J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy: The Reviews Are In!

After a long embargo and even longer wait, J.K. Rowling's first post-Harry Potter book, The Casual Vacancy, is now available. Reviews started pouring in in a matter of hours, and Rowling's first book for adults has received some mixed reactions:

The Washington Post: Good but Not Great, Generally Lacking in Magic Wands
"Much of the book I admired, even if I didn’t love. There were sentences I underlined for the sheer purpose of figuring out how English words could be combined so delightfully. There were incidents I immediately reread because the developments were surprising or genuinely moving. There were characters that I liked, then disliked, then liked again with reservations." 

The New York Times: Now We're Just Being Downright Mean and Using Bizarre Words Like "Limned"
"It’s easy to understand why Ms. Rowling wanted to try something totally different after spending a decade and a half inventing and complicating the fantasy world that Harry and company inhabited, and one can only admire her gumption in facing up to the overwhelming expectations created by the global phenomenon that was Harry Potter. Unfortunately, the real-life world she has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly clich├ęd that “The Casual Vacancy” is not only disappointing — it’s dull."

The Huffington Post: It's About What You'd Expect, But It's No Harry Potter
"Would this book be published if it weren't for the name on the cover? Almost certainly. Would anyone pay much attention to it, and its message? Probably not. Is it worth reading? Yes, because it's become a talking point among readers, and unlike "Fifty Shades of Grey," reading it is not a painful experience. Is it worthy of awards? Probably not, but I'd definitely be interested in reading her next book, regardless of the baggage carried by the name on the cover."

The Guardian: A Fair and Balanced Review of Not Really a Bad Book After All
"The Casual Vacancy is no masterpiece, but it's not bad at all: intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny. I could imagine it doing well without any association to the Rowling brand, perhaps creeping into the Richard and Judy Book Club, or being made into a three-part TV serial. The fanbase may find it a bit sour, as it lacks the Harry Potter books' warmth and charm; all the characters are fairly horrible or suicidally miserable or dead. But the worst you could say about it, really, is that it doesn't deserve the media frenzy surrounding it. And who nowadays thinks that merit and publicity have anything do with each other?"
So far, I have yet to see a single review from someone who loved the book (Bueller?). I'm still planning on starting in on it this weekend, and I'm participating in Brenna at Literary Musings' Casual Vacancy Readalong. Who else is planning to read it? Skip it? If you've read it already (and bravo, speed-readers!), did you love it? Hate it?

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The Casual Vacancy | J.K. Rowling | Hardcover | 512 pages | September 2012 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Pseudo-Book Review: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien


This book fulfills my "read a book set in a land you will likely never visit" requirement for the 2012 Back to the Classics Challenge.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit..."

So begins one of the most well-loved, well-read fantasy novels of all time. And one, I am ashamed to admit, that I had not read until this year. Though I read--and loved!--the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I put off reading The Hobbit because I feared it would take as much, well, work as the trilogy did.

Now that I've read it (in a two-day sitting, mind you), none of my reasons for postponement remain valid. The Hobbit is, truly, the younger sibling to the LOTR trilogy: linear, jocular, and downright silly at times. Full of songs and poems and chants, the story focuses on Bilbo Baggins and his adventures, setting off from the Shire on a very Tookish mission to help a band of goblins kill a dragon and recover some stolen treasure. Along the way, they encounter trolls and wolves and eagles and magic and elves and everything in between, setting the magical stage for the world that Tolkien more fully develops in LOTR and beyond.

There's not much I can add to the already numerous conversations that exist around The Hobbit; I'm probably one of the last Tolkien fans in the world to finally get my act together and read it. But I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of a complex fantasy story, the bits that hinted at the world we come to know in more detail in the LOTR trilogy, and the humor and wit sprinkled throughout the text. The Hobbit is a quintessential--perhaps the quintessential--adventure novel, further proving what we all know already: Tolkien was one cool dude.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:
The Tolkien Professor (Podcast series)
Dauntless Media
The New York Times (1938 review!)

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You might also like:
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (boxed set) by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit: Movie Trailer
Why J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' Isn't Just for Kids

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The Hobbit | J.R.R. Tolkien | Del Rey | Mass Market Paperback | 320 pages | Orig. 1937 | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon

I read Telegraph Avenue this summer as part of As the Crowe Flies (and Reads!) pre-publication readalong. Though I did post a wrap-up response to the book, I'm compiling all of my thoughts together here. This is less true review (it's nearly impossible to summarize the complicated interwoven stores in any concise way) than a series of reactions to a book that I did, eventually, come to love.

The latest novel from Michael Chabon (The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) centers on a white family and a black family, co-owners of a used vinyl shop located on the quintessential Telegraph Avenue. Except that it was not quintessential enough for me to immediately know what it was, so I went a-Wikipediaing. Turns out it is a well-known street in Oakland, California, notable as a "home to many restaurants, bookstores, and clothing shops, along with street vendors occupying its wide sidewalks." Apparently, it also "attracts a diverse audience of visitors, including college students, tourists, artists, street punks, eccentrics, and the homeless."

That's helpful to know going into this book, as Telegraph Avenue functions as much as a character as it does a setting. And I love that in a book. Authors that can make places as important as people are awesome.

And yet this book and I had some fits and starts. I read the first two pages (the dedication and the epigraph) and was all I LOVE YOU MICHAEL CHABON. If you're curious, this is the dedication:

To Ayelet, from the drop of the needle to the innermost groove.

And this is the epigraph:

Call me Ishmael. --Ishmael Reed, probably.

Then I read the next fifty pages and was all I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING OR WHO ANY OF THESE PEOPLE ARE.

Then I buckled down, made a list of all of the characters I'd encountered and how they were related to each other, and fell in love. Telegraph Avenue, it turns out, is a book of big ideas but small parts, demanding that it be read in long sittings rather than broken up over a series of 15-minute intervals, leaving time to re-read and appreciate Chabon's often stunning, mind-blowingly glorious sentence, often about the most mundane of subjects:
"At 9:45 A.M. the first batch of chicken parts sank, to the sound of applause, into the pig fat. The fat set about its great work, coaxing that beautiful Maillard reaction out of the seasoned flour, the smell of golden brownness mingling with the warm, dense, bay-leafy, somehow bodily funk of the beans, and with the summertime sourness of the greens like the memory of with Keds stained at the toes with fresh-cut grass. Nat stepped through the time portal that reached within the ring of seasoned iron. Riding the kitchen time machine."
It is the beauty of these wonderfully crafted sentences that carries Chabon's story, as the story itself is somewhat slow, at times plodding, and often diverted. He uses words in the most precise and careful way to illuminate what is most important. Above, it is the power of food to bring back a memory, and not just a specific memory, but an entire bank of memories, of a time, and a place, and a person, and a feeling. His descriptions elevate the food beyond food and into the realm of the surreal; Nat's fried chicken is not just a meal, but an invitation.

Similarly, Gwen (a pregnant midwife, married to a less-than-loyal husband)'s emotions flow through Chabon's words, her sorrow, her apologies, her bulk, her weight, her burdens, all standing proud and tall:
"'I'm sorry,' Gwen said again, and this time it was not an expression of regret for the things she had said or done but rather the opposite: Her apology was, as apologies so often are, fighting words. She was sorry only that she was not sorry at all." 
The simplicity of the statement is overwhelming; though Nat sees apologies as "a miracle of language. Cost you nothing and returned so richly," to Gwen, they are an impossibility. Nat is a white man, and can make mistakes and apologize for them; Gwen is a black woman, and cannot afford to make mistakes--nor apologize where no mistake was made. 

Chabon continues to pry at the issue of race--as well as the similarly meta-issues of poverty, death, and family--in this careful, subtle way throughout the novel. Coupled with beautiful prose and the ability to highlight the mundane in the most intricate of ways, the result proves a cohesive, often humorous novel that deals with some of the most important issues of our time. Chabon's writing requires a little work (and not just in remembering everyone's nicknames); he drops you off in the middle of the story with little background information or development, and expects you to keep up. It's not easy, but it's doable--and in the end, worth it. Provided, that is, that you can forgive the 12-page sentence that makes up the entirety of Part III, which will, if nothing else, leave you breathless.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:

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You might also like:

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Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of this title for the readalong this summer.
Telegraph Avenue | Michael Chabon | Harper | Hardcover | 480 pages | September 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

Late to the Party: Catching Fire & Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins


I'm way late to this party, I know. Not only did I read the books after everyoneelseintheworld, but I have now waited nearly four months between reading the books and writing about them. Oops?

I read both of these on my Nook back in April when flying to and from Italy. They seemed like perfect travel reading to me: easy to get into, easy to get hooked on, and easy to get lost in. What more could you need for 7+ hour flights with crappy in-flight movies as an alternative?

I was right on all accounts. The books are easy to get into (though you definitely have to have read the first to get the second and third), easy to get hooked on, and totally make the time fly. Collins builds further on the world she developed in The Hunger Games, bringing back some favorite characters, introducing some new characters, and giving life to characters previously mentioned only in passing. There's guts, there's gore, and there is, of course, a healthy dose of sappy romance.

Overall, I'd still call The Hunger Games my favorite of the three, but the trilogy works as a whole. I'll never call these great literature, but they are definitely great stories (despite some obvious plot flaws in Mockingjay).

And for those wondering, I'm all about Team Peeta. FTW.

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Catching Fire | Suzanne Collins | Scholastic Press | September 2009 | Hardcover | 400 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Mockingjay | Suzanne Collins | Scholastic Press | August 2010 | Hardcover | 400 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Book Review: The Black Count, by Tom Reiss

This review originally ran in the Friday, September 21, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, father of the famous French writer Alexandre Dumas, lived a life that sounds like fiction: the son of a white aristocrat and freed slave, he was sold into slavery by his father before being repurchased and freed in France to live the life of an aristocrat's son. From there, he joined the French Army, where his physical stature and military prowess launched him through the ranks under Napoleon--until he was captured and held prisoner in Sicily for more than two years.

The Black Count recounts the life--and legacy--of this great man in extensive detail. Tom Reiss (The Orientalist) draws on over six years of primary research to tell Dumas's story. But the book is much more than a biography of a great French general. It's also a history of civil rights in France, an account of the French Revolution and a tale of Napoleon's rise to power. Woven throughout all of this historical detail is an ongoing analysis of Dumas's influence on his son's famous novels, particularly The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Though General Dumas is not commemorated with any statue in France today, he remains an important figure in French history and in literature; The Black Count merges the myth of the man contained in his son's novels with the facts of his life, resulting in an impeccable history that reads like a novel but packs the facts of a textbook.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:
Devourer of Books
NPR Books
We Love This Book

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You might also like:
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Orientalist by Tom Reiss

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The Black Count | Tom Reiss | Crown | Hardcover | 432 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets

Every so often, there is a book that crawls its way into your heart and nestles itself there, almost defying explanation but demanding that it be shared with the world.

For me, A Danger of Proximal Alphabets is that book. Kathleen Alcott's debut reads more like linked vignettes than a straight narrative, moving through time in fits and starts and then in smooth progression in a way that mimics our own memory and recall of the past. The story takes its time in unfolding: Ida grew up across the street from Jackson and James. Ida's mother is dead, Jackson and James' father has left. Throughout childhood, the three are inseparable; where there is an I, there is also a J.

But, as Ida learns, that does not always mean that where there is an Ida, there will also be a Jackson--or a James:

"But even one letter changes a meaning entirely; no matter their proximity, different points of an alphabet refuse to be represented as the same: there's no guarantee that someone standing at precisely the same longitude and latitude as you will remember the view the same way, no promise that one person's memory of a moment or a month will parallel yours, retain the same value, shape the years of living that follow."

As the three creep slowly into adulthood, their relationships morph and change but never completely disappear; James gets in trouble, Jackson and Ida move in together, Jackson's night talks become night walks become night problems. Though they are not family in the true sense of the word, they behave as one. That is, until they don't:
"I had let myself forget: that honest-to-goodness, forever families are made of blood. That a history doesn't guarantee a future."
How simple, and yet how heartbreaking--the thought that just because it has always been does not mean it will continue to be.

In this way, Alcott inches her way into questions of love and friendship and family and death. Can we redefine the traditional nuclear family, setting aside "mother," "father," "siblings," in favor of "neighbor," "friend," and "confidant"? Can love last forever, even if a relationship must end?

Alcott's simple prose is as capable of captivating the voice of children as it is the innermost thoughts of adults; her ability to play with language and imagery sheds light on the average and the everyday in ways we may not have done on our own:
"Autumn was decidedly adult: the nuanced colors--muddled oranges and browns, the uncertain gray of the clouds--were much harder to love, to understand, than the sticky pinks of popsicles, the confident thick greens of happy grass and plants, the haughty blue of the sky above it all."
Ultimately, this ability to make us open our eyes to what we already know and see is what makes The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets as successful as it is, just as any novel is heralded as among the best of the best when it makes us reconsider the familiar. I'm looking forward to seeing more from Alcott in the future--she's definitely a talent to watch out for.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:
Publisher's Weekly
Lonely Owl Books
Real Simple

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You might also like:
Day for Night by Rick Reiken
Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop
The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

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Note: Thanks to Other Press for providing a copy of this title for review. Opinions, as always, are my own.
The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets | Kathleen Alcott | Other Press | Trade Paper | 224 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Countdown: One Month Until the Sequel to the Passage!


One month! One month! One month! Only one month to go before the sequel to Justin Cronin's The Passage is available. I'm re-reading (actually, listening to while working out) The Passage in preparation and damn, it is just as good the second time around. 

Who else is excited!?

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The Twelve | Justin Cronin | Balantine Books | Hardcover | 592 pages | October 2012 | Pre-order from an independent bookstore near you

Harry Potter Read Along


Welp, this is happening. And I'm signed up. My goal is to re-read the first three books in the series by December 15th -- I've been meaning to re-start the series again for some time now, and just needed the kick in the pants to get there. I have a brand-spanking-new box set of all of the hardcovers (thanks, Dad!) that need to be broken in, anyway... wish me luck!

Book Review: Hemingway's Girl, by Erika Robuck

This review originally ran in the Friday, September 14, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.


At first blush, Erika Robuck's Hemingway's Girl is a historical romance, with the young Mariella Bennet capturing the attention of the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, and of Gavin Murray, a World War I veteran working to build new roads. But as Robuck plumbs the depths of Depression-era Key West, it becomes apparent that her novel encompasses much more than that, telling the story of a girl caught not only between two lovers, but two worlds: the lofty world of the rich and powerful versus the much more real world of fishermen and family.

Robuck has drawn on historical documents to craft an impeccable story of Hemingway's life in the 1930s--from a photograph of the author that includes a haunting young girl dressed in fisherman's clothes, to an account he once wrote about the unnecessary deaths of dozens of veterans and civilians during the destructive Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. This attention to historical detail is what makes Hemingway's Girl succeed; there is enough truth woven into Robuck's well-imagined story to inspire readers to learn more about the time period, the place and the author himself, and enough detail about the Keys to leave readers longing for a vacation to see the islands in person. Ultimately, Hemingway's Girl proves to be a stunning portrayal of a revered and oft-studied writer and a probing novel of family ties, love, betrayal and a love of the sea--all themes present, perhaps not surprisingly, in Hemingway's works as well.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:

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You might also like:

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
This video of Erika Robuck discussing the book

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Hemingway's Girl | Erika Robuck | NAL Trade | Trade Paper | 352 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: The Kingmaker's Daughter, by Philippa Gregory

This review originally ran in the Tuesday, August 21, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

The Kingmaker's Daughter, the fourth novel in Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series (which began in 2009 with The White Queen), delves deep into the life of Anne Neville, 16th Countess of Warwick, and Queen of England from 1483 to 1485. Gregory's detailed account of England during the Wars of the Roses, and the psychology and culture of 15th-century English courts, will prove a delight to her fans or to anyone enamored of English history. As with her previous novels, The Kingmaker's Daughter draws on a real figure of history, developing the emotional fabric of one woman's life to reveal in detail the world in which she lived. In the case of Anne Neville, it's a life lived as a pawn in the political plots of powerful men.

Daughter of the Earl of Warwick, known at the time as "The Kingmaker" for his ability to seat--and unseat--kings on the throne of England, Anne was always destined for a political marriage. But when her first husband dies in battle, she finds herself a teenaged widow, with her father killed, her mother claiming sanctuary and her sister married to the enemy. Anne is rescued by Richard, the younger son of the king of England, in a sweeping gesture of romance and passion, but soon realizes that she remains a pawn--albeit a loved and cherished one--in Richard's own political maneuverings. (History buffs are already nodding eagerly. For the uninitiated, here's a hint: Richard's schemes are a drama of Shakespearean proportions.)

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The Kingmaker's Daughter | Philippa Gregory | Hardcover | 480 pages | August 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

Recommended Reading for Running?

Guys, I have started running. It's a weird phenomenon, really, because I've always hated running. Runners always say that there is a plateau, that after a mile or two you hit this awesome place where you feel like you can just keep running and running. Until yesterday I was convinced that this was just a thing that runners said to non-runners to make everyone experience the same hell of running that they did.

But now I know it is true, and I give all the credit for this experience to Justin Cronin and The Passage (because with The Passage to keep you occupied, how could you possibly even think about running?)

Obviously, this means I need to start preparing for what happens when I run through (I made a pun!) the next 26 hours of The Passage.

I "read" in the car all the time, so I'm accustomed to picking audiobooks, but I'm looking for really good, really solid, fast-paced, plot-driven, well-written stories like The Passage to accompany me while I go for more mileage. Any ideas?

Audiobook Review: The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta

When half of the world's population suddenly disappears, it is inevitable that those remaining -- the leftovers, if you will -- struggle to make sense of what has happened. Where has everyone gone?And what kind of life is left for those not taken?

Centering on the Garvey family, this is exactly the landscape Tom Perrotta sets out to explore in The Leftovers, a stunning (if not entirely successful) portrayal of how we cope with the inexplicable. Kevin Garvey, town mayor, wants to speed up the healing process for those who lost loved ones, while his wife turns to a newly grown cult and takes a vow of silence and cigarettes. His son has dropped out of college and fallen in with a tedious and somewhat shady "prophet" named Holy Wayne, while his daughter turns away from the straight-A student she used to be in favor of a rebellious, punkish teenager.

What is so striking about The Leftovers is the sheer normalcy of the Garveys' issues despite the extraordinary situation in which they find themselves: two married people growing in different directions, or coping with hardship in varied ways; the rebellious teenagers struggling to make names for themselves while trying to understand how to remain part of a family; the trials of teenage love and uncertainty.

Despite Perrotta's success in conveying the normalcy of the abnormal, however, and the myriad ways in which we deal with grief and loss, The Leftovers ultimately fell flat for me. Dennis Boutsikaris' narration on audio carries the plot forward with a steady, plodding momentum that makes it hard to stop listening, but the story itself proved unbelievable, at times forced, and finally disappointing. There is brilliance and insight in small parts here, but the sum of these parts didn't quite add up to anything. I kept waiting for it to happen, without ever knowing what "it" was; "it" never did.

I've read a lot of great reviews for this one, and I really wanted to love it. Maybe I'm not just a great audience for Perrotta, or maybe I read this one at a bad time.  Have you read it? What did you think? Am I just missing something - or was audio perhaps a bad choice of format?

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Thoughts from other bookworms:
Fizzy Thoughts
Devourer of Books
Coffee and a Book Chick
The New Dork Review of Books

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You might also like:
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier

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The Leftovers | Tom Perrotta, nar. Dennis Boutsikaris | Macmillan Audio | Audio CD | August 2011 | Buy from an independent near you

The Classics Club (In Which I Make Another Commitment)

Guys, I am commitment overloading. I am participating in this year's Back to the Classics Challenge (and doing fairly well, if I do say so myself!), and I am reading Anna Karenina along with a long-distance friend (she's reading it in the month leading up to her wedding so I really can't complain about being "too busy" to get through it), and I am joining a few other readalongs this fall (A Casual Vacancy, I'm looking at you).

But The Classics Club has recently started to pop up on several blogs I follow, and I want to give it a shot. Especially because it is a five-year challenge, and five years feels like FOREVERYEARS so I figure I have time to sort this all out.

The rules are simple: Read 50 classics in the next 5 years. I am listing more than 50 below to give myself some CHOICES (I'm all about choices), but my goal is to read 50 of these books by September 2017.

  1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  2. Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  3. Emma by Jane Austen
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  5. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
  6. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  9. The Master and the Margarita by Michael Bulgakov
  10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  11. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
  12. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  13. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre
  14. Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  15. A Tale of Two Cites by Charles Dickens
  16. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  17. Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens
  18. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
  19. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  20. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  21. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  22. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
  23. Light in August by William Faulkner
  24. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  25. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  26. Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  27. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  28. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
  29. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
  30. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  31. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  32. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  33. Across the River and Into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway*
  34. The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway*
  35. To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway*
  36. Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway*
  37. The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway*
  38. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by... Ernest Hemingway*
  39. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway*
  40. The Torrents of Spring by Ernest Hemingway*
  41. True at First Light by Ernest Hemingway*
  42. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  43. Dubliners by James Joyce
  44. Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  45. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  46. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  47. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  48. Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant
  49. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  50. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  51. Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov
  52. At Swim Two Birds by Flann O'Brien
  53. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  54. 1984 by George Orwell
  55. The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
  56. The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe
  57. Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe
  58. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
  59. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  60. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  61. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  62. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  63. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  64. Robinson Crusoe by Robert Louis Stevenson
  65. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  66. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  67. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  68. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy*
  69. The Warden by Anthony Trollope
  70. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  71. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  72. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  73. House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  74. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  75. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
*Also helps me get closer to my 26 by 26 list.

Fall Forward: Impatience is a Virtue

I posted earlier this week about nine summer books I missed and can't wait to get my hands on now that my self-imposed Summer of TBR is over. But in addition to all the great books I skipped this summer, there's a ton of amazing literature slated for release this fall. Am I missing anything in my collection below? What are you most excited about for fall?

   The Art of the Short Story from The Paris Review   Astray, a new novel from the author of Room 
Live by Night, a new novel from Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River      In Sunlight and in Shadow, a new novel from Mark Helprin
       Sweet Tooth, a new novel from Ian McEwan  
   The Twelve, by Justin Cronin   The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling 

#IndieThursday: The Garden District Bookshop

I ventured down to New Orleans this past weekend for a bachelorette party for a very dear friend of mine. We took a one-day hike over to the Garden District to visit the famous (infamous?) Commander's Palace; after a several-mile walk, we were devastated to discover that the place was closed due to the lingering effects of Isaac (no power, no flour).

But all was not lost! We discovered The Garden District Bookshop, which did have power, and the three bookworms in the group promptly set off for a bookish adventure:

Blurry shot... but look at all the books!

The Garden District Bookshop is small, but well-stocked; whoever does their ordering has figured out how to balance a selection of local titles with an offering of lesser-known novels with a variety of well-known and high-selling authors. There's also a whole bookshelf full of signed editions...

Eagerly poring over pretty pages.
I left with a copy of Gourmet Rhapsody, a companion novel to the lovely Elegance of the Hedgehog (which I loved); a dose of good bookish conversation with the bookseller (who hopefully will read The Illumination soon, because it is excellent); a recommendation to give David Foster Wallace's new book a try even though I've never been a huge DFW fan; and comfort in the knowledge that indie bookstores are persisting across the country, even in storm-ravaged New Orleans. If you ever find yourself in the city, it's worth the hike over to the Garden District to check out this shop (yes, even if the trolleys aren't running!). And hopefully you'd be able to stop at Commander's Palace for a martini and a snack, too.

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Check out The Garden District Bookshop at their website or on Facebook.

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Indie Thursday is a weekly Twitter event that celebrates Indie bookstores on - you guessed it! - Thursdays. The event was started by Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves last year to help readers everywhere truly embrace their local, independent bookstores. To participate, simply tweet about a recent purchase at your indie bookstore using the hashtag #indiethursday. Oh, and also follow @IndieThursday on le Twitter.

Looking Back: Summer Books I Missed

Now that I've survived my summer of TBR, I'm loosening my belt a little and allowing myself to indulge in a few summer releases I skipped over. Here's a few I can't wait to get my hands on... and since I'm late to this reading party, I'm hoping you all can help tell me where to start!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel, by Rachel Joyce   State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett   Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Heading Out to Wonderful, by Robert Goolrick      Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead
Paris: A Love Story, by Kati Marton   Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, by Bob Spitz   Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

My Summer of TBR

Back in May, I looked at my bookshelves and was struck, yet again, by the sheer number of books I already own that I have not yet read. And so I bravely ventured into my summer of TBR, in which I pledged to myself that, outside of my review commitments to Shelf Awareness for Readers, I would read only books I already owned. That meant no accepting author or publisher pitches for new galleys, and no buying new books. That meant that my audiobook selections from the library would be audio versions of books I already owned before June 1.

And now it is September, and fall lists have started to descend upon the world, and I did it! ...mostly.

Of the 19 unassigned books I started since my public pledge on May 20, 14 of them were books I already owned. Which means I bent my rules a little, but also started to make a dent in my bookshelves. Rachel's 24 in 48 readathon helped, as did my participation in A Victorian Celebration, and my recent commitment to read Anna Karenina (which I already owned) along with a friend.

As I dive into September headfirst (this month started with a bachelorette trip to New Orleans, so I really do mean headfreakingfirst), I'm sure I'll explore new releases. I've already got my eye on dozens of books that look appealing, and that's not even accounting for the ones I haven't heard of yet. But this summer of TBR has reminded me of the wealth of reading material that I already have in my own house, and the joys I can find waiting for me in the books I've put off for too long (I'm looking at you, The Hobbit).

What lengths do you go to read books you already own? Or do you always look to new books and new releases for your reading material?

Book Review: The St. Zita Society, by Ruth Rendell

This review originally ran in the Friday, August 17, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.


On a quiet street in London, a chauffeur is sleeping with his master's daughter--and his master's wife. Down the street, in exchange for pocket cash, another family's au pair helps sneak into the house her mistress's lover, a man who happens to be a famous soap opera actor and grand-nephew to the stuck-up housekeeper of a princess of dubious origin. The local gardener believes that his god is speaking to him through his cell phone, setting him on a mission to destroy the evil spirits he sees around the city. This unlikely cast of characters bands together in a haphazard society that they call the St. Zita Society, named for the patron saint of domestic servants.

The St. Zita Society, a standalone novel from the delightfully imaginative mind of Ruth Rendell, is a gripping portrayal of the London world of servants and their masters, all marching toward an inevitable--and violent--conclusion. Rendell approaches the inner lives of her characters with a detailed, probing eye, bringing them to life with her sharp and clever writing. Her shockingly normal characters--a housewife with an obsession for exercise and tight jeans; an absent husband who throws himself into his work; a lazy au pair with a knack for doing as little as possible--only make the suspense all the more striking. Rendell has written more than 50 novels, and the The St. Zita Society, a brilliantly crafted novel of psychological suspense, further enforces her rightful place as the queen of British mystery writing.

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The St. Zita Society | Ruth Rendell | Scribner | Hardcover | 272 pages | August 2012 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you