Monday, April 29, 2013

book review: Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

The basics: As the title indicates, this biography of Sylvia Plath takes a narrow scope: the summer of 1953, when she was a college intern for Mademoiselle magazine and lived in New York City with other interns from around the country.

My thoughts: 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's death. Despite her fame and talent, I'm ashamed to say I know more about her infamy and death than her life. Still, there's something that has always fascinated me about Plath, so I welcomed this opportunity to dive deeper into her back story. From the earliest pages of Pain, Parties, Work, however, I realized I was as fascinated by Sylvia's time in the summer of 1953 as I was her colleagues. While Plath drew me to this book, the other women kept me turning the pages.

Winder's research for this book is remarkable. The book is laid out much like a magazine. There are frequent text boxes featuring details and quotations. Thankfully, these boxes enhance the narrative rather than distract from it. They allow Winder to demonstrate a depth of detail that could bog down the narrative; instead they provide a deeper glimpse into certain scenes.

Although I was as fascinated by the other women as I was Sylvia, this book is very much about Sylvia. Many of the other women's actions revolves around Sylvia and their recollections of her. The emphasis at this point of Sylvia's life is enchanting: she is very much on the verge of self-discoveries. By glimpsing Sylvia's life at this point, it's haunting to imagine the different paths her life might have taken from the summer of 1953.

The verdict: Pain, Parties, Work is a fascinating glimpse into the life of Sylvia Plath as a young woman, but as much as I enjoyed this part of Sylvia, I was as drawn to the other young women just as much. This book is a window into one summer in the lives of many remarkable women. That one of them was Sylvia Plath is not nearly as impressive as I expected it to be.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: April 16, 2013
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 from 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!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

book review: Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch

The basics: In 1832 in Donegal, Ireland, Coll Coyle wakes with dread. He and his family, including a pregnant wife and young daughter,  are being evicted. An unfortunate series of events put Coyle on the run.

My thoughts: The book opens with a sense of dread, and Coll Coyle is never able to really shake it. Lynch's prose is sparsely lyrical, and it sets the tone of the novel by matching the mood of Coyle and thus novel as a whole. I first tried to start reading this novel on the bus, and it didn't work. When I picked it up again at home with a full Saturday in front of me, I started it over and didn't pause until I'd read the last page.

There's a quiet haunting to this novel that begs the reader to give the novel your undivided intention. There's a magic in its subtlety that demands a close, careful reading. Although Red Sky in Morning is somewhat of a thriller, it's not a novel to be raced through to see how it ends. It's a slowly paced thriller, but the real star of this novel is Lynch's writing. The plot is an intriguing journey, but it's Lynch's writing, and how the writing mimics Coyle's mood, that is this novel's real star.

Favorite passage: "The first days pass and he dreams dark, sickness deepening into him, and he lies between two worlds. They eyes of strangers he sees bunked in the shadows and he know the look of suspicion, knows that a man's sickness is not to be meddled with. He turns throughout the day, days becoming night twisting like a knife and night darkening into some kind of void that puts a hold on time."

The verdict: Red Sky in Morning is a tense, lyrical novel of a chase. Lynch's prose never eases up, just as Coyle is never truly able to relax. The intensity of this novel makes it one to be read in one sitting and without interruptions.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: April 25, 2013 (UK)/November 5, 2013 (U.S.)
Source: publisher via The Book Depository

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Red Sky in Morning from the Book Depository.

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, April 18, 2013

book review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

The basics: When Kate, a successful lawyer, gets a call during an important client meeting that her daughter has been suspended, she's in disbelief. By the time she arrives at the school to pick Amelia up, Amelia is dead, apparently from jumping off the school's roof. As more information emerges, however, it becomes clear all is not as it seems with Amelia.

My thoughts: Billing Reconstructing Amelia as this year's Gone Girl, a marketing device I typically avoid, doesn't do this novel justice. While it does share some similarities with Gillian Flynn's blockbuster (my review), it reads like an utterly original mash-up of Gone Girl, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? and Gossip Girl. The novel taps into a sense of "wait, what's real?" and immediately gives the reader the sense she doesn't know exactly what she should believe. In terms of plot, however, I was struck by the similarities to Maria Semple's divine comedy Where'd You Go, Bernadette? In Reconstructing Amelia, the mystery is much darker, and it's Kate, the mother, left to piece together Amelia's life through the messages she left behind.

McCreight's writing shines throughout this novel. As the novel unfolds in alternating chapters with Kate and Amelia, I was amazed how well-formed each character was. Each woman has a distinctive, authentic voice from the novel's first pages.There's always a joy encountering characters who love books as much as I do, and Amelia is one of those characters: "Clothes were to Sylvia what books were to me: the only thing that really mattered." Writing the inner thoughts of a fifteen-year-old is challenging, yet McCreight manages to both nail it and keep Amelia's sections from reading like a young adult novel.

The verdict: Reconstructing Amelia is an addictive thriller combined with a moving story of the relationship between a mother and teenage daughter. That McCreight manages both stories equally well is a testament to her writing and character development.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 400 pages
Publication date: April 2, 2013
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Reconstructing Amelia from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more? Check out the entire tour, visit Kimberly McCreight's website, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.

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, April 17, 2013

Loving the Des Moines Life: Cheryl Strayed

Loving the Des Moines Life is a periodic series highlighting the things, bookish and non-bookish, I most love about living in Des Moines.

Last night marked the beginning of Des Moines Public Library's 2013 AViD (Authors Visiting in Des Moines) series. The series is a big deal in the city of Des Moines because we are never a stop on a book tour unless the author lives here or grew up here (hello, Bill Bryson and John Shors!) Many authors stop in Iowa City, which is two hours from and rarely a round trip drive I want to make after work. I did a terrible job of attending AViD events last year, but this year I committed to attend all six to support the literary community in town. It was extra fun to have my friend Jessica, who blogs about fitness at Miss FitGab, join me. First up: Cheryl Strayed!

I adored Wild when I read it last summer (my review) and have been meaning to read her novel Torch, which was written before Wild, and her collection of wisdom Tiny Beautiful Things. After seeing her speak last night, my enthusiasm for Cheryl is even stronger. It also warmed my heart to see so many people spilling out of the room and sitting on every piece of available floor. Way to represent, Des Moines!

Local author Jennifer Wilson (Running Away to Home) introduced Cheryl beautifully. Cheryl spoke in a way that felt like it was the first time she was telling her story. Even though I knew the story from reading the book and even though I knew she's been touring for this book for more than a year, she infused a freshness in her words that made the moment feel incredibly special. She read a short passage from Wild, and although I'd read those words before, there's an intimacy to hearing Cheryl's cadence and reflection in them. To close, Cheryl read one of the columns collected in Tiny Beautiful Things, which prompted me to laugh out loud and tear up. I immediately bought a copy for my Kindle and look forward to diving in and savoring each one.

The night ended with an excellent Q&A session moderated by Jennifer Wilson. Audience members could pose questions via Twitter and in print. The quote of the night came in response to a question if Cheryl ever saw her article in the hobo publication. Her answer: "No. It turns out hobos are really bad at archiving."

If you have a chance to see Cheryl on her current tour, I highly recommend it.

The rest of this year's AViD series includes Karen Thompson Walker, Ayana Mathis, Michael Perry, Mary Jane Clark, and Amy Tan.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Salon: On taking the nomad out of nomadreader?

Why hello there! Things have been mighty quiet around here lately, and I'm finally ready to tell you why. After moving four times in the six years I've been blogging (yes, I opted not to celebrate my 6th blogoversary this March!), Mr. Nomadreader and I are once again moving. But this time may very well be the last time. Ever.

We're under contract on a house and cleared all of those important hurdles of inspection, appraisal and loan application. For the past six weeks I've been afraid to say too much because until we actually close and the keys are in our hands, part of me is still waiting for something to go wrong. It's a sign of our first-time home buyer jitters, but it's also a sign of how much I love this house (and how good of a deal we're getting on it--thank you, buyer's market!) With three weeks to go until closing, I have almost accepted it isn't too good to be true. Now if only fairies would come move and unpack all of our things so I could get back to reading at my normal pace!

Reading (and listening)
I have been reading, but as our cleaning and organizing shifts to packing, I'm finding myself with more time for audiobooks. I'm currently enjoying My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. It's a fascinating story of her life up to the point she becomes a judge, and I'm finding it particularly poignant to listen to as we prepare for this major life change of home ownership.

I'm also really enjoying Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. It's one of those books you just want to sit and read until you finish, which is not having a good impact on my packing and cleaning this weekend. I'll have a review for you on Thursday.

Coming up on the blog
Somehow despite my slower reading pace, I've still accumulated thirteen books I've finished and need to review. I hope I can (finally!) get caught up by the end of April. I've been on a bit of a mystery kick this spring and have three 5-star mystery reviews in the pipeline. Look for a few new reviews this week.

I've also been finding a great sense of joy in watching films again. One of the changes we're making when we move will be to get rid of satellite television, which I love, but I do not love enough to continue to justify the pricetag. Truthfully, as much as I love my DVR for remembering when to record my favorite shows when I don't have to, I prefer to binge on entire seasons at once (with a few notable exceptions.) This habit frequently leaves our DVR 90% full. I'm looking forward to a life of Netflix and Amazon Prime. When I'm feeling overwhelmed at the size of my TBR pile and the length of my to do list, there is something incredibly gratifying about the ability to watch an entire movie in a single sitting (a luxury I can rarely manage with a book.) I've been particularly enjoying films the past few weeks as a way to end my day, and I hope to have more regular film reviews on the blog again soon.

The Backlist Book Club
After giving it lots of thought, I will be bringing back The Backlist Book Club this summer, but in a slightly different format. Keep your eyes posted for more details after our big move.

Now tell me: what have you been up to lately?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

book review: Dark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes

The basics: Genevieve dreamed of leaving her high-stress London sales job behind and living on a boat. After taking a second job as a dancer at a private gentleman's club for several months, she saved up the money and is living her dream. On the night of her boat-warming party, however, the first time she attempts to bring together her London friends, from both her pre-club and club days, and her new boat friends, her friend and fellow dancer Caddy washes up dead next to Genevieve's boat.

My thoughts: Dark Tide initially builds tension quite slowly. If you were to open up the book without looking at the cover, you could almost mistake it for a Katie Fforde novel: a young woman starts her life over and looks forward to new adventures. Soon, however, elements of tension and suspension begin to wind through the novel. Genevieve isn't always entirely honest with the reader. As details of her life are slowly revealed, I began to question some of her choices. Most notably, when her friend Caddy's body washes up next to her boat, Genevieve decides not to tell the police she knows Caddy.

While this decision is curious at best, it makes Genevieve even more intriguing. From that point, the novel transitions into a psychological thriller. Even as I questioned, doubted and was intrigued by Genevieve's decisions, watching her decisions was fascinating. As the novel meanders more to a romantic suspense, my interest waned. Aside from Genevieve, the other characters weren't as well developed or as interesting, and I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for Genevieve's love interest. The narrative shifts between Genevieve's days working in the club and the present, and while I typically enjoy this technique, at times it highlighted how little was actually happening in Dark Tide.

The verdict: Dark Tide is a compelling character-driven mystery, but it falters as the romantic elements take center stage over Genevieve, who is the most interesting character in the novel. The suspense in the novel is intriguing more due to Genevieve's perception of events rather than the reader's perception, yet her perspective was intriguing enough to keep me reading to the end; I just wish the ending would have come a bit more quickly and without as much romance.  

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 400 pages
Publication date: March 12, 2013
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Dark Tide from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more? Check out the entire tour, visit Elizabeth's website, like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

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, April 3, 2013

interview: Wendy Wax

After reading and enjoying Wendy Wax's latest novel When We Were Watching Downton Abbey (my review), I jumped at the chance to interview her. 

Who is your favorite Downton Abbey character?

It has changed over the seasons. Alas, some of my favorites are now no longer breathing, but I have a very soft spot for Mrs. Hughes, who has a great deal of warmth and common sense and survived her cancer scare. Now that Edith is becoming empowered, I am finding myself completely on her ‘team.’ Go, Lady Edith!

I adore Edith too. Other than Downton Abbey, what else do you enjoy to watch on television?

I’m an occasional Dancing With The Stars viewer, and I really enjoy Smash and Nashville. I also turn to old favorites like House Hunters, Property Brothers, and Income Property on HGTV as well as American Pickers and Pawn Stars on the History Channel – I can, and have, watched Mike and Frank in back to back episodes, but am very glad to see Danielle playing a bigger role! Speaking of the History Channel, sometimes I can’t help watching Swamp People and am really grateful for the subtitles! : )

Now that is an eclectic list! My husband and I are in the process of buying a house and have really gotten into HGTV shows, especially Property Brothers, lately. To switch from television to books, what's the best book you've read lately?

Hmm… that’s really rough. Happily, I’ve read a lot of really good books lately. I recently had a chance to read advance copies of Claire Cook’s Time Flies (out in June 2013), Susan Crandall’s Whistling Past the Graveyard (out in July 2013), Karen White’s The Time Between (also out in June 2013), and Erika Marks’ The Guest House (also out in June 2013). I highly recommend all four.

Those all look fabulous. I'm adding all four to my summer reading stack!  As I read While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, I kept picturing Edward as Downton Abbey's Carson, even though your descriptions of him weren't anything like Carson. Did any of the characters in the novel stem from Downton characters? 

Yes, Edward Parker, the British concierge of the historic Atlanta high rise where WWWWDA takes place and who brings everyone together for weekly Downton Abbey screenings, was definitely inspired by Downton’s butler Carson though he’s thoroughly modern and has George Clooney’s looks.

Samantha Jackson Davis, who has married old Atlanta money to protect her younger siblings, faces the same kinds of responsibility to her family that Lady Mary does. I’m sure Downton Abbey fans will notice other similarities and inspirations, but While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is a contemporary novel. You don’t have to have seen a single episode of Downton Abbey to enjoy it.

Lastly, a wild card: what do you wish I had asked you?
How about, ‘Did you intend to write what may be the first novel about fans of a television series?’

And the answer would be, no, not exactly but I’m really glad I did! : )

I'm glad you did too, Wendy! I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with your characters and am glad to have discovered your books through our shared love of Downton Abbey.

Convinced? Treat yourself!
Buy While You Were Watching Downton Abbey 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!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

book review: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax

The backstory: You may noticed I'm quite enamored with Downton Abbey and have let my love of the show inform several of my reading choices this year. When I heard about Wendy Wax's new novel, about characters who are watching the show themselves, I immediately wanted to read it.

The basics: Set in The Alexander, a chic condo building in Atlanta, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is the story of its inhabitants who forge unlikely friendships once building concierge Edward, whose ancestor was a British country house butler, begins screening Downton Abbey on Sunday evenings.

My thoughts: Going into While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It was my first experience with Wendy Wax, but she's an author with whom I was already familiar. As both a big fan of Downton Abbey and the city of Atlanta, where I spent almost half of my life (and met Mr. Nomadreader), I was curious to see how Wax used both the city and the show as backdrops. As I read, I found myself perfectly able to picture the Midtown Atlanta setting the characters inhabited.

I first jumped onto the Downton Abbey bandwagon over Christmas break. I marathoned the first two seasons and impatiently waited to devour the new episode each Sunday. The entire series was still fresh in my mind as I read this novel, yet I still found myself watching along with the characters. Wax incorporates so much detail into the first few screenings as the characters have impassioned discussions, and I ended up almost feeling like a character in the book. Our shared love of Downton Abbey really helped me connect with the different characters early on in the novel. As the novel progresses, Wax shifts the emphasis to the drama of her characters, but Downton still provides a nice backdrop throughout the novel.

The verdict: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is a delightful novel of unexpected friendships and bonds. Downton Abbey first brings the characters together, but it's not what keeps them together. Similarly, I read this novel because of the Downton Abbey connection, but I ended up enjoying it for its own characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: April 2, 2013
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy While We Were Watching Downton Abbey from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more? Come back tomorrow for my interview with Wendy Wax!

 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!