Sunday, March 1, 2015

March Linky

Link to your Europa Challenge review here! Can't wait to see what you're reading.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

January Linky

Welcome to the Europa Challenge! Please use the Linky below to link to your reviews of Europa Editions books on your own blog. If you would like information on posting to this blog, please email europachallenge@gmail.com.

Thanks!


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Join the 2015 Challenge!!

The sign-up Linky is up and ready for your signups for the 2015 Challenge. I can't wait to see what you'll be reading!

Go to the Sign Up page here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The 2015 Challenge- The Fifth Year of the Blog and the Future

On January 1 we'll launch the 2015 Europa Challenge, and 2015 will mark the fifth year of the challenge and of this blog. That's awesome and I'm so excited that we've reached this milestone. Thank you to everyone who's ever posted, and to Europa Editions for being so supportive of this project.

With that said, I've decided to make some changes. Participation is way down, posting has been way down, and it's been months since we added a new member. I want to keep the blog going but the posting model we've been using clearly isn't working, even though I know lots of people in the book blogging world read and review Europa books all the time.

Starting January 1,  the 2015 Europa Challenge will use a Mr. Linky system for tracking review and you will no longer need to post to this blog to participate.

Starting on January 1 and at the beginning of each month,  I'm going to do a post with a Linky where you can add your links to your Challenge reviews of Europa books on your own blog.

What this means is Challenge participants will no longer be obligated to post to this blog. You can continue to post here if you want to; I probably will continue to post, and I hope many of you do as well.

Looking at our statistics, we get about 1,000 hits per month regardless of the number of reviews posted, which tells me that people don't just use this site to read current posts. People use this site to research lots of Europa books, on a consistent basis. I think building this little informal review bank is a great accomplishment but if we want to be a community and not just a database we can't continue in this vein. I know from my conversations online that requiring people to have Google accounts and to be willing to sign up and post to another blog is confusing and cumbersome and has been keeping people away.

You are welcome to continue to post to this blog and I will continue to tag and index the posts on this blog.

I haven't done this before because Linky costs money to use. I'm happy to spend time on the blog but I like to keep my money for buying books. But buying a Linky account means I can make widgets for my own blog too and I've decided the small investment is worth it.

Coupled with this change will be a big drive on Twitter and through the book blogging world to recruit more participants. I love doing this project and would love to see it grow, and I want to thank each and every one of you for everything you've done to contribute to this community over the past four years. I've had a lot fun and read some wonderful books. I hope you have, too, and  I hope you stay with it as we enter the next phase.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Marie C. Reviews Just Call Me Superhero

Just Call Me Superhero, by Alina Bronsky. Published 2014 by Europa Editions. Literary fiction.

Alina Bronsky's latest novel is probably the hardest for me to get into, but was very rewarding once I did. Set in modern day Germany, she tells the story of Marek, a teenager whose face was mutilated after he was attacked by a rottweiler. Nowadays he's bitter, a virtual shut-in who wears dark glasses and avoids others until his mother makes him go to a support group for disabled people. Things take a while to improve. He's cynical and uninterested in the others, whose issues range from terminal illness to physical disability to mental illness.

Her earlier books, Broken Glass Park and The Hottest Dishes of the Tatar Cuisine, were favorites of mine that tackled family dysfunction in ways that were painful and real. Her latest takes a slightly different subject and works it over with the same level of psychological insight and literary craft.

The book was hard for me because I can relate to some of Marek's issues. When I was a teen I was in a car accident that left me with a permanent disfigurement; but luckily it's one that I can hide most of the time and I've always said I feel for people with facial disfigurements because I can just put on long pants and that's that. When it's your face, there's nowhere to hide, and the self conscious way I feel at the beach or the gym is the way some folks feel all the time, so it's tough, and you've got to learn to be very strong to muscle through it.

But when you're young (and even when you're older) toughness can mean anger and Marek is still angry, at himself, at the accident that changed his life, at others whose glances and expressions remind him that he's different, even if it's only his appearance that's different. He's infatuated with Janne, a beautiful wheelchair bound young woman in his group, competing for her attention with other young men and behaving like the immature kid he is. When the group goes on a trip together things come to a head and he alienates some members of the group. At the same time though he gets word that his estranged father has died, and what happens next surprises everyone, Marek especially.

I ended up loving this book with its tough-necked characters and the insights they gain into each others' lives. The tone of the book changes in the final third and this was where it all came together for me as Marek learns things that challenge his assumptions about everything, himself most particularly. It's a must-read for Bronsky's fans and also provides a lively portrait of modern German life at that same time its themes of redemption and growth are universal. Sometimes, the person in whose eyes you most need to be redeemed are your own, and learning that is the hardest thing of all.

This is my 13th book for the 2014 Europa Challenge.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed a galley copy of this book from the bookstore where I used to work.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pushpak K. reviews A NOVEL BOOKSTORE by Laurence Cosse




What makes a good book a truly "great" book? When does a work of individual imagination and brilliance count as a global literary treasure? And who decides what is good or not?

Laurence Cosse's delightful novel "A Novel Bookstore" attempts to define this for the reader. But in doing so, it opens more questions than it can answer, not only about the process of reading and judging the quality of what one reads (is THIS trash or literature?), but also about the ability of "good" literature to affect our everyday lives in an almost irreparable yet profound fashion. The title of this story is a double-entendre on the main plot device - a bookstore that only sells the best novels in the world. No pulp, no bestsellers, no commercial conveyer-belt products available here, sorry! 

Best described as a literary-mystery-romance, the story opens with a fast paced prologue - Three seemingly ordinary people are attacked / terrorized by unknown assailants resulting in one death. What is the connection between these people? Why are they being targeted for assassination? As we look into this mysterious world through the eyes of an unnamed narrator (whose identity is revealed on the very last page), the story unfolds through the intersecting lives of the two main protagonists, Ivan and Francesca - the brains (and hearts) behind the eponymous bookstore.

Ivan is a young bibliophile who is unfortunately, also in the business of selling them. His personal taste often finds itself at odds with his employer's or worse, customer's demands, and he quickly gathers an impressive resume of short stints in various bookstores. It is in one such idyllic store in a ski station that he meets Francesca, a wealthy Parisian with a similar taste in literature and the same passion for disseminating good literature. Plans hatch quickly to open a store that sells only the best novels to their customers. The task of choosing the inventory falls on the shoulders of a committee of eight authors that they both admire. "The Good Novel" opens with the following manifesto:


“We have no time to waste on insignificant books, hollow books, books that are here to please. … We want books that are written for those of us who doubt everything, who cry over the least little thing, who are startled by the slightest noise. We want books that cost their authors a great deal, books where you can feel the years of work, the backache, the writer’s block, the author’s panic at the thought that he might be lost …. We want splendid books, books that immerse us in the splendor of reality and keep us there. …We want good novels.”



The venture opens to great success. Book lovers from far and wide flock to this unique establishment in the search for their favorites. Ivan and Francesca expand their staff, which also includes Ivan's temperamental girlfriend, to accommodate their customers better. Along the way, there are hints of romantic interest, particularly from Francesca's side, but they remain unfulfilled. Trouble brews in the form of a clandestine organization that attempts to malign the name of the new bookstore and its owners. With a media campaign that reeks of wealth, they try to portray the 'discerning' bookstore as 'elitist' and 'totalitarian.' When that fails, they try to skew the inventory by sending in hundreds of bogus customers who order novels that are not in stock, but then fail to pick them up. As a last resort, they attack and intimidate the members of the selection committee.

Do Ivan and Francesca rise above their obstacles and succeed in their dream of providing the best literature to the best readers? Who is this mysterious adversary who wants to bring them down?

Cosse provides a very interesting narrative to a plot whose novelty lies in the execution of a seemingly simple idea. The characters are very well defined, and there are times when this story does not feel like fiction at all. She takes great care to describe the character quirks, clothing, and environs in minute detail. The language is also free-flowing, and the often witty dialogues do not feel forced. However, the book tries to be many things at the same time, and nearly does not succeed. It comes off as a first-rate meta-fiction about literature, but the mystery portion is oversold and undercooked. It tries to draw a parallel between the literary and fictional worlds inhabited by the characters, but the tragedy in the character's lives does not hit home quite as hard since the relationship between Ivan and Francesca is not developed to the extent to make the tragedy a poignant denouement. The parts that are best written invariably involve discussion of books, and those are the passages that stay with you long after the story has concluded. 

In all, this is an excellent story that explores the importance of books in our society on an individual as well as societal scale. Very recommended!