Tuesday, November 30, 2010

book review: Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes

Strangers at the Feast: A NovelThe backstory: I saved Strangers at the Feast to read over Thanksgiving, when the book is set, even after everyone has been gushing about it.

The basics: Strangers at the Feast is the story of three generations of the Olson family on Thanksgiving day.

My thoughts: I adore novels told from multiple points of view, and Jennifer Vanderbes did a fantastic job with these characters. The reader is drawn into their present lives and treated to backstory and family history. For such a short novel, Vanderbes was able to manage an immense amount of depth for all of the characters. I often find myself identifying with one character more than others in multiple narrator novels, but this novel was completely balanced.

Foreshadowing was prominent throughout the novel, and it was clear something bad happened on Thanksgiving. Despite my eagerness to solve the mystery, there were no unnecessary diversions. I was as invested in the characters and the story. I read the book in a single sitting and was truly sad when it ended.

The verdict: Strangers at the Feast is a perfectly crafted, suspenseful, character-rich novel. Recommended for just about everyone.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: August 3, 2010
Source: I received this book for review from the publisher

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thursday Salon: Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of the few days of the year I look forward to waking up early (and by early I mean before 9 a.m.) For reasons that baffle even those who know me best, I adore watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. Yes, it's horribly commercial, silly and cheesy, but there is something magical about it I've never quite outgrown. My favorite part is always the showtunes from current Broadway shows, but I love the floats adorned with teen pop stars I've never heard of, the high school marching bands, the Rockettes, and, yes, the balloons. Today, I'm sitting ready with a glass of sparkling wine, a cinnamon roll (or three) and a giant smile on my face.

After the parade, I'm enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with family and settling in to read. I saved Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes, a novel set on Thanksgiving Day, to read this week, but I managed to finish it yesterday because I could not put it down. Today I hope to enjoy The Orange Eats Creep by Grace Krilanovich and perhaps make time for A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore or Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon too.
A Spell of Winter: A NovelStrangers at the Feast: A NovelThe Orange Eats CreepsLord of Misrule

I'll be offline for a few days, but I'll be back next week with reviews of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes, and whatever else I'm able to finish in the next few days.

What are you reading today?

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Tabloid City by Pete Hamill

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight an upcoming release we can't wait to read.
Tabloid City: A Novel
My pick this week is Tabloid City by Pete Hamill. I didn't pick this novel because he is a favorite author of mine, but I did pick it because Pete Hamill has been an author I feel like I should read for fifteen years now. So many of his books have sparked my interest, but there's something I find almost intimidating about him that prevents me from doing so. Still, I seem to be a reader obsessed with the new, so a new Pete Hamill novel seems the perfect place to start with his works.

Here's the description: "In a stately West Village townhouse, a wealthy socialite and her secretary are murdered. In the 24 hours that follow, a flurry of activity circles around their shocking deaths: The head of one of the city's last tabloids stops the presses. A cop investigates the killing. A reporter chases the story. A disgraced hedge fund manager flees the country. An Iraq War vet seeks revenge. And an angry young extremist plots a major catastrophe.

The City is many things: a proving ground, a decadent playground, or a palimpsest of memories-- a historic metropolis eclipsed by modern times. As much a thriller as it is a gripping portrait of the city of today, Tabloid City is a new fiction classic from the writer who has captured it perfectly for decades."
Tabloid City will be released May 5, 2011 by Little, Brown and Company. You can pre-order it from Amazon or an independent bookstore now.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

movie review: Fair Game

The basics: Fair Game is the story of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA operative, whose cover was blown by the Bush White House is retaliation for her husband's editorial stating he didn't find uranium.

My thoughts: I was fascinated by this story when it was in the news. I haven't read Valerie Plame's book about the ordeal, but I was eager to see the movie. Although I was quite familiar with the story, the film maintained a wonderful amount of suspense. The story begins by giving the viewer glimpses into Plame's life as a wife, mother and spy. Although their small group of friends had minor roles, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes of them discussing politics and current events at the dinner table with no idea Valerie was a covert operative who actually knew what was going on.

Despite my prior knowledge of the story, Naomie Watts and Sean Penn shined most as actors in the story of a marriage. The film was based on memoirs by both of them, and one never really knows what another marriage is like, but I was fascinated by their reactions to these very publicized private events. The film is definitely the story of Valerie and Joe, but director Doug Liman did a wonderful job incorporating video of the Bush administration to remind the viewer this far-fetched sounding story actually happened.

The verdict: As both a political thriller and an insightful look at one marriage, Fair Game is riveting. Naomi Watts gives a strong nuanced performance of a dynamic woman, but Sean Penn gave an Oscar-worthy performance as Joe Wilson.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Length: 108 minutes
Publication date: It's in U.S. theaters now. See a map of where it's playing. You can also pre-order the dvd from Amazon.
Source: I paid to see it at the Spectrum Theatre.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Rest of 2010: Reading Goals

As I've started working on my Best of 2010 list (it will be published here on December 31), I've been taking a look back on my reading year.
  • Books read (as of today): 68 I'm quite a bit behind my reading total for 2009, but one of my goals was to read deliberately, and I've done that. I've prioritized reading the major book award finalists. I may be reading less, but I'm reading better, reading more challenging literature and enjoying reading more than I did in 2009.
  • Genres: My reading this year has been predominantly contemporary literary fiction originally written in English.There has been a fair mix of historical and contemporary settings, but my focus on reading the prize winners and finalists has returned me to old favorite genre: literary fiction. When I started blogging, I explored genres outside of my comfort zone, and I enjoyed it. I found, however, that I spent so much time reading what everyone was talking about, I lost myself as a reader. 2010 has helped me find me again. I'd like to temper my reading with more backlist titles, but I also love being in the conversation about the modern literary landscape.
  • Length: I admit, I am a little afraid of chunksters. I may be commitment-phobic, but I'm working on it. I'm getting better at not avoiding books simply because of their length, but I still have a long way to go.
Overall, I'm really happy with my reading this year. I hope to take it even farther next year, but now I not only know I can, I know I enjoy it.

Before I can set my goals for 2011 (I am thinking about them already), I need to finish my goals for 2010. Here are the books I still hope to read before the end of 2010 (so I can't possibly finalize the Best of 2010 list yet!)
In Other Rooms, Other WondersI HotelLord of Misrule
Wolf Hall: A NovelParrot and Olivier in AmericaThe Finkler Question: A Novel

  • Pulitzer Prize finalist In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
  • National Book Award finalist  I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita
  • National Book Award winner Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
  • Orange Prize shortlist and 2009 Booker Prize winner Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Booker Prize shortlist and National Book Award finalist Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
  • Booker Prize winner The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
Yes, folks, I am a mere six books away from reading all of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature finalists, Orange Prize shortlist, Booker Prize shortlist, and National Book Award finalists. Sure, I haven't met a single goal of reading these lists before the prizes were announced (impossible for the Pulitzer, of course), but I did (or will) read them, and that is a triumph for me. In 2009, I read exactly zero of those.

My other goal reads before 2010 ends are the three novels in Amazon's Top 5 Fiction of 2010 that aren't in a series:
Freedom: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club)Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam WarTo the End of the Land

  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (I'm almost done!)
  • Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
  • To the End of the Land by David Grossman
What are your reading goals for the rest of 2010? Which of these nine books I hope to read before 2010 ends should I start with?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: When Tito Loved Clara by Jon Michaud

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight an upcoming release we can't wait to read.

When Tito Loved Clara My pick this week is When Tito Loved Clara by Jon Michaud.  Jon Michaud is the headl librarian at The New Yorker, but I didn't pick this book because I hope it's so successful he quits his job and The New Yorker wisely decides to hire me as their next librarian (although that longshot scenario would be fine with me). I picked it because I do have a fondness for books by and about librarians, but the plot of this novel sounds so interesting:
"Clara Lugo grew up in the Dominican neighborhood at the far northern reaches of Manhattan in a home that would have rattled the most grounded of children. Through brains and determination, she has slipped the bonds of her confining ethnic neighborhood and lives a quiet, professional life with her American husband and son in the suburbs of New Jersey--often thwarted by her constellation of relatives who don't always understand Clara's gringa ways.

But Clara's past catches up with her--most notably in the person of Tito: Clara's handsome high school boyfriend from fifteen years earlier. Something has interfered with Tito's early adulthood. He's an incomplete man who increasingly feels cursed. He carries a torch for Clara; Clara harbors a secret from Tito. Their meeting sets in motion an unraveling in both of their lives--an unraveling that reveals what the cost of assimilation--or absence of it--has been for each of them.

This immensely entertaining debut poses the question, does a striving child of immigrants have to sever ties with the past in order to move on and answers it with wit and compassion.
When Tito Loved Clara will be published March 8, 2011 by Algonquin Books. You can pre-order it now from Amazon or an independent bookstore.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bookish event round-up

Book Blogger Holiday Swap
I participated in last year's holiday swap and had so much fun. The deadline to sign up is tomorrow, November 14, so don't delay.

Questions? The FAQ is a wealth of information about what to expect.

A Year of Feminist Classics Reading Project
Amy, Iris, Ana and Emily Jane have a wonderful reading project set up for 2011. As someone who majored in women's studies as an undergraduate, I've read most of the selected books, but I'm looking forward to reading them again and having wonderful discussions about them. I also think it will be fun to compare my 2011 reading notes to my notes from college. I plan to read (or re-read) all twelve classics, but participants are welcome to pick and choose which books to read and discuss. I'm so glad these ladies have put in the time and effort to organize and host this reading project, and I hope you'll join us for some or all of the fun in 2011!

Here's the reading list:
January: A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft
February: The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill
March: A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
April: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
May: A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
June: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan OR The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
July: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
August: The Women's Room by Marilyn French
September: The Beauty Myth  by Naomi Wolf
October: Ain't I a Woman? by bell hooks
November: Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
December: Sisters Outsider by Audre Lorde