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Independent Bookstore Day: May 2nd

May 2nd is Independent Bookstore Day! I love visiting independent bookstores. To me, there’s no comparison between a neighborhood bookstore where the owners know your tastes and the big impersonal box stores. And while Amazon is convenient, I much prefer exploring (and financially supporting) the nooks and crannies of my favorite indie book store.

In honor of Independent Bookstore Day, I’ve decided to: a) read and review My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop edited by Ronald Rice; and b) highlight a few events happening around the world celebrating this day. Will you be supporting your local bookstore this May 2nd?


My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop. Edited by Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America.
Published in: 2012
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 3.5 stars
Find it/buy it here:My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop

My Bookstore is a collection of short essays written by a over 70 writers As the title of this collection describes, each author dedicates his or her chapter to a bookstore they love. Contributors include Isabel Allende, Timothy Egan, Dave Eggers, Louise Erdrich, John Grisham, Ann Hood, Chuck Palahniuk, Tom Robbins, and Abraham Verghese.

I picked up a copy of this book for $1 at my local library and wasn’t expecting too much. Surprisingly, it was quite engaging and interesting. I enjoyed reading about some of the personal stories these authors shared about their favorite stores. Some of these independent bookstores really play huge roles in their communities: sponsoring writing workshops and classes, author presentations and signings, running first edition websites that ship across the country, and so on. The book features bookstores all across the United States.

Events on May 2nd

Over 400 bookstores in the U.S. will be participating in International Bookstores Day on May 2nd. To find a bookstore near you, check out the following website: Below are some highlights across the country.

Booksmith in San Francisco is transforming their store into a Mad Tea Party. Art by Sean Chiki, activities, music, and tea leaf readings.

12 Chicago-area bookstores are teaming up to provide book activities, author visits, raffles, special sales, booked goods, and refreshments. Also lucky customers will have a chance to travel from store to store collecting illustrated pages from an unreleased Stuart Dybek story. Those who visit all 12 stores will be able to collect a completed version of the story. It was illustrated by Dmitry Samarov specifically for this event. A schedule of events can be found here.

Porter Square Books in Cambridge will host bookstore scavenger hunts, demonstrations, and offer special limited-edition posters, books and broadsides.

New York City
New York bookstores will be hosting trivia events, giveaways, author interviews, and more. See the full list of participating bookstores here. The day will conclude with an After Party at Powerhouse Arena in DUMBO at 9pm.

North Carolina:
Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill: Author Jeremy Hawkins will be leading a writing workshop and craft talk for writers of all levels.

Washington (Seattle):
17 Seattle-area independent  bookstores will be hosing the Indie bookstore challenge. Customers can pick up a bookstore passport from any participating store then have it stamped at all the 17 stores in order to win a year-long 25% discount at all participating stores. Other prizes including gift certificates, signed books, and more will be handed out. More information about this event can be fount on their Facebook page: here

Do you have a favorite indie bookstore? Tell us why it is so special.

1001 Book Review: Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light

waiting for the dark

Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light by Ivan Klima
First Published in: 1994
Original Language: Czech
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4 stars
Find it here: Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light: A Novel

I read Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light about a month ago but have delayed in writing this review because I found the book rather complicated and it required some reflection on my part. The story is set in Czechoslovakia during and after the velvet revolution of 1989. The protagonist, Pavel, is a middle-aged camera man who is living with his girlfriend, her son, and her ex-husband. As a young man, Pavel tried to escape his repressive regime but when we meet him, he is working for a state-run television network producing state sponsored propaganda news. In his spare time Pavel dreams about the movies he wants to make. The novel alternates between sections of Pavel’s real life and his life as imagined by the movies he wants to make.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot so you can enjoy it for yourself. This was a pretty dark and bleak read but with humor injected throughout. There is a touch of surrealism throughout the book which makes it a more interesting read. Klima does a wonderful job capturing the atmosphere of ordinary people living in a repressive regime while at the same time blurring lines between the reality and fiction. I do have to admit that I was really confused for the majority of the book. It wasn’t until about 3/4 of the way in that I realized how the book was structured. This was a problem for me since the character names overlapped between versions with facts changing throughout. Even after realizing that parts of the book were Pavel’s imagined film, the boundaries were never crystal clear and had me questioning which events were real and which were imagined.

Another interesting element about this book was that it covered a period of transition between the old and new regime and it highlighted the feeling of being stuck between two different eras. His characters are trapped in a system that only allows for self-defeat. At one point the protagonist states:

The system never allowed you to win, and so it saved you from defeat as well.

Characters feel impotent and turn to dreams and fantasy in order to imagine how their lives could have been different.

Despite it’s rather complicated message, plot, and structure, it is a book that is easy to read and doesn’t feel overly dense (unlike many other Eastern European classics). I highly recommend this book, particularly for those readers who enjoy fiction with ties to political realities.

Additional quotes

A picture was a motionless record of motion. An arrested representation of life. A picture was the kiss of death pretending to possess immutability.

You can rule with a firm hand, or you can rule through consensus. Those with neither the strength nor the courage for firmness take refuge in the belief that they can remain somewhere in between. But that is an illusion.

Life is waiting for the light, not for the dark,’ she said. ‘My Indian teacher told me that. He was blind.’

It was like a spider’s web with a lot of spiders in it, not just one. They lay in wait for you at every corner of the web. Once you got caught in it you couldn’t get free. And they didn’t suck your blood right away, they’d just very slowly wind you into their web.

 Want to try it for yourself? Find it here: Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light: A Novel

Spring Cleaning Challenge Update

A little over a month into the challenge and as a group, you’ve all read 4o books. New followers and readers, there’s still lots of time to join in the challenge! A little less than two months to go and reading even one book will count for the prize draw. Find the instructions in the challenge tab.

It’s a tough race for first place between Tracy and Kate. Remember that the first place reader gets a prize but the grand prize will be drawn randomly from everyone who reads at least one book. The more books you read, the more entries you get for the grand prize draw. Below are our current standings. Participants: let me know if you notice any errors in your scores.

Kate – 10
Tracy – 9
Becky – 4
Ellen – 3
Nicole D – 3
Anita -2
Andrea – 2
Lynsey – 2
Sushicat – 2
Brandy – 1
Tessa – 1
Tricia – 1

What do you think of the challenge thus far? Have you been surprised by any books (pleasantly or unpleasantly)?

Please take the time to read the reviews of books read thus far (since last update). You might find something you’d like to read.

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Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

station eleven

Published in: 2014
Reviewed by Jen
Rating: 3.5 stars
Find it here: Station Eleven: A novel

A flu pandemic called the Georgia flu has killed off 99.9% of human population. Those who remain have had to learn to survive in a world without any modern day comforts. Apocalyptical and post-apocalyptic novels seem to be all the rage and Station Eleven is no exception. St. John Mandel’s fourth novel made many “best of” lists for 2014 and it was a National Book Award Nominee for fiction in 2014. The novel spans many years and weaves in various time points together from pre-apocalypse events to 20 years post-collapse.

This was an entertaining but not particularly novel idea for a book. I found the twists and turns fairly predictable although I did like how the author connected the various elements of the story together in the end. I have read a fair amount of post-apocalyptic novels and found Station Eleven to be a bit too optimistic and sugar-coated to be believable (or as believable as possible for these kinds of scenarios). Although there was mention of an “evil” prophet and some mild violence, there was no sense of real struggle or adversity that came through in Mandel’s version of the end of days (or beginning of days). Starvation, poverty, and violence were mentioned but often in mild or offhanded ways. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Walking Dead (and granted there are no zombies in Station Eleven), but it all felt just a little too rosy.

Those looking to this book for a good old apocalyptic novel will be disappointed. However, this book will appeal to many who don’t typically read this genre. It’s not really a book about world collapse, it’s a book about human connections, memory, and loss and there are true moments of beauty in storytelling related to these themes.

Have you read Station Eleven? What did you think? What are your recommendations for this genre?

Want to try it yourself? Find it here: Station Eleven: A novel

1001 Book Review: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

kATHERINAThe Lost Honour of Katherina Blum by Heinrich Böll
First Published in: 1974
Original language: German
Find it/Buy it here: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Penguin Classics)

Synopsis (from Amazon): In an era in which journalists will stop at nothing to break a story, Henrich Böll’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum has taken on heightened relevance. A young woman’s association with a hunted man makes her the target of a journalist determined to grab headlines by portraying her as an evil woman. As the attacks on her escalate and she becomes the victim of anonymous threats, Katharina sees only one way out of her nightmare. Turning the mystery genre on its head, the novel begins with the confession of a crime, drawing the reader into a web of sensationalism, character assassination, and the unavoidable eruption of violence.

Jen’s Review:
Rating: ★★★★
Katharina Blum is an upstanding young woman who seems to be the model citizen but she just happens to have murdered a man. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler! The book begins with the disclosure of the murder and works back and forth in time to uncover the events that led up to the murder. Böll poses the question of how ordinary people may be driven into acting in violent ways. The novel is a short, quick, and engaging read that probes into the responsibility of the media in creating stories that impact the lives of people in a harmful way.

I really enjoyed the book. The narrative style was unique and engaging and it resembled an investigative journalism piece with seemingly objective reporting. The story was pieced together with flashbacks, written statements and transcripts, lists, and commentary from the narrator, some of which was humorous. The book raises interesting questions about a) what the role of the media is and should be, b) which sorts of information should be private/public, and c) how media and social opinion can impact the lives of individuals. Very relevant to today’s society and in an interesting perspective on journalistic ethics and sensationalism.

I find Böll to be an extremely skilled author who is remarkably adept at capturing social issues in a believable way. His ability to craft complex characters and to understand the human psyche is impressive. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972 and in my opinion is a must-read author.

Book Worm’s Review:
Opening with the confession of Katharina to the murder of a journalist in her flat,  this novel presents the events that lead to the murder and asks the reader to decided who committed the biggest crime:  Katharina or the people whose actions drove her to it?

This novel, told by a detached narrator, contains a warning about believing everything you read or hear in the news. It illustrates how lives can be destroyed by the manipulative actions of both the media and those with a vested interest in keeping the real story hidden.

Katharina is an ordinary woman, a house keeper by profession whose life is destroyed by being misrepresented in the media, her only crime falling in love with the wrong man.

This is a powerful read and is still relevant today. This morning I was watching a news article about Jeremy Clarkson. The report claimed he had said that being fired from Top Gear was “worse than losing a child.” What he actually said was “Top Gear was my baby, I am lost without it” or words to that effect. I find that kind of manipulation and misrepresenting reprehensible and entirely unnecessary.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read others by Boll? Share your thoughts with us.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Penguin Classics)

1001 Book Review: Two Novels by Rebecca West

rebecca west

I had never read any books by noted author Rebecca West. Then in the last month I read two of her books almost back to back for a reading challenge. Rather than post them as two separate reviews, I have decided to combine them here along with a brief blurb about the author.

Dame Rebecca West was a renowned British author, journalist, literary critic, and travel writer. She was born in 1892 and died in 1983. She was incredibly prolific as a writer and her works span many genres. Her books are notable for their feminist leanings and critique of social and political issues. I can also say that the two books  I have read are fairly remarkable in their treatment of psychological issues and themes — being ahead of her time in her treatment of these issues.
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Kid’s Corner: Me… Jane

Many of you know that my daughter’s obsession with princesses, fairies, mermaids, and all things frilly drives me crazy. And while I desperately hope that it’s a phase that will end soon, I’m also constantly on the lookout for books that will expose her to the idea that girls don’t have to be princesses. But, head to the library or bookstore and you’ll find the shelves packed with books that reinforce either the princess craze or gender stereotypes (Pinkalicious, Fancy Nancy, Disney princess books, fairy tales). Try to sort through the books where the girl protagonist isn’t a princess, dancer, fairy, mermaid and you end up with a lot of books about animals.

So, I was thrilled when E’s grandparents sent her the book we are reviewing this month….


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3 Books about Running for Marathon Monday


Boston Marathon 2014

I’m not a runner and never have been. I don’t think I have the discipline and while I enjoy cycling, swimming, sports, dancing and many other athletic activities, running makes me feel like I’m dying. But, I LOVE marathon monday. We live in the Massachusetts and every year we head to the sidelines to cheer on the runners. It’s a wonderful and festive event with people from all over the country cheering on the best runners from all over the world.  This year we’ll be cheering on several friends as well as lots of strangers!

In honor of one of my favorite holidays, I’ve posted a list of 3 books (below) for the runner (or want to be runner).

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The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Published in: 2011
Awards: Pulitzer Prize Nominee for Fiction (2013)
Format: audio book narrated by Debra Monk
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 3.5 stars
Find/Buy it here:The Snow Child: A Novel

Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel, The Snow Child, is a retelling of a classic Russian fairy tale updated and set in the context of harsh wintery Alpine Alaska. The novel follows Jack and Mabel, a middle-aged childless couple, who have relocated to Alaska several years after losing their only child. Jack and Mabel struggle to survive in the harsh conditions of the Alaskan Alpine. Just when it looks like they won’t make it through the winter, torn apart by hunger and loneliness, they share a moment of playfulness in the snow and create a child out of snow that ultimately changes their lives forever. Read more

1001 Book Review: The Story of the Eye George Bataille


The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille
First Published in: 1928
Reviewed by: Book Worm & Jen
Find/Buy it here: Nope, not this time. You REALLY don’t want to read this or if you do, this blog is probably not the best fit for your reading tastes. If you really must, the PDF is available for free online.

Synopsis from Amazon: A masterpiece of transgressive, surrealist erotica, George Bataille’s Story of the Eye was the Fifty Shades of Grey of its era. This Penguin Modern Classics edition is translated by Joachim Neugroschal, and published with essays by Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes.

Bataille’s first novel, published under the pseudonym ‘Lord Auch’, is still his most notorious work. In this explicit pornographic fantasy, the young male narrator and his lovers Simone and Marcelle embark on a sexual quest involving sadism, torture, orgies, madness and defilement, culminating in a final act of transgression. Shocking and sacrilegious, Story of the Eye is the fullest expression of Bataille’s obsession with the closeness of sex, violence and death. Yet it is also hallucinogenic in its power, and is one of the erotic classics of the twentieth century.
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