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Showing posts from March, 2012

book review: The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

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The backstory: The Forgotten Waltz is on the 2012 Orange Prize longlist. It also won the 2012 Carnegie Medal.

The basics: Gina recounts both how she fell in love with her ex-husband and how she came to cheat on him with her current husband.

My thoughts: This novel was my first experience with Anne Enright, and her writing enraptured me from the beginning. She has a way with observational detail I adored:
"I end up talking to a woman who is sitting beside a plate of chocolate Rice Krispie cakes and working her way through them in a forgetful sort of way. They have mini-marshmallows on top. She goes to pop one in her mouth, then she pulls back in surprise. 'Ooh, pink!' she says." In such an observational novel, it's difficult to separate Enright's writing from Gina's observation, and I loved both. For the first half of this novel, I was utterly enthralled and bemoaned never having read Enright before. As the novel progressed, however, my adoration became more…

book review: The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

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The backstory: The Grief of Others is longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize and was a finalist for the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The basics: Chronicling the lives of the Ryrie family, The Grief of Others begins in the present with the death of its newest member, an infant who lived only a couple of days. Then John's daughter, Jessica, conceived in college, shows up pregnant and alone because her mother has kicked her out. The novel jumps back and forth a few times to depict the events and better understand the present and how they all got to this place.

My thoughts: Leah Hager Cohen writes with guts, and she's a strong writer. It's impressive to have a baby die in the opening pages of a novel and it not seem utterly depressing:
"He was a he, too, astonishingly—not that anyone expected him to be otherwise, but the notion of one so elemental, so small, carrying the complex mantle of gender seemed preposterous, the designation “male” the linguistic equivalent of a f…

book review: The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

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The backstory: Originally written in 1998 and rejected by publishers, Lionel Shriver's The New Republic still feels like a modern, contemporary novel.

The basics: The New Republic is a satire of terrorism, which sounds preposterous, but Shriver manages to be witty, evocative, informative and engaging. Corporate lawyer Edgar Kellogg decides he wants to become a journalist. With little experience, he lands an interview at a national newspaper. Against the odds, he gets a job covering Barta, an invented peninsula off of Portugal that has a newly active homegrown terrorist group. The reporter who had been covering it, Barrington Sadler, has gone missing. The job is Edgar's until Barrington returns.

My thoughts: Despite having read and enjoyed two of Shriver's earlier novels, We Need to Talk About Kevinand So Much for That--which made my top 10 of 2010, I was somewhat apprehensive about The New Republic. Would it really be good enough to publish now when it wasn't in 1998? Or…

A People's Read-a-long: Week 11

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Welcome to Week 11 of A People's Read-a-long! We're reading a chapter a week, and I'm finding the pace deligtful. Note: the hosts have switched to posting every other week instead of every week, but I'm bucking the trend and posting every week. This week is a week everyone is posting. (Missed the earlier posts? Check out my posts for weeks onetwothreefourfivesixseveneight and nine, and ten.)

My thoughts: Chapter 11, entitled "Robber Barons and Rebels," focuses on industrialization, the corresponding shifts in populations, and the rise of workers rights. On a personal note, there is something guilt-inducing about reading about the rise of the workers rights movement while on a blissful nine-day paid staycation.

Here are my favorite tidbits and trivia from this (long) chapter:
I'm oddly fascinated by population shifts: "Between 1860 and 1914, New York grew from 850,000 to 4 million, Chicago from 110,000 to 2 million, Philadelphia from 650,…

book review: Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

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The backstory: Elegy for Eddie is the ninth Maisie Dobbs mystery novel. Here are links to my reviews of the first eight books: Maisie DobbsBirds of a FeatherPardonable LiesMessenger of TruthAn Incomplete Revenge,Among the Mad,The Mapping of Love and Death, and A Lesson in Secrets(There may be some minor spoilers from earlier novels in this review.)

The basics: Elegy for Eddie opens with several of Maisie's childhood friends seeking her help. Their mutual friend Eddie has been killed in a factory accident, but they believe he may have been murdered.

My thoughts: Reading a Maisie Dobbs novel feels like hanging out with an old friend. It's comforting, interesting, and engaging. After reading the first eight books in this series last year, it was so refreshing to once again have Maisie back in my reading life. While I've enjoyed all of the Maisie novels, The Mapping of Love and Death was my favorite for two reasons: it's mystery was intriguing and historically movi…

book review: Arcadia by Lauren Groff

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The basics: Arcadia is the story of a central New York commune. It begins in the 1960's, but it stretches into 2018. It's also the story of Bit, the narrator. He was the first child born to Arcadia.

My thoughts: As I sat down to read Arcadia, I expected the story of an Ithaca, New York-inspired commune in the 1960's. I got that, but Groff delivered much more too. Although this novel is firmly grounded in realism, it exhibited many of the traits of a dystopian novel. There was a sense of world-building among the Arcadians. They shared the ideals, but they had to find ways to made ideals reality.

I also didn't expect the novel to be narrated by Bit, who is five years old when it begins. I didn't particularly like Bit as a character, but I didn't dislike him either. His narration worked. I enjoyed seeing the world through Bit's eyes and mind. The open nature of Arcadia ensures there are not doors closed to him because of his age. While he does not understand al…

book review: There but for the by Ali Smith

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The backstory: There but for the is longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize.

The basics: Ali Smith imagines a man comes to a dinner party as a guest of another and stays. He takes salt, pepper and his silverware to their guest room, where they then begin to slide narrow food under the door to him.

My thoughts: While the set up to the story is intriguing, it immediately begs many questions. Why not break the door down? Why not call the police? Smith addresses these issues with some success, but it's safe to say practicality may not be the point in this hyper-realistic novel. I felt it to be both in the real world and outside of it, and this tension was fascinating.

This novel is split into four sections: There, but, for, and the. Each section is wildly different in tone and character, but they do all form a somewhat cohesive whole. The first section was perhaps my favorite, as it sets the tone for the novel. It's an introduction into the world of this novel, which felt both real and…

book review: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

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The backstory:Silver Sparrow, the third novel by Tayari Jones,is the winner of this year's Indie Lit Awards for Fiction. It is such a joy to finally tell you all how much I loved this novel. As a judge for the Indie Lit Awards, I've been under a gag order until the winner was announced, and it was killing me to not share this novel with you, even before we all voted it the winner. Also, for the first time in my organized reading life, the novel I wanted to win from the shortlist won. It's a nice feeling.

The basics: This novel tells the story of James Witherspoon's family in 1980's Atlanta. Witherspoon is a bigamist with two wives who each have one daughter.

My thoughts: I adored this novel from the beginning. It begins with Dana narrating. Dana's mother married James when she became pregnant, even though she knew he was already married. Dana has always known of her father's first wife and first daughter, Chaurisse. As a teenager, she has to wait on Chaurisse…

A People's Read-a-long: Week 10

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Welcome to Week 10 of A People's Read-a-long! We're reading a chapter a week, and I'm finding the pace deligtful. Note: the hosts have switched to posting every other week instead of every week, but I'm bucking the trend and posting every week. (Missed the earlier posts? Check out my posts for weeks onetwothreefourfivesixseven, and eight and nine.)

My thoughts: Chapter 10, entitled "The Other Civil War," focuses on the rights of renters and property owners. It opens with the Anti-Renter movement that sprung up in the Hudson Valley over the rampant wealth of landowners, who often had a legal right to the timber and other resources on the land. The scope of their control was massive:
"The tenants paid taxes and rents. The largest manor was owned by the Rensselaer family, which ruled over about eighty thousand tenants and had accumulated a fortune of $41 million."The anti-rent movement grew quickly and they had some success:
"The farmers …

Sunday Salon: Spring Break!

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Happy Sunday everyone! Mr. Nomadreader had yesterday off (a very rare occasion), and we had a lovely day of eating, drinking and celebrating with friends. The only downside is I managed to read just 22 pages of Lauren Groff's new novel Arcadia. I'm already enchanted by the characters and setting, and I'm hoping to finish it today.

I have a big reading week ahead of me too. One of the perks of having twice as much vacation time as Mr. Nomadreader is the luxury of reading staycations. It's Spring Break this week, so I took the whole week off and hope to read all day almost everyday. My focus is still the Orange Prize longlist. I've read seven of the twenty books so far and am really enjoying my reading. I'm waiting on four to arrive from the UK, but I have the rest ready to read this week in case they don't arrive yet. I'm hoping this week will help me meet my ambitious goal of reading all twenty before the shortlist is announced next month. Even if I don…

book review: The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

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The basics: The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler's nineteenth novel,is the story of Aaron and his wife Dorothy. After Dorothy dies, she visits Aaron.

My thoughts: The novel's first line introduces the reader beautifully to this quirky novel: "The strangest thing about my wife's return from the dead was how other people reacted." It clearly established what this novel isn't: a tearjerker about the death of a spouse, although it is tinged with sadness at times. While it is an examination of a marriage, it's more of a character study of Aaron, with his love for Dorothy being one of his defining characteristics. Aaron is also partially crippled and has been since childhood. He works with his sister, Nandina, at a publishing house whose emphasis is on publishing writers who will them to do so and their successful series of "Beginners" books.

Aaron's career serves as both a nice tie-in to the novel's title and an intriguing forum to pose ques…

book review: Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

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The basics: In the late night hours after the wedding reception of Matt and Carmen, who is pregnant, a car full of high guests leaves the rural house where the reception was held to return to the hotel. Olivia, a mail carrier dating Carmen's brother Nick, drives. Also in the car are Alice, Carmen's sister; Maude, Nick's sister; and Tom. The car strikes and kills a ten-year-old girl.

My thoughts: While I expected this novel to be dark given its subject matter, I was pleased Anshaw focuses more on the characters first and the effects this night had on them rather than the direct aftermath. This novel is not a story of grief; it's a story of how that night changed the course of three siblings.

From the early pages Anshaw shows she can write both about the characters and about all of us at once:
"Some of the time when she talked to Matt, she felt like she was in a movie scripted by lazy screenwriters. The two of them were still generic characters in each other’s storie…

book review: The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard

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The backstory: The Pink Hotel, Anna Stothard's second novel, is longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize. At 29 Stothard is the youngest writer on this year's longlist.

The basics: The Pink Hotel is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl from London who sets off to Los Angeles when her mother, who left when she was three, dies. Her mother and her husband own the pink hotel in Venice Beach.

My thoughts: When I sat down to read The Pink Hotel, I knew little about it. The cover led me to believe it was a light, vacation romp and perhaps a romance of sorts. Instead, I was delighted to discover an absorbing, gritty portrait of the unnamed narrator and her search for herself in her mother's memory. I was mesmerized by Stothard's portrait of Los Angeles and its inhabitants. The spunky heroine arrives during her mother's wake, which is really more of a rave. She sneaks up to the apartment at the top of the hotel where her mother lived. She takes off with a suitcase filled with s…

A People's Read-a-long: Week 9

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Welcome to Week 9 of A People's Read-a-long! We're reading a chapter a week, and I'm finding the pace deligtful. Note: we've switched to posting every other week instead of every week. (Missed the first seven posts? Check out my posts for weeks onetwothreefourfivesix and seven.)

My thoughts: Chapter 8, entitled "We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God," focuses on expansionism, a trend in recent chapters, with an emphasis on the Mexican-American War. As a reader, I must say, I'm losing a sense of time in this book. It's not told in a strictly linear manner, and the themes are often the same in the book as a whole. I'm embarrassed to say knowing Polk is the President does not clue me in to which year it is. I do appreciate, however, when Zinn emphasizes the shifting demographics rather than years: "Whereas in 1830, 1 percent of the population of the United States was foreign-born, by the Mexican war the number was reaching 10 percent.…

Sunday Salon: On my 5th Blogoversary

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I've never been one to celebrate my blogoversary. This blog has been a slow evolution into what it is now: a book blog focusing on literary fiction, literary prizes, and a scattering of thoughts on films, television, food and the awesomeness of Des Moines. I didn't start this blog with the intention, or even any notion, of what it would become. There's something about turning five, however, that has me reflecting on how I got to this point. As I'm guessing none of you were around five years ago, I thought I'd share some memories of who I was and what this blog was to illustrate how much has changed.

1. My first post was Tuesday, March 13, 2007. I posted three times that day. One was about books! I listed the seven books I'd read so far and rated them on a scale of one to four. There were no reviews. Oh, how things have changed!

2. My fist comment came on May 21, 2007. The first comment from someone I didn't know in real life came on June 11, 2008. My first…

The 2012 Orange Prize Longlist: A U.S. Reader's Guide

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The wait is over, friends, and the Orange Prize longlist is here! How well did my predictions hold up? I correctly guessed six of the twenty novels and had another four on my longer list of 59 novels. Many of the ones I wasn't familiar sound absolutely fabulous. This list spans the globe, and I'm looking forward to diving into my longlist reading!

The ones I've already read:

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (Kindle version) 4.5 out of 5The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Kindle version) 3.5 out of 5State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Kindle version) 6 out of 5--my favorite read of 2011The Submission by Amy Waldman (Kindle version) 3 out of 5The ones available in the U.S. now:

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg (Kindle version)The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen (Kindle version)The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue (Kindle version)Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Kindle version)