Thursday, April 27, 2017

Book Review: Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King

First line: Marcus Gavius Apicius purchased me on a day hot enough to fry sausage on the market stones.

I read this 400+ page book in about 72 hours and I loved every page. It's old school fun: great characters, fabulous sense of place, evocative detail, drama in spades, and satisfying emotional peaks and dips.

The novel's narrator is Thrasius, a young slave gifted in cooking. He's purchased by Apicius, an immensely wealthy Roman determined to use his fortune, fabulous parties, and appreciation of exquisite cuisine to gain power with Caeser and his heirs.

Thankfully, Thrasius' reputation isn't exaggerated, and his skill and imagination in the kitchen -- combined with the rare, unusual, and expensive ingredients Apicius buys -- launches them both -- but also pulls them into a terrible rivalry that ends in unimaginable tragedy.

If you're not familiar with Apicius, don't wiki him; just enjoy King's revealing of his life. As I said on social media more than once, I was dubious there would be anything really sorrowful or dramatic about the life of a chef and his gourmand, but whooboy, was I wrong! Who knew that being Caeser's culinary advisor would be so fraught? (Actually, I should of known. Those Romans, everything is so.serious.)

Everything about this book captivated me. Thrasius is a wonderful narrator, and every character, down to the tertiary ones, are vibrantly rendered. The villains are breathlessly appalling (again, the Romans know how to double down on evil!) and King renders the many tragedies so well, I went through about three tissues as the book wound down.

This was just a fabulous read -- a top ten for 2017.

Title: Feast of Sorrow
Author: Crystal King

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Ancient Rome / 20s C.E. / Historical Figures Fictionalized / Cooking / Political Intrigue / Friendship)
Publisher/Publication Date: Touchstone (4/25/2017)
Source: The publisher
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Teaser Tuesday, April 25

I am seriously obsessed with Crystal King's Feast of Sorrow, a marvelously fascinating historical novel set in ancient Rome, following the gifted slave chef Thrasius, and his ambitious epicure master, Apicius. (Today's its release, too!)

I'll be honest, I was skeptical how much sorrow or drama there could be in a book about a cook but I was so very wrong. (Give it to the Romans to drama up everything!) This book has me gripped, and I'm pretty sure I'll finish all 416 pages in less than 72 hours.

Here's my teaser from it:
I heard and felt the whoosh of wings near my head as a giant owl swooped by me and came to land on Mars's outstretched sword. (p233)
What are you reading today? Any teasers to share?

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Better late than never, right?!

The winner of The Illusionist's Apprentice is ... Beth C.!

Congrats to Beth!

Be sure to check out my current giveaways -- more coming!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Weekend reads and spring soon?

It's gray and rainy today, which I normally don't mind, but I'm also headache-y (allergies?) and super stressed about work, so everything is just annoying to me. (I'm pretty sure a gorgeous day would send me into a snit, so really, I'm not safe for human consumption.)

I'm chugging along merrily on my novel (my nine-month class wraps up in June!) and while I'm only just at Part 2, it feels like a better draft than I've ever had before. I feel like I've finally "gotten" how to do drafts without self editing so much, and it's such a relief. The story doesn't come easily, but at least I'm nitpicking at it less! 

My weekend read is Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King and it is faaaaaaaaahbulous. I'm really loving it, and I hope I get to log some serious reading time. (Dubious -- Unabridged Toddler got a new batch of library books and has been pleading for a day at the Children's Museum.)

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Release Spotlight: The Book of Air by Joe Treasure

As I mentioned in my Top Ten Tuesday post, I love books inspired by classic lit, and I'm really really excited for this new release, The Book of Air, which imagines a future in which society is governed by Jane Eyre (!!!). I'll be reviewing it in May.

The Book of Air
Clink Street Publishing (4/4/17)

Retreating from an airborne virus with a uniquely unsettling symptom, property developer Jason escapes London for his country estate, where he is forced to negotiate a new way of living with an assortment of fellow survivors.

Far in the future, an isolated community of descendants continue to farm this same estate. Among their most treasured possessions are a few books, including a copy of Jane Eyre, from which they have constructed their hierarchies, rituals and beliefs. When 15-year-old Agnes begins to record the events of her life, she has no idea what consequences will follow. Locked away for her transgressions, she escapes to the urban ruins and a kind of freedom, but must decide where her future lies.

These two stories interweave, illuminating each other in unexpected ways and offering long vistas of loss, regeneration and wonder.

The Book of Air is a story of survival, the shaping of memory and the enduring impulse to find meaning in a turbulent world.

About Joe Treasure

Joe Treasure currently lives in South West London with his wife Leni Wildflower. As an English teacher in Wales, he ran an innovative drama programme, before following Leni across the pond to Los Angeles, an experience that inspired his critically acclaimed debut novel The Male Gaze (published by Picador). His second novel Besotted (also published by Picador) also met with rave reviews. Learn more about him at his website and connect with him on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

First line: When I picture the house I see it in the late afternoon, the golden river light filling the windows and gilding the two-hundred-year-old brick.

I love ghost stories; I love haunted house stories. Add in the magical combo of "The Yellow Wallpaper" meets Rebecca, and I am sold.

Our heroine, Clare, is the devoted wife to Jess, a writer whose runaway debut landed him fame and some fortune, but now faces writer's block as he wrestles with his second book. They move to Clare's hometown in the Hudson Valley, an area dominated by apple farms. Most everything is out of their price range, but they find they can live rent free at the decrepit River House if they act as groundskeepers -- a house owned by their former literature professor, Alden Montague -- Monty.

The find is serendipitous: Jess and Monte get along swimmingly, and despite some weird moments -- ghostly figures and crying babies at 3am -- Clare finds satisfaction in cleaning up Monty's home and nurturing Jess. Then she does her own writing, consumed by the tale of a town Apple Blossom Queen from the 1920s, who was whisked away by Monty's grandfather and brought back a ruined woman.

In some ways, it's easy to see where the story is going; the pleasure is anticipating how the characters will react to the revelations about Monty's ne'er-do-well ancestor as well as the increasingly ghostly presence at the home. But as the story progresses, small fragments start to fleck off, leading the reader to wonder just what is really happening -- what is imagined and what is fact.

Over a three-day period of dreary cold and rain, I inhaled this stuffed-full-of-ghostly-sightings, creepy-goings-on-in-a-massive-old-house read, enraptured by Goodman's evocation of place and the shivery atmosphere she conjured. Even more so was the dreadful sense of oh-my-gosh-is-this-real-or-not, which made me wonder if I was going mad myself.

The ending wrapped up neatly, and some readers might find it too neat. But I was really hooked by Clare and her story (I'm being vague to avoid any accidental spoiling) and this made a wonderfully diverting weekend read. Fun, moody, with a what-what?! sort of kicker that had me doubting the entire story (in the best way!), this book reminded me of good, classic gothic fic and insidious haunted houses. (So good, I reread the last four chapters while working on this review!)

Title: The Widow’s House
Author: Carol Goodman

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Supernatural / Marriage / Writers / Motherhood / Hudson Valley / Haunted House)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (3/7/2017)
Source: TLC Book Tours

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Widow's House to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 4/30. Complete rules here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday, April 18

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. The themes change, but it's always about the top ten for you!

This week's top ten Tuesday theme is: Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book.

Let's see if I can limit myself to 10!

Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book:
  1. Noir/Noirish/Noir-Inspired: I love me a good femme fatale, and a man who doesn't want to be a chump; I love double crosses and triple crosses, and anti-heroes and depressing one night stands. Anything reeking of Hammett, Chandler, Cain, or Hughes wins with me.

  2. Archaeologists: Between Indiana Jones and the Vesper Holly books, adventurous archaeologists were imprinted on me as a kid and I'm just a sucker for archaeologists in fiction.

  3. Sea Monsters: I'm completely and totally freaked by sea monsters (although I kind of like the ocean, I vastly prefer the clear Caribbean to the murky New England Atlantic, where obviously some giant long-necked dinosaur-ish sea monster is waiting to chomp me) and so I love to scare myself with novels about sea monsters. There aren't many, which is why I'm enjoying this recent spate of Lovecraft-inspired fiction, because his watery monster gods really work for me! (Literally, just googling images of sea monsters gave me creepy-crawly-goosebumps-of-delicious-horror!)

    Gothic: That's a broad one, and it's how I end up reading so much crap. But I love a good gothicky novel: aging and decaying buildings, desolate landscapes, ghosts and malevolent spirits, and always a plucky young heroine I can pretend to be (without having to be in the freezing cold castle populated with ghosts!). That there's a romance doesn't hurt, but I'm pickier about my hero so that's not always a gimme there.

  5. Inspired by Classic Literature: God, I love a retelling, and I'm particularly keen on novels that plumb classic favorites with an eye toward the 'invisible', i.e. people of color, women, queer folks, etc.

  6. Inspired by a Real Life Lady: I'm also addicted to biographical novels, especially about real historical figures. I'm so over the X's Wife or X's Daughter titling practices, but otherwise, if it was a woman who did a thing back in the day, I'm there 1000%. I lean toward ordinary women over royalty, unless it's non-Western, then I'm all for the trappings of luxury and courtly intrigue.

  7.  Unique Settings: Another broad category, but there you go. I love books set in locations I've not often read about, real or imaginary. I'm a sucker for armchair travel.

  8. Birth Control and/or Not Becoming a Mother: Weird, but there ya go. I spent a very long time in discernment, so to speak, about becoming a parent, and I crave fiction that features women wrestling with this decision and deciding to not become a parent. So often it feels like women in novels have children for the flimsiest reasons, and I really love books that address the complicated, fraught world of not becoming a parent. I also love a heroine who uses birth control because, hooray and that's real life and etc.

  9. Ghosts!: I was back-and-forthing about whether this just replicates my 'Gothic' category, but I'm going to say it doesn't. But I love me a good ghost story. Lots of atmosphere, low gore.

  10. Experimental Writing Style/Techniques: I am not always the most sophisticated reader, but I do enjoy books that play around with storytelling/narrative techniques. I've not read as many of these kinds of books the last handful of years, because they require some mental energy, but I'm always so impressed with authors who can tell a story in a style that is unusual, weird, or more than first-or-third person (or, these days, second!).

I could go on, but I'll stop. Any of these things what you look for in a book? What 10 things guarantee you'll want to read a book?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

First line: I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair.

I pretty much wanted to read this one the moment it came out; between the cover, the Boston setting, and the sense of noir-ish-ness I got from the plot, it seemed like a sure hit for me. I made it the January pick for my book club and ... I'm glad I read this book, but I'm really ambivalent about it. (Most of my book club hated it, although more than one person admired the raw narrative style.)

Set around Christmas in 1963, the novel is narrated by Eileen. A much older Eileen tells us this story, and she offers up her younger self on a platter, unvarnished and exposed.

Eileen works as a secretary in a boy's juvenile detention facility/prison. She lives with her father, an retired police office and alcoholic who is plagued by terrors (and perhaps mental illness). Eileen's life shuttles between work and home, where she spends most of her time in resentful meditation of her small world and the people in it. She loathes everyone around her, and she has no escape from the misery, real or self-induced. It's only when Rebecca, the pretty and cheerful and unorthodox new counselor arrives does Eileen's life change.

This book felt straight-up Catcher in the Rye, but with a lady; only Eileen is a hell of a lot more honest than Holden ever was, and definitely more badass. (In her vicious, restrained way.) Older Eileen, our narrator, seems well adjusted despite, frankly, being such a cold, odd young woman; yet she recounts this time period with a squeamish attention to detail, savoring the ways she was horrible and monstrous and naive. I couldn't decide if I wanted to revile or hug Eileen.

Most of the book reads kind of like a coming-of-age; but in the last quarter of the book, the story makes a jackknife dive into seriously effed up territory, and that's when I started to really enjoy things. There was a real noir-ish feel to the story that I just ate up.

So...I think I liked this book? I can't tell. But I'm a bit obsessed with it; Moshfegh's open admission she wrote it to gain fame and success has me breathlessly in awe of her.

If you enjoy unlikable characters and messed up young women, seedy settings and depressed dissolution, get this one. (And then tell me because I want to obsess about the end!)

Title: Eileen
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / 1960s / Boston / Coming of Age / Female Friendship / Revenge / Obsession / Prisons)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin Press (8/18/2015)
Source: NetGalley

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, April 11

I'm doing First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea, in which you post the first paragraph of the first chapter of the book you're reading (or going to read).

My excerpt today is from Naomi J. Williams' stunning and fabulous Landfalls. This is a reread for me; I first read this when it came out in 2015 and uh-dored it, and to my great delight, my book club picked it for our read this month, thus giving me an excuse to dive back in.


No one knew what to make of the new galley stoves when they arrived. There were two -- one for each ship -- and they came by boat, first for the Boussole and then for the Astrolabe, disassembled into their cumbersome components and accompanied by a foul-mouthed shipyard locksmith charged with installing them.

What are you reading right now? Share your intro with me!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Book Review: 1,001 Ways to Slow Down by Barbara Ann Kipfer

This beautifully illustrated volume does just what the title promises, offering 1,001 ways to slow down.

In her introduction, Kipfer writes about "living at the speed that brings you the most joy and satisfaction", which resonated deeply with me. I'm not a slow person by nature, but I could use with more reminders to be attentive to the moment.

Designed to be cracked open when needed, rather than read through in a sitting, this book is like a zen friend who offers those reminders without judgment. The tips range from the easy -- Slow down and enjoy eating. -- to the more complicated -- Consider a move to a smaller house. -- so every suggestion may not be right for each reader. But even those that really weren't or won't be applicable to me -- Chop your own wood. -- still offered me a moment of pause -- and really, isn't that what it's about?

I found immediate use for this book from the day it arrived -- a random page offered the perfect centering sentiment for opening a work meeting, and I've taken to paging through it when keyed up about something. It's not a book one might immediately think "I need!" and yet, it's probably a book many of us need in our days! (I've taken to leaving it out at my desk, and many of my colleagues browse through it -- use this a bit like a coffee table book!)

I am particularly taken with the illustrations of this book: each page is detailed with a gorgeous border, soft and appealing, with quotes illuminated in pretty repeating patterns.

A very welcome volume in tense times, I was surprised by appreciative of this hefty book. A perfect gifting volume, this would be great for high school and college graduates, as well as those whose lives are packed full of, well, life! (I'm thinking end of year holidays and birthdays -- forget New Year's resolutions -- why not moments of calm?)

Title: 1,001 Ways to Slow Down: A Little Book of Everyday Calm
Author: Barbara Ann Kipfer

Genre: Non-Fiction (How To / Inspirational / Self Improvement / Meditation / Slow Movement)
Publisher/Publication Date: National Geographic (3/28/2017)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Teaser Tuesday, April 4

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme where readers share a teaser from their current read. It was started by MizB of Books and a Beat.

My teaser for today comes from the start of Carol Goodman's The Widow's House.

"It's the color of old money," Jess said, his voice full of longing. (p1)

I'm a sucker for openings like this.

What are you reading today? Any good teasers to share?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Book Review: The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

First line: Agent Elliot Matthews stared down a firing squad.

Kristy Cambron is a new-to-me author, but from the reviews I've seen, she's got a devoted fan base. This wasn't a read for me, but I can appreciate why so many love her books.

Set in the high-flying 1920s in Boston, this novel follows illusionist Wren Lockhart (born Jennifer Charles). At the book's open, a spiritualist debunked by Harry Houdini seems to bring a man back from the dead -- who then promptly dies again -- and the FBI think it's murder.

As Houdini's former assistant, Wren comes to the attention of the two agents -- especially when a piece of paper with her real name is found on the dead man.

From there, the novel moves through multiple mysteries, like solving the murder, as well as Wren's mysterious background, including the sister she staunchly tries to protect.

Cambron does a great job evoking the details of the era, from Wren's distinctive style of dress (men's tuxedos) to the trappings of Jazz Age Boston such as the sumptuous brownstones and dingy failing theaters.

I enjoyed the detailed look at the illusionists and their trade, although as this is a Thomas Nelson offering, there's a whiff of religiosity to that thread, which manifested as a strong delineation between illusion and magic/spiritualism (with the latter being 'dark' and wrong, etc.). It wasn't so overt as to ruin my enjoyment of the story, however, and I actually found myself wishing Wren would have spoken more about how her faith impacted her decision to debunk spiritualism -- I think it would have made the story -- and her character -- more rich and nuanced.

Sadly, it was the characterizations that kept me from loving this book. Both Wren and her hero, Agent Elliot Matthews, felt thin, as the narrative would pronounce things about the characters without it being demonstrated. I especially felt this for Wren, whom Elliot immediately gloms onto, and it took me almost 125 pages before I warmed to her as he instantly did. (Elliot himself is a bit of a mystery, too, but as he was really a foil for Wren, I didn't mind as much.)

The narrative style was a bit clunky at times, too (As muscles go, Wren's took on a life of their own, tensing in reaction., p141) which kept this from being a favorite.

There's a great Author's Note at the end about Houdini and the inspiration behind Wren's character.

A quick read -- Jazz Age, murder mystery, and a sweet romance, with a very wintry atmosphere -- this book was great for this equally slushy and cold weekend here in Boston.

Title: The Illusionist’s Apprentice
Author: Kristy Cambron

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 20th Century / Prohibition / Boston / Illusionists / Murder Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: Thomas Nelson (3/7/2017)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Illusionist's Apprentice to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers; ends 4/14. Complete rules here.