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Showing posts from August, 2011

An Ode to Tom Perrotta, my favorite author

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My History with Tom Perrotta For years, I've claimed a difference between favorite authors and favorite books. I've loved Tom Perrotta since 1999. I was an undergraduate working at an independent bookstore in Atlanta, and one of my co-workers told me to read The Wishbones because it reminded her of her boyfriend. I read it; I loved it. I moved on to Election with some hesitation because I really didn't care for the film. I adored Election and am still livid at how the film turned out. I finished his then collection with Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies, a set of interconnected stories. I loved them too, even though my distaste of short stories was pretty strong in those days.

When news broke that Tom Perrotta had a new book coming out, the staff of our little indie was ecstatic. We eagerly opened each new shipment hoping for a copy. When they finally arrived only the day before publication day, we all promptly borrowed a copy and created a display. On publication da…

Loving the Des Moines Life: Birthday Dinner at Django

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Saturday was my birthday, and for Mr. Nomadreader and me, birthdays mean decadent dinners with numerous courses and lots of wine. This year, I opted for Django, a French restaurant downtown that is probably my favorite place to eat in Des Moines. Despite having amazing food, Django never has a corkage fee. For wine lovers like us, it's heavenly to bring two bottles of great wine from our home collection.

We started the night with a bottle of Nicholas Feuillatte champagne because it's not a birthday without some bubbly. It was delightful as a cocktail wine, but it was even more fun once the first course arrived: the small shellfish platter. The platter features six oysters, six clams, six mussels and six shrimp on a bed of ice with cocktail sauce and mignonette sauce. It was delicious. Another reason to love Des Moines: this 24-piece seafood platter is only $19.99. I love this city. 


We ate the first course in no time at all, and our second appetizer course was decadently a…

book review: When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant

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The backstory: When I Lived in Modern Times won the Orange Prize in 2000.

The basics: Set at the end of World War II, When I Lived in Modern Times is the story of Eve, a young Jewish woman born and raised in London who finds herself alone in this world after the death of her mother (she has never known her father.) Her "Uncle Joe," a man her mother has had an affair with for years but who has a family of his own, encourages her to embrace her Jewishness and join the displaced persons flocking to Palestine.

My thoughts: I read Linda Grant's most recent novel, We Had It So Good (my review), earlier this year and loved it. I was surprised when it didn't make the Orange Prize or the Booker Prize longlist. As I read, I couldn't help comparing the two novels, even though they are quite different. There are some striking similarities, however. When I think of Linda Grant, I can't help but think of the impressive scope of these two novels. Both are well under 300 pages…

Thursday TV: The Lying Game

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The backstory:The Lying Game is the latest teen drama to be premiere on ABC Family this summer. It's adapted from Sara Shepard's books of the same name (only two have been published so far: The Lying Game and Never Have I Ever); Ms. Shepard also writes the wildly popular Pretty Little Liars series, which has also been adapted for ABC Family.

The basics: Hear me out. Emma and Sutton are twins, but they only found out they are twins a few months ago. Sutton was adopted by a wealthy couple in Scottsdale, Arizona, while Emma is an a unenviable foster care home with a perverted foster brother in Las Vegas. When he frames her for stealing her foster mom's money, she knocks him out and runs from the cops. She alerts Sutton she's coming to Arizona because she has nowhere else to go. When she arrives, Sutton has Emma pose as her, while Sutton jets off to Los Angeles to follow a lead for their birth parents.

My thoughts: While I read mostly literary fiction, my television time is …

Waiting on Wednesday: Wild Thing by Josh Bazell

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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 one I've been eagerly awaiting for more than two years. I loved Josh Bazell's debut novel, Beat the Reaper (my review). I was thrilled to read Library Journal's Pre-Pub Alert this week and discover it's finally time for more Pietro Brwna. Note: it's a sequel, so this brief description might include spoilers from Beat the Reaper.

Here's how the publisher describes it:
"It's hard to find work as a doctor when using your real name will get you killed. So hard that when a reclusive billionaire offers Dr. Peter Brown, aka Pietro Brnwa, a job accompanying a sexy but self-destructive paleontologist on the world's worst field assignment, Brown has no real choice but to say yes. Even if it means that an army of murderers, mobsters, and international drug dealers-not to mention the occasional lake monster-are about to…

book review: Far to Go by Alison Pick

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The backstory: Far to Go is on the 2011 Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: Set in Czechoslovakia during World War II, Far to Go follows the Bauer family: Pavel, his wife Anneliese, their son, and governess Marta through the Nazi invasion. In alternating sections, the reader gets glimpses into the research of a historian fascinated by the Kindertransport.

My thoughts: The plot of Far to Go is somewhat familiar ground. The Czechoslovakia setting was new to me, and I enjoyed seeing the war from this vantage point. My favorite part of this novel was the exploration of the theme of Jewishness, and the notion of distinguishing between identity and behavior. I found myself enjoying the contemplative scenes more. I was most drawn to Marta and her observations of the family and town.

Two of the plot devices distracted me from thoroughly engaging with the story, however. I found the modern scenes disjointed and distracting. It was clear the historian was relevant to the main story, but the lack of…

Short Story Saturday: Anthologies, Collections or Stand-Alone Stories?

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On my quest to read more short stories, I've found myself reading more collections, as well as more intentionally reading the short stories from The New Yorker. This afternoon, as I sat down to begin Emma Straub's collection of stories, Other People We MarriedI was struck by the title verso page and its details. Of the twelve stories in this volume, seven had been published previously before. That news in and of itself isn't terribly surprising, especially for a young writer, but it got me thinking.

As someone whose short story predilections veer towards interconnected or strongly themes collections, I'm starting to pay more attention to how stories come together. When I started Siobhan Fallon's You Know When the Men Are Gone(my review), I intended to read one story most days, as I'm prone to do. Instead I devoured it like a novel, partially because the stories and characters shared a place and space. Collections from multiple writers, such as the Best Ameri…

book review: How to Love an American Man by Kristine Gasbarre

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The backstory: When Meg of Write Meg reviewed this memoir back in May, I knew I wanted to read it.

The basics: How to Love an American Man is a memoir of life, love, family and home.  While dealing with the break-up with her British boyfriend and the death of her beloved grandfather, Kristine Gasbarre opts to come back home, live with her parents in rural Pennsylvania and figure out where to go next.

My thoughts: Overall, this memoir is a thoroughly engaging read overflowing with honesty and humor. I found myself drawn to the theme of family more than that of love, but that is much more a product of where I am than the fault of Ms. Gasbarre. Her struggles, both humorous and moving, of getting to know her grandmother were delightful. Her grandparents were married for sixty years, and both women loved him deeply, yet they have struggled to connect over the years.

I also appreciated the theme of coming home as one of choice and blessing rather than failure, laziness or burden. I, too, spe…

book review: The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

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The basics: Henry House, the titular character in The Irresistible Henry House, begins like as an orphan who soon becomes a home economics test baby. Female college students take turns spending a week caring for Henry and living in the home economics house.

My thoughts: I was fascinated by the premise of this novel, but the execution didn't quite live up to my expectations. Because Henry is an infant as the novel opens, the initial focus is one the house mother and the seven women who care for Henry. I found the narrative a bit muddled with all of these characters.

As Henry aged, it became more clearly his story, but it still felt a bit disjointed at first. Overall, I found the pacing to problematic. At times, I wanted to know more about parts of Henry's life, while at other times the story dragged.

The verdict: Despite a strong premise, The Irresistible Henry House fell a bit flat for me. Grunwald is a talented writer and storyteller, but somehow this novel never felt well-bal…

an interview with David Nicholls

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Last week, I had the privilege to join a handful of other book bloggers on a conference call with David Nicholls, who wrote the wonderful novel One Day (my review) and adapted it for the upcoming release of the movie. The film comes out next Friday, and I cannot wait to see it. We each got to ask two questions, and David was remarkably thoughtful and forthcoming with his answers.

Me: David, I'm curious. As you were adapting the screenplay for One Day, was there a particular year or scene that you found to be most challenging in adapting for the film?
David Nicolls: Some, the hardest thing was always just cutting back, cutting, cutting, cutting. That was the hardest thing. The scenes that came most easily were the scenes which were the kind of two-handed confrontations because they're very faithful to the book. For instance, the scene where Dexter goes to see his mother with a hangover and the scene where Emma and Dexter go for the terrible meal and fall out, and the holiday se…

book review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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The backstory: The Help was longlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize. It's also now a movie.

My thoughts: Oh, The Help. I wanted to like you so much. Bloggers I almost alwaysagree with all loved it. As most of the reading public is familiar with The Help and has probably read it, this review will be frank about the novel and may include spoilers for people who somehow have never heard of it.

I fully admit it: I'm not normally a fan of Southern fiction. Despite living in Atlanta for thirteen years, I never developed a love for Southern fiction or culture. Southern food, however, I fully embraced.

I picked up The Help once before a few years ago and only made it a few pages because of the Southern speak. This time I persevered, but I found it all rather dull. I did really like the character of Skeeter. I'm often drawn to idealistic young female characters who dream of being a writer, so that comes as no surprise. Still, I found nothing in Skeeter's story surprising, so it w…

book review: The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

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The basics: The Lantern is the story of Eve, a British freelance translator, and Dom, a musician, who are also a new couple who fell hard and fast in love and move to a crumbling home in Provence. It's also the story of Benedictine, who grew up in the same house. Her voice alternates chapters with Eve's.

My thoughts: From the beginning, I enjoyed Lawrenson's writing immensely. Although The Lantern was a relatively fast read, it is also a smart, gothic tale. I was most enchanted with the way Lawrenson wove in Eve's love of reading. Their was romance to it: wouldn't any of us jump at the chance to work as we wished, not worry about money, read all day and live in Provence? The books begins as a reader's escape, but it moves into deeper territory as Eve ponders her lot in life more and more:
"Change is not always visible, as the turn of the season is, or the natural process of aging. We are so many different people in one lifetime." As a reader, I was a…

book review: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

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The backstory: The Sisters Brothers was longlisted for the 2011 Booker Prize.

The basics: Eli and Charlie are brothers working as hit men in 1851 Oregon City. Eli, a nice, honest, killer if you will, hopes for life after killing, but his brother Charlie wants to keep living the life of a gunslinger. The two set out on a mission to kill a man in San Francisco.

My thoughts: When I saw True Grit last year (my review), I was surprised how much I loved it.  When the Booker longlist was announced, I was intrigued by The Sisters Brothers and was thrilled when it came into the library so quickly. I was surprised how much I enjoyed The Sisters Brothers too. I guess it really is true: I like westerns. Eli Sisters is a wonderful narrator and character. His cadence and perspective struck me as endearing and unexpected. I also could not help picturing it as a film as I read it. I think there's a great future for comedic westerns on the screen.

Booker thoughts: While I found The Sisters Brothers t…