Friday, March 24, 2017

book journal: Moral Defense by Marcia Clark

The backstory:  Moral Defense is the second legal mystery in Marcia Clark's series featuring Samantha Brinkman, a Los Angeles defense attorney. I loved the first, Blood Defense (my review.) I also loved Clark's first series, featuring Los Angeles prosecutor Rachel Knight.

The basics: Blood Defense ended with a lot of information, and Moral Defense picks up those storylines, while featuring the murder of a father and brother, and the attempted murder of the mother. Samantha is serving as the legal advocate for Cassie, the daughter who was not harmed in the crime.

My thoughts: Moral Defense features three  storylines, each one involving a different client. Two are holdovers from the first book, while Cassie's story is new and is the primary plot. The central mystery is who killed Cassie's family. All three storylines were interesting, and Clark is so good at incorporating expected and unexpected twists. I found myself somewhat let down by the Cassie storyline, partly because the most satisfying (and unexpected) twist isn't the last one. That storyline peaked a little too soon and lost momentum. I wish it would have wrapped up a bit more quickly. Still, it was compelling and entertaining.

Meanwhile, I found the two lingering storylines chugged along for most of the novel only to peak at the end. As I finished this novel, I once again found myself eager for the next one (out in August). It's hard to talk about this novel without spoiling all or part of it, but I'll vaguely say: once again Clark drops a bomb in the closing scene that will definitely shape the next novel. Clark is pushing this series along in fascinating ways, and I'm excited to see where the storylines for Samantha and the three supporting characters go next.

Favorite passage:  "Someday, people are going to care more about what we say and do than what we look like."

The verdict: Moral Defense isn't as accomplished of a mystery as Blood Defense, but it is an entertaining and thought-provoking read. It sets the stage for Snap Judgment (out August 29, 2017) beautifully. I'll be eagerly awaiting its publication.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 426 pages
Publication date: November 8, 2016
Source: Kindle owner's lending library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Moral Defense from Amazon (Kindle edition is only $1.99), but you should really start with Blood Defense (only $1.99 for Kindle!)

Want more? Visit Marcia Clark's websitelike 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, January 9, 2017

book journal: A Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan

This year, Mr. Nomadreader and I are starting a new tradition for our family: we hope to visit one new country each year with Hawthorne. Our family is complete, and I'm excited to be starting a new family tradition. Hawthorne will be two and a half next month (!), and we're ready to start showing him the world. Our first destination: Amsterdam, this spring. While we've been studying the guidebooks and planning our days, I've also been busy making lists of fiction I want to read that is set in Amsterdam, both past and present.

I've been intrigued by Chris Ewan's The Good Thief series, as each one is set in a different city, but our trip made me pick up his first in the series, The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam. The titular good thief is Charlie Howard, a novelist who writes books about a globetrotting thief named Faulks. He also secretly works as a thief himself.

There is a lot going on in this novel. In its opening pages, Charlie gets an intriguing offer to steal two monkey figurines to match the set's third (it's a classic see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.) It seems too good to be true, and predictably, things go terribly wrong. Thankfully, they go wrong in an incredibly fascinating and compelling way. As things are going awry in the thieving life, Charlie is also struggling with a key plot point in the manuscript of his latest novel he's submitted to his agent and confidante, Victoria. While the plot of his novel is interesting, and provides keen insights into Charlie's mind (as well as a few carefully placed similarities to the case he's working in real life), the star of this show is figuring out the thieving mystery.

Considering how much danger and death there is in this novel, it feels comedic at times (and partly farcical.) Ewan pulls off this tone well. While some of the twists in this novel are expected to those who are fans of mysteries, I got the sense Ewan wanted the audience to expect some of the twists, so when he pulled the real ones, I was even more surprised (and impressed.) This novel feels like a combination of homage and something new. Although it's his debut novel, he writes with the skill of his character, Charlie, who has been novels under his belt.

I chose this novel for both its location and its premise, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. Because we'll be in Amsterdam this spring, I took the time to look up some of the locations I wouldn't otherwise have done as I read, and Ewan seems to captures the ambiance and neighborhoods well. Most importantly, he ties the geography to the characters and mystery. I'll definitely be reading the next novel in this series, The Good Thief's Guide to Paris. Even if you're not heading to Amsterdam soon (or if you've already been), The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam is a fun, funny, engaging and twisty read.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: November 2007
Source: library 

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Chris Ewan's website 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, January 2, 2017

book journal: The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley

Books are one of my favorite ways of exploring new places and revisiting familiar places. When I travel, I've always loved to read books set in the place I'm visiting. This year, I'm leading a J-term travel seminar to Chiang Mai, Thailand. The course is the culmination of almost two years of work, and I'm spent a lot of time learning about Thailand. When our flights were finalized, I learned we're flying through Beijing both ways. I began seeking out books about China, and I was intrigued by Susan Conley's memoir about the two years she and her family spent living in Beijing. Conley is a novelist, and I'm drawn to memoirs written by fiction writers. Moreover, I wasn't necessarily interested in immersing myself in China; I wanted to see it through the eyes of a western woman so I could anticipate my own experience with culture shock. I sought answers to the questions I didn't even know to ask. I wanted insight into Chinese culture and the difficulty of adjusting to it.

There are many places in the world I can imagine myself living, particularly in the short term, but China is not one of them. I am intimidated of China and would be deeply uncomfortable living under its government's laws. Conley wasn't as reluctant as I am, but she was certainly trepidatious in ways I could easily relate to. I enjoyed joining Conley in her frustration and joys, be they related to China, parenting two young boys, or cancer.

While this is a travel memoir, it's more of a personal memoir. While in Beijing, Conley learns she has breast cancer. In that sense, this memoir is one of two journeys, but those journeys are inextricably linked. Conley doesn't isolate her thoughts on cancer, living in China, or any other part of her experience; this memoir is the story of two years in her life. I came seeking a book about Beijing, and while I got that, I got so much more out of reading this memoir. One of the highlights of this memoir was discovering Conley's close friendship with Lily King (I adored her last novel, Euphoria.) I think one of the reasons I love reading nonfiction by fiction writers is discovering all of their connections and friendships.

While living in Beijing, Conley worked on a novel that would become Paris Was the Place. It's premise intrigues me, and given how much I enjoyed Conley's writing in this book, I'm adding it to my list.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 280 pages
Publication date: February 2011
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Foremost Good Fortune from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Favorite Reads of 2016

2016 wasn't my most productive year of reading, but I did manage to read 104 books, which averages out to two a week, and I'm pleased with that. I didn't review most of those, so this post is not full of linked reviews as in years past,  but I did rate eight of them 5 stars. 19 more were 4.5 star reads. The books I loved were incredibly diverse in genre, so this year, instead of ranking them, I offer my favorites by categories. Dig in! (Pictures take you to Amazon and linked titles take you to my reviews--if I actually wrote one.)

Best Comic (tie)

Something New by Lucy Knisley & Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Best Nonfiction

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

Best Short Story Collection

American Housewife by Helen Ellis

Runner Up: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Best Mystery (standalone)

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

Runner Up: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Best New Mystery Series (tie)

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark (Samantha Brinkman series) & City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong (Casey Duncan series)

Best Audiobook

All Involved by Ryan Gattis

Runner Up: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Great New Novels by Authors I Already Loved

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Ex by Alafair Burke
The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Best Debut Novel 

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Runner Up: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Honorable Mention: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

Best Novel

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Now tell me: what were your favorite reads of 2016?

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 31, 2016

Looking Back on 2016 and Looking Forward to 2017 (and beyond)

Oh, 2016: the year I accidentally quit blogging. I didn't actually quit blogging, but I rarely chose to spend my time blogging. I posted only 44 times this year. I think I spent more time creating elaborate lists about how I could and would catch up on all the unreviewed books I read than actually blogging. I miss blogging, both the writing and the interacting with those of you who (still?) read this blog. As I've been thinking (yet again) about what the realistic future of this space, I realized how much my online book life has changed in since I started blogging 2007. These days, I do more interacting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Litsy than here. I'm okay with that switch, but I realize I'm more drawn to those kinds of conversations about books than I am in writing reviews, and I want to make this space reflect what I'm most enjoying (and finding the time for) elsewhere.

So what's next? I want to talk about books more than review them. It's a fine line, I know, but I want to move toward writing more about what I'm reading and why. I'm imagining it as book journaling, with more emphasis on the book than my life, but I'm most interested in exploring the books from a personal point of view than a professional one. I've realized I have no desire to be an objective book reviewer; I don't want blogging to feel like work. At some point, blogging became an endurance sport filled with spreadsheets outlining publication dates and galleys wished for and received. I think the biggest disconnect with the blog is that what I was reading became disconnected with what was appearing on the blog. On Twitter, I have the freedom to write about what I'm reading when I'm reading, and I want to find a way to talk about what I'm reading in this space.

I want to spend 2017 reading more, writing more, and blogging more. I don't know precisely what this space will evolve into in the coming months, but I hope to see this space be an object of pride again rather than a neglected object of guilt.

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, November 1, 2016

book review: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

The backstory: Michael Connelly is my favorite mystery writer. I've read and reviewed all twenty-eight (and now twenty-nine) books.

The basics: Harry is once again out of the LAPD and working as a private investigator. The case: discover if a very rich and powerful old man fathered a child in his youth and has an heir. At the same time, Harry is working as a volunteer detective for tiny San Fernando PD, where he's putting together pieces of what appear to be a number of crimes committed by the same perpetrator.

My thoughts: When I first started reading Michael Connelly, I loved that time passed between his books in real time. Each time we see Harry Bosch, he's a year or two older. But the first Bosch book came out in 1992. It's now 2016, and part of my brain knows Harry Bosch can't live and work forever. Until then, however, I eagerly await and savor each new installment. This one certainly does not disappoint.

In all the roles Bosch has served in over the years and the books, I think my favorite were when he worked on cold cases. The private investigator storyline in The Wrong Side of Goodbye feels like a cold case, and it's fascinating. Historical detective work is challenging, and the clues are few, but the chase can feel more surprising. In a sense, the private eye case could have been enough for its own novel, but the introduction of Bosch working for San Fernando is a delight, as it signals a future for the series. The case and characters here are well formed. In that sense, this novel feels like a refresh for the series. Although, if Connelly has showed one thing, it's not to get to used to where Bosch is or what he's doing, and that's part of the reason these books are so fun and so compelling.

Favorite passage: "The debate over whether to go public with the case and ask for the help of citizens was simmering on the back burner in the office of Chief Valdez. It was an age-old law enforcement question: Go public and possibly draw a lead that breaks the case open and leads to an arrest? Or go public and possibly alert the predator, who changes up his patterns or moves on and visits his terror on an unsuspecting community somewhere else?"

The verdict: The Wrong Side of Goodbye offers two very compelling mysteries, and as I read I marveled how Connelly could weave them together without crowding the narrative or slowing momentum.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 400 pages
Publication date: November 1, 2016
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Wrong Side of Goodbye from Amazon (Kindle edition.) But you really should start at the beginning with The Black Echo (my review.)

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

book review: Spot 12 by Jenny Jaeckel

The basics: Spot 12 is Jenny Jaeckel's graphic memoir of her experience giving birth and the months following, when her daughter Asa was in intensive care. 

My thoughts: The premise of this book sounded right up my alley. Since I gave birth (26 months ago now), I've stayed interested in parents, particularly mothers, talking about the transition into parenthood. I was curious to see how Jaeckel's transition was similar and different given her daughter's health problems.

Unfortunately, I found Spot 12 to be more of journal than a memoir. The language was mostly simplistic and recounted events. I kept waiting for Jaeckel to offer more insight or hindsight, but it didn't happen. I was yearning for wisdom.

I think a few of Jaeckel's style choices contributed to the emotional disconnect I felt with Jaeckel's story. First, the memoir is entirely black and white and doesn't play much with the shape and size of cells. I prefer my comics to push the medium farther in terms of color and shape aesthetics. Second, the text rarely interplayed directly with the graphics. Too often, I found myself wondering why the images were there or why they were associated with that text. Lastly, Jaeckel chose to depict all the characters as animals and give them cutesy names. I found both distracting and at times confounding.

I'll be honest, Jaeckel and I look at the world very differently, and I wish she would have explored more of her choices and viewpoints to offer her perspective. She was against vaccination, but she glosses over it with a single sentence, which I found maddening. She references a family friend who "regularly visits the unknown" and claims to have talked to Asa. I'm willing to go on these journeys with an author, but I want more context and reflection to help make sense of them. I actually found the afterward to be the most interesting part of the book, as Jaeckel gives an update for this American release on where she and her family are now.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Length: 116 pages
Publication date: October 7, 2016
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Want to read for yourself? Buy Spot 12 from Amazon (no Kindle edition) or Barnes and NobleWant more? Visit all the stops on the tour (spoiler: lots of other people really liked it!), visit Jenny Jaeckel'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!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

On reading guilt

I've been feeling guilty about my reading this year. I'm not reading as much as I was. I have bright spots, particularly when I travel for work and remember how much time in the day there is after a long day of work when I'm not playing with and taking care of a two-year old. This summer, I felt the shift as my reading became predominantly audiobooks, boosted by a nanny share that required a lot of driving (by Des Moines standards) two days a week. I realized I rarely picked up an actual book or my Kindle to read. I'd get back in the groove with one book, but then I'd lose my momentum again when I finished it.

When classes started, I found myself so stressed and intellectually exhausted that I often chose music in the car instead of my audiobook. I have been listening to the same audiobook since August 13th. I like it, but it is heavy, and I'm not always in the mood to listen to it. This weekend I finished a mystery by one of my favorite mystery writers. I started it August 9th, as I planned to read it on the flight from Shanghai to Dallas. I read a little on that flight, but mostly I watched tv. Recently, I went days without even opening my Kindle. I pick it up many times a day: I carry it up to bed each night, I bring it back down in the morning. I put it in my purse each day when I leave the house, and return it to the couch with me when I get home. But I don't read.

Lately I feel overstimulated. I'm really happy, but I don't have enough time to enjoy all the things I enjoy as much as I want to. I love my two-year-old, and even though part of me was dreading the terrible twos, they haven't hit yet. He has his moments of course, but I choose to focus on the amazement I have about all he is learning. His vocabulary is exploding. He knows his colors. He's learning numbers and letters. He's learning to put together phrases and rudimentary sentences. He's wonderful and exhausting, and I can't wait to see him when we're apart, and then I look forward to bedtime so I can have some 'me' time.

I love my job too. I'm in my sixth year there, and I love it even more each year, as I have the freedom to explore new ideas and ventures, and I keep morphing my job to include even more of the things I enjoy. I work in higher education, where a traditional work day is not a thing, particularly during the semesters. I bring home work with me. I answer emails from my phone at night. I cannot do my job the way I want to do it forty hours a week. And I'm okay with that because my job invigorates me, and I feel good about the work I do. I have a spouse who works a very different schedule than I do, which leads to a lot of solo parenting (for both of us.) I love the one-on-one time with Hawthorne, but it means there's less time for just me.

This morning I woke up before Hawthorne, and I decided to come downstairs and read a book instead of reading Facebook on my phone in bed. I finished a book last night, so I logged into Goodreads, determined to pick one (or more) of the books I'm currently reading, but likely haven't picked up in awhile, I saw that I've read 73 books so far this year. Something in my brain clicked, and I asked myself, "why are you feeling guilty about not reading again? 73 books by mid-October isn't terrible." It isn't. It's more than most of my friends (who aren't book bloggers) will read this year. It's down from the past two years, but when I look farther back (thanks, LibraryThing!), I see I read 94 books in 2013 and 2010, and only 83 in 2010. Am I reading as much as I think I should be? No. Am I reading as much as I want to be or as much as I think I should be? I'm not sure, and I think that's where the guilt comes in.

I don't think of myself as an ordinary reader. This blog has been such a big part of my life for the last nine and a half years. I've surrounded myself with super-readers, first here in the blogosphere, and then on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Snapchat and now Litsy. Reading has felt like a competitive sport many times over the years. At first, that was a good thing. This community made me read more, think more about what I read and why, and push myself to read more challenging books. At times, all this challenging has made reading feel like an obligation.

Lately I spend more time thinking about reading (or not reading) than actually reading. I love the way books take me to different times and places. I love the way books take me inside people's minds to help me better understand the world, other people, and make me more empathetic. I like to be pushed, but I also like to be entertained. My job is pushing me a lot right now. My child is pushing me right now. Parenting him takes more patience and intellectual energy than it used to. So I find myself gravitating more toward the entertainment side of reading. It's also why I often pick up the remote control after Hawthorne goes to bed. I grew up loving to read, but I also grew up watching a lot of television, and there is a lot of great television to watch too.

Because I'm reading less than I want to, or less than I'm used to, I find it makes picking which book to read or listen to next much more challenging. Every book I choose, means a certain number of others won't get read. It's as though I live in fear of choosing the wrong book and missing my next favorite book. Book guilt is exhausting. I don't have all the answers, but I do have one special challenge for myself. Each day, I will find fifteen minutes to read. Part of me can't believe I have to make this a challenge. Some days it won't be a challenge, and I hope it won't feel like one either. As a kid, I remember summer reading challenges and thinking, 'what's hard about that?'  This challenge isn't hard, but it is a shift of mindfulness. I'm off to start my challenge right now, as long as Hawthorne has at least fifteen more minutes of sleeping. If not, there's always lunch, or after work, or after he goes to bed.

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 10, 2016

book review: All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

The backstory: I saw Wendy Walker speak at ALA in June. I started All Is Not Forgotten the morning I heard her speak, as I figured it would be a good book to read during a conference--something that would keep my attention, but that I could put down while I was busy attending programs and events. I was right on one of those.

The basics:  "It begins in the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut, where everything seems picture perfect. Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, struggles to pretend this horrific event did not touch her carefully constructed world."

My thoughts: From the beginning, All Is Not Forgotten skillfully straddles a line between realistic fiction and slightly futuristic fiction. The controversial drug Jenny receives doesn't yet exist in this form, but it doesn't seem very far from reality. This set-up allows Walker to tell a cautionary tale, but this novel is much more than that. Through Jenny's parents, who have a beautifully fractured, realistic marriage, Walker is able to show two different, but understandable perspectives. Simmering below the surface of this novel are themes of female autonomy I wish Walker would have explored more.

It's hard to speak about All Is Not Forgotten without giving too much away, but I'll speak generally about some of the things I liked best about this novel, aside from the wide-ranging cast of characters and its small town setting. The narrator is perhaps my favorite part of this book. The reader doesn't know who the narrator is right away,  and even once you learn the identity, there are more interesting intersections that make this more of a psychological thriller than an ordinary thriller.

The verdict: All Is Not Forgotten is an utterly gripping thriller. I read it compulsively. As I reached its conclusion, however, I realized the thrills were likely gone. In this sense, the novel is authentic and realistic--it's characters feel like real people. While I appreciate the novel's conclusion in this sense, for such a twisty ride, I was midlly disappointed there wasn't one more twist. Ultimately, it's a book that is thrilling, engaging and thought-provoking, but it's not one that will likely stick with me. Looking for a book to devour in a day or on a flight? All Is Not Forgotten won't disappoint.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: July 12, 2016 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy All Is Not Forgotten from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Wendy Walker at ALA, June 2016
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 9, 2016

book review: Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

The basics:  "Twenty-two, and knowing no one, Tess leaves home to begin her adult life in New York City. Thus begins a year that is both enchanting and punishing, in a low-level job at “the best restaurant in New York City.” Grueling hours and a steep culinary learning curve awaken her to the beauty of oysters, the finest Champagnes, the appellations of Burgundy. At the same time, she opens herself to friendships—and love—set against the backdrop of dive bars and late nights."--publisher

My thoughts: I am not often a reader who makes much of first lines. I don't know if that's a trait unique to me, or a result that the first lines of books I read aren't remarkably good or bad. But when I started Sweetbitter, I read the first paragraph, put the book down, added it to my favorite passages, and texted it to Mr. Nomadreader:
"You will develop a palate.
 A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating becomes a discipline, language-obsessed. You will never simply eat food again."

Would you believe me if I told you it only got better from there? It's true. The first sentences cement Danler as a food writer, but while this is indeed a novel foodies will adore, it is so much more. To call it a coming of age novel is to sell it incredibly short. This novel isn't one just for foodies or those seeking a coming of age tale. It's a Great American Novel. Or a Great Novel. It's accessible, but literary. It's fun but has depth of language and emotion. It's astonishingly good, and I look forward to rereading it frequently.

Favorite passage:  "It’s an epidemic with women your age. A gross disparity between the way that they speak and the quality of thoughts that they’re having about the world. They are taught to express themselves in slang, in clich├ęs, sarcasm—all of which is weak language. The superficiality of the language colors the experiences, rendering them disposable instead of assimilated. And then to top it all, you call yourselves ‘girls.’"

The verdict: Sweetbitter is one of those rare books I wanted to spend every moment reading, but I never wanted it to end. Danler both transported me to the New York City restaurant world and into a deeply authentic emotional, personal place. To do one is a success; to do both is a triumph. Sweetbitter is one of my favorite books of 2016, and it's a rare title I'll recommend to both dedicated readers and those who make time for a book or two a year.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: May 24, 2016
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Sweetbitter 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!

Monday, August 8, 2016

book review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

The backstory: I've adored Jacqueline Woodson's books for kids and young adults for many years, and when I heard she had a novel for adults coming out this summer, I squealed.

Seeing Jacqueline Woodson speak at ALA in June was one of the highlights of the conference for me (picture below.) She spoke at the same time as John Lewis, and I debated which one to go see. I chose Woodson because I haven't seen her speak before. I was lucky enough to have John Lewis as my Congressional Representative for many years, and I (not foolishly I hope) expect I'll have other chances to hear him speak again.

The basics: Another Brooklyn is the story of August and her memories of growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970's and 1980's.

My thoughts: Another Brooklyn captivated me from the first page. There is a sparseness to Woodson's prose in this novel that is poetic. I savored this book and hung on every single word. It's easy to do, as much of the novel is told in vignettes, which make up chapters. As I reader, I got the sense Woodson labored over each word, yet it had a beautiful flow. It showed restraint, yet it captures so much more than words.

Necessarily, the novel is told with the wisdom of age, and these brief passages (taken from different parts) beautifully showcase the way Woodson tells this story with the wisdom of age but the emotion of youth:
"Our legs got long. Soemthing about the curve of our lips and the sway of our head suggested more to starngers than we understood."
"One day, I'd have full breasts, hips, and large hands. One day, my body would tell the world stories beneath the fabric of my clothes." 
I read this novel in the span of a few hours, and while I read it, I fully lived inside its pages. It's one I will think back on for many years to come, both for Woodson's writing, as well as the power of how she tells such a big story with so few words and pages.

Favorite passage: "When you're fifteen, pain skips over reason, aims right for marrow. I don't know how long I stood there staring at them, watching Jerome slip his hand from Sylvia's, watching Sylia inch away. Where're you heading? When you're fifteen, the world collapses in a moment, different than when you're eight and you learn that your mother walked into water--and kept on walking."

The verdict: Woodson is a deeply gifted writer and storyteller, and both talents are on full display in Another Brooklyn. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 192 pages
Publication date: August 9, 2016 
Source: publisher

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

Jacqueline Woodson at ALA, June 2016
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, August 7, 2016

book review: Killer Look by Linda Fairstein

The backstory: Killer Look is the eighteenth mystery in Linda Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper series. I've read them all and reviewed a lot them.

The basics: Each Alexandra Cooper novel offers some piece of New York to serve as a backdrop. In Killer Look, it's New York Fashion Week. The hook is the apparent suicide (and possible murder) of a very high profile fashion designer.

My thoughts: Fairstein has been ending the most recent novels with wonderful (or terrible, given we have to wait a year for the next installment!) cliffhangers, and as with novels past, Killer Look opens very soon after the events of the last novel, Devil's Bridge. Alex is not yet back at work, which is a big difference from the rest of the series. Naturally, she still finds a way to help Mike and Mercer with this case.

I won't say I necessarily missed the courtroom element of this case, but I did miss seeing Alex in her element. Given the events of the last book (vague spoilers), she has a lot to recover from, and given the timing of this book, she is nowhere near done recovering. I appreciated Fairstein's dedication to the realities of surviving, but it was soemtimes slightly boring or annoying to see Alex so weak. The case itself was quite interesting, even if there were few suspects. The clues were good ones, and, as always, I enjoyed the glimpse behind the scenes in New York City. Perhaps the biggest enjoyment in this novel was seeing Mike and Alexandra moving towards some kind of new normal.

The verdict: Killer Look isn't Fairstein's best outing, but it is quite good. Reading an Alexandra Cooper novel is always a joy, as it feels like spending time old friends. These characters have been in my life for fifteen years now, and it was wonderful to spend time with them. The last scene packs a big surprise, and, once again, made me wish the next installment would come more quickly.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 392 pages
Publication date: July 26, 2016 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Killer Look from Amazon (Kindle edition.) Better yet: start from the beginning with Final Jeopardy (Kindle edition--only $6.99.) 

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, August 6, 2016

audiobook review: Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson

narrated by Tavia Gilbert

The backstory: Girl Through Glass is on the 2016 First Novel Prize longlist.

The basics: Told in alternating chapters, Girl Through Glass is the story of a young girl's coming of age at the highest levels of New York City ballet in the late 1970's, and where she is now, a dance history professor somewhere in Ohio. While it appears to be a simple narrative at first, it soon becomes clear there are many mysteries between the 1970's and today for the reader to discover.

My thoughts: Over the years I find myself less drawn to traditional coming of age stories, so I was excited to see this one offered two timelines, a narrative technique I enjoy. As is often the case with such a structure, I find myself trying to fit the pieces together as I read. The biggest challenge of dual narratives are what to revela when, and while I took issue with a few of Wilson's choices as I read, I admit I can't come up with a better way to tell this story.

As I read, I found myself enjoying the modern store of Kate more. It's not surprising, as I'm dranw to tales of academia, and this Kate makes some spectacularly bad and fascinating choices, which did make me curious about how she to that point. At times, the earlier storyline was just as interesting, but it moved at a slower pace in the beginning.

One of the biggest successes of the dual narrative was Kate's ability to offer context and academic insight into dance. To do so in Mira's teenage years would have weighed it down, and this knowledge helps elevate this novel to much more.

Audiobook thoughts: I've enjoyed Tavia Gilbert's narration in the past, and I mostly enjoyed it here. I found a couple of her pronunciations odd. The name of one character was so unique to me, I grabbed a print copy at the library to see how it was spelled, and I was surprised to see it was a name I'd always heard pronounced differently. From that point, I found the character's name distracting. Overall, her performance was mostly straightforward, with a few voices thrown in for some characters. It's hard to tell if the novel's foreshadowing was due to Gilbert's narratino or the words itself. Ultimately, I liked this one on audio, but I don't know that I'd recommend it over the print.

Favorite passage: "I know there is never only one version of the past. We resurrect the past to suit the needs of the present."

The verdict: Girl Through Glass is not a novel whose storyline swept me away, but it was a novel I can't stop thinking about, both its substance and its structure. It's a book I enjoyed reading as much for its construction as for its plot, which makes me very excited for what Wilson will write next. The interwoven storylines of this novel are complex, and while not always perfectly executed, both are interesting and feature dynamic characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 10 hours 12 minutes (309 pages)
Publication date: January 26, 2016
Source: personal copy

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Girl Through Glass from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Sari Wilson'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!