers. I hope you enjoy the books!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday's Tunes

Since it IS Thursdsay, I thought I'd join in S. Krishna's weekly blog post Thursday's Tunes.

I don't have speakers at work so I hope this turns out ok. I usually star things on Google Reader with sound and look at them at home. But I was listening to my iPod on the subway this morning on shuffle and this song came on.

Artist: The New Pornographers
Song: Challengers
Album: Challengers

I love love Neko Case's voice. She does her own solo albums as well as belong in the band The New Pornographers.

I just found this video now and think it's beautiful and slightly creepy. I can't wait to go home and check it out with sound. Enjoy!

Not me...

I love reading her "not me" posts over at SoJo's blog. I know it's not Monday, but...what they hey...

I did NOT just suffer the chaos, cops, traffic near the Waldorf Astoria to pick up some library book sale books on my lunch break.

Here's what I did NOT pick up:

And I did NOT pick up a cool book (not shown) as a gift for my husband. Not me!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Romanov Bride - Robert Alexander

I borrowed The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander from my sister who was read it. I am fascinated by Russian history and literature. I think partly because it's such a crazy history, partly because growing up I loved the mystery behind Rasputin and Anastasia, and partly because my mother's side of the family are all German immigrants from Russia.

This book was not at all what I was imagining it to be. And that's really not a bad thing. I guess the "bride" in the title and the synopsis made me think it was going to be more fiction than historical...or maybe more romance. That is not the case.

Here's what it's about:

There are always two sides of every revolution. Robert Alexander does a wonderful job laying the two sides of Russia's Bolshevik Revolution out in this novel. Each chapter is alternately narrated by the Grand Duchess Elisavyeta (Ella) and by Pavel, a revolutionist. Both sides are justly represented and the character's stories do intertwine a bit, at the beginning when Pavel is helping to plan the assassination of the Duchess' husband and then later at the very end of the story.

While Alexander makes both characters sympathetic, the novel really is a tribute to the outstanding character of the Grand Duchess. Even though she lived a life of luxury, after the eventual assassination of her husband, she devoted her life to God and the sick and needy Russian people. Even though she had the chance to flee, she stayed on became an abbess, and opened a woman's monastery.

The novel is quite sad and touching at points and but Alexander does a great job of making it very historically accurate and engaging. Not favoring one side or the other, he just points out the obvious regret that both sides could have reconciled their difference if only different choices where made.

My copy had an Introduction and a Conversation with Robert Alexander section at the back of the book which was actually my favorite part of the book. I am just in awe of the character and life of the Grand Duchess. She was actually canonized in 1981 and her statue is depicted with others above the Great Door of Westminster Abbey in London.

Her picture is on the cover of the novel but here are a few more:

With her husband Sergei:
As an abbess:
While it wasn't the type of novel I thought it was going to be, it was an amazing story. I am going to have to check out his other two books, The Kitchen Boy and Rasputin's Daughter.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Treasure Hunt

Yesterday I woke up and asked my husband if he'd take me on a treasure hunt. Being the awesome person that he is, he agreed.

We had to get the truck out for the hunt. So we thought we'd bring the pups along. Here's Charlie dog loving the wind in his face:

It was a beautiful sunny day in New York. Hopefully we have a few more sunny days before fall and winter set in:
I snagged a picture of this really cool red bridge:
We drove for a bit and finally made it to our destination:
I had taken the treasure hunt clue from this site and went to where I thought it would be. Would it still be there? It was!!! (I LOVE that it says "#1 Literary Archaeologist)
So I brought it to the lovely ladies at the counter and voila! Woohoo!
Here's me outside with my loot.
Thanks Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook, New York for participating in the treasure hunt!

And a HUGE thanks to Michelle Moran for the treasure hunt! She autographed the copy of Cleopatra's Daughter and included some great bookmarks as well.

She also included beautiful Cleopatra earrings and an authentic Roman coin. That is just awesome:
Here's my loot for the day. I bought Michelle's second book The Heretic Queen while I was at the bookstore.
Oh! And last year when we went to Egypt, I bought an alabaster etching of Cleopatra which matches the earrings. Too cool:

Now I have all her novels. Thanks again for the wonderful treasure hunt!!

Friday, September 18, 2009

In honor of BBAW - Giveaway!

In honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week I thought I'd host a little giveaway! I've been sadly MIA from BBAW and blogging in general due to ongoing personal stuff. But hopefully everything is getting better and onward!

Since we are all trying to cram as much summer into the next few days or weeks (at least in this hemisphere), I thought I'd do a summery giveaway.

I have two Elin Hilderbrand novel, Barefoot (paperback) and A Summer Affair (hardcover).

I just don't think these types of novels are my type of books but they might be yours.

To enter, please leave a comment telling me:

1) If you've heard of BBAW. If you have, what is your favorite thing about it?

2) If you haven't, check out the website and tell me what you think.
Please leave me some way to get a hold of you (email, website, etc.). Again this contest is open world-wide and ends next Friday, September 25th. Good luck!

P.S. Do you think the cover artist has a foot fetish? Or maybe just feet in sand fetish?

Friday Firsts Book Meme

Friday Firsts is a new book blog meme creaded by Well Read Reviews. I love her blog and her tweets.

The first line can make or break a reader’s interest. Just how well did the author pull you in to the story with their first sentence? To participate in this weekly book meme is extremely easy. Head on over to Well Read Reviews to join in the fun!

My Friday Firsts: Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

"Suicide bombers are easy to spot."

I read the first few pages on Random House's website through their newsletter and I was hooked. The guy is sitting on the 6 subway train, early morning New York city and thinks he spots a suicide bomber. Maybe not the first sentence but the first chapter definitely drew me into the story.

The Seamstress - Frances de Pontes Peebles

I don't remember where I first heard about Frances de Pontes Peebles' novel The Seamstress, but apparently I added it to my TBR pile on GoodReads back in February of last year. So when The Book Club Girl mentioned a giveaway and a chance to participate in a On Air show for this book, I jumped on the chance.

Due to a change in my work schedule I was unable to participate in the show but I absolutely devoured this book. It has to be one of my favorite reads this year. This is totally my type of book. I read a few review blurbs on the first few pages of the book. One mentioned the similarity to Isabel Allende (whom I love) while another compared scenes to a Quentin Tarantino flick. Ok, that's just cool.

Here's the plot:

1920's Brazil - remote mountainous region: Two sisters, Emília and Luzia dos Santos, parent-less, have just moved in to live with their seamstress aunt. The aunt teaches them the ways of the trade. Emilia and Luzia are as different as day and night. Beautiful Emília dreams of leaving the small provincial town, reads the fashion/beauty magazine, and designs her own clothing (often to the ridicule of the town's residents. Tall, independent Luzia, with a damaged arm from a childhood accident, has never let it stop her from becoming a confident seamstress. She too has dreams even though she knows her damaged arm prevents her from becoming a viable marriageable interest.

The two sister's paths separate though when a group of cangaceiros (bandits), led by the infamous Hawk, converge on the town and take Luzia with them. Emília finds her escape through a hasty marriage to a wealthy doctor's son and moves to the city of Recife. Luzia becomes a well-known cangaceiro nicknamed The Seamstress and Emília becomes a wealthy socialite. However, girlhood dreams are never the same in reality. Emília has to hid her past and association with Luzia and must deal with high society prejudices and a distant husband with a secret. Luzia finds that every day life as a cangaceiro is not as thrilling as one might think. Communication between the sisters is non-existent and the two rely on clipping newspaper stories to keep in touch.

The novel alternates between each sister's viewpoint. At the beginning I loved Luzia's voice and was always impatient to get through Emília's side to get back to Luzia. I just related more to Luzia over Emília's fashionable frippery. But as the story progressed, I fell for Emília's plight and just loved how she evolved. I have to say it did remind me of Isabel Allende but Frances de Pontes Peebles has a voice all her own. It is just vivid and beautiful. Be aware that while the Hawk's group of cangaceiro's often seem like Brazil's Robin Hood or Zorro...there are gruesome atrocities committed as well.

I LOVED this book. I couldn't put it down. I loved Luzia. I love the scenes between Luzia and the Hawk. And Emília evolution from a selfish materialistic girl into the woman in Recife is just beautiful and often heart wrenching to read. Frances de Pontes Peebles depicted the Brazilian landscape and scenes so well that I almost felt like I was watching it. I can still picture in my mind the newspaper clipping and photo depicting the elusive Hawk and Seamstress' band of cangaceiros. The history of the Brazilian land and people is fascinating and I loved finding a book that depicted this unfamiliar time period.

I also stumbled across Frances de Pontes Peebles blog The Art of Waiting and I am addicted. You should check it out. There's an section at the end of the paperback copy that I have which has an interview with Frances regarding her research and travels while writing The Seamstress. She actually went into the remote regions and talked with people in the very places she was writing about. No wonder the imagery is so vivid! And Frances' own ancestral history also takes a part in this story. I want her to write a whole other book/memoir depicting her adventures in writing and researching this book.

Here's an alternate cover. I can't tell which one I like best...they are both beautiful:And I'm a sucker for stories about sisters because I too have a great sister. So I thought I'd include an old photo of us dressed up as cangaceiros. I think I was twelve or so at the time and it was taken at the lovely Casa Bonita in Denver (if you've never been...go!...and take your kids if you have any).
Also Reviewed by:

Book Club Girl
Booking Mama
Devourer of Books

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I can knit!

One of my many goals in life has been to learn how to knit. Back when I was little, my mom taught me to crochet and I made an afghan using all her scrapings. It was pretty darn ugly. I want to re-learn how to crochet too but I think knitting just looks so cool.

So I was at Sam Flax here in the city, a very cool art store near my work. I found a little knitting kit that came with a book, three skeins of yarn, needles, the works. And it is aimed at teenagers so I figured if they could do it, I could do it.

And I can! Here's the book:

It has instructions for six projects. Here's the pretty purple yarn. The first task is to wind the skeins into balls. Dorkily, I kind of enjoy this part. I guess most yarn/art stores will do it for you though if you buy the yarn there. My first project was to make a little pocket purse for coins or whatever. It's a great starter project because it teaches you to knit, purl, stockinette and garter stitch. And how to make a button hole which was pretty cool.

I made it slightly too long so the flap kinda fits weird over it, but hey...I'm learning!My second project was to make a sunglasses case. I normally wear glasses so I don't normally wear sunglasses. I really need to get prescription ones so I don't ruin my eyes. This was a pretty fun project too. I learned how to knit and purl alternately in the same row, which is a rib stitch which is the top of the case. Kind of like the ends of sweaters. Boy did it take me a few tries to figure it out though. It's all in how and where you hold the place the yarn. And voila!Here it is with my glasses. I'm currently using the case to carry around my new phone until I make the third project which is a cell phone case. Do any of you knit or crochet? I'd love to hear about it! Do you have any favorite knitting books or projects? And I discovered Ravelry so if any of you are on the site, please friend me. My user name is: nycbookgirl