Showing posts from June, 2011

Thursday TV: The Good Wife

Welcome to Thursday TV, the first in a semi-regular (most Thursdays) series of my favorite television shows. First up: the best on television, The Good Wife.

My television habits: a primer
I watch a lot of television. I am not one for escapist fiction (for the most part; there are always exceptions), but I am definitely one for escapist television. My DVR is a surprising mix of high-brow programming (BBC America and PBS are favorites) and low-brow programming (I watch most of Bravo's reality shows.)  As a highly visual person, I appreciate seeing the action. I love visual jokes and glimpses filled with meaning you'd miss if you looked away.

I also have a fondness for episodic storytelling. I was reared on books in a series that came out monthly. Now, it's somewhat torturous as an adult reader to wait for a new book in a series I adore to come out once a year (or even less frequently.) Television fills a niche with me. Good television characters feel like friends to me in th…

book review: An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

The backstory: An Incomplete Revenge is the fifth books in the Maisie Dobbs historical mystery series. My reviews of the first four: Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies, and Messenger of Truth.

The basics: James Compton, son of Lady Compton, reappears to ask Maisie to do some digging around a property he's considering buying. There have been fires and thefts over the years, and he wants to know if either present cause for concern.

My thoughts: For whatever reason, it took me quite some time to care about this mystery Maisie was so keen on. I enjoyed some of the background stories, and I tend to be fascinated by tales of small towns, but the plot of this book lacked much mystery, I thought. I plodded along enjoying Maisie and her insight through the first half of the book. Suddenly, the action picked up quickly, and I (foolishly, I know) realized I wasn't giving Maisie or Ms. Winspear enough credit. The second half of the novel soared and offered a fascinating res…

Loving the Des Moines Life: Arts Festival!

Welcome to Loving the Des Moines Life, my ongoing series of exploring my new hometown.

Last weekend was the annual Des Moines Arts Festival. It features artists from around the country (typically, only 10% of those who apply are accepted. The festival includes live bands, theater and dance performances, a film festival, and opportunities for children and adults to create art. The best part: it's free.

Mr. Nomadreader and I live close enough to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park to walk, but I appreciated the bicycle valet offered for those who rode bikes there. (it's the little things.)

While we weren't opposed to purchasing art, we were eager to simply explore art and talk in realistic terms about what kinds of pieces we want for our apartment. We are living in our favorite apartment ever, and it's exciting to be making permanent aesthetic choices that will work in this space and also translate to future spaces. There were two artists who took my breath away. The first is …

book review: Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves

The basics: This passage from the introduction sums it up beautifully: "I'd woken up at the age of thirty-four to realize that I wanted to go home, only to discover that I had no idea where that was. Wanderlust, the very strong or irresistible impulse to travel, is adopted untouched from the German, presumably because it couldn't be improved upon."

My thoughts: Wanderlust started strong for me. The introduction was intriguing. A thirty-four-year-old with no sense of home? With a few different life decision, I could have easily become that. (I'm thankful to now believe I have many homes rather than none, but it took me some time to feel that way.) I was eager to see Elisabeth's journey from the beginning.

The action begins when she's a teenager in suburban Vancouver feeling restless. It was fascinating to see travel form her eyes. I had the travel bug early too, but I yearned for Europe, Australia, and big cities. I wanted the to find the universality of ci…

Sunday Salon: Checking in on Indie Lit Awards

Happy Sunday! It's a lovely weekend here in Des Moines, and Mr. Nomadreader and I are looking forward to enjoying the (mostly) beautiful weather and the Des Moines Arts Festival today. Tuesday I'll have a full recap of the festival.

After reading State of Wonder, the third book I've given six stars out of five to, I got to thinking about the Indie Lit Awards (I'm thrilled to be a voting member for Fiction this year). Could anything possibly beat State of Wonder? Of course, last year Roomwas on the shortlist (I also gave Room six stars) and didn't win. It's a lovely reminder how subjective and personal reading can be. When I shared my review of State of Wonder on Facebook, one of my bookish friends (whose taste usually runs quite similar to mine) said she struggled to finish it. I'm confident State of Wonder will be nominated (nominations begin in September!), but I'm already eager to see what else will be.

2011 has been a fantastic reading year for me.…

Short Story Saturday: Home by George Saunders

Welcome to the first installment of Short Story Saturday, a new semi-regular feature. The project stems from a desire to read more short stories. It's not a secret I prefer novels to short stories, but I'm working to stretch myself as a reader, and part of that will be reading more short stories. When I have read short story collections, I've often found them hard to review as a whole. This feature will allow me to review collections as a whole or separately, but I'll also be reviewing individual stories from a variety of sources. First up: "Home" by George Saunders, which appeared in the 2011 Summer Fiction issue of The New Yorker.

The backstory: When I went to see Karen Russell and Julie Orringer earlier this year, I asked them about who and what they were reading and how their reading habits differed while writing. Both mentioned George Saunders as a perennial source of information. I've never read Saunders (largely because he doesn't write novels…

Loving the Des Moines Life: Alba

Welcome to Loving the Des Moines Life, my ongoing series of exploring my new hometown. Mr. Nomadreader and I had been hearing wonderful things about Alba, a restaurant in the East Village, so we decided to try it out on a Thursday night.

As usual, the first thing I want to explore at a restaurant is the wine list. Although Alba has their food menu (albeit an outdated one) on their website, they don't have their wine list. The wine list is long, but it's not terribly impressive. There are two major shortcomings. First, some of the price points are exorbitant. Of the wines I was familiar with, the lower-end wines tended to be 400 to 500% of the retail price. I balk at anything over 200%. The higher-end wines were priced appropriately. Even more odd to me were the prices of glasses. Typically, the maximum a bottle should cost is four times the glass price. At Alba, it was four times the glass price plus $2, which doesn't encourage diners to order a bottle. The high-end bottl…

book review: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

The backstory: I've been eagerly awaitingState of Wonder since I first heard about it, even though I had not read any of Ann Patchett's other novels (I'll be reading her Orange Prize-winning novel Bel Canto soon.)

The basics: Scientist Marina Singh faces the heart-wrenching task of relaying the death of Anders, her colleague and friend, to his wife and three sons. When both his widow Karen and the head of the drug company she works for ask her to go to the Amazon to find out more about his death and check the progress of the top-secret drug development Anders went down to check on, she feels she must go, despite her reservations.

My thoughts: About once a year, I encounter a book that works for me on every level. Since I began blogging, there are two books I've rated six stars (out of a possible five): American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld and Room by Emma Donoghue. State of Wonder is the third. It's a novel I immediately wanted to stick in people's hands and say &q…

book review: Down from Cascom Mountain by Ann Joslin Williams

The basics: Ann Joslin Williams sets her debut novel (she has a collection of linked stories, The Woman in the Woods) in the rugged mountains near fictional Leah, New Hampshire, a town created by her father, Thomas Williams. Down from Cascom Mountain is mostly the story of Mary, who grew up on the mountain with a famous writer father, and has now returned.

My thoughts: Although the story starts with Mary, once the novel falls into its own patterns, Mary shares the narration with Callie, a remarkable sixteen-year-old working on the mountain this summer; and Tobin, a gifted but troubled teenager who grew up on the mountain. It's a refreshingly real motley crew of characters, and I enjoyed getting to know all of those who spent the summer on Cascom Mountain.

Williams captures the mountains of New Hampshire in a lyrical way that will resonate with readers familiar with New England as well as those who aren't. It's a lushly written novel full of description of the place as well …

book review: We Had It So Good by Linda Grant

The backstory: I predicted this book would make the Orange Prize longlist this year, and even though it didn't, I was still eager to read this novel.

The basics: At its simplest, We Had It So Good is the story of Stephen, a son of immigrants in Los Angeles who takes a Rhodes scholarship. It's a family saga of sorts, even though it's only 336 pages.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of novels that explore the paths we take in life and the journey from young adulthood through adulthood, and Linda Grant delivered a spectacular novel about Stephen's journey through life.

Stephen is around the age of my parents, and I appreciated seeing key events from their lives through his experiences. Cultural events form touchstones, and in so many ways Stephen and his friends embody the hippie generation. As a U.S. reader, it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences of these events through the eyes of a man whose parents moved to the U.S. only to see him move to England.

I …

book review: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim

The basics: Kyong-Sook Shin is a famous Korean writer who has won several awards internationally. Please Look After Mom is her first book to be translated into English. It tells the story of a mother who goes missing one afternoon in a crowded Seoul subway station. The story is told in the voices of her children and husband as they search for her, remember her and face their regrets.

My thoughts: Please Look After Mom opens in a somewhat bracing way. The reader is addressed as "you," which is jarring, but in a good way. Still, I scrambled for a few pages to get my bearings in the scene, the country, the family, and the character. As the novel moved into different sections, the narrator's language shifted to first-person. It was an interesting narrative tool, and I appreciated the boldness of Shin to force the reader to figure out which characters was now telling his or her story. There was no road map to this novel, just as mother ha…

Loving the Des Moines Life: Proof

Welcome to the first installment of my adventures around my new hometown of Des Moines! I'll bring you restaurant reviews, theater reviews, and re-caps of other cultural events as I explore and make myself at home here.

Friday night, Mr. Nomadreader and I set out on our first Des Moines date night. We opted to have dinner at Proof, which overlooks Western Gateway Park.

Proof is an interesting restaurant. It's open for lunch Monday through Friday. They only open for dinner on Friday nights, and they serve a $35 three-course meal with a different menu each week. There were three options each for the appetizer, entree and dessert. Thankfully, Mr. Nomadreader and I have remarkably similar taste in food (and almost everything, really), so we were able to enjoy two of the options for each course.

For our appetizers, we opted for the gouda and spring garlic bisque, which ended up being my favorite dish of the evening. It was decadent, creamy and delightfully cheesy, and it…