Currency by Zoe Zolbrod – Book Review

Currency by Zoe Zolbrod
Published by Other Voices Books

Although he comes from a less than well-off rural Thai family, Piv is a survivor. Things may not have gone the way he had hoped in his life, but he gets by in Bangkok, does fairly well even. Often he has affairs with the farang (foreigner) women who provide him with places to stay, food, and occasionally even money. His latest farang, however, barely has these things herself. Robin has been backpacking for so long that she has not only wiped out her savings, but also maxed out her credit cards. The US Embassy could help her out, but only by sending her home, and Robin is not yet ready to leave Thailand or Piv. For help, Piv turns to the Kenyan business man he has become acquainted with from his hotel bar. Abu in turns offers both Piv and Robin courier jobs but, once Robin finds out what she is couriering, she has to reevaluate what she wants, and ask herself if those things are worth the price she is paying for them.

Although it starts out a bit slow, “Currency” is an intensely engaging novel. As someone who backpacked around Southeast Asia herself, Zolbrod paints what appears to be an incredibly realistic portrait of Thailand and many of the systemic problems therein, without ever making it seem as if she was denigrating Thailand for some of its societal ills. Perhaps the best part about “Currency,” however, was Robin’s journey. Zolbrod did a wonderful job getting inside Robin’s head and showing the reader everything needed to understand her motivations. Although I didn’t necessarily like Robin or approve of much she did, I felt that I understood her very well, which is part of what made “Currency” such an engaging read.

“Currency” is a debut novel both for author Zoe Zolbrod and for her publisher Other Voices Books. With “Currency,” both have proved themselves as people to watch.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

Zoe Zolbrod’s website

This review was done with a book received from the author.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Sunday Spotlight On: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Published by Vintage Books, an imprint of Random House

Although he now lives in California, Dave Eggers is a Chicago native and, really, a Chicago institution. As such, it pains me to admit that I have never read any of his work. “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” was, at one point, what every single person from my high school class was raving about on their Facebook page so I did pick it up. Unfortunately, in my first year of teaching for Teach for America in West Englewood, Chicago I did not have the emotional energy to read a new-to-me book about a 22 year-old becoming the guardian of his 8 year-old brother on the death of their parents. That was the year of comfort re-reads, people. I abandoned the book and ended up losing it somewhere I suppose, since it is not on my shelves now. Fast forward a couple of years and I am on LibraryThing and have started blogging, and Eggers makes his way onto my radar again, with “What is the What,” Eggers’ fictionalized memoir of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. “What is the What” is still on my shelves somewhere, but I have not yet managed to read it.

Egger’s newest book, “Zeitoun” is, I believe, not fated to join its brothers in the realm of books I don’t get to. Like its fictionalized counterpart “City of Refuge” by Tom Piazza, which was one of my favorite books last year, “Zeitoun” tells the story of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I love – if that is the right word – thoughtful books about the travesty and tragedy of Katrina and the indomitable spirit of the people of New Orleans. “Zeitoun,” however, goes one step further and tells a story that sounds even more fascinating: that of a Syrian-American man named Abdulrahman Zeitoun and what happened to him when Hurricane Katrina joined forces with the War on Terror to become the ultimate destructive force. I mean, really, how am I even finishing this sentence without picking up this book? It is Calling. My. Name.

And on that note, I’m going to end this post to go and place “Zeitoun” as close to the top of my TBR pile as I can, in hopes of reading it as soon as humanly possible

Source: Personal copy

Chicago Publishers: Spotlight on… Sourcebooks

Welcome to Sourcebooks, the largest woman-owned trade book publisher in North America!

Sourcebooks is also the first of the publishers in my Chicago Publisher Spotlights which I have already worked extensively with. In particular I am a big fan of the historical fiction published by Sourcebooks. They have brought many authors to the United States whose works have previously only been available from the United Kingdom, re-released some classics of historical fiction, and published some new great historical fiction. Just because that is my favorite thing they do, though, Sourcebooks is by no means only a publisher of historical fiction.

I have known for a long time that Sourcebooks is one of the larger independent publishers and that they were started by Dominique Raccah, but in researching this post I learned a lot of new and interesting things about Sourcebooks. For instance, Raccah didn’t just start Sourcebooks in 1987, she started it in her upstairs bedroom with $17,000 from her 401k after leaving a career in advertising. Starting with a single title, “Financial Sourcebooks Sources,” Sourcebooks moved first into professional finance titles, followed by business titles. Although they have expanded to many other areas, these finance and business titles continue to be very successful for the publisher.

Around the sections of the blogosphere I frequent, Sourcebooks seems to be best known for historical fiction, romance, Jane Austen sequels, and the still very new young adult imprint, Sourcebooks Fire. Although Sourcebooks Fire was, as far as I know, created from scratch, one of the biggest ways that Sourcebooks grew was actually by acquiring imprints such as Casablanca Press, which became Sourcebooks Casablanca and publishes relationship, sex, and wedding books, as well as romance novels.

Sourcebooks is not content to simply rest on its laurels. Dominique Raccah is always exploring new methods for content distribution and seems to be well-known in the industry as someone who is exploring the cutting-edge of the future of publishing. If she can go from her upstairs bedroom to publishing over 300 titles per year in just about 20 years, I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.

To close, I thought I’d just leave you with a few covers of recent or upcoming Sourcebooks releases I’m really excited about:

I have already reviewed “For the King’s Favor,” and you can look for my review of “The Passionate Brood” during the first week in November. The other two I’ll have to get my hands on at some point.

According to Jane by Marilyn Brant – Book Review

According to Jane by Marilyn Brant
Published by Kensington Books

It isn’t everyone that gets the spirit voice of a favorite dead author whispering advice in her ear. Ellie, however, is just that lucky – or unlucky, perhaps, since Jane Austen can be a bit bossy from time to time. Ever since she first read Austen in class in high school, Ellie has shared her brain with the author. Most frequently, Austen, arguably the author of the most famous romantic storylines in the English-speaking world, gives Ellie love advice, perhaps a bit strange coming from a woman who lived at the turn of the 19th century and never married. What Jane really wants is to help Ellie avoid a boy she is sure is Ellie’s Mr. Wickham and help her find her very own Mr. Darcy.

I’m not really a huge fan of the whole Jane Austen spinoff thing. I enjoy Austen, but I’ve never read “The Jane Austen Book Club” or any of the books about the women so obsessed with Austen that they end up trapped in the world she created, etc. I know people love it, but it feels very reminiscent of fanfic to me, and that’s just not my thing. “According to Jane,” however, did not have that feel. Instead, it seemed to be a new take on “Pride and Prejudice” with a modern setting, more akin to “Bridget Jones’ Diary” than “Lost in Austen.”

“According to Jane” is a fun, lighthearted read. Of course I realized that it is a re-imagining of “Pride and Prejudice,” the ending became predictable, but that is to be expected, and Brant still took me on plenty of unexpected twists and turns to get me there. I initially had a bit of a problem with Jane’s voice – it seemed very authentic, but at the same time was very jarring compared to the modern voice of the rest of the novel – but once I grew accustomed to it, it no longer bothered me.

If you like re-imaginings of the classics or are an Austen-phile, pick up “According to Jane,” it is a fun read.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

Marilyn Brant’s website

Other Books by Marilyn Brant:
“Friday Mornings at Nine”

This review was done with a book borrowed from the library
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Thousand by Kevin Guilfoile – Bookstore Review

The Thousand by Kevin Guilfoile
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House

I am generally not a huge consumer of mysteries and thrillers, although I do enjoy them from time to time (especially in audio). One of the things I have discovered in putting together my Chicago Author Month, however, is that there are a Whole Lot of Chicago authors who write mysteries and thrillers. I probably could have done the entire month in those genres without ever reading more than one book by any given author. Because I’m not a huge reader of thrillers, I’m not much of a pioneer in the field, choosing instead to read what other trusted readers have already vetted for me. Books like “The Thousand” by Kevin Guilfoile which Margie, also not someone who reads many thrillers, is absolutely raving about:

Chicago Author Month: Kevin Guilfoile’s The Thousand

Kevin Guilfoile’s website

Other Books by Kevin Guilfoile:
“Cast of Shadows”

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