Friday, December 19, 2014

book review: May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

The backstory: May We Be Forgiven won the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2013.

The basics: May We Be Forgiven is the story of the very dysfunctional Silver family. Its main character is Harold, a Nixon scholar and adjunct professor. His brother George has an enviable career, life and family.

My thoughts: The opening pages of May We Be Forgiven are a literary tour de force. Homes packs so much into its first fifty pages, and I was reading with delight, shock and awe. 'If this much has already happened,' I mused, 'where will the next 400 pages take me'? Sadly, Homes did not capitalize enough on the momentum she creates in the novel's first section.

I read this novel relatively quickly and excitedly, but as I neared to the last 100 pages or so, I just wanted it to be over. I was no longer enjoying the story, which seemed by then to be an unnecessary sequel of a hit. Over all, May We Be Forgiven is a curious book. It is unquestionably brilliant at times. It's scope is vast and impressive, and Homes is an aggressive writer (I mean that as a compliment.) Yet it's her aggressive writing that ultimately made this novel disappointing, as it did not meet the expectations she set. Did it make me a fan of Homes? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes, but with reservations. Was it one of the most disappointing reads of 2014? Absolutely, but it's moments of brilliance make it worthwhile, if not necessarily prize-worthy.

Favorite passage:  "You are a paranoid motherfucker," he says.
"I am a Nixon scholar," I shout. "I know whereof I speak."

The verdict: Despite wonderful writing, intriguing characters, and a brilliant opening act, May We Be Forgiven  is a book I liked less as it went on. By the end, I was relieved it was over. While it showed me I like A.M. Homes as a writer, I ultimately did not enjoy this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 488 pages
Publication date: September 27, 2012
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy May We Be Forgiven from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit A.M. Homes' 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!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

book review: Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

The basics: Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters is a humorous take on classic literature. Ortberg humorously imagines interactions between classic characters through text message.

My thoughts: I have not read many classics, but I am moderately familiar with many, many classics. And even with the classics I was not as familiar (ahem, Daisy Miller), it was still easy enough to get the jokes.

I found this book best to read in short spurts because I find text speak annoying and intolerable in large doses. Yes, I use complete sentences and proper punctuation in text messages, but I have fallen hard for emojis.

And it is funny. It's sometimes silly funny and sometimes smart funny. It stretches from ancient Greece (Medea) to modern childhood favorites (The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High). Reading it made me feel super smart, because I almost always got the jokes.

The verdict: Texts From Jane Eyre is a fun, smart read sure to delight young book lovers. If you like to feel smart and laugh (and you like books), it's a fun read--and would make a great holiday gift. 

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: November 4, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Texts From Jane Eyre from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit the Texts from Jane Eyre website, like Mallory Ortberg 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, December 17, 2014

book review: Keeping Up with Magda by Isla Dewar

The backstory: Keeping Up with Magda, Isla Dewar's first novel, was longlisted for the Orange Prize (now Bailey's Prize) in 1996.

The basics: Jessie Tate walks away from her life and husband in Edinburgh. She ends up in Mareth, a small Scottish fishing village, and stays. She rents an apartment above The Ocean Cafe, which is run by the titular Magda.

My thoughts: I'm quite drawn to tales of small town life, as well as stories of characters, particularly women, traveling to a town and starting a new life. So Keeping Up with Magda was right up my alley, yet it was so much more than I expected. While at times it is a quiet novel about a town and its inhabitants, it also was much deeper and darker than I expected. Jessie's journey to Mareth is not one of a woman searching for something new because she can; her journey begins because of a devastating event in her life.

While I laughed and smiled as I read, I also winced. Dewar's characters are flawed people who do some horrible things. They have horrible things happen to them. Still, this novel isn't as depressing as many of its events, which is a testament to Dewar's writing and strong characterizations. This slim novel has a large cast, even as the actions mostly center on Jessie and Magda. Dewar fully forms a community and tells the story of its part and present.

The verdict: Keeping Up with Magda is a gem I would not have discovered were it not longlisted for the Orange Prize. I'm eager to read Dewar's other novels, as this debut is impressive in scope and execution. Dewar surprised me many times in this novel, and I loved the time I spent in the village of Mareth.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 224 pages
Publication date: September 14, 1995
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Keeping Up With Magda from Amazon (no Kindle edition.)

Want more? Follow Isla Dewar 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, December 16, 2014

book review: The Cinderella Murder by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke

The backstory: I've read and loved all of Alafair Burke's mysteries, so I was eager to read The Cinderella Murder, her first collaboration (and first in a new series) with Mary Higgins Clark, a prolific mystery author whose work I have never read.

The basics: The Cinderella Murder is the first in a new series entitled Under Suspicion. Under Suspicion is a news special focused on unsolved cold cases. Although this is the first in the series, the production crew characters were featured in Higgins Clark's previous novel, I've Got You Under My Skin. This review, and the book itself, contains spoilers from I've Got You Under My Skin.

My thoughts: There are two main storylines in this mystery: the murder of Susan Dempsey twenty years ago and Laurie Moran's continued recovery after her husband's death and the death of his killer. Perhaps because I had not read I've Got You Under My Skin, I enjoyed Laurie's personal storyline much less. I didn't have an emotional connection to her, and much of it came off as over dramatic. For an otherwise strong female character, her interior thoughts about her husband's death and the romantic intentions of Alex came off as weak and somewhat annoying. The romance storyline felt somewhat forced and heavy-handed. I imagine, like in too many mystery series, that it will take several books for Laurie and Alex to actually become a couple, but it seems clear.

The mystery, however, was intriguing. Under Suspicion prides itself on picking cases in which most, if not all, of the suspects and main players are still alive...and willing to be on television talking about the case. Dubbed the Cinderella Murder because she was found dead with only one silver high heel on, the murder of a beautiful young college student and aspiring actress captivated news watchers twenty years ago. To spice it up even more, Susan was on her way to meet then-up-and-coming director (and now very famous director), Alex Buckley, to audition for a film role. Her roommate and friend ended up winning an Indie Spirit Award for that role.

There is a large cast of characters in this mystery, and each takes turns narrating, which provides the reader with more knowledge than any one person has. We follow the early interviews from each participant as they prepare to film the big scene. In this scene, each person will be in the same room, so they can all react to what others are saying. Alex, Laurie's love interest and famous defense attorney, hosts. The premise is intriguing, and it's one I enjoyed while I read.

The verdict: Despite enjoying the premise and the reading experience, I found the resolution somewhat disappointing. Clark and Burke withheld the critical details from the reader for too long, so when we do learn the identity of Susan's killer, there wasn't a wow moment. It's a competent page turner, and I think it would adapt to the screen quite well, but I was hoping for some sort of wow moment.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: November 18, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Cinderella Murder from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Mary Higgins Clark's website and like her on Facebook. Visit Alafair Burke'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, December 15, 2014

book review: When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds

The backstory: When Mystical Creatures Attack! won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and is 2014 New York Times Notable book.

The basics:  "Told through high school class assignments, letters, emails, private journal entries, school literary magazine submissions, advice column blog posts, and psychiatric wellness reports, the 25 linked stories in this debut collection beautifully sketch the lives of residents of a small South Texas town."-Publishers Weekly

My thoughts: First: whoever called this book a short story collection has a very, very narrow view of what a novel is. To me, linked stories may share characters and settings, either across some stories or all. When Mystical Creatures Attack! has three main characters, and one of each is the main character in each story (I would say chapter.) It's certainly not a traditional novel, as the description indicates. It doesn't unfold in a chronological narrative. But, to me, it's definitely a novel, even if many of its chapters could be enjoyed individually. It's power lays in its completeness. (Note: Founds has referred to it as a novel in stories. That works for me.)

Semantics of form aside, let me tell how amazing and original When Mystical Creatures Attack! is. It's a deeply emotional and intellectual exploration of life. It's also silly and preposterous. The title (and first chapter) refer to an exercise in a high school creative writing class:
1. What is your favorite mystical creature?
2. What is the greatest sociopolitical problem of our time?
Journaling prompt: Write a one-page story in which your favorite mystical creature resolves the greatest sociopolitical problem of our time.
The results are terrible. And I loved them. The creatures are not always mystical. The sociopolitical problems are far from the greatest of our time, but the end result so tragically and beautifully encapsulates teenagers in a compulsory creative writing class. I marveled at Founds' ability to be both silly and wise. As I reader I enjoyed this chapter as both entertainment and as the start of something deeper.

Founds continues to play with form throughout this novel. There are some straight-forward sections written in traditional narrative prose, and many of them are the more serious and deeply emotional pieces. There are also creative formats that bring both much-needed levity, but also work to enhance the narrative and expand the cast of characters in compelling ways.

Favorite passage:  "Ask yourself if, in your longing for clarity and order, you have negated contradiction and paradox."

The verdict: When Mystical Creatures Attack! is one of the highlights of my year in reading. Its description made it sound gimmicky but enjoyable. Instead I discovered a fresh new voice bold enough to experiment with form and narrative, but refined enough to not lose sight of character development and the emotional and moral center of fiction.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 162 pages
Publication date: October 1, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy When Mystical Creatures Attack! from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Kathleen Founds' website, like When Mystical Creatures Attack! 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, December 14, 2014

Sunday Salon: Four Months!

The nomadbaby turned four months old yesterday. Four months! All three of us are very excited by this development, even if the littlest one less understands the milestone than that he can do so many more things than he could at three months. And that everything around him is Just. So. Exciting. The near constant delight he expresses is awesome to watch. His more and more epic meltdowns as he fights sleep to keep experiencing things are less awesome, but he is still a baby after all. Even if he thinks he can stand up tall:

The Holidays
We are gearing up for a low-key Christmas in town. I have one more week of work, then two relaxing weeks off. If only Mr. Nomadreader worked in academia too--that would be glorious! Hawthorne and I are flying to Atlanta to celebrate the New Year. If you have tips for traveling (alone) with four-and-a-half-month olds, especially those who only drink from bottles, please share. I am immensely grateful for best friends with tons of airline miles, a first class seat, and a direct flight. We have a fantastic set-up for his first two flights.

Reading

I'm making some progress with my 2014 Book Bucket List, having finished two of the five titles. Even though I've read more books this year than any other year for which I've kept track (and I'm fairly certain any year of adulthood period), this time of year makes me feel like I'm not reading enough. Despite reading a lot of books this year, the barrage of year end lists and reflections on years in reading have me frantically adding things to my TBR, moving up books that were already one my TBR, and generally wishing I could be a full-time reader. I'm only a few pages into Euphoria by Lily King, but Hawthorne's naps permitting, I hope to spend some time with it today.

Reviews
Somehow I've accumulated eight un-reviewed books, so I'll likely be posting a book review each weekday so I can begin 2015 with a clean slate.

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, December 13, 2014

Quickly: Links I Love

I keep running across articles this week that have me frantically adding to my TBR. It's such a great time of year for Internet writing. Here are some of the things that caught my eye this week. I share them here to both remind myself of them and to make sure you saw them too.

The Millions Year in Reading is perhaps my favorite end of the year round up, and this year seems especially good. Yelena Akhtiorskaya's entry achieved the rare trifecta. After I finished, I tracked down copies of both books she mentions, neither of which I had ever heard of, The Princess of 72nd Street by Elaine Kraf and Zoo, or Letters Not About Love by Victor Shklovsky, via my library and moved her debut novel, Panic in a Suitcase up my TBR. It was recently named a 2014 New York Times Notable Book, and I'm even more excited to read it now. It was already one of my favorite covers of the year, even though I try to wait to evaluate covers after I've read the book. Great cover art is wonderful--but if it doesn't fit the book, it's not worth it.

Elena Ferrante seems to be everywhere. The third novel in her Naples series (a fourth will be translated into English and published next fall), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is showing up on seemingly every Best of 2014 list (including the New York Times Notables.) It was enough to finally push me into starting the series, so I was excited to snatch up its first book, My Brilliant Friend for Kindle for only $2.99. Then I read the New York Times article about her mysterious identity: "Behind Feminist Potboilers, a Secret Identity." (Also: fantastic article title. While I respect (and begrudgingly admire her secrecy), I do hope she has left instruction for revealing her identity upon her death (or at some point.)

Curtis Sittenfeld, my future bff (she just doesn't know it yet--and I mean that in a totally non-creepy way), wrote a fabulous piece about Twitter. She's one of my favorite tweeters, and this sentence nails exactly what I love about Twitter--and why I turn to it at moments of national crisis and breaking news: "Twitter makes you like people you don’t know, and Facebook makes you dislike people you do."

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, December 12, 2014

book review: When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

The backstory: When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka's first novel, was longlisted for the 2003 Orange Prize (now known as the Bailey's Prize.) I previously enjoyed Otsuka's second novel, The Buddha in the Attic.

The basics: Set during World War II, When The Emperor Was Divine is the story of a Japanese-American family living in Berkeley, California. The novel begins with the mother reading a notice about Japanese internment camp, and she begins packing her possessions, and those of her children.

My thoughts: Julie Otsuka's prose is sparse and haunting. She manages the ultimate storytelling: she shows more than she tells. You won't find lengthy descriptions of people's feelings here. You won't even find the word interment camp. Otsuka dumps the reader immediately into the story without providing many orienting details. In this sense, the reader shares the confusion of the children, Those who are familiar with this time period will clearly know what's happening, but even readers who are not familiar with the internment camps of the time will slowly come to understand the time.

Otsuka doesn't shy away from the harshness of what her characters face. Although slim (less than two hundred pages), the novel stretches over a number of years. Despite covering so much time in so few pages, it doesn't feel as though anything is lacking. In fact, dwelling on those periods with Otsuka's unflinching attention would likely be too much.

The verdict: When the Emperor Was Divine is a beautiful, tragic window into an ugly time in American history. Otsuka's unique storytelling shines brightly in this slim novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 162 pages
Publication date: September 10, 2002
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy When the Emperor Was Divine from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Julie Otsuka'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!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

book review: Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman

The backstory: Rage Against the Dying is Becky Masterman's first mystery. It introduces former FBI agent Brigid Quinn. It was a finalist for almost every mystery award last year: Edgar (Best First Novel), Macavity (Best First Mystery), Barry (Best First Novel), Anthony (Best First Novel), and CWA Dagger (Gold Dagger shortlist and John Creasey Dagger longlist).

The basics: Brigid Quinn is fifty-nine. She was forced into early retirement from the FBI and now lives with her husband, from whom she hides as much as possible about her FBI life, and their two dogs, in Tucson. When a man confesses to the unsolved murder of Brigid's protegee, the current case agent brings her back in to consult on the case.

My thoughts: It's a well-known trope that the first mystery in a series will feature a case very close to the main character. Too often this trope is met with too many coincidences, but in Rage Against the Dying, it doesn't feel like a trope at all. Because the case in question is several years old, it introduces the reader to both Brigid as she was when she was an FBI agent and as she is now. This distinction, in both her personal and professional lives, helps make Brigid such a dynamic character.

As much as I enjoyed the character of Brigid, she is not a typical, likeable crime fighter. She's a complicated, and thus fascinating to me, person. And as dynamic of a character as she is, the best part of this novel are the mysteries themselves.

Favorite passage:  "Keeping secrets, telling lies, they require the same skill. Both become a habit, almost an addiction, that's hard to break even with the people closest to you, out of the business."

The verdict: Rage Against the Dying is as filled with contradictions as Brigid. It's both dark and funny (and sometimes darkly funny.) It's surprising. It's riveting. It's twisted, but it also has its heart-warming moments. Masterman masterfully weaves layers of mysteries, both related and not, together for a compelling, thrilling story and an intriguing first in a new series.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: March 12, 2013
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Rage Against the Dying from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Becky Masterman's website and like her on Facebook.

The second Brigid Quinn mystery, Fear the Darkness, will be published January 20, 2015. You can pre-order it now 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!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

book review: Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

The basics: Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line is Michael Gibney's memoir of sorts. It's a window into the world as a sous chef in a high-end Manhattan restaurant kitchen. As the title indicates, Gibney tells the story as though it's a single twenty-four hours.

My thoughts: I spent many years working in restaurants, as a server and a bartender. I worked at chain restaurants and midscale local restaurants. Mr. Nomadreader and I met when we were both servers at Murphy's, a fabulous Atlanta neighborhood wine bar. Part of me still misses the restaurant life. I learned so much about food, wine, beer, and booze working in restaurants. I learned about cooking. I met fabulous people, both customers and my fellow workers. So while I'm always intrigued by books about the restaurant business, I've read enough clunkers to know I'm not the desired audience for books that shine a light on the business.

Sous Chef does shine a light on the restaurant business, particularly the kitchens, but it does so well. (Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential also does a good job, but I read it before I started this blog.) Gibney takes a very different approach than Bourdain, who wrote more of a memoir. Sous Chef is narrative nonfiction written in the second person, and this technique lets readers have a truly immersive experience. Gibney is both writing about himself and not writing about himself.

Although this book is culled from his years of experiences in very impressive restaurants, it's not a straight memoir. This book doesn't represent any actual 24-hour period. Instead, Gibney uses the clock as a storytelling device to give the reader insight into what life in a top restaurant, as a sous chef, is like, from Friday morning prep into Saturday morning brunch service. The cast of characters aren't necessarily based on individuals who worked with Gibney at a single restaurant, although their characteristics are familiar restaurant staples. The result of these narrative devices is a book that will be familiar to those of us who have worked in restaurants. It's also welcoming to those who don't. Gibney doesn't talk down to the reader. The narrative also flows beautifully (and quickly) through twenty-four hours. It doesn't get bogged down with the irrelevant details. Its emphasis is on the essence of the experience, and it succeeds.

Favorite passage: "Even though this decision defies all logic--you have to be back to work in five hours--it's an easy one to make. To wake up and go to work, come home and go to sleep, iterum et iterum, gets tedious quickly. In the interest of sanity, you need some downtime, some time alone to relax and unpack the day. When you never see the sun, you at least deserve some time with the moon."

The verdict: Gibney captures the essence and emotion of the restaurant industry beautifully. While many have written about their experience in restaurants, few are actual writers (Gibney has an MFA in nonfiction.) By not taking an actual twenty-four hours, or trying too hard to tell his personal story, Gibney has managed an ode to the restaurant industry. Its characters will be familiar to any who have worked in restaurants, even those not nearly as fancy as the ones on Gibney's resume.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 241 pages
Publication date: March 25, 2014
Source: library

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

Want more? Like Michael Gibney 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!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

book review: Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

The backstory: Curtis Sittenfeld may be my favorite writer. She's definitely my soul sister. American Wife, her third novel, is my favorite novel. It's the first one I gave 6 stars out of 5 to (it's that good.) Her most recent novel, Sisterland, was one of my favorite reads of 2013. What to do in the absence of a new Curtis Sittenfeld novel than to read her earlier works?

The basics: The Man of My Dreams is the story of Hannah, a somewhat awkward and troubled young woman. The story begins in 1991, when Hannah is 14, and it stretches to 2005.

My thoughts: I avoided reading The Man of My Dreams for many years. It seems to have a reputation as Curtis Sittenfeld's bad book. It was her sophomore slump. It's the book about which my reading friends say "I loved all her books but that one." Finally, I said, "enough is enough." I want to see for myself, and I'm so glad I did. I absolutely adored it, and I so wish I would have read it in my early-to-mid-twenties (it came out in 2006, the year in which I turned 26.)

The Man of My Dreams is the anti-romantic comedy, and I love it for that. The reader meets Hannah when she's fourteen and having her first potentially romantic or sexual interactions with boys. When we next see her again, she is in college and still has not kissed anyone. As the narrative moves forward, we get to experience many of Hannah's firsts. As different boys and men come into her life, leave, and as some come back again, the titles of the book begs the reader to ask the question: "is he the one?" The one what changed for me as a reader. Initially it was about the one who would be her first kiss. Then the one to whom she would lose her virginity. Then, as I slowly began to root for Hannah (and not just be curious where she would end up and how), I began to wonder which one would be the one she would find long-term happiness with.

Reading this novel transported me to my early-to-mid-twenties, as I found myself wondering if and when and whom I wound end up finding happiness, short-term and long-term. Mr. Nomadreader and I started dating when I was twenty-five, which in retrospect is really early. Still, I had many men come in and out of my life in those years, and I was always searching for what the future significance of each person and interaction would be.

Favorite passages:  "Being raised in an unstable household makes you understand that the world doesn’t exist to accommodate you, which, in Hannah’s observation, is something a lot of people struggle to understand well into adulthood. It makes you realize how quickly a situation can shift, how danger really is everywhere. But crises, when they occur, do not catch you off guard; you have never believed you live under the shelter of some essential benevolence. And an unstable childhood makes you appreciate calmness and not crave excitement."

"They all are willing the moment to turn, and it is turning, it’s starting to contain the mood it will contain later, as a story they tell to other people."

The verdict: While not quite as polished as American Wife or Sisterland, The Man of My Dreams is a fascinating, thought-provoking novel. Hannah is a unique and curious character. She may not be a character I felt I had much in common with, but that makes her an even more fascinating vessel for Sittenfeld to share universal truths about life and love. The Man of My Dreams is an exploration of the people, particularly those to whom we find ourselves romantically or sexually attracted, who come into and out of our lives (and sometimes back in again.) The theme of the unexpected, wayward paths of our lives is common in Sittenfeld's work, and it's one this nomadic reader can't ever get enough of.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 285 pages
Publication date: May 16, 2006
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Man of My Dreams from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Curtis Sittenfeld'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!

Friday, December 5, 2014

book review: A History of the Present Illness by Louise Aronson

The backstory: A History of the Present Illness was longlisted for the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize.

The basics: A History of Present Ilness is a collection of short stories, some very loosely linked with characters, that examines different aspects of the contemporary health system in San Francisco. Louise Aronson has both an M.D. (from Harvard) and an M.F.A.

My thoughts: Regular readers know I am not a huge fan of short stories, but when I read them, I prefer collections to be thematically linked. Thus, the premise of A History of the Present Illness excited me. Through these stories, Aronson beautifully explores humanity. As I read, I found myself stopping after most stories to ponder them. Aronson manages to explore many themes in these stories, and her variety was a pleasant surprise.

The collection's second story, "An American Problem," tells the story of a family of Cambodian immigrants and firmly establishes the ambition of this collection: “In America, her mother explained, a man could discipline his wife, but he must never leave marks on his children.”

Favorite passage:  "People made assumptions. They assigned values. She knew people who said Holocaust as if, in recent human history, there had been only one. Newscasters and journalists said "the tragedy of September 11, 2001" and meant New York City, as if those who that day succumbed to malaria or malnutrition, to ruptured abdominal aneurysms or perforated intestines deserved less sympathy because of the quiet and unoriginal way they chose to die. In the cruise ship ballroom, she winced as her husband said his study of a promising new drug showed negligible mortality, as if one death in four hundred was the same as none." ("The Psychiatrist's Wife)

The verdict: A History of the Present Illness is a dynamic short story collection that signals a major new talent. The highlight of the collection may be "The Psychiastrist's Wife," a story that will haunt me for a long time. Whether Aronson continues writing short fiction or expands into novels or nonfiction, I'll be standing in line to read it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 289 pages
Publication date: January 22, 2013
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy A History of the Present Illness from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Louise Aronson'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!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

book review: Life in Motion by Misty Copeland

The basics: Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina is Misty Copeland's memoir about her surprising journey to the American Ballet Theater, where she is the first African-American soloist is twenty years (and only the third over all.)

My thoughts: Despite having no dancing ability, I am a big fan of dance. Arguably the most famous current ballet dancer, and I was eager to read her memoir. Her life story is an inspiring one, but if I read it in a novel I'd dismiss it as unbelievable and hokey. Copeland famously took her first ballet class when she was thirteen, which is really late in ballet years. She discovered ballet in an unlikely place: the Boys and Girls Club. I knew those details, but I didn't realize how many other improbabilities Copeland faced.

Life in Motion is inspiring, but it's also a very sad book. Copeland doesn't shy away from the lingering racism in ballet. She opens up about the complications, financially and otherwise, of her childhood. I knew her story was remarkable, but I didn't realize how many fortunate opportunities she had. While I thoroughly enjoyed Misty's journey, I was equally enchanted with her insight into her current life and what it means to be a professional ballet dancer.

The verdict: I quite enjoyed Life in Motion. Copeland's voice is strong, and her personal story is as fascinating as her unique insight into contemporary ballet. This book will appeal to fans of dance, but it will also appeal to readers drawn to social issues, diversity, and memoirs more generally.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 289 pages
Publication date: March 4, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Life in Motion from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Misty Copeland's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

audiobook review: The Accident by Chris Pavone

narrated by Mozhan Marno

The backstory: A few months ago, I listened to Chris Pavone's debut thriller, The Expats, and loved it. When I saw his follow-up was also narrated by Mozhan Marno, it moved to the top of my audiobook queue.

The basics: Featuring some of the same characters as The Expats, The Accident is the story of an anonymous manuscript of the same name. The manuscript implicates many famous people and its release could have devastating consequences. The narrative begins with a publisher receiving a copy of the manuscript. Pavone intersperses key sections of the manuscript itself as the novel's events unfold.

My thoughts: As a reader, book blogger and librarian, I'm pretty tuned into the business side of publishing, but The Accident takes the reader deep into the publishing business, and it was a fascinating subplot. It's actually hard to decide which plots are subplots in this novel. There are many characters and locations, but the narrative never felt muddy. As is often the case with novels featuring multiple characters in different places, I keep reading (or in this case listening) to see each character one more time. The Accident's addicting storyline had me listening any chance I could. When it ended, I found myself a little sad to leave these characters--and sad there aren't any more Pavone books to read.

The verdict: The Accident is a tight, twisty thriller. It's salacious and suspenseful, but it also mines human emotions deeply. It's a worthy sophomore novel, and it cemented Chris Pavone as a gifted storyteller whose new books I will continue to look forward to.

Audio thoughts: Mozhan Marno has definitely emerged as one of my favorite narrators. She's now in Cassandra Campbell territory--I will listen to almost anything she narrates. Even more fun: when one character from The Expats appeared in The Accident, I said out loud (she sounds like [spoiler], and I was right.)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 11 hours 39 minutes (402 pages)
Publication date: March 11, 2014
Source: library

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

Want more? Visit Chris Pavone's website and like him 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!