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Showing posts from June, 2013

Sunday Salon: Live from ALA!

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Hello from beautiful, sunny Chicago! Remember last week when I told you I would have all sorts of reviews for you and then none of them materialized? Sorry about that. This week got away from me quickly, and I have learned my lesson: don't promise reviews until they've actually been written and scheduled. That being said, look for some of those this week!

What I'm reading: Now and Next
I put down Life After Life because I didn't think my mind was in the right frame of mind to be reading it, and I have a string of review commitments coming up. I'll pick it up again later this summer. I switched courses dramatically to the newest Dan Brown novel, Inferno. It's as you would expect, but it's perfect for the short bursts of reading I get on vacation. I'm also enjoying a new audio book, Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman. The tv series begins July 11 on Netflix, and I've been meaning to read it for years, so now seemed like the perfect time. One of m…

Sunday Salon: the pre-ALA edition

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Good morning, y'all! Have I mentioned lately how grateful I am to live in an era with air conditioning? I am hating this hot, hot, humid weather. Thankfully it's supposed to cool down later in the week, when I head to Chicago for the ALA (American Library Association, as most all of you know) Annual Conference. I'm so excited to be in Chicago, a favorite city of mine, and I'm even more excited to have what looks like reasonable weather for the second year in a row. (ALA has a tendency to hold its conference in places that are not seasonably desirable, so we breathe a sigh of relief each time temperatures are "only" in the 80s.) If you're going to be in Chicago this weekend, do let me know, and I've love to meet up. I arrive Thursday afternoon and depart Monday afternoon, so next week's Salon will come from Chicago.

What I'm reading today
I'm utterly immersed in Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, which was shortlisted for the Orange Women&…

book review: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

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The basics: The premise is somewhat audacious: years after the crucifixion, Mary lives alone. She recalls the last days of her son's life, including his death. Although the disciples keep her fed and provide housing, Mary does not share their belief that her son was the Son of God.

My thoughts: The writing is beautiful and haunting. Mary is such a cultural and religious icon, and Toibin rises to the challenge to imagine Mary and her inner workings in a different way. As a character, she's incredibly dynamic: "I no longer need tears and that should be a relief, but I do not seek relief, merely solitude and some grim satisfaction which comes from the certainty that I will not say anything that is not true." Mary feels emotionally tortured. She reacts the way we would expect a grieving mother to act: she mourns the loss of her son. Yet everyone around her celebrates his death. This contrast is even more vivid when Mary recalls the day of the crucifixion itself. Toibin do…

book review: How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

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The backstory: How Should a Person Be? was longlisted for the 2013 OrangeWomen's Prize for Fiction.

The basics: This novel features a narrator named Sheila Heti. Heti uses some actual conversations with friends in this genre-defying "novel of life." The character Sheila seeks answers to the titular question "how should a person be?"

My thoughts: Going into How Should a Person Be?, I was excited. I have a fondness for experimental novels. I may not always love them, but I do enjoy exploring new and creative approaches to literature. As I read, I was as enraptured trying to figure out what Heti (the author) was doing as what Sheila (the character) was saying. There's a sense of late night, wine-fueled conversations about deep things in the early pages of this novel. That will likely either intrigue you or have you running for the hills, but I couldn't get enough of it. As Sheila struggles with her identity, to some extent, but really herself,  that identity…

film thoughts: Star Trek & The Impossible

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I've only ever seen one episode of Star Trek. And I can't even tell you which Star Trek series it was. By the time I realized it might be something I would like, I was overwhelmed. I've picked up on some of the characters through pop culture, of course, but I'm mostly clueless. When Mr. Nomadreader asked if I wanted to watch it with him, I said I did, but only if he wouldn't get mad if I asked a lot of questions because I like to get all of the inside jokes. In the end, the only part of the film I was confused by was that Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pine are both different people and both in the film. I really thought Chris Pine was just playing his father and himself. What makes this film so accessible is its scope: it essentially explains the entire backstory and in some way feels like a giant setup for another film. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. The highlight: learning Captain Kirk's full name is James Tiberius Kirk, which made me laugh because I …

book review: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

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The backstory: Lionel Shriver is an author whose work I've enjoyed immensely in the past. After raving about So Much For That (I gave it 5 stars), I also enjoyed We Need to Talk About Kevin (I gave it 4.5 stars) and The New Republic (I gave it 4 stars.) I'm utterly fascinated with both her work and her as a person, because her books and characters are so distinct.

The basics: Big Brother is the story of Pandora, who grew up in Los Angeles with a father who starred on a popular 1970's family sitcom with parallels to her life. She now lives in Iowa with her husband Fletcher, a health nut, and his two children. When her brother Edison, an accomplished jazz pianist, arrives for a visit, Pandora cannot believe how obese her brother has become.

My thoughts: I didn't realize this novel is set in Iowa until I began reading it, and it was a treat. From the point of view of this Iowa transplant, Shriver nailed the details, the positive and the negative, of everyday life in Iowa. P…

film review: Before Midnight

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The backstory: Before Midnight is the third film in what I hope is an ongoing series rather than a trilogy. The first two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are two of my favorite movies of all time.

The basics: We meet Jesse and Celine again, nine years after their poignant walk around Paris, in Greece. Slowly we learn they have been together since that day in Paris and they now have twin daughters.

My thoughts: Despite my best efforts, I had high expectations for this film. I have loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset for years. And Before Midnight was getting ridiculoulsy good reviews. Then Peter Travers said "It's damn near perfect." And Owen Glieberman said it was "enchanting entertainment that's also the most honest and moving film about love in years." They're both right, but what I wasn't prepared for in this film was how much it hurt to watch.

Before Midnight is so different from the other two films. There are certainly similarities: it …

book review: The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey

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The backstory: The Chicago Way is the first in Michael Harvey's Michael Kelly mystery series.

The basics: When private investigator Michael Kelly, a former Chicago cop, takes on an 8-year-old rape and battery case for his former partner, his partner is murdered. Now Kelly has two cases to solve.

My thoughts: After a wonderful trip to Chicago in March, I find myself drawn to fiction set in the city. The Chicago Way doesn't paint the most complementary picture of the city, particularly its politics, but Harvey captures the essence of the city beautifully.

Michael Kelly is something of an antihero himself. He reads and quotes classic Greek literature, but he's clearly fighting some demons. Harvey keeps part of Kelly mysterious, and I appreciate that. He manages to develop the character, fill in his backstory, but he doesn't overwhelm the story to paint a picture of Kelly. In this book, it seems there's no one to trust, or rather no one Kelly can really trust. Having a ch…

Sunday Salon: June storms and summer reading

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Good morning! This weekend is a bit of an unusual one, as I have to work this afternoon. I'm taking Mondays off all summer to enjoy a day off with Mr. Nomadreader, so my weekend this weekend consists of Saturday, Sunday morning, Monday, and Tuesday morning. I'm not complaining--having a four day work week has been wonderful so far this summer, and it gives me more time to read and work on the blog.
What I'm reading today
I'm continuing my (belated) Women's Prize for Fiction 2013 longlist reading. The good news is how much I'm enjoying the titles. Yesterday I devoured the first half of Ignorance by Michele Roberts, and I hope to finish it today. It's been stormy in Iowa, and it was a wonderful day to snuggle down on the porch couch, drink a little coffee and wine, and read all day. I'm also re-committing to reading more short stories. I'm currently making my through Alice Munro's latest collection Dear Life. My aim is to read a story a day, at lea…

It's Back: The Backlist Book Club returns in July!

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After taking six months off, The Backlist Book Club is coming back, but I'm changing things up a bit.

What's not new
The basics are the same: on the first of each month, I'll announce the book for that month. Around the middle of the month, I'll post my review of the book. On the last day of the month, I'll host a discussion of the book. I'd love company, of course, but The Backlist Book Club is commitment free: read with me only the months you choose to. Easy, right?

What is new
Themes and voting. Each month will have a theme. Some months will have the same theme each year (i.e. mysteries in October and African-American authors in February), while other months will change. I'll announce the theme for the month on the 15th of the month prior. I'll also provide a few choices that fit theme and let you, the readers, vote. A vote isn't an obligation that you'll join in (although I'd love it if you did!)

The theme for July 2013 is Sarah Waters!
I …

audiobook review: Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm

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narrated by Carrington MacDuffie

My thoughts: Despite what the title implies, this mystery-of-sorts doesn't start with a death. And with only one artist in the cast of characters, Stef, her death is a foregone conclusion. Furthermore, who kills her is also (mostly) apparent from the beginning. The why is debated, but it's the how that makes this novel shine. Thus, Death of an Artist feels off kilter until Stef dies. It's rare to discover a mystery not concerned with who did it, or even why, and much of this novel is a character-based exploration of Stef, her art, and her family.

This novel took me a little time to get into because of its unusual structure. If I didn't know the title, I would not have thought the novel was a mystery. Once Stef did die, however, all of the backstory was incredibly helpful because it made me as a reader immediately on the side of Marnie. What seemed to be more of a family drama soon morphed into a conspiracy, and I was hooked.

Audio thought…

Thursday TV: on the serialization of television shows and novels

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Since we abandoned satellite when we moved into our house, I'm figuring out how to best keep track of what I want to watch. I'm still binge-watching Grey's Anatomy, and I'm already in the middle of season four. We've added Hulu into the mix, mostly because it lets us watch more recent episodes of shows on the television. Although it's incredibly frustrating to have to watch commercials with a paid service. It's even more frustrating that so many shows are only licensed to watch on a computer and not a mobile device (in our case, an Xbox hooked up to the television.)
My Hulu queue works a lot like my DVR used to: as soon as a show I've told it I watch has a new episode online, it's added to my queue. The problem is, I'm so enjoying binge-watching Grey's that I have yet to watch the season finale of one of my favorite shows: Chicago Fire. It has me thinking: my favorite way to read is in large chunks of time, so doesn't it make sense to w…

book reviews: Missing Persons and Life Without Parole by Clare O'Donohue

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The backstory: After a delightful (but too short) trip to Chicago over Spring Break in March, I became temporarily obsessed with reading books set in Chicago. I was also on a mystery kick, so discovering the first two novels in Clare O'Donohue's Kate Conway series was perfect on both fronts.

The basics: Kate Conway is a reality television producer. In Missing Persons, she's working on a show of the same name and documenting the story of a young woman who disappeared a year earlier. At the same time, Kate's soon-to-be-ex-husband suddenly dies, and she becomes a suspect. In Life Without Parole, Kate is working on two shows: a reality show about a new restaurant opening and one documenting the lives of prisoners serving life sentences.

My thoughts: In both books, Clare O'Donohue does an excellent job of letting the mysteries evolve naturally. Cozy mysteries, in which the person solving a crime isn't a private investigator or member of law enforcement, can seem silly…

On Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (18 and 9 years later)

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I was fourteen when I first saw Before Sunrise. I'm pretty sure I saw it more than once in the theater, but I definitely remember it's one of the few films I've owned on VHS, Laserdisc (my family were early adopters), and dvd. It's a film I've loved for years. It's a film I still know most of the lines and facial expressions, even though I had not seen it in at least two years. Yet when I sat down to watch it with my husband Friday night, I was amazed to discover the film resonates more with me now than it ever has.

Let me back up. In case you're unfamiliar with this film, it's the story of Jesse, an American, and Celine, a Frenchwoman, who meet on a train. Jesse is heading to Vienna, where he flies out the next morning. Celine is returning to Paris after visiting her grandmother in Hungary. Jesse convinces Celine to get off the train with him in Vienna, and they explore the city and talk all night. This description will likely either make you want to s…

book review: Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

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The backstory: Lamb was longlisted for the 2013 Orange Prize (soon-to-be-Bailey's) Women's Prize for Fiction and won the 2011 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize.

The basics: Lamb takes its title from David Lamb, a middle-aged man struggling with the end of his marriage and the death of his father. When he meets 11-year-old Tommie, an unpopular girl, the two strike up an unlikely friendship of sorts and embark on a road trip from Chicago to the Rocky Mountains. Tommie goes willingly, but she does not tell anyone when she does.

My thoughts: Throughout Lamb, there is certainly an element of creepiness. It's more overt at some times than others, but the tension of innocence also permeates the novel. There are essentially four versions of the events in the novel: how Lamb sees things, how Tommie sees things, how Lamb explains things to Tommie, and, lastly, how the reader combines all three of these narratives. The reader also gets glimpses from the omniscient narrator, such as thi…

Sunday Salon: my 'new normal'

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(Note: email subscribers, you may have noticed you're getting emails a bit later in the day. This change ensures you always get the post the day it posts!)

Good morning, y'all! I'm enjoying my first 'normal' weekend in the new house. Every box has been unpacked. Every thing has at a least a temporary home. We have no visitors, which is bittersweet. It was wonderful to have family in town for almost two weeks, but it's nice to get used to this new normal.

What I'm reading (and finishing, if all goes well) today:
Thus, I'm enjoying my favorite of Sunday traditions, the lazy Sunday. While, I may be physically lazy today, I do hope to finish both of my current reads: Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti and How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti. As there titles imply, both are provocative and thought-provoking. And although I didn't intend to read them together, they make fascinating companion reads. If I do manage to finish both today, I will have read fou…