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Showing posts from December, 2013

book review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

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The backstory: Tampa was longlisted for the 2013 Flaherty-Dunnan Prize, an award sponsored by the Center for Fiction for the best debut novel of the year.

The basics: Twenty-six year-old Celeste Price is eager to start her new job teaching middle school in suburban Tampa. Her reason: access to fourteen-year-old boys, the only people to whom she is sexually attracted.

My thoughts: As I was raving about this novel to my husband shortly after I finished it, he (somewhat jokingly) said that I really enjoy novels about sexual deviance. Stumped, I asked him for other examples, and he promptly replied Room (which he was too disturbed by to finish and I call one of my all-time favorite reads.) Later, I realized I also adored Repeat It Today with Tears (my review), which is about a father-daughter love affair. It's true all of these novels share the theme of sexual deviance, but they're also about so much more than that, which is why I truly love them.

I read fiction for many reasons, bu…

book review: Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War by Jennifer Robson

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The basics: Lady Elizabeth Ashton, known to most as Lilly, has longed dreamed of a formal education and career. When World War I begins, she is at odds with her mother, who desperately wants her to find an appropriate husband, whereas Lilly wants to join the war effort.

My thoughts: Although this novel's subtitle indicates its about the Great War, the emphasis of the story is more on Lilly's search for independence and her love with war surgeon Robbie, the old roommate of her brother Edward. The hopefulness of both of these storylines shifts the tone of the novel away from the atrocities of war, even as its main characters continue to immerse themselves in it. For a novel about war, there is a surprising lack of somberness, as the narrating characters focus on their own fortune and nearly altruistic desire to help.

Underlying the novel are themes of class and its place in the war, a theme of which I'm quite fond. This time in history is a fascinating one (admittedly my love…

book review: Guilt by Degrees by Marcia Clark

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The backstory: Guilt by Degrees is the second mystery in Marcia Clark's Rachel Knight series. I reviewed the first, Guilt by Association, last week.

The basics: Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Rachel Knight ends up taking on the challenging case of a murdered homeless man, still unidentified, when she witnesses a fellow district attorney bungle the case in court. Rachel recruits detective Bailey Keller, also one of her two best friends, to help her solve the case.

My thoughts: Although it wasn't a perfect mystery, I adored Guilt by Association and Rachel Knight so much I started Guilt by Degrees as soon as I finished it. Some time has passed in the story between the two books, but Clark jumps right back into the action. What begins as an ordinary day in court for Rachel Knight soon becomes a game changer. So little is known about the case initially, but Rachel and Bailey slowly start to discover the details. The more they learn about the victim and the case, the less sense …

book review: Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

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The backstory: Jessica Valenti founded feministing, a blog I read long before I started this one.

The basics: Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness is more true to its subtitle than its title. Valenti combines her own experience as a new mom with research to convey the realities of modern parenthood, including the negative parts.

My thoughts: I have clear answers to the question "why have kids?" and its opposite. In the pro column, I believe our child would make the world a better place, whether it be in a large or small way. In the con column, there's the cost, emotionally and financially. I know Mr. Nomadreader and I would be happy taking either track in life; both options would allow us to do things we couldn't do otherwise, and both will leave us feel as though we're missing out. Both would be good choices, and I expected Why Have Kids? to dive into the complicated intellectual and emotional arguments for and against having a…

three mini-mystery reviews: The Third Rail, We All Fall Down, and The Lewis Man

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The Third Rail by Michael Harvey

The first two novels in Michael Harvey's Michael Kelly mystery series, The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor, were both 5-star reads. By those standards, The Third Rail fell a little short, but it is still an excellent mystery. Michael Kelly finds himself at the right place at the right time (or perhaps the wrong place at the wrong time) when a sniper kills a woman on the L. It soon becomes clear the killers have far bigger plans to terrify Chicago, and they want Michael Kelly along for the ride. Harvey lets the bad guys share narration in this novel, and the insight into their actions wasn't as compelling of the rest of the mystery. The ending, however, is delightfully ambiguous.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: library

We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey

What I thought was a delightfully ambiguous ending to The Third Rail turned out to be a cliffhanger, as We All Fall Down picks up immediately after it left off. Thus, I won't spoil the set up of the …

book review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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The backstory: Like so many of you, I read and adored Gillian Flynn's most recent novel, Gone Girl, in 2012. I finally got around to reading her first novel, Sharp Objects.

The basics: Camille, a wounded young woman who recently spent time in a psychiatric hospital, must return to the small Missouri town where she grew up to cover the murders of two pre-teen girls for the second-rate Chicago paper she works. Forced to stay with her mother, stepfather and half-sister, Camille must also confront the childhood death of her sister.

My thoughts: As many of you as know, I majored in journalism in college (and women's studies and art history--I've always been a multi-disciplinarian at heart!), and I adore stories of journalists. Camille is a fascinatingly flawed character. I loved to glimpse inside the combination of her hardness and softness. She was simultaneously a character to whom I could relate and understand and one who baffled me, yet Flynn merged both seamlessly. Sharp Obj…

book review: Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

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The backstory: After reading (and loving) Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's first book, Game Change, about the 2008 U.S. presidential election, I grabbed a copy of their follow up, Double Down, which chronicles the 2012 election, as soon as my library had it.

My thoughts: Admittedly, I'm fascinated by politics. I won't go as far to say I enjoy it most of the time, as I far too often find the antics and actions of politicians maddening, but I do love it in retrospect. Looking back at the minutiae of how elections are won and last, bills are passed, and scandals embraced or ruined fascinate me. Double Down offers all of those things and more. It begins with a prologue of the first debate between Romney and Obama (remember the one when Obama bombed and Romney came off as charming and likeable?) Then the book shifts back to the beginning of the 2012 campaign.

Much of what I loved about Game Change was the lengthy piece about the Iowa caucuses in 2008. It was my first time livi…

book review: Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

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The basics: In Guilt by Association, the first novel in Marcia Clark's Rachel Knight series, Los Angeles deputy district attorney Rachel Knight must take on a difficult case, the sexual assault of the teenage daughter of a close friend of the district attorney, when her fellow DDA and close friend, Jake, is found dead with a teenage boy in a sleazy motel. Rachel simultaneously investigates Jake's death--against the orders of her boss.

My thoughts: I was enamored with this novel from its first pages. Clark writes with fluidity and her characters jump off the page. This world, even one grounded so well in reality, is remarkably well constructed. Rachel Knight is dynamic character. I want to meet her for martinis after work...and I also want her to prosecute the guilty. I particularly enjoyed the two strongest female friendships in her life: with fellow DDA Toni and LAPD detective Bailey Keller. The friendships of these women are wonderfully realized, both professionally and perso…

graphic novel review: Thumbprint by Joe Hill & Vic Malhotra

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The backstory: Thumbprint is a graphic novel adaptation of Joe Hill's short story.

The basics: Mallory Grennan is back from the Iraq War, where she took part in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison abuse. She's tending bar and trying to forget the past, but signs keep popping up that someone is here and trying to remind her.

My thoughts: When I picked up Thumbprint, I didn't know anything about it, and I was immediately pulled into its narrative. Mallory Grennan is a haunting and fascinating character. Admittedly, part of my fascination with her stems from her gender (and Hill's treatment of it.) In the flashbacks to Iraq, it seemed inconsequential, yet when she's home bartending, the one male patron in particular sees her only as a woman, rather than as a person.

Her story is grim, and the graphic novel's tone follows suit. In this sense, the graphicness of the illustrations force the reader to see the horrors of war rather than simply imagine them. It's powerful …

book review: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

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The backstory: Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors. See my reviews of her novels The Magician's Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and State of Wonder.

The basics: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of personal essays.

My thoughts: Longtime readers know nonfiction is not my favorite genre to read. Yet I adore reading the personal thoughts of fiction writers I admire, and I was eager to read Ann Patchett's collection of essays, even though I'd read a couple of them before. In the twenty-four hours I spent with this collection, I felt as though I was staying up all night drinking wine and talking to a friend. Patchett's essays are fearless. While individually they address different moments and themes, collectively, they read as a personal history. These essays are all autobiographical, and while some are more personal than others, I turned the last page feeling as though Patchett is my friend. While I think of her as a friend, the relationship between rea…

book review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

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The basics:  "Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential." (from publisher)

My thoughts: I chose to use the publisher's description because it's not the kind of book I would normally read (or enjoy), based on its description. Yet I kept hearing trusted friends and colleagues rave about it, so I decided to give it a try. And I am so, so glad I did. Not only did I like it, I loved it. I loved it so much I think it should be required reading for anyone. Period. Hear me out, my fellow nonfiction and business book skep…

book review: My Venice and Other Essays by Donna Leon

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The backstory: Venice is one of my favorite cities in the world. I first visited it in the summer of 2004, on my way to Athens, Greece for the Olympics. I fell in love. Two years later, Mr. Nomadreader and I opted to spend our Christmas and New Year together in Venice rather than decide whose family to visit. Despite my love of both Venice and mysteries, I still haven't read Donna Leon's much-acclaimed series set there. It's near the top of my list, but in the meantime, I had to read her essays about Venice as soon as I got my hands on a copy.

The basics: My Venice and Other Essays is a collection of essays and vignettes divided into these sections: On Venice, On Music, On Mankind and Animals, On Men, On America, and On Books.

My thoughts: I've often bemoaned how difficult it is to review a collection of short stories, and here I find myself with the same problem as I attempt to cohesively talk about a collection of essays that itself is not terribly cohesive. As I finis…

A change of scenery!

After thinking and planning for months, I've finally debuted a new look for my blog. It returns to my favorite background picture, which I had on the blog for years. I'm still tweaking the font, layout, and spacing (and will be throughout this holiday weekend), but overall I'm really pleased with the initial results. If you spot anything that looks odd or is hard to read, please let me know. Thanks!