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!

Monday, June 22, 2015

book review: The Governor's Wife by Michael Harvey

The backstory: The Governor's Wife is the fifth novel in Michael Harvey's series featuring Chicago ex-cop and private investigator Michael Kelly. My reviews of the first four mysteries: The Chicago Way, The Fifth Floor, The Third Rail, and We All Fall Down.

The basics: Two years ago, Ray Perry, the governor of Illinois, disappeared from a federal courthouse. Chicago PI Michael Kelly has been hired to find him. He doesn't know who his client is, but he agrees to the job, even if he doesn't agree to receive the $250,000 compensation without more information.

My thoughts: Michael Harvey writes smart, fast-paced mysteries that read like thrillers, and The Governor's Wife is no exception. Once again, Chicago's political corruption is omnipresent, as are Harvey's signature surprises. This case sounds impossible, and yet Kelly pieces together clues relatively quickly. As part of me questioned his success, I was forced to credit Harvey's intentional vagueness--without knowing who hires Kelly, it's impossible to fault the novel for what could be perceived convenience.

I read Harvey's other four Michael Kelly novels in quick succession a few years ago, and it took me a little time to jump back into his world. Harvey includes the sparest of details from earlier novels, so readers who haven't read the first four could jump in here and enjoy the events of this book first.

Favorite passage: "I find that people who think they're not interesting invariably are."

The verdict: The Governor's Wife is a compelling page-turner, but its resolution was somewhat less exciting than its journey. I loved the reading experience, including its social and political commentary and its twists and turns. I expected one more surprise that didn't come, which (unfairly), left me wanting a bit more. I read this novel in a single sitting (thanks for the long nap, Hawthorne!), and I could not put it down.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 258 pages
Publication date: June 2, 2015 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Governor's Wife from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Michael Harvey'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, June 15, 2015

book review: Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

The backstory: Laura Dave is one of my favorite novelists. I've loved all three of her novels: London is the Best City in America, The Divorce Party, and The First Husband. After four years of waiting, I was thrilled to read her latest novel.

The basics: Set in Sebastopol, part of California' Sonoma County wine country, Eight Hundred Grapes is the story of the Ford family, told from the perspective of their daughter, Georgia, who is a powerful Los Angeles attorney about to marry a British architect and move to London. Set against the grape harvest and the week before her wedding, each of the Fords, Georgia, her two brothers, and her parents, face challenges in their romantic and professional lives.

My thoughts: Laura Dave is such a smart writer. This novel is part family saga, part drama, part romance, but it's all smart. Through her characters and storylines, Dave imparts immense wisdom about life and love:
"Synchronization, my father would say. This was a very big word for him. Synchronization: The coordination of events to operate in union. A conductor managing to keep his orchestra in time. The impossible meeting of light reflection and time exposure that leads to a perfect photograph. Two yellow bugs parked in front of Lincoln Center at the same time, the love of your life in one of them. Not fate, my father would add. Don't confuse it with fate. Fate suggests no agency."
The novel has two narratives. The main one takes place six months ago. There are also vignettes catching the reader up on key scenes in the Ford family over the years. The two narratives work with a beautifully symmetry and synchronization. Through these characters, Dave skillfully explores the complexities of love and fidelity and desire. I highlighted more than thirty passages in this novel. Some stand on their own merit, but some build upon the novel itself in stunning ways.

Favorite passage: "Wasn't the ultimate form of fidelity who you told your stories to?"

The verdict: Eight Hundred Grapes is an engrossing family saga filled with drama, romance, wisdom and action. Dave packs a lot of events and revelations into this slim novel. When I finished, I was already excited to read it again. If literary romance exists as a sub-genre, Laura Dave is it's leader.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: June 2, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Eight Hundred Grapes from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

book review: The Shore by Sara Taylor

The backstory: The Shore was longlisted for the 2015 Baileys Prize.

The basics: Stretching from 1876 to 2143, this non-linear novel is the story of generations of a poor family, principally its women, who live on the titular shore of small, isolated, Virginia islands.

My thoughts: I first heard about The Shore when it appeared on several blogger's Baileys Prize prediction lists. The UK cover is very different, and when I saw the U.S. cover, I thought The Shore would be a family beach saga. And it is, but it's as far from WASPs as you can get. When you look closely at the house on the U.S. cover, it's clear the house is dilapidated. The novel opens in 1995, and the first chapter sets the dark tone of this novel beautifully. It's haunting. The second chapter is set in 1933, and slowly a picture of how the family we meet in 1993 came to be.

The concept of this novel is great. I squealed when I saw the table of contents. I love a novel that can be historical fiction, contemporary fiction and science fiction all in one. I love novels that stretch into an imagined future but are deeply rooted in reality. As good as the idea is, Taylor's writing is even better. This novel is just over 300 pages but has the depth of a much-longer novel. It's begging me to re-read it because I know I will spot even more connections on the second read. Even as I looked back at my highlights to write this review, I found passages from early in the novel had more depth in hindsight:
"Family stories, about his childhood and their mother's childhood and how they all came to be, and more private, half-mythic stories that they knew instinctively were not to be share; people knew vaguely what they could do, but it didn't help anyone to strew reminders about.
The story of his grandmother Medora was of both types, and they did not know how much of it was strictly true. She was a come-here, he said, and a wise woman, the mixed race daughter of a Shawnee Indian and a white land owner, who knew native herbs as well as she knew medicine." 
Favorite passage: "They need you, need someone to be better than, to point out when their own lives don't quite go as planned, to carry the communal disdain."

The verdict: I loved the stories and the fascinating characters, but what elevates this novel is Taylor's command of theme. The Shore is an entertaining read, but when the novel shifts into the future, it becomes transcendent. I read with my jaw hanging open as I realized Taylor had led me on a path I didn't even realize I was on. This novel has a strong feminist point-of-view, and Taylor infuses it organically and beautifully.Sara Taylor is 24-years-old, and I hope she keeps writing for a very long time. This novel is epic and wonderful, and it takes my breath away.

Rating: 6 out of 5 (it's that good)
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: May 26, 2015
Source: publisher

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

Want more? Visit Sara Taylor's website

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ummm...

Well, hello there! I'm still here, even if I haven't been around much on the blog (or even Twitter.) I haven't been reading much either. I've been reading lots of books, and I'm even enjoying most of them, but I haven't been spending much time reading, so I'm currently reading about eight different books and most days don't even pick one of them up. But. I think that's about to change. It has changed the past few days, as I so miss reading and talking about books. I'm finding new ways to prioritize reading again. As I've said many times in the almost ten months I've been a mom, "you find what works for you. Then it changes, and you do it again." And we are in the midst of some major changes.

Hawthorne will be ten months old this week. The last month has been quite eventful for him developmentally. He got really good at crawling, so I spend a lot time looking at his butt:

To his credit, he often looks back as though to see if it's okay he's doing what he's doing. And most of the time he's fine. As we are very tardy baby-proofers (obviously, some things we've done, but he keeps identifying new risks for us), it's nearly impossible to sit and read while he plays and explores. His latest accomplishment is standing. He can pull himself up like a champ, but as soon as he reaches for the object he most desires, he only manages to stay standing for a few seconds, as he needs his hands to help steady himself with his proportionately giant head. So there are some tumbles and snuggles. And I spend too much time waiting to catch him when he falls from his unsure standing. I'm sure we'll finish baby-proofing and fall into new routines soon, but until we do, I spend a lot time watching him playing instead of reading while he plays.

Hawthorne and I took a six-hour (each way) road trip this weekend to Beloit, Kansas for the grand opening of Kettle, a coffee, wine and craft beer bar. It's the brilliant idea of one of my college roommates, and I'm so glad we could be there to support her. And I'm also glad the nomadbaby is living up to his nickname and is not only an accomplished plane traveler, but now can say he's a a good roadtripper too:

I hope things will be back to yet another new normal around here this week. I still have a back log of reviews to write and publish, and look for the first tomorrow. It's a six-star read and my favorite book of 2015 (so far.)

Now tell me: what have you been loving lately? I'm ecstatic Ali Smith won the Baileys Prize, even if I still haven't finished reading the short list, let alone the longlist!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

book review: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

translated by William Weaver 

The backstory: Invisible Cities is one of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. It's also Mr. Nomadreader's favorite book of all time and one of the first two selections for The "Darling, but..." Book Club.

The basics: Invisible Cities is mostly a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, in which Polo describes the cities he's seen on his journey to and from Venice and the Mongol Empire.

My thoughts: There's a lot of pressure when you read your favorite person's favorite book. Mr. Nomadreader and I have been discussing this book for years, as it's themes of cities and travel come up so frequently in our lives. Yet when we started watching "Marco Polo" on Netflix this winter, and I kept pausing to ask questions because I didn't know enough about that historical period to be able to follow (my world history pre-1900 is embarrassingly bad), I discovered that the plot of Invisible Cities is actually conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. Although I knew both of their names, I didn't understand their historical connection (again, embarrassing, I know.)

Invisible Cities is very much a book of ideas. As such, it is at times utterly brilliant, but at times I also found my mind wandering a bit. It tackles big ideas about time, place, and space in beautiful ways:
Kublai Khan had noticed that Marco Polo’s cities resembled one another, as if the passage from one to another involved not a journey but a change of elements. Now, from each Marco described to him, the Great Khan’s mind set out on its own, and after dismantling the city piece by piece, he reconstructed it in other ways, substituting components, shifting them, inverting them.
I can absolutely see why people love and revere it, as there are passages I love and revere in it, but I can also see how it's a frustrating read for some people.

Favorite passage:  "By now, from that real or hypothetical past of his, he is excluded; he cannot stop; he must go on to another city, where another of his pasts awaits him, or something perhaps that had been a possible future of his and is now someone else’s present. Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches."

The verdict: Invisible Cities is part poetry and part prose. It's both an intimate conversation and a book of big ideas. It's abstract and concrete. It's haunting, but at times it's too mellow. It's a book I imagine benefits from re-reading with a pen in hand to make notes about connections between different cities and different tales. It's not my favorite novel ever, but I see why Mr. Nomadreader loves it so much. Perhaps if I had discovered it at a different time in my life, it could be my favorite too.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 173 pages
Publication date: 1974 (English translation)
Source: personal copy

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Invisible Cities 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, May 13, 2015

book review: The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato

The backstory: The Ghost Network is my May pick for The "Darling, but..." Book Club. Within the first few pages, I knew I had to make Mr. Nomadreader read it.

The basics: Told in a nonfiction style, complete with frequent footnotes, The Ghost Network begins with the disappearance of Molly Metropolis, a famous pop singer. Through interviews with Metropolis's inner circle and journals, The Ghost Network reads like a mystery, a biography, a history of an anarchist fringe group or mapmaking or the city of Chicago, a work on city planning, and a work of philosophy. It is all of those things, and it is none of those things.

My thoughts: I don't think my description of The Ghost Network can do it justice. It's so original, and it has so many fun discoveries in it, that I'd rather keep my description vague. I knew very little going into this novel. I think the notes in my review spreadsheet called it a feminist debut mystery. And it is, but it is so much more. As I read the first few sections, I found myself wishing Molly Metropolis were real: "She created a scene where people could claim non-conformity by listening to music made by the most popular artist in the country. And she made that paradox feel logical. Her inexplicably powerful charisma trumped better judgment."

From the first pages. Disabato captivated me. It's no secret I love both low-brow and high-brow pop culture, and Disabato gets the fun of both. The worlds she combines are amazing. Some of the lines between fiction and nonfiction are blurry, which I adored. Disabato has created a world that is both playful and smart, like Molly Metropolis herself:
"Molly loved secret histories. She also loved contradicting accounts of the same historical events. She liked ambiguities. She liked answer-less questions. She told me that she was investigating the world that traditional maps hide from us." 
Favorite passage: "The Situationists still aren't widely known by name, but psychogeography has become fashionable again. Everyone likes to decorate with old maps; they fetishize the idea of transcending their borders."

The verdict: Disabato masterfully blends the high-brow and the low-brow. It blends fiction and non-fiction. It's part mash-up, yet it's refreshingly original. It's compulsively readable. It's smart and funny. Catie Disabato, I want to be your friend, but I fear I might already be too much of a fan.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 290 pages
Publication date: May 5, 2015
Source: publisher

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

Want more? Visit Catie Disabato'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, May 12, 2015

review rewind and giveaway: Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker

Today, in honor of the paperback release of Neely Tucker's first mystery novel, The Ways of the Dead, I'm reposting my review from last fall. It made my Best of 2014 list (#6!) I'm also thrilled to offer a copy of the paperback to one lucky reader in the U.S. The second Sully Carter mystery, Murder, D.C. is out June 30, 2015. Look for my review on June 29th!

The backstory: The Ways of the Dead is the debut mystery by Neely Tucker, a veteran journalist and memoirist.

The basics: Set in the late 1990's, The Ways of the Dead opens with the murder of Sarah Reese, the fifteen-year-old white daughter of a U.S. federal court judge. Veteran newspaper reporter Sully Carter, who like Tucker himself spent years covering foreign wars, notices a pattern of other dead young women on the same block, but the others are poor and not white. While the police actively pursue Sarah's death and mostly ignore the other deaths, Sully uses his contacts and press badge to follow the whole story.

My thoughts: I majored in journalism in college, and although I ultimately opted not to make my career in the field, I am drawn to tales of journalism, both in fiction and in non-fiction. As a journalist writing a novel whose main character is a journalist, Tucker brings great authenticity to the character of Sully. I loved the details of the news business, particularly how well steeped in the setting they were. I often have to remind myself how long ago the late 1990's were, but when presented with the antiquated technology Sully used, it was pretty obvious.

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.

As much as I enjoyed the elements of journalism infused throughout this novel, it's much more than that. The mystery is superb, but what I most liked about it was the depth of character and social commentary that only served to enhance the mystery. The Ways of the Dead is reported to be the first in a series, and Tucker does a great job establishing Sully as a character, while also leaving many opportunities to continue to explore his past in future novels. So much of this mystery hinges on issues of race and class, and Tucker explores these social issues thoughtfully within the story itself.

The verdict: The Ways of the Dead is an astonishingly good debut mystery. Tucker tells a complicated mystery in a straight-forward way. The cast of characters is large, and the story covers a multitude of themes, but the narrative moves quickly and doesn't get lost in the details. Instead, as the case gets more complicated, these details make it ever more compelling. I'm already eagerly awaiting the next novel from Tucker.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: June 12, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Ways of the Dead 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!

Monday, May 11, 2015

book review: A Good Killing by Allison Leotta

The backstory: This spring I've flown through all of Allison Leotta's Anna Curtis series, starting with her debut mystery Law of Attraction, and continuing with the e-short story Ten Rules for a Call Girl, and the novels Discretion, and Speak of the Devil. With this week's publication of A Good Killing, I'm left waiting for Leotta to write more and pondering which mystery series I'll dig into next.

The basics: A Good Killing opens shortly after the events of Speak of the Devil. A frantic phone call from a friend in Anna's Michigan hometown alerting Anna to the death of their town's beloved football couch. Her sister, Jody, is the lead suspect. Anna flees for Holly Grove to help Jody and escape the chaos of her life.

My thoughts: A Good Killing is a departure from the earlier Anna Curtis novels in many ways. I'm so glad Leotta changed things up with this novel, given the state of Anna's life in D.C. Perhaps the timing was convenient, but it works. Anna and her sister Jody share narration duties. I was confused at first, as it took me a few pages to realize Jody was narrating from her high school years. Jody's narration is aimed at Anna directly, for reasons that become clear later.

Anna has often struggled to understand lawyers who work as defense attorneys, and I appreciated seeing her struggle with being on the other side. I'm curious to see how this experience shapes her perspective in cases going forward. Many of the courtroom scenes were written similarly to Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller books; Leotta explains the why and how without breaking up the momentum and drama of the trial itself.

Favorite passage: "We tend to rise or sink toward others' expectations of us. It takes a lot of conscious will not to."

The verdict: A Good Killing is a departure for Anna Curtis and Allison Leotta. I loved seeing Detroit through Anna's eyes, and I enjoyed seeing her work as a defense attorney. The mystery wasn't as surprising as I might have hoped, but Leotta's skillful incorporation of so many relevant sub-plots more than made up for it. A Good Killing will keep me thinking about many of the social issues it addresses.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: May 12, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy A Good Killing from Amazon (Kindle edition.) Better yet: start with Law of Attraction. Buy it from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Allison Leotta'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!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Salon: Introducing the "Darling, but..." Book Club

The Sunday Salon.com There's no one in the world I love to talk to more than Mr. Nomadreader. And as someone who really likes to talk about books, Mr. Nomadreader and I have battering around the idea of a two-person book club for years. We finally started it last month:

The basic logistics
1. We each pick one book a month, so together we'll read two books each month. We are aiming to pick books we haven't read, although I've already sought (and was awarded) two exceptions for books I happened to be reading and thought he would love (and that would be interesting to discuss.)

2. Each year in our birthday month (August for me and September for Mr. Nomadreader), we're allowed to pick a book we've read before. I am already debating which of my favorite books from the last few years to pick in August!

3. I've invited Mr. Nomadreader to contribute to the blog, and we may play around with joint reviews, interviews about the book, and guest posts about our shared reading. It may vary based on the book. Regardless of what form it takes, I'm excited to bring a different perspective to the blog a couple of times a month.

4. Neither of us is allowed to pick Infinite Jest. If we do, it counts as two months. The rule will be similarly amended for books that are really long or otherwise daunting.

April 2015 picks
We kicked off our book club in April. I picked The Bees by Laline Paull because I was deep in Baileys Prize reading, and I thought it might be the title from the longlist that Mr. Nomadreader most liked. I've already reviewed it, and he's still reading it (we're getting a slowish start to our book club!) We've been chatting about it periodically. I hope to bring you our shared thoughts soon. Mr. Nomadreader was granted an exception (aren't we generous?!) and picked one of his all-time favorite books, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. I've been meaning to read it for years, and I'll be reviewing it for you this week.


May picks
I picked The Ghost Network, the debut novel by Catie Disabato. I knew in the first few pages that Mr. Nomadreader would love it. I devoured it while traveling for work last week, and I'll be reviewing it Wednesday. Mr. Nomadreader debated for weeks, but he finally decided on The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson. I'm debating if I want to read it or listen to it, but I'll be starting it soon.

June picks
I've already picked my June book, but I'll keep you guessing for now because it hasn't been released yet. I will say only this: I rated it six stars out of five, and it's my favorite read of 2015 so far. I'm planning to re-read it this month, and y'all know I hardly ever re-read books. It's that good.

First thoughts
One obvious benefit of The "Darling, but..." Book Club is that it has Mr. Nomadreader reading more again. He loves to read (and majored in Literature), but doesn't make as much time for it as he wants to. It also pushes me outside of my comfort zone. I don't think it's a coincidence that all of our picks so far have some level of science fiction present. We don't just want to talk about great books. In fact, I'll settle for not great books that have lots of interesting ideas to discuss present. I hope to pick some nonfiction titles too. There's something particularly magical about two people who know each other so very well picking out one book a month for each other to read and discuss. It's the highest level of book concierge you can get. Mr. Nomadreader and I may not always agree on books (or other things), but we always love to talk about things. Being forced to read one book a month not of my own choosing, but picked by someone who knows me better than anyone else in the world, is pretty fun so far.

Now tell me: if you have a significant other (or best friend), do you pick books out for each other?


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Monday, May 4, 2015

book review: The Green Road by Anne Enright

The backstory: I've previously read and enjoyed Anne Enright's fiction (my review of The Forgotten Waltz) and nonfiction (my review of Making Babies.)

The basics: The Green Road is the story of Rosaleen Madigan and her children. It begins in 1980 with the shock of Dan declaring he's becoming a priest. We spend time with each of the four Madigan children (plus Rosaleen) in different cities (and countries) in a different year before they each come home for a holiday.

My thoughts: In some ways, the first five parts of The Green Road would work as stand-alone short stories. There are some references to the family, but Enright lets us get to know each character individually. Oddly, my least favorite section was Hanna's, which comes first, and Hanna is the character I felt like I knew the least about in the first half of the book. Still, Enright's writing shines:
"The darkness of the theatre was a new kind of darkness for Hanna. It was not the kind of darkness of the city outside, or of the bedroom she shared with Constance at home in Ardeevin. It was not the black country darkness of Boolavaun. It was the darkness between people: between Isabelle and Dan, between Dan and the priests. It was the darkness of sleep, just before the dream."
I won't tell you where each of the Madigan children spend their stand-alone chapters, as seeing where and when they are, as well as what they're doing, is part of the fun. When the novel brings the family back together again, it felt like I was part of the family reuniting. Seeing these characters, all of whom I knew so well, interact together added depth to their individual stories while also advancing the larger story.

As an American reader, I was also struck that Irish readers may interpret this novel differently than I did. It's certainly a global story, but for me, it is the story of one fascinating family. I suspect it might also be powerful cultural commentary on Ireland. I'll be seeking out Irish reviews of this novel to test my theory.

Favorite passage: "Because death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Everyone dies. It's the timing that matters. The first and second of it. The order in which we go."

The verdict: The Green Road is an accomplished, engaging novel. Enright's writing is luminous--it's filled with wisdom about life and her characters. As I read, it was clear I was reading a masterpiece. I'll be cheering for this book to find a spot on the Booker Prize longlist this year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: May 11, 2015
Source: publisher

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

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

book review: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

The backstory: Veteran comic artist Roz Chast's graphic memoir was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award (non-fiction), one of the top 5 New York Times nonfiction titles of 2014, and a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award (Autobiography.)

The basics: Chast, an only child, recounts her struggles with her parents, who lived into their 90's, refusing to plan for their death.

My thoughts: I've enjoyed Roz Chast's cartoons in The New Yorker for a long time, which makes sense given the back of this book tells me she's been drawing them for the magazine since before I was born. Parts of this memoir resemble comic strips, but I was surprised to see some pages have exclusively text (handwritten.) Chast plays with format in interesting ways in this graphic memoir, but it's her more traditional images I found most entertaining.

What I liked most about this memoir was Chast's ability to provide some levity to the darkness. She writes honestly about the frustrations of caring for two very old parents, but she lightens the dark subject matter well. One particular joke about sweater shopping with her father kept me laughing for several minutes (and made Hawthorne join me laughing, as no one laughs alone when he's in the room (he was playing with toys on the blanket next to me while I read.)) While I appreciated the moments of levity, I also find myself wishing Chast pushed some pieces of the memoir a bit farther. Her focus was relatively narrow--her relationship with her parents, their relationship with each other, and the financial stress growing old puts on people. She frequently mentions her children, and I found myself wishing she told that side of the story too. As a new parent reading this memoir, I found myself thinking more about not leaving a mess for Hawthorne (who will be an only child) than worrying about my own parents (and in-laws) living into their 90's.

The verdict: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant is at times laugh-out loud funny. At others it's deeply poignant. At others Chast's understandable frustrations manage to somehow be both. It is both an emotionally honest memoir and a nuanced tribute to her parents and their often frustrating relationship. Surprisingly, the two visual highlights for me were not Chast's comic drawing but the actual pictures of her parents apartment she inserts and the more life-like drawings she creates in her mother's last days and weeks of life.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Source: library 

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Roz Chast's website.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

book review: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

The backstory: Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

The basics: God Help the Child is the story of Bride, a blue-black-skinned woman whose mother hated her skin color. Despite this tension, Bride grew up to be a confident, successful woman. Through Bride and those associated with her, Morrison tells stories of the long-reaching impacts of love and abuse in childhood.

My thoughts: I spent much of my time reading this novel thinking "If I didn't know Toni Morrison wrote this novel, I would never guess" and "I don't know what to think about this novel, but there's something odd or weird about it, particularity the magical realism." ...That changed once Booker began narrating. Suddenly, Morrison was back, and the novel really came alive for me with sharp-witted observations: "All he did from freshman year through sophomore was react--sneer, laugh, dismiss, find fault, demean--a young man's version of critical thinking."

As expected there was lush, beautiful language throughout, but I couldn't get a sense of what kind of novel Morrison was trying to write. Often it felt like a novel of ideas. The themes of child abuse and love turned up in similar and different forms frequently. In this sense, it felt heavy-handed. I found Bride's narration disjointed; she didn't strike me as an actual person. Aside from Booker, the characters felt like vehicles with which to advance Morrison's ideas. Thus, the novel, despite its moments of brilliance and strong writing, felt forced. It veered more toward fable than realistic contemporary fiction. I struggled with the moments of magical realism, as I felt they were intended to be more symbolic than realistic, yet they were written realistically.

There were odd moments of contemporary commentary too: "Black sells. It's the hottest commodity in the civilized world. White girls, even brown girls have to strip naked to get that kind of attention." and "Since real public libraries don't need or want books anymore, they send them to prisons and old-folks' homes." As a reader, I wasn't sure what to make of these passages and many others.

Favorite passage: "They will blow it, she thought. Each will cling to a sad little story of hurt and sorrow--some long-ago trouble and pain life dumped on their pure and innocent selves. And each one will rewrite that story forever, knowing the plot, guessing the theme, inventing its meaning and dismissing its origin. What waste. She knew from personal experience how hard loving was, how selfish and how easily sundered. Withholding sex or relying on it, ignoring children or devouring them, rerouting true feelings or locking them out. Youth being the excuse for that fortune-cookie love--until it wasn't, until it became pure adult stupidity."

The verdict: There are moments of brilliance and startling clarity in this novel, but too often things were uneven. Morrison makes strong points, but the characters and events read like a fable more often than not. The combination of fable, satire, magical realism, and realistic fiction muddied the narrative and distracted from the moments of brilliance.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 192 pages
Publication date: April 21, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy God Help the Child 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!