Friday, May 30, 2014

book review: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

The basics: Stretching from the 1970's to the early 2000's, Astonish Me is the story of Joan, a young ballerina good enough to make the corps but not good enough to ever be a star. Joan's story is told in chapters and vignettes that move back and forth in time.

My thoughts: As someone who has little coordination and even less grace, my fascination with ballet and dance truly stems from appreciation. Maggie Shipstead clearly shares my fascination with ballet, and the characters in this novel are at times both reverent and critical about ballet. These complicated feelings about ballet extend into the characters' lives too, and Shipstead's prose is astonishingly good.

For so much interior insight, there is also a lot of action. Joan is at the center of this novel, but the secondary characters are actually more intriguing. From Joan's roommate and fellow dancer Elaine, to Russian defector Arslan Rusakov, to Joan's husband and son, as well as her neighbors, Joan is enhanced by each secondary storyline.

Shipstead's observational writing reminds me of Curtis Sittenfeld and Susanna Daniel (all three are graduates of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, for what it's worth.) I'm a reader who likes to know it all: I want plot, but I want to understand each character's feelings and perspectives. Shipstead delivers, and the non-chronological structure adds layers and layers of emotion, knowledge and understanding for the reader without, thankfully, distracting from the narrative itself.

Favorite passage:  "When they are alone, lying quietly, he holds her the way a child holds a stuffed animal: for comfort, for security, out of a primate’s urge to cling, to close one’s arms around a warm, soft object."

The verdict: Astonish Me is a novel that feels so much bigger than its pages. It's a family saga of sorts, but it's greatest achievement is in combining a compelling plot with well-developed characters, and both are as good as they are thanks to Shipstead's wise, observant, and descriptive prose.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 273 pages
Publication date: April 8, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Astonish Me from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Maggie Shipstead's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

book review: Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York edited by Sari Botton

The basics: This collection of essays takes its inspiration from Joan Didion's famous essay of the same name and invites a younger generation of writers to write about their love affairs with New York.

My thoughts: I lived in New York City for only one summer, between my first and second years of college, but it was one of my favorite summers. I always imagined I'd end up living there, and when I met Mr. Nomadreader, a native upstate New Yorker, in Atlanta, we both figured we'd end up there. When we moved to Albany for me to go to graduate school, I still thought we'd end up in New York or Boston or somewhere nearby, but then reality charged in, and I realized the difference between academic librarian salaries varied little based on where you live, and as much as I love New York, I did not pick a job that would let me have any real quality of life if we lived there. Still: New York City is magical for me, and I knew this collection would be filled with people who similarly love New York and writing. And it is.

It's always difficult to review an edited collection. As always, some essays spoke to me more deeply than others, but it wasn't always the ones I most expected to respond to. This collection is filled with essays by writers whose work I've loved in the past, and I enjoyed this glimpse into their lives. One of my favorites was Elisa Albert's because she writes as much about Albany, where she now lives, as she does about New York City. And she captures Albany so beautifully, I stuck those pages in front of Mr. Nomadreader and said, "read this. Now. It's amazing."

As I read this collection, interspersed with other reading over several days, I found myself simultaneously missing New York and incredibly grateful for the life in Iowa we're building. I'm still nomadic at heart, and part of my nomadic roots is constantly picturing different lives for myself, mostly in different cities around the world. Yet as I read this collection, I felt so fully at home with my life in Des Moines that I could enjoy the past, think of the future, but mostly revel in the experiences of these gifted writers for what they were, rather than comparing my own experiences to theirs.

Favorite passage:  "Leaving things you love is easier when you’re younger. You make stupid decisions about the wrong people. You slammed the apartment door, throw your lover's clothes out the window onto the sidewalk. Leaving gets harder as you age. You don’t leave out of anger or from coming to your senses, but because your love is not as strong as your reasons for going." Melissa Febos, “Home”

The verdict: I adored this surprisingly diverse collection of essays. All are grounded with the same theme, but the styles, stories, approaches, and emotions are wonderfully different. If you too love New York, or if you simply want more insight into the life of writers, Goodbye to All That delivers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: October 8, 2013
Source: library

 Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit the book'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!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

book review: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The backstory: I've previously enjoyed Emma Straub's short story collection, Other People We Married, which apparently I never reviewed, but the story "Fly Over State" remains one of my all-time favorites. Her debut novel, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, was a delightful audio experience, and I was eager to see what she would do next. Once again, it's something quite different from her previously published work.

The basics: The Post family are off to spend two weeks in Mallorca. Franny and Jim are celebrating thirty-five years of marriage, but it may be coming to an end. Jim has also lost his job. Their daughter Sylvia is off to Brown in the fall. Their son, Bobby, and his older girlfriend, Carmen, live in Miami. Franny's best friend, Charles, and his husband, Lawrence, also join them.

My thoughts: The Vacationers is one of those books that enchanted me from its opening pages. It's the perfect combination of so many factors, and reading it gave me that feeling that this book is one that will remain with me because it's so special. There's a lot of drama within its pages, but it never veers to the melodramatic, largely due to Straub's smart and witty writing. In some ways, the plot itself is rather ordinary, and perhaps that's why I was so impressed when this novel turned out to be something extraordinary, and a much richer reading experience than I anticipated.

I read The Vacationers compulsively. I loved living in the heads of each narrator. Some characters I more easily identified with, but as each took a turn telling the story from his or her point of view, none appeared stronger or weaker than the other. There are so many things I loved about The Vacationers, but they all circle back to the combination of smart, observant writing and realistically flawed, well-developed characters.

The verdict: The Vacationers is perfect summer reading for smart people. It offers an exotic location, family drama, humor and plenty of wise observations about contemporary life. In short: it's smart, funny and fun.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 301 pages
Publication date: May 29, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Vacationers from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Emma Straub's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Instagram and 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 27, 2014

book review: The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

The basics: The Lobster Kings is the story of the Kings family, who have lived and fished off of Loosewood Island, Maine for generations, beginning with Brumfitt King, a famous artist. The current generation of Kings, and the focus of most of the novel, are patriarch Woody and his three daughters, but mostly Cordelia, who loves the sea as much as her father.

My thoughts: There's an ethereal quality to the writing and setting of this novel that captured me from the novel's first pages. Zentner's writing has a calm fluidity that perfectly matches the maritime setting and the novel's pace. Big moments happen in short, unassuming sentences, which I quite enjoyed, but it sets a specific tone for this novel.

Despite the presence of many tragic and depressing events, the novel itself isn't marred by those emotions. Zentner's writing matches the demeanor of the Kings: there's an acceptance of how life is, which might be tragic by many standards, but is the norm for generations of Kings.

The verdict: The Lobster Kings is a gripping and absorbing family saga. The characters haunted me as I read, and they made this novel impossible for me to put down. As I read, I felt like I was living with the Kings on Loosewood Island, and this novel showcases Zentner's gift for writing about places with a strong setting.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: May 27, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Lobster Kings from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Alexi Zentner'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, May 26, 2014

Kicking Off Armchair BEA 2014!

In celebration of the first day of this year's Armchair BEA, participants are asked to answer five questions (from a provided list of ten.) Here are mine:

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

I'm Carrie. I live in Des Moines, Iowa, where I work as an academic librarian. As the name of my blog indicates, I'm a nomad and a reader. By my count, I've moved twenty-times in my thirty-three years, but Mr. Nomadreader and I bought a house last spring, and we both hope we're living in it until it's time to move to the retirement home. I started blogging in March 2007, and I've moved many times in those seven years. I started blogging when I started working temping as a receptionist when I was applying to graduate schools. I had a lot of time to browse the Internet, and I initially started the blog as a place to write about everything I read: online, in print, and what I watched on tv. Once I discovered the vibrant book blogging community, I started reading more and talking mostly about books. There have been so many changes in my life since I started this blog, and one of the biggest, the nomadbaby, is set to arrive August 9th. I'm sure this blog will continue to morph, and after more than seven years, I can't wait to see what it continues to become.

What was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year?
My favorite read of 2013 was one of the last titles I read (and one I'd been meaning to read for the second half of the year): Tampa by Alissa Nutting. As I said in my review: "Tampa is a novel that reminds me why I will always love fiction best. Alissa Nutting masterfully gets inside the mind and body of Celeste. The result is a modern masterpiece whose story can only be told this deeply in a fictional way, and its haunting final pages will stick with me for a very long time." It's all still true, and I'm already getting the urge to re-read it again, which is very rare for me to do.

Somehow I've already read 56 books this year. I've rated eight of them five stars, which is pretty high for me, but six of those are Michael Connelly mysteries, which I've been racing through. It's hard for me to think about them individually to pick just one, but so far my favorite book of the year is one I haven't even reviewed yet: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. I listened to it on audio, and when I finished, I couldn't shake that feeling of wanting to accost everyone I know and ask, "have you read Claire Messud? She's so good! Why are we not all talking about her all the time? Why are people not screaming about the brilliance of this novel?" I'll be reviewing it soon, but as is so often the case with novels I love this much, I take my time trying to articulate words worthy of books so good. 

What is your favorite blogging resource?
If I had to pick one, I'd choose Edelweiss. A majority of the books I read come from Edelweiss in the form of digital galleys, but I also use it organize reviews, easily submit reviews to publishers (of the books they provide and the ones they don't), and find out about upcoming titles.

Share your favorite book or reading related quote.
My favorite book is American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, and my favorite reading related quote also comes from it:
"It provided him with a way to structure his behavior, and a way to explain that behavior, both past and present, to himself. Perhaps fiction has, for me, served a similar purpose--what is a narrative arc if not the imposition of order on disparate events?--and perhaps it is my avid reading that has been my faith along." (Alice, about her husband's fundamentalist Christianity)
What book would you love to see as a movie?
So many! The one that first comes to mine is Audrey Magee's forthcoming debut novel, The Undertaking, because it's so dialogue heavy I think it would adapt so well. As I read it, I found it incredibly visual, and at times it felt almost like I was reading a script.

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 25, 2014

Sunday Salon: upcoming bookish events

The Sunday Salon.comI'm already up and enjoying this leisurely, holiday Sunday! Memorial Day weekend is my favorite three-day weekend all year, mostly because I work in academia and welcome the first post-academic year reprieve with open arms. It's also the only three-day weekend--with the sometimes exception of July 4th when it falls on a weekend--not during the academic year, which means I can just relax and read, read, read. As I wait for the cinnamon coffee cake in the oven to finish baking, I'm gearing up for two exciting bookish events coming up: Armchair BEA and the World Cup of Literature.

I haven't been to a BEA in person for years, but I always enjoy the opportunity to participate in Armchair BEA, which starts tomorrow. There are daily prompts, giveaways, an Instagram challenge, Twitter parties, and so many fun ways to connect. I'll be participating in some of the prompts, but I'll also be posting reviews this week because I've been reading like a woman who soon won't be able to. In all seriousness, I have no idea what the early nomadbaby days will hold, and I am relishing this plethora of leisurely reading time by spending almost all of my time reading (or listening to audio books when chores demand my time and attention.) It's glorious.

In celebration of the upcoming World Cup (soccer), Three Percent is hosting the first World Cup of Literature. The competition will pit one book (published from 2000-present) from each country participating in the actual World Cup against each other. Instead of the round robin style of the World Cup, they're taking the model of the Tournament of Books, one of my favorite bookish events all year. Currently, they're seeking recommendations for which books to include in the World Cup of Literature. They're also looking for a few more judges. On June 10th, they'll post all the nominations.

I'm off to enjoy my coffee cake (at least I hope it tastes as good as it smells!) and my spend the rest of my morning and afternoon reading. I hope your day is as relaxing as mine, wherever you may be. Happy reading!

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

mini-book reviews: Void Moon, A Darkness More Than Night, and City of Bones

I've been tearing through Michael Connelly's lengthy backlist, and I often find myself with repetitive things to say about them, so I'll mostly be doing mini-reviews of his titles, unless one compels me to write more deeply. Find links to all my Michael Connelly reviews in my Book Review Database.

Void Moon is a stand-alone thriller featuring Cassie Black, a con artist. In that sense, it's quite a departure for Connelly to write from the point-of-view of the criminal. it's also a departure to have a female narrator. Connelly does both well. Cassie shares narration with a private investigator hired to recover what she steals. This approach was mostly successful, but it slowed down the fast-pace of this novel a bit. Overall, Void Moon was a page-turning thriller more than a mystery, and while it lacked the jaw-dropping twists I've come to expect from Connelly, it did keep me on my toes until the last page.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: library

A Darkness More Than Night is the seventh Harry Bosch mystery, and it also features Terry McCaleb and Jack McEvoy, whom we met in Blood Work and The Poet respectively. I was excited to see these characters come together in a single novel, and while the mystery at its core was a gripping and fascinating one, parts of it felt somewhat forced. At issue is a killer who heavily uses Hieronymous Bosch (the artist) symbols, in an attempt to frame Harry Bosch (the detective.) What fell somewhat flat for me here was believing Harry was actually a suspect. While I could see how the evidence pointed that way, as a reader, I never believed it, and that false tension rang somewhat hollow. Connelly pulls it all together at the end quite nicely, and I left satisfied.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Source: library

City of Bones is the eighth Harry Bosch mystery. I (finally!) started reading Michael Connelly's books after watching the television pilot on Amazon, and when I started City of Bones, the action was quite familiar. Indeed, this novel is one of three on which the first season will be based. The first few chapters were quite familiar, and it was fascinating to see how faithful the pilot stayed to the book. It was also wonderful to get some answers, even if the television show departs from the events of the book, I'm hooked. At issue in this novel is a very cold case, which makes the investigation more challenging. The mystery itself is riveting, and the themes hit very close to home for Bosch, which also makes this case, and thus the novel, deeply personal for him. When I finished the novel, I re-watched the pilot and am even more excited for the season to begin.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: library

Want to read Michael Connelly? I recommend starting at the beginning with The Black EchoBuy The Black Echo from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or 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!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

book review: Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

The backstory: Emma Donoghue is among my favorite authors. Room remains one of my all-time favorite books, and I've also enjoyed The Sealed Letter and Astray.

The basics: Set in the summer of 1876 in San Francisco in the midst of the smallpox epidemic, Frog Music is the story of the murder of Jenny Bonnet, a cross-dressing young woman who dies in the novel's first pages. Her new friend Blanche Beunon, a French burlesque dancer and prostitute, tells the story. The action shifts between the days after Jenny's murder and a month earlier, when Jenny and Blanche meet.

My thoughts: Although Frog Music is the story of an unsolved murder, I'd classify it more as historical fiction than historical mystery. The mystery itself is compelling, particularly as the novel climaxes, but it's not what I loved most about this novel. As I read, I was immediately immersed in San Francisco in the summer of 1876. Donoghue strikes the perfect balance between vivid historical detail and a fast-moving plot. Blanche is a beguiling, fascinating character, and I enjoyed every moment of her story.

I read this novel compulsively. I was curious to see how the mystery unfolded, but I was equally intrigued with many of the novels smaller mysteries. In this sense, the two timelines (albeit only a month apart at their longest) were smart storytelling. Because so much was different at the two times, I never found myself confused. Instead I marveled at how many key events impacted the lives of these characters.

At the novel's end is a lengthy author's note on the real people Donoghue brings to life in Frog Music. Her research was impressive, but this piece of historical fiction clearly takes the real events, still shrouded in mystery, and uses them for inspiration. Donoghue's fictional tale may well be true, but it's a gift of this particular real-life mystery that is the greatest gift: because there are no known answers, the fictional possibilities are even more enchanting.

The verdict: Frog Music is an utterly immersive piece of historical fiction. It's based on true events and impeccably researched, but it's magic and charm lie in Donoghue's characters and setting.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 412 pages
Publication date: April 1, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Frog Music from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Emma Donoghue'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, May 21, 2014

book review: Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

The backstory: Think Like a Freak is the latest book collaboration of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I've previously adored Freakonomics (read before this blog) and Superfreakonomics (my review.)

The basics: Think Like a Freak is a glimpse into a different way of thinking. What it lacks in extensive statistical evaluation, it makes up for in terms of anecdotes and process.

My thoughts: In many ways, Think Like a Freak is somewhat of a departure from the first two Levitt and Dubner books. It's written in a very similar style, and as I read I felt as though I was privy to a casual conversation between the two. The book itself is broken up into chapters, each with a different lesson of how to think like a freak.

While this book lacked many of the wow moments I so loved about the first Freakonomics, it's lessons are wise and interesting. I read this book quickly (in only a few hours), and I was fascinated as I compulsively read. Even a few days later, however, I'm struck by how few specific tidbits have stuck with me. Part of this result stems from the fact that some of these lessons of thinking like a freak are evident from having read their first two books, reading their blog and listening to the podcast over the years. In some ways, this book lacks the newness of the first two books. Instead it excels at putting a lot of wisdom in one place. It's likely not a coincidence that the book's release coincides nicely with graduation season. This book would make a wonderful gift for new graduates.

The verdict: While I prefer to read about freakonomics in action more, Think Like a Freak was a fascinating glimpse into the thinking processes behind freakonomics. It has many worthy lessons and quite a few memorable tidbits to satisfy those, like me, who are hungry for more freakonomics.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 293 pages
Publication date: May 12, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Think Like a Freak from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit the Freakonomics 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, May 20, 2014

book review: The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

The backstory: The Undertaking, the debut novel by Audrey Magee, is on the 2014 Baileys Prize shortlist. It was also longlisted for the 2015 Walter Scott Prize.

The basics: In early World War II, teacher and German soldier Peter Faber, desperate to escape the Russian front, even if only for a few weeks, decides to marry a woman, Katharina Spinnell, he has never met. She gets his pension if he dies, and he gets two weeks leave, which he spends with Katharina and her parents in Berlin.

My thoughts: I confess, when I saw The Undertaking on the Baileys Prize longlist (and eventually the shortlist), I was skeptical. "Another World War II novel? Hasn't it all been done?" I'm hardly an expert on World War II fiction, but I've been suffering from fatigue for several years. Good news: The Undertaking is fresh, enchanting, and an incredibly accomplished debut.

The relationship between Katharina and Peter is fascinating to watch. There initial time together is incredibly awkward, but their tenderness is lovely and well-executed. I found myself rooting for them both, even as I knew the war was nowhere near over, as the Germans thought it was. Danger for them, individually and as a couple, lingered around every corner.

Although there is a love story at the heart of this novel, there is so much more than romance present. At its heart are two dynamic historical characters navigating a fascinating and horrifying time. Magee captures the time and place beautifully, and she lets both of her main characters tell their stories simultaneously, which provides a glimpse into the many sides of the war.

The verdict: As I read, I was struck by how vivid and cinematic this novel is. The prose is comprised mostly of dialogue, which helps the pace move quickly. The action seamlessly moves between the front and Berlin, and Magee manages to simultaneously capture the essence of both places without bogging down the plot or narrative with too many details.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: September 2, 2014 (it's out in the UK now)
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Undertaking from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Audrey Magee'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!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Salon: on pregnancy cravings (the expected and the surprising)

The Sunday Salon.comOne of the questions I get most frequently from people lately "what are you craving?" I am an eater (and a drinker), and I was curious how those habits would change when I got pregnant. I miss the ability to have more than one drink less than I thought I would (most nights). I really miss rare steak, blue cheese and goat cheese. I love the ability to eat gluten again (although still, not too much of it!) And I've developed an affinity for spicy food and chocolate much to the delight of Mr. Nomadreader, as those are two of his favorite good groups.) And, no, I haven't had the dreaded pregnancy heartburn (at least not yet), so I'm really enjoying my exploration of spicy foods and not-so-secretly hoping I won't lose the ability to enjoy spicy foods after the nomadbaby arrives.

But what I've been most surprised about is a craving of a very different sort: classic literature. I anticipated spending my pregnancy days lounging on the couch or in the hammock (weather dependent) reading as many books as possible. I felt a sense of urgency to read ahead and get to the fall new releases I'm most excited about because I have no idea what life after August 9th (give or take) will look like in my reading life. Yet I keep finding myself wanting to turn to the classics too.

I admit, I'm one of those readers who hated the classics in school. I loved to read, but I was strictly a contemporary, realistic fiction young lady (with the occasional genre fiction piece thrown in.) Required reading was almost always boring reading, and it kept me from the reading I wanted to be doing. Over the years I've discovered that there are classics I like, but it never seems as though they're at the forefront of conversations, so why read them when I can read the books people are talking about? It's one of the perils of book blogging and the bookish Twitter-sphere. Essentially: the classics have survived for this many years without me reading them, so won't they always be there? Why now?

At the heart of this desire is the single biggest change I've noticed in pregnancy: a shifting idea of time. Admittedly, this year feels like the longest one of my life. I am not someone who enjoys pregnancy (but I am so very happy to be pregnant.) Every day is a challenge, and while it's totally worth it (right, nomadbaby?), it's not an experience I care to have more than once. Yet I know this seemingly interminable year will be followed by perhaps the fastest year of my life. Watching the nomadbaby grow from birth to one year old will fly by, if all of my friends are to be believed. Yes, the days are long, but the months and year are short. There are so many changes and milestones the first year.

My sense of time is also changing in terms of ancestry. I find myself even more fascinated than usual by family trees and the combination of lineages. Mr. Nomadreader and I both hyphenated our names when we got married. It's been awesome to be the only two people in the world with our last name, and soon there will be a third. Our little family is an island of its own name.

One of things I most want to pass on to the nomadbaby is a love of reading. I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I've switched back to reading The New Yorker in print and plan to read more print books because I want to more obviously model reading for him. While I've always been a big believer that although there are books of varying quality, reading is more important than what you read. So why the classics if they're not what I've enjoyed most in the past?

Perhaps having a child makes me confront my own age and the speed of life. If I keep putting them off, I'll never get to them because there will always be too many books to read. And there are classics that appeal to me immensely and feel like gaps in my reading (there are also plenty I'm okay knowing the basic plot points about and never reading.)

So which are calling out to me loudest? Today it's Jane Austen, the Brontes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edith Wharton, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Eliot, Henry James, and E.M. Forster. Some I've read before and enjoyed. Some I've read before and despised but want to give another chance. And some I've (shamefully) never read. Every book I pick up lately seems to reference characters (or experiences in the form of non-fiction) reading the classics, and those make me want to immerse myself even more deeply in the shared experiences.

Yet as strong as this craving is, I'm having so much fun reading whatever strikes my fancy. I stopped accepting books with specific review dates while I was pregnant, and I love the freedom to read what I want when I want to read it. I'll never find my way through all the books I want to read, but I do hope I start to sprinkle in a few more classics to round out my reading.

 Now tell me: which classics should I definitely make room (and which should I avoid?)

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

audiobook review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

narrated by Kate Rudd

The basics: The Fault in Our Stars is the story of the romance of Hazel and Augustus, teenagers who meet at a cancer support group.

My thoughts: I don't read a lot of young adult fiction, but it's been impossible to ignore the acclaim of this novel, particularly it's impressive performance in the 2013 Tournament of Books. I opted to listen to it on audio, and Kate Rudd's narration captured a delightful tone for the novel. There are moments of levity, seriousness and relative normalcy, and Rudd moves between them deftly. The subject matter of this novel is dark: teenagers with cancer, but the novel is rarely dark. While this tone makes it more entertaining read, it also functioned to keep me from becoming as emotionally invested in the characters as I would have liked to be.

The Fault in Our Stars is the first young adult novel I've read since I became pregnant, and it was a somewhat jarring experience for me to feel more connection to Hazel's parents that to Hazel herself. I can't say if this parental connection was due to my circumstances, the novel, or a combination of both, but it certainly impacted my view of the novel. Hazel is a fascinating character, but I found her to be somewhat inconsistent, a problem I often have with teenagers in fiction, as teenagers themselves are, of course, inconsistent.

The verdict: There were moments I loved in this novel and moments that will stick with me, but overall I found it to be good, but not great. I'm not sorry I read it, but after all of its acclaim, I found myself expecting more. I found too many of the plot movements easy to predict, which reduced their emotional impact on me. I didn't love this one, but I rarely love young adult fiction, so don't let my lukewarm thoughts steer you away if it's a genre you typically enjoy (although in that case, you've probably already read it!)

Audio thoughts: Kate Rudd captured the raw emotion of all characters, not just the teenage Hazel who narrates, without veering into melodrama or being overwrought. It was a dynamic performance, and I will certainly seek out her narrations in the future.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (audio: 4.5 out of 5)
Length: 7 hours 14 minutes (337 pages)
Publication date: January 10, 2012
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Fault In Our Stars from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit John Green'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!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

book review: Wonderland by Stacey D'Erasmo

The basics: Wonderland is the story of Anna Brundage, a forty-four year old indie rock star who has been out of the public spotlight for seven years. She's on her international comeback tour promoting her latest album, which she had to self-finance. Wonderland unfolds in the present, on tour, as Anna also recollects her first rise and fall in music, as well as her life until now.

My thoughts: Wonderland is one of those books I wanted to like so much more than I did. The premise is fabulous--a female indie rock star primed for a comeback and traveling across music drinking and playing shows? It's practically tailor-made for me. Yet as I read, I never felt connected to Anna. Worse still--I never particularly cared about her. D'Ersasmo is a gifted writer, and I enjoyed myself as I read, but I kept waiting for something more, and this never fully came together for me. Still, it was a quick read, and I enjoyed the time I spent with it, but I doubt it will stay with me for long.

The verdict: Despite a premise that immensely appealed to me and strong writing, Wonderland fell flat for me. I wanted more from Anna as a character because so much hinges on her internally and externally.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 259 pages
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Wonderland from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Stacey D'Erasmo'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, May 13, 2014

book review: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

The backstory: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride's debut novel, is shortlisted for the 2014 Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction.

The basics: "Eimear McBride's acclaimed debut tells the story of a young woman's relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumor, touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma."--from the publisher

My thoughts: When I sat down to start A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, I was curious and excited. I knew it was receiving praise from some very big names and that it was experimental in nature. I eager to become part of the Eimear McBride club. After ten pages, I realized I had zero idea of what I had read beyond words. I started over.

Finishing A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is something of an accomplishment for me. It was incredibly challenging to read and required a high level of concentration. It was not a book I could lose myself in for hours. It was a book I had to read in short bursts that left me tired from slow reading and fast thinking. The experience is almost like reading in a foreign language--I spent as much time reading as I did trying to make sense of the strings of words that were only sometimes sentences. It's a different kind of concentration, and I often wondered if the effort would be worth it.

There were times I felt like a bad-ass reading this novel. "I am so smart and worldly!" I thought to myself when I found myself following the narrative more easily. Sadly, these moments were quickly followed by realizations I had once again lost the narrative threads and needed to re-trace my steps.

The verdict: I rate books based on a combination of quality, appreciation and enjoyment. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is among the most difficult books to rate I've ever read. It is an accomplished novel, and I appreciate the experimental nature of McBride's work, but it isn't a novel I enjoyed reading. It's certainly award-worthy, but it's also a novel I would recommend to only the most adventurous and dedicated readers. Finishing it felt like the literary equivalent of running a marathon, and I was mostly glad to be done just so I could say I was--and move onto a novel I enjoyed more, even if it's not as accomplished or inventive.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 204 pages
Publication date: September 9, 2014 (it's out in the UK now)
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Pre-order A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing from an independent bookstore, order it the Book Depository or pre-order it from Amazon (no Kindle edition yet.)

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 12, 2014

book review: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

The basics: Set over one weekend in late summer, Cutting Teeth is the story of a Long Island beach house vacation for a Brooklyn playgroup of four-year-olds and their parents.

My thoughts: Despite having a large cast of characters, I never struggled with keeping the characters straight. Alternating narration from most of the parents certainly helped, as the reader gets to know both the personalities of each character as well as their interior monologues. In this sense, the narrative style greatly contributed to the tension of the weekend, which predictably builds as the novel goes on.

Cutting Teeth is both funny and serious. Fierro, herself a mother of two young children who lives in Brooklyn, frequently pokes fun at the stereotypes and caricatures of Brooklyn parents and children. But while the commentary veered into satire at times, I was also struck by an underlying sadness at its heart. I think of parenting a little differently now as I'm a few months from becoming a parent. The sadness and helplessness woven into this novel resonated with me more strongly than the happy moments, for better or for worse. As I read, however, I was struck by the idea of friendship in the play group, which my favorite passage (below) so eloquently sums up. As I imagine myself as a soon-to-be parent, I sometimes imagine vacations with my friends and their kids, but I haven't yet imagined the friendships I'll form because of and through my child. It's a fascinatingly different dynamic, and the transition from playgroup to vacationing friends is indeed one fraught with opportunities for drama, which Fierro delightfully captures in Cutting Teeth.

Favorite passage: "She hadn't chosen these mommies and daddies. They were just the players that came with Wyatt. She had spent hours and hours with them only because they shared the story, which was a comedy, and occasionally, a tragedy. A story about loving little children."

The verdict: I loved the rawness and honesty of Cutting Teeth. I laughed and bemoaned as I spent two days with this motley crew of characters, but most importantly, it's a novel that hasn't left my mind since I finished it. Fierro is clearly a talent to watch, and Cutting Teeth is an impressive debut.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 337 pages
Publication date: May 13, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Cutting Teeth from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Julia Fierro's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

 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 11, 2014

Sunday Salon: the home stretch?

The Sunday Salon.comGood morning! We're expecting a day of storms, so I've traded in hammock-lounging for porch couch lounging today. Plus, I have a ton of things I'd like to do around the house before celebrating Mother's Day with my mom, grandmother, and aunt tonight.

Pregnancy
It was a week of milestones: Friday marked three months until the nomadbaby's due date, and I hit 27 weeks yesterday, which means I've officially entered the third trimester. I feel like I'm in the home stretch now. Unlike most people, I keep feeling better the longer I'm pregnant. I struggled with pre-partum depression the first two trimesters, but I've been feeling more and more like myself in the past few weeks. I think I've finally reached an equilibrium, where August 9th seems close enough that my impatience is waning (I accept that there will be a baby...and relatively soon), which allows me to be both excited for the nomadbaby to arrive and excited to enjoy these last weeks as a family of two. Granted, summer is the season I'm usually most miserable because I hate the heat, so I particularly dread it this year, but the closer we get to August 9th, the more excited I am. It's nice to have something to look forward to during my last favorite season. And the weather has been lovely so far this spring. I'm really enjoying having the windows open, lounging in the hammock, and being outside relaxing.

Reading & Listening
With my prepartum depression fog finally lifting, I'm reading more than ever. April was a banner month: I read fourteen books. I've already finished five this month, which is fabulous. There are so many new releases I'm excited about in the coming months, and I've been neglecting my Bailey's Prize reading in favor of the new ones, but when I'm reading this much and enjoying it, my specific goals seem to fall away. I'm also (finally!) finding my audiobook groove again. There are tons of things we need to do, as well as many I want to do, around the house before the nomadbaby arrives. It was the perfect time to get back into audiobooks, particularly as I expect my reading to shift to more audio after her arrives. I'm currently loving The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, and I find myself shocked I haven't made time to read any of her work before. It's divine.

I'm off to spend a little time with Lost Light by Michael Connelly before starting my chores. What are you up to today?

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

Friday, May 9, 2014

book review: Expecting Better by Emily Oster

The basics: The subtitle of Expecting Better really says it all: why the conventional pregnancy wisdom is wrong--and what you really need to know. Emily Oster is a health economist, and in this book she offers up her analysis of what the data behind the pregnancy rules (the good, bad and unnecessary). While she offers her decisions, she also leaves room for the reader to make her own informed decisions about her pregnancy.

My thoughts: Expecting Better made headlines when it came out last August. I vividly recall the NPR headline "Pregnant? It's okay to have a glass of wine*" with the asterisk indicating "according to an economist." Which is true, but also according to doctors across Western Europe and Australia, but I'm getting ahead of myself. In August, we were still in that very frustrating stage of trying to get pregnant, so I purchased the book for my Kindle and impatiently waited until I was actually pregnant, which blessedly finally happened in December 2013, to start reading. Then I discovered the first section is about getting pregnant. Live and learn.

I'm not a fan of arbitrary rules, and being pregnant is no exception. Some are obvious, of course, but before I blindly follow rules, I want to understand the why, and that's what Oster does in Expecting Better. When I talk about being pregnant with women 20-30 years older than I am, they are quick to tell you all the things they were allowed to do that are forbidden now (soft cheese, steak cooked less than well-done, cold cuts, etc.) And as they're always quick to point out, my kids turned out okay. Admittedly, as much as I wanted a baby, I was never looking forward to actually being pregnant. I'm a sushi-eating, rare-steak loving, blue cheese devouring, wine-drinking fool. Nine months without them? It sounded unpleasant. I won't go as far to say I'm happy to do it, but if it's really putting my baby in danger, of course I will avoid things. If, however, there isn't a good answer to the "why?" question, then why make myself even more miserable if it's not helping my baby?

I'll let the data in Expecting Better speak for itself. I didn't make all the same choices as Oster did, but that's the beauty of this book: it's not about the advice; it's about the data. It's about equipping yourself with the right information so you (and your partner) can make informed decisions about your pregnancy. Oster distills it for you, but she also features extensive citations so you can read the actual data for yourself when you're so inclined.

As hard as it is, I avoid red meat that isn't well done (and that one is getting harder as grilling out season gears up.) I avoid unpasteurized cheeses (I did thankfully find a great pasteurized Stilton to satisfy my blue cheese craving.) I eat sushi. I eat runny eggs. I drink a glass of wine most nights (only twice a week in the first trimester.) I even have one glass with lunch and one with dinner on occasion. I cut back on caffeine in the first trimester, but I never cut it out. We opted not to do first trimester prenatal screening, which surprised me. I'm opting for an epidural.

The verdict: Expecting Better is a must-read for pregnant women, women trying to get pregnant, and anyone interested in the science of pregnancy. As an economist, Oster brings a Freakonomics-style approach to analyzing pregnancy data. She also brings her personal experience of being pregnant (plus many stories from her sister and friends, who often received different information from their different doctors.) I read it in a single day (the day I found out I was pregnant), but I've continued to refer to it throughout my pregnancy, particularly when people try to tell me not to eat cold cuts or enjoy my pregnancy-portion of wine. It's a book I'll keep giving to my pregnant friends for years to come.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 334 pages
Publication date: August 20, 2013
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong--and What You Really Need to Know from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Follow Emily Oster on Twitter.

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

book review: The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne

Update: The Dogs of Littlefield was published January 12, 2016 in the U.S. 
I've reposted my review here.

The backstory: The Dogs of Littlefield is on the longlist for this year's Baileys Prize. Suzanne Berne won the Orange Prize in 1999 for her first novel, A Crime in the Neighborhood (my review.)

The basics: Set in the idyllic (fictional) town of Littlefield, Massachusetts, famous for its place on the Ten Best Places to Live in America list, as well as its disproportionately high number of psychotherapists, The Dogs of Littlefield explores the characters of this town through their own eyes and through the eyes of Dr. Clarice Watkins, a cultural anthropologist spending a year in Littlefield as a visiting scholar. Soon after she arrives, dogs start getting poisoned, and the paranoia and repercussions of these events ripple throughout Littlefield.

My thoughts: When the Baileys Prize longlist was first announced, the title I was most surprised to see was The Dogs of Littlefield. How, I marveled, did I not know Suzanne Berne had a new novel out? It turns out because it not only isn't yet published in the U.S., there is no forthcoming U.S. publication date (particularly annoying because she's an American author, but British publishing wins again.)

I like my suburban fiction combined with a healthy dose of satire, and The Dogs of Littlefield is full of satire. I frequently laughed as I read, but this novel's humor is all relative--these jokes don't resonate out of context. Berne achieves the delicate balance of commenting on suburban life without doing so at the expense of the characters. The world is so well built I easily pictured real people, even as the characters acted in satirical caricature.

Favorite passage: "She was trying, he realized with a stab of grief, to be interesting."

The verdict: While the mystery of what is happening to the dogs (and who is hurting them) is a central theme to the narrative, it's only as compelling as everything else that's happening in the novel. The characters are the core of this novel, and they are the reason I so enjoyed it. May a U.S. publisher pick up this novel soon so Berne fans on this side of the world may enjoy it.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: December 5, 2013 (UK--no scheduled U.S. publication yet)
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Dogs of Littlefield from the Book Depository or Amazon (no U.S. Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Suzanne Berne'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, May 6, 2014

book review: The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman

The backstory: Ellen Feldman is one of my favorite authors. I've adored her two most recent novels: Scottsboro (my review) and Next to Love (my review.)

The basics: The Unwitting opens on November 22, 1963, but it's not a novel about the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. In this prologue, the reader learns it will be a momentous day for Nell and Charlie Benjamin, but before we find out why, the action jumps back to the beginning of their courtship.

My thoughts: The titular unwitting refers to those who were unaware of CIA connections and financial support of non-governmental foundations, publications and organizations. Throughout this novel there are questions of loyalty and paranoia about the CIA and its involvement, but these themes extend beyond the CIA into secrets and trust, of the government, of spouses, and of associates. These themes run rampant in this novel, and the reader shares the doubt of the characters as we all wonder "will we ever really know the truth?" The Cold War serves as a fascinating backdrop for this story about Nell and Charlie's marriage, but their marriage also serves as a compelling example of its time.

The emphasis on the CIA was expected, but I was pleased to see Feldman once again integrate racial issues and the civil rights movement so seamlessly into this narrative. In the span of this novel, there are so many stories of national and international importance, and Feldman manages to infuse them without cluttering the narrative.

One of the things I so love about Feldman's historical novels is her ability to create strong female characters who are not anachronistic, and Nell continues this trend. As a well-educated journalist, as well as a wife and mother, she struggles with finding time and space for her work. She also struggles with being taken seriously in her profession. In many ways, her marriage to Charlie both helps and hinders these struggles. Yet as much as this novel is the story of their marriage, it's even more the story of Nell and how she became the woman she is: "So long, Mom. See you around. I was nothing like my own mother, but I still had to be abandoned. If I weren't, I had failed. But I hadn't expected success to feel so bleak."

Favorite passage: "I was still young enough to believe that people fell in love for shared interests, common principles, and other logical rationalizations. I hadn't an inkling of the more primitive needs that drove them together. I'm not talking about sex, though of course that was part of it. I mean the hungers our pasts hollow out of our souls."

The verdict: Ellen Feldman's historical fiction is filled with compelling characters navigating difficult events, and The Unwitting is no exception. So many events are beautifully brought together in Nell and Charlie's story, from the Cold War to civil rights. While the narrative could have easily been muddied with all of the rich historical detail, Feldman once again uses history to enhance the characters as much as she uses the characters to enhance the history. The result is a fully realized portrait of both one marriage and its time and place.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 305 pages
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Unwitting from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Ellen Feldman'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, May 5, 2014

book review: How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane (And Other Lessons in Parenting from a Highly Questionable Source) by Johanna Stein

The basics: As the title indicates, How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane is a humorous parenting book. It's a collection of essays and anecdotes

My thoughts: I tend to shy away from straight advice books about parenting, as I did when we planned our wedding, started trying to get pregnant, got pregnant, and now are approaching parenthood. Advice-filled parenting books will likely find a place in my reading life once I know my child and his particular issues, but until then, I increasingly find myself drawn to humor, essays, and fiction about parenting. How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane is a delightfully humorous essay collection about Johanna Stein's adventures in parenting.

I frequently laughed out loud as I read this book, which made Mr. Nomadreader comment how nice it is to hear me reading a funny book. Apparently my typical reading tastes cause me to gasp and cry rather than laugh. Stein's humor doesn't completely mesh with my own. At times I also found myself critiquing her jokes as trying to hard or being hollow, but it's rare to find someone whose humor completely aligns with my own, and hers does a lot of the time.

Favorite passage: "Some people like to save this knowledge to be revealed as a surprise the moment the baby is born. Personally, I can't stand the idea of someone possessing information about me to which I am not privy. Thought it does give me the opportunity to use the word privy, it generally feels to me like the first step of a blackmail plot."

The verdict: If you're searching for a funny book, especially if you have kids or know people who have kids (so most people?), How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane is a good one. In the tradition of Tina Fey's Bossypants (my review), Stein infuses wisdom into her humor to elevate this book beyond just a funny parenting book.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: April 29, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Johanna Stein'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!

Friday, May 2, 2014

mini-book reviews: Trunk Music, Blood Work, and Angels Flight by Michael Connelly

I've been tearing through Michael Connelly's lengthy backlist, and I often find myself with repetitive things to say about them, so I'll mostly be doing mini-reviews of his titles, unless one compels me to write more deeply.
Trunk Music is the fifth novel in the Harry Bosch series. Harry is back from his disciplinary leave and now has two partners: Kizmin Rider and Jerry Edgar. Their first case as a team of three is the murder of Hollywood producer Tony Aliso, who is found in his trunk in what appears to be a Mafia hit. The real story is a twisty, satisfying and surprising story I've come to expect from Connelly. The novel veers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and brings a familiar face back to Harry's personal life, Eleanor Wish, from The Black Echo. On the whole, Trunk Music is a deeply satisfying mystery and also moves Harry's story forward.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Source: purchased

Blood Work is a stand-alone novel that introduces Terry McCaleb, an FBI agent who retired after having a heart transplant. Soon, however, he finds himself looking into the murder of Gloria Rivers, the woman whose heart Terry now has. Blood Work is filled with satisfying surprises and continues Connelly's streak of smart mysteries. As always, Connelly, also includes an Easter Egg for regular readers of his earlier books.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Source: library

Angels Flight is the sixth Harry Bosch novel. The mystery centers on the murder of an activist civil rights attorney, Howard Elias. Famous for suing the LAPD, the case is riddled with political implications and accusations. As Harry, Kiz, and Jerry try to solve this murder, they find themselves also investigating the last case Elias was working on, and the possibility of a murderer still on the loose. Even by Connelly's standards, Angels Flight is dark, but it's an excellent mystery that captures the racial tensions of Los Angeles in the 1990's beautifully.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Source: purchased

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, May 1, 2014

book review: All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

The backstory: All the Birds, Singing, the second novel by Australian author Evie Wyld, was longlisted for the 2014 Baileys Prize.

The basics: Jake lives on a sheep farm in England, where she mostly sticks to herself and with her dog, Dog. She's clearly running from her past, which adds a bit of mystery, and the action shifts between flashbacks to the past and the present.

My thoughts: All the Birds, Singing is a book I wanted to like more than I liked. Perhaps I read it at the wrong time, but I struggled to get through this slim volume. If experimental nature fiction is a genre, then this novel is it. On the whole, I felt this novel was disjointed. Most obviously, the narrative is intentionally disjointed, as the action shifts (often awkwardly for this reader) between time periods, but without clear markers. From the first pages, there's an assumption the narrator won't tell this story from the beginning and expects the reader to make sense of the characters and events as time goes on. Characters aren't introduced in the traditional sense; instead they appear and become part of the puzzle of figuring out. As I read, I couldn't shake the feeling I was missing things. I didn't understand the significance of people and events, and I struggled to follow the narrative.

As the novel began to come together, I was underwhelmed. For Wyld to attempt such clever storytelling, I expected more of a pay off, but I found the novel fizzled rather than sizzled. Admittedly, as I struggled to keep characters, time, and places separate, I could have missed the crucial connections Wyld wanted her readers to make.

The verdict: It's clear I didn't enjoy All the Birds, Singing, but I think some readers would delight in this experimental nature fiction. While I didn't enjoy the experience of reading it, I do still want to read Wyld's much-acclaimed first novel, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice, and I loved this recent interview Wyld.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 241 pages
Publication date: April 15, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy All the Birds, Singing from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Evie Wyld'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!