Thursday, January 02, 2014

Holiday Book Acquisitions… (Non-ARCs, Mostly eBooks)

In a rather unusual move, I’ve been buying rather a lot more books than I normally do. Partly, this is because Amazon (UK) has been having some pretty amazing Daily Deals. There have been great selections from a variety of authors on or near 99p, which I thought too good to pass up. Now, whether or not I’ll have enough time to read them all in a timely manner is, of course, the always-present question when it comes to my insatiable acquiring of reading material. [An insatiability that has been somewhat tempered, of late, but that is a topic for a later post, as it will have an impact on the blog going forward. That and a number of other things.] So, just to flag some interesting books that I think are worth everyone’s attention, here is what I’ve acquired over the Christmas and New Year period…


AbramsDorst-SJ.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst, S. (Mulholland)

One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace and desire

A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.

THE BOOK: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V. M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched on a disorienting and perilous journey.

THE WRITER: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world's greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumours that swirl around him.

THE READERS: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they're willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts and fears.

S., conceived by filmmaker J.J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, is the chronicle of two readers finding each other in the margins of a book and enmeshing themselves in a deadly struggle between forces they don't understand. It is also Abrams and Dorst's love letter to the written word.

I’ve been intrigued by this ever since I first saw it advertised. Then I saw an interview with Abrams on the Colbert Report, and my interest has only grown since. It’s a beautiful physical object, too. Wonderfully produced. One thing, though: I have no idea how to read it…


AtwoodM-1-Oryx&CrakeMargaret Atwood, ORYX AND CRAKE (Virago)

Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons.A man, once named Jimmy, now calls himself Snowman and lives in a tree, wrapped in old bed sheets. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility.

She’s one of Canada’s most famous and successful authors. So copies of her novels are in plentiful supply in Toronto’s bookstores. And yet, I have never read any of her books. So, hopefully, this will be my first of many.


Baldacci-ChristmasTrainDavid Baldacci, THE CHRISTMAS TRAIN (Grand Central Publishing/Macmillan)

Disillusioned journalist Tom Langdon must get from Washington to LA in time for Christmas. Forced to take the train across the country because of a slight ‘misunderstanding’ at airport security, he begins a journey of self-discovery and rude awakenings, mysterious goings-on and thrilling adventures, screwball escapades and holiday magic. He has no idea that the locomotives pulling him across America will actually take him into the rugged terrain of his own heart, where he will rediscover people’s essential goodness and someone very special he believed he had lost. In equal parts hilarious, poignant, suspenseful and thrilling, The Christmas Train is a delightful journey filled with memorable characters who have packed their bags with as much wisdom as mischief... Part detective story, part disaster movie, part romance, this is a brilliant, heart-warming holiday tale.

I’ve read most of Baldacci’s thrillers (though I am a little behind at the moment), but when I saw this on sale, I thought it would be interesting to read something different by him.


Eugenides-VirginSuicidesJeffrey Eugenides, VIRGIN SUICIDES (Fourth Estate)

This is the story of the five Lisbon sisters – beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the entire neighbourhood.

The boys that once loved them from afar are now grown men, determined to understand a tragedy that has always defied explanation. For still, the question remains – why did all five of the Lisbon girls take their own lives?

This hypnotic and unforgettable novel treats adolescent love and death with haunting sensitivity and dark humour, and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time.

It’s a classic that I have failed to read already, and I wanted to address this oversight. I have seen the movie, though I don’t remember much about it…


ExtenceG-UniverseVsAlexWoodsGavin Extence, THE UNIVERSE VERSUS ALEX WOODS (Hodder)

Alex Woods knows that he hasn't had the most conventional start in life.

He knows that growing up with a clairvoyant single mother won't endear him to the local bullies.

He also knows that even the most improbable events can happen – he's got the scars to prove it.

What he doesn't know yet is that when he meets ill-tempered, reclusive widower Mr Peterson, he'll make an unlikely friend. Someone who tells him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make the best possible choices.

So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at Dover customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he's fairly sure he's done the right thing.

I saw a number of big advertisements for this novel in London Tube stations last year, but never got around to investigating it further. I’ve heard good things, though.


Fey-BossypantsTina Fey, BOSSYPANTS (Sphere)

Once in a generation a woman comes along who changes everything. Tina Fey is not that woman, but she met that woman once and acted weird around her.

Before 30 Rock, Mean Girls and 'Sarah Palin', Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon -- from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.

It’s Tina Fey. This wasn’t on sale. But I’ve wanted to read it for ages. Now I have no excuse not to.


Ford-SportswriterRichard Ford, THE SPORTSWRITER (Bloomsbury)

Frank Bascombe has a younger girlfriend and a job as a sportswriter. To many men of his age, thirty-eight, this would be a cause for optimism, yet Frank feels the pull of his inner despair and especially of his recent losses - his preferred career has ended, his wife has divorced him, and a tragic accident took his elder son. In the course of this Easter weekend, Frank will lose all the remnants of his familiar life, though he will emerge heroic with spirits soaring. This is a magnificent novel that propelled Richard Ford into the first rank of American writers.

I picked up Canada late in 2013 (can’t believe that’s “last year”, now…), and have seen a number of copies of The Sportswriter in Toronto bookstores – and also the sequel, which I believe was a Pulitzer Prize-winner?


HomesAM-ThingsYouShouldKnowA.M. Homes, THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW (Granta)

Things You Should Know is a collection of dazzling stories by one of the most talented and daring young American writers. Homes' distinctive narratives demonstrate how extraordinary the ordinary can be. A woman pursues an unconventional strategy for getting pregnant; a former First Lady shows despair and courage in dealing with her husband's Alzheimer's; a teacher's list of 'things you already should know but maybe are a little dumb, so you don't' becomes an obsession for someone wasn't at school the day it was given out; and adult tragedy intrudes into a childhood friendship. The stories are full of magic and strangeness and humour, but also demonstrate an uncanny emotional accuracy and compassion.

Thought these would be a good introduction to Holmes’s writing.


Kaufman-AllMyFriendsAreSuperheroesAndrew Kaufman, ALL MY FRIENDS ARE SUPERHEROES (Telegram Books)

All Tom's friends really are superheroes. Tom even married a superhero, the Perfectionist. But at their wedding the Perfectionist is hypnotized by her ex, Hypno, to believe that Tom is invisible. Nothing he does can make her see him. Six months later the Perfectionist is sure that Tom has abandoned her, so she's moving to Vancouver. She's going to use her superpower to leave all the heartbreak behind. With no idea that Tom is beside her she boards the plane: Tom has until they touch down to convince her he's there, or he loses her forever. A wonderful, heartbreakingly funny tribute to love, sweet love.

This slim volume has been on my radar for a while. Then I saw it go on sale, and I considered it fate. Will be reading this very soon.


LandayW-DefendingJacobUKWilliam Landay, DEFENDING JACOB (Orion)

When a teenaged boy is discovered stabbed to death in the woods adjoining the local high school, a wave of shock ripples through the suburban community of Newton, outside of Boston. Assistant district attorney Andy Barber is used to dealing with murder and its after-efffects, but with his own son, Jacob, also a student at the school, he too is anxious for a swift arrest and conviction. But as the kids appear to be stonewalling the cops and the investigation stalls, evidence emerges that ties Jacob to the crime - and suddenly Andy faces a very different challenge: preventing his son from being convicted of murder. Together with his wife, Laurie, the family closes ranks in the midst of an increasingly hostile community as Andy prepares for the trial of his life, the one trial he cannot afford to lose. Especially when the emergence of his own dark family secrets threatens to undermine Jacob's defence. And as the drama reaches its climax, Andy and Laurie have to face every parent's toughest questions: how well do you really know your own child, and how far would you go to save them?

This has been on my radar for far too long. It was on sale, and I thought it too good to pass up, and also think this will make me finally get around to reading it. Really interesting premise.


RothV-D1-DivergentVeronica Roth, DIVERGENT (HarperCollins)

In the world of Divergent, society is divided into five factions – Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful) and Erudite (the intelligent). Every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice Prior, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is. Her choice shocks everyone, including herself.

During the initiation that follows, Tris and her fellow initiates undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them, Tris must determine who her friends really are – and where the boy who seems to both threaten and protect her fits into the life she's chosen.

But Tris also has a secret, kept hidden because she's been warned it can mean death. As unrest and growing conflict threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris learns that this secret might save those she loves… or it might destroy her.

I saw the trailer for the movie adaptation of this. It didn’t suck. Then I saw this was on sale for Kindle. That was enough of an incentive. I’m so easy when it comes to book bargains… I don’t know anyone who has read it, nor do I really know what to expect.


RussoR-StraightManRichard Russo, STRAIGHT MAN (Vintage)

Hank Devereaux, a fifty-year-old, one-time novelist now serving as temporary chair of the English department, has more than a mid-life crisis to contend with when he learns that he must cull 20 per cent of his department to meet budget. Half in love with three women, unable to understand his younger daughter or come to terms with his father, he has a dangerous philosophy that life, and academic life, could be simpler, but he fails to see the larger consequences of his own actions or of the small-world politics that ebb and flow around him, as his colleagues jostle for position and marriages fall apart and regroup. The despair of his wife, and the scourge of the campus geese, he is a man at odds with himself and caught somewhere between cause and effect.

I’ve only recently found out about Russo’s novels. I came across this one shortly after reading Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, and it seems to have some similarities that attracted me. Hopefully be reading this soon. (Russo’s Empire Falls, which I also bought somewhat recently, was a Pulitzer Prize winner.)


  1. Divergent is entertaining enough while you're reading it (even if I'm very sick of the writing style Roth opted for; overused in young adult fiction), but within ten minutes of finishing it, I started thinking about what I had just read in a blur and realized how ridiculously problematic it all was. The more you think about it, the more you realize the many flaws of the book (and not just an awkward, not-particularly-believable romance...). I'm curious to know what you'll think of it - I seem to be in the general minority here.

    1. Hah. Sometimes, it's best not to think too hard about some books you read... It's not too high on my reading priority list, though (metaphorical - it would be weird to actually have one of those). I am curious, though. The movie trailer made it look intriguing, and I do have a soft-spot for dystopian fiction.

  2. You won't be disappointed with the Andrew Kaufman - that, and the Tiny Wife are both fantastic and mystical books. He packs an eloquent punch into short books.

    After you've finished the Homes collection, I suggest the End of Alice, as long as you have a strong stomach!