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Showing posts from October, 2013

audiobook review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

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narrated by Robin Miles

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

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

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

graphic memoir reviews: March and Nylon Road

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March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell

The basics: Civil rights icon and long-serving Congressional Representative John Lewis recounts his life in this graphic memoir, the first in a planned trilogy. Book One covers his childhood through the Nashville Student Movement, as well as flashbacks of a young family visiting Lewis's DC office today.

My thoughts: I was proud to live in Lewis's Congressional district in Atlanta for many years, and I have long been fascinated by his life, both past and present. (And, yes, I still wish everyday I still had him as a Representative.) The events in March: Book One will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Lewis (and the second half to those who have seen Stanley Nelson's excellent documentary Freedom Riders.) What March does best is provide context for the omnipresent and harrowing racism. By having two children asking questions (there visit poetically coincides with Barack Obama's inauguration) fill…

book review: Stranger in the Room by Amanda Kyle Williams

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The backstory: Stranger in the Room is the second in the Keye Street series. I raved about the first, The Stranger You Seek, last week

The basics: Miki, Keye Street's globe-trotting photographer cousin, comes home to see a man in her house and bolts. She's felt someone watching her off and on for years, but given her history of drug use and psychiatric hospitals, the police may not have followed up properly. Meanwhile, Rouse is investigating the death of a thirteen-year-old whose body was left in plain sight. Keye is also keeping busy with her P.I. business and treks to North Georgia to investigate a crematorium.

My thoughts: I tend to approach the second novel in a series with trepidation. As a reader, I seek out series partly for elements of the familiar, but I also seek them out with a desire to keep being surprised. If the structure and end are too similar, I fear other books will only include more of the same. Delightfully, Stranger in the Room is a very different novel t…

film review: The Bling Ring by Sofia Coppola

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The backstory: The Bling Ring is the latest film written (adapted from a Vanity Fair article) and direct by Sofia Coppola. I'm a huge Sofia Coppola fan (my review of Somewhere.)

The basics: Based on true events, The Bling Ring is the story of the rise and fall of five teenagers who visit and rob celebrity homes when the owners are out of town.

My thoughts: There's a starkness to Sofia Coppola's films I enjoy. Even in this film, whose subjects are almost comically extravagant, there is a starkness, in both sound and visuals, that firmly establishes this film as critical rather than sensationalist. Yet Coppola doesn't strong arm the preposterousness of these teenagers; she allows them to present themselves as they did, both privately and publicly. Admittedly, my enjoyment of this film was somewhat hampered because I was so familiar with the story. I found myself enjoying the first half more, as I often do with films based on true events. The genesis was more fascinating th…

book review: My Education by Susan Choi

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The basics: When Regina Gottlieb begins a graduate program in English at a prestigious upstate New York university, she was familiar with the rumors about Professor Nicholas Brodeur. When she accepts a job as his teaching assistant, the novel takes off.

Note: This review references some minor spoilers. All spoilers discussed are mentioned in the publisher's summary, which means some may not consider them spoilers, but as I reader, I did.

My thoughts: I have somewhat complicated thoughts about My Education. I adore novels about higher education, and this one started off thoroughly enmeshed in the culture of both the university and a town that sound very much like Cornell and Ithaca, New York to me. Regina is a fascinating enough character, and as Choi makes her intentions clear, my interest was certainly piqued. As a reader, I was surprised the first twist of sorts was soon followed by my own disengagement with the characters.

The middle of My Education was at times tough-going for m…

a pair of graphic novel reviews: Agent Gates and Blue is the Warmest Color

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Agent Gates by Kyle Hilton and Camaren Subhiyah

The basics: What if fan favorite valet Bates were a secret agent with a bionic leg protecting the royal crown? Agent Gates takes that idea and runs with it.

My thoughts: Agent Gates is escapist fan fiction at its best. The characters will be familiar to any fan of Downton Abbey, and the writers keep them just close enough to their fictional counterparts to be fabulously believable. It's a fun fun, preposterously awesome adventure that is the perfect thing to tide me over until January when season four makes its way stateside.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 128 pages
Publication date: January 1, 2013
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Agent Gates from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maron

The basics: Fresh on the heels of the film adaptation of this French-language graphic novel winning the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, an English translation is finally available.

My thoughts: I still have a soft…

book review: The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

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The backstory: The Stranger You Seek is the first novel in Amanda Kyle Williams' Keye Street series.

The basics: Set in Atlanta, The Stranger You Seek introduces Keye Street, a former behavioral analyst for the FBI and current private investigator. Street, an Asian-American adopted by a white couple (who later adopted a black boy, who turns out to be gay), witnessed the murders of her grandparents as a child. After years of being a functioning alcoholic, she's sober, divorced and trying to build her business. When a serial killer begins terrorizing Atlanta, her longtime friend (and head of homicide), Rauser, calls Keye in to consult.

My thoughts: If I have a quibble about first in a series mystery novels, it's that the main character is always far too close to the action. Here: it works. The Wishbone killer is savage brutal, and he's exactly the kind of person who would reach out to those working the case and amp up the fun and challenge. I also have a soft spot for nove…

mini-movie reviews: three films I highly recommend

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I adore Marion Cotillard. Knowing she stars in Rust and Bone was enough to put it at the top of my Netflix queue, and I sat down to watch it knowing nothing of the plot. Incidentally, that's exactly how I recommend you watch it too. To describe the plot gives too much away, so I'll say these two things: Marion Cotillard's performance blew me away with its power and rawness and it's the best film I've seen this year. That she was only nominated for a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award and not an Oscar astounds me.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Source: Netflix

Although I stopped paying attention to most sports several years ago, I do still watch as much of the four tennis grand slams as I can each year. There's a peace to letting sports into my life four times a year for two weeks at a time. Serena Williams remains my all-time favorite tennis player. She's far from perfect, but I love to watch her play. This documentary goes behind the scenes of the 2011 tennis season, …