Showing posts from 2013

book review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

The backstory: Tampa was longlisted for the 2013 Flaherty-Dunnan Prize, an award sponsored by the Center for Fiction for the best debut novel of the year.

The basics: Twenty-six year-old Celeste Price is eager to start her new job teaching middle school in suburban Tampa. Her reason: access to fourteen-year-old boys, the only people to whom she is sexually attracted.

My thoughts: As I was raving about this novel to my husband shortly after I finished it, he (somewhat jokingly) said that I really enjoy novels about sexual deviance. Stumped, I asked him for other examples, and he promptly replied Room (which he was too disturbed by to finish and I call one of my all-time favorite reads.) Later, I realized I also adored Repeat It Today with Tears (my review), which is about a father-daughter love affair. It's true all of these novels share the theme of sexual deviance, but they're also about so much more than that, which is why I truly love them.

I read fiction for many reasons, bu…

book review: Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War by Jennifer Robson

The basics: Lady Elizabeth Ashton, known to most as Lilly, has longed dreamed of a formal education and career. When World War I begins, she is at odds with her mother, who desperately wants her to find an appropriate husband, whereas Lilly wants to join the war effort.

My thoughts: Although this novel's subtitle indicates its about the Great War, the emphasis of the story is more on Lilly's search for independence and her love with war surgeon Robbie, the old roommate of her brother Edward. The hopefulness of both of these storylines shifts the tone of the novel away from the atrocities of war, even as its main characters continue to immerse themselves in it. For a novel about war, there is a surprising lack of somberness, as the narrating characters focus on their own fortune and nearly altruistic desire to help.

Underlying the novel are themes of class and its place in the war, a theme of which I'm quite fond. This time in history is a fascinating one (admittedly my love…

book review: Guilt by Degrees by Marcia Clark

The backstory: Guilt by Degrees is the second mystery in Marcia Clark's Rachel Knight series. I reviewed the first, Guilt by Association, last week.

The basics: Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Rachel Knight ends up taking on the challenging case of a murdered homeless man, still unidentified, when she witnesses a fellow district attorney bungle the case in court. Rachel recruits detective Bailey Keller, also one of her two best friends, to help her solve the case.

My thoughts: Although it wasn't a perfect mystery, I adored Guilt by Association and Rachel Knight so much I started Guilt by Degrees as soon as I finished it. Some time has passed in the story between the two books, but Clark jumps right back into the action. What begins as an ordinary day in court for Rachel Knight soon becomes a game changer. So little is known about the case initially, but Rachel and Bailey slowly start to discover the details. The more they learn about the victim and the case, the less sense …

book review: Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

The backstory: Jessica Valenti founded feministing, a blog I read long before I started this one.

The basics: Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness is more true to its subtitle than its title. Valenti combines her own experience as a new mom with research to convey the realities of modern parenthood, including the negative parts.

My thoughts: I have clear answers to the question "why have kids?" and its opposite. In the pro column, I believe our child would make the world a better place, whether it be in a large or small way. In the con column, there's the cost, emotionally and financially. I know Mr. Nomadreader and I would be happy taking either track in life; both options would allow us to do things we couldn't do otherwise, and both will leave us feel as though we're missing out. Both would be good choices, and I expected Why Have Kids? to dive into the complicated intellectual and emotional arguments for and against having a…

three mini-mystery reviews: The Third Rail, We All Fall Down, and The Lewis Man

The Third Rail by Michael Harvey

The first two novels in Michael Harvey's Michael Kelly mystery series, The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor, were both 5-star reads. By those standards, The Third Rail fell a little short, but it is still an excellent mystery. Michael Kelly finds himself at the right place at the right time (or perhaps the wrong place at the wrong time) when a sniper kills a woman on the L. It soon becomes clear the killers have far bigger plans to terrify Chicago, and they want Michael Kelly along for the ride. Harvey lets the bad guys share narration in this novel, and the insight into their actions wasn't as compelling of the rest of the mystery. The ending, however, is delightfully ambiguous.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: library

We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey

What I thought was a delightfully ambiguous ending to The Third Rail turned out to be a cliffhanger, as We All Fall Down picks up immediately after it left off. Thus, I won't spoil the set up of the …

book review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

The backstory: Like so many of you, I read and adored Gillian Flynn's most recent novel, Gone Girl, in 2012. I finally got around to reading her first novel, Sharp Objects.

The basics: Camille, a wounded young woman who recently spent time in a psychiatric hospital, must return to the small Missouri town where she grew up to cover the murders of two pre-teen girls for the second-rate Chicago paper she works. Forced to stay with her mother, stepfather and half-sister, Camille must also confront the childhood death of her sister.

My thoughts: As many of you as know, I majored in journalism in college (and women's studies and art history--I've always been a multi-disciplinarian at heart!), and I adore stories of journalists. Camille is a fascinatingly flawed character. I loved to glimpse inside the combination of her hardness and softness. She was simultaneously a character to whom I could relate and understand and one who baffled me, yet Flynn merged both seamlessly. Sharp Obj…

book review: Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

The backstory: After reading (and loving) Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's first book, Game Change, about the 2008 U.S. presidential election, I grabbed a copy of their follow up, Double Down, which chronicles the 2012 election, as soon as my library had it.

My thoughts: Admittedly, I'm fascinated by politics. I won't go as far to say I enjoy it most of the time, as I far too often find the antics and actions of politicians maddening, but I do love it in retrospect. Looking back at the minutiae of how elections are won and last, bills are passed, and scandals embraced or ruined fascinate me. Double Down offers all of those things and more. It begins with a prologue of the first debate between Romney and Obama (remember the one when Obama bombed and Romney came off as charming and likeable?) Then the book shifts back to the beginning of the 2012 campaign.

Much of what I loved about Game Change was the lengthy piece about the Iowa caucuses in 2008. It was my first time livi…

book review: Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

The basics: In Guilt by Association, the first novel in Marcia Clark's Rachel Knight series, Los Angeles deputy district attorney Rachel Knight must take on a difficult case, the sexual assault of the teenage daughter of a close friend of the district attorney, when her fellow DDA and close friend, Jake, is found dead with a teenage boy in a sleazy motel. Rachel simultaneously investigates Jake's death--against the orders of her boss.

My thoughts: I was enamored with this novel from its first pages. Clark writes with fluidity and her characters jump off the page. This world, even one grounded so well in reality, is remarkably well constructed. Rachel Knight is dynamic character. I want to meet her for martinis after work...and I also want her to prosecute the guilty. I particularly enjoyed the two strongest female friendships in her life: with fellow DDA Toni and LAPD detective Bailey Keller. The friendships of these women are wonderfully realized, both professionally and perso…

graphic novel review: Thumbprint by Joe Hill & Vic Malhotra

The backstory: Thumbprint is a graphic novel adaptation of Joe Hill's short story.

The basics: Mallory Grennan is back from the Iraq War, where she took part in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison abuse. She's tending bar and trying to forget the past, but signs keep popping up that someone is here and trying to remind her.

My thoughts: When I picked up Thumbprint, I didn't know anything about it, and I was immediately pulled into its narrative. Mallory Grennan is a haunting and fascinating character. Admittedly, part of my fascination with her stems from her gender (and Hill's treatment of it.) In the flashbacks to Iraq, it seemed inconsequential, yet when she's home bartending, the one male patron in particular sees her only as a woman, rather than as a person.

Her story is grim, and the graphic novel's tone follows suit. In this sense, the graphicness of the illustrations force the reader to see the horrors of war rather than simply imagine them. It's powerful …

book review: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

The backstory: Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors. See my reviews of her novels The Magician's Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and State of Wonder.

The basics: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of personal essays.

My thoughts: Longtime readers know nonfiction is not my favorite genre to read. Yet I adore reading the personal thoughts of fiction writers I admire, and I was eager to read Ann Patchett's collection of essays, even though I'd read a couple of them before. In the twenty-four hours I spent with this collection, I felt as though I was staying up all night drinking wine and talking to a friend. Patchett's essays are fearless. While individually they address different moments and themes, collectively, they read as a personal history. These essays are all autobiographical, and while some are more personal than others, I turned the last page feeling as though Patchett is my friend. While I think of her as a friend, the relationship between rea…

book review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

The basics:  "Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential." (from publisher)

My thoughts: I chose to use the publisher's description because it's not the kind of book I would normally read (or enjoy), based on its description. Yet I kept hearing trusted friends and colleagues rave about it, so I decided to give it a try. And I am so, so glad I did. Not only did I like it, I loved it. I loved it so much I think it should be required reading for anyone. Period. Hear me out, my fellow nonfiction and business book skep…

book review: My Venice and Other Essays by Donna Leon

The backstory: Venice is one of my favorite cities in the world. I first visited it in the summer of 2004, on my way to Athens, Greece for the Olympics. I fell in love. Two years later, Mr. Nomadreader and I opted to spend our Christmas and New Year together in Venice rather than decide whose family to visit. Despite my love of both Venice and mysteries, I still haven't read Donna Leon's much-acclaimed series set there. It's near the top of my list, but in the meantime, I had to read her essays about Venice as soon as I got my hands on a copy.

The basics: My Venice and Other Essays is a collection of essays and vignettes divided into these sections: On Venice, On Music, On Mankind and Animals, On Men, On America, and On Books.

My thoughts: I've often bemoaned how difficult it is to review a collection of short stories, and here I find myself with the same problem as I attempt to cohesively talk about a collection of essays that itself is not terribly cohesive. As I finis…

A change of scenery!

After thinking and planning for months, I've finally debuted a new look for my blog. It returns to my favorite background picture, which I had on the blog for years. I'm still tweaking the font, layout, and spacing (and will be throughout this holiday weekend), but overall I'm really pleased with the initial results. If you spot anything that looks odd or is hard to read, please let me know. Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's one of my favorite days of the year! It's also perhaps the only day I willingly and excitedly wake up early. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of my favorite past times. I'm settled into my lady lair (where the digital antenna can actually pull in NBC) with a glass of sparkling wine with a splash of cherry juice (yum!) And Paleo cinnamon rolls are almost done baking in the oven.

The Meal
Mr. Nomadreader and I are once again hosting my parents and grandmother for a Thanksgiving feast. The main event this year is a maple and spiced apple cider brined pork loin. It's been in the brine for 24 hours, and I cannot wait to taste it. Hosting Thanksgiving is a newer tradition, but this is the third year in a row we've done it. I particularly love not having to travel, so I can just relax and enjoy a long weekend with family...and books. I'm blessed he does most of the cooking while I enjoy the parade too!

The Rest of the Day...and the weekend
After the b…

audiobook review: Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan

narrated by Terry McMillan, Phylicia Rashad, Michael Boatman, and Carole DeSanti

The basics: Who Asked You? is the story of Betty Jean, a hardworking hotel room service worker, and her family and friends. As the novel opens, Betty Jean's daughter Trinetta drops two of her three children, each of whom has a different father, for Betty Jean to care for indefinitely. Betty Jean is already struggling with caring for her ill husband, who has a daytime nurse care for him while Betty Jean is at work. One of her sons is in prison. The other never visits and rarely communicates. Her two sisters are always eager to share their opinions. Betty Jean's main source of support is her best friend and neighbor Tammy, who faces family struggles of her own.

My thoughts: How Stella Got Her Groove Back is one of my all-time favorite novels. I have read it more times than any other novel in my adulthood. Perhaps because I first read it in high school and re-read it throughout college and my early twe…

audiobook review: Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain

narrated by Christina Delaine

The backstory: Let Me Go is the sixth novel in Chelsea Cain's Gretchen Lowell and Archie Sheridan series. My reviews of the first five: Heartsick, Sweetheart, Evil at Heart, The Night Season, and Kill You Twice. If you haven't read this series (and like a compelling serial killer story), all of them are on sale for less than $7 for Kindle, and the first is only $2.99.

The basics: It's Halloween in Portland. It's also Archie's birthday. And Gretchen is still on the loose. Archie dreads the holiday and fears how many will dress as Gretchen for Halloween, giving her the perfect opportunity to blend in and make an appearance.

My thoughts: This series is one of my favorites. It is dark and disturbing, but Cain infuses these characters with so much humanity and has built this world so well that the violence and psychological terror are never cheap ploys; they're compelling insight into the mind of a brilliant, flawed villain and the hold sh…

Sunday Salon: Reign-inspired reading, Catching Fire thoughts, and colder weather

It's so nice to be Salon-ing two weekends in a row. I'm planning to hunker down at home today, as even my cold-weather-loving self finds single-digit temperatures when the sun is out quite cold. While I should run a few errands, when facing a two-day work week, it's easy to find reasons to just stay home and read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors. I've read some of its essays before, but I'm still enjoying them again. Look for my review on December 10th.

On Catching Fire
Yesterday, Mr. Nomadreader and I had a rare day off together. Even more rare: it was a Saturday. We celebrated by having a delicious brunch at Le Jardin, a recently resurrected Des Moines restaurant. In typical Des Moines fashion, we ran into friends and acquaintances while we were there. Then we headed to the mall (the horror!) and enjoyed a few martinis before settling in for an afternoon showing of Catching Fire. I adored the book when I read it fou…

book review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

The basics: In future Chicago, everyone is part of one of five factions: Erudite, Candor, Dauntless, Abnegation, or Amity. Each year, sixteen-year-olds take a test to determine in which faction they belong. For Beatrice, the test doesn't work. She is a rare divergent, who fits in more than one faction, but she must choose which one will be her home.

My thoughts: I'm intentionally late to the Divergent party. The third (and final) book in the trilogy came out a few weeks ago, and the film comes out in March 2014. After The Hunger Games, I learned I'd rather wait until all three volumes of a trilogy are published to dive in.

First, how much do I love Veronica Roth for choosing those names for the factions? I early await the increased vocabulary of the teens reading these books. I was swept up in the world of Divergent immediately. As I read, I found myself contemplating which faction I would have chosen (Erudite), as if I would really be faced with the choice. I was also stru…

book review: Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

The backstory: Someone Else's Love Story is the November SheReads Book Club selection.

The basics: Shandi Pierce, a twenty-one-year-old college student raising three-year-old genius Natty, meets William Ashe, a man devastated by the loss of his wife and daughter, when they're both in a Circle K when it's robbed. This strong, shared connection lingers as they navigate

My thoughts: I've heard so many of you singing the praises of Joshilyn Jackson for years, so I was excited the SheReads Book Club finally forced me to read one of her novels. I picked it up knowing nothing about it, and I particularly appreciated the novels surprises because they were unexpected. Shandi and William take turns narrating the story, and I enjoyed seeing their shared experiences through both of their eyes. Initially, the pace felt slow. I longed for the first part, when they're held hostage in the Circle K, to end. I could sense the entire novel wouldn't take place in the Circle K, and I…

book review: Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

The backstory: After loving all three of Audrey Niffenegger's earlier graphic novels, The Adventuress, The Three Incestuous Sisters, and The Night Bookmobile, I was eager to read her latest, Raven Girl.

The basics: When a postal carrier falls in love with a raven and takes her to live with him, they're both surprised her baby turns out to be human, but still birdlike. The Raven Girl longs to be a raven, as she feels on the inside.

My thoughts: Audrey Niffenegger's graphic novels tend to include elements of magical realism, and Raven Girl is no different. I'm not a fan of fairy tales, per se, but those elements in Raven Girl worked well for me. Niffenegger quickly builds a world in which it makes perfect sense for a postal carrier to fall in love with a raven and build a life together. That sense of magic dissipates somewhat when Raven Girl grows up and goes to college. A darker magical realism emerges, and it wasn't as captivating for me. Niffenegger's drawings w…

Sunday Salon: drifting toward the end of my reading year

Happy Sunday (on Saturday!) It's been far too long since I've written a Salon post. Yesterday it was 65 degrees, which came after we had our first half-inch of snow on Monday. It's hard to believe it's mid-November, even though I put up two of our three Christmas trees weeks ago. To some, it's obscenely early, and part of me agrees, but it's also my favorite time of year, and I find I enjoy Thanksgiving so much more when it's part of one big holiday season rather than a beginning. I'm enjoying giving thanks and sharing holiday joy for all of November and December. Plus, it's our first holiday season in our new house, and it feels a little homier with my tree decorated with nostalgic ornaments.

This year has been a very strange reading (and blogging) year. To date, I've read only 75 books. While part of me knows 75 books is an accomplishment in some circles, I'm coming to realize I will most likely fall short of my goal of 100 books. Last yea…

book review: The Preservationist by Justin Kramon

The basics: Julia, a first-year student at a small Pennsylvania College, is recovering from tragedy. Sam, a loner who works at the college and harbors a fascination with Julia, is struggling to come to terms with turning forty. Marcus, a fellow first-year student, seems to have secrets of his own, as well as a fascination with Julia.

My thoughts: Everybody seemed to rave about Finny, Justin Kramon's debut novel I somehow never got around to reading. When I heard he wrote a thriller for his second book, I was intrigued. When I began the novel, I was enchanted. Kramon succinctly and beautifully described characters as he introduced them, and as characters observed one another. The stage was set for a creepy, literary novel, and this time of year is perfect.

Unfortunately, the novel soon began to flounder for me. The well-described characters soon began acting more like fictional characters than believable people. Kramon seemed to be letting intrigue drive the story rather than charac…

audiobook review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

narrated by Robin Miles

The backstory: We Need New Names, the first novel by Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo, was shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize.

The basics: We Need New Names is the coming of age story of Darling. The novel begins in Zimbabwe when Darling is ten years old. She knows she will soon be able to escape her troubled country and go to the U.S., where her aunt lives, but little else in this novel is so simple.

My thoughts: Child narrators are hit or miss for me, and I don't have a consistent opinion about them. Instead, I feel as I do about almost any staple in literature: when it's done well, I love it. When it's not done well, I don't. In this case, I am of two minds about Darling's narration. Admittedly, I know little about the history of Zimbabwe, so it was helpful to have a child guide me through some of it. When done well, a child's narration enhances a story rather than detracts from it; it's a lens into the world, but the reader ca…