31 May 2011

Last Month in Review: May 2011

I can't remember a gloomier spring in my life, and I think the dark and dank May put a damper (pun intended) on my reading this month.

1. Frost by Mariana Baer.  This YA novel doesn't come out until the fall but I got the ARC from a sales rep.  It's set at a prestigious New England boarding school and the expected themes are present. Though I thought it could have been edited down by at least 50 pages (it runs to over 400), I really liked the ambiguity at the end--the cause of the "big bad" could have been physical, mental, or supernatural. The writing is fairly pedestrian but that's never stopped a YA book from becoming popular and I'm sure that this book won't be an exception.  On sale in September.

2. East of the West: A Country in Stories by Miroslav Penkov.  This collection of stories explores life in Bulgaria, but I was very disappointed in it.  The summary sounds great: "a grandson tries to buy the corpse of Lenin on eBay for his Communist grandfather. A failed wunderkind steals a golden cross from an Orthodox church. A boy meets his cousin (the love of his life) once every five years in the river that divides their village into east and west. These are Miroslav Penkov’s strange, unexpectedly moving visions of his home country, Bulgaria, and they are the stories that make up his charming, deeply felt debut collection." Alas, I thought the writing was stiff and the characters were flat. I will not review this book because it's not worth my time.  It pubs next month from FSG and I received a copy of this ARC at my request.

3. "Legends of the Fall" by Jim Harrison.  I love this novella and I have no idea how many times I've read it.  The other two novellas in the book by the same name are also good, but Legends is one of the best pieces of shorter fiction I have ever read.  Because it is around 100 pages, I feel okay including it here with the books I have read this month--it's longer (and certainly more dense) than many of the middle grade books on these lists. And I ain't above bragging that I have a signed first edition of this book.  Jim Harrison was one of the first authors I ever took an interest in collecting when I started working at the incomparable Lemuria Bookstore

4. A Curtain of Green and Other Stories by Eudora Welty. I hadn't read most of these stories since my college days when I read Miss Welty for the first time.  I picked up a new copy of the book when I was at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, MS, last month for my high school reunion.  "Why I Live at the PO" is just as funny as I remember it, but some of the stories I did not remember reading at all--much to my shame.  The writing feels ever so slightly dated now to me, but this first book of Miss Welty's has all of the hints of genius that her writing is known for.  I do not have  a signed first printing of this book, alas.

5. The Help (audio) by Kathryn Stockett, read by Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Jenna Lamia, and Cassandra Campbell.  I really liked this book, but I LOVE the audio.  This was the third time I have listened to it in the last couple of years on my daily work commute.  With the exceptions of a few mispronunciations of proper names (Murrah High School and the Van Devender family are two that I recall at the moment), these women do a pitch-perfect reading of the book.  I can't recommend this audio enough--I'd put it right up there with the best of them, such as Bill Bryson reading his own work and Jim Dale reading the Harry Potter audios. I loved arriving at work, buoyed on these women's voices and stories.

6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  My full review is here, but suffice it to say that this book is among the best I have read so far this year.  I loved the way it made me feel and I love that while reading it, I believed.  It comes out in September of this year.

7.  His Draught of Delicate Poison by Subversa.  This is a novel-length work of Harry Potter fanfiction that takes its story arc from a novel called The Grand Sophy, written by Georgette Heyer, an author known for excellent attention to period detail in her Regency fiction.  After finishing The Night Circus, I tried picking up 3-4 different books and couldn't muster much interest, so I turned to this gem, which I'd read before, to get out of my reading slump.  This fic is very well written, and though it lacks lemony goodness, I highly recommend it.  You can find it here.

8. The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, illustrated by my DH, Barry Moser.  This book, forthcoming from Peachtree Press in the fall, tells a delightful story of cats, mice, cheese, ravens, and Charles Dickens, all set in Victorian London.  My husband gave me an ARC of this to read and I'm very proud to relate that it was chosen as one of the top 26 best books at BEA this year by Kirkus Reviews!  This book releases in October from Peachtree Press. 

9. The American Heiress  (audio) by Daisy Goodwin, read by ?????  Right now I am a little peeved that I cannot give you the name of the female reader.  It's not on the advance access audio that I have and I cannot find it listed online.   I don't really read a lot of historical fiction with a romantic bent, but two things made me pick up this audio: (1) a blurb on the box compared it to Downton Abbey, which I loved, and (2) it was free.  I find that I'm generally in a better mood when I can listen to a book instead of the radio on my daily commute, and though I did not have any "driveway moments" with this one, I did enjoy the story more than I thought I would.  Think Henry James/Edith Wharton crossed with Nora Roberts, but less well written.  The book releases in June from St. Martin's Press.

10.  I Married You For Happiness by Lily tuck.  Review here.   I received an ARC of this book at BEA last week and it releases in September from Grove/Atlantic.  

Usually I post my Month in Review on the first day of the following month, but who am I kidding?  I'm not going to start and finish a book today, May 31, because I will be at work all day.  So I might as well post it now. Right?

30 May 2011

BEA in a nutshell

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend BEA.  Usually for this largest of all book tradeshows I get to walk the floor, collecting book after free book.  But this year was a little different; there were a lot of meetings:

Monday: Arrive on train and walk to Javits. Mediocre educational session. Lunch. Catch up with other booksellers. Moderately good educational session. Catch up with publisher friends.  Hear Margaret Atwood.  Laugh obligingly in all the right places of her talk.  Grab a good seat for the Editors Buzz.  OMG, I can't possibly fight the feeding frenzy and try to nab galleys featured at the Buzz and walk away almost empty-handed. Take subway to Brooklyn to have dinner and catch up with one particular bookseller/friend/former colleague.
Not my image.
Tuesday: Arrive at Javits from Brooklyn.  Meeting. Meeting. Celebration of Bookselling lunch.  Catch up with other booksellers. Secretly wish I had an author at my table instead of an editor. Meeting. Meeting. Meeting. Dinner with Peachtree.  Meet the fabulous publisher of Peachtree, her amazing crew, and the incredibly wonderful Carmen Deedy, who authored the book my husband illustrated.  Oh, and eat dinner across from Parker frickin' Posey.  She and I are both from Mississippi, you know.  We had dinner in one of her neighborhood restaurants and ours were the last two tables there that night.  Good times.  If you haven't seen Kicking & Screaming, Waiting for Guffman, House of Yes or Best in Show, run, do not walk, to watch these films.

She's like Rachel McAdams.  Only, you know, talented. This is *not* my photo.
Wednesday: Arrive at Javits.  Meeting. Meeting. Meeting. Lunch. Meeting. Meeting. Meeting.  Dinner & drinks with, barring my husband, my favorite guy in the world, along with some other terrific people at a cool little French place called Felix.  

Image belongs to NY Magazine

Thursday: Recover from drinking.  Take train back home.  Arrive at bookstore for event.  Close bookstore.  Drinks with colleagues.

Friday: Tired.  R&R&R.  (Rest & relaxation & reading)

Interestingly enough, there seemed to be an overall more positive vibe among booksellers and publishers this year, as if have all agreed to hunker down and do our best to survive in a world where e-book sales will soon eclipse regular book sales across the board except those books that rely heavily on visuals (children's picture books, how-to, cooking, gardening, art, etc).  I didn't meet many bloggers (though I sure saw a lot of 'em), so I cannot really say how it felt on their end of things. 

Yup, that's my BEA in a nutshell.  How 'bout you? 

Book (P)review: I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck

 Last week I attended BEA in NYC, and though most of my time was spent in appointments with publicists and marketing people at various publishers, I did manage to carry away with me a select number of galleys.  And for the first time in my history of attending trade shows, I walked away with only what I could carry in one small Envirosax bag, but I suppose that is neither here nor there.  

I finished reading Lily Tuck's novel over breakfast this morning and I thought it was just wonderful.  I had never read any of her work before, though her name was vaguely familiar to me when I picked up the book at the Grove/Atlantic booth from Deb Seager.  She won the National Book Award for her novel The News from Paraguay and was shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Siam.  I Married You For Happiness releases in September. 

What is the probability that a husband will arrive home from work in good health, yet die of heart failure before dinner?  How does one measure a marriage or evaluate a memory?  In her latest novel, Tuck attempts to answer all of these questions in a most poignant way.  When Philip dies during a pre-prandial nap, Nina keeps quiet vigil with his body through the night, flooded by memories of their marriage ranging from mundane moments (playing tennis, taking a Sunday drive) to the most pivotal ones (the day they met, the birth of their daughter, her brief affair).  Nina's artistic nature is contrapuntal to Philip's logical one, and her fascinating detours into his class lecture on probability & statistics, together with her struggles to understand the fundamental differences in the man she loves, reveal their relationship to be as intricate and beautiful as any mathematical theorem. I think if I had to choose one word to describe I Married You For Happiness, it would be "intimate," for above all, this book is a private meditation on Nina's and Philip's life together, and there were times I felt it would be more proper to avert my gaze than to continue reading.  And yet Tuck's prose is so lovely, and the transitions between the present vigil and the past memories so seamless, that I could not look away.  

A random, parting thought: why do the two chairs on the cover seem to have two different sources of light to cast shadows at such divergent angles?  

24 May 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Oh, the Lies!

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic, sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish, is perhaps a bit more revealing than usual: the top ten books you lied about (about reading, about not reading, about liking/disliking, etc). Oy.  This is going to be completely embarrassing if I choose to be no-holds-barred honest about this stuff!

1). Hamlet by William Shakespeare.  Never read it, only faked it.  I've read parts.  I've seen bits of various film adaptations.  But how shameful is it to have been an English major AND to take a Shakespeare course in grad school without reading Hamlet?  Pretty shameful.

2.  As a good Southern girl growing up in Mississippi, I'm pretty sure I lied at some point about reading the Bible.  I was raised Episcopalian (we don't really read the bible) among Southern Baptists, who have perfected what is known as the Bible Drill--they can identify and turn to almost any verse in the bible in under 5 seconds.  It's a little scary.

3. "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner.  You can't grow up in Mississippi with the name Emily without being asked a million times whether you've read it. After a while I just couldn't bear the looks of astonishment when I said no, so I eventually learned to say "yes, but his short fiction simply cannot compare to his novels, can it?" 

4.  The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.  Everybody raves about this novel.  I read Thanatos Syndrome, which is a little racy and a little trashy, then tried to read this book.  It was a no-go.  But I've still laid claim to it.  Again, Southerners take their writers very seriously.  I probably wouldn't have been invited to certain dinner parties if I'd admitted I didn't like it.  

5. To Shoot Hard Labor by an anonymous Antiguan.   I actually did read this, upon the recommendation of a taxi driver from Antigua who became a friend.  He said it was the best work written about Antigua.  If it's the best, let me just say that I don't want to read the worst.  It was self-published and not at all well written.  I lied and said that I enjoyed it.  I would do it again. 

6. The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien.   I probably read the first 50 about a dozen times and never got further into it.  In grad school it was pretty hip to say that in terms of sophistication,  it was to The Lord of the Rings what The Lord of the Rings was to The Hobbit.  And since I didn't want to appear unsophisticated...I'm sure you can tell where this is going. 

7. The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester.  Everybody raved about this book when it first came out, including me.  The problem is that I didn't really think it was all that great.  Fascinating, conceptually speaking.  But I got a little bored reading it. (It's the story of how an incarcerated madman was the greatest single contributor to the compilation of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.)

8.  Delta Wedding, Losing Battles, The Optimist's Daughter: These are all novels by Mississippi writer Eudora Welty.  Did I read them? No.  Have I pretended to?  Most certainly.  See reasoning above about Southerners, their pride in their writers, and dinner party invitations.  (I have read many of her short story collections AND her memoir, though.  I really think she's a great writer.)

9. Almost anything by Flannery O'Connor.  I've claimed to have tried reading any number of her short stories.  Even before I met the man who became my husband, a man whose first love was Flannery O'Connor, I think I fibbed about reading her.  Again, Southerners, dinner parties, etc. 

10.   And now I'm going to cop out and be a little disingenuous and stop naming names because the rest are all living writers.  I've worked in the book business since 1997 and I've met hundreds of writers.  Wined and dined with them.  Interviewed them. Befriended them.  Over the years I've told countless fibs about how much I enjoyed their work when I hadn't read it or hadn't liked it.  These days I try to be more careful about what I say and I can almost always find something to praise honestly. But to say more than that would be indiscreet and we can't be having that.  Not if I want to keep getting invited to dinner parties, Southern or otherwise.  

21 May 2011

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I do not usually have trouble writing reviews of books that I have loved, but this review is proving to be an exception.  You see, it's rare that a book haunts me in a way that Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus did and I want to make sure that my review is worthy of it; not only that, but I need to make sure that I get the tone just right, for like most books that I have a strong reaction to, this book is not for everybody.

Le Cirque des Reves (the Circus of Dreams) travels from city to city, from continent to continent, on no particular timetable, disappearing as quickly and as randomly as it appears. Operating from dusk to dawn and cloaked only in white, black, and silver, it offers the best entertainments of its kind in the world: acrobats, fortune tellers, animal acts, a magician--even the food concessions. For the extraordinary people who travel with it, year in and year out, it is more than their livelihood, it is their lifeblood.  As the novel unfolds, the reader comes to realize that the circus is also the playing field where Prospero the Enchanter and another magician known mostly as "the man in the grey suit" observe, but do not interfere with, a game with deadly consequences that they set into motion long ago.  Celia and Marco, their respective apprentices, bound irrevocably to their competition and each other, must use every reserve of power and imagination they possess to make sure the game does not play out according to the contract.  Along the way we meet a cast of incredible characters: Widget and Poppet, twins born on the circus's opening night; Isobel, a reader of cards caught between her love of the circus and her love of Marco; Chandresh Lefevre, circus proprietor and host of exclusive midnight dinner parties; Bailey, an ordinary boy who just might be more than what he seems; Tsukiko, the contortionist, whose secretive past keeps her anchored to the circus with an interest that is both personal and forlorn; and many, many more.

There are some books that capture the imagination; this novel seems rather to set the reader's imagination free with all that's best of dark and bright.  The Night Circus is precisely poised in that netherworld between reality and imagination, between wakefulness and sleep, casting the dreamer into the light of the dark black night. If you believe that The Shire is worth saving, if you believe somewhere in your heart that your Hogwarts letter will still find you, if you believe in tesseracts and kything, this is the book for you. More than anything else, this is a book that rewards those readers who know that true magic lies in the believing, not in the object of belief. 

If you are one of those readers, I think you will find, like me, that once you pick up this book, every moment spent not reading it feels like a moment wasted.  It is an intoxicating blend of reality and imagination.  

NB: Ann Kingman, one of my Random House sales reps, sent me an ARC of this book, which will be published by Doubleday in September.  It is one of the best books I have read this year.  It also happens to be earning international acclaim already since the rights sold in over twenty countries AND there is already a movie deal in the works.  I think this book is poised to make it big.  

17 May 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Literature's Also-Rans, Sidekicks, and Otherwise Overlooked Characters

This week's Top Ten Tuesday list, sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish, is a particularly fun one: minor characters.

1. Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.  No, he's not fully drawn, but with his minor appearances there's no real reason for him to be.  But in the few sketches that Tolkien gives us, I'm quite taken with him--a character both entirely dwelling in the natural world, yet seemingly not of the world. 

2. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling.  It's true that I like him better in fan fiction than in canon, but I think Snape is the most interesting and complicated character in the series, not to mention a pivotal player whose unpleasantness overshadows his importance. 

Had to leave this image larger 'cause it's so cool!
3. Poppet and Widget, the Murray twins from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  In all fairness, this book probably doesn't belong here since it's not published for another four months, but I just finished reading it this morning and it's fresh in my mind.  These twins are great--wise beyond their years and yet never without their belief in the impossible.

4. Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Can you imagine how differently Jane and Elizabeth Bennet's lives would have turned out with the Gardiners for parents? 

5. Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Was ever a better fool created in all of literature?  If so, I've not encountered him yet.  (This book is also fresh in my head because I'm reading P&P on my phone right now, just a few pages a day whenever I find myself waiting in line.)

6. Almost anybody from my childhood favorite author of L. M. Montgomery, author of the Anne series and Emily series. Matthew, Marilla, Davy, Rachel Lynde, and Katherine from the former.  The Aunts Laura, Elizabeth & Ruth,  Cousin Jimmy, Dean from the latter.

7. Alfred Ludlow from "The Legends of the Fall" by Jim Harrison. Ach, but the man breaks my heart.  Trying so hard to always do the right thing, and always losing despite his honorable intentions and guileless enough not to realize he doesn't belong in politics.

8. Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.  Wow, not many lines and yet ye somehow manages to mangle them all.  Comparisons are odorous, indeed!

9. The entire cast of characters from The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart. It's really an ensemble cast, but if I had to choose beyond Balthazar & Hebe Jones, arguably the two main characters, I might go with the Reverend Septimus Drew, who is chaplain of the Tower but who moonlights as both a rat exterminator AND a writer of women's erotica.

10.  Once again, a list that I thought would be easy to compile is leaving me stumped.  So I'll leave it blank for you to tell me your favorite minor character(s). 

13 May 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Just Doesn't Make the Cut

Literary Blog Hop

This week's question at the Literary Blog Hop, sponsored by the good folks at The Blue Bookcase, asks "What books have you read that have been hyped as literary and, in your opinion, were not?"

Oooh, lots, actually. This should be a fun answer this week! Okay, in no particular order I'll go with:

The Passage by Justin Cronin.  This book took the publishing world by storm last year as THE book to rewrite the literary history of vampires.  Most reviewers thought this was the literary equivalent to the second coming of Christ.  Ugh--I can't think of the last time I read such a piece of overrated crap. (And no, not just because it had vampires in it.  I'm generally vampire-friendly when it comes to fiction.)

Anything by Philip Roth.  I've not read a lot, so there might be exceptions to this gross generalization, but I got so sick of reading in his books about how hard it is to be an upper middle class white man.  Wah, wah, wah. 

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I liked this book quite a lot, actually, but I didn't think it was particularly literary (unlike most of its early readers).

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling.  I loved these books.  Still do, come to that.  And I think in the beginning the series was quite clever and had potential to be literary but then that potential fell apart with the fourth book.  I think if Rowling (and her editors) had put as much care into books 4-7 as was put into books 1-3, the series would be a milestone in children's literature. 

That should be enough to go on for now.  I'm sure there are tons I'm just not thinking of at the moment, but I want to head upstairs to read for a while, so y'all just let me know what you would pick...

Book Blogger Hop: To BEA or Not BEA? That is the Question

Book Blogger Hop

This week's Book Blogger Hop question, sponsored by Crazy for Books each Friday, is as simple as I've ever seen it and technically only involves a one-word answer: Are you going to Book Expo America (BEA) and/or the Book Blogger Convention (BBC) this year?  

Yes.  No.  In that order.  

Okay, so I can't leave it at that.  I am a bookseller--an INDIE bookseller, actually, of which I am fiercely proud and I will be attending BEA this year because I am incredibly lucky.  NYC is just a 3.5 hour train ride away from me, I have a friend and former coworker who is offering me her sofa in Brooklyn for as long as I want it, AND I get a free badge for the trade show floor.  So it's affordable and close and there's no reason for me not to attend.  I've got appointments to speak with somebody at most of the major publishers and some of the smaller ones, though I admit I've not yet scored any dinner invitations.  

I work at a great bookstore with a wonderful regional reputation, but when it comes to BEA, we're small fish in a big sea, so I don't necessarily expect any invitations for myself. But I also have a generous boss who is happy to pass on to me any invitations she cannot take advantage of, so it's all good.  And this year my  long-suffering husband is attending BEA as an illustrator, so I'll be happy to spend time with him this year in New York AND shack up in his publisher-sponsored hotel room (thanks, Peachtree!). 

If I could offer one piece of advice to those attending BEA for the first time this year, it would be this: Be Particular.  I know it can be overwhelming with all of the FREE STUFF.  EVERYWHERE. And I know you'll be tempted to take everything that you can.  But really, be particular.  The publishers will certainly thank you for not taking something that you have little intention of ever reading.  But more importantly, your BACK will thank you.  'Cause the dirty little secret is that you have to carry everything around with you.  And then cart it all back home with you.  So just be particular.  You'll still end up with more books than you'll ever have hope to read AND you won't be victim of late-onset scoliosis.  Win-win, see?

Edited to add: Oh, yes.  One of the comments below left the second piece of advice I would offer you: WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES.  Not the cute little peep-toes you just picked up.  Not the adorable strappy summer sandal.  We're talking Birkenstock/Keen/Naot/Dansko/Naot comfort here.  Not just flipflops, either!  The Javits Center is notoriously uncomfortable to walk around in all day, and if you're also shouldering the weight of several (dozen) books, then your feet are workin' overtime!

08 May 2011

Blog in Place: What's the Best Place You Lost Your Way?

 My friend Robyn over at You Think Too Much, has started a new blog hop called Blog in Place.  She is very much a place-ist (a person who is very place-centric) and this forum will provide a way for other place-ists to get together and share their love of place.  This week's question asks us what is the best place we've ever gotten lost...

Now it seems like I've got a one track mind lately, with all of my Caribbean chat.  I've got my annual vacation coming up in about a month and sometimes it's all I can think about 'cause I will have an unprecedented two weeks in Anguilla!  It's pretty easy to get lost on most islands in the Caribbean for a couple of reasons: (1) the little road maps that come with the rental car usually say in the upper corner, "Not to be used for navigational purposes," and  (2) most roads do not actually have road signs on them, and (3) even if there are road signs, most locals know the road as a different name altogether. But never fear!  Most islands in the Caribbean are ideal for getting lost, because whatever road you're on will end up someplace interesting, whether it's a beach, a waterfall, a farm, or a group of locals gathered around a rum shack.  In fact, you might end up someplace more interesting than your original destination.

One example I can think of (and illustrate, which is always better!) is when we were driving around Grenada last June.  We were trying to reach Belmont Estate, (a really fabulous eco-agro farm that grows cacao & various fruits and produces goat milk & goat cheese) which is way up in de country, as they say.  It was pouring down rain and easy to miss a turnoff even if it was well-marked.  We ended up at Levera/Bathway Beach because we did, in fact, miss the turn and it was, unusually, marked. We had actually intended to make our way to the coast afterwards, so it was a happy accident that we saw them in the order that we did.

We tried to go here:

But we ended up here:

07 May 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: The Top 10 Caribbean Places I'd Rather Be Right Now...

Sunset on Grand Anse Beach, Grenada. My photo.

Looks like I'm borrowing the weekly Top Ten Tuesday meme and creating my blogpost around it this time around.  I got inspired reading a summer kickoff post by Confessions of a Book Addict that counts down her top ten beaches.  Since 2001, all of my international travel has taken me to the Caribbean, but before that I had visited Europe a few times.  I was a reluctant Caribbean traveler--I had some incorrect preconceived notions about the region, mostly regarding the weather & heat; in fact my husband had to bribe and scheme his way to my agreeing to our first Caribbean trip.  I cannot reveal the actual terms of our parley, but suffice it to say that shade and footrubs were promised a-plenty.  Now, though, I'm hooked.  A fiend. An addict.  A lot of people don't get it--they assume the Caribbean is just one endless beach resort, islands are interchangeable--and they ask why I keep wanting to travel there.  Don't I get bored?  Isn't it all the same? Well, pardon me, but that's about as foolish as asking why people would want to travel to Greece and Italy and the south of France, when it's all just the Mediterranean. Or to Kuwait and Lebanon and Yemen, when it's all the Middle East. Or Thailand and China and Japan when it's all Asia.  Aren't the countries in one region all the same anyway?
Local fishing boat on Barnes Bay, Anguilla.  My photo.
 So as I was saying, back in 2001, my husband convinced me to give St. Lucia a try, where we vacationed at the Jalousie Resort, located on the beach smack-dab between the iconic Piton mountains.  I was instantly smitten and to this day I have never seen (in person) a more gorgeous piece of real estate.  I have learned many things since that first trip, both about the Caribbean and how I like to travel there.  (For starters, I'm not really a resort girl, especially not a corporately-owned one, and that the more research you put into a trip, the more rewarding it is.)  Since 2001, we have visited Antigua (5 times, and got married there in 2003), Barbados, British Virgin Islands (3 times, 3 different islands), Nevis, Jamaica, Vieques, St. Kitts, Grenada (4 times), Bequia, St. Vincent, and Anguilla (4 times, going back for a 5th trip next month).  We also diverted our usual Caribbean path to Hawai'i back in 2008 when my husband was invited to participate in a children's literature conference in Honolulu. After the conference we explored the Big Island for 10 days.  We prefer the Caribbean, but the Big Island has many magnificent things to recommend it.
Jalousie Beach seen from above. The darker the water, the deeper it is.  This beach has one of the steepest dropoffs on the planet. NOT my photo--found it on Flikr. 
It's true that we have been to quite a few islands; while I never had a bad time at any of them, there are just some islands that got under my skin and continue to exude their siren-song on me. I'm not sure what it is about the siren song islands that calls me back: Nevis has it, but not its sister nation of St. Kitts.  Bequia has it but not its mother island of St. Vincent.  Virgina Gorda and Guana do, but not their fellow British Virgin Island of Tortola.  Of the three coral-based islands with a British heritage, Anguilla and Antigua do, but not Barbados. I reckon that's why the French have the phrase je ne sais quois...

Upper Shoal Bay, Anguilla.  Photo mine.

I like to get out and explore, but my long suffering DH prefers the BIC approach.  That is, the butt-in-chair approach.  I like some of that, too, but my powers of persuasion as such that I can usually get him to come tool around in the rental car with me as long as there's a promise of a chair and a cocktail at the end of the road.  In recent years, we've liked the Yin and Yang of pairing Anguilla, a flat arid coral island, with Grenada, a lush and mountainous volcanic island on the same vacation to get the best of both worlds. So anyway, without further ado (and by "ado" I mean "text"), here are some of my favorite places in the world.  That they happen to all be beaches is hardly my fault.

Sea grapes provide plenty of shade on Morne Rouge Beach, Grenada. Photo mine.

La Sagesse Beach on Grenada.  It's like Eden. Photo from the Grenada Explorer website.

Shoal Bay East, Anguilla.  Probably my #1 pick for its beautiful white sand, good snorkeling, lack of crowds, lack of pretension, and ample choice of beach bars.  Photo is mine. 
White Bay Beach, Guana, BVI.  This is not my photo, but I used to have one almost identical to this shot before my hard drive fried last year.  Now I back up my photos rather obsessively.  This is probably my #2 pick.  I honeymooned here and returned for my 5th anniversary.  It's as special a place as I've ever visited. 

Savannah Beach, Virgin Gorda, BVI on a hazy day.  Pity about the crowds, eh? Photo mine.

For sentimental reasons I had to include Long Bay Beach, Antigua, where I was married at the small, locally-owned Long Bay Hotel. All of my own photos of this lovely spot are long gone.  This is a photo from TripAdvisor.

Honorable Mentions:
Sombe (Sun Bay) on Vieques
Princess Margaret Beach on Bequia
Industry Bay Beach on Bequia
Newcastle Beach on Nevis
South Friars Bay Beach on St. Kitts
Spring Bay Beach on Virgin Gorda
Smuggler's Cove on Tortola
Hawksbill Beach on Antigua (clothing optional!)
Kona Village Resort beach on Hawai'i; (the Big Island)

05 May 2011

Book Reviews in Brief, or Reviewing Two Birds with One Stone

It has been a long, difficult week. First I had to work extra hours at the bookstore when someone called in sick.  Then my laptop called in sick.  Then I had to work more hours at the bookstore when someone else called in sick.  So it's been twelve hours on the sales floor today, but on the upside, I get to hear author Geraldine Brooks do a reading tonight.  I've been so out of the swing of things that I thought tonight would be the night to have time to do a Top Ten Tuesday post.  When I went to my blogger dashboard to see what the topic was, imagine my surprise to see that it's already Thursday!  Apparently I'm two days behind this week, which explains a lot.  But the upside of that is that today is Cinco de Mayo, so my coworkers and I will be drinking some Coronas and some jugo de naranja (yeah, one of 'em is sick) after the author event. But enough of my small life.  Tonight I've got two small book reviews, each of which features a bird in the title.

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson, published by Other Press is a very impressive debut novel.  First of all, I love the graphics of this cover.  So minimalist, yet so evocative.  Meet Blessing, a smart girl born to a world of relative privilege in Lagos, Nigeria, whose young life quickly becomes marked by hardship and loss.  When her father leaves the family, she moves with her mother and beloved older brother to stay with her maternal grandparents in a remote village.  Daily living takes on many new changes, full of both beauty and horror, and the reader gets an up-close look at the tragic exploitations and political fallout the oil industry wreaks on developing countries.  Blessing's story of survival and hope will definitely move you as she and rest of her village realize that the power of Nigerian women lies in both their resistance and their resilience.  A great companion read (and, I think, a better read) to Chris Cleave's Little Bee

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones is published by Algonquin, one of my favorite small publishers. Look out, folks, because this story will draw you in immediately with its opening line, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist," and won't let you go.  Dana, the daughter from the unrecognized marriage, and Chaurisse, the legitimate daughter, tell their parallel coming-of-age stories in Atlanta in the 1980s, but where Dana's entire life has been haunted by the knowledge of her father's double life, Chaurisse's has been utterly and blissfully ignorant.  Things get interesting when the two girls meet at a science fair and Dana engineers a friendship between them.  The real power of this story lies in the author's ability to convey so completely the secrets, alliances, agonies, and jealousies that define these girls' lives. 

01 May 2011

Last Month in Review: April 2011

1) Faith by Jennifer Haigh.  Review here.

2) The Illumination by Kenneth Brockmeier.  Review here.

3) The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak. Review here.

4) Catfish Alley by Lynne Bryant.  Review here

5) Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks.  Brooks grew up in Australia and had several penpals around the world.  Years later when cleaning out her father's attic, she discovered that he had kept all of her childhood correspondence with them.  As an adult she seeks out those penpals again.  This memoir combines childhood reminiscences with stories of how she tracked down her penpals in Israel, France, and Australia.  Frankly, I expected better from this Pulitizer Prize-winning author.  It was okay but I wouldn't recommend that you rush out to it. 

6 &7) The Other Side of Darkness and Survivals & Remembrances by Abby (fanfiction).  These are some of my favorite novel-length fanfictions, starring grown-up Hermione and Severus.  Some lemony bits to be sure, but overall they're just very well written stories. www.witchfics.org

8) The Ape House by Sara Gruen (audio). Review here.

9) The World as We Know It by Joseph Monninger.  Review forthcoming.

10) Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer (short stories).  These ranged from mediocre to very fine.  I especially responded to the story of the grieving mother who finds solace in her teenage son's CD collection after he dies to save a young boy from a train. I probably will not review this one.

11)  The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Corection [sic] at a Time by Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson.  The grammar police with wanderlust?  What's not to love about a book like this?  Apparently the writing.  It's so self-consciously earnest that I could barely bring myself to finish it.  If it had been longer, or if I weren't driven to add another nonfiction book to my reading this month, I never would have made myself finish it. 

12) A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz.  Half memoir, half book of essays with a smidge of biography thrown in for good measure, each chapter was devoted to one Jane Austen novel.  A little repetitive, a little too self-congratulatory, but overall mostly harmless enjoyable.