Monday, October 20, 2014

book review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

The basics: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" is part memoir, part thematic collection of essays, part humor, part advice, and part self-help vignettes.

My thoughts: I'll start with the disclosure: I'm a huge fan of Lena Dunham. Although I know of no actual relation to her Dunhams, I still try to claim her (and I'm only a Dunham by marriage.) So it was with huge excitement that I started Not That Kind of Girl the moment I picked it up from the library. It's no secret Lena Dunham can write dialogue, but how would it transfer to prose? She can build a scene beautifully in prose too:
"On Saturdays my friends and I load into somebody's old Volvo and head to a thrift store, where we buy tchotchkes that reek of other people's lives and clothes that we believe will enhance our own. We all want to look like characters on the sitcoms of our youth, the teenagers we admired when we were still kids."
And she can still write a hilarious one-liner: "This relationship culminated in the worst trip to Los Angeles ever seen outside of a David Lynch film." There are a lot of great moments in Not That Kind of Girl, but I'm still somewhat confused by Dunham's intentions with it as a complete book. At several points she refers to the pieces as essays, and I wouldn't have labeled them as essays, but I can sort of see that. I'm more inclined to call the varied pieces in this collection vignettes. There are essays, short and long pieces, humorous pieces, serious pieces, and pieces that tell stories rather than reflect on them. The collection is arranged thematically in five parts, which made it feel somewhat disjointed. Dunham mines her childhood frequently, but it doesn't feel like memoir because it's not organized chronologically.

Dunham is intentionally poking fun at her age with the book's subtitle: "a young woman tells you what she's "learned."" Yet as amusing as I find the subtitle, I'm not convinced it reflects the book itself. There are nuggets of advice, but I didn't find this book nearly as reflective as I hoped. Dunham is a great storyteller, but I longed for more than amusing stories from this book.

Favorite passage:  "Another frequently asked question is how I am “brave” enough to reveal my body on-screen. The subtext here is definitely how I am brave enough to reveal my imperfect body, since I doubt Blake Lively would be subject to the same line of inquiry...My answer is: it’s not brave to do something that doesn’t scare you. I’d be brave to skydive. To visit a leper colony. To argue a case in the United States Supreme Court or to go to a CrossFit gym. Performing in sex scenes that I direct, exposing a flash of my weird puffy nipple, those things don’t fall into my zone of terror."

The verdict: Not That Kind of Girl is smart and funny, but it's also somewhat uneven because it tries to be so many different things. There are moments of brilliance, tales that made me cry, and sentences that had me guffawing, but there were also portions that made me wish I was re-watching Girls from the beginning instead of reading.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 290 pages
Publication date: September 30, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Not That Kind of Girl from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Follow Lena Dunham on Twitter

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Salon: a very Iowa weekend

The Sunday Salon.comHappy Sunday! The nomadbaby and I are having a very Iowa weekend. Unfortunately, I did not get to participate in the readathon yesterday (tear!), but I hope those who did had a great time (and are doing something not related to reading today--I always needed a break the day after a readathon.) Mr. Nomadreader and I are still sometimes getting used to the idea that we have a baby. We know we have a baby, of course, as we're with him every day, and he's in our thoughts constantly, but sometimes it doesn't quite seem real, as if I'm not old enough or something enough to be a parent yet. I feel similarly about raising an Iowan. I know I live in Iowa, and I even love living in Iowa, but somehow it seems odd to me that the nomadbaby was born in Iowa and will grow up here. And yet, it's a great place to grow up. I just hope he finds his way to a different part of the country for college or some adventure.

Yesterday I had a meeting in Greene, Iowa for my very part-time job coordinating the annual convention for Iowa P.E.O. (a philanthropic educational organization.) Greene is about a two-hour drive, and most of that isn't on the interstate. After finishing my current audiobook Friday, I decided to treat myself to the new Jane Smiley novel, Some Luck, on audio. Some Luck covers thirty-three years. It's the first in a trilogy (and even better news for impatient readers like me: the second volume comes out in the spring and the third volume next fall. No waiting years in between volumes!) The trilogy covers one hundred years of an Iowa farm family in the fictional town of Denby. It begins in 1920, and each chapter covers one year on the farm through a small number of moments. I listened to an interview with Smiley on Iowa Public Radio last week that made me move Some Luck up my TBR quickly. As I drove through rural Iowa, which is astonishingly beautiful with autumn colors this time of year, listening to an Iowa family farm saga with my baby peacefully snoozing in the backseat, I realized I've never felt like more of an Iowan. I'll be squeezing in as much audiobook time as I can this week to finish this one.

Today the nomadbaby and I are enjoying a quiet morning at home cooking breakfasts and lunches for the week ahead and relaxing. This afternoon we're heading out for another very Iowa activity: the political rally. One of the most fun things about living in Iowa is the parade of politicians who come to campaign and the celebrities they bring with them. Typically the excitement is limited to the Iowa caucus and the Presidential general election, but this year there is a very tight race for one of Iowa's Senate seats. Today's treat is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a woman I admire greatly. She's here campaigning for Senate candidate Bruce Braley. Last week, I went to see Michelle Obama campaign for Braley. Hawthorne typically loves any public outing, but I'm curious how he will fare at his first political rally.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Friday, October 17, 2014

book review: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

The basics: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is a collection of unrelated short stories.

My thoughts: Hilary Mantel is an author who intimidates me. Although many rave about her two most recent novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both of which won the Booker Prize, I don't find myself as drawn to them. Still, I wanted to read Mantel, and her new collection of stories presented the perfect opportunity. The title story and book cover are audacious, and I was eager to dive in.

There is no link, thematically or otherwise, to these stories. In that sense, the collection doesn't feel like a collection. If pressed, I wouldn't even guess the same person wrote all of them. As is typical, I enjoyed some more than others. The standout story in this collection is "The Heart Fails Without Warning," which tackles anorexia by examining the perspectives of each member of a family with two daughters, one of whom is anorexic. It's haunting and beautifully written. It comes late in the collection, and as much as it moved me, it didn't seem to fit with the other stories.

Favorite passage:  "What a good thing, that time does that for us. Sprinkles us with mercies like fairy dust." [from "Comma"]

The verdict: As a collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is uneven. There are some highlights, particularly "The Heart Fails Without Warning." The title story is also an intriguing one. After reading these stories, however, I don't have a sense of who Mantel is as a writer, and I'm left with more curiosity.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: September 30, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Hilary Mantel's website and like her on Facebook

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

book review: Reunion by Hannah Pittard

The basics: Reunion is the story of Chicago screenwriter Kate Pulaski and her brother and sister. The titular reunion happens in Atlanta when their estranged father dies, leaving behind their many half-siblings and ex-stem moms. Kate is shocked her siblings want to go to the funeral, but she begrudgingly joins them.

My thoughts: Not very far into Reunion, I looked up Hannah Pittard's biography because I figured she had to be from the same part of Atlanta in which I grew up. She nails the details of geography and attitude of the city in a way only someone who shares my love/hate relationship with it can. As I read, I was simultaneously homesick for Atlanta and reminded of why I left. Kate certainly shares my ambivalence of Atlanta: "It's that it reminds me of all that is fake about the sweetness of the South."

As much as I enjoyed the setting of this novel, I would have loved it if it were set anywhere. Reunion is far from a feel-good family story. The Pulaskis are dysfunctional and realistically flawed. As close as Kate is with her siblings, each is keeping secrets. The dark humor of Kate infuses the novel's tone with some levity as they individually and collectively face many challenges and divulge secrets. Reunion is so good because of Pittard's characters and writing.

Favorite passage: "I give Atlanta a hard time and I certainly give my father's people a hard time. When it comes right down to it, though, I like being from Georgia. But it requires being somewhere else for me to appreciate how special it is. It's a bad relationship--or maybe the truest kind of relationship. Look. I'm trying to be honest. I like it best when it's not around. Because it lives in my memory, completely malleable, completely disposed to my own fantasies and imaginations. It's a cool thing to be able to say when I'm in Chicago--that I'm a Georgia peach--but when I'm here, the skin isn't so fuzzy."

The verdict: Reunion is an engaging and wise novel. Like Kate, I found humor at inappropriate times. I devoured this slim novel in twenty-four hours and loved every minute I spent with the Pulaskis and Hannah Pittard.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: October 7, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Reunion from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Hannah Pittard's website and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, October 13, 2014

book review: How to Be Both by Ali Smith

The backstory: How to Be Both is on the 2014 Booker Prize short list.

The basics: How to Be Both is told in two parts, one from the point-of-view of George, a 16-year-old Cambridge (England) girl in current time, and the other from the spirit of Francesco del Cossa, a 15th century Italian artist. Which narrative you read first depends on the book; half the copies were printed with George's narrative first.

My thoughts: A few years ago, I read my first Ali Smith novel, There But For The (my review), when it was longlisted for the Orange Prize. I didn't love it, but I was impressed with Smith and her ideas, so I was eager to see what she would do next. Before starting this book, I did something I rarely do: I looked at a professional review (I usually think reviews give too much away.) I'm so glad I knew there are two orders in which to read this novel before I started (my copy had George's narrative second.) As a reader, I couldn't help contemplating how my reaction to this novel might be different depending on which version I read. It also made me pay attention to how the two narratives would overlap, which heightened the experience of reading (and made it a little easier.)

Because The Blazing World was also longlisted for this year's Booker Prize, at times I found myself comparing the two novels, as both have an unusual structure and examine issues of gender and art, albeit in very different ways. For me (and apparently the judges, as The Blazing World did not make the short list), Smith does both better. It's audacious to publish a book in two different orders. I'm partial to the order in which I read it, but I see how it could work well with George's story first. I imagine new layers would emerge on multiple readings, particularly if the reader opts to reverse the order for a second read (I'm particularly curious to know if the judges all read it in the same order the first time, as well as if they reverse orders for subsequent readings.)

Smith's prose is remarkably wise in its observations of both its fictional world and reality, and at time it's also humorous: "Is her mother really dead? Is it an elaborate hoax? (All hoaxes, on TV and the radio and in the papers and online, are described as elaborate whether they're elaborate or not.)" How to Be Both is that rare novel that feels longer than it is because Smith does so much with it. Despite how much I adored We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, I find myself hoping How to Be Both wins instead.

Favorite passage:  "In hell there is no mystery cause in mystery there is always hope."

The verdict: How to Be Both is utterly brilliant. It's inventive, provocative, and mind-bending. The prose is beautiful and smart. The characters are richly drawn. The historical sections are beautifully imagined. I'm rooting for it to win the Booker Prize because it's original, thought-provoking and emotionally affecting.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: December 2, 2014
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy How to Be Both from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Salon: Team Gale?

The Sunday Salon.com
Last week, two big things happened: I went back to work and I finally captured Hawthorne's smile on camera. I'm so very grateful this kid decided to enter the world in the middle of the week because starting back to work on a Thursday really helped me transition back to the reality of dressing professionally and waking up to an alarm. So did having this picture to stare at while I missed him during the day:

Now that I'm back at work, I feel like we're embracing our new normal. As lovely as maternity leave was, it didn't feel like real life, and I was ready to be back at work. I'm so glad to love my job because even though I miss my baby when we're apart during the day, I'm happy to be at work. I imagine the alternative would be pretty devastating. 

Speaking of Hawthorne. I named my baby Hawthorne and not one person book blogger has made a Team Gale joke? When you're a librarian and a book blogger and the person most people in real life think of as a Reader-with-a-Capital-R, choosing a first name for your son that is best associated with an author has meant most people assume Nathaniel Hawthorne is my favorite writer (he's not) and that we named our son after him (we didn't, but we do like the association.) I do love that Hawthorne's name is literary, but I am truly surprised no one mentioned the other obvious literary reference: Gale Hawthorne. I'm disappointed, y'all. (And, no, he's not named after Gale either.)


Facing my first full week back at work, I'm off to spend as much time snuggling Hawthorne as I can (and as much time reading Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham as I can while he sleeps.) It's a big week in literary awards too: Tuesday brings the Booker Prize winner (I've only managed to read half the short list, but two are five-star reads) and the National Book Award short list(s) (I've still only managed to read one of the fiction longlisted titles.) I'll weigh in on all the new developments on Twitter and eventually here, but it may not be until next weekend. Happy reading!

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

book review: Us by David Nicholls

The backstory: Us was longlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize. I also adored One Day, the last novel David Nicholls wrote.

The basics: Us is the story of Douglas, a middle-aged biochemist, his wife Connie, an artist, and their seventeen-year-old son Albie. Connie announces she thinks she wants to leave Douglas, but she isn't sure yet. They set out on a tour of Europe with Albie as a last family trip, both before he goes to college and perhaps for their marriage too. The present day unfolds in the narrative while Douglas also tells us the story of their marriage from the beginning.

My thoughts: After loving One Day, I was already excited for Us. When it made the Booker longlist (before I could get my hands on a galley), I was surprised and ecstatic. My expectations were high going into this novel, and although I didn't love it quite as much as One Day, it is a smartly crafted, well-written, thoughtful exploration of marriage. It's also a medium-paced travel adventure novel. This combination works quite well, but a few times I found the flashback scenes out of balance with the present-day narrative. Most fit perfectly, but some were so fascinating I was sad to leave them behind. A few were less interesting and slowed the over all narrative pace.

From the novel's opening pages, I was laughing and snickering. Douglas narrates a clear picture of himself, including his shortcomings. So much of what I loved about One Day was the style of observational writing Nicholls uses. It's present in Us too:
"My wife, when we first met and felt compelled to talk constantly about each other's faces and personalities and what we loved about each other and all of that routine, once told me that I had a 'perfectly fine face' and, seeing my disappointment, quickly added that I had 'really kind eyes,' whatever that meant. And it's true, I have a perfectly fine face, eyes that may well be 'kind but are also the brownest of browns, a reasonable-sized nose and the kind of smile that causes photographs to be thrown away."
While this story is told through Douglas's eyes, and he admits he does not often understand Connie or Albie, his careful observations help the reader clearly see Douglas and events from their points of view too. Douglas is a character who is so different from me (and at times so frustrating because of these differences) that I often marveled how well Nicholls could sustain his voice in this novel. In this sense, I felt the exasperation Connie and Albie sometimes felt; I felt like part of the story too.

As the ending of the novel approached, I was surprised to find myself as invested as I was. I had not thought I cared how the novel ended, but I soon found myself sobbing as I read the last vignettes. Us was a smartly constructed, enjoyable novel, but it's climax and ending elevate the rest of it.

Favorite passage: "But awe is a hard emotion to sustain for hours on end and soon it all became rather boring."

The verdict: The emotional impact of Us caught me by surprise. I enjoyed the novel throughout, even if the flashback scenes hindered momentum occasionally. Douglas was a fully realized character who was both funny and sad. He fascinated me, even as I often felt sorry for him. As well-written as it is, this novel is rather straight forward, and yet the ending had me crying for pages. I was so moved, I realized Nicholls somehow let this novel sneak up on me, for the whole truly is greater than its very good parts.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 416 pages
Publication date: October 28, 2014
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Us from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit all the tour stops, visit David Nicholl's website, and like him on Facebook, and enjoy this video about the novel:


As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Salon: On 100 Books Read and the Year of Michael Connelly

The Sunday Salon.com
On Monday, I hit a major reading milestone for the year: I finished my 100th book. For comparison, in 2013, I only read 94 books all year. In 2012, I read 118 books, but I didn't reach 100 until the end of November. In 2011, I read 108 books and reached 100 in December. In 2010 and 2009 (the earliest year I kept good data on my reading), I didn't make it to 100. For me, 100 is momentous whenever it happens in a year, but to reach it on September 22 surprised me.

Appropriately, book 100 was The Burning Room by Michael Connelly (my review will post on its release date, November 3.) Of the 100 books I've read this year, 27 were written by Michael Connelly. I don't think I've ever read so many books by a single author in a single year. I'm not even sure there are other authors I've read that many books by. Ever. 2014 has clearly been the year of Michael Connelly.

I started my journey with Michael Connelly in February. It was Amazon pilot season, and I decided to watch the pilot of Bosch. I really liked it, and I knew I wanted to read the books before the series premiered (now slated for early 2015.) I read the first Bosch mystery, The Black Echo, in February and was hooked. Twenty-seven books later, I'm sad the journey with Connelly has ended for now. (I would say, "write faster!", but I don't want to compromise quality for speed or quantity.)

As I reflect on hitting 100 books read so early in the year, I have to think about what made this year different. The most obvious thing is the nomadbaby. I spent the first seven and a half months pregnant. I slept a lot, but I also stayed home a lot and read a lot. I was cognizant of how little time I might have to read when he arrived, and I did prioritize reading more. I joked on Twitter that I should just get pregnant every year to keep this pace up (I won't.)

I'm convinced the more obvious reason for my reading surge, however, is getting back to basics. I took away as many barriers to reading as I could by cutting way back on obligations. In 2014, I've accepted only book for review for a specific date (Us by David Nicholls--look for my review on October 7th.) When I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to cut back on reading obligations, and I did. This transition was really easy for a couple of reasons. First, I'm fortunate to get e-galleys of most new titles I want to read. When I was a newer blogger, book tours were the only way I was able to advanced reader copies. With the surge in e-galleys, the model has changed. I've also built a solid reputation as a book blogger, and when I ask a publisher for a copy, the answer is usually yes (which is AMAZING.) Of the 100 books I've read so far, 36 were review copies. I'm still reading plenty of new releases, both courtesy of publishers and the library, but I don't do it on specific days. Without this shift, there's no way I could have found the time to indulge in Connelly's entire backlist this year. Second, I gave myself permission to put down books, temporarily or permanently, if they weren't working for me. Without the obligation to review specific titles, I didn't have to force a book at any given time.

Here's why I won't go back to review obligations: this year, when I finished a book, I didn't look at my calendar to see when my next scheduled review was. Instead, I looked at my shelves, both physical and virtual, and picked the book I most wanted to read. Twenty-seven times, that choice was Michael Connelly. If a book wasn't quite hitting the spot, I could put it aside and pick it up later. As a very moody pregnant person, I put aside a lot of books.

I'm thoroughly enjoying my year of reading what I want, when I want to. This year's list is more mystery-heavy than usual, and I expect that trend will continue for the next several years. With a baby, short, easy-to-digest chapters are often a good thing. I've also read more nonfiction than usual and listened to more audiobooks than usual. I think the variety of reading, both in format and genre, helps me read more. With three months to go, I'm certain to reach my 2014 reading goal of 102 titles. I don't want to get caught up in the number, especially if it caused me to pick books for their length to inflate it. But by comparing this year against the previous five years, it clarifies a lot about my personal reading priorities, and I hope 100 in September is the new normal because I've had more fun reading this year than in most years.

Cheers to making reading (more) fun again. Cheers to reading like a reader rather than reading like a blogger!

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Friday, September 26, 2014

book review: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

The backstory: When I was pregnant, I found myself enjoying memoirs of pregnancy by great writers so much more than the traditional self-help pregnancy books. Several people recommended this one to me, and I opted to save it to read while on maternity leave.

The basics: When Anne Lamott finds herself thirty-something and pregnant, she decides to have the baby. His father immediately exits the picture, and she must rely on her family and friends to serve as a support system for her single parenthood.

My thoughts: First of all, I'm so glad I waited until after Hawthorne was born to read this. Lamott's son Sam was horribly fussy, and knowing how bad it could be would have been awful for me to imagine while pregnant. My baby is blessedly not very fussy (he does have his days), and I often found myself feeling sorry for Lamott in the early weeks. I'm also fortunate to have a supportive partner. I cannot imagine Lamott's version of motherhood. While it does get better as Sam gets older, I don't know if I could have endured it the way she did.

This memoir is in the form of a journal, as the subtitle suggests, and I enjoyed reading about her experiences with Sam in his early weeks while Hawthorne is so young. It was fascinating to compare notes. As this memoir went on, however, I had to face the fact that I just didn't like Anne Lamott. Her attempts at humor grated on me. Ostensibly Sam is the focus of this memoir, yet she spends more time talking about her complicated journey to Christianity and her ongoing struggle with sobriety. I found both topics grating. Over all, I found the tone to be off. Some passages read like a journal--her thoughts were often abrupt in the early weeks, which makes sense. Too often, however, it felt inauthentic to me as she shared quotes or references literature and art. I typically love such references, but Lamott sprinkles them in somewhat haphazardly and doesn't offer much commentary.

The verdict: Throughout this book, I wanted more commentary on the experiences. Instead, Lamott shares her experience and comments on sobriety, Christianity, and George Bush (the first.) Having read so many honest explorations of pregnancy and motherhood, this one simply doesn't measure up for me. Admittedly, Lamott came first, and perhaps this memoir doesn't age well in an age where honesty about motherhood is so common.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 273 pages
Publication date: April 27, 1993
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Operating Instructions from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

book review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The backstory: Big Little Lies is one of my book club's September selections (the other is Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.) I've previously read two of Liane Moriarty's earlier novels, What Alice Forgot, which I quite enjoyed but apparently never reviewed here, and The Husband's Secret, which I liked, but not as much.

The basics: Set in a picturesque Sydney, Australia beach community, Big Little Lies is the story of three women, all of whom are mothers of kindergartners. Madeline, a divorced and re-married mother of two. She has definite opinions about everyone. Her best friend, Celeste, who is impossibly beautiful and a mom to five-year-old twin boys. Lastly, Jane, a new-to-town single mom who is shockingly young. The book opens on the night of a costume fundraiser at the school, when there is a mysterious death. The action soon jumps back six months to the day of kindergarten orientation, when Jane meets Celeste and Madeline.

This review contains some spoilers because I can't seem to review books I don't like without spoiling some plot points as a means of explanation.

My thoughts: What hindered my enjoyment of The Husband's Secret was how obvious the titular secret was. Given the seemingly diverse cast of narrators, I found the secret, as well as the connection between the narrators, pretty obvious. Big Little Lies was even more transparent, and it seemed so much more vapid because the characters weren't nearly as realistically formed.

This novel tries to be a mystery, but only to a point. The reader doesn't learn the identity of the dead person for quite some time, and this odd withholding of information illustrates how thin the plot itself was (and how much Moriarty tries to be clever.) Secrets, large and small, are slowly revealed, but Moriarty employs a ridiculous amount of foreshadowing along the way. This novel is far too long at 480 pages, and while there might be the crux of a good idea there, its execution was flawed.

From the moment Jane arrives in town, it's clear the secret father of her child lives there. Again, due to the overuse of foreshadowing, I found it rather obvious from quite early on, and the foreshadowing in this case was the most heavy-handed. Moriarty's treatment of serious issues as a seemingly clever plot device struck me as cheap and insensitive. Similarly, it's soon pretty obvious which person is most disliked and most likely to end up dead. Because I correctly guessed these two pivotal reveals so early on, it felt like I slogged through most of the novel with little benefit (I did guess the killer nearly as early, so Moriarty had me there, but I found the reveal totally unsatisfying to the narrative.

Lastly, each chapter ends with a few lines of dialogue from a large cast of characters, some of whom we do not meet for quite some time. Initially I found this device distracting and confusing, as so many characters were thrown at me. Soon it seemed to be an attempt at humor, but it often fell flat for me. Ultimately, I wish Moriarty had written full chapters from more points of view. It would have complicated the narrative in a good way, instead of a simplistic way.

The verdict: An interesting idea was not well executed here. The characters were caricatures. The structure attempted to build intrigue into a really thin plot. Most importantly, neither the big nor little lies were ultimately very interesting, and with weak plot and characters, there wasn't anything else left to enjoy in this novel's far too many pages.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Length: 480 pages
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Big Little Lies from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Liane Moriarty's website and like her on Facebook.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, September 22, 2014

book review: An Age of License by Lucy Knisley

The backstory: Lucy Knisley is perhaps my favorite graphic memoirist. I've thoroughly enjoyed her first two graphic memoirs: French Milk and Relish.

The basics: In An Age of License, Knisley recounts her European book tour.

My thoughts: An Age of License is somewhat reminiscent of French Milk, as it's a travelogue and takes the form of her travel diary. While food is a frequent theme in this graphic memoir, as it is always is in Knisley's work, the emphasis here is more on life and reality. Even as Knisley enjoys her trek across Europe, there's a seriousness, and even a darkness, to this memoir.

Knisley's most recent long-term relationship recently ended. She still loves him, but she wants kids (one day), and he doesn't. As someone who didn't want kids for many years, and then was ambivalent about having kids for many more, I fully appreciate this tension. Disagreement about children trumps love. As Knisley rebounds from the end of this relationship, she tries to date again, and she writes with a frankness about love, sex, and attraction that I respect and appreciate.

Another theme in this memoir is her financial stress. As such a successful cartoonist and graphic memoirist, it's sobering to see Knisley struggle financially. Again, she writes (and draws) about her financial issues with a frankness I admire and appreciate. This trip isn't an escapist vacation travelogue of excess; Knisley doesn't leave her problems or stress behind on this journey, yet there are beautiful moments of joy, hope, and relaxation that make this memoir not be a stressful one to read.

The verdict: I adored An Age of License, as I have adored all of Knisley's work. It's fascinating to watch her grow as a writer as I continue to live vicariously through her graphic memoirs. My favorite moments of this one may be her explaining her need to write and draw about her experiences, and how that impacts those who are in her life.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 208 pages
Publication date: September 22, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy An Age of License from Amazon (no Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Lucy Knisley's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Salon: One month

The Sunday Salon.comOne month old!
Last weekend Hawthorne turned one month old. Six days later, I managed to actually take his one-month photos. This one is my favorite, even though his feet moved out of the frame:

Blogging:
Thanks to my parents watching Hawthorne for a few hours on the weekend, I can write my blog posts for the week and not think about them during the week, when things seem crazy busy despite Mike having two days off and me still being on maternity leave. Alas, time is flying, and in a few weeks I'll be back at work and wondering what I did with my maternity leave. Coming up on the blog this week: reviews of An Age of License by Lucy Knisley, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, and Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. Here's a preview: I only liked one of them.

Reading:
I'm still reading sporadically. Some days are great. Others are not. Mostly my ability to want to spend my downtime reading depends on how much sleep I've gotten. Thankfully, when Hawthorne has a low sleep day, he responds by sleeping a lot the next day (so far.) Today I hope to finish How to Be Both by Ali Smith. Then I may treat myself by starting the forthcoming Michael Connelly, The Burning Room (it's out November 3rd.) I think a fast-paced mystery is called for after Ali Smith. I'm off to enjoy the rest of my baby break with books. Happy reading!

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Friday, September 19, 2014

book review: The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

this review may contain spoilers from previous Mickey Haller novels

The backstory: The Gods of Guilt is the fifth Michael Connelly mystery to feature Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. For my reviews of the previous novels (and all of Michael Connelly's novels), please see my Review Database.

The basics: Mickey Haller gets called to defend a man accused of murder. The victim, Gloria, a prostitute and former client of Mickey's, told him if anything ever happened to her, he should call Mickey. Gloria's death haunts Mickey, and as he prepares to defend her accused murdered, he also investigates her death and fears his own actions defending Gloria many years ago may have played a role in her death.

My thoughts: I've raced through all of Michael Connelly's novels this year. While I enjoy the Harry Bosch novels more than the Mickey Haller novels, Haller, like Bosch, is a fascinatingly flawed character. When we last left Haller, he was planning to run for D.A. Between books, his campaign crashed and burned when a drunk driver he got off on a technicality again drove drunk and killed a mother and daughter. To further complicate matters, the daughter went to school with Mickey's daughter, and his relationship with her, and her mother, is once again fractured. Mickey himself seems more broken.

The case at the center of this novel is a fascinating one. The story jumps several months at several times, to keep pace with the timing of the trial itself. I appreciated this insight into the pace of justice, but it meant that other storylines not related to the case were mostly absent. As is typical in Haller novels, there is a lot of time spent at trial and in the details of the trial, along with Mickey's explanations for why he's strategizing the way he is. While I enjoy the legal strategy, it makes the pace seem somewhat slow for a mystery.

Favorite passage:  "Your father always called the jurors the ‘gods of guilt.’ You remember that?” “Yep. Because they decide guilty or not guilty."

The verdict: The Gods of Guilt is a fascinating murder mystery combined with a compelling legal thriller. This combination works well, but the emphasis on the trial slows down the pace of the novel before the climax. Haller once again shines as a complicated, flawed antihero of sorts.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 401 pages
Publication date: December 2, 2013
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Gods of Guilt from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Michael Connelly's websitelike him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

first thoughts: 2014 National Book Award (fiction) longlist

Thanks to Twitter, I learned the National Book Foundation announced their Fiction longlist twelve hours earlier than expected (thanks for letting me sleep in, National Book Foundation!) Here are this year's ten longlisted titles:



  • An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
  • The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (my review)
  • Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Redeployment by Phil Klay
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Thunderstruck and Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken
  • Orfeo by Richard Powers
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson
  • Some Luck by Jane Smiley
My first thoughts: 
  • The judges seem to like short stories more than I do. This year's longlist has three story collections, and two are by debut authors (Antopol and Klay). If all three make the shortlist, I'll be surprised.
  • Cheers to the Iowa Writer's Workshop...and Iowa! Four authors have strong Iowa ties: McCracken, Robinson, Smiley and Darnielle. (John Darnielle has lived in Iowa.) 
  • The longlist is a nice cross-section of young talent and established talent, including one former winner (Powers) and two former shortlisted authors (Smiely and McCracken). I'm curious how the shortlist will look.
  • Richard Powers made the Booker Prize longlist but not the shortlist. Will he fare better here?
I doubt I'll be reading all ten, although I've already read one (hooray!) I do hope to make time Station Eleven and Some Luck soon, as I intended to read both before their longlist honors. I will attempt to read all five shortlisted titles. The shortlist will be announced October 15th.

Now tell me: what are your first thoughts about the longlist?

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book review: Inside Madeleine by Paula Bomer

The backstory: After thoroughly enjoying Paula Bomer's debut novel, Nine Months (my review), and her debut short story collection, Baby & Other Stories (my review), earlier this summer, I was excited to read her newest collection of stories, Inside Madeleine.

The basics: Inside Madeleine includes eight short stories and the titular novella.

My thoughts: When I read Bomer's first collection of stories, I said, "When I do enjoy short stories, I like a boldness of story telling: use the medium for its benefits. Bomer did not disappoint." Yet Inside Madeleine is even more bold than Baby & Other Stories. I even think it's more bold than Nine Months. Bomer has emerged as one of my favorite writers this summer, and I'm surprised to say I enjoy her short fiction as much, if not more than, her novel. She's an astonishingly brave writer.

I thoroughly enjoyed each of the stories in this collection, but "Inside Madeleine" really takes this collection to another level. We meet Madeleine as a child, and the novella covers most of her life, obviously with some parts receiving more attention than others. It's at times shocking, sad, and heart-wrenching, and heartwarming. But, like all of Bomer's stories, it's always authentic. She has a gift for writing gritty tales of young girls and women, and if the collection has a single theme, it's that. For once, the themes weren't what kept me eagerly turning pages in a short story collection. Bomer's writing and her characters shine throughout this collection. They are fully alive, honest, and true.

The verdict: There's not a bad story in this collection. While there isn't a single theme to unify the collection, several themes run through its stories. Bomer writers about young girls and women, growing up in the 1980's to the present. They live in the Midwest (Bomer is from South Bend, Indiana), Boston, and New York (where Bomer now lives.) They do not shy away from bad decisions, many involving men and drugs. There's a rawness to both Bomer's writing and her characters. The titular novella that ends this collection is a literary tour de force. It packs as much punch as a full-length novel, and it's one I won't soon forget.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 241 pages
Publication date: May 13, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Inside Madeleine from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Paula Bomer's website.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!