Thursday, April 28, 2011

book review: Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Secret Daughter: A NovelThe backstory: Swapna convinced me to read this one with her glowing review.

The basics: Secret Daughter is the story of Somer, a white California doctor; Somer's husband Krishnan, who grew up in India and is also a doctor; Kavita, a married woman in India whose husband believes they can only afford one child and it must be a boy; and Asha, the young Indian girl Kavita gives up for adoption and always wonders about and Somer and Krishnan adopt.

My thoughts: I began reading Secret Daughter with high expectations, and from the opening pages, I was mesmerized by the characters and stories. The novel moved through time and effortlessly shifted between narrators. I was simultaneously eager to catch up with each character and reluctant for the chapter to end. I loved following the stories of these characters who did not know their own connections to each other. I'm a huge fan of novels dealing that are stories of lives and how events shape us.

Secret Daughter is about family and cultural identity, but Gowda blended the themes with the story beautifully. I would stop short of calling it an epic, but it does have hints of it. There were truths sprinkled throughout:
"At some point, the family you create is more important than the one you're born into."
Gowda wrote well, but I rarely found myself writing down passages. It's a novel I'll think of fondly because of its structure and story more than its language. It's a testament to the characters Gowda created that I eagerly turned the pages to see what would happen to each of them.

Favorite passage: "Sometimes, as she has well learned in life, one's actions must precede the emotions one hopes to feel."

The verdict: Secret Daughter was unputdownable for me. I loved the pacing, story and characters. It's a novel that will stay with me for a long time and one I wholeheartedly recommend.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: March 9, 2010 (it's in paperback now)
Source: I received a copy from the publisher via TLC Book Tours

Want more opinions? Check out the entire tour schedule.

You can find out more about Shilpi Somaya Gowda on her website. She is also on Twitter and Facebook.

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Secret Daughter from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon in paperback (it's also available for the Kindle.)

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very 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, April 27, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight an upcoming release you cannot wait to read. My pick this week is the new novel by perhaps my favorite author, Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers.

Here's how the publisher describes it:
"What if the Rapture happened and you got left behind? Or what if it wasn't the Rapture at all, but something murkier, a burst of mysterious, apparently random disappearances that shattered the world in a single moment, dividing history into Before and After, leaving no one unscathed?
This is the question confronting the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, a formerly comfortable suburban community that lost over a hundred people in the Sudden Departure. Kevin Garvey, the new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized neighbors, even as his own family falls apart. His wife, Laurie, has left him to enlist in the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence but haunt the streets of town as 'living reminders' of God's judgment. His son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet by the name of Holy Wayne. Only his teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she's definitely not the sweet A student she used to be. 
Through the prism of a single family, Perrotta illuminates a familiar American made strange by grief and apocalyptic anxiety."
 I'm always excited for a new Tom Perrotta novel, but this one sounds incredible. St. Martin's will publish The Leftovers August 30, 2011 (I'll take this 3-day late birthday present!) You can pre-order it now from an independent bookstore, the Book Despository or Amazon (I've pre-ordered the Kindle version already)

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very 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, April 26, 2011

unfinished: Sweet Valley Confidential

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later (Sweet Valley High)
I wasn't always a dedicated literary fiction reader who enjoyed exploring diversity and prize lists. As a child and teenager, I was a single-minded, contemporary teen fiction series reading fiend. I devoured all of the Sweet Valley Twins, Baby-Sitters Club, Sleepover Friends, Fabulous Five, and Sweet Valley High books. I knew what day the shipment should come into the bookstore, and I often pulled the new ones straight from the shelving cart. I even spent hours playing the Sweet Valley High board game. By myself. I spent hours pondering if I was more like Jessica or Elizabeth (and then which one I really aspired to be.) I spent many years enthralled by the Wakefield twins (yes, I watched the tv show too.)

When I heard Francine Pascal was writing a book about Jessica and Elizabeth as twenty-somethings, I think I actually squealed. Reason soon took hold of me, and I reminded myself my reading tastes are a bit different than they used to be. I decided to patiently wait for a copy from the library instead of spending money on a book I may not like. Still, I was excited when I picked it up at the library and secretly hoped it would be a guilty pleasure that was delightful enough to spend an afternoon with.

I started Sweet Valley Confidential over coffee last week. I made it to page ten. Yes, page ten. It's just not in me. Some books are better left to nostalgia. I'll take my guilty pleasures in tv and film instead.

Have you read Sweet Valley Confidential? Should I give it another chance?

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very 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, April 20, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

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

My pick this week comes from an author whose diverse works I've thoroughly enjoyed over the years: Caroline Preston. I discovered her first novel, Jackie by Josie, about a woman doing academic research on Jackie Kennedy, at my local library when I was in high school and utterly adored it. Her second novel, Lucy Crocker 2.0, about a woman who designs video games despite having no knowledge of technology, lived on my shelves for years (and moved a few times) before I finally stayed up late to read it at my mother-in-law's house the week Mr. Nomadreader and I moved to New York. I read her third novel, Gatsby's Girl, a fictionalized account of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginerva Kelly, who served as a muse for the character of Daisy Buchanan, as soon as it was published in 2006. 

When I heard Caroline Preston (finally!) had a new book coming out, I was downright jubilant. Here's what some well-known authors had to say about The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures:

"What an amazing, creative, funny, thoughtful dip into the life and times of the inimitable Frankie. I know I'll come back to Preston's wonderful creation time and again; for its color, warmth, and whimsy. It's a very, very clever novel." - Jacqueline Winspear

"The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is like reading your favorite flapper great-aunt's diary. It's a ripping yarn of emancipated girlish adventure." - Audrey Niffenegger

"[H]ave I just read/experience/devoured the most delightful book ever published?...There is magic here and genius. I marveled at every page: at first, the astonishing collection of souvenirs and memorabilia and then the story--so wry and smart and literary and historically fascinating." - Elinor Lipman 

"A literary bottle rocket--loaded with whimsy, pizzazz and heart. The illustrations are compelling and original, and the prose is perfection in the hands of Caroline Preston...I heartily recommend." - Adriana Trigiani

Doesn't it sound fantastic?

Ecco is publishing The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt on October 25, 2011. I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy! You can pre-order a copy from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon now. There's no pre-order link for the Kindle (yet).

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very 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, April 19, 2011

book review: The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

The UncouplingThe backstory: Meg Wolitzer's last novel, The Ten-Year Nap was a five-star read for me, and I was eager to read The Uncoupling since the moment I heard about it.

The basics: At a seemingly normal high school in New Jersey, the new drama teacher picks Lysistrata as the high school play. In the play, the women of ancient Greece stop having sex to protest the ongoing civil war. In Stellar Plains, women mysteriously lose the desire to have sex with the men in their lives.

My thoughts: I was laughing out loud from the very first pages of this novel. Wolitzer manages to make the reader laugh without actually making fun of her characters. In her description of the Langs, the happily married couple who both teach at Stellar Plains, she says "even their pop quizzes were humane." The Langs continued to delight, as Wolitzer revealed the two chose the last name Lang:
"They were casting off their old families, their old lives; why not cast off their names, too? 'Lang' was decided upon in the middle of the night. It was a neutral, appealing name: the single syllable seemed easygoing, much the way they imagine themselves. They free-associated to various good-sounding 'lang' words: 'lan-guid,' 'language,' even 'langoustines,' those tiny lobsters they both loved and had eaten by the bucket that summer.
The satirical wisdom is utterly engaging. As magical realism enters the story, it works quite well with the satire. I sometimes struggle with magical realism (Swamplandia! comes to mind)

I read this novel quickly, but it wasn't because of my eagerness to see what would happen. I was so engaged with Wolitzer's satire, I simply wanted to read more of her observations on modern love and language:
"'Going the distance' seemed a good way to think of what it would be like. It--sex, actual sex--created a distance between you and everyone except the other person." 
"But the one who loved less--or acted as if they did--was always in charge, and that was the way the world went." 
I was loving every word and scene of this novel. It's smart, funny, wise and compelling. It was on its way to being a five-star read (the second in a row for me!) In the end, it stopped short of 5-stars because the novel itself failed to stop short. I am not a reader who needs my novels tied up in neat little packages. I enjoy ambiguity in an ending (granted, I also enjoy a shocking ending leaving no room for interpretation.) The Uncoupling was a brilliant satire, and I don't think the ending Wolitzer gave it suits the novel.

The Uncoupling is a very different novel than The Ten-Year Nap, and I loved both for quite different reasons. On an incredibly personal level, I enjoyed The Ten-Year Nap more. After seeing the diversity in her characters, ideas and setting, I'm even more intrigued to read more of her novels.

Favorite passage: "There was no way to know, thought Dory. You bumped stupidly ahead through life, and you couldn't know if starring in a play, or sleeping with someone, or marrying someone, or picking a particular college, or even taking a walk down the street, was going to lead to happiness or sorrow."

The verdict: The Uncoupling is 95% awesome, but the ending derailed my enjoyment just a bit. Overall, I still loved it and would recommend it to almost anyone.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: a delightful and fast 288 pages
Publication date: April 5, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the publisher for review via TLC Book Tours

Want more opinions? Check out the full tour schedule!

Convinced you'll love it? Treat yourself! Buy The Uncoupling from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon in hardback (it's also available for the Kindle)

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very 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, April 18, 2011

2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Congratulations, Jennifer Egan!
I have been eagerly awaiting the announcement of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for months (and yes, rooting for Jennifer Egan's fantastic novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, to win.) I'm thrilled it did! It was the odds on favorite in most circles, as the Pulitzer judges have awarded originality in form frequently over the past few years. In terms of personal satisfaction, it's a fantastic feeling to have read the Pulitzer winner already and named the winner to my Best of 2010 ListPlus, winning the Pulitzer makes up for Egan's omission from the Orange Prize shortlist (you can't win them all).

A Visit from the Goon Squad
Winner: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Kindle version)
The Privileges: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)The Surrendered
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee (Kindle version)
The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee (Kindle version)

I'll be reading the finalists soon. As always, you can track my progress and find links to all of my Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner reviews on my Pulitzer page.

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very 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, April 17, 2011

Sunday Salon: New books or old books?

Happy Sunday, everyone! It's the wonderful time of year in upstate New York when it's sunny and spring-like during the day and still crisp and wintery at night. For me, it's the best of both worlds. I can spend time outside reading during the day and still snuggle in at night. I've had a hectic few months, but our new apartment is getting more put together each day, which gives me (thankfully) more time to read. Mr. Nomadreader and I are off to meet a friend for brunch on the Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark's fantastic patio, which is even better now that we live close enough to walk. After brunch I'm looking forward to an afternoon and evening full of relaxation and reading. I'm currently devouring Sara Gran's quirky, dark, and beautifully written forthcoming mystery Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, which is set in post-Katrina New Orleans. I'm also hoping to start The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon today.

New or Old?
My Waiting on Wednesday pick this week was the forthcoming novel by Lydia Millet, Ghost Lights. I first read Millet last April after she was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist. As soon as I heard she had a new book, I rushed to know more about it. When I discovered it included a character from a previous novel, I got to thinking. When did I become anti-backlist?

For years, I kept a list of authors whose works I wanted to Read Every Word. About once a month, I would search Books in Print to see when they had new novels coming out, but I also got caught up on their already published titles. The world of book blogging has made me more aware of publishing trends. In many ways, I'm more aware than ever. I correctly predicted a third of the Orange Prize longlist. In some ways, however, I'm less knowledgeable than in my days as an independent bookseller. Even at an independent bookstore in an affluent, well-educated Atlanta neighborhood, we mostly sold bestsellers. I could list the titles and order of all the typical bestselling authors. Now? I'm a little out of the loop, and I'm okay with that. I'm a literary fiction devotee, and I love being part of the conversation.

When The New York Times named their five best fiction picks for 2010, I had already read all three novels (short stories interest me less, as we all know.) Tomorrow, the Pulitzer Prizes will be awarded. I'm hoping I've read at least one of the three. There is a certain level of gratification that comes from being an evangelist for a book before others are. There's a joy in being part of the conversation about contemporary literary fiction. I have no plans of leaving the conversation anytime soon, but I do want to incorporate more backlist reading.

A New Goal: Backlist Reading
I'm adding a new reading goal for 2011: read at least one backlist title a month. I may find it browsing the shelves at my wonderful public library (I do love now being a few blocks from the downtown branch with the city's biggest collection) or I may choose to explore the older titles of authors I've enjoyed. Either way, I'm determined to squeeze in at least one backlist title among the new releases I enjoy each month.

Now tell me: do you prefer new releases or backlist titles? 

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very 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!