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Showing posts from November, 2011

book review: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

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The backstory: Winter Garden is one of the picks for my new book club this month. (We meet every other month and read two picks, but this month we chose three!)

The basics: Sisters Nina, an award-winning photojournalist, and Meredith, who stayed home to take over the family's orchard, are quite different. They've both struggled with their mother's emotional distance throughout their lives and relished their father's affection.

My thoughts: If not for my book club, I would likely not have made time to read Winter Garden. I foolishly dismissed it as fluffy, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how emotionally affecting this novel is. It is safe to say I first identified more with Nina, the roaming photojournalist who doesn't want to settle down, than with Meredith, who has a struggling marriage and two daughters in college. Nina describes her "yearning to see everything, no matter how terrible, to know everything."  Despite my initial preference for one sist…

book review: You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

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The backstory: When I interviewed Amy for Book Blogger Appreciation Week this year, I let her pick one book for me to read before the end of 2011. She chose You Are My Only by Beth Kephart, which thrilled me because I knew both she and Wendy from Caribou's Mom adored it. The other Beth Kephart title I've read, The Heart Is Not a Size, I really enjoyed.

The basics: You Are My Only is the story of Emmy and Sophie. Emmy married young and had a baby young. One day, Emmy's baby goes missing, leaving only a yellow sock. Sophie, a teenage girl who is homeschooled and forced to be reclusive, has spent her life moving around from what her mother eerily calls the "No Good." Once Sophie discovers a cute neighbor, Joey, she begins to question her mother.

My thoughts:  The narrative alternates between Emmy and Sophie. It's clear from the beginning that Sophie is Emmy's daughter, yet this connection lacked intrigue. I know I mostly read adult fiction and read this novel …

book review: The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

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The backstory: I first heard about Martha Southgate when reading her essay in The Help issue of Entertainment Weekly this summer. (Regular readers may recall I didn't love The Help.) When Jen and Nicoleannounced The Taste of Salt would be the pick for their November book club, I jumped at the chance to read it and discuss it (the full discussion--spoilers abound--is here.)

The basics: The Taste of Salt is the story of Josie, a black scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. It is also the story of Josie's family, their burden of addiction, and growing up in Cleveland.

My thoughts: I sat down to begin The Taste of Salt one morning two hours before I needed to leave for work (I'm an increasingly early riser.) I did not move from the couch, not even to make another cup of coffee, and I contemplated staying to finish it. I decided to risk reading the last twenty pages on the bus because I couldn't be late, and I couldn't bear to not know how the novel ended. T…

Thankfully Reading 2011

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When Thankfully Reading Weekend was launched two years ago, I wasn't able to participate much because I had to work most of the weekend (oh, graduate school...) This year, I'm blessed (truly) with a five-day Thanksgiving weekend, and I'm spending much of it reading. I'm also catching up on neglected review posts.

My plan
Seriously, waking up today and realizing it's only now the true weekend left me feeling relaxed, thankful and blessed. Mr. Nomadreader and I have planned a Mexican lunch out (festive, right?) followed by a matinee of The Descendents (review coming this week). I'm excited it's movie award season and all the films I'm most excited about are finally coming out. We plan to be back home and lounging on the couch before five o'clock. I'm hoping to finish Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah tonight. Then I'm excited to start A Bitter Truth, the third Bess Crawford mystery by Charles Todd. It came out at the end of August, and I've h…

book review: The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier

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The backstory: The Printmaker's Daughter was published in Canada as The Ghost Brush.

The basics: A sweeping tale of historical fiction, The Printmaker's Daughter is the story of Oei, daughter of famous Japanese printmaker, Hokusai.

My thoughts: As I think back on The Printmaker's Daughter, it surprises me how far the book took me along its journey. In some ways, it's difficult to review books that are so epic in scope and long. In other ways, however, I think this book is particularly hard to review. The story is the focus of this book, and Govier allows Oei to tell her story. As I read, I was immediately transported into nineteenth century Japan. This novel is rich with detail, which enchanted me as I read, but also allowed the action to drag a bit at times. The slight downfall of this novel for me, was its pacing. Govier's writing steered the story, but I didn't write down a single memorable passage in this 512-page book. When the story slowed, the book slowed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Last year I wrote about my love of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It still baffles those who know me how much I love it. The cinnamon rolls are in the oven baking, but I'll wait to open the sparkling wine until Mr. Nomadreader wakes up (or at least have a few cups of coffee first.) We're hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, which I'm incredibly excited about. Tonight we'll be putting up our Christmas trees (yes, I take on the fully nostalgic tree filled with ornaments of childhood, while Mr. Nomadreader decorates a display window-worthy grown-up tree.) We're a two tree family in a one bedroom apartment, and I'm so excited to celebrate our first Christmas in this apartment.

This year, as I contemplate how incredibly different my life is than this time last year (is it possible I was still in grad school and fretting about pending unemployment this time last year?), I'm quite moved by the spirit of Thanksgiving and giving thanks. Here's an (ab…

National Book Award 2011: Thoughts & Predictions

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Tonight, the winners of this year's National Book Awards will be announced. I mostly follow the fiction category, but I'm always excited to see which authors win across the board. This year in particular, several of the young adult and non-fiction titles sound quite appealing.

For the first time, the National Book Foundation is offering a live webcast of the ceremony on its website. It starts tonight at 8 p.m. New York City time. I'll be watching live (perhaps even from my Kindle Fire, which is set to arrive today!)

I managed to read all five of the fiction finalists this year, and I can honestly say I would be happy if any of them win. While I certainly have my favorites (more on that soon), the five titles are incredibly diverse and represent a fascinating combination of American voices in fiction. Although I had hopes for other titles to appear on the list, I welcome reading prize lists to discover titles I likely otherwise wouldn't have.

It is incredibly difficult …

book review: Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman

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The backstory: Binocular Vision: New and Collected Stories is a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award.

The basics: This collection of short stories is not connected by a common theme. The stories dart through history and feature numerous locations worldwide. Most stories do, however, feature Judaism or take place in Boston, and sometimes both.

My thoughts: Mr. Nomadreader and I are huge fans of The Next Iron Chef, the reality competition show to pick the next Iron Chef. (Stay with me here.) A recurring theme on the show is the danger of making duos and triples with the secret ingredient because it allows the judges to judge you against yourself rather than your competitors. As the only short story collection to be a finalist for the National Book Award, at times it felt Edith Pearlman is competing against herself, and it wasn't always successful for me.

Pearlman is a brilliant writer and storyteller, yet my lack of fondness for short stories came through as I read this collectio…

book review: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

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The backstory: Jesmyn West's second novel Salvage the Bones is a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award and a finalist for the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The basics: Salvage the Bones is the story of Esch, a pregnant fourteen-year-old girl in New Orleans in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Since her mother died, Esch helps care for her alcoholic father and three brothers. Much of the action also focuses on China, the pet pit bull who gives birth as the novel opens.

My thoughts: When the National Book Award finalists were first announced, I had heard the most about Salvage the Bones (of the three I had not read.) Two bloggers whose opinions I trust, Audra at Unabridged Chick and Heather at Raging Bibliomania, liked it but found the subject matter quite difficult. As someone who lacks an affinity for dogs and is downright afraid of aggressive dogs, I was curious  how the focus on pit bull fighting would work for me. In short: I wanted more Esch and less of the dogs.

book review: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

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The backstory: I've been eagerly awaiting Caroline Preston's latest novel since I first heard about it.

The basics: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is, aptly, a scrapbook Frankie Pratt has made of her life. It's a novel in pictures, but not quite a graphic novel. Preston's words are as illuminating as the objects she pairs them with. Amazon allows you to download a sample, and it is worth seeing for yourself.

My thoughts: I've enjoyed all of Caroline Preston's previous books, which are all so different, and this one is certainly no exception. I devoured this historical scrapbook even as I savored it. I could not wait to see where Frankie's adventures would take us, yet I hesitated to turn the pages because there was so much visual treasure to explore. In many ways it's a difficult novel to write about because the writing, which is quite strong, is not the star of the novel. It's a visual delight with remarkable depth and character development.

The verdi…

book review: In the Last Analysis by Amanda Cross

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The backstory: In the Last Analysis is the first mystery in the Kate Fansler series written under the pseudonym Amanda cross. When Rose City Reader reviewed the second mystery in the series, The James Joyce Murder, I was intrigued enough to try this series.

The basics: Kate Fansler is a literature professor at Columbia. When a student, Janet Harrison, of hers asks Kate for a recommendation for a psychoanalyst, Kate recommends her dear friend Emmanuel. When Janet is found dead on Emmanuel's couch,  he is the prime suspect. Kate never doubts his innocence, and she throws herself into the case when she believes the police aren't considering alternative suspects.

My thoughts: I instantly enjoyed Kate as a character: "As is the unfortunate habit of the literary person, she already imagined herself retelling this extraordinary event." Although in the Last Analysis is a mystery, the mystery is not always the focus of the novel. Kate still has to teach, research and attend to …

guest post: Ann Weisgarber on Researching The Secret History of Rachel DuPree

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Last week I reviewed The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber (I loved it). I couldn't stop thinking about Rachel, an African-American homesteader in South Dakota's Badlands. As an academic librarian, I spend much of my day teaching students (and to a lesser extent, faculty) how to conduct research and which sources are most appropriate for which research topics. I'm fascinated by how people conduct research, and Ann graciously agreed to write a guest post about her research for this novel. It was a fascinating surprise to hear that Ann's research began right here in Des Moines!

Carrie, thank you for asking me to write about the resources I used during the research process.  I do, though, have a confession to make.  I told very few people, including the librarians who helped me, that I was writing a novel.  The very word intimidated me.  Instead, I said I was working on a project.  When the book was published, I finally told them.  The librarians weren’t…

book review: Crawling at Night by Nani Power

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The backstory:Crawling at Night was longlisted for the 2002 Orange Prize.

The basics: Ito is a sushi chef who works with Mariane, an alcoholic waitress. Both are haunted by their past: for Ito, the life left behind in Japan, and for Mariane, the daughter she chose adoption for fifteen years ago.

My thoughts: As someone who both worked in restaurants full-time for several years (and met  Mr. Nomadreader while working together at the same restaurant) and has a fondness for food, wine and city life, I expected to love Crawling at Night. It is certainly a novel of urban despair, and I'm not generally one to shy away from bleak novels. I wouldn't, however, have chosen to read this one during the read-a-thon had I known just how bleak it was. I finished it, but it effectively killed my reading mood.

Crawling at Night is written with a haunting beauty. It is raw and gritty. It may make many readers uncomfortable at times. Its characters are unlikable. While typically I don't have a …

book review: The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak

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The backstory: The Soujourn, Andrew Krivak's debut novel, is a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award and won the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The basics: This novel opens in Pueblo, Colorado in June of 1899 when Jozef Vinich is an infant. The next section announces a location of Dardan, Pennsylvania in 1972, but the novel is really the story of Vinich's life, and in between his infanthood in Colorado and his time in Pennsylvania, he lives in his father's native Austria and fights in World War I.

My thoughts: The opening chapter of The Sojourn is among the most haunting I have read. It's beautifully written, undeniably tragic and a fascinating beginning to a life story. As the action shifts to Pennsylvania, I continued to be intrigued. How did Jozef's journey lead him here? Why 1972? The road is a winding one, and unfortunately it was often a boring one.

It was unabashedly dark, and ultimately honest, about the horrors of war:
"For the first time, I fear…

Sunday Salon: Abandoning Anna

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Remember when I was really excited to join the read-a-long for Anna Karenina? And then I only managed to post once about it? Anna, it's not you. It's me.

In all seriousness, I was enjoying reading Anna Karenina, which surprised me somewhat. What I was surprised to find, however, is that despite my love of sharing the reading experience, I don't like read-a-longs. I didn't like having arbitrary places to stop each week. I found myself focusing on the ending points more than the book itself. I had trouble forming my thoughts for weekly blog posts. When I read, I want to be swept away at the pace that feels right. Reading a set number of pages each week was unsatisfying.

I do love discussing books once I've read them, and I think that's one reason I so enjoy my new book club. For book club discussions, count me in. For read-a-longs, however, I think I'll pass until the final discussion.

I'm already starting to think about my 2012 reading goals, and readin…

graphic novel review: Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley

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The backstory: Heidenkind thoughtfully reviewed this graphic novel the month before the read-a-thon, and I opted to start my read-a-thon with it. Bryan Lee O'Malley also wrote the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel.

The basics: Lost at Sea is the story of Raleigh, a young girl on a road trip from California back to Canada.

My thoughts: Looking for a graphic novel to read during the next read-a-thon? This one is perfect. First of all, it's about a road trip, which is a favorite theme of mine. Second, it's quite short (I read it in less than an hour, which was an excellent 8 a.m. boost.) Third, although I found the end bizarre, I really liked the experience of reading it and thoroughly enjoyed most of the book.

I won't spoil the ending, although it's not an ending with a shocking twist or surprising turn. It's more of an odd and unexpected turn. The rest of the story, however, is fascinating. The reader begins the novel on the road trip and slowly pieces together how the …

book review: I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn

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The backstory: I Was Amelia Earhart was shortlisted for the 1997 Orange Prize. At 160 pages, it was the perfect read-a-thon read.

My thoughts:  If you read this blog, you might have noticed I have a fondness for fiction about real people. You also might have noticed I grew in Kansas. As a young girl in Kansas, I was rather enamored with Amelia Earhart. What's not to like? She was from Kansas, like me. She dreamed of travel and other places, like me. Her disappearance was mysterious (thankfully, not like me.) Unlike many of my childhood fascinations, I haven't outgrown Amelia Earhart.

That lengthy exposition indicates how high my expectations were, even though I didn't know quite what to expect. The title indicates the basics: it's the story of Amelia Earhart, narrated by email, after the fateful flight. Awesome, right? If you answered no, then it might not be the book for you anyway.

The book begins before the flight, and it does set the stage well. Some of the details …

Waiting on Wednesday: Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

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Jill from Breaking the Spine hosts Waiting on Wednesday, which allows bloggers to highlight an upcoming release we can't wait to read.
My pick this week should come as no surprise to readers who have seen me read and enjoy the first eight Maisie Dobbs novels in the ppst year. My reviews of the first eight novels: Maisie DobbsBirds of a FeatherPardonable LiesMessenger of TruthAn Incomplete Revenge,Among the Mad,The Mapping of Love and Death, and A Lesson in Secrets.

The ninth installment, Elegy for Eddie, will be published March 27, 2012, which is too far away for my taste, but quality mysteries do take time! Plus, for those of you who haven't discovered the delightful Maisie Dobbs, you have time catch up! Here's how the publisher describes this one:
"In this latest entry in the acclaimed, bestselling mystery series-"less whodunits than why-dunits, more P.D. James than Agatha Christie" (USA Today)-Maisie Dobbs takes on her most personal case yet, a t…

Wrapping Up October 2011 and Goals for November

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With the weather topping off at 72 degrees yesterday in Des Moines, I'm having a little trouble realizing it's November. I haven't started listening to Christmas music yet due to this unseasonably warm fall (yes, I know it's early for most people, but I tend to listen to Christmas music from October through January.)

October was a pretty good reading month for me, and I have several reviews to catch up on the next few weeks (thanks, read-a-thon!) I managed to read ten books last month. There weren't any five-star reads this month, but I still really enjoyed most of my reads.

The Excellent (rated 4.5 stars or higher):

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber (4.5 stars)
I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn (4.5 stars) - review coming tomorrow
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (4.5 stars)
Habibi by Craig Thompson (4.5 stars)

The Good (rated 4 or 4.25 stars):

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan (4 stars) -- review coming January 2, 2012!
A Lesson in Secrets b…