30 June 2011

The Victorian Chaise-Longue, by Marghanita Laski

Time travel. Fear. Confusion. Could I be describing the premise of a contemporary novel flying off bookshelves faster than Amazon sales rankings can keep up with? Perhaps.

Or, these could be a few words to describe the sixth out of the 93 Persephone Books reprinted thus far, (an independent publisher in England that reprints neglected classics by mostly 20th century women). The Victorian Chaise-Longue, by Marghanita Laski, was first published in 1953 and at only 99 pages, this tiny book is creepier and more uncomfortable than many Gothic books published today. I sat transfixed in the short time it took to read it. Eerie. Creepy. Uncomfortable.

The young wife, Melanie, suffers from tuberculosis and is confined to her room, hoping that she will survive with her doctor's help and can return to a normal life with her family, most especially with the baby she has yet to hold. When her family decides that she should move from one room to another in the house, the Victorian chair that Melanie purchased the very day she was diagnosed with tuberculosis is situated in the room. While resting upon the ugly chair, Melanie wakes up in a world almost 100 years before. Also ill with tuberculosis in this earlier time, Melanie is now surrounded not by a caring husband, but by a sister who holds a secret with her, and the clean room that she fell asleep in has now become a dirty, smelly, and unkempt room. Nothing is the same, save for the Victorian Chaise-Longue and Melanie's mind.

Can you imagine?
Then a sound, a door opening (but it took a long time to translate the noise into comprehension), and a woman said, "Well, Milly? Are you ready to wake up now?"
A common voice, a cruel voice, assured and domineering. Not a voice to be conquered with superior strength but the nightmare voice that binds the limbs in dreadful paralysis while the danger creeps and creeps and at last will leap. I am asleep, said Melanie, ordering her wakened brain to admit this and be still, her closed eyes to not see even the ugly green and scarlet and yellow patterns under too tightly pressed eyelids, and then there was heavy weighted rattle and almost simultaneously another, and consciousness of light shot through the closed lids and forced them open. (p. 24)
Descriptive and engaging, Marghanita Laski's story is one that showcases this author as a brilliant strategist, one who crafts a powerfully Gothic punch with each unsettling moment, and in the shortest amount of time. Melanie's new body is much weaker, and the sordid decor and pungent smells of the Victorian time are no dream. It is real, it is happening to her, and she cannot gather her strength to get out of this tangled mess. She is trapped in a body not her own, imprisoned within the shell of a weak and sick woman, and she is without the family that she believes she has left behind. Without question, it is a classic of monumental significance, and one that has led me to become a new fan of Persephone Books.

Happy Reading,
Natalie, the Coffee and a Book Chick

FTC Disclosure: My husband got me two Persephone books for Christmas and I meant to read them right away. I didn't and now that I've finished this one, I'm kicking myself that I waited this long. I'm currently reading the second one he gave me, Marghanita Laski's Little Boy Lost.

Marghanita Laski was born in 1915 to a family of Jewish intellectuals in London; Harold Laski, the socialist thinker, was her uncle. After working in fashion, she read English at Oxford, married John Howard, a publisher, and worked in journalism. She began writing once her son and daughter were born: among her six novels were Little Boy Lost (1949), The Village (1952) and The Victorian Chaise-Longue (1953). A well-known critic, she wrote books on Jane Austen and George Eliot. Ecstasy (1962) explored intense experiences and Everyday Ecstasy (1974) their social effects. Her distinctive voice was often heard on the radio on The Brains Trust and The Critics; and she submitted a large number of illustrative quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary. Her home was in Hampstead, where she died in 1988.

This picture is from The Guardian website, which listed The Victorian Chaise-Longue as one of the 10 Best Neglected Literary Classics.


21 June 2011

The Katyn Order, by Douglas W. Jacobson

World War II has always been a fascinating subject for me to read, whether fiction or non-fiction. I'm extremely interested by this period in history, so when an email comes into my inbox requesting my review of historical fiction that takes place primarily in Poland, it grabs me immediately. I only wish I could have read it much sooner than I did.

Douglas W. Jacobson has crafted an intense and thoroughly engaging novel about Adam, an American assassin and Natalia, an undercover Polish agent fighting the Nazis, two people who have lost their families because of the war and are now fully entrenched in the battle. Together they try to locate a horrifying 1940 Soviet order authorizing the murders of Polish Army officers and civilians. This massacre did take place and when I researched even more about it, I was dumbfounded by yet another moment in history I never learned until now.

The History I Should Know More About
The Katyn Order was a mass execution carried out by the Soviet NKVD. Approved by Joseph Stalin, Polish officers were murdered in the Katyn forest in Russia in 1940 and the number of victims is a staggering amount at approximately 22,000. (ref: Wikipedia)

Monument in Katowice, Poland
It's books like this that make me grateful for, well, books. Invariably there is always something that is new for me, and an event like this is one that we cannot forget. To do so, yet again does a disservice to the victims and their families, families who waited in vain for their loved ones to come home, never knowing that they had been mercilessly slaughtered.

Adam and Natalia were characters I immediately liked, along with a young teenager nicknamed Rabbit, a skillful messenger and a general jack-of-all-trades, who particularly stuck with me. Reading about history can sometimes be a dry experience, but with Jacobson's knowledgeable and masterful storytelling, The Katyn Order instead becomes an absorbing and suspenseful ride through the end of World War II. It's a thoughtful exposé of the truths surrounding this event, while at the same time positioning a fictional story as its primary driver, which keeps the reader excited to continue reading and learning at the same time. It's this device that makes it difficult to put the book down, and The Katyn Order provided me with that same result - once I picked it up, I couldn't stop reading. When I had to put it down, I continued to think about the story, the brutality of war, particularly World War II, and the graphic moments that were included successfully served to provide me with just enough insight into the experiences that Adam and Natalia went through together and separately. The barbaric execution of Polish officers still makes me speechless with the intense sense of mournfulness of the act.

While there were some moments of the love story between Adam and Natalia that had me shaking my head in disbelief, I had to question myself and ask what I would really do if I was falling in love and war raged around me. Because of this, I couldn't say I would or wouldn't act in the same way that the main characters did, and I'd like to think I'd be smart and run my butt off, far and away from certain death, but...maybe not. Maybe I would be completely overwhelmed with the magnitude of all of the emotions that war would force on me. So maybe I would just have a moment with a mysterious man while I was fighting to save my country and fighting for my people against horrible injustices. Now that I think about it, why not?

This book is available in stores now, published in May 2011. This comes highly recommended from me for those who enjoy historical fiction, particularly World War II.

About the Author
Douglas W. Jacobson is an engineer, business owner and World War II history enthusiast. Doug has traveled extensively in Europe researching stories of the courage of common people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His debut novel, Night of Flames: A Novel of World Two was published in 2007 by McBooks Press, and was released in paperback in 2008. Night of Flames won the "2008 Outstanding Achievement Award" from the Wisconsin Library Association. Doug writes a monthly column on Poland's contribution during WW2, and has published articles on Belgium's WW2 escape organization, the Comet Line and other European Resistance organizations. Doug's second historical novel, The Katyn Order, which will be released in May 2011 focuses on one of history's most notorious war crimes, the Katyn massacre.

Click here to visit the author on his website.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to Pump Up Your Book for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


17 June 2011

Well, almost a day late for me, but it's still Friday - so celebration all around for the launch of Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers! Geared towards the real reader, this newsletter is sent to your email twice a week filled with oodles of bookish goodness. And oh yes - there's even an app for it!

So click here to jump on the link and check out all the smashing good insight from an incredible resource!

Happy Reading!
Natalie at Coffee and a Book Chick


15 June 2011

Where in the World Is...Coffee and a Book Chick?

Moving. Well, sort of planning the move. Which includes trying to get my house in Florida rented out, since there's no house selling in this economy, boys and girls!

My husband got a promotion and we are moving from Florida back to Virginia! Yay! Back around family and friends we go, and since I work from home and only need an airport by me so I can fly out to wherever, that part is easy... It's the renting out of our house and then finding a house in Virginia that's a bit crazy. And then it's packing everything up and getting everything moved. Good gracious. I've moved a gazillion times in my life but this one feels tougher!

So, this is why I've been a slacker over the past month, especially the past week. Hopefully we can finalize everything, find the perfect renter for our house, and then find the perfect house for us in Virginia. Hopefully!

Thanks for sticking by me...
Natalie at Coffee and a Book Chick


05 June 2011

Ages ago. I listened to this ages ago. And it's taken me so long to put a post together that I felt good about because I so want to accurately convey my love of this story without giving one iota of the subtle plot away.

I decided to download and experience this in an audiobook format. (Lately, I've found that my previous perception of audiobooks was either wrong, or maybe I just needed to get used to "reading" this way. I'm still not sure what made me fall in love with audio, but now I can never be in a car without one ready to go).

Never Let Me Go has been such a popular book and a movie with Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley was recently released which I've heard great things about, so looks like I'm going to have to Netflix that one soon.

Kathy H., our main character and narrator of the story, is a carer (or caregiver) by occupation. Now in her early thirties, Kathy's path has crossed once again with two former classmates, Tommy and Ruth. Once best friends at Hailsham, a beautiful private school separated from society with its own secrets, Kathy begins to share the story of their lives as children, which ultimately affects them today. And it's not a story with adventurous boarding school events - rather it's a quiet study of human behavior, an uncomfortable understanding of what is valuable and true in all of our lives.

To give any more of the story away would mean I'd have to do a spoiler warning and I just can't do that. I want you to experience this story completely and go into it without knowing anything other than what I've just given you. Suffice it to say that the story is melodious, haunting, compelling, and somewhat frightening. Certain moments and realizations surprised me so much that I was stunned by the characters' acceptance of their lives and each situation. I was speechless and with rapt attention I was captivated through each memory Kathy shared. I felt a connection with each character and each emotion - it grounded me to a halt and sometimes I would shut off the audio and think about what had just happened, marveling at Kazuo Ishiguro's ability to brutally mesmerize me. The magic is in the story's reveal - while it is not shared to the reader in one flashing and climactic moment, instead it is pieced together, pocketed into Kathy's honest and simple telling, slowly tugging at you to reconsider what really should be acceptable.

If you enjoy a story that questions society in a quiet and indirect manner, then you will love this story. As I did.

Emilia Fox was the narrator for this production and she was phenomenal - I can't imagine anyone else capturing the haunting story so effectively. I'll be eagerly looking for more from her.

Happy Listening,
Natalie at Coffee and a Book Chick


01 June 2011

BEA 2011. Overwhelmed.

Come on, I told myself. You knew it was going to be overwhelming. It's New York.

Look at this line to get into BEA...

Picture from BEA Site
I aimlessly wandered around. I wish I had taken a picture of the massive size of the location and the number of people, but I think you can get a sense of it from the above picture from the BEA press page - look how long the line is! It was so different from the SIBA event in Daytona Beach. At that event, books were stacked on tables and publicists were readily available to chat about what they felt were *the* books to keep an eye out on. BEA was tougher for me to randomly introduce myself at the booths, although there were a handful of fantastic publicists who were ready to chat it up (you know who you are - thank you)!

APA Audiobook & Author Tea: One of my favorite events! Unlike other prepared bloggers, I didn't dive into the details on each event, so imagine my surprise when I walked in and Star Jones was the host and moderator for a panel of authors discussing audiobooks including:
Do I wish I had taken a plethora of pictures? Yes. The few I did take were grainy and hard to see, but I do have this picture of when Brad Meltzer brought up the incomparable Scott Brick to read a segment of Meltzer's upcoming book. Book, Line, and Sinker is a huge fan of Scott Brick, so I had to tweet it out to her that I was *thisclose* to him!

Scott Brick, fabulous audiobook narrator
Karin Slaughter and Brad Meltzer had engaging personalities and immediately shared stories regaling their disappointments on initial audio narrators and the eventual success once they found narrators who captured the essence of their stories perfectly.

Wednesday Night:
Dinner at Bice Restaurant with bloggers!
From Left to Right: Ann from Books on the Nightstand, Stacy from A Novel Source and me and my husband, Jason

Thanks to Heather for the above two pictures from the dinner - click here go to her site to see close up pics as well. From Left to Right around the table: Reagan from Miss Remmer's Review, Heather from Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books, Megan from Leafing through Life, Sheila from Book Journey, Florinda from The 3 R's, Michelle from Red Headed Book Child, Allie from Alison's Book Marks, then back on around to Ann from Books on the Nightstand, Stacy from A Novel Source, and me.

Pseudo-attended BEA, ended up leaving early and going with my husband to the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum since Michelle Moran's book just came out. The museum was expensive, but it was fun.
Madame Tussaud was tiny, right?
Book Blogger Convention! The best of BEA with blogger discussion panels on ethics, ask a publicist, author meetings, etc. I met more bloggers, including the blogger who motivated me last year to start my own blog - Jenn aka The Picky Girl! Love her blog, you must check it out!
With Jenn from The Picky Girl
Ellis Island. Loved.
Ellis Island
St. Patrick's Cathedral, beautiful.
New York Public Library, incredible.
And we saw the show WICKED later that afternoon at the Gershwin Theater! LOVED!
St. Patrick's Cathedral
New York Public Library
Home sweet home.
Okay, so Rome with the Vatican as the background isn't home, but whatever. A girl can dream...!
Fabulous time had by all, and cannot wait for next year!

Things for me to remember next year:
  • Seriously, wear comfortable shoes. Seriously.
  • Do more research on which event to attend.
  • Take more pictures.
And now it's time to get ready for SIBA in Charleston, SC!