Tag: awards

Must Read Monday: Us Conductors

Posted 9 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Us ConductorsUs Conductors by Sean Michaels
Published by Tin House Books on May 19th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 464

Us Conductors is the imagined story of Lev Sergeyvich Termen, inventor of the theremin--one of the first electric musical instruments--and his unrequited love for Clara Rockmore, its greatest player. A tale of espionage and electricity, it takes readers from the gardens of St. Petersburg to the Jazz-Age nightclubs of New York, through concert halls, speakeasies, and the Siberian wastes. Sean Michaels’s debut novel is based on the true events of Termen’s life: his invention of the theremin, in Russia, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution; his decade as a Manhattan celebrity and secret spy, jostling with Gershwin and building weapon detectors for Alcatraz; and his eventual return to Stalin’s USSR. As the novel reaches its devastating climax, Termen is sent out into the Gulag--first to a forced labor camp and then to a prison for scientists—and bears witness to some of the Cold War’s deepest atrocities. But like the theremin, Us Conductors is also an eerie and magical invention. Subtle, thrilling, and melancholy, it is a story of secrets, of human ingenuity, of the lengths one goes to survive, and, ultimately, of the undiminishing hope for love that keeps us alive.

This book has been flying under the radars of U.S. (and possibly most international) readers. Despite having won the Giller Prize in Canada, for some reason it has not managed to ‘make it’ outside of that country. I will forever be indebted to Tanya at 52 Books or Bust for convincing me to read this with her brilliant review of this novel.

This book meets at the intersection of music, science, history, and unrequited love. Despite the blurb, this is not a epistolary novel. It is one long narrative presented in two parts. Michaels veers between sections that are clearly written to Clara and expository sections where most of the action takes place. 

I found myself delighted with the ‘name dropping’ of 20’s and 30’s musicians that are now a part of classical and jazz music canon. There are discussions on Shostakovich, meetings with Glenn Miller. Many classical composers attended concerts by Termen while he was in New York – and quite frankly – it’s impressive that this man and his instrument that I had only vague knowledge of made such a huge impact on the music world at the time. His instrument, the theremin, is a testament to how closely music and science can intersect. 

But wait, there’s more. So you’re not interested in music or science? That’s okay too. This book covers the USSR’s cold war espionage and the horrors of the gulags under Stalin. While this is still primarily what I would consider a character driven novel, there is plenty of action and intrigue to go with it. The story is immensely readable and highly enjoyable. Despite this being a Canadian novel, it feels remarkably American. (Which is part of the reason I don’t understand why it hasn’t been more successful in the U.S.) 

This is a fabulous novel that transcends all the categories you want to try to put it in. Absolutely, without a doubt, you should read it. Since it is a true piece of historical fiction I found myself promptly ordering the non-fiction title Theremin: Ether, Music, and Espionage by: Albert Glinsky and requesting from the library the DVD for the 1993 documentary on the subject Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey.

I’ll leave you with this clip of Clara Rockmore (Termen’s unrequited love interest) playing Saint-Saën’s ‘The Swan’ which is one of the first pieces that Termen introduced to listeners when demonstrating his new instrument.

If you’re further interested in the theremin, here’s a Ted Talk/performance on it!
So, Reader, have you read anything that seems to be under the radar that is absolutely brilliant lately? 


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Redeployment: A Tournament of Books Selection

Posted 30 January, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Redeployment: A Tournament of Books SelectionRedeployment by Phil Klay
Published by Penguin on March 4th 2014
Genres: Fiction, General, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 304

Winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction · Winner of the John Leonard First Book Prize · Selected as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post Book World, Amazon, and more  Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned.  Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. In "Redeployment", a soldier who has had to shoot dogs because they were eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people "who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died."  In "After Action Report", a Lance Corporal seeks expiation for a killing he didn't commit, in order that his best friend will be unburdened.  A Morturary Affairs Marine tells about his experiences collecting remains—of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers both.  A chaplain sees his understanding of Christianity, and his ability to provide solace through religion, tested by the actions of a ferocious Colonel.  And in the darkly comic "Money as a Weapons System", a young Foreign Service Officer is given the absurd task of helping Iraqis improve their lives by teaching them to play baseball.  These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier's daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier's homecoming. Redeployment is poised to become a classic in the tradition of war writing.  Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss.  Written with a hard-eyed realism and stunning emotional depth, this work marks Phil Klay as one of the most talented new voices of his generation.

Whoa. This book takes on some of the hard truths that soldiers and Marines returning from (and participating in) the longest two wars in American history have to face. As a veteran this was a difficult read for me. When I started the book I didn’t realize it was a collection of short stories. At first I was disappointed because the first story is so raw and powerful. It’s about how a man returning home from Iraq struggles to reintegrate back into everyday life with his wife and dog. I wanted to know more of that character’s struggles. In the end though it turned out to be a good thing that this was short stories because I found that I could only read it in short bursts, so harrowing are the narratives at times. Perhaps this is the reason I don’t read a lot of war fiction (or war non-fiction, for that matter).

In a time where less than one percent of the American population is in the military – it’s so easy for some to forget the experience that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been through. There are many people who don’t know anyone in the military. This book is important if not for that reason alone.

A line in the first story ‘Redeployment’ struck me so hard because it’s the honest to god’s truth.

“We took my combat pay and did a lot of shopping. Which is how America fights back against the terrorists.”

What else is there to do after you’re haunted by a war that makes little to no sense to you or the rest of the country? Another line that I ran across hit me hard because as a veteran I’ve always had a hard time with the “Thank you for your service” type gratitude actions that I would get. It’s an awkward feeling that many veterans don’t know what to do with (I’m not saying don’t do it when you see a man or woman in uniform – just that it’s a weird feeling – at least for me).

“I was angry. I’d gotten a lot of Thank You for Your Service handshakes, but nobody really knew what that service meant…” 

I worked as a Unit Deployment Manager for the Air Force, it was my job to tend to all the airmen that would be deployed, ensuring they had all their training, paperwork, and equipment. While because of my rank I was not the one making personal selections on who would go and who would stay at home (unlike the Army, the Air Force does not deploy entire units at one time, instead it’s a piecemeal selection of individuals based on job functions that are needed down-range). Despite that I still fielded phone-calls from angry spouses and sent men and women away from their families to miss anniversaries, Christmases, and even the birth of their children.

The stories in Redeployment focus exclusively on the Army and the Marine Corps and I’m okay with that. The problem that I had with this collection is that there were no stories told from the point of view of female characters. Women, despite not technically being allowed in combat, are in combat. I felt that Klay might have strengthened his book if he could have told at least one story from the perspective of a woman.

The other thing that will probably drive civilian readers crazy are the excessive acronyms. It didn’t bother me because I knew what most of them meant, but I can definitely see this as being an impediment for a reader with little to no knowledge of military jargon.

Like I said, this was a difficult read for me but I do think that it’s an incredibly important and well written book. It’s not really about the wars themselves, it’s a portrait of the people who fight those wars at the lowest level. I have to highly recommend it to everyone.

As far as The Tournament of Books goes, I predict that it should at least make it out of the first round (depending on what it’s pitted against), but it’s unlikely it will take the whole hog.

What do you think, Reader? I know this has been a meandering review, but does this appeal to you at all? To those of you that are active duty or veterans, really, thank you for your service.


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Everything you wanted to know about me, but were afraid to ask…

Posted 18 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes

So! Both Joy and Katrina nominated me for a Liebster award, it’s a fun little meme, answer questions, nominate more people, ask more questions. So I thought I’d… have some fun. After all, my favorite topic is myself. Also, I know that the Readers at large are also dying to know more about moi. More than the fact that I’m a crazy, narcissistic, reader that is. 

See? I can’t even pick just one picture.

First up Joy’s questions! Joy writes at the beautiful Joy’s Book Blog

What place is on the top of your vacation wish list and why?

China. No, India. No, Japan. CRAP. 

I have crazy wanderlust. I’ve seen most of Europe thanks to my military days. So it’s really the rest of the world. Right now, at this second, gun to my head I have to pick? Let’s go with South Africa. I desperately want to cage dive with the Great Whites. 

Where did you grow up? How has that influenced who you are today?
My family was never a part of the military but my dad was a defense contractor – so we moved like we were a part of the military. (Joy, these questions look easy, but they’re hard!) I feel like I spent most of my formative years moving up and down the state of Florida. We settled in the panhandle when I was in fourth grade and moved to Tampa when I was in tenth, where I graduated high school. 

I think the constant moving influenced my love of travel and my willingness to explore new places with little to no fear. Even before GPS I could enter into a new city and within a few hours navigate to the sites I wanted to see. 

The fact that I lived in Florida is my best guess for why I dislike the beach. (Pale is sexy, people!)

What song do you listen to most frequently or put on the most playlists?
I listen to a lot of Broadway musicals. I think that Defying Gravity from Wicked is perhaps the most excellent first act finale that has ever been written. Because I was a music major in a past life I have a fondness for jazz artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane and I like old standards, usually performed by Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald. 

What’s your favorite television show?
RuPaul’s Drag Race, hunties! 

What was the last movie you watched? Did you like it? Were you at home or in a theater?
Thanks to The Girl, Frozen is on constant repeat in this household. I’m gonna need her to let it go so that for the first time in forever we can watch something, anything else.

When did you start your book blog and why?
I started my blog last September while my mother was going through an illness that required me to stay with her. Monika from A Lovely Bookshelf – who I was friends with in college, encouraged me to start a blog, because she saw the million Goodreads updates that I was making.

What’s your favorite post, ever, on your blog?

What author would you most like to have a cup of tea with? What would you talk about?
I love Stephen King, but I think that I’d have more to discuss with Margaret Atwood. She’s an amazing writer, a feminist, and also is an activist. I’d want to discuss ideas with her on how to alleviate suffering women in our own communities, what led her to ‘becoming’ a feminist, and how her personal politics were shaped. 

What book do you wish everyone would read?
At the moment The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. … but you probably guessed that. Solomon the Peacemaker was an unsung piece of magic dystopia published by a small press last year – I think people should read that one too. I’m working on Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, if people can read it with an open mind – I think it (so far) is turning out to be a very important book.

How do Advanced Review Copies of books end up in your hands?
Mostly through the magic of NetGalley. Sometimes through Edelweiss. Also, I have the occasional author/publisher direct request to review – most of the time I will accept them unless it just looks totally outside anything that I might enjoy.

Print books? E-books? Audio books? Or some combination thereof?
eBOOKS, baby! Most of the ARCs I get are eBooks and when a publisher gives me a choice of an eBook or a print copy, I invariably choose the eBook. I’ve been using the Kindle since it was first released in 2007(?)-ish. I’ve had four models of it – most recently the Paperwhite, which is simply magical for reading in bed after lights out. (Never the Fire, though. I have an iPad for that.) 

That being said – I’m trying to cut my book spending by using the library, so I am reading more print books these days than I have in years. I also like audio for commuting, but never really any other time. (I think that listening to audio versions of poetry collections is something that most of the reading world is missing out on, though.)

    Next, Katrina! She writes delightful pieces over at Chased by My Imagination

    If you could be a book character, who would you be?
    This is a HARD one, because all of my favorite characters are in terrible situations. I’m going with the vampire Lestat from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. He’s just too cool for school. 

    Which country would you most like to visit?
    Since this echoes Joy’s question I’m going to tell you which country I’d most like to emigrate to. While the Scandinavian countries are nice, I think I’d live in England, given the choice. (I’m not just saying that because you’re English either.)

    What is your favourite food to eat?
    Very expensive ones, preferably that come over multiple courses. (Usually French) More specifically – curries. All of them. 

    What about blogging do you find the most challenging?
    Most recently, real life/blogging life balance. I think my husband is starting to get jealous of the books.

    Who is your favourite author?
    Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, John Irving. (I blame public schools for my lack of ability with numbers.) 

    What is your proudest achievement?
    Finishing law school. 

    Do you have any pets? If not, would you ever want one?
    Two cats that appear to be seal point siamese. I say ‘appear’ because one came from a flea market (I KNOW KITTY MILLS) and the other came from the shelter. I wanted little matching siamese cats ever since I saw Disney’s Lady and the Tramp as a kid.

    What do you do in your spare time other than blogging?
    Read. Cook. I’m going to try to make my own cheese. It’s going to be a disaster.

    What sort of films, if any, do you enjoy?
    Dark comedies. Anything satirical. Honestly, I worked for years in movie theatres and video stores – I’m still recovering from the burnout of watching every movie that came out for 6 or so years. 

    When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?
    Today. I went to a luncheon for legal professionals. I’m an introvert around people that I don’t know – but if I ever want a job, I have to get out there and meet and greet the legal community here. It’s never comfortable for me, but I struggle through. 

    What is your current occupation?
    Attorney, unemployed. 😀

    So. Who gets it now? And what questions do I ask?!

    Okay, so:
    1. Who writes the best vampires? Alternatively, who is your favorite vampire?
    2. Are you a cat person or a dog person? 
    3. You are leaving Earth forever. You get three books to take with you. What are they?
    4. Special talents. I know you have them. What are they?
    5. Who’s your favorite historical figure? Why?
    6. How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator? 
    7. You must emigrate somewhere. Where are you going? Why?
    8. What is your all time least favorite book? Any reason?
    9. What’s your least favorite thing about humanity? 
    10. What makes you happiest in life? 
    11. Why do you blog?
    EVERYONE feel free to play in the comments! (You can pick and choose what you want to answer.) 

    April @ The Steadfast Reader