Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CBR3-9: The Oracle of Stamboul - Michael David Lukas

Full Disclosure: I received an ARC copy of this book from Harper Collins

Late in the summer of 1877, a flock of purple-and-white hoopoes suddenly appears over the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, and Eleonora Cohen is ushered into the world by a mysterious pair of Tartar midwives who arrive just minutes before her birth. "They had read the signs, they said: a sea of horses, a conference of birds, the North Star in alignment with the moon. It was a prophecy that their last king had given on his deathwatch." But joy is mixed with tragedy, for Eleonora's mother dies soon after the birth. Raised by her doting father, Yakob, a carpet merchant, and her stern, resentful stepmother, Ruxandra, Eleonora spends her early years daydreaming and doing housework—until the moment she teaches herself to read, and her father recognizes that she is an extraordinarily gifted child, a prodigy. When Yakob sets off by boat for Stamboul on business, eight-year-old Eleonora, unable to bear the separation, stows away in one of his trunks. On the shores of the Bosporus, in the house of her father's business partner, Moncef Bey, a new life awaits. Books, backgammon, beautiful dresses and shoes, markets swarming with color and life—the imperial capital overflows with elegance, and mystery. For in the narrow streets of Stamboul—a city at the crossroads of the world—intrigue and gossip are currency, and people are not always what they seem. Eleonora's tutor, an American minister and educator, may be a spy. The kindly though elusive Moncef Bey has a past history of secret societies and political maneuvering. And what is to be made of the eccentric, charming Sultan Abdulhamid II himself, beleaguered by friend and foe alike as his unwieldy, multiethnic empire crumbles? -
When I first read the description of this book I was intrigued by the time period and the mystery around Eleonora.  I definitely got entranced in this book while reading during my commute (almost missed my stop twice!). Each character within the book had a different relationship with Eleonora.  Eleonora's reaction to her father's death was reasonable, but thought that after weeks of no talking either The Bey or Mrs. Damakan would have curtailed this behavior.

It was refreshing to see that within the Ottoman Empire there was the same push and pull within the royalty and their advisers as other empires.  I'm not terribly familiar with the Ottoman Empire so it's hard to tell if this detail is part of the history or fiction.  I was a tad disappointed that Eleonora really only advised the Sultan on one issue.  To me the premise of impacting history meant advising on multiple situations.

The plot line with the American professor was a little strange and out of place and I could never figure out what his end goal was tutoring Eleonora. Loved the uncertainty and uneasiness surrounding Eleonora's gift and cultural heritage which just added to the political turmoil of the time period.

I did an image search on purple and white hoopoes since they played such a crucial part in the Eleonora's journey.

I'm giving away my ARC copy of this book to one lucky reader.  Submit your entry below by Tuesday, February 15th at 11:59 pm EST.

Check out my fellow TLC Book Tour hosts for this book:
Katie's Nesting Spot
Medieval Bookworm
One Girl Collecting
Confessions of a Rambling Mind

Update: Giveaway is closed and a winner has been chosen. Using, Hannah won the book!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

CBR3-8: 365 Thank Yous - John Kralik

**** I won a copy of this book via LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Giveaway ****

One recent December, at age 53, John Kralik found his life at a terrible, frightening low: his small law firm was failing; he was struggling through a painful second divorce; he had grown distant from his two older children and was afraid he might lose contact with his young daughter; he was living in a tiny apartment where he froze in the winter and baked in the summer; he was 40 pounds overweight; his girlfriend had just broken up with him; and overall, his dearest life dreams--including hopes of upholding idealistic legal principles and of becoming a judge--seemed to have slipped beyond his reach. Then, during a desperate walk in the hills on New Year's Day, John was struck by the belief that his life might become at least tolerable if, instead of focusing on what he didn't have, he could find some way to be grateful for what he had.
Inspired by a beautiful, simple note his ex-girlfriend had sent to thank him for his Christmas gift, John imagined that he might find a way to feel grateful by writing thank-you notes. To keep himself going, he set himself a goal--come what may--of writing 365 thank-you notes in the coming year. One by one, day after day, he began to handwrite thank yous--for gifts or kindnesses he'd received from loved ones and coworkers, from past business associates and current foes, from college friends and doctors and store clerks and handymen and neighbors, and anyone, really, absolutely anyone, who'd done him a good turn, however large or small. Immediately after he'd sent his very first notes, significant and surprising benefits began to come John's way--from financial gain to true friendship, from weight loss to inner peace. While John wrote his notes, the economy collapsed, the bank across the street from his office failed, but thank-you note by thank-you note, John's whole life turned around. 365 Thank Yous is a rare memoir: its touching, immediately accessible message--and benefits--come to readers from the plainspoken storytelling of an ordinary man. Kralik sets a believable, doable example of how to live a miraculously good life. To read 365 Thank Yous is to be changed.-
Kralik's writing style, for a lawyer, was easy to read and conversational.  As the reader moves from chapter to chapter, you get to see how a small act - writing thank you notes - had a big impact on his life.  Kralik had a good support system around him which allowed him to grow and change his behaviors. It was endearing to see John reach back into his past and find past acquaintances or associates to thank in order to meet his goal.

Growing up I was taught to write thank you notes within a few days of receiving a present.  My grandmother still writes handwritten notes to friends and family each week.  Sitting down and writing notes during a time of instant messaging and texting allows not only a more thoughtful message, but also a nice homage to simpler times.

This book is a nice interruption in your busy life to remind you that sometimes stopping and appreciating what you have can reap many benefits.

CBR3-7: The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman

Printing presses whirr, ashtrays smolder, and the endearing complexity of humanity plays out in Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists. Set against the backdrop of a fictional English-language newspaper based in Rome, it begins as a celebration of the beloved and endangered role of newspapers and the original 24/7 news cycle. Yet Rachman pushes beyond nostalgia by crafting an apologue that better resembles a modern-day Dubliners than a Mad Men -
Working for a news organization, I was very curious by the premise of this book. I was pleasantly surprised by Rachman's witty writing and tongue-in-cheek approach to the different "staff" members at the newspaper.  Rachman also interconnected the stories of each character similar to Colum McCann in Let the Great World Spin. The background on how the paper was started and grew was spread out throughout the book in small snippets at the end of each chapter.  

This book is an entertaining read and really doesn't need much description.  The reader can "escape" to Rome and other places as they meet the newsroom staff who are just trying to keep the paper running.

CBR3-6: One Day - David Nicholls

***** February Book Club Pick *******

The Hollywood-ready latest from Nicholls (The Understudy) makes a brief pit stop in book form before its inevitable film adaptation. (It's already in development.) The episodic story takes place during a single day each year for two decades in the lives of Dex and Em. Dexter, the louche public school boy, and Emma, the brainy Yorkshire lass, meet the day they graduate from university in 1988 and run circles around one another for the next 20 years. Dex becomes a TV presenter whose life of sex, booze, and drugs spins out of control, while Em dully slogs her way through awful jobs before becoming the author of young adult books. They each take other lovers and spouses, but they cannot really live without each other. Nicholls is a glib, clever writer, and while the formulaic feel and maudlin ending aren't ideal for a book, they'll play in the multiplex.- Publishers Weekly
My bookclub picked this book for February due to the focus on a romantic relationship. When the book was initially described to me, I thought the concept of following a couple throughout many years but just focusing on one specific day was an unique premise.

It was hard to relate to the Emma and Dexter.  I found myself loving them one chapter and being bored by them in the next chapter.  The book definitely reads well and I can see how Nicholls is compared to Nick Hornby.  In a way, each chapter was like an episode of a soap opera, but not as far fetched as a soap opera plot.

When the significance of the day highlighted throughout the book is revealed, I was shocked (actually reacted with a sharp intake of breath).  I did find myself guessing what the significance of the day was as I read through the book. In fact trying to figure out the mystery might have pushed me through this book.

This book was a good read and I'm curious to see how the book adapts to the big screen.

CBR3-5: The Gendarme - Mark Mustian

Mustian's debut novel is a meditation on memory in which the dreams of a former Turkish soldier contain the truth of his past. Emmett Conn is 92 and living in Georgia when he begins dreaming of his youth and his involvement in the Armenian diaspora. After 70 years of amnesia caused by his WWI injuries, Emmett's past returns with a vengeance following surgery for a brain tumor. Emmett knows he fought the British at Gallipoli, was wounded, and was cared for by a nurse, Carol, whom he married and accompanied back to the U.S. But in his violent dreams, he relives his actions as a Turkish gendarme in the forced death march of thousands of Armenians into Syria. Emmett recalls snippets of his murderous and rapacious acts but also of his obsession with a beautiful young Armenian girl, Araxie. His dream life leads him to one conclusion: he must find Araxie and beg her forgiveness. Mustian's staccato prose, an attempt to emulate Emmett's skittish and elusive dreams, works sometimes better than others, but the novel effectively captures the human capacity for survival and redemption. - Publishers Weekly
I was drawn to the cover of this book at the public library a few months ago, but past it up because I wasn't sure if  the story was as riveting as the cover. Then two of the book bloggers I follow (Medieval Bookworm & S Krishna) both posted reviews about the book that got be intrigued with it again.  Luckily I found an ARC copy at work on the giveaway shelf.

I definitely wasn't prepared for the amount of description of the violence and sexual acts that the main character and others participated in.  Unfortunately, I've become a little desensitized to violence and vivid descriptions, but this book caused some weird dreams for me as well. It was also hard to switch between Emmett's flashbacks through his dreams and the present day at first.

Telling the story from the "immigrant" perspective was compelling.  Emmett's struggle to answer the question of where he was from reminded the reader throughout the book what his mindset was. Before reading this book, I had no idea about the supposed genocide in Armenia and Turkey during World War II. Reading the author chat at the end of the book also informed me about the current day sensitivity towards this subject as well.

This book did his a note with me since I could easily see my grandfather, a World War II veteran who struggled with dementia at the end of his life, within Emmett's actions.  I could relate to Emmett's daughter as she adjusted to her father's behavior. 

While this book can be squeamish at times, it does take modern day themes and intertwines them with a historical setting that most of us are not familiar with.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January Reading Summary & Challenge Update

One thing I thought I would try this year is writing summary posts for each month and providing updates on the reading challenges I'm participating in.

In January, I read 7 1/2 books, but I'm behind in posting a few reviews. Hopefully I can get them written and posted over the weekend.

Reading Challenges Progress
Cannonball Read III: 7 of 52 complete
Off the Shelf: 1 of 15 complete
Heroines Bookshelf: haven't started
Outdo Yourself: 7 of 70 complete
     I read 60 books last year and signed up to read 6-10 more books this year

I also participated in the Library Day in the Life project during January.