On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman is a truly beautiful book. It is set in Sri Lanka between the years 1979 and 1983 when there was a great amount of civil unrest and tension among different religious and ethnic communities.

To be entirely honest, I know almost nothing about Sri Lankan history before reading this book and while a stronger grasp might have been beneficial in providing a larger historical context for the story, it was certainly not necessary to understand the story.

On Sal Mal Lane focuses mostly on the children on the lane, especially the Herath children who live in a somewhat perfect bubble of music, fraternal understanding and cooperation, and academic achievement.

The beauty and tragedy of this book is how the children along the lane begin to learn of the world beyond that of their small community — where instead of the petty differences and disagreements there are much more volatile prejudices at work.

On Sal Mal Lane chronicles the loss of innocence and the resilience of community. It is touching and profoundly sad, yet with redemptive overtones. It shows some of the horrible things people can do, but it is about the wonderful things people can do.

It is great, it just leads to inappropriate displays of emotion on public transportation.

Note: I received a free e-galley of Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa  by Benjamin Constable via NetGalley.

It seems unfair, insubstantial, to call this book a “page turner.” In fact it grabs you with its elaborate story, suggesting you back out now while there’s still a chance, while simultaneously beckoning with its siren song of intrigue and adventure.

Our narrator and protagonist (and author), Ben Constable, is an English would-be writer and bank employee living in Paris. His enigmatic American friend Tomomi Ishikawa, better known as Butterfly, is just that really — an enigma. She is fun and adventurous and dark and twisty, while our boy Ben — though perhaps a tad peculiar and a little bit of a cynic — is mostly innocent and purer of heart than he should be as an aspiring writer living the Parisian life.

But I digress.

This book is first and foremost about imagination. Ben’s and Butterfly’s and how they imagine the world and their places in it.

It is at times touching, hysterical, horrific, and heart-rending. It leaves you with unanswered questions and confusion that somehow only bring you closer to the characters.

I hesitate to call this book a “page turner,” but I fear that I have no choice. The fact of the matter is that while reading this there is no desire, no thought, to disengage. Pages keep turning and you keep reading, but even when it’s over it doesn’t feel quite like it’s finished. That inability to disengage remains even though the story is done.

And that’s generally the mark of a good book. The characters, the story, the interplay between reality and the imagined — all of these combine to make a superb read that you won’t want to put down.

I recently finished reading The Waiting Tree by Lindsay Moynihan, which I received as an e-galley via NetGalley.

The Waiting Tree follows Simon, a gay teen whose life has recently been dashed to pieces and is dealing with more than anyone his age (or anyone ever, for that matter) should have to.

The Waiting Tree is stunning and raw and I couldn’t stop reading. The easy adjective to use would be “depressing,” but that isn’t quite right. There is so much darkness, doubt and uncertainty in Simon’s life and Moynnihan does not tie everything up in a neat little bow at the end. I can’t call it uplifting, but there are glimmers of hope and in that I think maybe The Waiting Tree, though it is a work of fiction, is a guide to salvation for those going through similar struggles. Perhaps I’ve been watching too many spoken word performances tied to the It Gets Better campaign on YouTube, but that’s what I’m choosing to take away from this. As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

The Waiting Tree will not be for everyone. There are funny moments and moments of beauty sprinkled throughout, but many readers might not be able to get beyond the grittiness of the story. If you can stomach going through the day-to-day life of a teen ostracized not only in his community, but in his own house, then I certainly recommend it.

The Waiting Tree came out in May, so I expect that we’ll be hearing a lot about it in the coming months. Clearly you should read it now so that you’ll be ahead of the pack when everyone starts buzzing about it.

I got an ARC of Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore at BEA. I may have started reading it the night I got it… you know, before BEA was even over. I’ve never been very good at self control.

Anyway…

Pamela Moore originally wrote Chocolates for Breakfast in 1957 (when she was only eighteen) and it was widely read and acclaimed for a number of years before going out of print and slipping from our collective consciousness. Until now. Harper Perennial is reissuing it with a number of extras (like biographical notes that shed some very interesting light on Pamela Moore’s life and writing).

Even without the extras, Chocolates for Breakfast is a great read. A sexually precocious teen with distant parents, splitting her time between Hollywood and New York and the crazy people she hangs out with in each place? You’re hooked, aren’t you? I certainly was.

Given the timing and certain parallels in the biographies of authors and characters, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between Chocolates for Breakfast and The Bell Jar and The Catcher in the Rye. But they’re favorable, I promise.

There are some places, especially in some of the turns of phrase, where Chocolates dates itself, but mostly you can read it and feel like it’s taking place today. And that, friends, is the mark of great writing.

I read Chocolates for Breakfast very quickly — I pretty much couldn’t put it down. And now that I’ve finished it I kind of want to read it again even though I have a ton of other books that I need to read first. So take from that what you will. Bottom line: you should read it. Right now. Or in July, when it actually comes out.

Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore comes out from Harper Perennial in July and I definitely recommend it.

BEA Recap

June 6, 2013

Hello again, fair readers!

If any of you were in New York last week you may have noticed quite a commotion as hordes of people made the pilgrimage from Penn Station to the Javits Center everyday for Book Expo America — the largest publishing event in North America.

I was one of those people.

This was my first BEA and it was quite the experience. Thankfully, I was able to go around with two people, both of them hardened BEA veterans, who were able to show me the ropes. It was also great because we got to know each other’s reading preferences, so if we saw a book that wasn’t quite in our realm, but would be perfect for someone else, we passed it along.

BEA was really fantastic. I made a lot of great connections (I told myself I would pass out as many of my cards as I could and I think I did pretty well with that) both for the blog and in the librarian world.

I saw Neil Gaiman speak and met/got autographs from Billy Collins, Holly Black, David Levithan, and a few other authors. Needless to say, there were a few fangirl moments (point of interest, there’s a book I’m excited about called Fangirl). Even when I wasn’t all in a tizzy about an author, BEA was my first big conference/event experience and it was a lot to take in. It was overstimulating and exhausting and I can’t wait to do it again.

So what does this mean for the blog? I have a ton of ARCs (and grooves on my shoulders from carrying them home) and I’ve signed up for NetGalley, so assuming I keep up with my reading (no promises though. I am in grad school after all) I’ll be posting reviews of books before or shortly after they’re released. That means you can add books to your presumably never-ending TBR lists and piles before they even hit the shelves. Plan your library requests and book budgets accordingly.

I was going to add an inventory of books I got at BEA. I haven’t decided if I still want to do that. It would probably be smart for my own records, but I don’t know if I’ll end up publishing it unless you guys are really interested. I’ve already finished one of the books I got at the Expo, so that review will be up in the near future.