Thursday, July 31, 2014

audiobook review: Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons From My Grandmothers

narrated by Adriana Trigiani

The backstory: Adriana Trigiani's fiction has been hit or miss for me. I really enjoyed Big Stone Gap, although admittedly I haven't yet read the rest of the series. I enjoyed Very Valentine on audio (my favorite narrator, Cassandra Campbell, performs) and listened to the sequel too, but I don't know that I would have bothered to read it in print because I really didn't like the character of Valentine (and I haven't read or listened to the trilogy's concluding volume.) I was curious to listen to Trigiani's nonfiction, as all of her fiction I've read has had some connection to her life and her family history. 

The basics: In this memoir of sorts, Trigiani tells the stories of both of her grandmothers' lives, as well as their impact on her own life.

My thoughts: I've really been enjoying memoirs lately, and since I've been pregnant, I've particularly been enjoying memoirs about family and legacy. I thought it was the perfect time to listen to Trigiani's take on her influential grandmothers. Both of their stories are fascinating. These two women are so different, but both lived intriguing lives. The biographical sketches of these women were by far the most successful aspect of this book.

Once Trigiani had introduced both grandmothers with their life stories, the narrative completely lost its momentum. I suppose a hint of this book is in its subtitle: life lessons from my grandmothers. Trigiani passes on their advice, but she does so without offering her own perspective, which felt hollow to me, particularly when her grandmothers held deep beliefs that are in conflict with one another. I don't need one to be right or wrong, but I wished Trigiani would wrestle with the conflicting advice and what it means.

The verdict: While I found the lives of both grandmothers interesting, I wanted more than a surface-level telling. I wanted Trigiani to dig deeper and reflect rather than simply to re-tell. As it is, I found this memoir incredibly disappointing. The things I love most about memoir are the pieces of reflective writing. The story and experience are important, of course, but they are only the beginning. What comes next is what I find most fascinating. In this book, I kept waiting for something to come next, but it never did. Trigiani never lets herself look at her grandmothers in any way but blindly devoted, and simply adoring the past generations isn't nearly as interesting as exploring the shades of grey.

Audio thoughts: Because Trigiani narrates her own memoir, which is more filled with devotion than reflection, the audio comes off as incredibly heavy-handed.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Length: 5 hours 53 minutes (229 pages)
Publication date: November 9, 2010 
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons From My Grandmothers from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Adriana Trigiani'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!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

book review: Nine Months by Paula Bomer

The basics: Nine Months is the story of Brooklyn wife and mom of two Sonia, who finds herself unintentionally and unhappily pregnant with number three. With frustration mounting, Sonia takes off on a cross-country trip alone--and does so many things pregnant women aren't supposed to do.

My thoughts: I've been saving Nine Months to read until I was very, very pregnant. I'm so glad I did because it was fun to live vicariously through Sonia. I'm happily pregnant, of course, but I also really dislike being pregnant. The thought of being pregnant again--ever--terrifies me. I can relate to Sonia's feeling of helplessness, but as real as it is, this novel is also escapist fun. It's fantasy that's firmly planted in reality:
""You’re pregnant. You’re doing a great job. I know it’s hard.” “You don’t know how hard it is. And I’m not doing a ‘great job.’ I haven’t done anything, except fuck you. This is happening to me, don’t you understand? I have nothing to do with it. It’s taking over me. It’s taking over my body and my soul, for God’s sake, like some parasite, like some alien virus.” Tears come to her eyes."
Through her marriage and her children, Sonia has lost something of herself. She's been looking forward to having her youngest in school so she can (finally) return to her art. Another child would hinder those plans; it would also mean their already cramped Brooklyn two-bedroom apartment would become impossible to live in.

There's a rawness and an honesty to both Sonia and Bomer's writing that I loved: "Not for the first time, she hates the fact that she is raising her kids in New York, where people treat their children like a combination between a science and an art project." This novel is wickedly funny in a way that isn't necessarily socially acceptable. It's dark and comical, but it's also firmly grounded in reality:
"The baby’s mouth roots around like a baby bird, unable to grasp on. So Sonia squeezes her nipple and colostrum comes out and the infant’s lips touch the pre-milk milk and then, it works—the baby tries to suck. First slowly, and then, as if something in her wired-for-survival brain clicks, she ferociously latches on to Sonia’s nipple and sucks on her like that’s what she’s been put on this earth to do. Which is, in fact, true. Her daughter is here to suck the life out of her, and leave her for the spent, middle-aged woman she soon will be."
The situations Sonia encounters are real, and perhaps her actions are too. For me? I wouldn't have the guts to act as recklessly as she does.

Favorite passage:  "And as much as she feared being a minority in Kensington, she fears even more being literally stranded among people who are supposedly just like her. She’s never felt that anyone was just like her, regardless of skin color or money—it’s just not a dream she could ever buy into. It doesn’t ring any bell for her."

The verdict: I adored Nine Months as much for Sonia's illicit adventures as I did for Bomer's writing. It's a brave novel, and the combination of literary escape and social commentary is a winning one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 265 pages
Publication date: August 21, 2012
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Nine Months 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!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

book review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The backstory: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has been longlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize. It also won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Prize.

The basics: Narrated by Rosemary, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is the story of her family: her academic psychologist father, mother, brother Lowell, and sister Fern. Rosemary slowly tells their secrets, but we learn early on she hasn't seen Lowell in ten years and Rosemary disappeared seventeen years ago.

My thoughts: Rosemary is the best kind of unreliable narrator. She's quiet honest with the reader about how she's telling this story--out of order. But despite knowing she's not telling a linear story (although it's easy to follow and even enhanced by its structure), she still managed to surprise me more than once with key details she waits to share. She doesn't lie, but she does omit at times. Beautifully, she tells the reader she's doing it in a beautiful way: "The beauty, the utility of this story is in its power to distract."

While I enjoyed this novel from the beginning, I did find myself thinking, "it's good, but it's missing that wow factor. Is it really Booker worthy?" Then, a little less than a third of the way through, the bombshell I perhaps should have seen coming more appears, and I was enchanted. Many reviews reveal this plot point, which is fair because it's quite difficult to discuss this book without it, but I'm opting not to. I didn't know it going into this book, and I think I enjoyed the novel more because of it. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves would make a wonderful book club selection--it's both accessible and deep, and it explores many issues that are ripe for discussion. If you've already read it, I'd love to have someone to talk about it with.

Favorite passage:  "Language does this to our memories--simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies."

The verdict: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a confident, accomplished novel. Its layers of plot, revelation and time are perfectly rendered. Fowler tackles issues large and small in this narrative that is itself both complicated and simple. I marvel at its combination of plot, character and construction. Rarely am I tempted to re-read books, let alone re-read them as soon as I finish, but I have a feeling this novel only improves with a second reading, which makes it a mighty strong Booker Prize contender*.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 321 pages
Publication date: May 30, 2013
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Karen Joy Fowler's website.

*Booker Prize judges re-read the longlist to decide the shortlist, then they re-read the shortlist to decide a winner. It takes a certain kind of novel to withstand three close readings in only a few months.

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, July 28, 2014

book review: Suzanne Davis Gets a Life by Paula Marantz Cohen

The backstory: Paula Marantz Cohen is one of my best-kept secret authors. I first discovered her in the winter of 2003. I graduated from college in December 2002, moved "home" to Kansas City, and found myself with lots of time to read in a very icy winter. On the new release shelves at the library, I picked up Jane Austen in Boca on a whim. I loved it and promptly read all of her other novels too. (Read my review of Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan.)

The basics: Suzanne Davis is a 34-year-old New York who works as a technical writer for an air conditioning union. She wants to have a baby, and as her birthday approaches, she decides she needs to get a life...and turns to those in her Upper West Side apartment building.

My thoughts: Suzanne Davis Gets a Life captured me from the first page. Suzanne's narration is satirical, hilarious, and wise. She addresses the reader directly as she tells her story, and I could hardly read fast enough to enjoy her world and perspective. Her observations about the stay-at-home moms on the playground at her apartment building are witty and wise: "It is a characteristic of the stay-at-home mothers in this socio-economic group that they mix language from their former lives in high-powered jobs with subject matter of a profoundly trivial nature."

A lot happens in this slim novel, and I won't spoil its plot. If you're a fan of modern satire, books, and social commentary, then make time for Suzanne Davis Gets a Life. 

Favorite passage: "Stories like that don't have one point," I noted graciously. This happens to be one of the few practical insights I gained from my overpriced and otherwise useless English degree. "

The verdict: Suzanne Davis Gets a Life is smart, poignant, funny and confident. Suzanne's voice is honest, quirky and endearing, even as her actions are often wince-inducing. Despite grappling with serious ideas and events, neither Cohen nor Davis let the tone get too serious. This balance between the light and the heavy make this novel an entertaining read, but also a deep one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 235 pages
Publication date: March 31, 2014 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Suzanne Davis Gets a Life from 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, July 27, 2014

Sunday Salon: I'm still pregnant, but the Booker longlist is out

I confess: I am really hoping (and was really believing) the nomadbaby would make his appearance today. 27 is a special number in this family. Mr. Nomadreader and I were both born on the 27th (of September and August respectively.) We started dating on February (2/7). How perfect would it be for the nomadbaby to join us on the 27th? If the first half of my day is any indication: it would be too perfect to be true, despite my vigorous rubbing of key acupuncture points used to jump start labor. I strategically started around 4 p.m. yesterday, and all I have to show for it are some very sore pressure points. Alas, I am resigning myself to still being pregnant when this day is done (and yes, the nomadbaby isn't actually due until next week, but a very pregnant lady sure can dream.)

In the absence of having a baby today, I'm spending it reading, and I seemed to have once again found my reading groove. I started digging into the Booker longlist last week. This year I'm making no predictions about how many I'll get to before the winner is announced on October 14th because I have a horrible track record of coming close but never actually finishing the longlist and I'm having a baby any day now, so short term lofty goals of any sort seem to be a bad idea. But I'm really excited the award is now open to American authors. I hadn't read any of the longlist when it was announced Wednesday morning, but I have since devoured We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which is the best book I've read so far this year. I'm still formulating my thoughts on it, but I hope to have enough coherent things to say about it to post a review sometime this week. If the rest of the longlist holds more gems, we're all in for a treat this year. While I'm processing the brilliance of We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, I'm diverting from the longlist to read another Michael Connelly, The Reversal, which I am, of course, loving. I haven't decided which Booker title to read next, but I'm leaning toward The Blazing World, which I've been meaning to read for months, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (ditto), or The Dog. 

I'm also hoping to get caught up on unwritten reviews so the blog stays active during the first few days and weeks the nomadbaby is around. Of course, I hope to break in with news of his birth sooner rather than later, but in the meantime...I'll be reading and sleeping as much as I can! Happy reading to you!

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!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

audiobook review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

narrated by Mindy Kaling

The basics: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is part memoir, part humor, part observations, and part musings by comedian and writer Mindy Kaling.

My thoughts: Going into this book, I had a positive impression of Mindy Kaling, even though I never really watched The Office or The Mindy Project. I didn't know much about her life or background, aside from her more recent success, and I thoroughly enjoyed the snippets and anecdotes as much as the longer narratives in this memoir.

I expected this book to be funny, and it is. Kaling has a gift for delivery, and she was the perfect choice to narrate her own memoir. I enjoyed the book so much more because of her narration; it felt more personal. Her delivery helped distinguish between the more humorous and more thoughtful sections, but the most satisfying aspect of this book is that Kaling at times manages to be both humorous and thoughtful.

Soon after I finished listening to this audiobook, Mr. Nomadreader and I started watching The Mindy Project, and now we only have a few episodes of season 2 left. Particularly early in the first season, there are familiar jokes from the memoir. Even more entertainingly, it was fun to see which attributes of herself Mindy the tv show creator gives Mindy the character. Fans of the show will find some familiar things in this memoir, and if you're not yet a fan of the show, you will be by the time you finish reading or listening to this one.

The verdict: Kaling has written a memoir that is hilarious, introspective, insightful and illuminating. It strikes the perfect balance between memoir and humor. It has depth and humor. The audio production was fabulous, and her narration gave even more insight into her experiences.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 4 hours 37 minutes (242 pages)
Publication date: November 1, 2011 
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) from  Amazon (Kindle edition--only $4.99!)

Want more? Visit Mindy Kaling'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!

Friday, July 25, 2014

On Pregnancy and Reading Limbo

I'm in that uncomfortable state of pregnancy where I'm uncomfortable more than I'm not. I'm 38 weeks pregnant tomorrow, which is so very close to the end, but even with a daily nap and a good, long, overnight sleep (almost) every day, the days are long and tiring. Although there are still two weeks until the nomadbaby is due, and he could easily come as much as a week late, he could also legitimately come at any time. I've taken to calling these last few days and weeks as pregnancy limbo--because who knows how much longer I'll be pregnant? With pregnancy limbo comes reading limbo.

I'm well aware life as I know it is about to change dramatically, and as reading is one of the most important things to me, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to prioritize my reading while pregnant and after the nomadbaby arrives. Pregnancy has been grueling for me, and I've found a way to relax and simply spend as much time reading as I can, while reading whatever it is I'm in the mood to read. Often, mysteries and nonfiction have been more appealing to me than my typical literary fiction, but I also think that trend is temporary. This low-key reading plan has worked beautifully, as I've read seventy-seven books so far this year (a huge number for me, especially considering I read ninety-four books in all of 2013.

As the nomadbaby's birth approaches, however, I find myself distracted by picking books SO. VERY. CAREFULLY. Because what if that's the book I'm reading when I go into labor? I will forever remember the book I spent my last child-free minutes reading, right? Or what if it's a book I never manage to quite finish because I lose all brain power in the days following his birth and end up putting it down for weeks or months?

All of my reading limbo is connected to the fact that it feels like the only thing I have control of in my life right now. My body does not feel like my own, which makes basic tasks like getting off the couch and working all day pretty challenging. When I'm reading, I can get lost in a book and still feel like myself. When I'm reading, I'm happy. I'm lucky to still be sleeping well for the most part. It's the rest of my waking hours that are uncomfortable. But when I finish a book, I spend far too much time deciding what to read next. And as excited as I am for the nomadbaby to arrive, I'm also curious how many more books I can squeeze in before he does. Now if only I can decide which book to start next.

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!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

book review: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

The basics: The Empathy Exams is an essay collection. Each essay, including the titular one, addresses empathy, although some focus more on it than others.

My thoughts: I've really been enjoying essays lately, and The Empathy Exams is the most buzzed about collection this year. Having read several edited collections, it was delightful to dig more deeply into a thematic collection of essays by a single author.

The first (and titular) essay is astonishingly good. It details Jamison's time working as a medical actor, where her job was to act out symptoms for medical students, who were then judged not only on their diagnostic skills, but also their empathy, both verbally and visually. The essay is simultaneously a fascinating glimpse into an experience and a deep meditation on health, wellness, humanity, and empathy.

As I read this collection, which I didn't expect to be about empathy after the first essay, I realized how much I'm drawn to essays about personal experiences. Given this revelation, it's not surprising I was most drawn to Jamison's essays about her immersive experiences. Many of them are journalistic at times, but Jamison pushes so much further. She uses these experiences as a stepping off point for deeper discussions.

Favorite passage:  "This was the double blade of how I felt about anything that hurt: I wanted someone else to feel it with me, and also I wanted it entirely for myself."

The verdict: In a collection exploring both a singular theme and a variety of experiences and emotions, some essays in The Empathy Exams inevitably excel more than others. Judging them against one another seems almost unfair, however, as the collection is so strong. As the collection winds down, I found myself giving some of the later essays more of a 'meh' response because my expectations became so high as I read. Yet had I read them individually, I would have been wowed. Ultimately, The Empathy Exams is a strong, dynamic collection of essays, and the multiple-page Google doc of memorable quotes is one I'll keep returning to.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: April 1, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Empathy Exams from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Leslie Jamison'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!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

book review: Friendship by Emily Gould

The backstory: I've been a fan of Emily Gould for years, and I've recently enjoyed her essays in Goodbye to All That and MFA vs. NYC, both of which share themes with the characters in this novel.

The basics: Friendship is mostly the story of two young women in New York, Bev and Amy. The two share narration with Sally, an older more successful married woman trying to have a baby.

My thoughts: I adored the first two chapters of this novel, as Bev and Amy each introduced the reader to their worlds. When the action shifts to Sally in chapter three, the book takes a different turn. It was easy to guess how Sally might fit into this novel, and I was along for the ride. Except Sally doesn't appear again for quite some time. The placement of the third chapter struck me as odd. Unfortunately, as much as I loved a lot of parts of this novel, I kept running into issues like the third chapter where I pondered why Gould made some of her choices.

As a reader, I like to be transported. For me, it doesn't matter if I'm transported by language, plot, character, or some combination of the three. Friendship transported me with all three, but all thee elements also had me reading more like a critic at times. I was deconstructing Gould's choices and offering suggestions as though I were editing the novel. Overall, my reading experience was somewhat disjointed.

Favorite passage: "I guess I'm talking about this weird vapidity that women seem to aspire to," Amy said. "This kind of Us magazine editorial voice that infects people's actual conversations and lives. Just fetishizing...children and domesticity and making it seem like they are the goals of women's lives, the only legitimate goals women's lives can have."

The verdict: While I loved the premise, characters, writing and set-up of this novel, I had issues with one major storyline. It struck me as contrived rather than authentic, and it took me emotionally out of the story as a reader and left me questioning Gould's choices. I couldn't get past this awkward plot device, even as I adored Gould's writing and the characters. There is much to love in this novel, and I'm enormously excited for Gould's next one, but ultimately one major storyline and one curious structural choice took this novel from a brilliant one to a flawed, but quite enjoyable novel with moments of brilliance.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 273 pages
Publication date: July 1, 2014
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Friendship from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Follow Emily Gould 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, July 9, 2014

audiobook review: Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

narrated by Eric Martin

The basics: Detroit: An American Autopsy is part journalism, part current events, and part memoir. Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Charlie LeDuff makes the somewhat surprising choice to return to Detroit, where he grew up, with his wife and daughter. In this book, LeDuff explores what's become of the town his family has lived in for generations with a cynical, native eye.

My thoughts: LeDuff writes with a raw urgency I found infectious. The subtitle of this book gives a clue as to where Detroit stands, and as concerned as LeDuff is with the how, there's plenty of exploration as to how much really is wrong with Detroit. Part of telling that story is telling its prosperous history. Before Detroit became a sad story and a punchline, it was one of the most successful American cities. In the span of a generation, it changed drastically.

LeDuff explores these issues and themes both personally, in terms of his experience and his family's history, and professionally, as a journalist covering the city itself. The combination works beautifully, at least in part due to LeDuff's no-holds-barred attitude. He's simultaneously critical and reverent of the city. He's honest about his own mistakes and shortcomings. The result is a difficult to place in a single genre book, but it's one whose reading experience I enjoyed immensely.

Audio thoughts: Eric Martin was superb. He narrated with a strong emotional inflection, and I had to keep reminding myself he wasn't just telling me his own story (with passion, likely over beer and bourbon.) Martin perfectly navigated the combination of personal memoir, social commentary, and journalism in this book. I'll definitely be seeking out more of his narrations.

The verdict: Detroit: An American Autopsy is a fascinating blend of journalism, family history, memoir, and current events. LeDuff's writing is infused with a richness of detail, emotion and honesty. Eric Martin's narration enhances the book, but I'd recommend it in print or audio, depending on your preference.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (audio 4.5 out of 5)
Length: 7 hours 21 minutes (304 pages)
Publication date: February 7, 2013
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Detroit: An American Autopsy from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Follow Charlie LeDuff 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!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

book review: Birth by Tina Cassidy

The basics: Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born is a historical and anthropological look at childbirth.

My thoughts: Since I got pregnant (the nomadbaby is due August 9th), I've become more interested in books about pregnancy and birthing. As with many things in life, part of me is drawn to the natural way of doing things, while part of me is drawn to modern convenience. For example, I eat as much local and organic produce, meat, eggs and cheese as possible. But I have no desire to actually have my own garden, grow my own food, or kill the animals I eat. So I rely on local farmers and belong to a two CSAs, one for meat.With pregnancy and birth, these choices between natural and modern seem to have impossibly high stakes. For the first time in my life, my biology dictates many of my choices. As the one carrying this baby, I have responsibilities Mr. Nomadreader doesn't. How far those extend after birth is something I think about often, particularly as we tend to divide tasks more evenly in life than pregnancy allows (I have started opining how lovely pregnancy would be if we could only alternate weeks being pregnant.)

When it comes to birth, I've spent a lot of time thinking about options. Two options I never really considered were having a midwife instead of my obstetrician and having a home birth. Even with the choice to deliver in a hospital with an obstetrician, I soon learned the choices keep coming. So often in casual conversations about epidurals, c-sections, etc., someone will say "well women have been having babies without pain relief and without c-sections for years." And inevitably the response will come, "yes, and women have been dying in childbirth for hundreds of years." I wanted to know where the truth lies. Admittedly, I didn't seek out justification for my choices, or even start this book looking for a reason to change my mind. I'm fine with my choice to have an epidural and would welcome an elective c-section if it were offered. But I wanted to know more about what options I would have had in other times in history, in other countries, in other cultures or financial circumstances. I wanted to know how common or rare my choices are, and how my experience as a pregnant woman in 2014 fits into the history of humanity.

The first chapter of Birth is perhaps my favorite. Entitled "Evolution and the Human Body," it's an anthropological exploration of birth and the pelvis. It looks at what separates human pregnancy, birth, and babies from other mammals. If you only read part of this book, read that chapter. It's absolutely fascinating (and again made me want to have a c-section, which is probably not its intention.) From there, Cassidy takes a thematic approach to birth, exploring midwives, birthing places, pain relief, c-sections, doctors, tools and fads, and the role of fathers.

Birth is a fascinating book in its own right, and I learned a lot from it. What impacted me most personally is how little I really care about the birth experience. It's not a secret I haven't enjoyed pregnancy much (despite being very excited to finally, actually be pregnant!), and birth is just the last stepping stone to actually having the nomadbaby. I'm happy for that experience to be as quick and painless as possible (the anesthetized births of the 1960's sounded like a great idea to me--wake up with a baby!) I don't need that experience to connect me to humanity the way so many women throughout history have. I don't need it as a life experience. While I live at a time where I can't opt out of it, I am incredibly grateful to live at the time I do when I do have choices. And from a cultural anthropological point of view, I can't wait to see how the current birthing trends are viewed in fifty years.

The verdict: Whether you're pregnant or not, Birth is a fascinating cultural history of a process we're all a part of in one way or another.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: September 8, 2006
Source: library

 Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Tina Cassidy'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!

Monday, July 7, 2014

book review: The Competition by Marcia Clark

The backstory: The Competition is Marcia Clark's fourth mystery featuring Los Angeles District Attorney Rachel Knight. Read my reviews of the first three: Guilt by Association, Guilt by Degrees, and Killer Ambition.

The basics: When a local high school is the scene of a mass murder, Rachel Knight is called in to aid the investigation, as is the procedure for high profile cases. It turns out to be a shrewd move in this case, as the two shooters managed to escape with their identities still unknown.

My thoughts: When I first heard The Competition would focus on a school shooting, I was confused. "Where's the mystery in that?" I wondered. Marcia Clark takes an all-too-familiar storyline and makes it into a mystery. The Competition asks harrowing questions: what if the school shooting is the beginning rather than the end? How do we keep the public safe and keep them from panicking? This novel is a journey into the cliches and nuances of mass murderers and high school life.

While this case is all-consuming for Rachel and her best friend/detective Bailey Keller, there are frequent mentions to events from the first three books, including the lingering storylines. Unfortunately, there's little to no movement in these storylines, and I found their inclusion to distract the narrative of The Competition. The details of these past cases are admittedly hazy, but their inclusion served to only remind me of all I didn't remember rather than to add more intrigue.

As strong as the premise for this novel is, the mystery's conclusion was telegraphed too early for my taste. As a reader, I don't like to feel smarter than the detectives solving the case, and by the end of The Competition, I did. Stripped of the jaw-dropping resolution I expected from the novel's many unexpected turns early on, I did still enjoy the conclusion, even if it more resembled a legal thriller than a whodunit by the book's end.

The verdict: The strong premise and intriguing set-up is enough to compensate for the telegraphed resolution. The mystery is the emphasis here, and there's little to no progress for the lingering plot lines in Rachel's life. I hope the next novel addresses those, or at least stops mentioning them without moving them forward.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 416 pages
Publication date: July 8, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Competition from an independent bookstore or the Book Depository. It's currently unavailable on Amazon due to their ongoing dispute with Hachette, the publisher.

Want more? Visit Marcia Clark'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!

Friday, July 4, 2014

mini-book reviews: Chasing the Dime, Lost Light, and The Narrows by Michael Connelly

I've been tearing through Michael Connelly's lengthy backlist, and I often find myself with repetitive things to say about them, so I'll mostly be doing mini-reviews of his titles, unless one compels me to write more deeply. 

Note: the reviews of Lost Light and The Narrows contain spoilers from prior Connelly books.

Chasing the Dime is a stand-alone thriller about Henry Pierce, a tech guru whose company is on the verge of making millions. His girlfriend, and now former colleague, breaks up with him, and when his new apartment landline turns out to be the former number of a prostitute named Lilly. The frequent calls are a nuisance, but he soon sets off to track Lilly down and finds himself getting deeper into the sexual underworld--and putting himself, and his company, at risk. Chasing the Dime is the first Connelly book to have a narrator who is not a criminal nor in law enforcement. As a reader, I often found myself frustrated with Henry and his lack of access to resources. His actions veer between stupid and reckless too often, but I must admit the premise of the novel is a fascinating one. Would I follow the story the way Henry did? No. In that sense, he wasn't a character I related to, as his actions confounded me. As the novel went along, however, I accepted Henry's quest and began to enjoy it more. The fast pace of this novel helped, but the reliance on technology means it hasn't aged that well (it was published in 2002.) Compared to the rest of Connelly's books, it's the weakest and my least favorite. As an escapist thriller, it's enjoyable.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Source: library

Lost Light is the ninth Harry Bosch mystery. Bosch is now retired from the LAPD, but he's using retirement to work the cases that still haunt him. He briefly worked the murder of Angella Benton, until her murder was linked with the theft of two million dollars from the film set on which she worked. Both cases remain unsolved. I was curious how Bosch would transition from being a detective to retirement, and in many ways, Lost Light isn't much of a departure. Bosch is forced to go rogue because he no longer has a badge, but he often felt forced to go rogue when he did. I appreciated this development because it provides even greater insight into Bosch and his motivations. His personal life is again well developed in this novel, but the complicated case kept my attention from the beginning. After a departure with Chasing the Dime, Lost Light is a welcome return to everything Connelly excels at.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Source: library

The Narrows is like old-home week for Connelly characters. Readers are treated to retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch, FBI agent Rachel Walling (last seen in The Poet), and journalist Jack McEvoy (last seen in A Darkness More Than Night.) What brings these three together? Two more deep ties to the Connelly universe: the return of the serial killer the Poet and the death of Terry McCaleb, whose suspicious wife hired Bosch to investigate. It was a delight to see all of these characters in a single book, even as I was surprised (foolishly) that Connelly killed off McCaleb. The Poet was a startling good stand-alone mystery, but I was thrilled to see its storylines revisited for more resolution. In that sense, I was incredibly glad to have read all of Connelly's earlier books so recently--the action begins quickly in this novel, and I didn't have to spend time remembering the details of the earlier works. The Narrows was a satisfying mystery and thriller, but I loved seeing all of these characters together a little bit more than I loved the mystery itself.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Source: library

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!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

book review: Over Easy by Mimi Pond

The basics: Over Easy is a partially fictionalized graphic memoir of Mimi Pond's experience as an art student and diner waitress in Berkeley, California in the 1970's.

My thoughts: I spent years working in restaurants. I never worked in a diner, but the wine bar in Atlanta where Mr. Nomadreader and I met, had an eight-hour brunch every Saturday and Sunday. Given my history (and Mr. Nomadreader's continued work) in the service industry, I'm drawn to books about the restaurant business. When I read Mimi Pond wrote a comic for Seventeen in the 1990's, I immediately remembered her, and I also knew she wrote for The Simpsons. Over Easy may be a debut graphic memoir, but she's an accomplished and experienced artist and author.

Pond captures the essence of 1970's Berkeley well. I was eager to explore that world, and the level of detail helped me immerse myself in it quickly. She also captures the naivete of her former self well. As is still the case, restaurants are filled with sex, drinking and drugs, and Mimi was often surprised to see how her co-workers lived and partied.

What was less successful for me in terms of storytelling was the lack of insight. It's as though Pond shared her journals from the moment without the perspective of life lived since then. In that sense, it's too ordinary of a coming of age story. Much will be familiar to anyone who spent time working in a restaurant today. While this type of coming of age story can be quite successful, I was struck by how ordinary her experience was. Clearly it was powerful enough for her to tell this story (and tell it well), but as I read, I kept waiting for the 'so what?' moment. What makes this graphic memoir/novel special? Given Pond's professional success, there's an argument there, but she doesn't address her life now at all, even in passing. Pond is what's most interesting here, but too much of the story hinges on the cast of characters that fascinated, delighted and confounded her younger self. Unfortunately, they didn't have the same impact on this reader.

The verdict: I had high expectations for Over Easy, and overall I was underwhelmed. Pond immersed me in the time and place, but I wanted more insight and reflection into her experience. I wanted more insight into what makes this story special. I most enjoyed her life outside of the restaurant, but the story focused mostly on the cast of characters within the restaurant. Ultimately, Over Easy is a competent coming of age graphic memoir, but I wanted more.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: April 15, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Over Easy from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (no Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Mimi Pond'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!