Showing posts from July, 2013

The Backlist Book Club: Affinity discussion

It's the last day of the month, which means it's time to discuss The Backlist Book Club July read. I did manage to finish Affinity in time, but I'm still processing and articulating my thoughts about it. I'll post a review next week, but in the mean time, there is much to discuss! If you haven't read Affinity yet, be warned: spoilers abound!

Feel free to join in conversations and strings that interest you--and please pose more questions in the comments too. If you'd like to follow the discussion today (and perhaps for a few days), please consider subscribing to future comments so you don't miss any. Tune in tomorrow to see what you voted on for our August pick!

1. Which character was your favorite?

2. What surprised you most in this novel?

3. What disappointed you in this novel?

4. To whom would you recommend this novel?

5. Let's talk about the twist. Did you see it coming? Did you like it? Did it change your thoughts on the book?

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book review: Death Angel by Linda Fairstein

The backstory: Death Angel is the fifteenth (!) mystery in Linda Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper series. I've read (and loved) them all. (A series note: while you could enjoy this mystery if you haven't read others in the series, the personal storylines likely won't be nearly as satisfying to new readers.)

The basics: When the body of a young homeless girl is found in Central Park, detectives Mercer Wallace and Mike Chapman, along with prosecutor Alexandra Cooper, work quickly to identify her and figure out if there's a connection to a series of cold cases in New York City's lowest crime area.

My thoughts: Fairstein's mysteries all feature a deep history of one aspect of New York. In Death Angel, it's Central Park, something most readers think they're familiar with. When Fairstein is at her best, which she certainly is in Death Angel, the New York history is as riveting as the mystery (or in this case mysteries) itself.

I discovered this series in the sp…

Sunday Salon: Is This July?

It's a little after 9 a.m., and there's a chill in the July. I'm in absolute heaven with these record-setting low temperatures. We have all the windows open, and I find myself wandering from room to room, enjoying our open house immensely. I hope the weather is just as divine where you are!

What I'm reading now
I'm hoping to finish Affinity this afternoon or tomorrow. I'm enjoying it immensely, but I've having trouble concentrating for very long when reading in print. (I don't blame the book.) Affinity is the Backlist Book Club pick this month, so I'll be reviewing it promptly as we're set to discuss it Wednesday.

For the first time ever, I'm racing through audiobooks more quickly than print or ebooks. I have developed an addiction to Candy Crush Saga, and I feel less bad about playing when I'm also listening to an audiobook.  I'm also listening while running errands, fiddling around the house, cleaning, and at the gym. I'…

a pair of audiobook reviews: My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor & Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

narrated by Rita Moreno

The basics: Sonia Sotomayor, the newest U.S. Supreme Court justice, writes about her life until she became a judge.

My thoughts: I didn't know much about Sonia Sotomayor going into this memoir. I knew her appointment to the Supreme Court was historic because she was the first Hispanic on the Court, as well as only the third woman. Something you may not know about me: when I was younger, I wanted to be a judge. I was convinced I could tolerate a few years as a lawyer if I had to, but I was destined for being a judge. Clearly, that didn't happen, but I delighted in Sotomayor's childhood dream of becoming a judge too. She has perseverance I don't, and I appreciated her methodical approach to everything. She's unbelievably driven and inspiring.

Favorite passage:  "You cannot value dreams according to their odds of coming true. Their real value is in stirring within us the will to aspire. That will, wherever it finally leads, does at least move…

Thursday TV: Orange is the New Black, Season One

Thursday TV is a semi-regular feature where I talk about TV....on Thursday. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Thursday tv posts on your blog too!

After meaning to read Piper Kerman's memoir Orange is the New Black since I first read an excerpt of it in Marie Claire in 2010. I finally squeezed it in audio in advance of its premiere on Netflix last Thursday. (It was fabulous--if you haven't read it, I strongly recommend the audio narration by Cassandra Campbell!) So how does the show measure up?

In short: it's lewd, shrewd, brilliant, hilarious, tragic, haunting and beautiful. The first few episodes are remarkably close to the memoir. The writers made some smart decisions about reordering sequences and flashbacks  that make it better tv, but almost everything in the first few episodes will be familiar to someone who has read the book. After a few episodes, however, Orange is the New Black goes off the rails in some beautiful and haunting ways. Piper Chapman (as s…

book review: Godiva by Nicole Galland

The basics: Godiva is fictional retelling of the infamous Lady Godiva, her husband, and best friend Lady Abbess Egdiva.

My thoughts: I'm particularly fascinated by old, old history. There's something about trying to imagine life more than a few hundred years ago that challenges my mind. This phenomenon is at least partly attributable to my lack of knowledge about the actual history of these time periods, but Lady Godiva is a name I've heard for years and was curious to learn more about someone who definitely fulfills the bumper sticker, "well-behaved women rarely make history." Nicole Galland, a new-to-me author, makes Godiva come alive from the novel's first pages. I love dynamically drawn historical characters based on real people, and Godiva is a delightful one.

What I liked and appreciated about this novel even more, however, was how lively Galland drew the setting. Often I struggle with how to picture the world in old historical fiction, but as I read God…

audiobook review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

narrated by Cassandra Campbell

The backstory: Orange is the New Black has been adapted into a Netflix original comedy by Jenji Kohan (of Weeds.)

The basics: After graduating from Smith College, Piper Kerman was seeking adventure. She opted to stay in idyllic Northampton, Massachusetts, and she started dating Nora, an enchanting lesbian who turned out to be part of an international drug smuggling operation. Piper briefly participated too. Five years later, federal agents arrest her, and she must go to jail for fifteen months. Orange is the New Black chronicles her time in a women's prison.

My thoughts: I have a bizarre fascination and fear of prison. Not that I have a urge to break the law to begin with, but I am a poster child for doing all I can to avoid ever going to jail or prison. The first chapter of Orange is the New Black is armchair adventure at its best: Piper and Nora travel the world, visit exotic places, and part of me started thinking--maybe it would be all worth it. Wha…

The Backlist Book Club: It's Time to Vote for our August 2013 read!

Can y'all believe it's the middle of July already? I'm currently devouring our July Backlist Book Club pick, Affinity by Sarah Waters. Look for my review later this week! It's time to start voting for our August pick. The theme I've selected for August 2013 is Orange Prize winners. I'm still (slowly) working my way through all of the winners, shortlists and longlists, and this pick will help me with that ongoing project. I'm excited about the prospect of all four of these much-beloved modern classics, so I'm eager to see which one y'all most want to read! As always, voting will be open until noon (Central time) on July 31, and I'll announce the winner on August 1. I'll review the title in mid-August and host a discussion on August 31. Without further ado, here are the options:


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 b…

book review: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

The backstory: Flight Behavior was shortlisted for the 2013 OrangePrize for Women's Fiction.

The basics: Dellarobia is a young, married mother of two in Appalachia. When Monarch butterflies are discovered in the woods behind their home, their land becomes a spectacle of sorts.

My thoughts: There's a fabulous moment in Center Stage (one of my all-time favorite films) when Peter Gallagher's character says "I need to see the movement, not the effort behind it." That sentiment perfectly fits my thoughts on Flight Behavior: As I read, I saw the effort behind the novel rather than the novel itself. I don't necessarily mean that as a criticism. Flight Behavior is a novel I quite enjoyed, but it wasn't one that swept me away. I never felt the characters were real people, but they were well-formed. I didn't feel Flight Behavior was set in actual Appalachia, but rather an idyllic version of it. Still, I loved the experience of reading this novel. Kingsolver's…

book review: The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner

The basics: The Queen's Vow is a historical novel about Isabella of Castile, from her young childhood through her reign as queen.

My thoughts: I'm typically a huge fan of historical fiction featuring strong female characters. Yet as I read The Queen's Vow, I struggled to articulate why I wasn't really enjoying it. I read it quickly, and I was impressed with Gortner's use of historical language. This was certainly not a novel guilty of having historical figures speak in modern vernacular. The novel, too, was firmly rooted in its time. Gortner writes with a rich detail about life in 1400's Spain, yet he doesn't treat the reader as dumb. He strikes a delicate balance in this regard. So what is it that kept me from truly immersing myself in this novel? I'm still not sure, but I know this: I didn't quite buy Isabella.

I'm not an expert on Isabella herself, so I won't speak to the historical accuracy of her character. I will, however, speak to Isab…

Sunday Salon: It's Great to Be Home

Have I mentioned how good it is to be home? I love ALA, the city of Chicago, and traveling, but I also really love my house. After one of the worst days of traveling in my life, it was particularly sweet to make it home this week. And a short work week with plenty of time for reading, watching television, films, and relaxing is exactly what I needed after being gone for four nights last week. After working yesterday, I'm also really looking forward to a "second weekend," as I'm off today and tomorrow.

What I'm reading: Now and Next
I'm currently enjoying Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (review coming Wednesday) in print. I'm glad to be reading it over the weekend because Kingsolver's chapters are long and involved. It's a wonderful novel to spend hours at a time with. I'm also listening to What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty on audio. It's one of my book club's picks for August, and, for once, I'm hoping to be done with both A…

book review: The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey

The backstory: After devouring Michael Harvey's first mystery featuring ex-cop turned private investigator Michael Kelly in a day, The Chicago Way, I immediately picked up The Fifth Floor, the second in the series.

The basics: The titular fifth floor refers to the location of the Chicago mayor's office, a sure sign Harvey is once again tackling a story of political intrigue. When an old girlfriend asks Michael Kelly to track her husband, who works for the mayor, Kelly doesn't anticipate discovering a dead body while he does so. Soon he finds himself solving multiple mysteries, including this murder, stretching from the Chicago fire of 1871 to the present.

My thoughts: Rarely do I like to read two of an author's books back to back, let alone two in a series without a break, but before I had even finished The Chicago Way, I'd requested the other three titles in the series from the library. One of the things I love most about Michael Harvey's writing is the way he m…

film thoughts: Flight and Zero Dark Thirty

There's a lot to like in Flight: Denzel as a alocholic, drug-taking all-star pilot, a delightfully cooky John Goodman has his drug dealer/fixer/enabler, and a compelling idea for a film. After a night of drinking and sex with a flight attendant, Denzel wakes up to chug a warm beer and do several lines of cocaine to wake himself up enough to fly. It appears to be his standard operating procedure. When things go wrong during the flight, he manages to land the plane and save almost all of the passengers, but when the TSA and airline start looking into what happened, his hero status is in serious jeopardy. What made flight turn from fascinating to unsatisfying for me was that it tried to hard: there were already plenty of areas of moral ambiguity and complicated situations playing out--but instead of allowing those to, the film takes an overly dramatic and simplistic turn that had me wondering if I was watching a made-for-tv movie. Denzel's performance is worth watching, but this…

book review: Loteria by Matio Alberto Zambrano

The backstory: Loteria is the first novel by Mario Alberto Zambrano.

The basics: 11-year-old Luz slowly fill the reader in on her life and family by journaling based on Loteria cards, a Mexican version of bingo that uses images rather than numbers.

My thoughts: Loteria is a complicated little novel. I say little because although it has 288 pages, I read it in about two hours, and I am not that fast of a reader. There are many short chapters and each one begins with a full-page image of a mostly relevant Loteria card. For much of the first half of this novel, I was confused. Zambrano doesn't introduce the reader to the story; he throws you right in. You have no context. Several times I found myself flipping to the publisher's description and wondering "did I miss that?" The more I read, however, the more details fall into place and Luz's writing makes more sense. I was glad I saved this novel for the airplane, as it was perfect to read in a couple of sittings over t…

book review: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

The backstory: Curtis Sittenfeld's previous novel, American Wife, remains my all-time favorite novel.

The basics: Sisterland is the story of Violet and Kate, twin sisters who both are somewhat psychic. In adulthood, Vi has embraced her powers and works as a psychic. Kate, however, has disavowed her powers in an attempt to live a 'normal', happy life with her husband, a professor of science, and two children. When a minor earthquake hits St. Louis, Vi predicts a major one coming soon, and her prediction makes her an instant celebrity. Meanwhile, Kate shares a sense of Vi's prediction, while Jeremy does not.

My thoughts: I adore the way Curtis Sittenfeld writes. I was highlighting my e-galley compulsively as I read. She builds the world and her characters beautifully and honestly. She inserts beautifully detailed observations that stopped me cold:
"The feeling that gripped me in this moment was similar to what I imagined the relatives of an alcoholic must experience w…