Tag Archives: Favorites

2015: A Banner Year for Indie Presses

I have been very quiet on the blog for the last couple of weeks because decking the halls and wrapping the gifts have taken up much of my time.  But like my fellow bloggers on the web, I have been thinking about my list of favorite books for 2015.  As I was looking through my reviews and thinking about all of the fantastic books I have read throughout the year, I immediately noticed a similarity among the books: most of them are published by independent presses.  I have gravitated more and more to independent press releases and have come to the point at which I seek out books from these brave, hardworking and smart publishers.  So here is my list for 2015.

Indie Press Favorites for 2015:
I have to start out with one of the very first small press books I read in 2015 and absolutely adored and that is Guys Like Me from New Vessel Press.  When I read this book I was so moved by its simple, character driven plot that I wanted to read anything else I could get my hands on by this publisher.  And I was not Guys Like Medisappointed.  I have read many of the books in their catalogue and I would add two more of their titles to my 2015 favorites list as well:  I Called Him Necktie and Alexandrian Summer.  If you want books with interesting characters and thought-provoking, emotional themes then I highly recommend giving these titles a try.

Next up, I have on  my list two titles from Gallic BooksGeorge’s Grand Tour and Nagasaki.  Gallic Books was founded in 2007 and it’s mission is to find the best books written in French and make them available to the English-speaking world.  Both of these titles will warm your heart and restore your faith in humanity.  They are actually great books to read around the holidays.Nagasaki

The Physics of Sorrow appealed to me because of the parallels drawn between the main character in the book and the Greek mythological figure of the Minotaur.  However, I learned so much more in this book than I ever expected.  The lasting effects of communism on a country like Bulgaria are astounding.  This book made me reflect on the fact that as Americans we oftentimes take our freedom for granted and we forget what citizens of countries like Bulgaria suffered under decades of oppressive regimes.  This title is published by Open Letter and since reading this I have been very excited to explore their wide range of translated titles.

Speaking of communism and its aftermath, another favorite title of mine this year was Calligraphy Lesson, which is actually a collection of short stories.  In this Calligraphy Lessoncollection, Shishkin, one of Russia’s most famous contemporary authors, offers stories about himself and various members of his family and the devastating impact of Soviet rule had on their lives for generations.This title is brought to us by Deep Vellum , which has a catalogue rich with titles in translation from all over the world.

A list of small presses with fantastic titles published in 2015 would not be complete without a mention of a  Melville House title.  You might have heard of them because of their famous Twitter war with Penguin Random House.  If you haven’t read this little exchange, it is definitely worth a quick look for the hilarious jokes and barbs.  My first introduction to their books was through the novel The Scapegoat.  This novel is translated from the Greek and not only contains an interesting murder mystery, but it also teaches us an important lesson about what we can learn from history.  In addition,  Melville House has also published a fantastic collection of classic novellas which are definitely worth a look.  I have bought and reviewed several titles from their novella collection this year as well.

I must give a nod to Peirene Press, which I discovered by reading White Hunger.  This small British press specializes in publishing novellas translated into Looking Glass SistersEnglish.  Their books may be small, but they pack a powerful, emotional punch.  One of the best books of the year, in my humble opinion, is their novella The Looking Glass Sisters.  This book did not get as much attention as I think it should have; it is one of those reads where you think about its plot and characters long after you close the last page.

And the final independent press that I discovered late in the year thanks to Joe over at Roughghosts, is Istros Books.  I would say that their novel Dry Season is one of my favorites of the entire year.  Since finishing this book I have acquired several more of their titles which I am very excited to read and review in 2016.  Istros specializes in translating fiction from Eastern Europe.

There are two very special small publishers that I must mention from whose catalogues I own many, many books.  These two publishers deserve their own special categories as they have entire shelves on my bookcases dedicated to their titles.

Persephone Books:
Original-Greenery-Street-cover-422x600A friend of mine, who is always spot on with his recommendation for me, turned me on to Persephone Books.  Persephone is an Independent British publisher that specializes in reissuing lost classics which are mostly written by female authors.  I fell in love with the first book I read from them, Greenery Street, and even since I have read one or two of their books per month.  I just can’t get enough of them.  It was very difficult to come up with only a couple of my favorites from 2015 but I have to go with Greenery Street and Patience.  Both books are funny, sweet and so well-written.   Persephone has quite an extensive catalogue and I would eventually like to work my way through all of their books.  There will most definitely be many more Persephone reviews to come in 2016.


New York Review of Books Classics:
AkenfieldThe first book I read from the NYRB classics collection was Stoner and ever since then I cannot get enough of their books.  This year I once again read several titles from their catalogue.  The Door, a book translated from the Hungarian which has been on many top ten book lists of the year, was also one of my favorites.  I would also add two additional books to my favorites list which they published in 2015.  Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Blythe was on of my favorite non-fiction books of 2015.  This book gives us a glimpse into all the of aspects of an English village in the 20th Century.  This is a must read for anyone who is a fan of British Literature.  The final book on my list for 2015 from NYRB classics is  Ending Up by Kingsley Amis.  This book is absolutely hilarious as it chronicles the final days of a group of septuagenarian roommates.  I have big plans to review several more of the NYRB books in 2016!

That pretty much wraps it up for me as far as 2015 is concerned.  In the new year I have titles on my TBR piles that include books from all of these Indie Presses.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Io Saturnalia and Happy New Year!

-Melissa, The Book Binder’s Daughter




Filed under British Literature, Classics, Favorites, Literature in Translation, Literature/Fiction, New York Review of Books, Nonfiction, Novella, Opinion Posts, Persephone Books, Short Stories

Review: Precious Bane by Mary Webb

This excellent, classic title was also recommended to me by a like-minded reader.  I downloaded it onto my Kindle but I will definitely buy a hard copy because it is one of those classic novels that I will reach for again and again.

My Review:
Precious BaneA the core of this story is a lesson about being kind and accepting of others who are physically different than what is considered to be society’s norm.  Prue Sarn is born with a hare lip and for the first third of the book the reader is not even made aware of her difference except for a few hints from her mother.  We are made painfully aware of Prue’s physical difference when she encounters other people from the village and they make cruel and mean comments about her lip.

In the 19th century, not only was a person with a physical deformity treated cruelly but they were viewed as cursed.  Prue is accused of witchcraft and having something wicked in her soul that caused her lip to be “hare-shodden.”  But Prue is the kindest, wisest and most patient soul in the novel.  Even when her friends and family members make offhand and hurtful comments about her lip she immediately forgives them.

The most maddening figure in the book is Gideon, Prue’s brother.  When Gideon and Prue’s father dies, Gideon inherits the family farm and he has visions of working the land night and day and making enough money for them to buy a fancy house and live in the lap of luxury.  He makes his sister Prue swear that she will work herself to the point of exhaustion in order to help him achieve his goal.  Prue doesn’t care for money or wealth or status but she agrees to help Gideon because she wants to do what will make him happy.

Gideon’s focus on producing extra crops and becoming a wealthy man is so strong that it becomes a detriment to others around him.  He will not marry Jancis, his long-time sweetheart and she is pawned off by her father as a dairy maid instead.  He even harms his ailing mother because he sees her as a drain on his income when she needs the doctor more and more.  Prue aptly begins to call Gideon’s goal and his crop his “precious bane” which foreshadows his eventual downfall.

In the end we are left wondering whether or not any man has enough honor in his spirit to look beyond Prue’s face and into the depths of her soul and see her for the good and kind person she truly is.  You will have to read PRECIOUS BANE for yourself to find out if it has a fairy tale ending.


About The Author:
Mary WebbMary Webb (1881-1927) was an English romantic novelist of the early 20th century, whose novels were set chiefly in the Shropshire countryside and among Shropshire characters and people which she knew and loved well. Although she was acclaimed by John Buchan and by Rebecca West, who hailed her as a genius, and won the Prix Femina of La Vie Heureuse for Precious Bane (1924), she won little respect from the general public. It was only after her death that the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, earned her posthumous success through his approbation, referring to her as a neglected genius at a Literary Fund dinner in 1928. Her writing is notable for its descriptions of nature, and of the human heart. She had a deep sympathy for all her characters and was able to see good and truth in all of them. Among her most famous works are: The Golden Arrow (1916), Gone to Earth (1917), and Seven for a Secret (1922).



Filed under British Literature, Classics, Literary Fiction

Edmund Persuader is FREE today on Kindle

Edmund PersuaderI do not put buying links or ads on my blog for the books that I review.  Everyone has his or her own preferred book vendors, whether it is an independent book store, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.  However, I am breaking my rule today for what I believe is the best book I have ever read, Edmund Persuader by Stuart Shotwell.  The author has an amazing gift for writing and I would be remiss if I did not let my readers know that he is generously giving away the book for free today (Saturday, February 7th) on Kindle.  Click HERE for your free copy.


The sequel which is entitled Tomazina’s Folly, is equally as stunning.  Click on the image of each book to read my reviews.Tomazina's Folly


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Filed under Favorites, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Review: Tales of Arcadia by Stuart Shotwell

Since I enjoyed reading Edmund Persuader  and Tomazina’s Folly so much, I was thrilled to find that the author also published this collection of short stories. For those who are familiar with my reading habits, short stories are one of my favorite genres to review and I am very excited to write about this particular collection.

My Review:

Tales of ArcadiaThese short stories, as the title Tales of Arcadia suggests, are set against a simple, pleasurable and pastoral backdrop.  The setting especially resonates with me because it is redolent of rural New England where I currently reside.  The characters in these tales are humble people attempting to navigate their lives and experience the very connections that make us human: love, friendship, grief, infidelity and longing.

Stuart Shotwell’s writing genius lies in his ability to create characters who experience a variety of human relationships. Within these stories are examples of husbands and wives who cannot live without each other and whose love and mutual respect makes them better people.  But within these tales there is also a taste of marital life in which spouses are discontent, inattentive, withdrawn and selfish.

Stuart Shotwell reminds us that love is possible at any age and we always have the choice to extend our love to another person.  When a situation seems utterly hopeless, it is at these trying times that we must reach deep within ourselves, learn a lesson and become stronger through our struggles.  When something of ourselves is truly given from the heart, whether it be love, friendship or even a small gift, it is better than anything money can buy.

Even though I enjoyed the 10 short stories, the essays that begin and end the collection are my favorite pieces of writing.  The greatest desire of many authors is to accumulate vast wealth, to be at the top of every best seller list and to gain the status of celebrity with their publications.  Through practical lessons learned in his personal life that he applies to his work, the author recognizes that his writing, and the writings of any author, have the potential to affect a higher moral purpose and greater good both for his readers and for himself.

The author’s lesson about writing can even be applied to my little blog. I originally started this blog just for my own pleasure and to challenge myself to write better reviews and maybe share them with like-minded readers.  Sometimes I am frustrated when I see other bloggers with vast numbers of followers who review massed produced, pop culture books.  I have come to the conclusion that the most pleasurable and rewarding experiences that have resulted from my words are the connections I have made with readers and authors, even if it is only a select few.  Tales of Arcadia has reminded me that it is these human connections which bring the most meaning to my activities and to my life.

I have read a few so-called “best seller” novels and none have affected me nearly as much as Edmund Persuader, Tomazina’s Folly and Tales of Arcadia.  From the quality and depth of his writing it is evident that Stuart Shotwell’s novels and stories are a gift from the heart and are better than anything that money can buy.

A Few of My Favorite Quotes:

I usually do not quote from books that I review.  In fact, I don’t believe there is a single review on this blog that contains a quotation from a book.  But I am making an exception for these stories because so many of the beautifully written lines have lingered in my mind.

“If we know who we are and feel worthy in ourselves, we make the choices that are for the good of all.”  -from “Saul’s Road”

“This choice was in his power: the choice to believe in love, to love someone else, to try again.”  -from “Jack”

“Music, Clement thought, was as boundless as friendship itself–the more of yourself you gave to it, the more you found in yourself to give.” -from “Archon’s Gift”

“Open your basket, girl. What do you want to read?”  “I haven’t read Homer yet.”  “Then you haven’t read Greek.”  -from “Who Holds Thee?”

“And yet all we really have, when the dogmas and delusions are stripped away is one another: in our fellow humans and in our fellow creatures on earth lies our only sure source of meaning.” -from “The Lord’s Well”




Filed under Literary Fiction, Short Stories

Review and Author Interview: Tomazina’s Folly by Stuart Shotwell

I thought that the best historical novel I had ever read was Edmund Persuader by Stuart Shotwell which I finished last spring.  However, now that I have read Tomazina’s Folly, the sequel to Edmund Persuader, I have realized that Mr. Shotwell has truly outdone himself with his writing and I cannot decide if Edmund Persuader or Tomazina’s Folly is the best historical book I have ever read.  I invite you to read my review of Tomazina’s Folly and to read the wonderful answers to my questions that the author has graciously agreed to write.

My Review:

Tomazina's FollyOvid, in his epic poem the Metamorphoses, demonstrates most deftly the pain of unrequited love through the myth of Apollo and Daphne.  After Apollo mocks and attempts to belittle Cupid, the God of Love strikes Apollo with a golden arrow, the arrow that makes Apollo fall in love with the nymph Daphne.  But Cupid then pierces Daphne with the dreaded lead arrow, the arrow which makes someone turn away from the beloved.  Apollo desperately tries to pursue Daphne and the more she is pursued by Apollo, the more adamant Daphne is in her rejection of him.

When Tomazina’s Folly opens, it is Tomazina who has taken on the role of Apollo and she loves someone who cannot possibly love her back.  As a young, unmarried woman living in 19th century England whose father is devoutly religious, any sort of sexual feelings she might have are viewed as a sin.  Tomazina is tormented by her secret passion to the point where she thinks about harming herself.  Tomazina desires a marriage to a man who will be her intellectual, spiritual and physical equal.  She believes that there is only one man in the world who could possibly fulfill this role and he is already married.  Tomazina views her unrequited love and impulsive passion as her greatest folly.

Continue reading


Filed under Historical Fiction