Showing posts from December, 2012

The Backlist Book Club: The Clan of the Cave Bear discussion

Welcome to The Backlist Book Club discussion of The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel. Need a refresher? Check out my review of The Clan of the Cave Bear.

1. Typically, I'm not turned off by unlikable characters, but in The Clan of the Cave Bear, I was. Broud was too unlikable and no one else was likable enough to compensate. Which characters did you find to be likable and unlikable?

2. Even though I didn't like the book, the setting captivated and fascinated me. Much of the novel seemed hyper-realistic, but at times the Clan's traditions veered into science fiction. Overall, did you find the novel believable?

3. I think one of the reasons I didn't connect with Ayla was her age. When the novel began, she was a child, and I struggled to identify with her frustrations. What did you think of Ayla as she aged? Did your impressions of her change?

4. What surprised you in this novel?

5. To whom would you recommend this title?

I encourage you to subscribe to the comments for t…

book review: Just Wanna Testify by Pearl Cleage

The backstory: Just Wanna Testify is the sixth novel in Pearl Cleage's West End series (my reviews of Some Things I Never Thought I'd DoBabylon SistersBaby Brother's Blues,Seen It All and Done the Rest, and Til You Hear From Me.)

The basics: As always, Cleage combines a mix of familiar West End faces with new characters. In this case, the Too Fine Five, a group of tall, skinny supermodels seek Blue Hamilton's blessing to do business in the West End neighborhood this week.

Note: this review contains spoilers of the plot and the ending. Proceed at your own risk.

My thoughts: When I sat down to read the last West End novel, I was filled with happiness and sadness. I've re-read and read all of Pearl Cleage's novels in 2012. I sought the comfort of the familiar: characters, social justice, and people working to change the world. I got that, but I also got something I absolutely didn't expect: vampires. I appreciated Regina's pondering on the subject when sh…

book review: The Darlings by Cristina Alger

The basics: The Darlings, Cristina Alger's debut novel, opens with an unnamed man driving his Astin Martin to a bridge and jumping to his death. The action quickly shifts back to the titular Darling family: patriach and finance guru Carter Darling, his Portugese wife Ines. The Darlings have two daughters, Merrill, a lawyer married to Paul, a lawyer who recently became legal counsel at Carter's firm; and Lily, married to Adrian, who works in client relations at Carter's firm. As New York City is just feeling the beginning of the financial crisis, this family finds itself at the epicenter of it.

My thoughts: Going into this novel, I knew two things: Jenny loved it and Bravo bought it and is creating a scripted series around it. I expected a soapy and fun tale of a Ponzi scheme gone wrong. I got that, but I was surprised how good Alger's writing was and how funny and astute her descriptions and observations were:
"He dressed as he did--Nantucket reds and bow ties and …

Sunday Salon: the holiday break reading binge

I confess: today feels like a normal Sunday. I haven't quite accepted that Christmas Eve is tomorrow or that I don't have to go to work again until January 2 (bless you, academia.) The one thing reminding me it's my annual (and glorious) holiday break reading binge: my overflowing reading pile. This week is when I scramble to try to read all of those books I've been meaning to read all year. If I spend my time reading while Mr. Nomadreader works reading, I can usually read a book a day.

I'm almost finished with Heather Lende's fascinating collection of essays about living in a small Alaska town, If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name. She has me dreaming of (and planning) a trip to Alaska, a destination I've wanted to visit for years. When I finish it, I'm really looking forward to devouring Colm Toibin's new novella, The Testament of Mary, in one sitting this afternoon. It might not be everyone's pick for Christmas reading, but I'm eager…

book review: Never Tell by Alafair Burke

The backstory: Never Tell is the fourth novel in Alafair Burke's Ellie Hatcher series (my reviews of the first three: Dead Connection, Angels' Tip and 212.) When I accepted Never Tell from the publisher for review in May, I had to read any of Alafair Burke's books. I intended to, so I said yes and figured I'd catch up in a year or two. Seven months and eight books later, I've raced through them all and am already eagerly anticipating her next novel, If You Were Here, a stand-alone thriller coming in June 2013.

The basics: Julia Whitmire, a wealthy, talented, and beautiful sixteen-year-old, is found dead in her bathtub. The cops arriving on the scene classify it as a homicide: her wrists are slit and she left behind a suicide note. Her mother, however, is insistent Julia was murdered and persuades the NYPD to look into. Detective Ellie Hatcher doesn't buy it, but her partner J.J. Rogan is more open-minded.

My thoughts: If I had to describe Alafair Burke's nove…

Backlist Book Club review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

The backstory: The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first in Jean M. Auel's Earth Children series, is the December pick for The Backlist Book Club.

The basics: The Clan of the Cave Bear is the story of Ayla, a young Cro-Magnan girl orphaned when the rest of her tribe dies in an earthquake. As she wanders in search of something, she encounters The Clan, who take her in even though she is so different from them.

My thoughts: (Note: this review contains some plot spoilers.) The set-up of this novel is fascinating. As I began reading, this prehistory is so different from anything I've ever read, it almost seemed dystopian, particularly in the sense of world building. Auel had the challenging task of making her reader understand life then. At times, this education slowed the narrative, but in the early pages, I was riveted.

As the novel moved on, however, I grew quite irritated with it. For one, the use of foreshadowing killed any narrative suspense or curiosity. Each event was telegraphed …

book review: Til You Hear From Me by Pearl Cleage

The backstory: Til You Hear From Me is the fifth novel in Pearl Cleage's West End series (my reviews of Some Things I Never Thought I'd DoBabylon SistersBaby Brother's Blues, and Seen It All and Done the Rest.)

The basics: Fresh off working on Obama's 2008 campaign, Ida B. Wells Dunbar is losing hope she'll be offered a job in the administration. Meanwhile, her father, Rev. Dunbar, a famous African-American preacher and civil rights icon is still irked with Obama about the Rev. Wright fallout, is making headlines with his some unfortunate statements. At the pleading of familiar West End face Miss Iona, Ida B. comes to Atlanta to check on her father.

My thoughts: I adore Pearl Cleage and her work, but I'll be honest: Til You Hear From Me started a little rough. The story felt rushed, the writing felt either too flat or too flowery, and one character, Wes, felt flat:
"Wes liked women. He didn’t consider them his equals, although like most of the middle-cla…

book review: Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

The basics: Alexis M. Smith's slim debut novel, Glaciers, focuses on Isabel, a young archivist who grew up in Alaska and now lives in Portland, Oregon. She adores vintage stores and the abandoned objects she finds and collects from those stores.

My thoughts: Glaciers is a quiet, introspective little novel, and Isabel is a quirky delight. She has a charming sense of wonder coupled with disappointment:  
"Her sister read that spiders have book lungs, which fold in and out over themselves like pages. This pleased Isabel immensely. When she learned later that humans do not also have book lungs, she was disappointed. Book lungs. It made complete sense to her. This way breath, this way life: through here."This combination feeds into her sadness for the objects she treasures, both personally and professionally. Her work fixing damaged books in the library's basement emphasizes the hope: these things are broke, but they can be fixed and shared once again. Similarly, when she d…

book review: An Extraordinary Theory of Objects by Stephanie LaCava

The basics:  An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris is more about the objects than it is in Paris. In truth, Stephanie LaCava considers herself an outsider whether or not she's in Paris and traces her emotional history through objects.

My thoughts: An Extraordinary Theory of Objects is a unique memoir. It's told in vignettes of memories and objects. Drawings are paired with lengthy footnotes in the midst of the text. Initially, it was somewhat difficult to follow these dual narratives, and shifting my focus to the footnotes detracted from LaCava's fluid prose. Truthfully, I enjoyed LaCava's writing more than the footnotes. They drawings of the objects added a rich detail, but the footnotes, while often filled with fascinating trivia, didn't have the depth of LaCava's emotional memories.  About half-way through this slim volume, I took a different approach. I read each vignette in its entirety, then I went back and read each footnote…

book review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

The backstory: The debut novel of Ayana Mathis, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, was one of the spring 2013 releases I was most excited about. When Oprah picked it as her second Book Club 2.0 read and pushed up the book's release date, I moved it to the top of my queue.

The basics: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is the life story of Hattie Shepherd. It spans from 1925 to 1980.When she fifteen, Hattie, her mother and sister moved from Georgia to Philadelphia. There she married soon after and gave birth to twins: the first of many, many children.

My thoughts: The first chapter of this novel is devastating and heart-wrenching and still somehow hopeful. Both of Hattie's twins are sick with pneumonia in the middle of the night. Mathis shifts from the current minutes to Hattie's memories beautifully. In the second chapter, however, the action shifts, both in time and narrator. Suddenly it's 1948, and Hattie's son Floyd is a musician traveling through the South. My understanding o…

book review: A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

The basics: A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts tells the life story of five characters: Geoffrey, a World War I soldier; Billy, a poor boy in Victorian London; Elena, a scientist in futuristic Europe; Jeanne, an orphan in rural France in the 1800s; and Anya, an American folk singer in the 1970s.

My thoughts: A Possible Life is a fascinating, gripping read. Each of the five parts could work on its own, although some are better than others. Taken together, however, they do become a novel of sorts as Faulks poses giant questions about life and humanity.

The novel begins with Geoffrey's story. I was amazed at the depth of detail Faulks infused into his 79 pages. The reader sees Geoffrey's life, and it was an amazing one. His life, and the lives of the other characters are all amazing. They share a particular kind of amazing, however. Faulks is concerned with those moments small and large that change our course in life. Each story contains numerous points where I wondered "…

Sunday Salon: ahhh

Have you ever had one of those nearly perfect days when all you really want to do is read, and you manage to pick books that fit your mood perfectly until you realize you've spent close to twelve hours reading? I had one yesterday, and it was absolutely blissful.

I started with an early trip to Trader Joe's, which allowed me to make some long overdue progress on my audiobook, Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm(it's safe to say I haven't made it to the gym in weeks months, and I rarely drive, so my audiobook listening has been suffering.) When I got home, I was eager to finish the last 25% of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. I was feeling so accomplished, I set out to complete some overdue chores while I finished Death of an Artist. Kate Wilhelm, I dedicate the state of my apartment to you.

After finishing a depressing historical novel and a somewhat sad mystery, I craved something different, so I picked up Stephanie LaCava's memoir An Extraordinary The…

Short Story Saturday: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

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 backstory: This Is How You Lose Her, the second story collection from Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner Junot Diaz, was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. Update: it was also a finalist for the 2013 Carnegie Medal.

The basics: This Is How You Lose Her is a somewhat thematic story collection. The stories are all about love or a relationship to some extent. Most of the stories are narrated by Yunior, the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (my review.)

My thoughts:…

book review: These Days Are Ours by Michelle Haimoff

The backstory: I discovered These Days Are Ours when Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and said "What differentiates the book from similar fables with young protagonists able to afford endless rounds of drinks in hipster bars is Hailey’s sense of self and her thoughtful inner life; the shopping and club crawls of her privileged life are just a backdrop, not the story." I immediately pre-ordered it for my Kindle, where I foolishly let it languish for nine months before reading it.

The basics: These Days Are Ours follows Hailey, a recent college graduate, in New York City in the spring of 2002. She and her privileged high school friends are in various states of employment, but they're also all still processing 9/11 and expecting another terrorist attack at any time. Hailey searches for a job, a life, a sense of belonging, and a sense of purpose.

My thoughts: As I said the last time I rated a book 6 stars out of 5, "About once a year, I encounter a book that wor…

Thursday TV: Nashville

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.

Hands down, the show I was most excited for this season was Nashville. The city itself holds a special place in my heart: it's where Mr. Nomadreader traveled for the first time for our first anniversary  Three years after that, it's where we opted to get married--at the Country Music Hall of Fame's Library.

The setting of Nashville wasn't the only draw, of course. The premise sounded fascinating: two dueling divas--one who might be passing her fame prime, while one is just beginning; politics; and music. I'm a fan of country music (although not necessarily what's marketed as country music on the radio). Most importantly though was the buzz. Jace Lacob, my favorite tv writer, declared it the best new show, and he admittedly hates country music.

How can this critically acclaimed show fall fl…

book review: Seen It All and Done the Rest by Pearl Cleage

The backstory: Seen It All and Done the Rest is the fourth novel in Pearl Cleage's West End series (my reviews of Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do, Babylon Sisters, and Baby Brother's Blues.)

The basics: Like all the books in this series, Atlanta's West End neighborhood is the main character. The people who live, work, and love in this neighborhood appear in major and minor roles throughout these novels. In Seen It All and Done the Rest, actress Josephine Evans returns to Atlanta after thirty years in Amsterdam to visit her granddaughter, Zora, a pivotal character in Baby Brother's Blues, and check on the duplex she inherited. (note: Zora's story contains major spoilers from Baby Brother's Blues.)

My thoughts:  It's no secret Pearl Cleage is among my favorite authors, and this novel has many of her trademarks: themes of social justice, community empowerment, and the nature of home. What's new about Seen It All and Done the Rest, however, is the emph…

mini-film reviews: Beasts of the Southern Wild and Midnight in Paris

Beasts of the Southern Wild
There is much to be admired and enjoyed in Beasts of the Southern Wild, an independent film set in the post-Katrina bayou neighborhood known as The Bathtub. The action centers on Hushpuppy, a precocious six-year-old who mostly roams free this world. The film is a visual feast and features performances by real people who live in the bayou. At times it feels more like a documentary, and this authenticity is the film's strength. Where the film fell short for me, however, was in its reliance of magical realism. I often struggle with magical realism, and in this film I felt it deluded the film's greatest strength: the reality of life in The Bathtub, a community so far off the grid, rich with tradition, and seemingly foreign. The verdict: Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fascinating glimpse into The Bathtub, but the elements of magical realism undermine its narrative power. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Midnight in Paris
After nearly everyone whose taste I trust ador…