Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's one of my favorite days of the year! It's also perhaps the only day I willingly and excitedly wake up early. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of my favorite past times. I'm settled into my lady lair (where the digital antenna can actually pull in NBC) with a glass of sparkling wine with a splash of cherry juice (yum!) And Paleo cinnamon rolls are almost done baking in the oven.

The Meal
Mr. Nomadreader and I are once again hosting my parents and grandmother for a Thanksgiving feast. The main event this year is a maple and spiced apple cider brined pork loin. It's been in the brine for 24 hours, and I cannot wait to taste it. Hosting Thanksgiving is a newer tradition, but this is the third year in a row we've done it. I particularly love not having to travel, so I can just relax and enjoy a long weekend with family...and books. I'm blessed he does most of the cooking while I enjoy the parade too!

The Rest of the Day...and the weekend
After the big meal is over, I'm looking forward to a quiet evening reading by the Christmas tree. I'm currently devouring Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (I adored Game Change) and enjoying my first Philippa Gregory novel, The Lady in the River. I hope to finish both this weekend during Thankfully Reading. I'm planning to devote the rest of the year to reading the 2013 releases I haven't read yet, as well as continuing to read 2014 releases to be ahead when the new year begins. I'm also still tweaking a few things on the new blog design. I'm really pleased with it so far and have enjoyed reading your comments and reactions to it!

Giving thanks
Two years ago in my Thanksgiving post, I gave thanks to Mr. Nomadreader, my job, this blog, being home, and winter. If I were making the list today, it would look much the same. Home is now our house, and it's particularly special to be spending our first holidays in a house I hope to live in for many, many years. In a year I contemplated giving up this blog many, many times, I'm particularly thankful to have found my way back to the joy of blogging. Much of that is a credit to you, my readers. When I started blogging almost seven years ago, I guarded my privacy fiercely. I never could have imagined how close I would come to be with so many other book bloggers. It all started with leaving comments on each other's blogs, but I'm thankful to call so many book bloggers friends. I'm thankful for all of our interactions on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I never thought I would be Facebook friends with people I have never met in real life, but I feel I know so many of you so well after years of virtual communicating about books and life. This blog has brought me more joy than I could have ever imagined, and I look forward to many more years of it.

Now tell me: what are you thankful for this year?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

audiobook review: Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan

narrated by Terry McMillan, Phylicia Rashad, Michael Boatman, and Carole DeSanti

The basics: Who Asked You? is the story of Betty Jean, a hardworking hotel room service worker, and her family and friends. As the novel opens, Betty Jean's daughter Trinetta drops two of her three children, each of whom has a different father, for Betty Jean to care for indefinitely. Betty Jean is already struggling with caring for her ill husband, who has a daytime nurse care for him while Betty Jean is at work. One of her sons is in prison. The other never visits and rarely communicates. Her two sisters are always eager to share their opinions. Betty Jean's main source of support is her best friend and neighbor Tammy, who faces family struggles of her own.

My thoughts: How Stella Got Her Groove Back is one of my all-time favorite novels. I have read it more times than any other novel in my adulthood. Perhaps because I first read it in high school and re-read it throughout college and my early twenties, I foolishly assumed I had outgrown McMillan. Who Asked You? felt like reconnecting with an old friend, and it reaffirmed my love for Terry McMillan and her ability to create so many life-like characters in a singular narrative.

I was instantly enchanted with this novel and its characters. The novel opens in Betty Jean's voice, and she orients the reader (or listener in my case) to this extended cast of characters beautifully. While there is a large cast of characters, I was never confused and never struggled to tell them apart. Even more remarkably, although Betty Jean is perhaps the core character, as all other characters have a connection to her, she is not the main character in a traditional sense. There are so many narrators who make the story even more rich and layered. The reader sees the motivations and reactions of all the characters, even when they lack self-awareness.

Audio thoughts: I realize more and more how much I enjoy multiple narrators in a book with so many narrators. Phylicia Rashad voiced the older black women, Terry McMillan voiced the younger black women, Carole DeSanti voiced the white women, and Michael Boatman voiced all of the men. Initially, I expected each narrator to only voice one character, but I soon realized how many narrators McMillan was utilizing. One particular delight: Phylicia Rashad narrating a character's thoughts about not measuring up to Clair Huxtable. The narrators all handled scenes with laughter, pain, and wisdom beautifully. DeSanti's narration left me cold at first, but as the novel went on, I think it made sense.

The verdict: Who Asked You? is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. Listening to this novel was like hanging out with friends so close they might as well be family, and I have missed their presence in my life since I finished this novel.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 10 hours 2 minutes (401 pages)
Publication date: September 17, 2013
Source: purchased

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

Want more? Visit Terry McMillan'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!

Monday, November 25, 2013

audiobook review: Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain

narrated by Christina Delaine

The backstory: Let Me Go is the sixth novel in Chelsea Cain's Gretchen Lowell and Archie Sheridan series. My reviews of the first five: Heartsick, Sweetheart, Evil at Heart, The Night Season, and Kill You Twice. If you haven't read this series (and like a compelling serial killer story), all of them are on sale for less than $7 for Kindle, and the first is only $2.99.

The basics: It's Halloween in Portland. It's also Archie's birthday. And Gretchen is still on the loose. Archie dreads the holiday and fears how many will dress as Gretchen for Halloween, giving her the perfect opportunity to blend in and make an appearance.

My thoughts: This series is one of my favorites. It is dark and disturbing, but Cain infuses these characters with so much humanity and has built this world so well that the violence and psychological terror are never cheap ploys; they're compelling insight into the mind of a brilliant, flawed villain and the hold she has over Archie. There are so many complex webs of relationships present in Let Me Go. As I listened, I marveled at how many details from past books came into play. I'm curious how many of the stories told in Let Me Go were mapped out many books ago. Cain deftly builds upon the past details of this series and puts events in past books into new light. There were certainly a few scenes so brutal they were hard to listen to, but they always serve a greater purpose in Cain's books, and I admire her ability to tell such bold, dark stories in a beautifully humane way.

Audio thoughts: After reading the first five in print, it was a transition to listen to this one. In some ways, this transition is similar to seeing the film version of a novel, but I soon adjusted to Delaine's excellent narration. What I particularly liked was her patience. Chelsea Cain's novels are so addictive I sometimes find myself reading faster and faster, yet Delaine took the time to pause and build even more suspense.

The verdict: Let Me Go is a wonderful installment in a series that is one of my favorites. The complicated relationships Archie Sheridan has continue to add nuance. It's a testament to Cain that I struggle to clearly delineate between these novels--the characters continue to develop and grow, and it's impossible to really assess these novels individually. Let Me Go in particular draws on past details and nuance beautifully, and I can't wait to see where Cain takes these characters next.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 13 hours 3 minutes (368 pages)
Publication date: August 13, 2013
Source: purchased

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

Want more? Visit Chelsea Cain'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!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Salon: Reign-inspired reading, Catching Fire thoughts, and colder weather

It's so nice to be Salon-ing two weekends in a row. I'm planning to hunker down at home today, as even my cold-weather-loving self finds single-digit temperatures when the sun is out quite cold. While I should run a few errands, when facing a two-day work week, it's easy to find reasons to just stay home and read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors. I've read some of its essays before, but I'm still enjoying them again. Look for my review on December 10th.

On Catching Fire
Yesterday, Mr. Nomadreader and I had a rare day off together. Even more rare: it was a Saturday. We celebrated by having a delicious brunch at Le Jardin, a recently resurrected Des Moines restaurant. In typical Des Moines fashion, we ran into friends and acquaintances while we were there. Then we headed to the mall (the horror!) and enjoyed a few martinis before settling in for an afternoon showing of Catching Fire. I adored the book when I read it four (!) years ago (my review), and it remains my overwhelming favorite in the series. I don't have enough to say about the film to write a full review (at least not yet), but I will say it was visually stunning and well-acted. The violence bothered me, but I think being in a theater filled with middle school children impacted my enjoyment. After hearing Philomena had to appeal its R-rating (based on two uses of the f-word) down to a PG-13, it was sobering to watch a violent film cruise through with an undeserved, in my opinion, PG-13 rating. I shouldn't fault Catching Fire for its rating, but it is a reminder of the vastly different impact a story can have in print and in film. I was enchanted for most of the film's two and a half hours, but when it was over I debated how many stars I would give it. In the end, I give it 4 out of 5.

On Reign
Reign, the new Mary Queen of Scots teen drama on the CW, has been saved in my Hulu queue since its late (by fall network tv standards) premiere. This week Mr. Nomadreader worked an unusually high number of nights, and I was in the mood for some extra television time. I finally sat down to watch the premiere and was surprised how much I like it. It's my favorite new show of the year. I managed to limit myself to one episode a day and am now completely caught up.

My world history knowledge is admittedly awful. I switched schools between 9th and 10th grade. At my old school, world history was a 10th grade class. At my new school, it was a 9th grade class, so I never took it in high school. In college I majored in art history (and women's studies and journalism), so I satisfied most history requirements with art courses. I know a lot about world history as it relates to particular art movements, but that leaves a lot of holes. I ended up taking one world history course as a summer class and remember nothing except the riveting research for the term paper I wrote on British suffragists Pankhurst sisters. Most of what I know about world history I've learned from art, fiction and film. Aside from Catherine de Medici (played my childhood favorite Megan Follows!), I know no one in Reign. Admittedly, the show is not necessarily the most accurate history lesson, but I long to know more about this time period. I know Philippa Gregory is a favorite author of many, and Jennifer from Literate Housewife has this fabulous list of the order of her books in terms of chronological setting. I picked up The Lady of the Rivers at the library Friday and hope to dig into it soon.

Now tell me: what Mary Queen of Scots-era (or before or after) historical titles are must-reads? What Philippa Gregory titles should I avoid? Should I finally bite the bullet and read Wolf Hall?

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, November 20, 2013

book review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

The basics: In future Chicago, everyone is part of one of five factions: Erudite, Candor, Dauntless, Abnegation, or Amity. Each year, sixteen-year-olds take a test to determine in which faction they belong. For Beatrice, the test doesn't work. She is a rare divergent, who fits in more than one faction, but she must choose which one will be her home.

My thoughts: I'm intentionally late to the Divergent party. The third (and final) book in the trilogy came out a few weeks ago, and the film comes out in March 2014. After The Hunger Games, I learned I'd rather wait until all three volumes of a trilogy are published to dive in.

First, how much do I love Veronica Roth for choosing those names for the factions? I early await the increased vocabulary of the teens reading these books. I was swept up in the world of Divergent immediately. As I read, I found myself contemplating which faction I would have chosen (Erudite), as if I would really be faced with the choice. I was also struck with how visual this story is. I knew the film is coming, but the action is richly cinematic, and I can't wait to see it translated for the big screen.

I don't read much young adult anymore, and there are some tropes that annoy me about it that are present in Divergent. Tris, perhaps realistically, doesn't understand why a cute, older boy would show any interest her, even while he is showing interest in her. At times she is annoyingly slow to realize things that are obvious. Thankfully, these moments of her self-doubt aren't ubiquitous, and the action is so fast-paced, I didn't have to dwell on her unflattering moments of being a teenager. In truth, she probably needs these faults to keep her from being annoyingly perfect.

Favorite passage: "Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again."

The verdict: Divergent is a delightfully compelling read. Danger, politics, death, adventure, and love are all wrapped up in a compelling dystopian future. While Tris's interior monologue doesn't offer much insight, the well-drawn cast of characters and fast-paced action kept me quickly turning the pages.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 501 pages
Publication date: May 3, 2011
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Divergent from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition--it's only $3.99 right now!)

Want more? Visit Veronica Roth's website 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!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

book review: Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

The backstory: Someone Else's Love Story is the November SheReads Book Club selection.

The basics: Shandi Pierce, a twenty-one-year-old college student raising three-year-old genius Natty, meets William Ashe, a man devastated by the loss of his wife and daughter, when they're both in a Circle K when it's robbed. This strong, shared connection lingers as they navigate

My thoughts: I've heard so many of you singing the praises of Joshilyn Jackson for years, so I was excited the SheReads Book Club finally forced me to read one of her novels. I picked it up knowing nothing about it, and I particularly appreciated the novels surprises because they were unexpected. Shandi and William take turns narrating the story, and I enjoyed seeing their shared experiences through both of their eyes. Initially, the pace felt slow. I longed for the first part, when they're held hostage in the Circle K, to end. I could sense the entire novel wouldn't take place in the Circle K, and I wanted to know what would happen to all of them after the robbery. Admittedly, I enjoyed the novel more once the after became the present. Each time I started to lose faith in the story, Jackson pulled me back in with a surprising twist that explained away my hesitations. While I didn't know what to expect when I started Someone Else's Love Story, my expectations kept changing as I read and the story moved in surprising directions.

The verdict: Someone Else's Love Story is a novel filled with humor, grace, friendship, and love. It's also a novel with quite a few unexpected turns. These turns kept me turning the pages and celebrating the delicate humanity of the characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: November 19, 2013
Source: publisher via SheReads Book Club

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Someone Else's Love Story from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? See all the SheReads member reviews, visit Joshilyn Jackson'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!

Monday, November 18, 2013

book review: Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

The backstory: After loving all three of Audrey Niffenegger's earlier graphic novels, The Adventuress, The Three Incestuous Sisters, and The Night Bookmobile, I was eager to read her latest, Raven Girl.

The basics: When a postal carrier falls in love with a raven and takes her to live with him, they're both surprised her baby turns out to be human, but still birdlike. The Raven Girl longs to be a raven, as she feels on the inside.

My thoughts: Audrey Niffenegger's graphic novels tend to include elements of magical realism, and Raven Girl is no different. I'm not a fan of fairy tales, per se, but those elements in Raven Girl worked well for me. Niffenegger quickly builds a world in which it makes perfect sense for a postal carrier to fall in love with a raven and build a life together. That sense of magic dissipates somewhat when Raven Girl grows up and goes to college. A darker magical realism emerges, and it wasn't as captivating for me. Niffenegger's drawings were stunning as always, but I wanted more of them. For a graphic novel, this one felt text-heavy.

The verdict: While Raven Girl didn't quite measure up to Niffenegger's earlier graphic novels, it is an enchanting tale and worth a read.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 80 pages
Publication date: May 17, 2013
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Raven Girl from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (no Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Audrey Niffenegger'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!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sunday Salon: drifting toward the end of my reading year

The Sunday Salon.comHappy Sunday (on Saturday!) It's been far too long since I've written a Salon post. Yesterday it was 65 degrees, which came after we had our first half-inch of snow on Monday. It's hard to believe it's mid-November, even though I put up two of our three Christmas trees weeks ago. To some, it's obscenely early, and part of me agrees, but it's also my favorite time of year, and I find I enjoy Thanksgiving so much more when it's part of one big holiday season rather than a beginning. I'm enjoying giving thanks and sharing holiday joy for all of November and December. Plus, it's our first holiday season in our new house, and it feels a little homier with my tree decorated with nostalgic ornaments.

This year has been a very strange reading (and blogging) year. To date, I've read only 75 books. While part of me knows 75 books is an accomplishment in some circles, I'm coming to realize I will most likely fall short of my goal of 100 books. Last year I read 118 books. After two years in a row reading more than 100 books a year, I hoped I'd turned a corner in reading. As I think about my reading life, I know I prefer quality over quantity, but I fear I'm falling behind in both categories. I'm not reading fewer books because I'm reading longer or more challenging books. The only solution, I know, is to spend more time reading and less time doing other things.

For the rest of 2013, I'm planning to alternate reading 2013 releases I can't believe I haven't read yet (that list is looooong) and reading 2014 releases (I've already read two!) There's never enough time to read all the new releases I'd like to, nor is there enough time to catch up on all the backlist titles I've been meaning to read for far too long. What I have been enjoying immensely lately, however, is cutting way back on accepting review copies for specific dates. I've always been a moody reader, but lately I find myself thoroughly enjoying indulging whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.

Now tell me: what's on your "must read before the end of the year list?" 

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, November 7, 2013

book review: The Preservationist by Justin Kramon

The basics: Julia, a first-year student at a small Pennsylvania College, is recovering from tragedy. Sam, a loner who works at the college and harbors a fascination with Julia, is struggling to come to terms with turning forty. Marcus, a fellow first-year student, seems to have secrets of his own, as well as a fascination with Julia.

My thoughts: Everybody seemed to rave about Finny, Justin Kramon's debut novel I somehow never got around to reading. When I heard he wrote a thriller for his second book, I was intrigued. When I began the novel, I was enchanted. Kramon succinctly and beautifully described characters as he introduced them, and as characters observed one another. The stage was set for a creepy, literary novel, and this time of year is perfect.

Unfortunately, the novel soon began to flounder for me. The well-described characters soon began acting more like fictional characters than believable people. Kramon seemed to be letting intrigue drive the story rather than characters. There were too many obvious tropes and too few characters to shoulder their burden. Soon before the reveal, there were a few too many red herrings that detracted from the overall creepiness. (And unless I missed something, there was one glaring red herring left unexplained that frustrates me.) Once Kramon confirmed my suspicions, the novel was more intriguing, but I'd stop short of calling it a true thriller. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed the novel enough to read it in two sittings. I was always engaged with it, but too often I found myself pondering Kramon's motivations rather than being swept away by the story and characters.

Favorite passage: "What do you write?" "Just stories. Some of them are things that happened to me. Some are things I made up. There's so much to write about in the world."

The verdict: Kramon thoroughly demonstrates a talent for describing characters, world building and constructing sentences. Unfortunately, the plot falls flat due its unsurprising twists. While readers who haven't read many psychological thrillers may be surprised, too many of the twists were too easily figured out to satisfy me. Kramon did, however, make me a fan of his writing, and while I wait for his next novel, I'll finally take the time to read Finny. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: October 1, 2013
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Preservationist from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit all of the tour stops, visit Justin Kramon'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!