Edinburgh Book Festival Update

edbookfestI may not get to see as much at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year as I would like, but what I’ve bought tickets for so far I’m pretty excited about. So far I’m seeing some big stars, some who are new on the scene and some old favorites. Here’s the list:

Salman Rushdie – I have never seen Rushdie speak before. I am quite excited about this. Unfortunately he will be speaking about one of his earlier novels, Shame, which is not a favorite of mine, but perhaps that is better then him treading over the much trod ground of Midnight’s Children or The Satanic Verses.

amityandsorrowPeggy Riley and Jenn Ashworth – I chose this one because I really enjoyed Amity and Sorrow by Riley. I like to hear what new writers have to say. Jenn Ashworth has also written a novel along religious themes called The Friday Gospels. It is supposed to be a tragic and hilarious take on Mormonism.

Meg Wolitzer – Oddly, I have never read anything by her, but I am dying to read The Interestings, her latest novel.

Margaret Atwood – I could hardly be Canadian if I didn’t go see her, right? She is one of the guest selectors at the Edbookfest this year. She is giving three talks highlighting why there is no such thing as genre and why breaking literary rules is so great. The talk I am seeing is on her new book Madd Addam.

Gill Hornby and Deborah Moggach – This talk is officially entitled “50 Shades of Funny”, so how could I not go. Horby has just written a novel called The Hive, which I am really keen on reading. Moggach has a number of novels under her belt and is known for her wit.

That is all I have booked for now. My husband may be away during the festival period, which means I can’t really book any evening events until I know for sure.

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

astronaut-wives-clubI picked up The Astronaut Wives Club after hearing an interview with author Lily Koppel on the radio. Such an interesting and over looked topic: the lives of the wives of the first astronauts. Along with their husbands, they were thrown into the spotlight and had to appear to be loving and supportive of their partner’s choice to risk their lives in the name of glory. These women were left at home alone to put up with the pressures of Life magazine and other media outlets peering in their windows while they attempt a life of normalcy, though there was nothing normal about their situation.

The Astronaut Wives Club starts by chronicling the wives of the Mercury Seven, that is the earliest astronauts. I think it may have been a more successful book if it had stuck to just those seven. Instead, Koppel opens the field to the wives of later missions as well. This gives the book a snapshot feel, jumping back and forth among all the different wives. Because much of the book is set during the burgeoning days of the feminist movement in the United States, I think a much more nuanced and intelligent look at the period could have been achieved by looking at only a few wives in greater depth.

The Astronaut Wives Club is both interesting and a quick read. Koppel comes from the magazine and newspaper world and I think her talents may lie in short form journalism. I found the writing style to be more suited to a magazine piece than a full length treatment. Koppel jumps back and forth from one wife to the next so quickly that I could not keep them straight. Instead of emphasizing the strengths each woman brought to the group, the effect is to make them seem almost indistinguishable. Given the important role these women played in history and how they have been shoved to the backseat they deserve a more insightful and introspective treatment.

Who would enjoy this book? The Astronaut Wives Club book gives fascinating insight into the lives of these women. Without too much detail or historical reflection you are served up an interesting read that resembles something you might find in People magazine. I think for someone with a greater knowledge of the early space programs the book may be a little light and inconsequential in spite of the fact that it is the only study of the early astronaut wives. Overall, it is a rather gossipy book that neglects to assert the intelligence and individuality of these women.

Elders by Ryan McIlvain

eldersI was turned onto Elders after hearing an interview with author Ryan McIlvain on the radio. The topic of the novel fascinated me: Mormon missionaries doing service in Brazil. Yes, the novel is about members of the Church of Latter Day Saints going door to door in a mid sized Brazilian town. I really did not understand the distribution of Mormons throughout the world until I read this. I thought the movement was a largely North American phenomena focused predominately in Utah. Not so.

Throughout the novel the protagonist, Elder McLeod, struggles with his faith (all Mormon missionaries are referred to as Elder). He comes from a prominent Boston Mormon family, but is not as convinced of his religiosity as those around him. Added onto this is the overwhelming sense of anti-Americanism Elder McLeod experiences in post 911 Brazil. These pressures compounded with a zealous missionary partner propel McLeod to make some questionable decisions. In fact, Elders is very much a coming of age novel about self discovery.

As much as I was fascinated by the topic of the novel, my over all feeling was that it fell a little bit flat. That may be because I had built Elders up in my head after hearing the interview with McIlvain on the radio. It is an okay read, certainly not a waste of time, but I was expecting amazing. The main characters are well drawn out, though some of the secondary ones are predictable and flat. The internal and external conflicts McIlvain encounters are wide ranging and interesting: from issues of sexuality and sexual expression to being American when America is not the most popular nation on the block.

Who would like this book? I was attracted to Elders because of the insight it gave into the modern, international world of Mormonism. In recent years there have been a spate of books dealing with Mormons, but most of the deal with the more extreme forms of the religion and the plight of women (see Amity and Sorrow). Elders stands apart from those as it deals with more mainstream Mormonism in a cosmopolitan world.

Summer Reading List

What you should read this summer. Just a quick list of suggestions to help entertain you this summer. Links go through to my original reviews.

1. Tigers In Red WeatherThis is a book about summer. Tennis and cocktail abound. The tale spans 30 years and recounts the troubles and turmoils of a family as they return each summer to Martha’s Vineyard. I could not put it down.

2. The Rosie ProjectAh, The Rosie Project. Romantic comedy at it’s best. I laughed a lot, his book down. It is a literary page turner with great character development and unexpected twists.

3. Seating Arrangements. I read this back before I started the blog, but it continues to stay in my mind. It is a social satire set over a summer weekend wedding. The guests are of the upper crust, but they are not behaving as such. There is a little (inadvisable) sex, a little love and perhaps a hint of scandal!I was fully invested in the characters and I loved the adventure. It will make your heart go pitter patter.

4. The Dinner. I have been recommending this book to just about everyone I know. I could not put it down. It is about a problem that may tear apart a family and the lengths parents will go to to protect their children. My mom’s reaction to it was completely different than my own, but neither one of us could put it down.

5. Brain on Fire. A piece of non-fiction for a change. A true story about Cahalan’s month long descent into madness and how her doctors finally figured out what was going on. The author will be at the Edinburgh Book Festival, so that is just one more reason to read it if you are in Edinburgh!

6. Amity and Sorrow. A story about a set of sisters and their mother on the run from their father a leader of an ultra conservative Christian cult. If that wasn’t enough, one of the sisters is causing an awful lot of trouble. This book was harder to put down than I imagined it would be. The author, Peggy Riley, will also be at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

7. Golden Boy. I cannot say enough great things about this novel. Like The Dinner, I have been recommending this book to everyone. The author dangles little pieces of the story on each page making it impossible to put down. The story focuses on a high school golden boy and his troubling journey of self discovery and his own sexuality.

8. Born WeirdThis is a really quirky and fun book. It involves a cross Canada journey to reunite a family of five siblings before their Grandmother passes away. In and of itself that may not seem to gripping, but Kaufman weaves together a funny tale of adventure and sibling rivalry.


Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann

hourofratHour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann isn’t the type of book I normally read (ie. not literary fiction), but sometimes I like to mix it up a little. I must admit that I was initially initially drawn to the book because of its cover. I became more intrigued when I discovered that it was about a female American Iraqi war vet living in Beijing. That kind of breaks the mold of most mystery/thrillers. A little more research revealed that Brackmann’s previous novel Rock Paper Tiger was a New York Times Notable book back in 2010 and was, in fact, on my To Be Read list.

Though the story in Hour of the Rat starts in Beijing, the protagonist, Ellie, spends most of the book travelling to different tourist and industrial locations in China. She is trying to find the brother of one her friends and uncovers the fact that he is an eco-terrorist of sorts. That is not good news in China.

The most engrossing aspect of the novel is the window it gives into the inner workings of post-Communist China. I was fascinated by the descriptions of the newly developed eco-tourist industry catering to both foreigners and young Chinese. It is a different world than that of Cultural Revolution China, and yet somethings stay surprisingly the same. This is complemented by a look into Chinese factories, the plight of farmers and the life of the new ultra rich.

Who would like this book? As I mentioned above, I do not generally read mysteries and find myself unable to evaluate it effectively on those terms. I will say that I found it a little long at times. But I would recommend it highly for its cultural insights into modern China. There are a great number of mystery series out there that are set in foreign cultures and do a magnificent job of immersing the reader in that culture. Donna Leon is famous for her portrayal of Venice, Barbara Nadel does the same thing for Istanbul and John Burdett take the police procedural to Bangkok. Brackmann’s books set in Beijing could certainly be added to this list. Definitely good vacation reading if you are headed to China or prefer armchair travel.

Sins of the Father Blog Tour

sins-coverBeing an author is hard. Being a self published, independent author is even harder. How does your book find its audience without the PR mechanisms of the large publishing houses? Well, on way is through blog tours. And that is what this is.

Introducing author Krystal Milton‘s latest novel, Sins of the Father. The story revolves around Annalynn and her process of self-discovery as her father stands accused of being a ruthless serial killer.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

rosie-projectYou know that feeling that you get when you are watching the perfect romantic comedy? Yeah, that’s what it feels like to read Graeme Simsion‘s The Rosie Project. It is not the most astounding work of literary fiction to hit the shelves, but it is a darn good read. I read it quickly over two days and could not put it down. It was a huge hit in Australia, where it was originally published, and is now taking the rest of the world by storm. This is one of those books that should be on your radar this summer.

The story is about a socially awkward genetics professor looking for love in all the wrong places. He is quirky, charming and adorable as a character, but not what most women are looking for in a life partner. He falls in love without realizing it with a woman who is utterly unsuited to his rigidly scheduled life. Hilarious antics ensue.

The reason why I was so taken with The Rosie Project is because it is unlike any other novel I have read. Comparisons have been drawn to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time because the protagonists of both novels sit somewhere on the Autism spectrum, but beyond that the stories are dissimilar. At its heart The Rosie Project is a love story. A very funny and ill-fated love story. I felt invested in the characters and truly wanted them to find each other and happiness.

Who would like this book? With summer upon us, I would say that The Rosie Project is the perfect summer read. Not too heavy, funny and smart just like any romantic comedy movie should be. If it were a movie I think it would likely star Steve Carell. It is something you could immerse yourself in during an airplane ride and arrive at your destination feeling relaxed, entertained and happy.

Tell It To The Trees by Anita Rau Badami

tell it to the treesTell It To The Trees by Anita Rau Badami is a little bit of a blast the past. It came out in hard cover way back in 2011 and has been on my To Be Read list ever since. I have been a fan of Badami’s since her first novel, Tamarind Mem came out years ago and have followed her career with great interest ever since.

Tell It To The Trees is about an Indo-Canadian family living in a remote part of British Columbia. They have but one neighbor and live a rather isolated life. And that is just the way the patriarch of the family wants it. He is an abusive and controlling bully who holds his family captive by his whims and volatile temper. After his first wife leaves him he retreats to India to find a new, more submissive wife.

The main character development in the novel takes place through Varsha, the child of the first marriage, who will do anything to prevent her new mother from abandoning her as well. As she grows up the influence of her father becomes more apparent. She learns and absorbs his bullying techniques to horrifying results.

Overall, I cannot say that I enjoyed Tell It To The Trees. A novel about physical and psychological abuse is not something I enjoy, it does not matter how well written it is. In my memory, all of Badami’s novels have a depressing strain to them, but this one has little else in it that is up lifting. The relationship between Varsha and he little brother is quite endearing in the beginning but as Varsha grows up it turns quite toxic.

Who would like this book? Difficult question to answer. I recommended Tell It To The Trees to my mother-in-law’s book club without having read it, which was a bit of a mistake as none of them enjoyed it. That does not mean it did not stimulate interesting debate, just that the reading process was not what I expected. If you do plan on reading Badami in the future, I would recommend one of her earlier works like Tamarind Mem or the multiple award winning The Hero’s Walk. 

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani

yonahlosseeI’ve been hearing great things about Anton Disclafani‘s The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls for a couple of months now. It has been touted as one of the books to watch this summer in places like the The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly. So obviously I came to it expecting a lot. It was a good read, and I am sure it will be loved by a great many, but it just wasn’t for me. It be a case of the wrong book at the wrong time.

Let me lay out for you from the outset the reasons why it did not particularly rock my world:

  1. Some girls growing up love horses. I was not one of them. There are lots of horse riding sections in Yonahlossee, most of which I skimmed, but I think I was supposed to feel passion and beauty.
  2. The story is told in such a way as to give increasingly more information about a past indiscretion. Normally I like this style, but Golden Boy, the book I read previous to this one, is told in the same manner and I was bored of that style. I just wanted the information!!
  3. I did not find the protagonist, Thea, to be sympathetic and I think for this particular story that is crucial.

All these reasons for not liking the novel ultimately reveal more about me than Disclafani or The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls.

The story revolves around the teenage Thea, who is suddenly sent away to Yonahlossee after committing some indiscretion involving her twin brother and their cousin. What did she do that was so horrible? Her story is revealed in a series of flashbacks that are interspersed with the travails of her new life at the Riding Camp. One thing that becomes clear is that she did not necessarily learn from her past mistakes. All of this is set against the back drop of the increasing financial strain that the Great Depression has brought to other well off girls at this riding camp-cum-finishing school.

Who would like this book? There are a lot of people out there who are going to love this book. In fact I have already recommended it as a ‘must read’ to one friend. She likes historical fiction and rode horses when she was growing up. This book is definitely up her alley. In spite of my personal feelings about the book, I do thing Yonahlossee is a great book for summer. It is a page turner. You feel compelled to go on to find out why Thea has been sent away and how her actions could have had such a devastating effect on her family.