The Best Books I Read In 2012

In 2012 my reading took me into the lives of Japanese-American women during WWII; introduced me to a fascinating family on the edge of an Indian Reservation in North Dakota; chilled me with the harsh Minnesota winter of a nineteenth century logging town; opened my eyes to the horror of labor service camps in Hungary, civil war in Sierra Leone, and genocide in Rwanda; and enthralled me with trips to Spain, the English countryside and a small town in Norway. I was introduced to memorable characters such as Jean Patrick, Kenzie, Odd Eide, Tristan Sadler, and Evelina Harp. I was haunted by thrilling literary-suspense; examined my feelings about religion, politics and racism; was enchanted by ancient ghosts at an archeological site in New Mexico; and reminded of the humor, the menace, the poignancy, and the love which draw people to animals. I laughed. I cried. I was transported by beautiful prose, and moved by profound observations. I feel really lucky that I had so many of these kinds of books in my reading stacks this year.

Because of the volume of wonderful books I read in 2012, I decided to do what I did in 2011 and create a long list, a short list and a winner for the best books I read this year.

Here are the books that touched me the most in 2012.  Short and long listed books are in no particular order.

Long List – 2012

  Unlikely Brothers

The Absolutist by John Boyne (Other Press – July 2012) – Bound to be a classic someday, Boyne’s novel has fascinating characters, a finely drawn plot, relevant themes and gorgeous writing. A powerful and poignant read for our time. Read my review.

The Submission by Amy Waldman (Picador, March 2012) – Compelling fiction which challenges readers, especially Americans, to look deep within themselves about essential questions related to religion, politics and fear. Read my review.

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel (Unbridled Books, May 2012) – A terrific novel which I would classify as a literary suspense-thriller. Written with Mandel’s signature style, filled with complex characters, and revolving around the simple, yet compelling, concept that one decision can have lasting echoes far into the future. Read my review.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (Anchor, March 2012) – A novella which grows more powerful after the final page has been turned. I have found myself thinking of these women, their stories, their community, their ultimate fate…and their voices echo in my head. It is hard to turn away from them. Read my review.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Random House, July 2012) – A deeply moving novel  of loss, regret and ultimately forgiveness and redemption.The narrative moves between Harold and Maureen and gradually begins to connect the dots in the lives of these ordinary yet extraordinary people. This is not a fast-paced plot, but it is compelling drama which propels the reader through its pages to an emotional conclusion. Read my review.

The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg (Peirene Press, February 2012) – A multi-layered and rich piece of literature where pieces of the characters lives come together like an intricate puzzle. Many historical novels need hundreds of pages to do what Sahlberg does in a novella with just over one hundred pages. With writing which is tight, taut, and artfully drawn, Sahlberg reels the reader into a family drama set against the backdrop of post-war Finland in the dead of winter. Read my review.

Short List 2012

ComeInCome in and Cover Me by Gin Phillips (Riverhead Books, January 2012) Hardcover; Contemporary Fiction

Oprah Book of the Week

 

Gin Phillips is a very talented writer. Her prose is radiant. I found myself sinking into this dream-like and beautifully crafted novel. Phillips draws the reader into a world of mystery and imagination as she brings to life the prehistoric characters whose skeletons now lie beneath the dirt of New Mexico. At once achingly sad and joyously hopeful, Come In and Cover Me is a haunting and poignant journey into the heart of a sensitive and enigmatic woman who discovers that it is never too late to heal one’s heart.

Read my review.

BirdsofaLesserParadiseBirds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman (Scribner, November 2012) Hardcover; Collection of Short Fiction

Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writer’s Selection

Taken as a whole, Bergman’s collection of stories is a stunning and beautifully wrought meditation on how our lives are connected to each other and to the world around us. Bergman writes with a finely honed knowledge of the animal world, and includes the humor, the menace, the poignancy, and the love which draw people to animals. She reminds us of how we cannot detach ourselves from our biology or from the world in which we live.

This is an exquisite collection from a fresh, new voice in fiction.

Read my review.

Invisible BridgeThe Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (Knopf, May 2010) Hardcover; Historical Fiction

2010 NYT Most Notable Book, 2011 Orange Prize Long List, 2010 Christian Science Monitor Best Book, 2010 James Tait Black Memorial Prize shortlist, 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature Finalist, 2010 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Shortlist, 2010 Edward Lewis Wallant Award

It is no surprise that I loved this novel. I loved its scope, its humanity, and its honesty. I loved Orringer’s prose, and her ability to resurrect the feel of a generation marching towards war. I loved the characters – Andras with his generous heart, Tibor with his sensitivity and Matyas with his free spirit. I loved that Orringer did not abandon me in darkness, but lifted me into the light. This is a book that adds to our understanding of history and provides insight into the human side of war. It is remarkable. And you should read it.

Read my review.

LighthouseRoadThe Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye (Unbridled Books, October 2012) Hardcover; Historical & Literary Fiction

The Lighthouse Road is a novel about family and the complicated journey through love. It explores that ethereal bond between child and parent, the unexplainable desire to know where we come from and where we are going. Ultimately it is about finding home, not just in place but in the people with whom we share our lives.

Read my review.

RunningTheRiftRunning the Rift by Naomi Benaron (Algonquin Books, January 2012) Hardcover; Historical & Literary Fiction

Winner 2010 Bellwether Prize for Fiction

I remember when the Rwandan Genocide happened. I was living in California and I remember the news footage of people laying slaughtered in the streets. I remember asking myself how this could happen and why no one stopped it. What Benaron’s novel does so exquisitely is to get beneath the headlines and examine the daily lives of the people living in Rwanda in the years leading up to the tragedy. She uncovers the tensions and the complexities of a country in flux and how misunderstandings between ethnic groups can grow into something so hate-filled that neighbors and friends can turn on each other.

Read my review.

MemoryOfLoveThe Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Atlantic Monthly Press, January 2011) Hardcover; Historical & Literary Fiction

2011 Overall Best Book for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, 2011 Orange Prize Shortlist.  2011 Warwick Prize for Writing shortlist

The Memory of Love is a quiet novel which reveals the people of post-war Sierra Leone: a boy whose father was murdered, a man rebuilding his body and dreaming of marriage, a woman ready to reclaim her son born of a rape, a community strengthened by its collective memories and cultural ties. Forna’s writing is graceful, introspective, and beautifully rendered.

Read my review.

PlagueOfDovesThe Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich (Harper, April 2008) Hardcover; Literary Fiction

2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist (Fiction), 2010International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Longlist, 2009 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award , 2008 Christian Science Monitor Best Book (Fiction), 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Short List

Erdrich’s writing is lyrical and evokes vibrant imagery. She is a patient writer, one who carefully lays out the story and builds her characters. Spending time in her novels is like taking a journey to another place and time. I have mentioned in other reviews of Erdrich’s work that she is the consummate storyteller – and in The Plague of Doves this is once again apparent. Erdrich’s Pulitzer-nominated novel opens with the murder, then branches off into what at first seems like disparate stories…character studies, if you will. Eventually, Erdrich connects all these threads and returns to the question of who committed the murder of a family all those years before. It is a thrilling, “aha” moment in the novel.

Read my review.

Winner 2012

SmallDamages

Small Damages by Beth Kephart
Philomel (July 19, 2012)
304 pages
ISBN 978-0399257483

I first discovered the writing of Beth Kephart when I read an advance readers edition of her novel Dangerous Neighbors in September of 2010 (read my review). Her poetic and finely wrought prose captured me – here was a writer who wrote from the heart. Since then, I’ve been slowly working my way through Kephart’s amazing body of work. Her latest novel – Small Damages – explores the themes of loss, the connection between parent and child, and the process of healing our hearts. Once again, Kephart brings to life her characters and makes us care deeply about them. Her word choices are carefully crafted (she will tell you this herself), and yet the writing feels effortless. I read a wonderful array of books in 2012, but it was easy for me to pick my favorite. I am looking forward to reading more wonderful novels from this most talented of authors.

I loved this novel and its appealing young protagonist. I loved the journey, and the discovery, the hope and the sadness, the path toward healing after trauma, the knowledge that we are never really alone, and that home is not a place on a map but the people who love you. Beth Kephart is an artist with words and Small Damages is another astonishing literary success.

Read my review.

 Did any of these amazing books make YOUR best books of 2012?


A New Year, A New Plan – Reading in 2013

happy new year images 2013I am happy to welcome 2013 and it is my goal to make reading more enjoyable with less stress this year. Twenty-twelve was a tough year for me personally with the loss of my dad and my sister back in treatment for her cancer. I found myself craving “me” time and wanting to do the things which brought me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I wanted to feed my creative spirit. I ended up reading far less in 2012 than any time in the last four years (only 58 books), partly because I started spending more time in my sewing room (I made 11 quilts and numerous smaller projects in 2012). My priorities shifted a bit.

In 2013 I want to read more of the books I already have in my stacks. To do that, I need to stop accepting new books for review with very rare exceptions…and I need to commit to buying no more than one new book a month. Last year (if I’m calculating correctly) 124 new books arrived in the mail from publishers, publicists, and authors. Many were unsolicited, but some I agreed to take for review. I probably bought at least 40 new books myself. With those kinds of numbers, I will never make a dent in my stacks. So here is my plan:

  • Read from my stacks – choose at least four books a month which I already own and read them.
  • Stop accepting books for review with VERY RARE exceptions (for example, I may decide to accept a book which I have been eagerly anticipating and would most likely buy myself).
  • Limit book buying to no more than one book a month (so no more than 12 new books for the year). If I buy more than one book in a month (for example for a book club), that means the next month I can’t buy any! I should note that I am NOT counting sewing or quilting books which are reference in nature :)
  • Continue purging books from my TBR shelf which I don’t think I’ll read – donate to charities, to the library, to friends and family….

That’s it. Simple, right? I would love to get back on track to read 100 books in 2013, but I’m not putting that kind of pressure on myself. I still want to devote some time to quilting. I still want to have time to putter around my yard (we’re putting in a garden this year if it kills me!). I still need time with my wonderful husband and my pets. And, oh yes, I am still working full-time! Really, my goal is to keep things simple and prioritize what is most important.

I am also going to be putting two new policies in place on my blog:

  1. Respond to comments via email instead of on the blog itself
  2. Create a basic letter to use for response to book review queries which I am declining (responding individually to literally hundreds of emails in 2012 was nearly impossible)

The last two years have seen the loss of some of my favorite blogs. Burn out, changes in life priorities, feeling unmotivated to keep blogging – all these things play a role. I have to admit, there have been times in the last year I’ve considered exiting the blogging world. But, in the end, I find that I still enjoy the process of writing and talking about books, life and sewing. It is my goal to keep things fresh here so that I can keep on sharing what is most important to me. So, blogging will continue to be part of my life for now. How about you? Are you making changes in 2013?

 


2012 Reading Wrap-Up

numberjumbleIt is the last day of 2012…and so I feel compelled to crunch the numbers for a reading wrap-up!

Twenty-twelve was an interesting year for me with personal challenges and losses and a new focus on my latest obsession: quilting and sewing. I read 38 fewer books and nearly 10,000 fewer pages than in 2011, but the quality of my reading was still excellent with 31% of the books I read garnering a 5 star rating (compared to 25% in 2011). Overall, the books I finished in 2012 averaged a whooping 4.3 stars (a tenth of a point higher than in 2011).

Ninety-eight percent of my reading was in fiction, and female authors dominated my stacks. Seventy-four percent of my reading involved new-to-me authors. I also managed to read three short story collections, nearly the same as in 2011 when I read four.

Here is the breakdown of my reading by the numbers:

  • Number of Books Read: 58
  • Number of Pages Read: 20,121
  • Average Pages per Book: 347
  • Most Books Read in a Month: 8 (February)
  • Least Books Read in a Month: 2 (December)
  • Average Number of Books Read in a Month: 4.8
  • Number of Non Fiction Books Read: 1
  • Number of Fiction Books Read: 57
  • Short Story Collections Read: 3
  • Female Authors (Percent of Total): 43 (74%)
  • Male Authors (Percent of Total): 15 (26%)
  • Books Written by New-To-Me Authors (Percent of Total): 43 (74%)
  • Number of 5 Star Books Read (Percent of Total): 18 (31%)
  • Average Rating of All Books Combined: 4.3 stars

Tomorrow (the first day of 2013) I will be posting my favorite books of 2012 – I hope you’ll come back to see which books made my list!


Mailbox Monday – December 31, 2012

mailboxsqurrielWelcome to this week’s Mailbox Monday and which is hosted by Suko’s Notebook this month. Visit the dedicated blog for the  meme to see the complete tour schedule in the right sidebar.

Here is what showed up at my house this week:

WhiteDogFellWhite Dog Fell From the Sky by Eleanor Morse (January 7th, 2013) arrived from Viking. Set in Botswana,  Publishers Weekly calls this novel “brutal and beautiful” and a reviewer for O, The Oprah Magazine calls the book “a tense and heartfelt novel,” going on to say, “Morse captures the magic of the African landscape and the terror and degradation of life under apartheid.

From the publisher:

Apartheid South Africa, 1976. Isaac Muthethe, a medical student, witnesses the brutal murder of his friend by the predominately white South African Defense Force. He flees the country, leaving his family behind and seeking asylum in neighboring Botswana, where he finds work as a gardener for Alice Mendelssohn, a white American. Both outsiders, Alice and Isaac form an unlikely friendship. The decisions that Alice must make entwine her life with Isaac’s in ways that neither of them could have anticipated. Filled with breathtaking descriptions of the harsh and beautiful landscape of Botswana and the difficult emotional terrain within all of us, White Dog Fell from the Sky is a poignant novel of love, friendship, race and politics. 

Eleanor Morse is a graduate of Swarthmore College, and spent a number of years living in Botswana in the 1970s. She earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Vermont College. Her novel An Unexpected Forest won the Independent Publisher’s Gold Medalist Award for Best Regional Fiction in the Northeast U.S. and was also selected as the Winner of Best Published Fiction by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance at the 2008 Maine Literary Awards. Morse has taught in adult education programs, in prisons, and in university systems, both in Maine and in southern Africa. She currently works as an adjunct faculty member with Spalding University’s MFA Writing program in Louisville, Kentucky, and lives on Peaks Island, Maine. Learn more about Morse and her work by visiting the author’s website.

ColourOfMilkThe Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon (January 1, 2013) arrived from Ecco. The novel is a January 2013 Indie Next Pick and has gotten some enthusiastic early reviews. The book is narrated in the urgent voice of Mary, a newly literate fourteen-year-0ld farm girl who is writing her story in 1831 England. Mary and her three sisters are forced to endure back-breaking farm work while their father unleashes his anger at the slightest provocation. Mary alone is brave enough to stand up to her father’s brutality. Eventually, Mary is sent to work for the local vicar and his invalid wife where she is introduced to books and learning. But this knowledge comes with a devastating price. Described as “lyric and brutal,” with a narrative voice which “haunts long after the last word has been read,” Nell Leyshon’s is being compared to Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jane Eyre.

Nell Leyshon’s first novel, Black Dirt, was long-listed for the Orange Prize and short-listed for the Commonwealth Book Prize. She is an award-winning dramatist whose plays include Comfort Me with Apples, winner of an Evening Standard Theatre Award, and Bedlam, which was the first play written by a woman for Shakespeare’s Globe. Born in Glastonbury, England, she now lives in Dorset.

PassionateLoveAffairA Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger by Lucy Robinson (January 2013) arrived from Penguin UK. The book is described as a “hilariously funny and gorgeously romantic story about falling in love when you least expect it.” From the publisher:

Charley Lambert has put considerable effort into achieving a perfect life. She has The Job. The Wardrobe. And The Flat. Her womanising, junk food-loving housemate Sam lowers the tone a bit but that aside, things are peachy. Then she breaks her leg in three places, watches her unrequited love propose to someone else and – worst of all – is forced to hand over her job to her nasty deputy while she recovers. Workaholic Charley fears that she will soon go mad. Desperate for something to do, she discovers her talent for helping the lovelorn online. And then William arrives in her inbox. Within hours of his first email, her world starts to change. Helpless, she watches herself fall in love with this man and begins to realise that she’s not who she thought she was. But will she be brave enough to turn her back on her old life – all for a total stranger?

Lucy Robinson is the author of The Greatest Love Story of All Time. Prior to writing Robinson earned her crust in West End theatre production and then factual television, working on documentaries for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five. Her writing career began when she started a dating blog for marieclaire.co.uk where she entertained readers with frank tales from her laughably unsuccessful foray into the world of internet dating. Brought up in Gloucestershire, she now lives with her boyfriend in South London.

BughouseAffairThe Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini (January 8, 2013) arrived from Tor Forge. This novel is the first in a new lighthearted mystery series set in nineteenth century San Francisco, and starring former Pinkerton operative Sabina Carpenter and her detective partner, ex-Secret Service agent John Quincannon. Two seemingly separate cases converge in surprising fashion, but not before two murders, assorted other felonies, and a man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes join the mix. Fans of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone series, and Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective series will not want to miss The Bughouse Affair.

Marcia Muller is the New York Times bestselling creator of private investigator Sharon McCone. The author of more than thirty-five novels, Muller received the MWA’s Grand Master Award in 2005. Learn more about Muller and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Bill Pronzini, creator of the Nameless Detective, is a highly praised novelist, short story writer and anthologist. He received the Grand Master Award from the MWA in 2008, making Muller and Pronzini the only living couple to share the award.

Did any wonderful books arrive at YOUR house this week?

 


Merry Christmas!

It is Christmas Eve day and I wanted to take a minute to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, wherever you are! I hope your Christmas is filled with family and friends, delicious food, good music and conversation, and….great books!


A Year in Sewing – 2012

 

1. VintageHoliday.Folded0001, 2. TahitiToteInGiraffes.Detail, 3. Swoon.Label, 4. BlushQuilt.FrontHanging, 5. MamasChina.Crumpled0001, 6. CompanionStarFriendship.OnRail, 7. RockinRobin.Front, 8. ColorsOfSpain.FrontOnRail4, 9. FreshPalatteSummer.Quilt Binding, 10. GardenSteps.Label and Back Reveal, 11. TahitiToteInElephants.FrontDetail, 12. KonaCarryallInLucysCrabShack.back

*Click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger view

I had a stellar year in sewing in 2012, finishing a huge amount of projects and learning new skills. In 2012, I got more comfortable with free motion quilting, tackled bag construction, learned paper piecing, made my first collaborative project, had fun with small projects (like mug rugs, pin cushions and ornaments), and found some new quilting friends both in my town and on Threadbias (an on line sewing community). I completed eleven (11) quilts, one table runner, three bags, and numerous small projects. Above is a collage of some of my finishes in 2012 but here is a more detailed accounting (with links to posts):

January 2012

 

The Sister’s Quilt – (53″ X 67″ lap quilt) This was a collaborative effort with my sister, Paula and is one of my most favorite quilts. This was my first attempt at quilting collaboratively in a liberated style. And it was super fun!

Summer Sampler Quilt (43.5″ X 61″ lap quilt) – This was my first attempt at paper piecing. I joined an on line quilt along and was really pleased with the outcome.

Rockin’ Robin Pure Bliss (58″ X 58″ lap quilt) – I made this along with several other quilters as part of an on line quilt along. Every quilt that was made used the same blocks, but the individual quilters chose their own layouts, making each quilt unique.

April 2012

Swoon (83″ X 83″ bed quilt) – Here was another on line quilt along which I joined. I love this pattern and it came together quickly for a double bed sized quilt.

May 2012

Scrappy Spring Table Runner (15.5″ X 38.5″) – I got inspired to use up some scraps and quickly pieced this bring, spring table runner. It also gave me a chance to practice some of my free motion quilting skills.

June 2012

Colors of Spain (60″ X 60″ lap quilt) – When I learned my friend, author Beth Kephart, was launching a new book…I decided to make her a quilt to celebrate. This quilt was so fun to make and I was really happy with the result.

Fresh Palette Summer Quilt (60″ X 60″ lap quilt) – I made this quilt from a kit and fell in love with the soft, vintage colors. I had a lot of fun practicing my free motion quilting skills on this one.

Kilah’s Block (12″ X 12″) – I donated this block for a little girl who needed the comfort of a quilt. You can see the complete quilt here.

July 2012

Tahiti Tote in Elephants (15.5″ wide at the top and 11.5″ tall and 4″ deep) – This was my first attempt at making a bag…and it was challenging, but rewarding to complete.

Tahiti Tote in Giraffes (15.5″ wide at the top and 11.5″ tall and 4″ deep) – I donated this bag to an organization that helps kids at risk.

Birthday Modern Mug Rug (6″ and 9″) – I made this little mug rug for my sister for her birthday. Later, I also constructed a mug rug for swap on Threadbias and made some of my sewing friends little mug rugs when we had a sewing party at my house.

Star Friendship Companion Quilt (54″ X 64″ lap quilt) – I finally managed to complete the companion piece to the quilt I made for Laura last year. I was thrilled with this one which took a long time to design.

August 2012

Beach Bag for Mom (20″ wide, 17″ tall) – This huge beach bag used Lucy’s Crab Shack collection – and it is a real celebration of the beach!

September 2012

Kaffe Fassett Blush Quilt (85″ X 85″ bed quilt) – I made this double bed quilt from a kit. It uses the vibrant fabrics of Kaffe Fassett and really brightens up the guest room.

Garden Steps Quilt (60″ X 78″ lap quilt) – For this quilt, I added hand embroidery as embellishment. I made this quilt as part of an on line quilt along, and although it was a very time consuming project, I really enjoyed the hand work.

October 2012

Vintage Holiday Quilt (64″ X 52″ lap quilt) – I made this quilt as part of an on line quilt along. I loved the winsome feel of it and had fun changing up the pattern to include my own design in the border corners.

Pin Cushions – I made a couple of pin cushions for a Threadbias swap … and discovered that pin cushions are not really my thing! Live and learn!

December 2012

 

Christmas Ornaments – I participated in an ornament swap on Threadbias and also made ornament tags for my packages this year.

Mama’s China (85″ X 85″ bed quilt) – I worked hard to finish this one in time for Christmas. I love this fabric line, and the pattern from Sweetwater was perfect for it.

Whew! My goal for 2013 is to finish up some of my previously started projects and try my hand at some new skills – like applique and hand quilting.


The Coffin Factory – Review of a Literary Magazine

The Coffin Factory serves as a nexus between readers, writers, and the book publishing industry.  Our mission is to provide great literature and art to people who love books, including those who do not usually read literary magazines.

We believe that quality literature and art are essential for the existence of an intelligent society.  In order to perpetuate an intellectually engaged culture, The Coffin Factory publishes phenomenal fiction, essays, and art three times a year. – from The Coffin Factory -

T.C. Boyle, Roberto Bolaño, Lydia Davis, Juan Pablo Villalobos, John Kenny, Bronwyn Mauldin, Jonathan Galassi & Jeff Seroy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. What do all these people have in common? Their stories, interviews and art all appear in the newest edition of The Coffin Factory, a literary magazine published three times a year. The magazine is jam-packed with  poetry, artwork, two terrific interviews, and nine pieces of literary fiction.

In Meiguo, Bronwyn Mauldin explores the division between expectations and reality for Chinese immigrants crammed into the hold of a ship.

I have no illusions about what awaits me. None of us do. We have labored hard our whole lives and could expect only more of the same for ourselves and our children. In America, we will break our backs for some years to pay off our debts to the cold, hard men who brought us here, but were we not slaves to our own grinding poverty in China? – from Meiguo -

Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes crafts an oddly compelling story about professional mourners whose jobs cross the line into the personal in her short story titled The Field of Professional Mourners. Told in the first person point of view, the narrator introduces the reader to an employee named Monique who may hold the answer to why employees of the company are disappearing.

Robert Bolano’s short fiction, The Killer and The Whore, is a translation from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer and is the story of a murder-for-hire which goes wrong. Written completely in dialogue, it reads a bit like a black comedy.

We saw them from the distance and right away we knew it and tey kept coming. I mean: we knew who they were, they knew who we were, they knew that we knew who they were, we knew that they knew that we knew who they were. Everything was clear. – from The Killer and The Whore -

John Kenny’s portraits of Sub-Saharan Africa are remarkable. I was especially drawn to the intensity of the subjects’ gazes – their eyes drew me into the photos.

Both interviews featured in this edition of The Coffin Factory were wonderful. I love the fiction of T.C. Boyle and so it was his interview I read first. Insightful and surprisingly funny, the interview reveals the man behind the stories and made me want to run out and buy Boyle’s newest novel, San Miguel.

The fiction published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux is almost always some of the best literature of the year (they publish the acclaimed work of Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides amongst others). The interview with Jonathan Galassi (president and publisher) and Jeff Seroy (senior vice-president of marketing and publicity) covers the history of the publishing company, how work is selected, marketing of books, and the changing world of publishing.

One of the  things that I am very preoccupied with now, and I’m not alone, is the pushing down of price by Amazon and the so-called eBook revolution. It makes books more accessible for the consumer, but it’s not great for the writer. The author is earning less, and I’m really worried about that. – Jonathan Galassi -

The magazine is currently reaching out to libraries with their Library Donation Project with the goal to donate 1000 magazines around the country. Librarians may request to be added to the donation list, and currently the editors of The Coffin Factory are seeking financial donations to make their project a reality.

The Coffin Factory is a treasure trove for the literary fiction lover. It has an international flavor (four of the nine short stories in the current issue are translations) which will appeal to those readers who want to experience literature and art from around the world. The work you will find between the glossy pages of this magazine is avant garde, original and visually engaging. Readers who want to expand their literary horizons will want to subscribe to The Coffin Factory. Learn more here.

FTC Disclosure: I am most grateful to Enrico Bruno for sending me a copy of this magazine for review on my blog.


The Invisible Bridge – Book Review

One and a half million Jewish men and women and children. How was anyone to understand a number like that? Andras knew it took three thousand to fill the seats of the Dohany Street Synagogue. To accommodate a million and a half, one would have had to replicate that building , its arches and domes, its Moorish interior, its balcony, its dark wooden pews and gilded ark, five hundred times. And then to envision each man and woman and child inside as a unique and irreplaceable human being, the way he imagined Mendel Horovitz or the Ivory Tower or his brother Matyas, each of them with desires and fears, a mother and a father, a birthplace, a bed, a first love, a web of memories, a cache of secrets, a skin, a heart, an infinitely complicated brain – to imagine them that way, and then to imagine them dead, extinguished for all time – how could anyone begin to grasp it? – from The Invisible Bridge, page 536 -

Andras Levi, a Hungarian Jew, finds himself full of hope and excitement on a train to Paris in 1937. He has won a scholarship to a school of architecture, an unbelievable opportunity for a Jewish man living in the shadow of war. In Paris, he nurses his art and ambition, finds camaraderie with men who will change his life, and discovers love with a beautiful ballet teacher. He misses his brothers – Tibor, a medical student who finds opportunity in Italy, and Matyas, a boy who is on the brink of becoming a man and whose carefree spirit finds joy in theater. But as Europe becomes embroiled in war, all three young men will find themselves back in Hungary and struggling to survive the labor service and the steady erosion of human rights as Hitler’s influence and power come ever closer.

Julie Orringer’s novel The Invisible Bridge is a searing, sweeping, and ultimately triumphant story about love, war, survival and the endurance of the human spirit. Andras, his brothers, their wives, their children, their parents, and the friends they discover are all wonderfully developed by the talented Orringer. Paris with its noisy bars and beautiful architecture and radiant theaters and opera houses comes alive as Orringer’s characters establish their lives and nurse their dreams of a future.

The Invisible Bridge is a heartbreaking novel – how could it be anything less? One does not have to be a student of history to know the story of the Jewish people during WWII. But in this sprawling novel, Orringer puts a human face on the tragedy and gives her readers a glimpse of an often ignored part of the story – that of the Hungarian Jews whose government allied with the Germans early on and used its people as slave labor in the war machine. The sense of inevitability is strong as Orringer builds her story. I found myself breathless, emotional, wanting to stop the march forward as Andras and his brothers and the people they love are thrust into a world beyond their control.

He wanted to believe that someone could be watching in pity and horror, someone who could change things if he chose. He wanted to believe that men were not in charge. But in the center of his sternum he felt a cold certainty that told him otherwise. He believed in God, yes, the God of his fathers, the one to whom he’d prayed in Koyar and Debrecen and Paris and in the work service, but that God, the One, was not One who intervened in the way they needed someone to intervene just then. He had designed the cosmos and thrown its doors open to man, and man had moved in and begun a life there. But God could no more step inside and rearrange that life than an architect could rearrange the lives of a building’s inhabitants. - from The Invisible Bridge, page 432 -

As with all memorable works, The Invisible Bridge succeeds through its careful attention to detail, the development of its characters and the strength of its prose. Orringer has a finely honed sense of who her characters are – their fears, their vulnerabilities, their strengths, their dreams. She takes them to the edge, and then allows them to find their way back – battered, wiser, but never diminished.

There are big themes in this novel – the importance of art, the strength of familial bonds, the idea that we are but a speck in the universe being born along on a tide of which we have little control.

Of course. Why would a man not argue his own shameful culpability, why would he not crave responsibility for disaster, when the alternative was to find himself to be nothing more than a speck of human dust? - from The Invisible Bridge, page 489 -

It would be easy for an author to allow these themes to sink her novel into despair. But it is a testament to Orringer’s talent that she never vacates hope and a promise for something better for her characters.

It is no surprise that I loved this novel. I loved its scope, its humanity, and its honesty. I loved Orringer’s prose, and her ability to resurrect the feel of a generation marching towards war. I loved the characters – Andras with his generous heart, Tibor with his sensitivity and Matyas with his free spirit. I loved that Orringer did not abandon me in darkness, but lifted me into the light. This is a book that adds to our understanding of history and provides insight into the human side of war. It is remarkable. And you should read it.

Highly recommended.

 

 


Mailbox Monday – December 17, 2012

Welcome to this week’s Mailbox Monday and which is hosted by Suko’s Notebook this month. Visit the dedicated blog for the  meme to see the complete tour schedule in the right sidebar.

Here is what showed up at my house this week:

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell (January 2, 2013) arrived from Harper Collins. This book is a Barnes & Noble New Writers Pick for Winter/Spring 2013 and an Indie Next Pick for January 2013. From the publisher:

A riveting, brilliantly written debut novel, The Death of Bees is a coming-of-age story in which two young sisters attempt to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents. Marnie and Nelly, left on their own in Glasgow’s Hazlehurst housing estate, attempt to avoid suspicion until Marnie can become a legal guardian for her younger sister.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, and told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for each other.

Read more on Harper’s website.

Lisa O’Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift and, in the same year, was nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award. A native of Scotland, she is now a full-time writer and lives in Los Angeles with her two children. The Death of Bees is her first novel. Learn more about O’Donnell and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Also arriving from Harper Collins was 1356 by Bernard Cornwell (January 8, 2013). From the publisher:

Bernard Cornwell, the “master of martial fiction” (Booklist), brings Thomas of Hookton from the popular Grail Quest series into a new adventure in 1356, a thrilling stand-alone novel. On September 19, 1356, a heavily outnumbered English army faced off against the French in the historic Battle of Poitiers. In 1356, Cornwell resurrects this dramatic and bloody struggle—one that would turn out to be the most decisive and improbable victory of the Hundred Years’ War, a clash where the underdog English not only the captured the strategic site of Poitiers, but the French King John II as well. In the vein of Cornwell’s bestselling Agincourt, 1356 is an action-packed story of danger and conquest, rich with military strategy and remarkable characters—both villainous and heroic—transporting readers to the front lines of war while painting a vivid picture of courage, treachery, and combat.

Read more about the novel on the Harper website.

Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944, was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect (called the Peculiar People). After a stint as a teacher at the University of London, he joined BBC Television where he worked for the next 10 years (first as a researcher on the Nationwideprogram and finally as  Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland). Cornwell eventually moved to the United States where he married his wife, Judy, and began to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars—and so the Sharpe series was born.  Learn more about Cornwell and his work by visiting the author’s website.

Fonduing Fathers by Julie Hyzy came to me from Berkley Prime Crime/Penguin (January 2013). From the publisher:

Olivia has always believed that her father was an honorable man—until a trip to visit her mother reveals that he was dishonorably discharged from the army. Olivia is even more shocked to learn that he was brutally murdered because someone at his company suspected him of selling corporate secrets. Refusing to believe that her father was a scoundrel, Olivia won’t rest until she proves his innocence. Enlisting the help of her boyfriend, Gav, Olivia must reach out to her father’s colleagues to discover the truth behind his murder. What she’s about to discover may not only put her at risk, but threaten national security as well…

The book includes recipes for “a complete Presidential menu.”

Julie Hyzy’s s first experience with food included flipping burgers and chopping onions at a neighborhood hot dog stand. Over the years, she’s acted in community theater productions, appeared in television commercials, and crashed a previously all-male fraternity to become one of the first female brothers in Loyola University’s Chapter of Delta Sigma Pi. She published her first book, State of the Onion, in 2008. Fonduing Fathers is her ninth novel. Learn more about Hyzy and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Did any terrific books arrive at YOUR house this week?


A Quilt Finish for Christmas: Mama’s China

*Click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger view

I am really happy to finish this bed quilt just in time for Christmas. With its cream background and lots of red, it strikes me as a holiday quilt. I used Sweetwater’s wonderful Mama Said Sew collection (I used a jelly roll plus some yardage), and their pattern (Mama’s China) designed just for this fabric. I increased the size a bit with three borders instead of one for a quilt that measures a nice 85″ X 85″.

As always, I pieced the back with left over fabric and used some big pieces of two fabrics in the collection – one red and one black.

 

I really struggled with the quilting on this one. I used Warm and White batting which is a lot heavier than the wool batting I usually use with quilts this large. It was a challenge to muscle this baby through my machine and I found myself intimidated by all that negative space. But in the end I was quite happy with the free motion quilting design of flowers and double swirls which I learned from Angela Walter’s new book, Free-Motion Quilting (Stashbooks, 2012).

I also did a little back and forth loops in the first border, just to mix it up a bit.

I used a really fun black stripe for the binding:

And, of course, I hand stitched a label:

I had a little trouble photographing this quilt. Not only is it pretty big, but it is a gray, wintry day outside today. I draped it back and front:

I folded it:

…and I crumpled it:

But, in the end, it will be laid over the top of my guest bed where it will brighten the room with a little Christmas cheer, and keep my mom warm when she comes for a visit beginning next week!

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2012FinishALongThis quilt counts toward the fourth quarter of the 2012 Finish-Along. See my post for the fourth quarter here.