Monthly Archives: February 2014

Leap Into Books Giveaway Hop!

Many thanks to I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Jinky Is Reading for hosting this giveaway hop!

I am offering your choice of the following excellent YA novels:

AnAmong the Joyful d as an added bonus (or maybe a blatant attempt at self-promotion!) I’m throwing in the YA novel I recently published under my pen name, Erin Eastham. You can find the Goodreads page for Among the Joyful here.
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Check out more stops on the giveaway hop below!  

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Slowing Down for a Classic

Bleak HouseBleak House by Charles Dickens is one of those books that I always meant to read, but it just sounded so…bleak. It’s rare that I’m in the right mood for a book with bleak in the actual title. In the event, I tricked myself into starting the book by taking it with me on a weekend away, knowing I would finish the thriller I’d brought along before our trip ended and that I’d have no choice but Dickens.

I’m currently on page 246, and I have two primary observations to make so far. One, Bleak House is remarkably funny for a book about orphans and abject poverty and interminable court cases that suck the life out of people. Particularly humorous are the depictions of Mrs. Jellyby, who neglects her family in order to devote her life to ostentatious charity work on behalf of a remote village in Africa, and of Mrs. Pardiggle, who drags her unwilling sons along to regale the poor with unwanted moralizing. Even the minor characters are vividly drawn and engaging.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that reading a book like this requires a great deal more work. I can’t zoom through it like I can with most fiction, and anyway I don’t want to. The writing is complex and the vocabulary sometimes dated, the plot is intricately woven. It rewards close reading and demands that I slow down and pay attention.

It can be hard to slow down, especially with book club books breathing down my neck (I missed another meeting just this week, because I hadn’t found time to read The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, although I really want to!) And of course there’s the annual Goodreads challenge, where I’ve boldly promised to read over 100 books this year.

It’s something of a luxurious feeling, to relax with a big fat book you know can’t be finished in an afternoon, or even a few afternoons. What’s the hurry? Why not slow down, and enjoy a classic, especially one that delightfully belies the bleak promise of its title (at least so far…)

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Review: Hitched: The Modern Indian Woman and Arranged Marriage by Nandini Krishnan

HitchedNandini Krishnan, author of Hitched: The Modern Indian Woman and Arranged Marriage, participated in a panel on the modern Indian woman at the Chennai Lit for Life festival in January. After hearing the discussion, I picked up a few books by the panelists, including this one.

And what a fascinating book it is. From an American perspective, the idea of arranged marriage is more than a little difficult to comprehend. Because this book is written for an Indian audience, the author never attempts to explain or justify the concept, but instead interviews “modern” women (and a few men) who have gone through the process.

The women whose experiences she shares are educated and empowered; most have advanced degrees, professional careers in fields like communications, and a choice about whether they want to pursue an arranged marriage. Many, but not all, live with their parents until they marry; many, but not all, dated men prior to seeking an arranged match.

The women have varying and sometimes exacting criteria, whether their own or based on their family’s wishes. This can include marrying someone within their own caste (or a specific subgroup of their caste), of the same religion, fluent in the same languages (multilingualism is a fact of life in dizzyingly polyglot India), employed in a particular career at a particular level of financial success, vegetarian or not. Height, complection, family connections, compatible horoscopes, shared cuisine–any and all of these considerations can come into play.

Interestingly, though, the factors most of the interviewees list as essential to a successful marriage could well apply to any relationship. Can you talk to the person? Are you both willing to compromise? Do you share the same vision of the future? What may strike an outsider as hard to comprehend is how you could reach such a determination based on a relatively brief acquaintance, or even a single meeting.

On the other hand, people in love may neglect to talk about some of the very things that play a role in the success of a marriage, either because they fear the answer or they believe it will all sort itself out in time. If prospective marriage partners are able to discuss these things frankly from the outset because they both seek the same end goal, marriage, this may give the relationship an advantage. This is especially true if potential prospects have been filtered for compatibility beforehand.

I may never truly understand how it’s possible for a woman to enter into an arranged marriage with a virtual stranger, but this book gave me some eye-opening insights into what the women who do make this choice are like. They speak in their own voices, from Uttara who recommends applying dog-training techniques to prospective mates, to Aarthi, who finds unexpected success as a radio DJ after years as a stay-at-home mom. There is also Vaidehi, who felt pressured to marry young and found herself locked into an unhappy marriage. Without exception, the women in this book are interesting, capable, and yes thoroughly modern, women who have embraced a traditional approach to marriage, with varying results.

Genre: Non-fiction

Read it if: You wonder why anyone would agree to an arranged marriage in this day and age and how the whole process works.

Skip it if: You are looking for a justification of arranged marriage intended for a Western audience, or an in-depth sociological study of the practice.

Movie-worthy: There are probably countless Bollywood movies about arranged marriages, but it would certainly be interesting to see a non “filmy” one!

 

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My Mid-Life Crisis, Writer Style

All my life I’ve dreamed of being a writer, even during periods when I felt that dream would have to wait. For the last four years, I’ve been writing at every opportunity and as a result I churned out three manuscripts in fairly rapid succession. But endings are hard and editing is harder; nothing was really finished.

Then I turned 40. It hit me harder than I expected, and since my birthday last year I’ve felt this increasing pressure, as if I’m on overdrive. I have to finish, not just something, but everything, and I have to do it now.

Because of our itinerant lifestyle, I don’t have a career.  I sometimes worry that if I were hit by a bus tomorrow I would have nothing to show for all these years spent packing and unpacking and chasing after kids in four different countries (so far.) Part-time office worker and mother may both be meaningful occupations in their own right, but they don’t offer much in the way of external validation.

Maybe I shouldn’t need it, but as a kid I was ambitious, I won spelling bees and had rows of trophies and expected to do big things. The big things have not materialized, but at least I’ve managed to write. And lately I’ve been farming drafts out to beta readers, paying teenage girls to read my YA novel and provide feedback, really trying to get to some achievable endpoint where I can point to what I’ve written and say, yes, I did that.

Among the JoyfulAnd so, in a fit of madness, I took the final step and self-published two of the three books on Amazon using CreateSpace (with the third soon to follow.) It felt like now or never. We are moving again this summer, and the next year will be crazy. Once moving day approaches, it will probably be 2015 before I can settle into a truly consistent writing routine again (in Istanbul! But that’s a blog post for another day.)

My books are not the literary masterpieces I might once have dreamed of writing, I will acknowledge that up front. What I’ve come to realize is that writing is fun when I love what I’m writing, and in my case that means high-concept science fiction. I like people with unusual powers, near future dystopias (or utopias, depending on your perspective), variations on the end of the world. If I’m going to live with a book long enough to finish it, I have to really enjoy it, and this is what I enjoy.

The Waking World

On some level, I’m concerned that self-publishing these books, revealing this side of myself to my friends and acquaintances, is the literary equivalent of a mid-life crisis. Am I the old guy behind the wheel of a Porsche Cayenne with a woman half his age? At least now I think I know how that guy feels. Even if I am slightly ridiculous, even if I end up looking like a fool: right now, I feel alive.

New Giveaway: The Literary Blog Hop!

The Goldfinch by Donna TarttWhen I saw that Leeswammes was hosting a literary-themed blog hop, I knew immediately what I wanted to offer: my favorite book of 2013, a book that’s now permanently embedded somewhere in my soul, Donna Tartt’s heartbreaking and brilliant novel, The Goldfinch.

Check out my review for my thoughts on this exquisite book. Enter below to win a hardcover or Kindle edition, whichever you prefer. This giveaway is open internationally (as long as you live somewhere Book Depository ships.)  And after you’ve entered, keep hopping and enter to win more great literary prizes from the other blog hop participants!

 

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Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Seaside Book Nook
  3. Booklover Book Reviews
  4. Biblionomad
  5. Laurie Here
  6. The Well-Read Redhead (US/CA)
  7. River City Reading
  8. GirlVsBookshelf
  9. Ciska’s Book Chest
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Ragdoll Books Blog
  12. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  13. Lucybird’s Book Blog
  14. Reading World (N-America)
  15. Journey Through Books
  16. Readerbuzz
  17. Always With a Book (US)
  18. 52 Books or Bust (N.Am./UK)
  19. Guiltless Reading (US/CA)
  20. Book-alicious Mama (US)
  21. Wensend
  22. Books Speak Volumes
  23. Words for Worms
  24. The Relentless Reader
  25. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall (US)
  1. Fourth Street Review
  2. Vailia’s Page Turner
  3. The Little Reader Library
  4. Lost Generation Reader
  5. Heavenali
  6. Roof Beam Reader
  7. Mythical Books
  8. Word by Word
  9. The Misfortune of Knowing
  10. Aymaran Shadow > Behind The Scenes
  11. The Things You Can Read (US)
  12. Bay State Reader’s Advisory
  13. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  14. Lizzy’s Literary Life
  15. Books Can Save a Life (N. America)
  16. Words And Peace (US)
  17. The Book Club Blog
Category: Giveaway

Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The LuminariesIn 1860s New Zealand, the gold rush is on and the town of Hokitika has attracted a motley cast of characters intent on making their fortunes or at least making new lives far from home. I would list all the characters introduced in the first pages of Catton’s massive yet highly readable tome, but it would take too long, so let’s just say there are a lot of them.

It appears from the star charts listed at the beginning of each section that Catton actually created her twelve essential-yet-not-central characters based on the twelve astrological signs. This would explain why the author takes the time to describe each man’s personality in detail, his gullibility or self-consciousness, his tendency to rationalize his decisions or accept responsibility.

The author uses the literary conventions of a 19th century novel to tell the intricately plotted story: a newly arrived traveler, stumbling upon a secret conclave of twelve men, finds he is connected to the mystery they hope to solve. Walter Moody, the traveler in question, is not really the protagonist of the story, any more than the twelve conspiring men. In fact, one of the main characters, Emery Staines, is missing for most of the book and his evil counterpart, Francis Carver, doesn’t make an actual appearance until well into the story. Another key character, Crosbie Wells, is dead from the outset.

When the twelve men finish relating their tales, Moody, a lawyer by training, takes their interlocking pieces and creates a summary that helpfully applies the rules of cause and effect and follows chronological order. I have to admit that cleared a few things up for me; although I was able to keep the cast straight thanks to the depth of their characterization, I had a hard time tracking the birth certificates and bills of sale and dresses and trunks, etc.

In keeping with its 19th century feel, The Luminaries also hints at a number of mystical happenings. Walter Moody sees something on board the Godspeed, the barque that brought him to Hokitika, that troubles his otherwise logical mind; a bullet inexplicably disappears; a seance is held with unexpected results. All of these events are explained, sort of, although I have to admit the ultimate explanation left me unimpressed (I am a Walter Moody sort of person in that respect.)

Catton has achieved an extraordinary feat of plotting, the literary equivalent of a Rube Goldberg machine, one whose mechanisms are revealed only slowly and without giving a clear view of the whole until the end. Besides the clever use of astrology as character study, the author also enjoys creating characters in pairs: the fortunate and good-natured Emery Staines and his opposite, the cruel and merciless Francis Carver; the tragic but beloved opium-addicted prostitute Anna Wetherell and the cunning, manipulative con-artist Lydia Greenway; the opium-dealing Ah Sook and the Governor of prisons George Shepherd, both driven by a bottomless thirst for revenge.

In short, The Luminaries is a fascinating and suspenseful read, possibly the most entertaining 832 page novel I have ever encountered.

Genre: Historical fiction with an astrological twist

Read it if: You love books like Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and The Woman in White; you read your horoscope like clockwork; or you wonder what New Zealand was like before the Hobbits took over.

Skip it if: You have problems lifting heavy objects and don’t own an e-reader; you have difficulty keeping multiple characters straight; you are easily confused.

Movie-worthy: This is definitely mini-series material. Or even just a series. This book has more flashbacks than Lost.