Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wrapping Up October 2012

In the past week, I feel like I'm finally getting back into a routine with my reading. It feels so good to enjoy the pieces of my day I carve out for reading (and blogging) rather than being restless and distracted. Sadly, I only managed to read six books in October. Even worse: I only reviewed one of them! I can tell you I enjoyed all of the books I read; all six were at least 4-star reads. I'll be posting reviews soon (and catching up on some lingering reviews from August and September too!)
  Here's what I read in October:

Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark (my review)
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (coming January 2013)
Astray by Emma Donoghue

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
Angel's Tip by Alafair Burke
A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks (coming December 2012)

What I'm reading now:

I just started Louise Erdrich's Plague of Doves, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Her latest novel, The Round House, which was named a National Book Award finalist, is a sequel of sorts to The Plague of Doves, so I'm reading it first. I'm also listening to Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm, a standalone mystery, on audio.

November goals
In November, I'm hoping to dig into the National Book Award list and make progress on my towering TBR. Honestly, as long as I can keep my reading mojo and get back to reading 10-12 books a month, I'll be happy.

Coming tomorrow: an announcement
Stop by tomorrow after 6 a.m. eastern for a special announcement of a new feature I'm beginning. I'm really excited about this undertaking and hope you all will join me on this adventure!

Happy Halloween!

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!

Monday, October 29, 2012

book review: Dead Connection by Alafair Burke

The backstory: After loving Long Gone (my review), a stand-alone thriller, and devouring Alafair Burke's entire Samantha Kincaid series (my reviews of Judgment CallsMissing Justice and Close Case), I was eager to read Dead Connection, the first in her Ellie Hatcher series.

The basics: Ellie Hatcher grew up in Wichita, where her father was a cop and her mother still lives. Ellie and her troubled brother both live in New York City, where Ellie is now a cop. She normally works burglary  but she's called up to assist in a homicide investigation of a potential serial killer using an internet dating website to target his victims.

My thoughts: From the beginning, Burke paints Ellie as a character to root for: "Ellie knew that a good, efficient detective—one who could prioritize her limited time in sensible ways—would act as a transcriber, file the report, and move on to the real work." This characterization is intriguing and introduces the tension between efficiency and thoroughness. When Ellie opts to follow her gut, she makes an impressive discovery.

Throughout Dead Connection, Burke balances multiple storylines, both personal and professional. Ellie is still coping with her father's death while chasing a serial killer. She's worried about her brother. She's solving a series of murders and sometimes makes reckless decisions: "You ought to be careful about that curiosity,” he warned. “You’re either going to wind up a hero, or dead."

I most enjoyed the mystery and the lingering mystery of Ellie's father's death. The scenes with her brother hampered the stronger storylines, but I see potential for future novels in this series to continue that storyline.

Favorite passage:  "I consider myself a non-British, much better-looking version of Nick Hornby, so prepare yourself for endless conversations involving randomly inserted allusions to culturally significant popular icons such as the Clash, the Simpsons, John Waters, so-bad-it’s-good reality TV, and on and on till the break of dawn. Sounds fun, right?"

The verdict: Dead Connection is a fast-paced, smart mystery. Ultimately, I didn't enjoy Ellie's life outside of work nearly as much as I enjoyed Samantha Kincaid's, but the mystery is just as good, and I'm curious to see where Ellie Hatcher goes next.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: July 10, 2007
Source: purchased for my Kindle

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Dead Connection from 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, October 23, 2012

book review: Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

The backstory: With the 2012 U.S. presidential election heating up, I decided it was finally time to read a (recent) historical account of the 2008 election--because I often like a little distance from my politics to keep my emotions in check. As one of my favorite lines in this book says: so well "Obama smirked and reprised for Axelrod another of his favorite sayings: “This shit would be really interesting if we weren’t in the middle of it.”"

The basics: Game Change is a joint effort by John Heilemann, a political writer for New York magazine, and Mark Halperin, a political reporter for Time magazine. Both covered the 2008 election in depth at the time. In Game Change, they join forces, combine resources, and manage to interview hundreds of political operatives and campaign workers.

My thoughts: I devoured John Heilemann's coverage of the 2008 election. Typically when my New York arrives, I flip right to the Approval Matrix on the last page and then do the crossword. About once a month I get around to reading the magazine itself. During that election, however, I immediately read his coverage. 2008 was a special election for many reasons. On the grander scale, both the Republican and Democratic primaries were wide open. There was no incumbent and the current vice president opted not to run. More personally, Mr. Nomadreader and I moved to Des Moines (for the first time) in the summer of 2007. We worked at a brewpub downtown and waited on numerous politicians running for president. We went to see many of the candidates early on at open forums with only a hundred people. It was intimate campaigning in a way I'd never seen, and it was infectious. Despite my intentions to keep an open mind and not pick a candidate too soon, I did. We were even pictured in campaign literature for one of the candidates before the January 2008 primary.

All of this is to say: reading the first part of the book about the Iowa caucuses was fascinating. I was here; I lived it. Yet Heilemann and Halperin made it seem new. There's an art to writing about politics in the moment, and Heilemann proved he can do that during the election. It's a different art to write about politics in a historical context. I would argue it's perhaps most difficult to write about politics in a recent historical context. That Game Change reads like a smart pulp novel is a testament to both the writers and the wackiness of the 2008 presidential election. They grasped the eccentricities of Iowa politics beautifully: "Democrats in Iowa were decidedly liberal, with a peacenik streak." The Republicans tend to be social conservatives (as evidenced by the last two Iowa caucus winners: Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.) And then there are a lot of Iowans who are moderate swing voters. It's a fascinating political climate.

After the action moved on from the Iowa caucuses, the book lagged only slightly before picking up steam again. The entire primary race riveted me in 2008, but I had a new perspective on the timeline. While I recalled all of the events well, I didn't recall their order as precisely or understand the pending ramifications.

The general election was even more intriguing and mind-boggling. The Sarah Palin storyline actually was more shocking when reading it context. At the time, there seemed to be confusion, but with fours years distance, her ignorance is somehow even more shocking and terrifying:
"Palin couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations. She didn’t know what the Fed did. Asked who attacked America on 9/11, she suggested several times that it was Saddam Hussein. Asked to identify the enemy that her son would be fighting in Iraq, she drew a blank. (Palin’s horrified advisers provided her with scripted replies, which she memorized.) Later, on the plane, Palin said to her team, “I wish I’d paid more attention to this stuff.”"
While neither John Edwards nor Sarah Palin are painted in a particularly positive light, I think the portrayals of the political figures were just. Watching John Edwards break down slowly was even more fascinating because I knew the ending.I may have my preferences, but I grinned as much as I grimaced at the words and actions of the candidate for whom I voted.

Favorite passage: The single most shocking passage in the entire book: "In the midst of the financial crisis, she said to a friend, “God wants him to win.”" -Hillary Clinton on Barack Obama

The verdict: Game Change is a fascinating glimpse into American presidential politics. It's simultaneously inspiring, frustrating, and sleazy. I enjoyed the parts vivid in my memory as much as I did those I didn't know or had forgotten. In 2008, I couldn't help but think "that can't really true, can it?" In Game Change it's clear truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Recommended to political junkies and casual observers.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 464 pages
Publication date: January 11, 2010
Source: purchased for my Kindle

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Game Change from 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!

Monday, October 22, 2012

(Non)-Sunday Salon: A Nomadreader Update

Hello, faithful readers! I had the best of intentions of writing this post yesterday, but I simply didn't get around to it. That seems to be the theme around here, right? Both my reading and blogging have taken a hit lately. I generally enjoy what I'm reading, but I'm averaging closer to one book a week than my usually two to three. When I make the time to read, I enjoy myself. What I've been struggling with is making the time to read. I'm finding myself particularly stressed out with work this fall and unable to stop thinking about work when I'm not there. Despite my love for the fall weather and upcoming holidays, I'm almost wishing for summer, when my work-life balance was in great shape. I'm determined to find my way back to a good work-life balance. The upside is that I do love my job, but I miss having more time to do the things I love outside of work!

The read-a-thon was mostly a bust for me. I did enjoy reading posts and participated in a few mini-challenges (and even won one!), but I managed to read less than 200 pages all day.

Fall Break
Last week was Fall Break, and Mr. Nomadreader and I took four days to just get away. He planned the entire trip and didn't reveal our destination until the night before. I was thrilled with his choice of Portland, Oregon. We ate, drank and explored our way through the city. The highlight of our trip was dinner at Beast, Naomi Pomeroy's restaurant. It was one of the best meals of my life, and I will find a way to eat there again.

Book Awards
In bookish news, Hilary Mantel once again won the Booker Prize. My Booker reading fell apart this year too, but I do want to make time to finally read Wolf Hall and finish this year's short list. Time will tell. The finalists for the National Book Award were also announced. I haven't read any of the five, but it's an exciting list. All were already in my TBR. I'll be turning to Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk next.

Upcoming reviews
I hope to catch up on both book and film reviews in the coming weeks. I also have some thoughts on this fall's new television shows to share with you. I hope to get back into a routine that lets me achieve a work-life balance again soon. I miss my reading pace, and I miss our conversations about those books. My fingers are crossed for a reading and blogging breakthrough soon.

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!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

It's readathon time!

Happy Fall Read-a-thon! It's a day to take 24 hours (or if you're like me, no more than 12-18 are physically possible) to read, participate in mini-challenges and win prizes.

I'll be in and out this morning, but I hope to spend my afternoon reading. To the left are my stack of possible books. I have three guidelines for picking readathon books: variety, brevity, and variety. My stack has a mix of nonfiction, graphic narratives, historical fiction, short stories, novellas, contemporary fiction, and science fiction. I also have all four in Lois Lowry's  Giver series on my Kindle and am currently devouring Tracy Chevalier's forthcoming novel about the Underground Railroad, The Last Runaway, which won't be out until February.

If you want to see what I'm up to during the read-a-thon, please visit my tumblr. I'll be back with a Sunday Salon post tomorrow to catch you up on my day and what's to come next week.

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!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Interview: Kelly O'Connor McNees

After reading and enjoying both novels by Kelly O'Connor McNeesThe Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (my review) and In Need of a Good Wife (my review), I was happy to participate in a blog interview tour in support of the release of In Need of a Good Wife this week.

In the author's note you mention a few of the resources you used to research this story. As an academic librarian who teaches students how to research, I'm curious about your research process. How much time did you spend researching? What aspects of research were most difficult for you?

I am sure I take a much more free-form approach than your students, since academic research is serious business. My research goals have to do with finding great story ideas—sometimes buried in the footnotes—and then fleshing out my setting and characters with historical detail that is both accurate and compelling. But I don’t think historical fiction should attempt to be comprehensive about events or people—that’s a recipe for boring fiction. The story is the most important thing. So I choose details carefully, using only those that propel the narrative and try to leave out the clutter. I find that primary sources like journals and letters help me create the voices of my characters, so I often turn to those. I spend a good amount of time amassing this collection of mental images, I guess I would call it, before I begin to write. Research is fun, but it can also become an excuse to avoid getting down to work on a first draft, so that’s one thing I have to be careful about.

I'm a sixth generation Kansan, and my family history fascinates me. What compelled my ancestors to settle where they did? As a Midwesterner, have you discovered any family history of homesteaders?

My family, on both sides, came from Ireland and England and maybe Germany (we aren’t exactly sure about that one) to Prince Edward Island and then on to Ontario, and then to Indiana and Michigan (in the late nineteenth century, when these places were well settled), so as far as I know none of them were homesteaders on the frontier. Many people who did travel west in the mid-nineteenth century went because of the Homestead Act of 1862, which offered land to settlers for a very cheap price. If they worked it for five years, they could claim the deed. This was an unfathomable thing for European immigrants, who came from countries where they never could have dreamed of owning their own land. I think the West gave people a chance to start again, too, if things hadn’t worked out so well for them in the eastern cities.

What have you read lately that you'd recommend?

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a wonderful novel of homesteading in Alaska in the 1920s.

You're active on Twitter and use it well. Which Twitter users do you most enjoy following?

I love following fellow Chicago writers like @zulkey@kateharding@talexander, and @mollybackes, since they offer entertaining tweets about writing and publishing, and can give me good restaurant recommendations.

Your book tour has you traveling throughout the Midwest. What's your favorite hidden gem in the Midwest you wish more people would visit?

I think the secret’s already out on this one, but northern Michigan, especially the Traverse City and Petoskey area, is one of my favorite places on earth. I won’t be getting up there this time around because I have a new baby at home, but McLean & Eakin is a wonderful store.

Thank you, Kelly! 

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy In Need of a Good Wife from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more? Check out the rest of Kelly's interview stops:

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!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

book review: Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark

The basics: Set in 1887 London, Beautiful Lies is the story of Maribel Campbell Lowe, whose husband Edward Campbell Lowe is a politician. Maribel was born in Chile and educated in Paris. When a letter arrives from her estranged mother asking to meet in London, their picture perfect life begins to unravel.

My thoughts: One challenge with historical fiction can be making characters both true to their time and accessibly to contemporary readers. Writing about female characters can pose a particular challenge, especially in the case of Maribel Campbell Lowe, who pushed against the gender boundaries of the 1880s. Clark masterfully sets the stage of Victorian London through her descriptive and detailed writing, but it was the dialogue and inner thoughts of Maribel that most impressed me. It was fascinating to read the different ways Maribel spoke to her husband, society equals, and the hired help. Through these distinctions, Clark gave Maribel her defiant voice yet stayed true to history.

It's clear from the title of this novel there are lies, and I won't spoil the pleasure of deciphering the truths from the lies here. Clark bases this novel on the real life story of Gabriela and Robert Cunninghame Graham. Knowing the story is based on real people made it even more suspenseful. As eager as I was to discover Maribel's lies, I was also eager to see how this story matched reality (Clark has a lengthy--and fabulous--author's note at the end.) I'm fascinated by political history, as the perspective of history gives us enough distance to see the big picture, and I loved the detail of this turbulent political time. What is perhaps most impressive, however, is how Clark ties all of the details and issues of Victorian London to today. As I read, I was immersed in the world of Maribel, but I couldn't help realizing how many parallels there are to other times.

Favorite passage: "I am not interested in the Indians as curiosities. If I am to photograph them it should be as they really are. The truth, not the myth-making."

The verdict: Beautiful Lies transported me to Victorian England. Clark made the politics and culture of the time come alive and feel familiar, and I'll state my prediction now: look for this title on the 2013 Orange Prize longlist in March.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 512 pages
Publication date: September 18, 2012
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Beautiful Lies from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.) Want more? Check out the entire tour schedule.

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, October 2, 2012

book review: In Need of a Good Wife by Kelly O'Connor McNees

The backstory: After thoroughly enjoying The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (my review), the first novel by Kelly O'Connor McNees, I was eager to read her latest work.

The basics: Shortly after the Civil War, Clara Bixby, whose husband ran off with another woman, reads about Destination, Nebraska in the newspaper, and she realizes it's the perfect business venture for her after she loses her job at a tavern in Manhattan City, New York. Clara writes to Destination's mayor and strikes a deal: she'll provide widows and single women willing to move to Destination to get married if the men will pay for their transport, plus a fee for her services.

My thoughts: In the past few years, I've realized how much I enjoy tales of the frontier life and homesteading. I enjoy the intrepid characters and their discoveries in these new, desolate lands. In Need of a Good Wife opens in New York, and I enjoyed getting to know the women and share their journey, both emotionally and geographically. The novel is narrated by three women, and I enjoyed the different perspective each woman brought to the story.

While I instantly connected with each of the three main characters, it took me longer to warm up to the men of Destination. O'Connor McNees took the time and effort to build an entire town of characters, and once I kept them all straight, I further appreciated the richness these characters brought to the story. The features of Destination were vivid, and I pictured the town as a sparse, dusty, small town filled with detail.

The verdict: In Need of a Good Wife is a gentle tale of homesteading in the post-Civil War. I breezed through its pages and enjoyed the large cast of characters of Destination, Nebraska. While O'Connor McNees introduces the harshness of a rural, farm life in the late 1800's, an aura of hope surrounds the novel, and ultimately, it's a tale of redemption and love.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 399 pages
Publication date: October 2, 2012
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy In Need of a Good Wife 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!