Showing posts from November, 2012

The Backlist Book Club: November 2012 discussion

Welcome to the discussion of The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken! Need a refresher? Check out my review of The Giant's House.

1. I had misgivings about this novel having the subtitle "a romance" given the age difference between the characters. By the end, I was won over, but it's still far from a traditional romance. What elements of romance are present? What elements of romance are lacking?

2. As a librarian, I'm immensely curious: what were you reactions to the details of librarianship? Were you as fascinated as I was?

3. Let's talk about Peggy. While I adored her often irreverent and always honest look at herself and the world, she's not a traditionally likeable character. What did you think of Peggy?

4. What surprised you in this novel? 

5. To whom would you recommend this title?

I encourage you to subscribe to the comments for this post to keep up to date. I use a threaded comment system, so you can reply to earlier comments or post new comments.…

Thursday TV: Chicago Fire

Thursday TV is returning as a semi-regular Thursday feature for me to discuss television: the shows I'm watching, the shows I'm giving up on, as well as other trends.

If you had asked me at the beginning of the fall television season which network show would be my favorite, I likely would have guessed Nashville (coming soon to Thursday TV) or Elementary. Instead, two months into this season, the only new fall show I genuinely love is Chicago Fire, a show I didn't even intend to watch.

I'll be honest: it's not the best new show, but it is the new show I love the most. There's something classic about this drama. It isn't necessarily breaking new ground or doing anything unconventional, but it's doing the medical/rescue drama exceedingly well. Here's why:

1. A true ensemble cast
I'm a huge fan of ensemble casts, and there isn't a true star on this show. (I mean that with no disrespect, partiuclarly to those of you who know how much I adore David…

book review: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

The backstory: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain's first novel, was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. It was also the 2013 runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The basics: Set on Thanksgiving Day 2004, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk takes place at the Dallas Cowboys annual Thanksgiving Day game. Billy Lynn, a nineteen-year-old member of Bravo Company, is our window into the bizarre festivities. Here, the young men of Bravo Company, famous for winning a filmed fight with insurgents, are on a "victory tour" before returning to Iraq. The Cowboys game, where they participate in the halftime festivities with Destiny's Child, is their final stop.

My thoughts: The premise of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a fascinating one, and I admit I had rather high expectations going in, but at the end of the novel, I found myself saying, "that's it?" That isn't to say Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a bad book; i…

giveaway: Anna Karenina

Today I'm pleased to be hosting a giveaway in conjunction with the theatrical release of the new Anna Karenina film
Anna Karenina is acclaimed director Joe Wright’s bold, theatrical new vision of the epic story of love, stirringly adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s great novel by Academy Award winner Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love). The film marks the third collaboration of the director with Academy Award-nominated actress Keira Knightley and Academy Award-nominated producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster, following their award-winning box office successes Pride & Prejudice and Atonement.
Twolucky winners will receive this prize pack:
a copy of the book (the gorgeous paperback tie-in edition!)the official soundtrackVotivo candle with bookmark
The film is already playing in select cities and will open in wide release this Friday, November 30. After my failed attempts to read Anna Karenina last year, I'm looking forward to seeing the film first, then reading the novel!…

book review: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

The basics: The Middlesteins is the story of the Middlestein family: its obese matriarch Edie, her husband Richard, their adult children Robin and Benny, and Benny's wife and children. The family lives in the Chicago suburbs and the narration shifts between these main characters and moves through time non-linearly.

My thoughts: The experience I had reading The Middlesteinsis one of my favorites: I knew very little going into it, so I was able to enter the journey of this novel without any preconceptions. Early on, I fell hard for Robin's sharp, raw observations about herself and her world: "Robin looked at Daniel and had the meanest thought of her entire life. He'll do." I was so enamored with the way she sees the world, I was sad when the narration shifted to Benny's wife. Attenberg soon alleviated this pain, however, as I discovered each of the narrators were fascinating. I adore this scene, in which Rachelle outlines all of the lies she's told to her hu…

Sunday Salon: Wrapping up Thankfully Reading Weekend 2012

This long weekend has been exactly the relaxing and invigorating respite I needed. After a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with family, I finished Jami Attenberg's excellent new novel The Middlesteins (review coming tomorrow), which ended up being the 100th book I've read this year. I'm thankful for that happy coincidence.

This weekend I've also been reading Ben Fountain's debut novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz's latest story collection, both of which were finalists for this year's National Book Award.  I hope to finish at least one if not both of them today.

The Backlist Book Club
It's a big week for The Backlist Book Club! On Friday we'll be discussing The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken (my review). On Saturday, I'll post the December pick. I'm already giddy with excitement about spending next weekend curled up reading it.

Now tell me: what are you up to this Thanksgiving Sunday?

As an a…

Short Story Saturday: The Kissing List by Stephanie Reents

Welcome to Short Story Saturday, a returning semi-regular feature. The project stems from a desire to read more short stories. It's not a secret I prefer novels to short stories, but I'm working to stretch myself as a reader, and part of that will be reading more short stories. When I have read short story collections, I've often found them hard to review as a whole. This feature will allow me to review collections as a whole or separately, but I'll also be reviewing individual stories.

The basics: The Kissing List is the debut short story collection by Stephanie Reents. Some of the stories are linked.

My thoughts: The first story in the collection "Kissing," sets the stage for the rest of the book. Reents and the female narrators of her stories are young, brazen, fun and wise: "The funny thing about being in your early twenties is that it's a lot like being any other age, except you don't know it." I have a notoriously hard time reviewing sho…

Another Happy Thanksgiving!

As I read back on last year's Thanksgiving post, I was struck by how little has changed (and what a first for me to be in the same place doing the same thing two years in a row!) I'm still up early to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I'm enjoying my coffee, waiting for Mr. Nomadreader to wake up, and hoping I have enough time to finish The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg before he does.

Soon we'll open up a bottle of sparkling wine to truly toast this annual tradition. There are once again cinnamon rolls in the oven, but this year they're paleo cinnamon rolls to correspond with our new eating lifestyle (and by new, I mean five months and counting.)

In a few hours, my parents and my grandmother will arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. Mr. Nomadreader is once again slow roasting pork shoulder, a far tastier option than turkey.

Tonight we'll be putting up our Christmas trees (yes, two people in a one bedroom can have two trees!)

Most importantly, I'm …

film mini-reviews: The Queen of Versailles & We Need to Talk About Kevin

In my continued attempt to catch up on reviews, here are mini-reviews of two films I've seen this fall!

The Queen of Versailles
I expected The Queen of Versailles, a documentary detailing how billionaires Jackie and David Siegel react when they must stop building their dream home, the largest home ever built in the United States, to highlight their excesses. I did not expect this tale of lavishness (and to some extent cluelessness) to make me feel guilty for my own excess. This documentary is extraordinary in two ways: when filming began, the market had not yet collapsed, and the Siegels were living preposterously large. Their demeanors change, just as their lifestyle must, as the film progresses. Yet beneath all of their extravagance is a warning of scale: our financial position is precarious, even at my much, much more minimal level of income. It made me question what living within your means actually means--across all income levels. It's not all serious, however, as Jackie p…

Backlist Book Club Review: The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken

The backstory: The Giant's House, Elizabeth McCracken's first novel, is the first pick in The Backlist Book Club. It was also a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award.

The basics: Set in 1950's Cape Cod, The Giant's House is the story of an unlikely friendship between public librarian Peggy Cort and James, the giant of the title. Peggy and James meet at the library when he comes with class at the age of eleven and already over six feet tall.

My thoughts: I confess: I was nervous going into this novel. It came highly recommended from a friend whose reading taste I trust immensely, and I always have a pang of 'but what if I don't like it?' In this case, however, I spent a lot of time contemplating which title to pick for the first pick of The Backlist Book Club. I know the success or failure won't hinge on the first selection, but I really wanted to love the first pick. And I did.

Despite my misgivings of this novel being billed as a love story between a…

book review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The backstory: The Yellow Birds, the debut novel from Iraqi War veteran Kevin Powers, is a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award, shortlisted for the 2012 Flaherty-Dunnan Award, and a finalist for the 2013 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The basics: Set in Iraq in 2004 and the months after, The Yellow Birds tells the story of two soldiers, Private Bartle and Private Murphy, who meet at training camp.

My thoughts: This novel's opening chapter is a visceral depiction of war. As I read it on the bus, I found myself crying and trying to breathe deeply to calm myself. I was grateful when the time shifted in the next chapter. Powers continues this powerful alternation between the war in Iraq and Bartle's attempts to deal with its aftermath. The reader learns early on that Murphy doesn't survive the war, yet the tension leading up to the how and why of his death is a literary marvel. I was eager to begin a chapter away from the war, but as the novel progressed and Bartle struggled…

audiobook mini-reviews: Defending Jacob, Then Came You, and Ten Thousand Saints

Because I seem to be unable to actually get caught up on reviews, this week I'll be bringing you a few sets of mini-reviews. First up: audiobooks!
The backstory: I don't listen to many audiobooks. I've tried, I really have, but I can never finish the digital library loaned ones before they delete (my library only gives you seven days!) I don't drive to work, so cds don't work for me. I used to copy cds to my iPod, but my iPod is now over six years old and doesn't allow bookmarking, so if I want to  listen to anything else, I have to write down my stopping point. I'm not invested enough in them to spend money at audible. I have finally found something that works: Playaways! They're genius, really. Playaways are their own portable player with only the book loaded on to it. I can plug it into the car on the odd chance I am driving, take it to the gym, listen to it while doing dishes, and I can check one out for three weeks for only $1. After not listening t…

book review: Angel's Tip by Alafair Burke

The backstory: Angel's Tip is the second mystery in Alafair Burke's Ellie Hatcher series, after Dead Connection (my review).

The basics: When Ellie Hatcher discovers the murdered body of Chelsea Hart, an Indiana college student who was visiting New York City with her friends, during her morning run, she takes the case as her own.

My thoughts: After liking but not loving Dead Connection, I was curious what Angel's Tip would bring. I was pleasantly surprised to find a fantastic mystery as well as an impressive amount of character development for Ellie Hatcher. As the novel opens, some time has passed since the end of Dead Connection. Immediately, this time allows for Ellie to step out of some of the lingering shadows from the last novel and embrace her new promotion to a homicide detective. The reader jumps right into her new normal, and readers who didn't read Dead Connection could still enjoy this mystery.

What often seems to be a contrived plot: a case impacting a detec…

book review: Baby Brother's Blues by Pearl Cleage

The backstory: Baby Brother's Blues is the third title in Pearl Cleage's West End series (my reviews of Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do and Babylon Sisters.) The series takes place in the West End neighborhood in Atlanta and features recurring characters, but it isn't a series you necessarily need to read in order.

The basics: Blue and Regina Hamilton shift to main characters again in Baby Brother's Blues. Regina is pregnant and growing concerned with the number of women seeking haven in West End. Regina's friend Aretha is considering her husband Kwame's pleas to leave West End for Midtown to strengthen their marriage. Meanwhile, Baby Brother, a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq who has a brief bereavement leave, arrives in Atlanta angry at the world and with no intentions of going back to Iraq.

My thoughts: While Regina and Blue return to the spotlight in Baby Brother's Blues, Cleage works wonders with a large number of narrators. These seemingly unconnect…

Sunday Salon: an extra hour

Good morning! It's the magical fall back weekend in the U.S., but I woke up refreshed at 7:30. That might have something to do with my inability to stay up until midnight last night. Still, having an extra weekend hour is a blessing, and I'll be using mine to read.

The response to the Backlist Book Club has been phenomenal so far. I'm looking forward to many backlist adventures! I've been enjoying this month's pick, The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken this weekend. I'm hoping to finish it today. I also noticed the due date stamps in the book (yes, my library still stamps books with due dates). Seeing a book this good had not circulated since 1999 gave me pause. It makes me so happy to highlight a backlist titled each month and bring titles back to the forefront of conversations about books. I hope you'll join me in reading The Giant's House this month.

I'm also reading This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. I'm only two stories in so f…

book review: Astray by Emma Donoghue

The backstory: Although I'm not a big fan of short story collections, I am a big fan of Emma Donoghue and her varied work (my reviews of Room and The Sealed Letter.)

The basics: Astray is a diverse collection of stories.The characters and locations spread across centuries and continents. What unites them is a sense of theme: each story features a character who is somehow astray.

My thoughts: The first story in Astray didn't particularly captivate me. It's the story of a British circus elephant and his trainer as they prepare to move to the United States. It was enjoyable enough, but what really enchanted me was the unexpected author's note at the story's end. The story was rooted in history and based on real characters and events. As I continued to read, I looked forward to these author's notes. It was a fascinating glimpse into both what intrigues Donoghue and how much history the characters were rooted in.

The collection's second story, "Onward" i…

Introducing: The Backlist Book Club

I read a lot of recent fiction. As I spend so much of my reading time reading prize lists, most of the titles I pick up were published this year or last year. I'll never manage to fill in all of the reading gaps and keep up with what's being published, but today I'm launching a new monthly initiative: The Backlist Book Club. On the first of each month I'll announce a backlist title. I'll read it sometime during the month and post my review in the middle of the month. On the last day of the month, I'll host a discussion of the title with others who have read it. I invite you all to join me!

Why backlist?
As someone who reads a lot, friends and family members ask me if I've read (insert name of famous literary success here). Often, the answer is no. How can I, someone who reads so much more than they do, not have read this great book they've read? The list of authors I want to read is ridiculously long (as is the one of authors whose work I've enjoyed…