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Showing posts from July, 2012

book review: The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett

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The backstory:The Magician's Assistant was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 1998. Ann Patchett is also one of my favorite authors, and I'm reading all of her books in 2012. When Audra asked if I wanted to read The Magician's Assistant with her, I said "of course!" Read Audra's review of The Magician's Assistant at Unabridged Chick.

The basics: At the beginning of the novel, Parcifal, the magician of the novel's title, dies suddenly. Sabine, the assistant of the title, is left to grieve.

My thoughts: After having loved State of Wonder (my review), Bel Canto (my review), and Run (my review), I was convinced Ann Patchett was one of my literary soul sisters who could do no wrong. Sadly, I didn't connect with The Magician's Assistant at all, and I struggled to even finish the novel. My problems with this novel really begin with Sabine. While I'm normally an empathetic reader, I found myself instead wanting to shake Sabine. She fell in love wit…

book review: Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain

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The backstory: Kill You Twice is the fifth novel by Chelsea Cain featuring Gretchen Lowell and Archie Sheridan. My reviews of the previous four: Heartsick, Sweetheart, Evil at Heart, and The Night Season.

The basics: When a grisly murder happens in Portland, incarcerated Gretchen Lowell claims to have inside information on the killer. Does she really? Or is she simply playing mind games with Archie Sheridan again?

My thoughts: After The Night Season, which was a departure for the series, I was curious where Cain would take this newest novel. Those who thought there wasn't enough Gretchen in it will likely be thrilled with her return to co-star in Kill You Twice. The move was mostly successful, but the first half of this novel suffered from too much set up. It was filled with Cain's characteristic grisly details, but the plot struck me as loose and familiar: Archie struggles with normalcy, mysterious woman who looks like Gretchen moves into his building, Gretchen wants Archie to …

The 2012 Booker Dozen: A U.S. Reader's Guide

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The wait is over, friends. The 2012 Booker Prize longlist is here! And so far, I've read none of them. I wasn't planning on reading the entire longlist this year for a variety of reasons, but of course once the list was announced, I got excited. I've already ordered copies of all of them. I must say: I expected a list of literary familiars. Instead, we're treated to four (!) debut novelists (just like last year) and many authors unfamiliar to me. I'm looking forward to exploring these books.

Unfortunately, this list is incredibly unfriendly to U.S. readers. Several of the titles aren't even out in the UK yet. It is, however, a list one could easily read through before October 16, when the winner is announced (the shortlist will be announced September 11.) Using page numbers provided by Amazon, one only has to read 48 pages each day to finish in time (ifyou can get a copy of all of these gems.) Clicking on the covers takes you to Amazon.

The ones available in the…

book review: Close Case by Alafair Burke

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The backstory: Close Case is the third mystery in Alafair Burke's Samantha Kincaid series. Read my reviews of the first two books: Judgment Calls and Missing Justice.

The basics: When high-profile reporter Percy Crenshaw is murdered, the cops immediately identify a suspect and secure a somewhat suspicious confession. ADA Samantha Kincaid must try the case with the evidence given, even as she searches for alternate theories about the crime.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of this series, and I both adore the character of Samantha Kincaid (and the well-developed characters of her family, friends and colleagues) and the fascinating mysteries she solves. Burke does a phenomenal job of teaching the reader about the law and about Portland, Oregon:
"But in our hot spots, our most frequent calls aren't for robbery or rape. They're for stuff like loitering, graffiti, and street-level drug crimes. That's the kind of stuff that makes a neighborhood feel unsafe. And once it fee…

book review: On the Floor by Aifric Campbell

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The backstory: On the Floor was on the 2012 Orange Prize longlist.

The basics: (from the publisher) "In the City, everything has a price. What's yours? At the age of twenty-eight, Dubliner Geri Molloy has put her troubled past behind her to become a major player at Steiner's investment bank in London, earning £850k a year doing business with a reclusive hedge fund manager in Hong Kong who, in return for his patronage, likes to ask her about Kant and watch while she eats exotic Asian delicacies. For five years Geri has had it all, but in the months leading up to the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991, her life starts to unravel. Abandoned by her corporate financier boyfriend, in the grip of a debilitating insomnia, and drinking far too much, Geri becomes entangled in a hostile takeover involving her boss, her client and her ex. With her career on the line as a consequence, and no one to turn to, she is close to losing it, in every sense. Taut and fast-paced, On the Floor is a…

Sunday Salon: heatwave, the re-emergence of prizes, and impending vacation

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Happy Sunday! Des Moines, like so much of the country is in the midst of an excruciating heat wave. One perk to this miserable weather: I'm reading even more than usual because I never want to leave home. Even the walk to the car makes me woozy. As it doesn't look the heat will break anytime soon, all I can hope for is a summer of great reading and an early fall!

I'm really looking forward to a short week of work. I'm heading to South Florida on Thursday. Words I never thought I'd say: "I can't wait to get to South Florida in late July. It will be so much cooler!" I'm looking forward to a fun, long weekend with friends. I haven't finalized which books I'll take with me for the plane, pool and beach because the Booker Prize longlist will be announced Wednesday. Although I vowed to stray from prize lists, I find myself getting more and more excited about which titles will make the longlist. I won't promise to read the entire longlist, p…

book review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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The basics: In her early twenties, Cheryl Strayed was reeling from both the death of her mother and the break up of her marriage. She spontaneously (and somewhat recklessly) decided to hike the Pacific Coast Trail for three months by herself in the summer of 1995.

My thoughts: I'll let you in on the one fact about me that continues to absolutely baffle Mr. Nomadreader: I really want to hike the Appalachian Trail. He thought I was kidding when I first mentioned it. To be fair, we'd been together for years before it came up, and he was well aware that not only have I have never been camping, but I am also generally frightened of the woods, animals and anything that suddenly moves. (I proudly drink out of my "I'm outdoorsy in that I like to get drunk on patios" coffee mug.)  He knows I immensely enjoy comfortable beds, couches, air conditioning, good food and modern toilets. He's right. I have no desire to simply go camping, but I do still have a desire, and a lo…

book review: The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

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The basics: The World Without You is the story of the Frankel family gathering over July 4, 2005 at their summer home in Lenox, Massachusetts, one year after the death of Leo, the youngest of four children, in Iraq.

My thoughts: I've been meaning to read Matrimony, Joshua Henkin's previous novel for years, but when I heard about this new novel, I decided to start with it. I'm so glad I did. I read The World Without You mostly in public places, which isn't particularly unusual for me. What is worth mentioning, however, is that nearly every chapter of this novel brought tears to my eyes. Some chapters left me sobbing, which is something I generally try to avoid in public places, but this novel was too good to put down in airports, on airplanes and on the bus.

Despite taking place over a few days, Henkin masterfully constructs these characters fully. I never got confused as to which person, and they seemed like real people, was which. Part of the fun for me was the setting…

book review: The Age of Miracles

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The basics: When the speed of the Earth's rotation slows, life changes for Julia, an eleven-year old living in Southern California.

My thoughts: I found the premise of this novel fascinating: what happens to our world when something so simple we rarely think about, the Earth's rotation, begins to change? It's a future I had not contemplated. As Thompson Walker writes in the novel's early pages:
"There was no footage to show on television, no burning buildings or broken bridges, no twisted metal or scorched earth, no houses sliding off slabs. No one was wounded. No one was dead. It was, at the beginning, a quite invisible catastrophe." The change seems so minor: each day there is more daylight, followed by more nighttime. One of the initial casualties is time: do we stay on the same 24 hour clock when the middle of the night may come in the afternoon or stay on the clock of the sun? These issues were fascinating to me, and the very real-ness of the situation le…

book review: Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do by Pearl Cleage

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The backstory: Pearl Cleage is one of my favorite authors, and this year, I'm re-reading (and then reading) all of her novels. Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do is her third novel and the first in the West End series. My reviews of her first two novels: What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day and I Wish I Had a Red Dress.

The basics: Regina Burns has turned her life back around. She's out of rehab, but her poor decisions have left her home, the home her mother and grandmother grew up in, in danger of being taken by the bank. She sets off for Atlanta to work for her former boss, inspirational speaker Beth Davis, to organize the paper's of her late son, Son Davis, to whom Regina was engaged.

My thoughts: I remember reading Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do shortly after it came out nearly ten years ago. As I re-read it, I was surprised how much of the story I remembered, even the little details. It's a unique novel. Still present are Pearl Cleage's character…

book review: Flight from Berlin by David John

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The backstory: Flight from Berlin is David John's first novel.

The basics: Set during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Flight from Berlin is a story of espionage. It focuses on Eleanor, a young, married swimmer destined to win another Olympic gold medal despite her father's (a New York Senator) disapproval of the games that support Hitler, and Denham, a British journalist.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of the Olympics, and reading about the stories 1936 Olympics was quite intriguing. The opening pages of the novel were fascinating. I was instantly drawn to Eleanor and her feistiness. Granted, her dialogue was sometimes heavy-handed, but it worked for her:
"The fastest man on earth is on board this ship,’ she said, interrupting Helen, ‘and he’s a Negro. He’s going to win gold in Berlin in front of the whole world. Don’t you think that’ll be one in the eye for stupid, hokey race theories? I think it’s damned right that we’re going to these Games.’"The early chapters are tol…

book review: Missing Justice by Alafair Burke

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The backstory: Missing Justice is Alafair Burke's second novel in the Samantha Kincaid series. I thoroughly enjoyed the first title in the series, Judgment Calls (my review.)

The basics: The action in Missing Justice picks up one month after the events of Judgment Calls. Samantha is now a prosecutor in the Major Crimes Unit, and her first case there comes sooner than she expects when she gets a late night call telling her a judge is missing.

My thoughts: Partially because so little time elapsed between these two books, I was glad to read them close together. Of course, I was also eager to read Missing Justice because I adore Alafair Burke. The mystery in this novel began early, yet Burke still does an excellent job of teaching the reader about law, procedure and Portland without slowing down the action: "Portland has low violent crime and high property crime, driven primarily by a large population of street kids and drug addicts." (Although I must confess, the smart ass in…

Sunday Salon: GoodReads and LibraryThing

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I've been a Library Thing devotee for several years now. Recently, though, I decided to give GoodReads another chance. I'm not abandoning LibraryThing, but there are a few things I like better about GoodReads. (Note: Florinda has written about her love of LibraryThing at The 3R's Blog, and I won't be going into the level of detail she is. Similarly, Wallace has written about how to get the most out of GoodReads at Unputdownables. It's an excellent guide if you're unfamiliar with the site.) My focus today comes down to the simple question: what works best for me to organize my books and discover new books?

LibraryThing: How I love thee...
A co-worker and I were chatting about GoodReads a few months ago, and I mentioned I'm a LibraryThing user instead. Her response: of course you are, you're a librarian, but non-librarians prefer GoodReads. I'm willing to concede part of that point, but I think most of it comes down to what level of cataloging you car…

book review: The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

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The backstory: I've been eager to read The Virgin Cure, Ami McKay's second novel, since Amy at Amy Reads reviewed it last fall when it was released in Canada.

The basics: The Virgin Cure is the story of Moth, a 12-year-old girl in New York City in 1871. Moth's father left when she was three, and her mother, a gypsy, lives in poverty so deep on Chrystie Street, she sells Moth as a servant to a rich woman.

My thoughts: Although Moth narrates her story, the reader is treated to helpful and explanatory notes in the text from Dr. Sadie, a female physician who works with poor women and children. With this balance, McKay manages to have a pure narrative from a young girl and provides the reader with context about the world in which Moth lives.

While the cover of this novel seems relatively innocuous, its title references something deeply sinister, and the book itself is filled with a sad story. The Virgin Cure is the kind of historical fiction that shakes readers to their cores. As…

book review: Night Watch by Linda Fairstein

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The backstory: Night Watch is the fourteenth mystery in Linda Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper series. Cooper is an ADA in the Manhattan Sex Crimes Unit, just as Fairstein herself was for twenty years. I discovered this series in the spring of 2003 and have read them all. Here are links to my prior reviews of Fairstein's series: Final Jeopardy, Likely to Die, Bad BloodLethal LegacyHell Gate, andSilent Mercy.

The basics: Alex is vacationing in France with Luc, her French chef boyfriend, when a young woman is found dead in the sleepy town. Soon thereafter, word breaks that Mohammed Gil-Dasin, known to most as MGD, has been accused of raping a maid at a hotel in New York City. MGD is head of the World Economic Bureau.

My thoughts: I'll begin with the good, as Fairstein is one of my favorite mystery writers, and this series is near and dear to my heart. As always, the banter among Alex, Mercer and Mike is a delight. I enjoyed them working both the high-profile MGD case and other…

Sunday Salon: Sunburned and jetlagged

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Happy July! It's been a whirlwind few weeks, and I'm sorry to have been absent for so long. I'm back in Des Moines after a wonderful trip to California for the American Library Association conference, followed by a few fun-filled days exploring Los Angeles and Orange County. Unfortunately, the Internet went out at my hotel after construction workers hit the line, and it stayed off for the rest of my stay.

I have so many things to update you all on: ALA, including the first-ever Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and Non-fiction ceremony (one of the conference highlights for me), some of the fabulous books I read on vacation, and my journey itself. I'm slowly getting back to Central time, but I came home with a truly wicked sunburn. I rented a convertible and drove down the Pacific Coast Highway without enough sunscreen. I'm still hurting pretty badly, but I think the pain is on the decline.

June wrap-up
Letting myself read whatever struck my fancy this…