Tag Archives: literature

In the Woods by Tana French

Word Lily review

In the Woods by Tana French (Viking Penguin, 2007), 429 pages

In a small outlying Dublin neighborhood, three children hop the stone fence into their favorite woods. But then they don’t come home for tea, and they don’t come when their mothers call. Much later, police find only one of the tweens, terrified and with a complete block as to what filled the missing hours. Years later, that found boy is a detective on the Murder Squad. He’s changed his name and left the past buried. But when he and partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl in those same woods, well, things get interesting.

I’d heard so many good things about this, I knew I wanted — needed, even? — to read it. I’m glad I finally got around to picking it off the shelf. The writing is superbly beautiful and filled with nuggets like this will still being accessible and readable.

The characters are definitely flawed, just the way I like them. Even when they disappoint me.

Haunting is a good word for In the Woods. Not that it scared me, but that it stayed with me in a somewhat uncomfortable way. It’s interesting to read the blurbs on the back cover, some call it a “hard-boiled police procedural” and others label it “psychological suspense.” Of course these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but it does kind of show, I think, the limits of labels.

I think I might finally understand all the people who say they love sad books. Well. I’m not saying I love sad books to the extent that I’m going to seek them out, but this book is sad, and I [still] love it.

I was spoiled, I knew before I got to the end that it wasn’t all wrapped up neatly. But I don’t think it would have bothered me like it did some people, even if I hadn’t known. I should have suspected, anyway. I’m OK with ambiguity. The sadness was harder for me than the lack of closure.

In the Woods won an Edgar Award for best first novel.

Rating: 4.5 stars

I look forward to reading more from French. I’ll probably start with the follow-up to this one, The Likeness

About the author
Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin, and has worked in theater, film and voiceover.

Other reviews
Caribou’s Mom
Reading Matters
You’ve GOTTA Read This
Book Journey
Fyrefly Books
Farm Lane Books
Presenting Lenore
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Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin

Word Lily review

Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel & Friends, 2011), 240 pages

Pearl feels like the very uncool little sister, especially compared to the great life Lexie (eighth grade) has — with a boyfriend, tons of friends, great grades — while Pearl’s only boyfriend is the cat, Bitey (the name’s not ironic), and she doesn’t even have her own key to the apartment.

I picked this up because it’s by the Ann M. Martin, the author of the Baby-Sitters’ Club books, and I’d just had a conversation about reading those books and was feeling nostalgic. It also didn’t hurt that I knew it would be a quick read! 🙂

This was a fun story about starting to know yourself and growing up, grasping some self-control. I felt for the character, who was moved ahead in school based on academic testing but perhaps before she was ready for it socially.

The “hand-drawn” lists and charts are a definite plus.

It’s been a bit since I read a middle grade book, but this one felt like it skewed a bit younger than most/some. The protagonist is (just barely) 9 years old.

Rating: 3 stars

Other reviews
Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

The INSPY Awards: The Bloggers’ Award for Excellence in Faith-Driven Lit

In early 2006 I stumbled across the Image Journal’s list of its Top 100 writers (with one book by each listed) of the 20th century. The list only references creative writing by writers of faith and the works must “manifest a genuine engagement with the Judeo-Christian heritage of faith.” [I’ve posted and organized the list here.]

At first the list was simply daunting. I’d read so very few of them. I stuck the list in my purse and pulled it out sometimes when I was at the library. Less than a month after I started blogging in this space, in April 2007, I made this list a project. I aimed to read all the books on the list.

As I read and posted about these books, my estimation of the books as a group only grew — each one I read was so amazing! These are the kind of books I love, these are the kind of books that make me happy I’m a reader, I thought.

From that time, though, even as I’ve continued to make my way through the list, a longing has been growing steadily inside me. I’ve wondered, over and over, where are the new books? Yes, that’s a funny question to ask when your TBR shelf is overflowing with mostly new books. But what I wanted — and still want — is to find new books, new authors, whose books rise to the standard of these older ones. Sure, a few of the list’s authors are still alive and writing, but I want more.

After reading a post in March 2010 from My Friend Amy about the state of Christian Fiction, I was inspired to write, here, about my own unmet desire for books that really dig into what it means to believe, what this walk-by-faith thing is about, and do so with writing that thrills me. As much as I dug, as much as I asked others, I couldn’t to see a way to find these books. Sometimes they’re published by Christian publishing houses, sometimes by indie presses, sometimes by the large general-market publishers. Sometimes they’re even self-published. And as much as I’d love to, there’s no way I can read all the books published in a year [just] to find the ones I really want to read.

Note: This story isn’t exactly in chronological order, but it is how I remembered it.

So when Amy asked if I wanted to be involved in creating a new award that would honor exactly these books, I was hugely excited.

After months of brainstorming and discussion and planning, today we launched the INSPY Awards. And I’m so excited! Like Amy, “I’m so very excited and hopeful that we’ll be able to discover the very best books that grapple with the Christian faith that are being published today.”

Now we need your help. For this to be successful, we need book nominations. We need judges. We need word of the INSPYs to be spread far and wide.

If you’re interested in being a judge, please head over to the INSPYs site and read over the criteria and apply. If you’re interested in nominating the great books of Christian faith you’ve read in the last year, then please read the criteria for books and nominate the books you think should be considered.

It’s been a blast working with the whole advisory committee: Amy of My Friend Amy, Carrie of Books and Movies, Deborah of Books, Movies & Chinese Food, and Rel of Relz Reviewz.

Oh, one last thing: Help us spread the word! Please subscribe to the INSPYs blog, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

The Singer’s Gun: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel (Unbridled Books, May 4, 2010), 304 pages

This book is hard to give a good overview of without giving too much away. And I’m glad I went into this without knowing too much.

I really didn’t know what to expect going into this book, and I’m glad. I *had* heard much anticipation and acclaim for the story before I picked it up. My enjoyment of this story was probably hindered by my limited reading time, which came in fits and starts, but it didn’t ruin the book for me.

Atmospheric. (Whenever I use that word I’m reminded of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón — high praise, high praise indeed.) Although I wouldn’t place this book completely in that realm, there are certain similarities. This may be my favorite aspect of the book. The prose and imagery were grand.

Some sex, some violence, some profanity. And while the characters’ moral compasses were swinging wildly, these factors didn’t overpower the story. I didn’t love or even fully relate to any of the characters, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book.

Part literary — the bonds of family! Part thriller — international crime! false identities! (Perhaps my favorite combination!) I liked this book, it was mostly an enjoyable read, with sparks of more, but I didn’t fall in love with this book.

I look forward to reading more of Mandel’s work in the future, but it won’t be on the top of my must-have list. I kind of wish I’d started with Last Night in Montreal instead.

About the author
Emily St. John Mandel (@EmilyMandel) is also the author of Last Night In Montreal. She lives in Brooklyn.

Other reviews
She Is Too Fond of Books
I’m Booking It
Lit and Life
S. Krishna’s Books
The Book Lady’s Blog
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

I received this book from the publisher, as part of the one-year subscription I won.

Faith’n’Fiction Roundtable: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

For Faith’n’Fiction Saturday this week (although the discussion itself took place in May), I participated in a round table discussion with several other bloggers about: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (Atlantic Monthly, 2000), 313 pages

Brief book summary and overview

Reuben Land was dead for 10 minutes, 10 minutes that ended when his dad commanded him, in the name of the living God, to breathe. Reuben’s living proof there’s such a thing as miracles. From there, Enger introduces us to 1960s small town Minnesota and the rest of the Land family.

Most of my thoughts on this book are expressed in the roundtable discussion, but by way of introduction I thought I’d share a couple things.

At the beginning, Peace Like a River reminded me of Tobias Wolff’s In the Garden of the North American Martyrs — the manliness of hunting, violence, etc. (Not that Martyrs is only shallow masculinity. I’m not saying that.) It didn’t take long, though, before this book revealed itself as so much more than rural boys and guns.

I’ve consistently seen this book placed in the company of Image Journal list books. Now, having read it, I certainly see why. It’s a great book, I highly recommend it.

A quick quote:

“People fear miracles because they fear being changed — though ignoring them will change you also.”

Peace Like a River, page 3

And now a small part of the discussion, which is spread out over the blogs of all the participants, divided topically.

General impressions

Amy: I have to admit there were times I found the narrative a bit slow for my taste. But I really enjoyed the characters in this book and especially the relationship between Reuben and Swede. What were your overall impressions and feelings of the book?

Jen: I thought it was OK, but it certainly didn’t grab me, and took me about three times longer to read that most books of a comparable length do these days.

Hannah: I also found it a bit slow-going, but I don’t always mind that. Amy, I agree: Great characters and really fun relationships to observe.

Pete: Enger is exactly my kind of writer: slow, deceptively simply, and poetic. He reminds me a lot of Flannery O’Conner or Harper Lee. I didn’t want the book to end. I think I drew out reading it for a couple of months to cherish and appreciate it. Books like this only number a few in a decade and I’m a better writer for having read it. Words like “errant beeves” and “clandestine jellies” are now filed away in my catalog of hilarious and awesome word pairings and Swede, Rueben, and Sonny Sundown will stay with me forever.

Caite: And I for one was not disappointed. I must say, I totally loved this book, which may be a minority opinion among our little group. I will agree with one of those quote bit of praise, this one from Pub. Weekly, that it is “one that sneaks up on you like a whisper.” Pete, I think you have nailed it on the head. Very early in the book, I though, “wow, this so reminds me of Flannery O’Connor.” It is, like her stories, about a world filled with grace and miracles, if only we would see them. Loved it.

Visit the other participants in this month’s roundtable

My Friend Amy: Introduction
Devourer of Books: Expectations
A Lovely Shore Breeze: Davy Part 1
The Fiddler’s Gun: Davy Part 2
Melanie’s Musings: Other Characters

Faith’n’Fiction Roundtable: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs by Tobias Wolff

For Faith’n’Fiction Saturday this week, I participated in a round table discussion with several other bloggers about: In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs: Stories by Tobias Wolff (Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint, 1981), 192 pages

Brief book summary

In the Garden of the North American Martyrs is a collection of short stories. The brief volume consists of stories with disparate settings and characters, but after letting the book sit in my mind for awhile, they melded quite nicely together.

I thought the writing was brilliant, but I didn’t fall in love with the stories or the — incredibly clearly drawn — characters while reading.

And now a small part of the discussion, which is spread out over the blogs of all the participants, divided topically. I present you a discussion on tone and content of the stories, discussion on “Face to Face”:

Hannah: Overall, I thought the writing was excellent, superb even. I was struck by how much they felt like man stories, though. I don’t usually think this way, but the collection as a whole seemed very manly.

Amy: You know you bring up an interesting point. I also felt very aware of gender as I was reading, and while there were a couple of stories told from the point of view of a woman, it did seem that many of the stories focused on how things related to the men in the story, who were in fact most often the characters.

I’m curious about all of your thoughts on the story, “Face to Face” This story annoyed me, because Robert essentially was a creep from the start, ends up pretty much raping Virginia, and while she ends things with him, she does so with pity for him. It’s not that I think this is an unlikely scenario, it’s just that it was very uncomfortable to read, and it bothered me that while yes something was clearly wrong with Robert, the women in his life called him, “Poor Robert.” I’m not exactly sure what this is meant to say about the nature of women or even people for this matter.

Hannah: I agree, Amy, that “Face to Face” was uncomfortable to read. It certainly wasn’t the only awkward one, though, in terms of content.

I thought “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs” was an interesting look at gender roles — but moreso at self-perception, introspection. This story made me think. Another peep inside academia, too.

Pete: In fact, I greatly enjoyed the book even when I didn’t understand it. As someone else mentioned, the short about the woman and the man dating was intensely disturbing, in part because of the man’s ‘rape’ and other behavior, and in part because of the woman’s reaction to it. It scares me that there are probably actual relationships in the world that are just that mis-guided. There was a moment at the end of that story, though, that was my favorite part of the entire collection. She tells the man that the relationship isn’t going to work and there’s this amazing moment were the writer says that she sees him choose to be alone for the rest of his life. I thought that was sad and beautifully done.

Visit the other participants in this month’s roundtable

My Friend Amy: Overview
The Quirky Redhead: The stories we liked best and the ones we didn’t
Strange Culture: The Coen Brothers and thoughts on “Smokers”
The Fiddler’s Gun: The themes and where was the light? (by the way I really encourage you go to and weigh in on whether or not books need “light”)
Stuck-In-A-Book: About short stories
Rebelling Against Indifference: The title and how the stories worked as a collection

This book is on the Image Journal list, which I’m reading my way through. In some ways it seems very different than the rest of the books on the list.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (St. Martin’s Press, March 30, 2010), 400 pages

Helen Adams is pulled between escaping Vietnam as Saigon falls and staying, to photograph the government transition and hopefully cement her place in photojournalism history. Add to that the fact that Saigon feels like home to her — she’s lived there more than a decade.

Photojournalist! Woman! Vietnam! All of these things screamed at me to read this book. It started a little slow, and I started questioning my choice. That was a relatively short-lived concern, though.

I was worried about what the book cover calls “a drama of devotion and betrayal as she is torn between the love of two men.” I’m not typically appreciative of love triangle stories. This, too, was something I needn’t have worried about, happily. It was handled well, and I didn’t find it distasteful.

I loved the strong sense of place — I really felt like I could see the lush landscape, feel the humidity, the crowded streets.

I found The Lotus Eaters insightful, if mainly in a small area (journalism, drive, ambition). The way Helen is addicted to war, that appetite — all of the news business can be that way.

A few quotes that resonated (these are taken from an advance copy; page numbers and the text itself may have been changed for the final copy):

“The curse of curses was that he was good at war, loved the demands of the job. What was frightening was he had developed an appetite for it. Like a starving man staring at a table of food, refusing to eat on moral grounds; appetite would win, and his shrewd boss counted on that.”

—page 54, The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

“The first picture, or the fifth, or the twenty-fifth still had an authority, but finally the repetition made the horror palpable. In the last few years, no matter how hard he tried, his pictures weren’t as powerful as before he had known this. Like an addict who had to keep upping the dose to maintain the same high, he found himself risking more and working harder for less return. He would never again be moved the way he was over that first picture of a dead WWII soldier. Was his own work perpetrating the same on those it came into contact with?”

—page 251, The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

“Sometimes Charlotte entered a room she thought empty only to find Helen there, staring off into space, her face broken apart, her daughter the Picasso woman. Helen sat on the couch, legs curled up, tears rolling down her face, and all the mother could do was take her child in her arms, rock back and forth for hours, pretend her daughter was still a child and could be soothed, merely frightened of the dark.”

—page 276, The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

“How could she understand? Even through all her hardship, she still saw the world through privilege. How could she know how it felt to be on the outside? Especially in one’s own country?”

—page 309, The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

One other (very minor!) complaint: At the beginning I had a hard time figuring out when and where I was in the story, as we moved around, mostly in time. I think blame for this falls squarely on the fact that I had only short bits of time to devote to the book early on.

Overall: Although it started a bit slow, I really loved this book. A great read.

About the author
Tatjana Soli (@TatjanaSoli) was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives with her husband in Orange County, California, and teaches through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. This is her debut novel.

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour stops for The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli.

Other reviews
Caribou’s Mom
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Book Club Classics

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

I received this book from the publisher, as part of the TLC book tour.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (Vintage Classics, 1927), 304 pages

Father Jean Marie Latour is appointed the Apostolic Vicar of New Mexico in 1851. The land is harsh and unforgiving, the people splintered and fractured, American by law but Mexican and Native American by culture and belief. The story follows his life.

The writing is straightforward and lovely. The contemplative style I associate with Kathleen Norris, the quietness and slowness that reminds me of Anne Tyler. However, it does not have the melancholy I associate with Tyler’s work.

The setting really shines in this book. I was reminded of my brief time in New Mexico — both the vistas and the food.

The story is compelling, the characters real. I really enjoyed this book.

A couple quotes that stood out to me:

The truth was, Jacinto liked the Bishop’s way of meeting people; thought he had the right tone with Padre Gallegos, the right tone with Padre Jesus, and that he had good manners with the Indians. In his experience, white people, when they addressed Indians, always put on a false face. There were many kinds of false faces; Father Vaillant’s, for example, was kindly but too vehement. The Bishop put on none at all. He stood straight and turned to the Governor of Laguna, and his face underwent no change. Jacinto thought this remarkable.

— page 93-94, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather


‘It would be a shame to any man coming from a Seminary that is one of the architectural treasures of France, to make another ugly church on this continent where there are so many already.’

— page 242, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather; Bishop Latour speaking

This is my first exposure to Cather (that I remember, anyway). I’ve been meaning to read Cather for years now, and I’m glad I finally have. I’m looking forward to more. I visited Cather’s Nebraska hometown of Red Cloud last fall. Several of her books draw details of their setting from Red Cloud, but Death Comes for the Archbishop isn’t one of those, as far as I know.

About the author
Willa Cather (1873-1947) received a Pulitzer in 1923 for One of Ours; she authored 12 novels.

Other reviews
Books and Movies
Rebecca Reads
Worthwhile Books
The Zen Leaf

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

This book is from my personal library.

This post, being a review of a book by a Nebraska author, is part of the Literary Road Trip.

This book is also on the Image Journal list, which I’m still, slowly, working my way through.

Of the list books I’ve read, this reminds me most of Robert Morgan’s The Truest Pleasure. In that it’s about day-to-day life, of normal people, but it doesn’t move too slowly, even though not too much actually happens.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.