Monday, August 24, 2015

book review: A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd

The backstory: A Pattern of Lies is the seventh mystery featuring World War I nurse Bess Crawford. My reviews of the first six: A Duty to the Dead, An Impartial Witness, A Bitter Truth, An Unmarked Grave, A Question of Honor, and An Unwilling Accomplice.

The basics: The action in A Pattern of Lies centers on the small Kent village of Cranbourne, where a gun powder mill exploded two years ago. More than one hundred men died in the explosion. The truth, never certain, has yielded to the titular patterns of lies and accusations in a town still reeling from tragedy, all are looking for someone to blame, as Bess tries to figure out the truth.

My thoughts: A Pattern of Lies is darker and presents dangerous situations (aside from the war itself) than most books in this series. It's set in 1918, and as readers know, World War I is nearly over. I'm quite curious to see where the series goes beyond the war. But in A Pattern of Lies, the War remains an increasing source of pain and despair.

I liked A Pattern of Lies, but I didn't love it. Bess remains a fascinating, dynamic character, and I enjoyed the time I spent with her. I enjoyed the combination of time spent on the front and off. I enjoyed the insights into life and manners of the time. I found the mystery itself to drag at times, and when it ramped up at the end, I found it interesting, but the resolution wasn't nearly as interesting as the cultural commentary that preceded it. I was struck by the consistency of human nature one hundred years ago and today.

I'm continuously intrigued by the cast of recurring characters, and A Pattern of Lies was so focused on the Ashtons that the other characters had very minor roles. I hope to seem more of London, Somerset and, of course, Simon, in the next book. As a World War I novel, A Pattern of Lies succeeds, but I wanted more of Bess's world and less of the Ashtons' world.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: August 18, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy A Pattern of Lies from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Charles Todd's website and like them 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!

Friday, August 14, 2015

book review: Doodle Diary of a New Mom by Lucy Scott

The basics: As the title indicates, Doodle Diary of a New Mom is a book of single-pane comics about the first year of motherhood.

My thoughts: Hawthorne turned one yesterday(!) I picked this book up at the library awhile ago after hearing about, and while I don't have a lot of things to say, I do have a few. This book wasn't quite what I expected, but that isn't the book's fault. I expected it to be more of a memoir than it was. In hindsight, I don't know why.

This book is a ridiculously quick read. I read it from cover to cover in about half an hour. Each page is a single illustration with a caption. Some are hilarious. Some are almost tragic. Some aligned with my experience so perfectly I want to frame them. Some were so different from I experience I marveled at how different motherhood is for everyone.

The verdict: Doodle Diary of a New Mom is an entertaining collection of comics. I would have enjoyed more exposition and reflection, but I think new moms struggling to find any time to read or do anything for themselves would enjoy this quick read.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 128 pages
Publication date: April 7, 2015
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Doodle Diary of a New Mom from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Lucy Scott'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!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

book review: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg

The basics: Bill Clegg was a successful literary agent who spiraled downward with a devastating crack addiction. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is a glimpse into what crack addiction looks like for a privileged white man in New York City.

My thoughts: I have an odd fascination with drug memoirs. I appreciate them for providing a window into a world I don't want to visit in real life, but I'm critical of them for attempting to recall facts and events that may not be clearly remembered. In Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, Bill Clegg intertwines two stories: his childhood and his crack addiction. He writes about his childhood in the third person, which I found awkward. While I came to understand the importance these childhood scenes played in his life, they were my least favorite part of the book.

The first half (approximately) is sensationalist reading. Clegg still has a leg in his normal life, even as he seems to be slipping into the phase of only caring about crack. My mind raced with questions as I read, "how did it start?" I was getting the beginning and the start of the end, but I longed for the middle. It did come eventually, and I found it anticlimactic. The revelation didn't feel like a revelation, which could have been an interesting opportunity to dig deeper.

Favorite passage:  "She reads. She is always reading. She asks him what he thinks about the books they read for school...He devours them and worries about the words he doesn’t understand and loves them because she does and often sobs at their endings, because for a while he is away, out of time, somewhere he can’t remember himself, and it is a shock, always a sad shock, to come back. She talks about these books, and each time, with each book, she sees more and better and has words that dazzle him to transcribe what she sees."

The verdict: While I enjoyed parts of this memoir immensely and found other parts fascinating, I enjoyed it less as the book went on. It started to feel repetitive, and the lack of chronology and dates made the narrative feel muddled. In a sense, this experience mirrors Clegg's experience as time disappeared and life became muddled. For having some brilliant passages, I wanted a lot more of Clegg reflecting rather than just chronicling.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 237 pages
Publication date: June 7, 2010
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man 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, August 12, 2015

book review: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The backstory: Lila is the third novel in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead trilogy. I did not like Gilead (my review), which won the Pulitzer Prize. So far, Lila has won the National Book Critics Circle award, been shortlisted for the National Book Award, longlisted for the Booker Prize, and named a New York Times Notable book.

The basics: Lila is the story of Ames's wife Lila, from her troubled girlhood to her unlikely marriage to the much older pastor. Readers will find the characters and many of the events familiar.

*spoiler* unpopular opinion ahead!

My thoughts: Despite not liking Gilead, I was somewhat excited to read Lila. One of the biggest issues I took with Gilead was the believability of the marriage of Lila and Ames. I hoped seeing things from Lila's perspective would even make me appreciate Gilead more.

Near the end of this novel there is what I presume is intended to be a poignant religious scene, yet I rolled my eyes. The story of Lila should be something I enjoy. If you told me about it, I would be enchanted, yet Robinson's writing dulls the intrigue of her life, and Lila's own interior monologue mostly made me sad rather than helped me understand her motivations.

Favorite passage:  "He looked as if he’d had his share of loneliness, and that was all right. It was one thing she understood about him. She liked his voice. She liked the way he stood next to her as if there was a pleasure for him in it."

The verdict: I found Lila to be frustrating and dull. As in Gilead, there were some nice passages, but I continue to not be wowed by Robinson's fiction prose the way everyone else is. She clearly has the accolades for both books, so I take full responsibility and admit she is an author whose fiction is not a good fit for me. While I liked Lila moderately more than Gilead because Lila is far more interesting than Ames, I've decided I probably won't be picking up more of Robinson's fiction. But if you liked Gilead, then you'll likely love Lila.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Length: 273 pages
Publication date: October 7, 2014 
Source: library

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

Want more? Like Marilynne Robinson 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!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

book review: Blackout by Sarah Hepola

The backstory: I've been reading Sarah Hepola's work for years on the Internet, thanks to one of my oldest and best friends, Kathleen, who introduced me to her writing on The Morning News in the (very) early 2000's. I greeted the publication of her first memoir with delight.

The basics: Blackout chronicles Sarah Hepola's complicated relationship with alcohol from childhood to the present, when she is happily sober.

My thoughts: I've been saying Sarah Hepola is one of my favorite writers for more than ten years, and I had just about stopped saying it because I was starting to dread the typical follow-up question about what books she's written when the asker has no desire to read a slew of Internet links. Now I can hand them a book. Blackout is one of those books that makes me pause when I try to describe it. It is absolutely about drinking heavily, blacking out, and Hepola's road to sobriety. That description wouldn't have made me pick it up, and it doesn't even begin to do this memoir justice. It's a story about life and connections, and for Hepola, alcohol figured heavily: "But I wanted my own stories, and I understood drinking to be the gasoline of all adventure. The best evenings were the ones you might regret."

I highlighted about half of this book. Hepola is a brilliant wordsmith. She pinpoints feelings and emotions with a beautiful precision that leaves me thinking, "yes! That's exactly what that feels/felt like." I can't say if my affinity for Hepola is a sign that we're very similar feelers and thinkers and that I treasure her ability to make me feel understood my reading about her experiences, thoughts, and feelings. I can say, even if I were the demographic antithesis of Hepola, I bet I'd still be wowed by her writing and searing honesty.

Favorite passage: "I've always been mixed up about attention, enjoying its warmth but not its scrutiny. I swear I've spent half my life hiding behind a couch and the other half wondering why no one was paying attention to me."

The verdict: Sarah Hepola is one of those writers who makes me say fangirl things like "I would read anything she writes." But I would. I'll also re-read this one, as much for the prose and insight as her ability to share so much with such poignant vulnerability.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 231 pages
Publication date: June 23, 2015
Source: publisher

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

Want more? Visit Sarah Hepola's website, follow 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, August 10, 2015

book review: Devil's Bridge by Linda Fairstein

The backstory: Devil's Bridge is Linda Fairstein's seventeenth mystery to feature New York City sex crimes ADA Alexandra Cooper. I discovered this series early in 2003, when The Bone Vault, the fifth book was released. I quickly read all five, and since then, I've eagerly awaited the publication of each book. Alexandra Cooper has been in my life longer than Mr. Nomadreader has.

This review will contain minor spoilers from earlier books, particularly Terminal City and where Alex's romantic life stood at the end of that novel.

The basics: Devil's Bridge opens up a few weeks after Terminal City. Mike and Alex are slowly feeling their way into a relationship that's new, even if they've been close friends for many years, and they're fielding questions most people get to avoid in the early weeks of new relationships. Early in the book, (minor spoiler) Alex is kidnapped, and Mike begins narrating the search for her.

My thoughts: I didn't know I was yearning for Mike to narrate a novel, but when the narration switched, I got excited. This device worked beautifully. It offered insight into his thoughts and feelings, but it also was incredibly effective as a storytelling technique. Although Alex works closely with Mike and Mercer in most novels, I enjoyed the opportunity to just focus on the mystery as a police procedural. I also liked having more direct insight into Mike as a character, including the history of his feelings for Alex.

There's an urgency to this novel because no one knows where Alex is. It reads quickly, and I was completely engrossed. Yet after I finished the book, I felt some frustration for the series. The last few books have all taken place in the span of a few months, which allows for little character growth, either during the books or between them. Particularly given the changes I've been hoping for for more than ten years and expecting for more than five, part of me is ready to just be there. Admittedly, Fairstein has come up with wonderful diversions for Alex and Mike the last few years, and perhaps if I were reading them all for the first time in quick succession it would feel fine, but to wait a year for the next adventure and mind more mystery than character movement feels like we're all standing a bit too still.

The verdict: Devil's Bridge is an adventurous thriller and a unique entry in this long-running and well loved series. In many ways, it stands on its own and would be a nice place for new readers to enter this series. The mystery is superb, but this long-time fan wanted more development in Alex's personal and romantic lives. And with Alex absent for much of this novel, I'm really looking forward to spending time again with her in the next book (but I wouldn't mind it at all if Mike helped tell the story.)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: August 11, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Devil's Bridge from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Linda Fairstein'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!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

book review: Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman

The backstory: Fear the Darkness is the second mystery featuring former FBI agent Brigid Quinn. I loved the first one, Rage Against the Dying.

The basics: When Brigid's sister-in-law dies, she agrees to let her seventeen-year-old daughter Gemma-Kate move from Florida and live with her (and her husband Carlo.) Around the same time, she agrees to investigate the somewhat suspicious drowning death of a fourteen-year-old boy. Also, things start seeming off with Brigid's own mind and body.

My thoughts: There are essentially three mysteries at the center of Fear the Darkness. First: what is wrong with Brigid? Second: was Joe's death in the pool an accident, a suicide or a homicide? Third: is Gemma-Kate a psychopath. All of these storylines are interesting at times, but none of them seem to move along particularly quickly. The only running theme is that things are perhaps not quite what they seem, but is anything actually happening?

It's clear to the reader that Brigid is being poisoned in some way. She narrates this novel from the vague future, when the novel's events have culminated. Given her knowledge, the novel reads awkwardly. Why is Brigid not sharing the things she knows now? Obviously she's waiting for a big reveal, but it made much of the novel feel unnecessary. As a reader, I find it incredibly frustrating to have a narrator who is not terribly smart, unless there is a compelling narrative reason for it. In Fear the Darkness, it was an exercise in frustration:
"Oh, and before I move on, do I need to remind anyone that if my brain hadn't been fried by the drugs, I could figured all this out without [redacted]'s help?"
No, Brigid, you don't. The readers' brains aren't being fried by drugs; they're being fried by boredom. I'm being harsh on Brigid (and by extension Masterman.) I know it, but I'm not sorry. Here's why: Rage Against the Dying was a fantastic debut, and Masterman is capable of much better storytelling. But the real kicker is this: the resolution and reveals in Fear the Darkness are good. I guessed much of them, but once Brigid finally started figuring things out, this book got really good. When I finished this uneven, frustrating, and compelling novel, I kept thinking there has to be a better way to tell this story to make it more compelling and less frustrating.

Favorite passage: "The thing with really smart people, though, is they often underestimate the rest of us."

The verdict: The resolution of this novel was interesting enough to merit three stars, but the set-up was long, frustrating and arduous. An unwittingly feeble Brigid Quinn was more frustrating than compelling. There are some really good parts to this novel, but I fear the boring parts more than the darkness.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 336 pages 
Publication date: January 20, 2015 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Fear the Darkness from Amazon (Kindle edition.) Better yet: buy Rage Against the Dying from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Becky Masterman'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, July 29, 2015

The 2015 Booker Dozen: A U.S. Reader's Guide

When last year's Booker Prize longlist was announced, I was very, very pregnant. As excited as I was for the first year the Prize was open globally, I was mostly thinking, "am I going to have a baby today?!" I did not have one for many more days. But this year, I found myself getting really excited. I didn't even pretend to predict which titles would make it, as the Prize is so wide open now, and the longlist relatively short at 12-13, it seemed fruitless. Instead, I found myself hoping for books I've loved to make it. I got one wish: The Green Road by Anne Enright. I adored this novel, and I'm thrilled to see that it's longlisted (and that Enright is the only former winner on this year's longlist.) Here it is (covers take you to Amazon, links to my reviews.)

The Ones I've Already Read

The Green Road by Anne Enright (4.5 stars)
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (4 stars)

The Ones Available in the U.S. Now

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagan
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

The Ones Coming (Somewhat) Soon to the U.S.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (September 8, 2015)
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (March 1, 2016)

The Ones We Hope Make Their Way to the U.S.

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy
The Chimes by Anna Smaill

total page count (via Amazon U.S): 4882

Quick thoughts: As I said, I'm thrilled to see the Enright. I'm surprised to see Anne Tyler here, just as I was surprised to see it make the Baileys Prize short list. It's a good novel, but I didn't find it to be extraordinary. And if we're talking compelling family sagas, I still can't shut up about The Shore by Sara Taylor, which I'm devastated to not see on the longlist. Overall, I think it's an intriguing and relatively diverse list. I'm most surprised to see Bill Clegg here, but I am looking forward to his novel, even if I didn't love his first memoir.

The longlist always comes with at least a few titles that weren't on my radar at all, and this year brings Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy, an author who has been on my TBR list for years. I didn't know she had a new book out in the UK, so I'm thrilled to have it on the way from The Book Depository. The other new-to-me title is The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagan. I have no idea why I haven't heard of it, but it sounds right up my alley. 

I'm not committing to reading the entire longlist, even if this year's judges seem to share my affinity for novels of a reasonable length (under 350 pages for me.) There are only two and a half chunksters (novels between 400-500 pages aren't quite chunksters, but 480 pages is pretty close.) I'll be very curious to see what makes the shortlist in September (obviously), and I'm looking forward to reading most of these, as most were already on my neverending TBR.

Now tell me: what book are you most excited to see on the longlist? What book are you most devastated to see left off?

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 23, 2015

audiobook review: How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

narrated by Tavia Gilbert

The basics: Told in a non-chronological narrative, How to Start a Fire is the story of friendship of Kate, Anna, and Georgiana. It stretches from their college days at UC-Santa Cruz in the early 1990's to 2015.

My thoughts: At first I feared a non-chronological (and largely non-linear) narrative would be a challenge to listen to on audio. A quick glance at the table of contents gave me pause, but I'm so glad I opted for this one on audio. Tavia Gilbert gave each character a distinctive voice. At times I forgot there was only one narrator, as she excelled at this cast of voices. As I often listen to audios in short spurts while driving, I didn't always remember exactly what year and city I left off, but I was able to immediately get back into the story. The longer I listened, the more I learned about the timelines and geographies of the three friends, and I was able to fix the larger stories of their life quite well.

How to Start a Fire excels in two main ways, First, Anna, Kate, and George are each fascinating. Second, their friendship is complicated, loving, and authentic. It's somewhat mysterious, and I admit to jumping to the wrong conclusions more than once. Because we see the after before the middle, it was fascinating to guess the whys and hows. While this structure made the book fun to read and kept me guessing, it also made the ending feel like not quite enough. In a book with so many surprises, I wanted one more revelation in the final chapter. Sometimes when I'm listening to audiobooks, the ending feels abrupt. I'm not usually looking at how many pages (or what percent of the book) I have left. And the ending to How to Start a Fire felt especially abrupt. Despite the non-linear narrative, I was still expecting something to tie things together more at the finite end. While I quite enjoyed the experience of listening to this book, I'm left unsure of what I think of it as a whole, largely because of my disaffection for the ending.

The verdict: How to Start a Fire is an engaging and mysterious tale of friendship. Although I wanted one more revelation in the final chapter, the listening experience was a great one.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 10 hours 53 minutes (352 pages)
Publication date: May 12, 2015
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy How to Start a Fire from Amazon (Kindle edition.) 

Want more? Visit Lisa Lutz'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!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

book review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

The basics: Modern Romance is a hilarious and informative book about modern romance. It's part comedy, part sociology and part memoir that discovers what and how we love, date, have sex, and marry today.

My thoughts: I did not watch The Office, so I did not discover my love for Aziz Ansari until his Netflix stand-up special, which I thought was hilarious, and I enjoy stand-up less than the average person. So when I heard the premise of this book was a take on one of the funnier bits from that stand-up routine, I jumped at the chance to read it.

Modern Romance isn't what I expected. It is not a typical celebrity comedian memoir, but there are still fascinating (and hilarious) insights into Ansari's life. He frankly discusses his own love life and pontificates on his happily married parents, who have an arranged marriage.

Mr. Nomadreader and I have been together almost ten years, so I have never dated in the age of Tinder. I didn't even have Facebook when we started dating. There is a lot I don't know about what it's like to date today, and Ansari explored his own dating life, but he also shared fascinating insights about how different dating is across the United States (the distinctions between large cities, small cities and small towns was particularly illuminating) and in other parts of the world. Through focus groups, audience members at his comedy shows, legitimate sociological research (with co-author Erik Klinenberg), and his own experience, Ansari has created a unique research artifact that is both entertaining and informative.

Favorite passage:  "That's the thing about the Internet: It doesn't simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea that there is a beat thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it. And in turn there are a whole bunch of inferior things that we'd be foolish to choose."

The verdict: Modern Romance was as funny as I hope, but it's layered with deep thinking and fascinating sociological data I didn't expect. This unusual combination helps make it impulsively readable. It's entertaining, hilarious, and informative.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: June 16, 2015 
Source: publisher

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

Want more? Visit Aziz Ansari's website, like 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!

Monday, July 20, 2015

book review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The backstory: When the publication of Go Set a Watchman was announced, I finally read To Kill a Mockingbird, which I didn't love, but I still hoped to enjoy Go Set a Watchman more, and I did.

The basics: Jean Louise Finch returns to Maycomb from New York City for her annual two-week visit.

My thoughts: Going into Go Set a Watchman, I admit I was reading it in multiple ways. I was reading it as though it were a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, which it sort of is. I was also reading it as a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, which it also sort of it. But both of these readings exist with To Kill a Mockingbird as a known book. Much as I tried to identify what it would be like to read this novel without having read that book, I couldn't. While I both enjoyed Go Set a Watchman more and think it's a better book, I'm not sure it would stand on its own as well as it stands next to To Kill a Mockingbird.

My issues with To Kill a Mockingbird were pretty straight-forward: Scout idolized Atticus (as all 6-year-olds do, but it was still an annoyance) and everything was just too black and white/good and bad. It lacked the moral complexities and ambiguities I crave. As much as I hate to use my former favorite metaphor now that it's been literarily high-jacked, I prefer my fiction to exist in many shades of grey. So an adult Scout immediately appealed to me. She's feisty and confident. She is firm in her beliefs. She's fascinating: "It’s just that I’m so afraid of making a mess of being married to the wrong man—the wrong kind for me, I mean. I’m no different from any other woman, and the wrong man would turn me into a screamin’ shrew in record time.”

But I didn't just like Jean Louise better than I liked Scout, I felt as though Jean Louise was reaching out as a lifeline from another time. And she is. I don't read many classics. I read a fair amount of historical fiction, but I realized while reading this novel how rare it is for me to read a book written in a time before mine. I don't know why this idea was so powerful to me, but it makes me want to push myself to read more books that were contemporary fiction when they were published.

Go Set a Watchman isn't perfect. I found the three flashback scenes to Scout's youth to be particularly dull (and oddly integrated), and the middle part dragged a bit for me. But once Jean Louise really starts to grapple with the complexities of race in the south through conversations, Watchman really hits its stride:
"The remnants of that little army had children—God, how they multiplied—the South went through the Reconstruction with only one permanent political change: there was no more slavery. The people became no less than what they were to begin with—in some cases they became horrifyingly more. They were never destroyed. They were ground into the dirt and up they popped. Up popped Tobacco Road, and up popped the ugliest, most shameful aspect of it all—the breed of white man who lived in open economic competition with freed Negroes."
To scholars of history, it isn't news. The recent book and documentary Slavery by Another Name sheds a lot of light on how we got from the Civil War to where we are today. To read Harper Lee so eloquently explain it through the dialogue of multiple characters was a tour de force. To hear it from characters readers already know (and mostly love), wowed me. The publication of this book has been both necessarily scrutinized and controversial, but after having finished it, I'm more surprised that people who have read it think it shouldn't have been published. This Atticus gets his oratorical moments, and they are just as good as the ones from To Kill a Mockingbird. The only difference I see is that he's having these conversations with a grown-up Jean Louise instead of a six-year-old Scout. These conversations are much more complicated, interesting and necessary than those childhood moral fables. Haven't we all had to deal with the emotional and intellectual fallout of realizing those we idolize as children are in fact human? To do so along with Jean Louise is quite the intellectual experience, and even as I think Go Set a Watchman is the better book, part of what makes it better is the shared experience of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Favorite passage:  "Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends."

The verdict: Go Set a Watchman is a more ambitious and more complicated novel than To Kill a Mockingbird. I also think it's a better novel, but it's not perfect. Still, I appreciate its moral complexities immensely. Jean Louise is refreshing, and the reader shares Jean Louise's shock at seeing a much-revered figure does not remain perfect under adult scrutiny. But this Atticus is still wise, and these conversations are necessary to understand the differences between realism and idealism.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: July 14, 2015
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Go Set a Watchman from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

P.S. I love my local library so much: not only did they open up the ebook and digital audiobook for holds weeks before publication, Go Set a Watchman seamlessly appeared on my Kindle before I woke up Tuesday.

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 19, 2015

And then....

About six weeks ago I posted about my unintentional absence from blogging and reading. I blamed (in a not-angry-at-way) Hawthorne, who had just learned to crawl. Then I had one of those hilarious parent-brain moments when I took the time to actually say out loud to Mr. Nomadreader: "I wish there were a way to keep him in a rooms." Then we both laughed. Because we live in a 102-year-old house that has doors (often double doors) between every room. So they are now shut, and I have resumed reading while watching him explore and amuse himself. He crawls over (or walks along the couch) to say hello to me every 10-15 minutes, or to show me some awesome thing he's playing with, so I've been reading a lot of things that don't require intense concentration (I miss you, literary fiction!) But the second I open the computer to try to blog about one of those books...he is grabbing it out of my hands or typing with me, which turns my English into gobbledygook. Which is why I now have 25 unwritten book reviews. Many of these books I have loved and am dying to tell you all about. Thankfully, I am a good note-taker. And I have a new strategy for catching up and staying caught up (detailed after adorable pictures.)

So...speaking of Hawthorne, he is eleven months old! I am really excited for his birthday, even if we have no actual plans of how to celebrate it yet (besides the New York grandparents flying in.) People keep asking me if I can believe I have a one-year old. But I can believe it, mostly because I have felt those shocked feelings with other people's children on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Instagram. So I was ready. And I'm only having one baby, so I've tried to be mindful of enjoying the good parts of every stage and looking forward to the next stage, while not focusing on the bad parts of each stage. Watching a baby grow into a child a little each day is a pretty amazing thing.

He has learned to turn board book pages, and is rarely without a book in his hands...
....even if it's upside down (I hand this book to him right-side up every time, and he turns it around. I guess Global Babies are best looked at upside down.) Books are his favorite toys, which warms my heart.

And despite a slow, skeptical start with food that doesn't come in a bottle, he has turned into a delightfully adventurous eater who enjoys anything anyone is eating.
Here he emotes about raspberries in a sea of blueberries, blackberries and strawberries.

On a recent play date, he got to eat his first waffle.
Notice his strong grip on the quarter in his right hand too! Sorry for denying you grains, kid. He is also a huge fan of blue cheese and chorizo. We are not the parents who plan different meals for our kid. If he's awake when we eat, he gets to have some of whatever we're eating that he shows an interest in. (He also still has four bottles a day and several pouches of pureed baby food.)

In summation: life is good. Hawthorne is almost one. I've managed to read seventy-two books so far this year, which is awesome, especially as a full-time working parent. And I hope to have posts here for you most days by reverting to the strategy I used while on maternity leave: write all (or most) of the week's posts in one sitting. A change in Mr. Nomadreader's work schedule means we'll have much more time together on the weekends, so I'm claiming a few hours a weekend for blog activities. Wish me luck! And look for my review of Go Set a Watchman tomorrow!

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 2, 2015

book review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano

The basics:  "Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles? Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again."--publisher

My thoughts: If you would have told me that a Japanese book on cleaning, written by a cleaning consultant, would be one of the books to have the biggest impact on my thinking, I would have laughed loudly for a long time. I am not saying The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is the best book I've read this year (it's not) or that it has necessarily changed my life (yet), but it did change the way I think, and it's rare for a book to make me rethink and reevaluate so many things in which I believe. Granted, I don't devote much time or energy to cleaning, so this thinking that changed is in some ways minor, but there's something magical about a book you expect to dismiss having such a deep impact on your thinking (and I hope my life.) I highlighted eighteen passages. I also rolled my eyes about eighteen times. This book might just change my life.

I could best describe my approach to cleaning as "if it looks dirty, I clean it." But Kondo isn't talking about dirtiness and cleaning; she talks about clutter and tidying. This book is about how much stuff you have and where you put it. My prior method of tidying is giving away and throwing away massive amounts of things I forgot I had each time I move. Now that we own a house (and we intend to live in it for 30+ years), I knew I needed a new approach so Hawthorne doesn't have to one day deal with all of our possessions.

Here's how this book has the potential to change my life: I'm planning, by the end of 2015, to get rid of approximately 75% of my possessions. Clothes, books, papers, and things are leaving. Even weirder (to me): I'm really excited about the actual tidying. Instead of it feeling like an obligation, Kondo has transformed my thinking to excite me about the process because I'm excited about the results. So far the process has been cathartic, and we're in the very early stages.

Kondo is a bit hokey for me at times, but I agree with her ideas, even if I find her seriousness about the feelings of objects to be silly:
"That particular article of clothing has already completed its role in your life, and you are free to say, “Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,” or “Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me,” and let it go. Every object has a different role to play. Not all clothes have come to you to be worn threadbare. It is the same with people. Not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or lover. Some you will find hard to get along with or impossible to like. But these people, too, teach you the precious lesson of who you do like, so that you will appreciate those special people even more."
At the beginning of this passage, I find myself rolling my eyes, but as she extends the metaphor, it makes complete sense to me. I don't let guilt guide me in life, so why should I fill my home with objects that make me feel guilty (consciously or not?)

Here are my three biggest take-aways from this book:
  1. Every object in your home should be bring you joy.
  2. "Clutter has only two possible causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong."
  3. "But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future."
Favorite passage:  "Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out." (a complete a-ha moment)

The verdict: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is the most surprising book of the year for me. I can't quite say I loved it, but I do love so many of its ideas, and I'm already incorporating them into my life. It's a simple, straight-forward book filled with fascinating, transformative ideas. At times I wished desperately for images or diagrams, particularly for the Japanese way of folding clothes in drawers, and I'm excited for the sequel, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Life-Changing KonMari Method, which will be published December 29, 2015--after Christmas? For shame!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 224 pages
Publication date: October 14, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up from Amazon (Kindle edition.) 

Want more? Visit Marie Kondo'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!

Monday, June 29, 2015

book review: Murder, D.C.

The backstory: Neely Tucker's first mystery novel featuring Sully Carter, The Ways of the Dead, was one of my favorite reads last year.

The basics: Murder, D.C. picks up shortly after the events of The Ways of the Dead, and it contains some spoilers from that novel. Here, Billy Ellison, the only son of DC's most influential black family is found dead in Frenchman's Bend, an unsavory part of town with deep historical roots. Veteran journalist and former war correspondent Sully Carter uses his connections to solve the crime and write the story.

My thoughts: Sully Carter is a fascinating and complicated character. Much like Harry Bosch, he's an antihero of sorts. I find myself rooting for him most of the time, but I did wince at him a few times in this novel. I appreciate his complexity because it mimics the mystery itself. A whodunit can seem simple, but murder isn't typically committed in a vaccuum. Knowing who did it is only part of the story. In Murder, D.C., the murder itself is perhaps the least interesting mystery.

This passage from my review of The Ways of the Dead works just as well for Murder, D.C.: "I typically prefer my mysteries to feature law enforcement, but the set-up of this mystery would be unlikely, if not impossible, to tell via a traditional investigation. It takes a journalist to see the patterns, and his neighborhood contacts, including those in law enforcement, share with him what they wouldn't share with others--mostly due to his long-established relationships with those contacts, but also to his reputation as a journalist. Tucker writes with reverence for the veteran journalist." In Murder, D.C., I particularly appreciated the relationships Sully has with the police. They work together in interesting ways, and both acknowledge they rely on one another.

Favorite passage: "People liked to get upset about homicide, Sully thought, phone in hand, acting like it was the worst thing ever done, something no civilized society would stand for...and yet most cases went unsolved because no one who knew enough cared to get involved. The shooters who got away with killings weren't brilliant. They just killed people nobody really cared about."

The verdict: Murder, D.C. cements Neely Tucker as a not only a damn good mystery writer but also one concerned with social justice and history. Like The Ways of the Dead, Murder, D.C. is a compelling mystery with complicated themes. Thankfully, it works on both levels. It's riveting, informative, and it will leave you thinking.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: June 30, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Murder, D.C. from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Neely Tucker'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!