Thursday, May 26, 2011

Armchair BEA: Imprints, TV Networks and Movie Studios

When I first started book blogging, I admit, I didn't pay too much attention to who published books. From my days as an independent bookseller, I was more aware of which vendor it came from because then I knew what days  they delivered. There some go-to genre publishers I was familiar with (TOR), but mostly, I just didn't pay attention.

Looking back, I'm struck by how odd that now seems. I was aware of movie distribution. In the late 1990's and early 2000's, I would see every Miramax movie. I paid attention to the kinds of movies they made, and I liked most of them. I didn't need to know the plot, the stars, or the director. If it was Miramax, I'd be there opening weekend. Now I'm more loyal to directors and screenwriters, but it's interesting to look back.

I'm a loyal tv network viewer too. I'll try out most of the new shows on HBO, TNT, USA and AMC. They consistently air quality, scripted drama. I may not keep watching, but the network's reputation will make me tune in at least once.

In the book world, "who published it?" is one of the first questions I ask. Sometimes it's all I need to know. If I hear it's from The Other Press, Norton, or Greywolf, I'm usually sold. All three independent publishers consistently publish quality literary fiction. I don't always love the novels, but I know what I'm getting. If I hear it's one of the big publishing houses who publish quality literary fiction but also publish popular fiction, I have to do a bit more research. Their brand is more diverse, and thus not as well defined. It's the same way in television; I'll look into the new shows on NBC, CBS, and ABC, but I won't necessarily watch all of them.

I'm thrilled by the surge in imprints coming out lately. I think publishers are getting savvy and creating imprints with readers in mind. Perhaps it won't meet most readers, but it helps booksellers and book reviewers.

My go-to publisher has become Norton. Their Fall 2011-Winter 2012 catalog is amazing. I'm planning to read almost all of the novels they're publishing (I've already read some). Some I already wanted to read, but some I discovered when I took the time to read their catalog. It's not something I would have done before book blogging, but now a new Norton catalog is a squeal-worthy event.

Now tell you have a go-to publisher?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

book review: Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

Daughter of Fortune: A Novel (P.S.)The backstory: It's time for a confession, folks. I worked as a bookseller at an independent bookstore in college, and sometimes I cheerfully recommended books I haven't read. One of my go to novels for those who liked historical fiction (which I rarely read then except for Sarah Waters, whose debut Tipping the Velvet had rocked my socks off), was Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende. In my defense, I had read other novels, but the book buyers at this store wanted new things; they wanted hardbacks. Clearly a tinge of guilt is still there, so I decided it was finally time to read this novel I recommended to so many that year.

My thoughts: When I first sat down with Daughter of Fortune, I intended to read for only fifteen minutes. I  immensely dislike being between two books, and I wanted just enough to give me a taste of what was to come. An hour later, I was sad to put the book down. Sometimes there are books, and in this case, the character of Eliza, who dig in and fascinate me as a reader so much I just want to see what happens. Daughter of Fortune was one of those books. The story drove my desire to read it.

I do tend to love books that begin with a relevant map. Maps serve as wonderful hints of the places to come, and the geographical trajectory of life is a favorite theme of mine (it's a fancier way to say nomadreader after all.) This novel is full of themes I love: women in historically unconventional roles, ordinary people in historic moments, and belonging. This novel feels more epic than its 399 pages.

The verdict: I've been recommending this novel for years, but now I can do so with authenticity. Historical fiction fans will delight in Eliza's journey; I was mesmerized by her from the novels opening pages and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the places life took her.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 399 pages
Publication date: October 6, 1999; it's in paperback now
Source: Harper Perennial, courtesy of TLC Book Tours

Want to learn more about Isabel Allende? Check out her website. This tour also features several of her backlist titles, including this one. The full tour itinerary is here.

Convinced? Treat yourself to Daughter of FortuneSearch for Daughter of Fortune in paperback.

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!

Armchair BEA: It's Interview Time!

When this year's interview swaps were announced, I was thrilled to see I get to interview Lyndsey (you may know here as teadevotee), who blogs at Amused, Bemused and Confused. Lyndsey and I have quite similar taste in books, and I'm really enjoying getting to know her this year, as we're both serving as voting members for the Indie Lit Awards Fiction category (formerly known as Literary Fiction.)

Let's start with the basics. Why did you start blogging about books?
I was blogging randomly about any old blather for about a year before I decided I needed more of a focus. I went with books because my reviews used to get quite a lot of interest--and because there is nothing I like more than reading:-)

You've been blogging for two years now. What has surprised you the most about blogging?
I was hugely and pleasantly surprised to discover the whole community. I love the way that blogging opens up a whole world of connections to people with the same tastes and sense of humour. It's really fantastic.

I totally agree! The community is one of my favorite things about book blogging. You're quite pregnant right now. How has that impacted your reading habits?
Haha, not so much at the moment. I read several books on pregnancy and then thought, wow, that's way too much information! I did get two useful pieces of advice: 1) read the books on baby care now because you won't have time to read them once you actually HAVE the baby and 2) read as much as you can now full stop, because you won't have time to read anything :) I have started to make a list of books needing concentration that I want to read in June, when I've still got hours to myself.

You live in London, which is one of my favorite cities. How does its amazing literary scene impact your blog?
I am definitely not as good as some of the other London bloggers taking advantage of it--but I absolutely love to spend hours browsing the incredible bookshops. Any visitors to London should definitely visit Daunt Books in Marylebone, The Notting Hill Book Exchange and the London Review of Books bookshop--and that's just for starters!

What is your most treasured literary memory?
I went to the Hay Festival in 2007, which is the UK's biggest book festival and had an incredible time. The days went like this: 1) ace author event 2) ice-cream 3) ace author event 4) ice cream. In the evenings, we were properly hippies with campfire singing and lentils. I'm going again next and CAN'T WAIT.

That sounds amazing. I can't wait to hear how 2011 stacks up! Besides tea and books, what makes you smile?
My Husband, my nieces, How I Met Your Mother, the sunshine, Tina Fey.

What books have you pretended to read?
Hahaha, I don't think I've ever done that!

Really? Impressive! What book do you wish everyone would read?
I wouldn't ram books into people's hands--I just wish people read more in general. I find it so depressing when say they don't have time to read--I bet they have time to watch TV!

Thanks to Lyndsey for taking the time to answer my questions! She moved last week, and I'm in the midst of moving, but we made it work. I'm so excited to be working with Lyndsey as we serve as voting members for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards for Fiction.

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, May 24, 2011

Armchair BEA: Upcoming Titles

Armchair BEA: Titles I'm Clamoring For
If I were at BEA this week, I'd have my eye on a few titles. Last year, I thought I was conscientious and only took books I intended to read. I didn't read most of them. I've also clarified my reading goals much better this year. I rarely dabble in children's, young adult or popular fiction. If I were going this year, I'd keep the list to no more than ten. I also learned last year to pay attention to the titles picked for BEA Editor's Buzz (many of which I've included below) because some of my favorite reads were featured there last year.

The Leftovers1. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Tom Perrotta might be my favorite author (it's so hard to choose!), and I already featured his upcoming novel on Waiting on Wednesday, but I'm still eagerly awaiting it (and hoping a copy just might find its way into my hands before it's published in August.)

The Art of Fielding: A Novel2. The Art of Fielding by Chard Harbach
I love a debut novel, and this one has everyone buzzing, including Jonathan Franzen, who said "first novels this complete and consuming come along very, very seldom." Yes, it's about baseball, which holds a special place in my heart after I interned in the Baseball Hall of Fame's Research Library a few summers ago. Really, this novel sounds right up my alley. It's set on a Midwestern college campus (hello, awesome new job I can't wait to start!), involves sports, and "upends the lives of five people" after "a routine throw goes disastrously off course." I adore interconnecting narratives. Little Brown will publish The Art of Fielding on September 7, 2011. (BEA Editor's Buzz pick)

The Night Circus3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Here's another debut novel getting tons of great buzz, including Tea Obreht, who arguably wrote the most buzzed about debut novel of the year thus far. Obreht called it "a riveting debut. [It] pulls you into a world as dark as it is dazzling, fully-realized but still something out of a dream. You will not want to leave it." It sounds like just the kind of book I want to know very little about until I turn the first page and discover its world. If you do want to know more, you can watch the book trailer. Doubleday will publish The Night Circus on September 13, 2011. (BEA Editor's Buzz pick)

4. Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
Running the Rift was the 2010 winner of the Bellweather Prize, a wonderful prize (founded by Barbara Kingsolver) for an unpublished manuscript that addresses issues of social justice. Kingsovler said Running the Rift "engages the reader with complex political questions about ethnic animosity in Rwanda and so many other issues relevant to North American readers." Algonquin will publish Running the Rift on January 17, 2012. (BEA Editor's Buzz pick, but I discovered it on the Algonquin Books blog first.)

Birds of Paradise: A Novel5. Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
I've intended to read Diana Abu-Jaber for years, and this may finally be the book that nags me into doing so. It's set in Miami, a city I'm absolutely fascinated with despite never having traveled there. It's published by Norton, a publisher I'm increasingly enamored with and will talk about more on Thursday. Here's how the publisher describes it: "Avis and Brian Muir are still haunted by the disappearance of their ineffably beautiful daughter, Felice, who ran away when she was thirteen. Now, after five years of modeling tattoos, skateboarding, clubbing, and sleeping in a squat house or on th beach, Felice is about to turn eighteen. Her family will each be forced to confront their anguish, loss, and sense of betrayal. Meanwhile, Felice must reckon with the guilty secret that drove her away, and must face her fear of losing her family and her sense of self forever." Norton will publish Birds of Paradise on September 6, 2011. (BEA Editor's Buzz pick)

We the Animals: A novel6. We the Animals by Justin Torres
The last of my debut novel picks, this one comes with the praise of Michael Cunningham, Marilynne Robinson and Paul Harding. That combination of names for a debut writer instantly screams Iowa Writer's Workshop to me (did I mention I'm moving to Iowa next week?!), and yes, he's an alumnus. Even more intriguing? This novel comes in at only 144 pages, and I am inexplicably drawn to short, powerful novels. I'll be standing in line for this one. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish We the Animals on September 1, 2011.

The Forgotten Waltz7. The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
Anne Enright's last novel, The Gathering won the Booker Prize and was longlisted for the Orange Prize. She's a contemporary fiction legend, and I haven't read any of her novels. It came out in the UK in April, and I'm eagerly awaiting its U.S. publication in October. It's set in suburban Dublin in the late 2000's, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. I won't be surprised if it pops up on the Booker longlist this summer either. Norton will publish The Forgotten Waltz on October 3, 2011.

Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Fiction8. Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell
I read Use Me by Elissa Schappell in college and loved it. It was actually a book I forgot about until I heard about this collection of stories. I adored Use Me, even if I remember few of the details; I remember the emotions I felt reading it, which is pretty amazing. I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but I'll read them from authors I adore, and Scahppell certainly qualifies. Also, how amazing is that title? With pre-release buzz coming from Tom Perrotta, Elizabeth Strout and Karen Russell, I'm triply sold. Simon and Schuster will publish Blueprints for Building Better Girls on September 6, 2011.

Zone One: A Novel9. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
The theme of this post may increasingly be 'authors I've intended to read for years and never have are coming out with new books.' Add Colson Whitehead to that list. I want to be more of a genre fiction reader, and when literary fiction authors experiment with genre, I'm first in line to read beautiful writing and amazing originality. Zone One is being billed as a post-apocalyptic horror novel about a pandemic that devastated the globe. Doubleday will publish Zone One on October 18, 2011.

Contents May Have Shifted10. Contents May Have Shifted by Pamela Houston
Contents May Have Shifted is by a new-to-me author, Pamela Houston. I discovered it when reading the latest W.W. Norton catalog, which always has me adding almost every novel they publish to my wishlist. I'm a sucker for literary novels about traveling, and this one sounds funny too.

Now tell me...what titles would you pick up if you were at BEA this week?

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 23, 2011

Hello, Armchair BEA 2011!

Happy Armchair BEA 2011!
Last year, I was able to spend the week in New York City attending Book Expo America and the first ever Book Blogger Convention. This year, I'm thrilled to participate in Armchair BEA, a celebration for book bloggers who can't make it to New York this year.

Why am I staying home? Because this time next week, I'll be loading the U-Haul and hitting the road to move to Iowa. Instead of rubbing elbows with bloggers, publishers, and authors this week, I'll be elbow deep in packing boxes and busy saying goodbye to the wonderful friends I've made in Albany, a city I've come to truly love. Yes, Armchair BEA will be a lovely distraction from this emotional week and remind me of all the wonderful bookish people who will still be there next week.

Who am I? I'm an academic librarian in the midst of moving from the northeast back to my beloved Midwest. I love to read, and I'm mostly into literary fiction, literature prize lists and mysteries. I'm also an extrovert who really enjoys talking to people about books, so book blogging is the perfect outlet for me. I'm a huge supporter of the Orange Prize, even though moving twice in the past two months (the first time across town and this time half-way across the country) has severely cut into my reading and reviewing time, so I'm not even through the shortlist, yet alone the longlist this year. I also adore independent films, and can be found at my local independent cinema several times a week during the flurry of awards season (whether it's books or films, I love to be part of the awards conversation.) When I'm not moving, traveling, reading or watching movies, I also love to eat adventurously (and somewhat snobbishly) and drink good wine. I've spend ten years working in great restaurants, and my tastebuds are spoiled. I watch a fair amount of tv too, and I'll be posting about some of my favorite shows in the coming weeks.

What else is coming up this week? Tomorrow there will tons of giveaways on the Armchair BEA site. Here, I'll be talking about the upcoming titles I would be clamoring for if I were at BEA. Wednesday, I'll be interviewing my partner in Indie Lit Awards Fiction judging, Lyndsey from Amused, Bemused and Confused. I'll also be posting a review of Isabel Allende's Daughter of Fortune. Thursday I'll be talking about publishing imprints, and how my awareness of them has increased as a blogger. Friday, I'll be talking about blogging. Have questions for me? I'll be answering those here too. You can leave them in a comment, email me (, or tweet me.

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, May 18, 2011

book review: Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Faith: A NovelThe backstory: In my pre-blogging days, I read Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh and really enjoyed it. I didn't track my reading in my early post-college days, but it's one of those novels I remember specific scenes from, so I was eager to read Haigh's latest novel, Faith.

My thoughts: Faith puts a very human face on the issue of priest abuse. We hear about Art, who is accused of abusing a young boy, through his sister Sheila. It's an interesting narrative device to hear Art's story through someone else, but I appreciated it. It's a powerful narrative device and questions the very nature of story and how the storyteller shapes the audience's perceptions and knowledge. I also appreciated sharing the journey with Sheila. She shared my desire to know what happened. At some point, however, my desire as a reader shifted and the why became so much more important than the what.

The verdict: I adored Faith, and it's a tribute to Haigh's writing and scope of characters and story that I have so little to say about it. It's deeply contemplative, and I expect to still be thinking of these characters and the implications of this story for years to come, just as I have Mrs. Kimble. It's a rich and layered novel that would be excellent for book clubs.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: May 10, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the publisher via TLC Book Tours

Want more opinions? The entire tour schedule is here. Convinced? Treat yourself to Faith from Amazon in hardback or 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!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Salon: Putting the nomad back in nomadreader

Things picked up a bit this week, but it's been mighty quiet around here lately, hasn't it? I've been traveling, job-interviewing, and (honestly) watching a lot of tv. Stress (and pending underemployment) left me without much of an attention span to read. Even Sweet Valley Confidential. Lately, I seem to only be able to finish 5-star books that almost force me to not put them down. But friends, things are looking up. I already spilled the beans on Twitter, but I got a job. A full-time, tenure-track, kick-ass librarian job at a fantastic university.

Yes, that means Mr. Nomadreader and I are moving again. (And yes, we did just move across town six weeks ago.) They don't call us nomads for no reason, after all. Just as soon as I (almost) finished unpacking, it's time to start again. By the end of May, we'll be back in Des Moines:

This may not *quite* be the view from our apartment,
but the rooftop patio is pretty amazing.
Ah, Des Moines. It's one of my favorite cities. It's vibrant, young, fun and has an amazing food scene. With the joy of returning to a city we love comes the sadness of leaving another city we love, Albany. The next two weeks will be full of packing, goodbyes, tears, and reliving fond memories of the last three years. I hope I'll be able to finish the Orange Prize shortlist before the winner is announced June 8 too.

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 12, 2011

book review: The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke: A NovelThe backstory: Many people recommended Bound, one of Sally Gunning's previous novels to me, but I never got around to reading it because I seem to favor newly released books. When the chance to read Gunning's latest novel appeared, however, I eagerly said, yes please!

The basics: Jane Clarke is an intrepid young woman in 1769 in Satucket (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. Her rebellion begins when she decides not to marry the man her father wants her to. Her father sends her to Boston to take care of her aunt, and Jane finds herself in the midst of a political battle.

My thoughts: This book could just as easily be called The Rebellions of Jane Clarke or The Rebellious Jane Clarke because there are indeed several rebellions depending on one's perspective. To a modern reader, however, the title suits because her rebellion exists in the context of her world. Jane is an interesting character. She lives a rather isolated life, in both Satucket and Boston. The first fifty pages were a bit slow because there were so many characters and few of them seemed to have any real meaning. Once Jane chooses not to marry, however, the action picks up a bit.

Seeing a pre-1776 U.S. was fascinating, but it left me wanting more. Perhaps given the context, I would have preferred a male narrator to alternate with Jane's story. I'm a huge fan of multiple narrators, and I think it might have added more historical information in this instance.

Despite enjoying both Jane and the setting, the pacing of this novel was off for me. A slow fifty pages in a book of less than three hundred is troubling, but not insurmountable. I had a bigger problem with flow. Sections were often only a few paragraphs. Staring at a two-page spread, there was almost always at least once break. I longed for more, and the short scenes and single narrator shielded me from getting more.

Favorite passage: "Her father spoke as he thought; her stepmother did neither."

The verdict: I loved the setting and the storyline, but the pacing was a bit off for me and hindered me from fully engaging. Overall, I liked it, but I wanted to love it.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 270 pages
Publication date: June 1, 2010 (it's in paperback now)
Source: I received this book for review from the publisher via TLC Book Tours

Get to know Sally by visiting her website or Facebook page, then treat yourself by buying The Rebellion of Jane Clarke from Amazon (Kindle version) or an independent bookstore.

Want more opinions? Check out the full list of tour stops.

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 11, 2011

book review: First Husband by Laura Dave

The First Husband: A NovelThe backstory: Laura Dave is one of my favorite authors. I loved both of her first two novels, London is the Best City in America (my review)--also one of my favorite titles ever--and The Divorce Party (my review). I'm been eagerly awaiting her latest novel, The First Husband.

The basics: Instead of a plot summary, here are the opening lines: "It feels important to start with the truth about how I got here. When everything gets messy and brutal and complicated, the truth is the first thing to go, isn't it? People try to shade it or spin it or fix it. As though fixing the facts will make the situation less messy and brutal and complicated. Not more. But there's no fixing this: the truth is that I brought it on myself. All of it."

My thoughts: It's safe to say I will read anything Laura Dave writes. I don't need to know what it's about or anything else besides who wrote it. When I sat down and started reading The First Husband, I was pleasantly surprised to see the main characters are a travel writer and a chef. Food, travel and reading are my three favorite things (watching The Good Wife and drinking sauvignon blanc on the patio when it's 68 degrees round out the top five.) One of the greatest joys of this novel was seeing Annie (the delightfully authentic travel writer who instantly seems like your best friend) take such interesting geographic journeys. Plus, much of the novel is set in rural Massachusetts, which is not too far from Albany.

The true magic of The First Husband, though, aside from Dave's under-appreciated literary talent, is the true realness of the characters. As I read (well, devoured, really) this novel, I didn't care how it ended or what happened. I trusted Dave implicitly, and I just wanted to be along for the ride. This magic is rare for me, and it only happens when I can forget I'm reading fiction (and I'm a firm believer fiction can be more real than reality itself.) Annie and Griffin were real people to me. I knew, of course, that Dave created them and they are fictional characters, but they felt so real, I could only imagine the way the book ended would be the way it is in life.

Favorite passage: "But I was starting to wonder if maybe I had missed what freedom really looked like. Because maybe it had less to do with always having a way out. And had something more to do with finding a way in."

The verdict: When it comes to writing about everyday life, feelings, love and the decisions we face, few do it as well as Laura Dave. Her writing shines and this novel digs deep both into both emotion and truth. In short, I loved it. I'll look forward to re-reading it almost as much as I'll look forward to Laura Dave's next novel.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: May 12, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the publisher for review

Treat yourself! Buy The First Husband from Amazon (or for the Kindle.) While you're at it, treat yourself to London is the Best City in America (Kindle version) and The Divorce Party (Kindle version) too.

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!