Friday, April 30, 2010

Tea with Trigiani

There's this fantastic contest for bloggers attending Book Expo America, (which is less than a month away now!), to win a contest to have tea with Adriana Trigiani during BEA. Of course, I want to win. I read my first Trigiani book over Christmas (Big Stone Gap), and I loved it. It was different than I expected, and it was funnier. I've really been looking forward to reading the rest of the Stone Gap books, but I'm even more intrigued with her new trilogy.
Very Valentine: A NovelBrava, Valentine: A Novel

Adriana Trigiani has a new trilogy, and its first book, Very Valentine, is now in paperback. The second book, Brava, Valentine, was released in February. Despite receiving the books for review and the deadline being extended until today, I still haven't read them. (Book blogger shame). With one week left in my hardest semester of graduate school, it just hasn't happened. I will read them before BEA, but in the meantime, I have some fun Adriana Trigiani tidbits for you all.

The books take place in Greenwich Village, and I did spend a summer living in Greenwich Village (and I still live in the land of denial when I imagine I could ever afford to live there again). Adriana did this fantastic walking tour of the neighborhood where the books are set. It's so much fun, and I know it will only make the books seem more alive when I read them.

Other cool things:

Have you read the Valentine books? What's your favorite thing about them?

Thanks to HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for both these books and this wonderful contest!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

book review: Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet

Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories
The backstory: I haven't read anything by Lydia Millet before, but Love in Infant Monkeys was one of the finalists for this year's Pulitzer Prize. It is not available on the Kindle, so I requested it from the library. Because it's only a seven-day check out, I read it first. I am not a person who loves short stories, although Elizabeth Crane convinces me I sometimes do. I vaguely knew of Lydia Millet, as I remember wanting to read her novel George Bush, Dark Prince of Love when it came out.

The basics & the verdict: Short story collections can be difficult to assess. There are always some stories more enjoyable than others. This collection works beautifully as a collection. All the stories deal with animals and celebrities, and each one is beautifully unique. Millet has taken tidbits and stories from the headlines and re-imagined them. The first story in the collection, "Sexing the Pheasant," is the story of Madonna hunting in England. It is absolutely brilliant. I read large portions of it out loud to Mr. Nomadreader, and I found myself constantly saying "this story is amazing" every few lines. Of course, the inevitable let down soon followed. I enjoyed all the stories in the collection, but "Sexing the Pheasant" was my favorite, so I felt a bit of disappointment as the book progressed. My second favorite was "Chomsky, Rodents" and took place at a trash dump. Overall: short story lovers will adore this collection, and so will the snarky intellectual crowd who adore Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and may be reticent to admit they enjoy The New Yorker as much as US Weekly (yes, that describes me). Those in the know will love the jokes, and those not in the know won't realize they missed them.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5) - 5 stars to "Sexing the Pheasant" and "Chomsky, Rodents"
Length: 208 pages 
Publication date: September 22, 2009
Source: my local public library

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

audio book review: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed
The backstory: Then We Came to the End, the first novel by Joshua Ferris, has been in my TBR pile since it came out. I immediately knew I wanted to read The Unnamed too, and I was thrilled when I won a contest for a copy of the audio book, I was thrilled. I saved it for my road trip to Providence, Rhode Island, and it was a wonderful road companion.

The basics: Tim Farnsworth, a lawyer, cannot stop walking.  No doctor can figure out what's causing this unnamed condition.

The verdict: Ferris uses a seemingly ridiculous medical condition (inability to stop walking?) to explore a marriage, a family, and our collective cynicism. To satisfy the naysayers and the characters themselves, Ferris explores every question I could muster about this bizarre condition. As a reader/listener, I was privy to the thoughts of Tim, his wife Jane, and their daughter, and the different reasons they each had for not discussing Tim's condition with others. In this world where drug and alcohol problems and mental disorders are increasingly met with supportive friends, families and employers, an unnamed condition doesn't have a place. No one knows anyone with this condition; it must not be real. What's causing it? Does it matter?

I'm both glad and sad I listened to this book on audio. Joshua Ferris read it, and it was wonderful to hear where he placed his emphasis and where he paused. At the same time, he's a wordsmith, and there were sentences I wanted to pause and swoon over. I don't listen to many books on audio, but this one was wonderful to listen to as I took the back roads, avoided the interstates and imagined Tim walking along beside me as I drove across New England. At the end of the novel, there's a conversation between Joshua Ferris and Reagan Arthur, the book's editor. The interview was one of my favorite parts of the listening experience. Overall: It's a masterful combination of character, perception, marriage, knowledge and understanding.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Pages: 320 
Publication date: January 18, 2010
Source: I won a copy in a contest

Want to read it? Order it from Amazon

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Orange Prize: 2010 shortlist

he Orange Prize, given to a work of fiction written by a woman in English, has announced its 2010 shortlist. It's a British prize, and a novel's eligibility is determined by its British publication date.

The official announcement, including two excellent videos of the judges discussing the shortlist are available on its Web site.

The shortlist:


  • The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison
  • The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
  • The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
My reactions to the shortlist: It's no surprise to see Wolf Hall on the list, but I am shocked Sarah Waters' Little Stranger did not make the shortlist. I am also surprised The Long Song by Andrea Levy did not make the list, but I'm still waiting on its U.S. release to read it. Three U.S. authors are among the six finalists: Barbara Kingsolver, Attica Locke and Lorrie Moore. The Lacuna received mixed reviews, and I'm a little surprised it edged out The Help. Kudos to Rosie Alison and Attica Locke for their first novels being shortlisted (I'll review Black Water Rising on Wednesday, May 12 for a TLC book tour.) Although I haven't read it yet, I'm thrilled to see Rosie Alison make the shortlist. When the longlist was announced, The Very Thought of You had not been reviewed in an British publications. Even in literature, part of me cheers for the underdogs (like Paul Harding who just surprised the country with his Pulitzer win for Tinkers.)

U.S. Availability: The Very Thought of You and The White Woman on the Green Bicycle haven't been published in the United States yet, but Amazon has copies available through third party sellers. Both are very cheap on AmazonUK right now, and The Book Depository offers free shipping (with higher prices) to the U.S. I'm keeping my fingers crossed to get both through interlibrary loan.

My reviews: I haven't read any of these yet, but I do hope to read and review all six before the winner is announced. If you plan to read all six too, please stop by on Sunday, June 6 for a mock Orange Prize vote!

The winner will be announced June 9, 2010. 

I am an Amazon affiliate, and if you make a purchase through any of the above Amazon links, I receive a small commission. Thanks!

Monday, April 19, 2010

dinner and a movie: The Runaways

Welcome to my Monday morning recap of my fabulous Friday night date with myself. This week I'm back to my usual location: the Spectrum 8 Theatres and New World Bistro Bar.
The RunawaysThe Runaways Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The back story: As someone who grew up on the c'singles (cassette singles) of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, I was immediately interested in learning about her early years in rock and roll with the all-girl rock band, The Runaways. Feminism and music? Yes, please. Also, after being pleasantly surprised with how good Kristen Stewart was in Twilight (my review), playing a character I disliked in the novel, I was eager to see her act again.

The basics: Although it was billed largely as a Joan Jett biopic, it's more of a Cherie Curry biopic. Cherie was the lead singer of The Runaways, and the script was based on her memoir Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. The film focuses on Jett and Curry, and the band's other three members are barely included. 

The verdict: Floria Sigismondi managed to make a film about Joan Jett, feminism and rock history boring. The film had no flow. It begins in 1975, but there's no indication of how fast time lapses or when other events happen until the last scene, which is eight months later. Later than what is unclear. How could a film with so much intended shock value be dull? I'm still not sure, but the entire film felt incredibly forced. Dakota Fanning was good, but no characters really showed much depth. Her chemistry with Kristen Stewart, who was completely unbelievable as bad-ass Joan Jett, was lacking. Everything was out of balance. It felt contrived or intentionally salacious, which made it seem sad and awkward rather than its intention.Overall: I wouldn't recommend it

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Length: 106 minutes that felt like more
Release date: it's in theaters now
Source: I paid to see it at the Spectrum 8 Theatres
Dinner: After a frustratingly bad movie, I was eager for a tasty meal and a glass of wine. As usual, New World Bistro Bar did not disappoint. Also per usual, at 8:45 on a Friday night, there was hardly anyplace to stand near the bar. Thanks to attentive and wonderful bartenders, I didn't wait long for a glass of wine and found good light to stand under while I sipped wine and read on my Kindle. After about twenty minutes, I was able to get a seat at the bar. I started with a bowl of the Chipotle black bean soup, which was topped with avocado creme. It was spicier than I expected, but it was delicious. The French rose was a perfect wine accompaniment to the spice. For my meal, I had my favorite arugula salad with salmon on top. The salad contains arugula, drunken goat cheese, sunflower seed, roasted beets and a truffle balsamic vinaigrette. I opted for grilled salmon rather than blackened, and the chimichurri on top was delicious. The salmon was absolutely perfectly cooked, and I devoured every bite.  After a disappointing start to the evening, it still had a lovely finish.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

book review: The Lovers by Vendela Vida

The Lovers: A Novel
The back story: I am a huge fan of Vendela Vida, and when I first heard about her new novel, the advance praise alone had me longing for it. Thankfully, I got a copy from the publisher via Book Browse.

The basics: Yvonne is a middle-aged widow with two grown children who decides to travel alone to Datca, Turkey. 

The verdict: I savored every word of the novel's 240 pages. Vida does a masterful job of showing the reader how even an intelligent, self-aware and honest character, does not really see what is going on around her. Yvonne's slow admissions of her back story made me realize the better I knew her, the less well she understood herself. I loved  Yvonne, and I loved the descriptions of marriage, parenting, teaching and travel. Overall: it's my favorite read of 2010 so far.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Pages: 240
Publication date: June 22, 2010 (pre-order it from
Source: I received this book from the publisher

As an Amazon affiliate, I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase through the above link. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

book review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
The back story: I was eager to read this book as soon as I heard about it. It's published by Amy Einhorn (Penguin), whose publishing philosopshy for this imprint is "intelligent writing with a strong narrative, always with great storytelling at its core." I'm also a huge fan of historical fiction about real people. Years ago when I thought I wanted to be a historian, I was often frustrated that history didn't hold all the answers, and I adore novelists who take the gaps in our collective knowledge and create stories to help fill them in in some way. When Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha' Reading? proposed a reading series of this novel, I jumped at the opportunity.

The basics: The title is quite descriptive. This book tells the story of one summer (and fall) in Louisa May Alcott's life. The Alcotts, poor because Bronson's philosophy is at odds with earning an income to support his family, move to a friend's home in Walpole, New Hampshire in 1855.

My favorite lines:
"I could never love anyone better than I love my independence." (p. 104)
"There is nothing I love better htan home, wherever home happens to be." (p. 130)
"'Sometimes I feel like life is one long string of exploitations,' Louisa said. 'Use or be used.'" (p. 143)

The verdict: I loved this book. Kelly O'Connor McNees made these characters come alive. Each character is nuanced and real. If you've read Little Women, you'll see many parallels between Louisa and her sisters and those characters. I read the book almost twenty years ago, and I was amazed how many things came back to me after reading this book. Writing a novel about real people can come off more as a biography or more as a novel, but this one straddles the two genres beautifully. Yes, it's Louisa's story, but O'Connor McNees made the town of Walpole, its residents and the time period come alive. She deftly uses one famous woman's story to paint a picture of the time and place as well as Louisa's place in it. The librarian and researcher in me found O'Connor McNees' note on sources and the research process as fascinating as the book itself. Overall: it's an immensely readable, beautiful story of a woman, a town and a summer. I'm looking forward to the next novel by Kelly O'Connor McNees.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Pages: 352
Release date: April 1, 2010
Source: I received this book for review from the publisher. Thank you!

Want to buy it for yourself? Amazon currently has it for $11.69. (This is an affiliate link. If you buy the book by clicking this link, I receive a small commission. Thanks for helping to support nomad reader!)

Want to know more? Join us at 9 p.m. EDT tonight to discuss this novel with the author at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

book club: Olive Kitteridge

The book club back story: After living in Albany for two years, I decided I had enough literary-minded friends and acquaintances to start a book club. We had our first meeting last night, and it was wonderful. Here is the delightful spread of wine and snacks.
The book choice: I chose Olive Kitteridge for our first book because I had been meaning to read it for a long time. Plus, it's relatively short, and I didn't want to scare people away.

The basics: Olive Kitteridge is a set of somewhat interconnected stories (some are more connected than others). Olive Kitteridge is an old, large curmudgeon of a woman who lives on the coast of Maine. She taught math before she retired.Some stories are about Olive, some she plays a supporting role in, and some her name is only mentioned in passing.

The verdict: The six of us were relatively split on the book, and it made for wonderful discussion. I admire Elizabeth Strout, but I didn't love Olive Kitteridge. I'm glad she won the Pulitzer Prize for it because I love the idea of the book, and I think it's an interesting departure for literature. I loved her writing. Her words have a simplicity and an elegance, and she uses sparse language to convey so much action, emotion and observation. I'm certainly glad I read it, and I would recommend it to bibliophiles, but I would not recommend it to irregular readers. It was not always an easy book to read. I am not a big fan of short stories in general, but I loved some stories, liked others and could have done without a few. What I loved most was Olive herself. She is such a dynamic character, and I missed her when the stories veered away from her. As some character names came up more than once, I found myself having trouble remembering if I had met these characters before. (Side note: I have never been more grateful for my Kindle's ability to search within a book. Also, the Wikipedia page on the novel has a wonderful listing of characters, but it does include spoilers.) Mostly it didn't matter, but when the stories started to feel more like a novel, I felt like I was missing something. Overall: it's brilliant, but I didn't love it.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Pages: 304
Publication: March 25, 2008 by Random House
Source: I bought it for my Kindle (it's only $5.50)

I do look forward to reading more of Elizabeth Strout's work. Have you read Olive Kitteridge? What did you think? Have you read other Strout books? Would you recommend Abide With Me or Amy and Isabelle?

Next month: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I am an Amazon affiliate, and if you make a purchase through the above links, I receive a small commission. Thanks!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pulitzer Prize 2010

Part of my desire to read deliberately this year, which hasn't been a total success by the way, is to read more award winners. I eagerly awaited the 3 p.m. announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winner and finalists for Fiction. I adore the Pulitzer Prize. It announces winners and finalist all at once, and the award comes in the spring. It's the first announcement of the year for adult books (yes, the Orange longlist is announced earlier, but the shortlist comes later this month and the winner won't be announced until June), so it has the extra air of excitement.
The winner: Tinkers by Paul Harding
Harding's first novel just won the Pulitzer Prize. I already downloaded it onto my Kindle and cannot wait to start reading it. The novel was published January 1, 2009. 
The Finalists:
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Mueenuddin is not too much of a surprise, as he was also a finalist for the National Book Award and Entertainment Weekly named it its Best Fiction book of 2009. It appeared on a slew of end of the year lists. 

Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories by Lydia Millet 
Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories

Millet's inclusion on this list is a huge surprise. I've wanted to read her work for years, but I never have. 

Overall, I'm thrilled. I've only heard good things about all three books and two of the three were huge surprises. The best news? The longest of the three is Other Wonders, Other Rooms, and it's only 256 pages. All three are accessibly works of literature, and I cannot wait to start discussing them with you.

Happy reading!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

sunday salon: Empire State Book Festival

Yesterday, while most of you were busy reading for twenty-four hours, I was at the first ever Empire State Book Festival right here in Albany. If you followed the conversation (#esbf) on Twitter at all, you hear many first-time visitors exclaim about Albany's unique downtown architecture. Yes, here in the fourth-oldest city in the country, a modernist mall, including an Egg-shaped theater, was built.
The festival itself was wonderful. Mr. nomadreader and I decided to have a leisurely morning, so we missed Gregory Maguire's keynote. Maguire grew up here and went to college here, so he's quite the local hero. The first panel we went to was the graphic novel/comic book panel. While some interesting points were made, the session completely lacked organization and the panelists seemed to have no idea of who their audience was. This festival was organized by the New York Library Association and drew librarians, booksellers, voracious readers and authors. There were six panels going on at a time, so everyone chose to go to this session instead of five others. Still, the panel mostly spoke to the audience as though we didn't understand the difference between graphic novels and comics. Manga was defined. Comics didn't appear to exist outside of Archie, Barbie, and superheros. This panel could have been done ten years ago and had mostly the same information.
This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
Next was the panel I was most excited for: Marilyn Johnson, author of This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All invited three of the librarians featured in the book for a panel discussion. It was all quite interesting, but Peter Chase stole the show. Chase was one of the Connecticut Four, the four librarians who had the guts to sue the Attorney General of the United States when presented with National Security Letters and refusing to release patron information without a court order. The Connecticut Four were immediately placed under a gag order. They could not even tell their spouses what was going on. They could not attend their own trial. They were legally bound to keep quiet in the summer of 2005 when the Bush administration sought to renew the Patriot Act and as they lied to the American public claiming National Security Letters were not being served to libraries. His story is incredible, and many in the room were wiping away tears. Standing up for civil rights is something I may never have to do as a librarian, but if I were put in that situation, I hope I could act as graceful and brave as Peter and the Connecticut Four did. The session turned into a rallying cry for libraries and a fitting start to National Library Week.
Next I went to a panel on women's fiction moderated by Lizzie Skurnick. Skurnick was a wonderful moderator. She was prepared with interesting questions and let the conversation evolve. The panelists were fascinating too: Elizabeth Noble, Diane Meier, Sally Koslow and Cathleen Schine.
The Girl Next Door: A NovelThe Season of Second Chances: A NovelThe Late, Lamented Molly Marx: A NovelThe Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel 
The panel discussed their feelings on covers, the nomenclature of chick lit and women's fiction, popularity versus literary acclaim, review space for women, literary prizes, the boon of book clubs for female writers, the Orange Prize, and author input into covers. Overall, it was fascinating. Frank Delaney (author of Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show most recently) sat right in front me, and I learned he and Diane Meier are married.

Thanks to Sally Koslow for mentioning the impact of book bloggers too!

After hearing two fantastic panels back to back, I was ready to go home. I was so inspired as a reader, writer, book blogger and librarian. I'm disappointed I didn't get to actually speak to any authors, but with the time crunch between sessions, there weren't many opportunities.

My two complaints: 
  1. Food. I knew it would be bad because the Empire State Plaza is shut down on the weekends. There were a few vendors selling street food and junk food, two things I avoid. I was smart enough (and local enough) to pack a lunch, but the Web site and program gave no mention of food, and many people seemed surprised at the lack of options. It was a good time to live two miles away.
  2. Autograph sessions. The schedule was simply too packed. Sessions went from :45 after the hour until :30 after the hour, but all the sessions I was in went over. Signings lasted from the same time, so you had to choose to miss and entire panel to spend perhaps 10-15 minutes in a signing. Consequently, when I did venture into the signing rotunda, there weren't many people. There also were a lot of people leaving early and arriving late for sessions. Perhaps some of them were catching part of two sessions. I knew I wouldn't be able to do everything, but there were several timeslots offering three panels I wanted to attend. There simply were too many offerings. Still, too many is better than not enough. It created a unique experience, as I kept running into different friends who had been to different events.
Overall, it was a fantastic festival, and I sincerely hope it becomes an annual event. I've lived in Albany for two years now, and I've grown to love it. There are so many talented writers living and working within three hours of Albany, it's a natural location for a book festival.