Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Salon: Live from ALA!

Sunday Salon logo
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 my favorite audiobook narrators, Cassandra Campbell, reads it, which makes it particularly engaging. Next up: Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano, which I'll be reading on the airplane tomorrow and reviewing Wednesday.

What I'm watching: tv and film
Since I've been away, Mr. Nomadreader and I haven't been able to watch any Arrested Development. We did manage to sneak in Skyfall before I left, even though I fell asleep the first time we watched it and had to finish it a few days later (note: review coming, but my sleep was not due to the movie being boring. I was TIRED.) I've squeezed in a few episodes of Grey's Anatomy, and I'm in the middle of season six. I'm enjoying this season immensely and think they're smartly introducing characters and really having interesting stories.

What I did last night
Last night I had the privilege of going on a complimentary architectural boat tour of Chicago WITH AN OPEN BAR. And there was seriously delicious food. The weather made it pure heaven for me too: mid-60's. It was by far the best vendor event I've attended at any conference ever. And I took about a a gazillion pictures. If I have any complaint, it was that the boat moved too quickly, but our tour guide, an architecture graduate student, spoke as quickly as possible and shared an impressive amount of knowledge.

The Backlist Book Club
With just over an hour left in voting (voting closes at noon Central time today!), Affinity is still winning. If you're reading this before noon, you can squeeze in a last minute vote. The winner will be announced tomorrow.

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, June 23, 2013

Sunday Salon: the pre-ALA edition

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's Prize for Fiction this year. It's the perfect read for a hot weekend when I don't want to venture out of the house. I'm also still enjoying Dear Life by Alice Munro. There's something beautiful about waking up and reading a story each morning while I drink my coffee. I think I enjoy the sense of completion early in the day. I love to read my current novel in the morning too, but I always feel I'm breaking away to to go to work when I do. With a short story, the time seems more appropriately finite. I'm also still listening to Sonia Sotomayor's memoir My Beloved World on audio. It's wonderfully engaging, and I hope to finish all three this week.

Top of my TBR
I've been carefully keeping a pile of print books for the airplane rides. (Yes, I'm flying to Chicago--it's actually significantly cheaper than driving and paying to park for four nights.) Two July releases I'm eager to dig into are Tampa, perhaps the buzziest debut of the summer, by Alissa Nutting, and Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano. I've been saving these print galleys for just such an occasion. I never manage to get as much reading done at ALA as I intend to, but I hope to sneak in at least these two titles.

What I'm watching
I've managed to finish the fifth season of Grey's Anatomy and have just begin season six. It's not the best show on television, but it is one I thoroughly enjoy. The fifth season was quite good too, which was a relief after season four dipped a bit (I blame the writer's strike.) Mr. Nomadreader and I are almost finished with the first season of Arrested Development, which I continue to enjoy.

The Backlist Book Club
Voting is still open for the July pick. You may vote through noon on June 30, which is next Sunday. I'll announce the winner next Monday, July 1. Currently, Affinity is the leading vote getter.

Coming up on the blog this week

  • a review of Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • two brief film reviews
  • a review of Ignorance by Michele Roberts
  • a review of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
  • a review of The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey
  • a review of Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti
Now tell me: what are you reading, watching and doing this weekend?

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!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

book review: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

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 does not shy away from the horrors of dying in that way. It's difficult to read because Toibin, through Mary and with his own hand, emphasize the humanity of Jesus.

Favorite passage: "Oh, eternal life!" I replied. "Oh, everyone in the world!" I looked at both of them, their eyes hooded and something appearing dark in their faces. "Is that what it was for?" They caught one another's eye and for the first time I felt the enormity of their ambition and the innocence of their belief.

The verdict: Ultimately, I appreciated The Testament of Mary more in theory than in application. As I read, I was more enamored with the idea of this novella than the novella itself. In many ways, it was a fascinating read, but it wasn't a particularly satisfying one.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 96 pages
Publication date: November 13, 2012 
Source: publisher via Edelweiss

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Testament of Mary from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more? Visit Colm Toibin's website and like him 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!

Friday, June 21, 2013

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

The backstory: How Should a Person Be? was longlisted for the 2013 Orange Women'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 is caught up in her work:
"I had spent so much time trying to make the play I was writing--and my life, my self--into an object of beauty. It was exhausting and all that I knew."
This notion particularly stands out to me in this novel, because How Should a Person Be? is an exercise in the artist being part of the work. Where do the writer and character merge and overlap? This exploration was riveting, but soon it became clear there wasn't enough plot. The setup was lovely, but the book's second half felt more forced and stilted. I longed for more conversations and scenes like this one from earlier in the novel:
"One good thing about being a woman is we haven't too many examples yet of what a genius looks like. It could be me. There is no ideal model for how my mind should be. For the men, it's pretty clear. That's the reason you see them trying to talk themselves up all the time. 
Favorite passage:  "I will give up pot because it makes me paranoid. But I will stay close to God because he makes me paranoid."

The verdict: While I adore Heti's writing and love the idea of this book, the second half isn't as strong as the first half. As a whole, it's a disappointment, but it's certainly a book I'm glad I read. The moments of brilliance are definitely worth sifting through the rest.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: June 19, 2012 (it comes out in paperback Tuesday)
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy How Should a Person Be? from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Sheila Heti'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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

film thoughts: Star Trek & The Impossible

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 finally got a fifteen-year-old Degrassi joke.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: Redbox

The Impossible got some buzz for Naomi Watts during award season. Here she plays a doctor turned stay-at-home-mom to three boys who is vacationing with her children and husband (Ewan McGregor) in Thailand for Christmas 2004, when the tsunami hits. The film is based on a true story, which typically screams (spoiler alert!) 'all the main characters actually live' to me, which is fine, but this lack of suspense was somewhat heightened by the tsunami coming so early in the film. There was little to no character development, which made it rather dull at times. The acting was good, but this film suffered from pacing problems. The special effects of the tsunami were fabulous, and I might have uttered the phrase "Now that we have surround sound, we might need a bigger television." Seriously: The Impossible was fabulous in surround sound. Hearing the tsunami come from behind you is amazing. Ultimately, the end felt abrupt, and I cared more about the tsunami in total than its impact on this family.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Source: Netflix

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, June 19, 2013

book review: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

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. Pandora, too, is a fascinating character. Life so many Shriver narrators, she is somewhat brash, refreshingly honest and insightful, and beautifully formed. I did, however, chuckle at her use of the phrase "But, to my horror," because I could imagine almost any Shriver character using that phrase, despite their differences. What Shriver characters also tend to have in common is a clear view of both the world and themselves.

In addition to the fascinating character of Pandora, a woman I'm not sure I would actually want to be friends with, but one who fascinates me, is the powerful theme of family and obligation. As a stepmother and wife, Pandora in some ways feels she owes her brother more than her husband and his family:
"He's a sponger you're related to by accident. I'm your husband by choice. If you 'love' that loudmouth it's a kneejerk genetic thing; I'm supposed to be the real love of your life."
This tension is palpable throughout the novel, and it's one I keep coming back to. In most cases, of course, it's not a choice. Your 'chosen' family and the family you were born with can peacefully coexist. But how does it feel to have to choose, on some level, between the two? Shriver explores these ideas beautifully through Pandora, Edison and Fletcher. Each character's perspective makes sense, and their conflicting thoughts and feelings are beautifully realized.

Yet as fascinated as I was with these characters, they never seemed quite real to me. As I read, I got caught up in the ideas more than the stories themselves. I couldn't shake the sense that Shriver had an agenda and is more interested in making her readers think than in telling a story. I'm not opposed to either, but this novel often felt more like an exercise in thinking than a captivating story. Shriver's writing and observations are often profound and challenging, but I can't quite shake the feelings of being somewhat manipulated as I read.

Favorite passage: "If I held few opinions, I did cling to a handful--like the view that facts are not the same as beliefs, and that most people get them confused."

The verdict: I appreciated Big Brother more once I finished it. Is it an accomplished, intelligent, thoughtful novel? Absolutely. Is it one I will continue to think of and ponder? Yes. Was it a novel I loved while reading? Not always. Ultimately, it's a novel I appreciate and respect far more than I enjoyed it.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: June 4, 2013
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Big Brother from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Check out the entire tour schedule and like Lionel Shriver 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!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

film review: Before Midnight

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 captures a day in the life of Jesse and Celine. It's a day both ordinary and extraordinary. There are moments of whimsy and joy as they walk alone together exploring a city. But the heart of this film so much bigger than the other two. This film bravely explores what real life looks like for a couple with such an extraordinary story.

As I left the theater, I was crying, both because of the events of the film and because the story is once again over. With so much time spent anticipating this film, as a fan I go through a period of mourning at its end. It took me a few days to process it. When I left the theater, I wasn't sure when I would want to see it again because it was emotionally draining. I'm already ready, and I hope to see it this week. Now that I know what to expect, I want to sit back and enjoy it even more the second time (and on and on and on.)

The verdict: Before Midnight is a very different film than its predecessors. It's raw and painful to watch at times, but when I took a step back, I was able to fully embrace its honesty and bravery. The film's closing line is true perfection, and the film itself is pretty close to perfect too.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 109 minutes
Release date: It's in these theaters now 
Source: paid to see it at the Fleur Cinema

Monday, June 17, 2013

book review: The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey

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 character I trusted, even as I get to know his dark sides, was crucial.

While Michael Kelly is an intriguing character, it's the mysteries at the center of this novel that really make it special. Harvey packs a lot of action and twists into this novel. The pace is wonderfully frenetic, and I found myself stopping only to go to the library and pick up the second book in the series, which I began as soon as I finished this one. One reason the twists and betrayals in this novel are so satisfying is that Harvey, and by extension Kelly, exist in realistic shades of grey. There are clear bad guys in this novel, of course, but there's always something human about them too. It would be too easy to only have good characters and bad ones, and mercifully, neither Harvey nor Kelly take the easy way out.

The verdict: The Chicago Way is a gritty, contemporary mystery at its best. Michael Kelly is a character to root for, and given the depth of corruption in Chicago in this novel, that's a blessing. What makes this novel so good, however, is the mystery itself. It's complicated, smart and filled with fantastic twists.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 303 pages
Publication date: August 21, 2007 
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Chicago Way from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Michael Harvey's website, follow him on Twitter, and like him 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!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Salon: June storms and summer reading

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 least in the summer, when life is more mellow. I do like devoting time either first thing in the morning or right before bed for a short story. I'm two stories into the collection and am enjoying it. You all were right: Munro can write. Next up is Curtis Sittenfeld's forthcoming novel Sisterland

Top of my TBR

After a few months of waiting, it's finally my turn for a library ebook of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which was shortlisted for this year's Women's Prize for Fiction. I'm really looking forward to starting it once I finish Sisterland. I also have a giant pile (virtually and not) of summer and fall releases. 2013 seems to be an extraordinary year for fiction, both debut authors and old favorites. I'm most excited for Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano, Godiva by Nicole Galland, and Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel. 

What I'm watching on tv
I'm still somewhere in season four of Grey's Anatomy. I've been spending more time reading than watching tv this week. Mr. Nomadreader and I are also finally on the Arrested Development bandwagon and are thoroughly enjoying season one. And I'm still not missing satellite tv at all.

What films I've been watching
I'm still processing my reaction to Before Midnight, which we saw Friday night. I hope to have coherent thoughts to share with you all Tuesday.

The Backlist Book Club
Yesterday I announced the return of The Backlist Book Club. Voting is currently open for July, when the theme is Sarah Waters. You have until noon on June 30 (Central time) to vote. The July pick will be announced July 1.

Coming up on the blog this week
  • a review of The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey
  • a review of Before Midnight
  • a review of Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
  • a review of How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
  • a review of A Testament of Mary by Colm Toibon
Now tell me: what have you been reading, watching and doing this week?

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!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

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

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 read Tipping the Velvet, her first novel, shortly after it came out. I vividly recall being so enraptured on the couch of my college apartment that I read the last three hundred pages in one sitting. I loved it, but for some reason, I haven't read any Waters since then. All but one of her books qualify as backlist (published 1980-five years ago), so here are the choices (book covers take you to Amazon where you can learn more):

  • Tipping the Velvet (1999)
  • Affinity (2000)
  • Fingersmith (2002)
  • The Night Watch (2006)

The winning title will be announced on Monday, July 1st!

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!

Friday, June 14, 2013

audiobook review: Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm

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 thoughts: Carrington MacDuffie eagerly embraces her ability to create distinctive voices for each character. While I appreciated the clear voices for each character, some of the voices appeared distractingly hokey at first, particular Marnie, Stef's mother. As I got used to these voices, however, I found the voices quite illustrative of each character's quirks and whims.

The verdict: A surprisingly smart resolution and well-developed characters balance out the lack of whodunit; Death of an Artist is all about the how.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 288 pages (8 hours, 1 minute)
Publication date: March 27, 2012
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Death of an Artist from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Kate Wilhelm's website.

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, June 13, 2013

Thursday TV: on the serialization of television shows and novels

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 watch television the same way?

Think about it this way: imagine if we read novels in chapter intervals (or how the genre began--being serialized in magazines.) Can you imagine waiting a week until the next chapter? Can you imagine keeping up with twenty novels at a time at this same pace? I typically read two books at a time: one on audio and one in print or on my Kindle. I try to not have similar books going at the same time (i.e. two historical mysteries), and my brain can usually handle both. 

I've been noticing more and more, however, how many small details from television shows I forget over the course of a season, particularly with the spread out broadcast schedule that stretches 22 episodes over about seven months. Before abandoning my DVR, I was recording close to fifty series (although at least of them were on HGTV and several more were Mr. Nomadreader's favorite cartoons.) It's no wonder I'm savoring the ability to watch one show at a time, just as I enjoy reading one book at a time.

Now tell me: How many tv shows do you watch at a time?

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, June 12, 2013

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

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. In both books, Clare does end up trying to solve a crime related to her personal life, but it feel authentic.

What I like most about these books, however, is Kate herself. She's a fascinating character, but she's also a very real one. She's someone you'd like to have as a friend not because she's perfect and inspiring, but because she's one you could watch television on your couch while eating Chinese takeout food with. I also loved how much insight into producing reality television O'Donohue weaves into the narrative. O'Donohue herself was a television producer for years, and it shows.

The verdict: Kate is a character I absolutely adore. O'Donohue skillfully mixes Clare's work life, home life, and believable mystery into an entertaining story. While both of these books have two compelling mysteries in them, Kate is what really kept me turning the pages. Her journey was both more satisfying and more enjoyable than the mysteries themselves.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 280 and 288
Publication date: May 31, 2011 and April 24, 2012 
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Missing Persons from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.) Buy Life After Parole from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Clare O'Donohue's website, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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

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 see it (and why haven't you seen it already?!) or sound incredibly boring. It's not, and the chemistry between these two is phenomenal, while their conversations are funny, wise and fascinating.

At fourteen, I was already nomadic. I yearned to explore more of the world in person rather than just through books and films. I wanted to meet Jesse on that train, except I wanted Jesse to be European because I'm the America. (Truthfully, I would have loved to meet Celine on that train too, as a Parisian best friend still sounds amazing.) In so many ways, Before Sunrise was what I wanted out of life at the time. As I got older, that desire shifted, but I've always been one to look around, especially when traveling alone. Even though I'm not looking for love, I've had some amazing conversations with strangers on airplanes and trains. After all, I love to hear people's life stories (in real life and in fiction.)

Yet as I watched Before Sunrise Friday night, I was surprised to see it resonated more with me today than it did eighteen years ago. Perhaps it's partially to do with age. At fourteen, I wanted Before Sunrise to be real. At thirty-two, I see how incredibly rare this relationship is. At fourteen, I looked up to Jesse and Celine because they were nine years older. At thirty-two, they're nine years younger than I am. But it's also made more rare because of the continued story, something no one--fans, actors, or director--saw happening. Allow me to tell you how Before Sunrise ends: Jesse and Celine vow to meet on the same train track in six months. They don't exchange phone numbers or email addresses because they want to keep the magic of this night.

Before Sunset came out in 2004 and picks up with Jesse and Celine nine years later. It's a phenomenal film, and I still recall the nervous excitement I felt as I entered the theater in the summer of 2004 to see the film. I found out many years later, Mr. Nomadreader was there too, but I wouldn't meet him until over a year later (this story is one of many--the number of events we were both at, and places we both frequented before we met is almost comically long. It's also evidence that Atlanta is a really small town in a lot of ways.) When I left the theater, I declared Before Sunset my favorite film ever. I saw it several times in the theater and immediately bought it on dvd. As I traveled alone in Europe that summer, Before Sunset was heavily on my mind. I tried to recreate parts of Jesse and Celine's walk around Paris. I was intoxicated with the idea of a chance meeting with a stranger during my month of traveling Europe alone. (Spoiler: it didn't happen, but I did read a lot of great books, have some delightful conversations with strangers, see an incredibly number of historic sites and museums, and have one of the most amazing experiences of my life, which culminated with meeting up with two of my best friends in Greece for the 2004 Olympics.)

When I watched it Friday night, however, I think I preferred Before Sunrise. It's an increasingly silly comparison, of course, as it's harder to truly think of the films separately because they so beautifully form a picture of these character's lives. Admittedly, it's hard to think of them as fictional. In Before Sunset, I am suddenly the age of Jesse and Celine. It subtly shifts my perspective on some of their decisions, but their chemistry, physically, intellectually, and emotionally, is still amazing. I also have some idea of where their story is now, and it's the first time I've seen the film knowing where they will be nine years later.

On Friday, Before Midnight, the third film, comes out in Des Moines. Mr. Nomadreader and I are going to see it, and I cannot wait to see the next chapter in Jesse and Celine's lives. How will it impact my feelings on Before Sunrise and Before Sunset? I'll weigh in with my thoughts next Tuesday. How will I feel when I watch it in nine years when (fingers crossed) the fourth film comes out? Time will, I hope, tell.

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Before Sunrise and Before Sunset from Amazon.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

book review: Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

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 this one from shortly after Lamb and Tommie depart Chicago:
"How the social worker—with a long flat mane of strawberry blond hair graying at the temples—didn’t believe any of it. A handsome man who looks like some TV star befriends this unremarkable girl and takes her away? A man like that isn’t missed by his family? His boss? His wife, say? The whole thing told like a story made up by a child."
This passage is a beautiful microcosm of the novel. While a bystander might describe Lamb as a handsome tv star, the reader and Tommie already know him better than that. Just as Lamb and Tommie deal with internal conflicts about their secretive friendship and journey, the reader too must process the complexity of the situation. Nadzam never veers into oversimplified visions of good and evil or right and wrong; Lamb, the man and the novel, sit firmly in those complicated shades of grey.

Favorite passage: (hidden for spoilers, but you can highlight the text below to reveal it if you're so inclined.) "Eventually our old guy would look to her like a fluke, a mistake, a weird time she survived when she was eleven. In his memory she would become more beautiful, more dear. In hers, he’d be a monster."

The verdict: Lamb is complex and beautifully crafted tale. Lamb himself is a fascinating and flawed man, and his unreliable narration is at times a puzzle to put together: how far is his reality from reality? A delightful creepiness extends throughout this novel, but there are also moments of soft, quiet, beauty. That Nadzam managed all of this in her first novel is extraordinary.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 289 pages
Publication date: September 13, 2011
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Lamb from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition--currently only $3.49!)

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Salon: my 'new normal'

(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 four books so far this month. Considering I managed only three in all of May, I'd say I'm quite enjoying the 'new normal.'

Top of my TBR:
I'm a notoriously moody reader, so I always hesitate to say what I'll be reading next, but I'm been saving both Big Brother by Lionel Shriver and Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld to read closer to my review dates (June 19 and June 24, respectively.) Both are authors I've loved in the past, and longtime readers might recall Sittenfeld's last novel is the first I rated 6 out of 5 stars and remains my all-time favorite novel---so no pressure! I'm always eager to read new books by favorite authors, and both of these women certainly are favorites, but I'm also cautious not to expect too much and be disappointed. I'm also (finally) slowly making my through the Orange (Bailey's) Women's Prize longlist (and shortlist and winner) from this year.

What I've been watching:
In anticipation of Before Midnight opening in Des Moines on Friday, the third film in Richard Linklater's trilogy with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Mr. Nomadreader and I watched Before Sunrise (which I've seen approximately a gazillion times) and Before Sunset (which I've seen not as many times because it only came out nine years ago instead of eighteen.) Both films still resonate incredibly strongly with me, and I'm hoping to find a way to articulate those feelings for a post on Tuesday. As far as television, I'm still working by way through Grey's Anatomy. I'm almost through season three, which I think is when I stopped watching it on television. I've been doing more reading than television watching this week, and I'm quite pleased with that.

Coming up on the blog this week:
I'm planning to slip into my new posting schedule:

  • reviews on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays (despite my anemic reading in May, I still have a huge backlog, but eventually one of those days may not have reviews, as I rarely consistently read three books a week)
  • film reviews on Tuesdays
  • television reviews/thoughts on Thursdays (or a second film review)
  • Saturdays will be wild card days: I may or may not post. Those posts might be mini-book reviews (sometimes I just don't have much to say), links from around the web, things I've read in magazines, etc.
  • Sundays will be Salon days, and I hope to write them almost every week
Next weekend, also look for an exciting announcement about the future of The Backlist Book Club. I didn't intend to take six months off, but I'm glad I waited for inspiration about its future. I'm thrilled with its new structure (which incorporated many of your suggestions!), and I hope you will be too.

Now tell me: what are you reading/doing today?

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!