Friday, December 30, 2011

book review: The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

The basics: The Year We Left Home is the story of the Erickson family in Iowa. It stretches from oldest sibling Anita's wedding in the 1970's to present day.

My thoughts: I was eager to read The Year We Left Home for two reasons: I've been intending to read Jean Thompson for years and it takes place in Iowa (where I live.) My perceptions of this novel changed mightily as I read it. Over the course of the first one hundred pages, I was convinced it wasn't a novel at all but rather a set of very loosely connected stories. There were gems of gorgeous writing like this sentence: "Ryan had meant something else, though now his meaning escaped him, what was it like, to travel across an ocean, to be in a war, to be afraid for your life, to kill someone or think about killing them, to buy a woman." Still, I yearned for character development. Although the action shifted to different characters, I felt Thompson kept all of them an arm's length away from the reader.

As the book continued on and more time passed, however, the characters began to weave back into the story in multiple ways. While I appreciated this patient literary technique, I still felt incredibly removed from these characters. I wanted Thompson to push her characters and story as far as she pushed her language.

Favorite passage: "When he was younger he had wished to see the world, and then he had wished to change it, and then he had been afraid it was passing him by. And his mistake had been to confuse a particular woman with the world."

The verdict: Although the book ended more strongly than it began, much of the novel reads like short stories that would work almost as well as stand-alones. Ultimately, I wanted as much from these characters as I got from Thompson's use of language, but she left me wanting more.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: May 3, 2011
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Year We Left Home from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Time Is Running Out

The end of the year is bringing a slew of 'Best of 2011' lists (mine will go up Sunday), but it also means time is running out to nominate your favorite books for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards. The Indie Lit Awards, created by Wallace from Unputdownables last year, allow literary bloggers to be the judges. I'll thrilled to be a voting member of the fiction category this year. As a voting member, I can't nominate books, so we're relying on readers to nominate the books that will make up the shortlists. Here are the categories: Biography & Memoir, GLBTQ, Fiction, Mystery, Non-fiction, Poetry, and Speculative Fiction.

Here are the guidelines for nominations:
1. The books must have been published in 2011.
2. You may nominate up to five books per genre.
3. Anyone may nominate (except those who made a profit on the book, such as the author, publicist or publisher).
4. Nominations are open until December 31, 2011 at 11:59 Pacific time.

Have your list of favorite 2011 reads handy? Nominate them today! I can't wait to see what titles make the shortlists, and I'm ready to start reading the fiction nominees and deliberating with my fellow judges about them.

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, December 28, 2011

book review: The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate

The backstory: After so enjoying The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate (my review), I wanted to read her earlier novels too.

The basics: The Fall of Rome takes place at a private, all boys boarding school in Connecticut. There are three alternating narrators: Jerome Washington, a Negro (his preference) Classics teacher who has been at the school for thirty years; Jana Hansen, a middle-aged divorcee English teacher who is new to the school; and Rashid Bryson, an African-American first-year student with dreadlocks who comes from a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn.

My thoughts: In The Fall of Rome, the three main characters were delightfully diverse, yet I found equally myself compelled by all of them. Despite the differences of these three characters, none were a caricature. Jerome, who could be a bit of a curmudgeon after thirty years at one institution, still had balance:
"One thing that became clear to me after I had taught at Chelsea for awhile is that for the most part my students were likely to grow up and lead lives as successful but also as mundane as those of their parents. That made it all the more thrilling when I saw something extraordinary in a boy."
I have a fondness for academic novels, but the specific issues of this academic microcosm were fascinating on both a micro and macro scale. What is the role of an all boys boarding school today? Does racial diversity matter? What responsibility do African-American teachers have to mentor and recruit diverse students? Is it responsible to recruit students who are ill prepared for academic rigor? There are no easy answers to these questions, of course, but Southgate masterfully uses the three characters to play out the complications inherent in all of these questions.

Having read The Taste of Salt so recently, I was struck by a similarity of theme in Southgate's work. Both novels feature an intellectual African-American who works at an elite institution and is the only black person who works there. Both have issues with their pasts. I found these parallels between Jerome and Josie fascinating, and I caught myself imagining what a conversation between the two of them would sound like.

Favorite passage: "Of course, I had heard my parents fighting bitterly many nights. But I thought that was what marriage was--a series of barely moderated battles broken by the creaking sighs of bedsprings and soft sobs."

The verdict: I adore the way Martha Southgate writes. She develops her characters and offers stunning insight in short books. The questions posed in this novel are important ones, and I am grateful Southgate isn't afraid to leave things messy. The Fall of Rome deals with numerous issues, many about race, but it works as both the story of these three characters and as a story bigger than these three characters.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 224 pages
Publication date: January 2002
Source: interlibrary loan

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Fall of Rome from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository, or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

book review: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The backstory: The New York Times named The Art of Fielding one of the five best fiction books of 2011.

The basics: The Art of Fielding is the story of Westish College, a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. The main characters include three members of its Division III baseball team, the college's president, and his daughter.

My thoughts: Going into The Art of Fielding, I was curious how much baseball would be its focus. I grew up a huge sports fan, as all of my family still is, but I've distanced myself from following current sports. I still have a love and appreciation for them, and continue to find myself drawn to books and films that feature sports. I have a special soft spot for baseball after spending one of the best summers of my life interning at the Baseball Hall of Fame's Research Library. I appreciated the baseball scenes in The Art of Fielding, but I appreciated the college aspect more. While this novel will certainly appeal to baseball fans, I found the most compelling storylines to take place off the field. (A note to the non-baseball fans: the beginning is all baseball, but persevere.)

One reason this novel will appeal to non-baseball fans too is Harbach smartly included a main character who does not enjoy baseball. It's a lovely narrative tool to counteract the characters who often cannot see beyond the diamond. While it would be easy to dub The Art of Fielding as either a baseball novel or a coming of age novel, I think both do it a disservice. It is a novel rich in character and plot, but it's also a novel filled with wisdom. I highlighted 32 passages as I read. Harbach sneaks in nuggets of characterization like this one, "She hated the namelessness of women in stories, as if they lived and died so that men could have metaphysical insights," that left me breathless. (The historical story it came after was fantastic, albeit sexist.)

With so much I loved in this novel, the characters, the setting, the academia, and the influence of sports in Midwestern college life, I struggled with one particular storyline. As I've pondered whether it's me or the storyline, I think it might be a bit of both. I understand what Harbach was trying to do with it, but it felt hollow compared to the rest of the novel. In a weaker novel, it might have blended in as ordinary, but in this otherwise strong novel, it seemed slightly out of place. It didn't ruin the novel for me, but it did pull me out of the characters and action and make me ponder the editing and construction of the novel itself.

Favorite passages: Harbach beautifully articulated one of the reasons I take the time to review each book I read: "So much of one’s life was spent reading; it made sense not to do it alone." He summed up the kind of classroom I try to foster when I teach: "if one of his classmates or professors made a comment that seemed specious or incomplete, he said so. Not because he knew more than they did but because the clash of imperfect ideas was the only way for anyone, including himself, to learn and improve." I'll be putting it on my syllabus this spring. He stole my grammar-loving heart with this phrase: "Never too drunk to use whom." If I had to choose just one passage, however, it would be this one: "Literature could turn you into an asshole; he’d learned that teaching grad-school seminars. It could teach you to treat real people the way you did characters, as instruments of your own intellectual pleasure, cadavers on which to practice your critical faculties."

The verdict: The Art of Fielding is a very good novel, and one I enjoyed immensely. It's an excellent debut, but for this reader, one storyline did not ring as true as others, and it somewhat dampened my enjoyment of this novel. Ultimately, I think of this novel fondly, and while it won't make my top ten novels of 2011, its wisdom and characters will stick with me.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 528 pages
Publication date: September 7, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Art of Fielding from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository, or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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, December 26, 2011

book review: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

The basics: Every morning Christine wakes up and doesn't know where she is, how old she is or who the man next to her his. Her husband Ben explains who she is, who he is, and leaves her lists of things to do while he's at work. Meanwhile, Christine has started keeping a journal to remind herself what she learned and remembered the day before. At the beginning of it, she writes: "DON'T TRUST BEN."

My thoughts: Before I Go to Sleep is a top notch thriller. My mind raced as I read it, and I was eager to unlock the puzzle of if Ben was a model husband trying to protect Christine or if he was keeping things from her, all while I realized this thriller was so rooted in reality, the answer couldn't be an either/or. From Christine's point of view, she wants to know everything about herself. From Ben's point of view, every day is the same; do you want to spend each day reliving the sadness of life and making the one you love sad?

What I loved most about this thriller is, despite being told from Christine's point of view, Watson managed to infuse the motivations of other characters perfectly. When each day begins, the reader knows more than Christine. How will she react? What will she learn today? What will she misunderstand today? These questions were answered differently each day, which made this novel excellent. Although there was a sense of Groundhog Day to it, the days themselves were so unique and illuminating, the pace remained fast.

The verdict: I was completely engaged in this thriller, and I read it in a single day.It was smart, fascinating and mesmerizing. I appreciated the combination of character development and plot twists. I'm already eagerly awaiting the film adaptation of this novel and S.J. Watson's second novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: June 14, 2011
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Before I Go To Sleep from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository, or Amazon (Kindle version). You may also visit S.J. Watson's website and follow him on Twitter.

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!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Swap reveal!

I was so excited to participate in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap again this year. I have participated for the past two years (see my loot from 2009 and 2010) and discovered new bloggers and had the joy of receiving a package from a blogger who already knows me pretty well. This year once again I was buying for a blogger I did not know, plus she reads in a completely different genre than I do. It's a wonderful reminder of how big and diverse this community of book bloggers in, and it reminds me to step out of my little corner of literary fiction bloggers more often.

On to the presents....
Also, I have to give bonus props to my Santa because this gift arrived before Thanksgiving. I had the joy of unwrapping my first Christmas presents on the night before Thanksgiving, and it's taken me this long to actually write a post about it! As you can see, the present if off to an amazing start with this wine pourer and stopper. I eagerly dug into the wrapping paper to see what else awaited me...
  • The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria is a beautiful cookbook 
  • a Moleskine travel journal: it's gorgeous (and the perfect thing for the annoying times during flights when I can't read on my Kindle)
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which is probably the book people who know me are most surprised I haven't read. I've vowed to make time for it this year, most likely as part of Orange January or Orange July (it was shortlistd in 1999). 
  • a delicious bag of Lindt chocolate truffles (yes, they're long gone, but I still think of them fondly!)
Once again, I had such a wonderful experience in this year's Book Blogger Holiday Swap. I participated at the $40 level (this year there were two options) because it was the only swap I did, and I'm amazed by how much I got for $40. 

My Secret Santa, Laura from The Scarlet Letter, is amazing, and I'm so glad to discover her blog! You can also find her on Twitter. Thank you, Laura!

Coming up soon: I'll be taking the weekend off from the blog, but I'll be back next week with review of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, plus whatever else I finish in the next two days! I'll have my Best of 2011 list for you on New Year's Day so I can read until the last minutes of 2011! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all of you!

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, December 20, 2011

book review: Murder Season by Robert Ellis

The backstory: Robert Ellis is my favorite mystery writer. Murder Season is his third novel to feature Los Angeles detective Lena Gamble (he also has two stand-alone mysteries.) I adored the first two novels in this series, City of Fire (my review) and The Lost Witness (my review), immensely, and I eagerly awaited the publication of Murder Season this month. In anticipation, I re-read both City of Fire and The Lost Witness this year, and both earned 5 stars from on the re-read, even though I remembered 'who did it.' Note: because I believe this novel could work as a standalone, this review will not include any spoilers from the first two novels.

The basics: Lena gets called to investigate a brutal double murder at a hot Hollywood nightspot. Both the identity of the victims, one famous and one infamous, and the fact the two were even associated with one another, surprises everyone.

My thoughts: Admittedly, I went into this novel with high expectations. I appreciate that Robert Ellis takes time to write these mysteries (The Lost Witness was published in February 2009, so it's been almost three years), and I push this criminally underappreciated series on any mystery reader who will listen (I've converted my husband, his brother, his mother and his stepfather to the cause thus far.) I was riveted from the first scene. It was incredibly suspenseful to find out who was dead, and I knew they were fictional characters I probably didn't know.

Lena Gamble is among my favorite law enforcement characters. (Yes, I also love Maisie Dobbs and Bess Crawford, but historical crime solvers are in a vastly different league than a gritty L.A. detective. In my dream world, Lena would find a reason to collaborate with Manhattan D.A. Alexandra Cooper and have a fabulous cross-over, but I'm not holding my breath, just as I fear my musical dream of Nanci Griffith recording a duet with Steve Earle will never happen.) In this novel, she must work without a partner. As a narrative device, I think this move is brilliant. Instead of reading dialogue about observations, the reader largely gets Lena's thoughts. It's an unfiltered view, and it's one that bonds the reader to Lena.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe this novel could work as a stand-alone. Elllis smartly refers to cases we've seen and those we haven't. At first, when Lena mentioned her last case, I was confused, but then it became clear there wasn't a novel about her last case. Not every case she solves is filled with high stakes, surprising turns and fascinating endings. I still recommend reading the series in order, but it is refreshing to not have to be hyper-vigilant about doing so.

Robert Ellis is not a writer whose passages I copy down to recall later. He's a masterly suspenseful writer, and his sentence variation pushes the action along admirably. As I've read or re-read all three Lena Gamble novels in the past few months, I've started to notice fascinating themes in his work as well. I'll refrain from sharing them here, but now that I've spotted these themes, I'm even more eager to see where the next novel goes.

The verdict: While the ending lacks a bit of the finesse and surprise the first two novels did, this mystery still delivers from beginning to end. Ellis smartly wrote this novel as one that could stand alone.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: December 6, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Murder Season from Amazon in hardback or for the Kindle. Or, start this series at the beginning with City of Fire in paperback or for the Kindle (it's only $6.99!)

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!

Friday, December 16, 2011

book review: The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell

The basics: The Train of Small Mercies follows the lives of ordinary Americans in each state along the path of Bobby Kennedy's funeral train from Boston to his burial in Washington, D.C.

My thoughts: Bobby is one of my all-time favorite movies, and this novel takes a somewhat similar approach. The film follows numerous people in the hotel the day Bobby Kennedy was shot. To me, The Train of Small Mercies feels like a continuation of the film. Admittedly, I'm quite fond of the-day-in-the-life approach, but Rowell approached this day brilliantly and captured the spirit and energy of the time. The stories were quite varied, as were the main characters. This contrast was quite moving, as the reader gets to see a myriad of ways people felt connected to Bobby.

I was relieved the stories were mixed throughout the narrative. We lived through the day of the funeral train with different people, but we got to see their days, both the ordinary and the extraordinary. As is often the case with multiple narratives, some were most interesting than others, but all of them were emotionally

Favorite passage: "Yes, you said capturing people. Let me ask you a silly question. Why would anyone want to do that? What do you do with that, capturing a soul? You have to be really interested in people to do that sort of thing, I would imagine. Maybe that's why I'm not much of a connoisseur. I don't like art with people in it."

The verdict: The Train of Small Mercies is a moving novel. Although the characters and details are already starting to slip from my memory, the mood, power and brilliance will stick with me for a long time. Highly recommended, especially for fans of modern history and character-driven fiction.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: October 13, 2011
Source: publisher, via LibraryThing Early Reviews

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!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

book review: A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

The backstory: Having thoroughly enjoyed the first two Bess Crawford novels by mother-son writing duo Charles Todd, A Duty to the Dead (my review) and An Impartial Witness (my review), I eagerly awaited the release of A Bitter Truth. Because this mystery is set at Christmastime, I waited until December to read it.

The basics: Bess Crawford arrives home to London for a Christmas break from her job as a nurse in World War I. When she arrives at the door of her flat, there is a young woman hiding in the doorway trying to keep warm. Bess, being Bess, invites the young woman up and discovers she has marital problems and somewhat reluctantly agrees to see the young woman back home, where things get quite interesting.

My thoughts: Although I loved the first two novels in this series, I was curious how I would feel as it progressed. I don't seek out cozy mysteries, and I wondered how many ways Todd could manage to make Bess a crime solver. Thankfully, it works perfectly in A Bitter Truth. The mystery itself is solid (I'll spare you the details because the set-ups are wonderful), but what I love most about this series are the manners. It's not a comedy of manners, but it is a mystery of manners in a sense. These books are a fascinating look into that time. Things that seem normal to me make Bess because because she will find something odd about a person's behavior. It's a fascinating disconnect between what Bess thinks and what she says, and this combination, too, illuminates its time.

My favorite thing about this novel was getting to see Bess during the war itself. The story continues past her Christmas leave, and she returns to France and the war. Seeing the war, as well as what a nurse's day was like, was fascinating and harrowing.

The verdict: I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery. As always, Bess is a delightful heroine. I love seeing the world through her eyes.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: August 30, 2011
Source: publisher

Thoughts on the series: I realized while reading A Bitter Truth that each Bess Crawford novel would work well as a standalone read. Because these mysteries take place during the war, Bess doesn't really have a chance to have many developments in her personal life. So feel free to pick up any of these three Bess Crawford mysteries and enjoy!

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy A Bitter Truth 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!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

book review: Maphead by Ken Jennings

The backstory: I'm a huge fan of Jeopardy! (yes, I DVR it daily), and as Ken Jennings still holds the longest winning streak ever (74 games), so I am intellectually enamored by him. I also have an odd fascination with maps (and globes), so when I first heard about this book, it was right up my alley, even though I rarely read non-fiction.

The basics: Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks is part memoir, part narrative nonfiction and part geographic trivia.

My thoughts: When I started reading Maphead, I wasn't quite sure what I would get. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of Jennings' writing. I'd stop short of calling him a wordsmith, but the narrative had a nice flow, which is impressive when imparting so many details about geography. The librarian and professor in me was pleasantly surprised to see passages contemplating the state of geography in our education:
"At some point isn’t this news only is the kids suddenly start doing well on map quizzes? Part of the blame can be chalked up to the tendency, in both academia and the media, to attract readers to unsurprising developments by breathlessly overhyping them. Besides, reporters tend to be just as much “in the tank” on map knowledge as academic geographers are, since journalism is one of the few careers in which detailed global knowledge is still expected and rewarded. And because journalism and academia are somewhat insular private worlds, these stories get written by people who are genuinely surprised that college students couldn’t find Kenya or Chile on a map; in their odd bubble worlds of geographic expertise, everyone would ace that test!"
Reading these passages was especially fascinating to me as I read much of this book on the bus. I couldn't help but look around at my fellow passengers and wonder: "does she know where Chile is on the map?"

Maphead varies in seriousness. Its packed with fascinating observations, history and trivia. I never realized how much of a geography nut I am (this nuttiness does not include bodies of water for some reason. Roads, capitals and borders? Yes. Rivers and lakes: I'm mostly clueless.)

My favorite part of this book, however, was the discussion of geography as a placeholder for current events. It makes perfect sense, especially from my professional information literacy perspective. When one is aware of where countries are in relation to one another, the news both makes more sense and is more likely to stick with you. For example, when I hear a story about Libya, I know where it is on a map. This knowledge both helps me understand the story better and provides a mental marker for remembering it. I don't get bogged down on the what or where of Libya; I simply add to my knowledge of its place with this new information.

Favorite passage: "To be rooted,” wrote Simone Weil, “is perhaps the most important and the least recognized need of the human soul."

The verdict: Although this book lacks a clear linear structure and chapters often come across as similar, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I learned from it, but just as importantly I was entertained (and never bored.) I can't sum it up in one sentence, but much like Freakonomics, I'll continue to regale people at dinner parties for years with the interesting tidbits I learned in Maphead.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: September 20, 2011
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Maphead from Amazon in print 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!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

graphic memoir review: The Imposter's Daugther by Laurie Sandell

The backstory: I had this graphic memoir in my read-a-thon stack but didn't get to it. While reading the November 2011 issue of Marie Claire, however, I discovered a Laurie Sandell article entitled "Loving a Madoff," about the relationship of Andrew Madoff and Catherine Hooper. It was fascinating and prompted me to pull The Imposter's Daughter off my shelf.

The basics: The Imposter's Daughter is a graphic memoir about Sandell's life. Its focus is her relationship with her father.

My thoughts: This graphic memoir begins with Sandell's childhood. As a reader, I appreciated seeing the story from the beginning. There is clearly something ominous looming, but it's easy to understand how and why it took Sandell so long to discover; we don't begin life distrustful of our parents. One of the my favorite parts of the childhood portion was the inclusion of actual drawings from Sandell's childhood. It was fascinating to see how she saw things and, to some extent, thought about them.

At times The Imposter's Daughter is more about Laurie than her father, although the driving force of this memoir is her father's impact on her life. It gets quite personal with life and love. Yes, there's comic nudity. I found Sandell's career as a celebrity interviewer among the most fascinating parts of this graphic memoir. It was unexpected, but it may be the part that lingers most with me.

The verdict: The Imposter's Daughter is a good read, although for me it fell short of greatness. The scattered focus made some parts drag. Ultimately, without further discovery of her father, I would have enjoyed more focus on Laurie and her career.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: July 29, 2009
Source: my local public library

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!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wrapping Up November 2011 (plus plans for December)

It finally feels like winter, the Christmas tree is up, and the early dark and cool temperatures both have me settling in to read earlier at night, which I love. In November, I read ten books, which makes me happy.

The excellent (rated 4.5 stars or higher):

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah (5 stars)
The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate (4.5 stars)
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston (4.5 stars)

The good (rated 4 or 4.25 stars):

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak (4 stars)
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (4 stars)
Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman (4 stars)
Maphead by Ken Jennings (4 stars)
The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell (4 stars)

The somewhat disappointing (rated 3.75 stars or less):

The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier (3.5 stars)
You Are My Only by Beth Kephart (2.5 stars)

My list of books I want to read in December is a little long, but I am blessed this year with not having to travel for Christmas and almost two full weeks off from work for Christmas and New Year's, so I'm cautiously optimistic I'll get through all of these:
  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  • Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
  • Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (a Kansan!)
  • The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
  • Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
  • Cross Currents by John Shors
  • Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
  • A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks
  • The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell
  • Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead
  • Murder Season by Robert Ellis
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson 
  • Property by Valerie Martin
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Unlike traditional media, I won't be making my Best of the Year list until the year is over. As I did last year, I'll post my Best of the Year list on January 1. 

No tell me: If I can't get to all of these, which ones should I be sure to not miss? What's on your must-read end of year list?

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!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November book club recap

What we read:

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Winter Garden by Kristin Hanah (my review)
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (my review)

What we ate
We opted to meet at a local bookstore, which was lovely, but they don't offer food or drink. One intrepid member brought some Trader Joe's dark chocolate peppermint bark, so we had a little something to nibble on!

The consensus
In the true holiday spirit, none of us managed to read all three books! Most of us read two of them, and we had some nice discussions. We all enjoyed Winter Garden, but it was nice to see one member point out some continuity inconsistencies. After hearing them, I was shocked I hadn't noticed them, but I was so wrapped up in the emotions of the story, I perhaps wasn't reading with an editor's eye. We did all agree that all three books were worth reading, so I do hope to make time for Unbroken. (Thanks to Heather's awesome review at Raging Bibliomania, I could still participate a little bit in that discussion!)

In January, we'll read...

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

This book club loves to read the book before the movie, and many of us enjoy mysteries, so we opted to pair a lighter, funnier read, One for the Money, with Stacy Schiff's biography about Cleopatra. Now tell me: have you read either of these titles? What did you think?

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