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!

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


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!