Friday, January 31, 2014

book review: Killer Ambition by Marcia Clark

The backstory: Killer Ambition is the third mystery in Marcia Clark's Rachel Knight series. I've already enjoyed and reviewed Guilt by Association and Guilt by Degrees.

The basics: When a famous Hollywood director's daughter is murdered, in what seems to be a kidnapping gone wrong, D.A. Rachel Knight and her best friend, detective Bailey Keller, catch the case and the spotlight. Of course, things are never quite what they seem in a Marcia Clark novel, and the actual mystery is much more complicated than a simple whodunit.

My thoughts: After starting this series in December (the week I found out I was pregnant and only wanted to lose myself in mysteries), I read all three books back-to-back-to-back in a single week. I've spaced out my reviews so as not to delude you all at once, but I am so in love with this series and these characters. Overall, this mystery wasn't quite as compelling as the one in Guilt by Degrees, but I enjoyed reading it just as much. The trio of Rachel, Bailey, and fellow DA Toni is a beautifully realistic friendship, and I enjoyed their quiet moments of normalcy in this novel as much as I enjoyed the twisty mystery.

This novel, and the mystery at its core, are both quintessential Hollywood. Clark takes us behind the glamour and celebrity in a fascinating way. I most appreciated that although these Hollywood archetypes were easily recognizable, they didn't strike me as thin facades for actual people as much as familiar composites. As much as I love characters based on real famous people, it easily could have detracted from the mystery.

Favorite passage:  "I had no particular reason to think Mackenzie would lie to us. But my experience with teenagers has taught me that they invariably keep secrets from the adult world and they consider it an honor to guard those secrets closely. I don’t think it’s nefarious, I think it’s just tribal loyalty."

The verdict: The payoff in Killer Ambition wasn't as shocking as Guilt by Degrees, but the journey was just as twisty and fascinating. Clark manages to continue to develop the core characters and their relationship with one another while also telling a dynamic mystery. The Competition, the fourth Rachel Knight mystery, comes out July 8, which is too far away for my liking.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 464 pages
Publication date: June 18, 2013
Source: purchased

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

Want more? Visit Marcia Clark's websitelike 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, January 30, 2014

film review: Dirty Wars

The backstory: Dirty Wars is one of the five films nominated for the Best Documentary Academy Award this year.

The basics: Jeremy Scahill, a foreign correspondent for The Nation, investigates the unseen wars the U.S. is fighting.

My thoughts: Jeremy Scahill, best known for exposing Blackwater, sets his sights on uncovering the stories behind the NATO reports. He's first drawn to Gardez, Afghanistan, where civilians and an Afghan police chief trained by the U.S. are killed. Throughout the film, Scahill manages to get impressive access to both government officials and locals in the war zones.

The film isn't necessarily a marvel of visual filmmaking, but it is a marvel of documentary film as an information resource. The emphasis here isn't style; it's relaying critical information. By taking the viewer along on Scahill's journey, this film watches like an unfolding mystery. Although Scahill didn't know how this story (or stories) was end, I'm thankful he was smart enough to document his journey and share it.

The verdict: Dirty Wars is an important investigative film. Jeremy Scahill is a brave, determined journalist, and this film exemplifies his dedication. I highly recommended this film to all--Scahill exposes things we, as citizens of the world, need to be aware of.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 87 minutes
Availability: Netflix

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy or rent Dirty Wars from Amazon.

Want more? Visit the film's website and follow Jeremy Scahill 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!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

book review: The Good House by Ann Leary

The basics: Hildy Good is a real estate agent near Salem, Massachusetts. She went to rehab at the behest of her two grown daughters, but she's not an alcoholic.

My thoughts: The Good House is one of those books many were quietly raving about most of 2013, but yet it never seemed to really get much attention. I'm pretty sure I checked it out of the library in January when it came out and finally read it in the final days of 2013 (I know, I am a library book hoarder.) I was instantly entranced with this novel. Hildy is a dynamic narrator. I'm tempted to call her an unreliable narrator, but I'm not convinced that's completely accurate. Hildy's unreliability comes in two forms: first, she is not always forthcoming with the reader. She doesn't necessarily lie, but she carefully chooses how to share and when. In reality, this behavior is what we all do. We don't lead with the faults others find with us that we don't quite believe, yet when Hildy first acknowledge such a trait, my first thought was suspicion.

The second trait of unreliability has as much to do with Hildy's honesty with herself as it does with her honesty with the reader. While linked with the first, it becomes indicative of so much more. In a pinch, I would probably call Hildy unreliable, but it's this very trait, and Leary's unconventional use of it, that makes Hildy so fascinating to read about. As much as I enjoyed seeing other characters, Hildy stole this book for me.

The verdict: The Good House captivated me as I read. Hildy was a fascinating character, and I loved seeing her world through her eyes, or at least as much as she would show. As much as this novel is Hildy's story, Leary smartly builds up the town and its motley crew of characters to be just as dynamic.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 15, 2013
Source: library

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

Want more? Visit Ann Leary'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!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

mini-film reviews: Hysteria, Lee Daniels' The Butler, and The Spectacular Now

Hysteria by Tanya Wexler

I really wanted to love this film. Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal in a historic feminist comedy? It should be right up my alley. The tone of the film overall is somewhat bizarre. At times it feels like a comedy, but at times it was much more serious. The actors often seemed as though they were acting in different films. Ultimately, I don't think the film's direction was clear enough. I've seen Sarah Ruhl's fabulous play In the Next Room, which also focuses on the invention of the vibrator, and perhaps the excellence of that play negatively impacted my enjoyment of Hysteria. There were some wonderful moments in this film, but overall, I was pretty disappointed this story and this cast only made a mediocre film.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Availability: dvd

Lee Daniels' The Butler by Lee Daniels

Based very loosely on the true story of an African-American butler who served from Eisenhower to Reagan and lived to see Obama's presidency. The story is a fascinating one, and Forest Whitaker's performance is extraordinary. There is a lot of good in this film, but it also veers into being schmaltzy for trying to do too much. It attempts to tell of Cecil Gaines life, beginning with his boyhood as a slave on a Georgia cotton farm. Because the film tells so many stories, most of them are given pretty short shrift. The combination of Cecil's service with his sons' involvement in so many hot button issues also felt forced at times. It's as though by telling the story of one family, Daniels wanted them to experience everything any black family experienced in the second half of the twentieth century. As a viewer, I found some of these stories more powerful than others, and while I cried many times, I also rolled my eyes many times. It's a good film, but it could have been a great one.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Availability: dvd

The Spectacular Now by James Ponsoldt

Although I often think I've outgrown my fondness for coming of age teen love stories, I still have a soft spot for the really good ones, or the unique ones, and The Spectacular Now is both. Miles Teller, who is outstanding, plays Cutter, a hard-drinking cool kid who befriends Aimee, played with beautifully believable vulnerability by Shailene Woodley. Their friendship is unlikely at the surface level, but its evolution is purely organic. I quickly realized this film must be based on a book because books played a large part (it's based on the novel by Tim Tharp.) The film isn't perfect, but much of it is. It's refreshing to see a teen film with intellect, heart, and mostly filled with reality.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Availability: dvd

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, January 27, 2014

book review: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin

The backstory: I previously adored Valerie Martin's Orange Prize-winning novel Property.

The basics: The Mary Celeste was found abandoned in 1872. The ship was in tact, there were no signs of a struggle, but the crew was gone. Arthur Conan Doyle writes a soon-to-be-famou short story about what happened. Meanwhile, medium Violet Petra, who can communicate with the dead, exemplifies the growing fascination with ghosts and unexplained.

My thoughts: I was not familiar with the mystery of the Mary Celeste before reading this book, but I was instantly intrigued by it. Martin does not structure this novel in a straight-forward way, which mimics the mystery of the ship itself. Characters come and go throughout the novel, and the reader is left to piece together how these parts fit together. This passage about a third of the way into the novel illustrates Martin's craftiness:
"Though most of its critics recognized Jephson's "Statement" as fiction and placed it in the long flights of honorable tradition of elaborate flights of imagination inspired by real events, there were, there always are, readers who believed the article to be a true account."
Although ostensibly speaking about Doyle's story, published as though it were a true account, I believe Martin is signalling the reader of her true intentions here. Martin weaves a complicated and intellectual tale for her readers in this novel. Discerning readers will put many of the pieces together themselves as the novel progresses, and eventually all of the small stories come together beautifully within a larger narrative. As Martin warns, however, readers seeking a simple explanation to an old mystery may be only fooling themselves.

Favorite passage: "Together they scoffed at the pedestrian sensibilities of the average reader. They viewed the ordinary world from a distance."

The verdict: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is a worthy companion to the mystery of the real Mary Celeste. Martin's far-reaching imagination rebuilds the world so richly and beautifully, I found myself as intrigued with the fictional mysteries in this novel as I was with the real ones.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Ghost of the Mary Celeste from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Valerie Martin'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!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Salon: embracing the new normal

First, thank you all so much for your kind and celebratory words here on the blog, on Instagram, on Facebook, and on Twitter about our little announcement. I've been diligently adding all of your book selections to my reading list too. It's so nice to finally have my pregnancy completely out in the open, and I'm celebrating by writing a Sunday Salon in which I can actually tell you about my week.

I've been reading The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson for over a week now, which is much more of an indication of my need to sleep 12-14 hours a day than it is of how much I'm enjoying it. Regardless, I'm determined to finish it today. It's also a positive indication, however, of how well my New Yorker reading is going. I have found that during the week I don't like to start a new book because I'd rather devote my meager awake reading time to it, and I'm right on track with my 2014 goal of reading all issues. I have no idea which book I'll pick up next. I have a giant virtual pile of new releases I'm longing to read, but I also have a big pile of pregnancy and birth histories and memoirs from the library. Perhaps I'll pick one of each and see which one grabs me more.

My film watching kick continues in full force. So far this year, I've watched 25 films (19 of those were for my documentary film class, which ended Friday.) This time of year is such an exciting one for film, with all of the award shows happening. I'm too hesitant to actually go to the theater because I have to go to the bathroom so often (for example, while watching Lee Daniels' The Butler yesterday, I paused the film six times (!) to go to the bathroom. It's only a little over two hours.) I'm planning to watch Fruitvale Station this afternoon after I finish my book.

Tonight is Mr. Nomadreader's company holiday party (in the restaurant business, the thought of closing early one night in December is not an option, so we celebrate in January, a traditionally slower month.) I hope I'm awake enough to go for a little bit this evening. While I can't enjoy the open bar this year, the taco bar sounds amazing. Naturally, we're also expecting another blizzard, due more to 55-50 mph wind and below zero temperatures than massive amounts of snow. I love winter, but this winter is really trying my patience with frequent below zero temperatures.

Is it the second trimester yet? I've had a relatively easy pregnancy in terms of being sick. Although I've been constantly queasy and frequently nauseous, I haven't actually thrown up. But I'm still baffled how few things I typically love sound good to me. It's also weird to have so little appetite and to not find my usual enjoyment in food. I'm also eager to not sleep 12-14 hours a night. I'm in the last stretch of first trimester, so I hope I can move past these symptoms soon (even though I know they'll be replaced by similarly frustrating, if different, symptoms.)

The blog
Coming up on the blog this week:
  • a review of Valerie Martin's new novel, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste
  • a slew of min-film reviews
  • a review of The Good House by Ann Leary
  • a review of Killer Ambition by Marcia Clark
  • a wrap up of January!
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, January 24, 2014

personally: a little announcement

When I shared my goals for 2014 with you, I could have shared one more: read as many books as possible for the nomadbaby arrives (on or around) August 9th. Followed quickly by: read as many books as possible while on maternity leave. Mr. Nomadreader and I are excited and terrified (but mostly excited.) I've said many times lately "pregnancy isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be." Which is true, but I think I was unreasonably terrified of it. Mostly, I'm tired (really tired.) And I have little to no appetite. What I want to eat is very specific--it's that or nothing. And it is impossible to drink enough water. But I am well, and the nomadbaby is well, so we are making do. In terms of reading, I've slowed down somewhat because I go to bed so early (and sleep so much over all.) My attention span is perfect for a 90-120 minute film, so I've been watching more of those. And my attention span also loves The New Yorker, so I'm following through on that goal too.

In terms of my blogging future, I've watched so many of you go through the transition into parenthood, and I know things will change. I don't yet know what will come, but I do know I'll still be here. I still want to write about books, both to have conversations with you and to keep a record for myself. And as The Bump's countdown calendar so kindly reminds me, August 9th is still 197 days away, so there are plenty of reading days between now and baby to think about such things.

So in the meantime--give me your book suggestions. I'm drawn far more to memoirs by fiction writers about parenthood than I am to self-help books about pregnancy. I'm drawn to compelling fiction (no surprise there) about pregnancy and early parenthood. If you have books to share, please do. Or films. I'm watching a lot of those these days too.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

mini-film reviews: Bubble and Frances Ha

Bubble directed by Steven Soderbergh

Bubble is a film best enjoyed knowing very little, so I will say very little about it. After reading the two-sentence description on Netflix, I said to Mr. Nomadreader about an hour into this seventy-three minutes film, "when is [spoler] going to happen?" Ultimately, I adored Bubble, but it progressed somewhat slowly. It's not a film all may enjoy. Steven Soderbergh didn't hire actors. The lead, Debbie Doebereiner, was found working at KFC. There was no script. Instead, these untrained actors (who come across as real people, likely because they are) improvised all of the lines from an outline. The result is a fascinating slice of life of a working class town. Much of the film is a snapshot of ordinary life, and while I enjoyed this setup, it did drag at times. The last fiftenn minutes, however, are simply divine. It's worth seeing, but even if it's not working for you--don't stop watching.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Availability: Netflix streaming

Frances Ha directed by Noah Baumbach

After enjoying Greenberg, the last film in which Baumbach worked with Greta Gerwig, I was eager to see Frances Ha. Sadly, I didn't actually review Greenberg, but I recall loving the combination of its portrayal of slowly accepting the often depressing reality of early adulthood and humor. Both are present in Frances Ha, a script Baumbach and Gerwig wrote together. The titular Frances is in her mid-twenties, living in New York City, working as an apprentice at a modern dance company, and struggling in every aspect of life. She's somewhat dorky, entirely endearing, and often hysterical. I rarely stop a film to write down quotes, but I did so more than once in this film. This film does a remarkable job capturing authentic moments large and small. It's very much a film about real life, which means occasional montages, although they're not your typical montages. In Frances Ha, montages often serve as a way to pass time while acknowledging the ordinary moments of life. It captures the joys and struggles of spending your twenties in New York City, but it also transcends those barriers by tapping into genuine emotions so well. Only a few flawed scenes kept this film from being a perfect 5-star rating, but it is a film I will happily watch again and again.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Availability: Netflix streaming

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, January 21, 2014

book review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

The backstory: I've read and loved Gillian Flynn's other two novels Sharp Objects (my review) and Gone Girl (my review).

The basics: When Libby Day was seven, her older brother murdered their mother and two other sisters. Libby has lived off donations ever since, but now in her late twenties, the money is almost gone. She turns to the Kill Club, a secret club obsessed with murders, and they're willing to pay for her to talk to her father and brother about the crimes.

My thoughts: There's always something magical about my first 5-star read of the new year, and Dark Places is it for 2014. I was instantly drawn into this creepy world. Flynn manges to write about very dark people and events with moments of humor: "He was about to give Lyle a high-five and then thought better: his arm froze in an accidental Nazi salute." The story unfolds in alternating chapters. One is Libby's present struggles to learn more about the crimes and reconnect with her childhood. The other is to relive the day of the murders, through the eyes of both her brother, the convincted murdered, and the mother. It soon becomes clear that all may not be as it seems.

I particularly enjoyed the settings of Kansas City and Kansas in this novel. While those unfamiliar with northeast Kansas can zoom right by the names of small towns, I delighted in Glynn's geographical detail (she grew up in Kansas City and attended the University of Kansas--two more reasons to like her!) It's so rare to read a novel set in the part of Kansas where five generations of my ancestors lived, so it was a special joy.

As this novel was the third one I'd read by Gillian Flynn, I had certain expectations. I imagined the murder to be far more complicated and twisty than the official story. Check. I expected not all of the characters to be likeable, but for them to be compelling. Check. What surprised me most, however, was how original this novel, and all three of her novels are. If I read this one without knowing who the author was, I could probably guess Gillian Flynn, yet beyond her style and tone, there aren't many similarities among the three. Perhaps that is why I've liked each of her novels more, even as I read them out of order. Sharp Objects was better than Gone Girl. Dark Places was better than both. Would I feel the same way if I read them in a different order? Perhaps not. The novels aren't part of a series, but they're so complex, in plot and character, that together they form a more developed understanding of Gillian Flynn as a writer.

Favorite passage: “I know a little bit about trying to do the right thing and fucking up completely,” I added. “You talking about Mom?” Ben said. “I was talking about me.” “You could have been talking about all of us.”

The verdict: After loving both Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, I had high expectations for Dark Places, and it ended up being my favorite Gillian Flynn novel yet. It's a novel best enjoyed without expectations. Simply going along this wild ride is its own reward.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: May 5, 2009
Source: library

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

Want more? Visit Gillian Flynn's website and like her 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!

film review: 20 Feet from Stardom

The backstory: 20 Feet from Stardom is nominated for best documentary at this year's Academy Awards (and the Independent Spirit Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, and already won the Critics Choice Award.)

The basics: 20 Feet from Stardom goes behind the scenes of the last fifty years of music to showcase the backup singers behind some of the biggest hits in pop, rock, and R&B.

My thoughts: Admittedly, the description did little for me. I finally decided to see it because it keeps getting nominated for so many awards. I should have paid attention earlier because 20 Feet from Stardom is the best documentary I've seen this year (and I've already seen fifteen.) While the description is certainly true, what makes 20 Feet from Stardom, like so many great works of art, so special are all of the other intangibles. It's not a coincidence that the backup singers are overwhelming black and female. This powerful social narrative moved me deeply. The stories of these individuals are fascinating enough, but their collective story is much deeper.

While the issues of racism and sexism are addressed as possible answers to the recurring question of 'why wasn't she a famous star?', the film also explores other complexities about the price, both literal and figurative, of stardom. It explores the roots of backup singing in black churches. It tackles so many big issues while never venturing too far from its supposed purpose of looking at the careers of backup singers.

It's a credit to this film how many people, famous and not, are interviewed in it. Filmmaker Morgan Neville incorporates an astonishing number of people and storylines seamlessly. Underscoring all of these characters is a beautiful soundtrack, including live performances and famous recordings.

The verdict: 20 Feet from Stardom surprised me with the depth of its emotion and intellectual curiosity. It's a superbly crafted exploration of the music industry, the price of fame, talent, and backup singers. It tackles many heavy issues with a deft touch, attempts to answer complicated questions, and incorporates its musical subject beautifully.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 89 minutes
Availability: dvd

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy 20 Feet from Stardom from Amazon.

Want more? Visit the film's official 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!

Monday, January 20, 2014

book review: The Harlot's Tale by Sam Thomas

The backstory: Last year I read and adored The Midwife's Tale, Sam Thomas's debut mystery.

The basics: The story opens in August 1645, the year after the events of The Midwife's Tale. York is battling a brutal heatwave and adjusting to life with Puritan control. A new minister, Hezekiah Ward, has arrived in town, preaching about the evils of prostitution, just as much of the city believes the heat is God's punishment for evil. When the bodies of a prostitue and a john are found brutally murdered, Bridget's brother-in-law calls her in to view the bodies. Once again, her skills as a midwife find a crime-solving purpose.

My thoughts: Once again I was delighted with the characters of Bridget and Martha, her servant and midwife apprentice. The relationship of the two women is one of my favorite parts of this series. As Bridget teaches Martha more about midwifing, the reader learns with her. There are numerous births throughout this mystery, but I also appreciate how Thomas uses the story to teach more about the less expected aspects of midwifery:
"This was the darker side of service as a midwife. Most of our labor went into delivering mothers and infants, but constables and Justices also called upon us in more desperate situations. Midwives bore the burden of examining the wasted bodies of children who had been bewitched, and those of infants left to die under a haystack."
It's this darker side of service that draws Bridget and Martha into the murders. As a midwife, Bridget has unparalleled access to information. In this case, the class differences between Bridget and Martha also aid in their solving of the crime. Because Bridget is a lady, there are people who will only speak to her, but there are also people who cannot fathom speaking to a lady about matters of prostitution and murder.

Beyond Bridget and Martha, their motley crew of family and friends continues to delight. This broad cast of characters are a wonderful antidote to the often dark tone of this novel, and I look forward to these relationships continuing to develop in future books.

The mysteries at the heart of this novel were indeed fascinating, but I wished for more red herrings and actual mystery. While the resolution was quite satisfying, the mystery itself was not as engaging throughout the book as the other plot points were.

The verdict: The Harlot's Tale is a wonderful continuation of The Midwife's Tale. Thomas masterfully constructs the world of York in the 1600's, and the depth of this world and his characters more make up for the less intense moments of the mystery.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 321 pages
Publication date: January 7, 2014
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Harlot's Tale from an independent bookstore (not listed in their catalog), the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.) Or, start with The Midwife's Tale: but it from an independnet bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Sam Thomas's website, like him on Facebook, and follow him 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!

Friday, January 10, 2014

book review: The Bird Skinner by Alice Greenway

The basics:  "Jim Kennoway was once an esteemed member of the ornithology department at the Museum of Natural History in New York, collecting and skinning birds as specimens. Slowing down from a hard-lived life and a recent leg amputation, Jim retreats to an island in Maine: to drink, smoke, and to be left alone. As a young man he worked for Naval Intelligence during World War II in the Solomon Islands. While spying on Japanese shipping from behind enemy lines, Jim befriended Tosca, a young islander who worked with him as a scout. Now, thirty years later, Tosca has sent his daughter Cadillac to stay with Jim in the weeks before she begins premedical studies at Yale. She arrives to Jim’s consternation, yet she will capture his heart and the hearts of everyone she meets, irrevocably changing their lives." (from publisher)

My thoughts: I knew very little about this novel when I began reading. I picked up a copy at ALA in June because of the praise for Greenway's first novel, White Ghost Girls. At first, I was enchanted with Greenway's prose, characters, and setting. I was curious how the storylines would connect and what would be revealed about the past to impact my understanding of the novel's present. Greenway did bring everything together, but the more I read, the more unsatisfied I was as a reader. Admittedly, this novel requires some patience from the reader, which is somewhat of a feat in 320 pages, and I enjoyed it most when I read longer passages in a single sitting. While there was much I liked about this novel, it's execution fell rather flat for me. I turned the last page with a sense of relief and ambivalence, but Greenway's prose was strong enough that I will absolutely read her next novel, even as this one left be unsatisfied.

The verdict: As much as I enjoyed Greenway's prose and character descriptions, I found the plot to be too slow and unsatisfying. After a strong set up, I soon found myself bored by the lack of action, and Greenway's writing wasn't enough to keep be as engaged as I was in the novel's early pages.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 7, 2014
Source: publisher

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

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, January 9, 2014

book review: Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson

The basics: After surviving the plane crash that killed her father when she was 5, Artis Henderson recounts losing her husband during a helicopter crash in the Iraq War.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of The New York Times Modern Love column. When I heard Artis Henderson, whose Modern Love column I cried throughout, published a memoir expanding on the topic of losing her husband, I knew I wanted to read it, even if war widow memoirs aren't typically a genre at the top of my list. And I'm so glad I did. It's a good thing the reader knows about the joint tragedies in Artis's life from the book's beginnings, becuase Henderson still packs an emotinoal punch. As I read, I was crying hard enough I had to leave my bed, where my husband peacefully slept, to go downstairs where I could read and sob in peace.

I'm not necessarily drawn to stories of tragedy, but I immediately connected with Artis as I read. She and I are almost exactly the same age, and I easily imagined my life in the early 2000's. Our dreams at that were so clearly aligned: "As long as I could remember, I had wanted to be a writer. I had this Hemingway-inspired fantasy of living overseas and writing, and I had imagined a life filled with art and literature and well-traveled friends." She writes about her younger self with such honesty and insight. There's the duality of remembering the naivete of her early twenties but not being dimissive of it. Henderson seamlessly fuses the past and present in this memoir into a unified voice.

The first half of this memoir tells the story of how Artis and Miles fell in love. Even knowing how the story ends, it was a love story that swept me away. It isn't an idealized fairy tale, and Artis recounts it with love and authenticity. She doesn't shy away from their hardships and doubts. I credit her bravery for being able to write with the appropriate honesty and distance. The memoir's second half had me constantly crying. I moved between soft tears running down my face and full-on ugly cries. I am so very glad I read it in the privacy of my own home where I could fully embrace the feelings reading this book gave me.

Favorite passage: "I needed them to acknowledge not just that he had died but that he had lived. That he had lived and loved me and for a space of time we were whole. But I am lying. Even now I struggle to tell the truth of what I needed."

The verdict: Artis Henderson writes with both a critical distance and an emotional honesty. It's as much a modern love story as it is the story of a young woman's life. Unremarried Widow is a brave, harrowing, emotional, gripping memoir I won't soon forget.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: January 7, 2014
Source: publisher

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

Want more? Visit Artis Henderson'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!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

mini-film reviews: Safety Not Guaranteed and Waiting for Superman

The premise of Safety Not Guaranteed is a great one: someone places a classified ad seeking a partner to travel in time. The title is the same as the ad's last line. When Seattle Magazine writer Jeff (New Girl's Jake Johnson) takes two interns (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni) to see who the person is. With such a great premise and a good cast, I had high hopes, but Safety Not Guaranteed flounders between two many genres. At times it's a witty satire, at time softly poignant, at times inspiring, and at time eye-rollingly bad. I rarely knew what the filmmaker wanted from me, and while I love a genre-defining mash-up, this attempt lacked consistency and clarity of focus. For every moment I loved, there was one I hated. There were moments of brilliance, but there were also far too many moments of boredom for a film only 86 minutes long. As a first film, some of these sins are forgiveable, and I will gladly tune in to see what Derek Connolly writes next. Rating: 3 out of 5

Waiting for Superman is a documentary about the state of American public schools. It's simultaneously depressing and inspiring, which is an impressive balance. There is a lot of good in the film, and it's certainly one I recommend, but it is also not without its faults and shortcomings. Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim uses the stories of five children entering school lotteries to put faces on the plight of neighborhood school. While this technique is effective in humanizing the problem, it also steers the film's focus away from other problems. At times the film feels like it's several different films, and the jumps between storylines are not always smooth. While I enjoy and appreciate almost all of the pieces, ultimately the execution

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, January 7, 2014

book review: The Execution by Dick Wolf

The backstory: The Execution is the second novel in Dick Wolf's Jeremy Fisk series, after The Intercept (my review.) This review, like the book itself, contains spoilers if you have not read The Intercept.

The basics:  Shortly after the Mexican presidential election, twenty-three beheaded bodies are found beheaded on the U.S. border. Mexican intelligence officer Cecilia Garza recognizes it as the work of Chuparosa, a man she's been chasing for years. Meanwhile in New York City, it's United Nations Week, and NYPD terrorism detective Jeremy Fisk must keep numerous world leaders, including the newly elected Mexican president, safe.

My thoughts: After being surprised by how much I liked The Intercept, I was eager to see what The Execution had in store for Jeremy Fisk and the United States. Fisk is still reeling from the events of The Intercept, and Wolf doesn't shy away from revealing plot details. The Execution is clearly not intended to double as a standalone, and that's a good thing for Fisk's character development. Fisk is a dynamic character, and I particularly enjoy his antihero tendencies. He's a good guy, but he doesn't always play the rules.

Fisk shared the spotlight with another well-drawn character, Cecelia Garza. Her backstory is as fascinating as her present, and she demonstrates Wolf's ability to craft strong characters besides Fisk. The pacing in The Execution never feels frantic, but one of the reasons it's such a thrilling read is the sense that no one is truly safe. Wolf is a bold plotter, and I hope that continues in his thrillers. As a reader, I like to think of even beloved characters in true peril, as it mimics the realities of life so well.

Favorite passage: "Life. So strange the paths we take. I think that to meet anyone on a crowded city street, even for an appointment, is a small miracle. But for us, for our lives, to intersect again like this, twenty years after leaving the incubator of the is not mere fate, it is something richer. Not necessarily fraught with meaning..but profound nonetheless."

The verdict: While not quite as compelling as The Intercept, The Execution is a tightly plotted, well-crafted thriller. The action is intense, but thankfully it slows down from time to time to offer some poignant moments with its well-developed characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: January 7, 2014 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Execution from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.) If you haven't read The Intercept, I strongly recommend you start with it.

Want more? Visit Dick Wolf'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!

Monday, January 6, 2014

book review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The backstory: The Invention of Wings is the third selection in Oprah's Book Club 2.0.

The basics: Based on the life of suffragist and abolitionist Sarah Grimke, The Invention of Wings begins when Sarah is eleven and receives her own slave, Hetty "Handful," as a gift. Told in alternating chapters, the novel explores the lives of both Sarah and Handful.

My thoughts: As soon as I heard Sue Monk Kidd's new novel was based on the life of Sarah Grimke, I was eager to read it. I've long been fascinated by Grimke and wrote papers on her in college (yes, I took the time to find and re-read those papers after I finished this novel.) When Oprah chose it for her book club, I was thrilled. I hope this novel brings the life and work of Sarah Grimke to more people.

Because of my familiarity with Grimke, I initially found the novel's pace a bit slow. I appreciated the insight into her childhood, but I was eager for the action to move along to where I knew it was going. As is common in novels about slavery, I read with frustration. In this sense, I most enjoyed the earlier chapters from Handful's point of view, as her story was new to me, and the complicated relationship between Sarah and Handful was poignantly shown from both sides.

Sue Monk Kidd captures Charleston and the time period beautifully. I was transported to the time and place of the novel as I read. Kidd assumes little from her reader, which makes this novel accessible. It can easily serve as introduction to this time period and its cast of characters.  

Favorite passage: "I knew myself to be an odd girl with my mutinous ideas, ravenous intellect, and funny looks, and half the time I sputtered like a horse straining at its bit, qualities in the female sex that were not endearing. I was on my way to being the family pariah, and I feared the ostracism. I feared it most of all."

The verdict: For readers less familiar with Sarah Grimke, I imagine the novel will fascinate and delight throughout. For me, however, I yearned for time to pass more quickly until Sarah reached adulthood. Still, the life of Sarah Grimke is inspiring and fascinating, and Kidd captures both in this novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: January 7, 2014
Source: publisher

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

Want more? Visit Sue Monk Kidd'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, January 5, 2014

Sunday Salon: Baby, it's cold outside!

The Sunday Salon.comHappy first Sunday of 2014! I'm snuggled on the couch under a blanket, where I intend to spend most of the day. Here in Des Moines, we've already reached our high for the day (3°) and are quickly falling to tonight's low (-17°). Sadly, that does not factor in the wind chill. I really enjoy the cold weather, but when it gets near and below zero, I don't feel the need to go outside if I don't have to. Unfortunately, tomorrow looks even worse: our high won't even reach zero. Thankfully, this epic cold snap will be short-lived, and we'll be back to normal January temperatures (double digits!) this week.

My reading year so far
2014 is off to a wonderful start (and yes, only having to work one day so far this year has certainly helped!) Yesterday morning I finished the first New Yorker of the year, as well as the first two books of the year (one I started in 2013.) I started a third last night and stayed up far too late reading, and then I woke up and finished it this morning. It's nice to be ahead of my reading pace so far, and I've really enjoyed all of my 2014 reads so far.

Catching my eyes online
I've also been catching up on feedly reading, and these stories caught my eye this week:
The rest of January
Tomorrow is the first day of J-term, where I will once again be teaching a three-credit course in three weeks. It's an intense fourteen days of class (we meet for four hours each weekday), but I'm looking forward to it. I know my reading will lag somewhat, particularly once the grading crunches begin, but last year's experience was my favorite teaching experience ever. I hope this year offers more of the same.

Coming up on the blog this week...a flurry of reviews of new releases!
  • a review of The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (publishing 1/7/14)
  • a review of The Execution by Dick Wolf (publishing 1/7/14)
  • a review of Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson (publishing 1/7/14)
  • a review of The Bird Skinner by Alice Greenway (publishing 1/7/14)
  • another TBD review

I'm off to pick out my next book from the very tempting virtual pile of 2014 releases. Now tell me: what are you reading 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!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My 2014 goals

Although the distinction may seem somewhat arbitrary, I prefer making New Year's goals rather than resolutions. For me, the best goals are both achievable and aspirational. Finding this balance is crucial. Some yeras, I've set goals that were too aspirational or too proscribed. As I reflected on the reader I was in 2013, I found a few opportunities for gradual change. My goals this year aren't exclusively about reading, however, as I continue to enjoy a variety of media. Ultimately, the purpose of these goals is to help me focus. In those moments when I contemplate how to spend my time, most often when I get home from work and Mr. Nomadreader is still at work, I want to keep returning to these goals in 2014. If I'm on track, great. I can be free to do what I most feel like doing. If I'm not on track with these goals, I hope I'll choose to spend my time working toward them. These are goals I made out of love; I truly enjoy all of these activities and want to spend more time enjoying them. There are, of course, other things I enjoy doing, but I don't seem to have trouble finding enough time to eat good food, drink wine, or watch television, so my goals aren't related to those activities...this year at least.

1. Read 104 books in 2014.
As I mentioned in my Vest Best of 2013 post, I only managed to read 94 books, which disappointed. While 100 is a nice, round number, 104 represents reading an average of two books a week for an entire year. This number isn't so large to be daunting, or even prevent me from tackling chunksters. There can easily be weeks when I read only one book, but I hope there are just as many in which I read three. My making my goal as much about the week as the year, I hope to track my progress weekly rather than monthly or semi-annually. Book reviews will most often appear on the blog on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Want to follow along with my progress? I track my reading on my Books Read 2010-present tab, on LibraryThing, and on GoodReads.

2. Watch 104 films in 2014.
I really like films, and I tend to go through phases of watching one a day for several weeks, followed by phases of watching none for months. I only watched 41 films in 2013, so clearly there is room for improvement. Film reviews will most often appear on the blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays (when I will also sometimes talk about tv.) Want to follow along with my progress? I track the films I watch on my IMDB account.
  • 2a. Watch 52 documentaries in 2014. As many of you know, I teach a documentary film course, and my past fascination with documentaries has given way to a near obsession. I aim to watch an average of one documentary a week in 2014.
  • 2b. Watch 52 fiction films in 2014. I don't follow contemporary film as closely as I used to, and I miss it. These days I prefer watching movies at home to the cost of the theater, and I hope to reinvigorate my film watching my watching an average of one fiction film each week in 2014.
3. Read all 47 issues of The New Yorker in 2014.
I've subscribed to The New Yorker for fifteen years, and I'm ashamed to admit I don't think I actually read more than a handful of issues last year. It's a time commitment, but it's one I enjoy. If I don't make this goal, I'll have to face the facts and finally cancel my subscription. The New Yorker publishes 47 issues each year, and while I won't hold myself to finishing each article if it doesn't hold my attention, I want to try each one. I also hope to spend some time talking about articles of note here on the blog, as well as continuing to most favorite articles and quotes to my Tumblr.

4. Participate in the #fmsphotoaday Instagram challenge most days.
I really enjoy instagram, and I sporadically participate in Fat Mum Slim's daily prompt challenge. Some days get away from me, and some days I cannot think of anything to satisfy the prompt in a fun, creative or meaningful way. So I won't hold myself to 365 photos, but I hope to come close. Want to follow along with my progress? My photos appear on my Instagram, which I cross-post to my Tumblr. I post some to Twitter too. To highlight my favorite photos, I may start participating in the Wordless Wednesday meme some Wednesdays too.

Now tell me: what are your goals for 2014?

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, January 3, 2014

book review: Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

The backstory: Leaving Atlanta is the first novel by Tayari Jones. After adoring her most recent novel, Silver Sparrow (my review), I finally got around to reading this one ("finally getting around to reading" was the theme of much of my holiday break binge-reading!)

The basics: Told in three parts from the perspective of three black middle school students in southwest Atlanta, Leaving Atlanta takes place at the time of the notorious Atlanta Child Murders.

My thoughts: I spent almost half my life in Atlanta (although I'm getting farther away from that every year!) Regardless, I've lived more years in Atlanta than in any other city, and I've been fascinated by the Atlanta Child Murders since I first heard of them. Jones introduces the reader to this time through three different child narrators. Each of the three takes one section, although the sections frequently reference the other narrators. I have mixed reactions to this storytelling approach. Typically, I love different narrators, but these narrators didn't alternate. When narration first switched, it took me a few pages to re-orient myself. The transition to the third narrator was much smoother, and I was excited to see which student was taking over the story. In one sense, I think Jones captured the atmosphere of what it was like to be a child in southwest Atlanta at that time. That one of the classmates, but not one of the three narrators, is named Tayari Jones, certainly gives credance to this theory. Obviously these children are scared, but as is often the case with child narrators, they don't really understand what's going on. (To be fair, I don't think anyone really understood what was happening at this time.)

As I read, and after I finished the novel, I've been wrestling with what pieces didn't quite work for me, and I still struggle to articulate them. In many ways, Jones was incredibly successful, which makes me wonder if my perception of the novel's shortcomings are about my own expectations of this subject rather than her execution. Ultimately, I failed to emotionally connect with any of the three narrators, which left me wanting if not something more, something slightly different. It's a very good novel, but I wanted it to be a great one.

Favorite passage:  "How can I say that I can’t stand to talk about it? And how can you say that you can’t stand to hear it when other people are living it?”

The verdict: There is much to ponder, savor, and enjoy in Leaving Atlanta. Emotionally, however, it fell a bit short for me. Yet as I read, I found myself wanting more, whether it was the perspective of more narrators or more terror, as someone who already knew so much about this frightful time, I simply yearned for more.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: August 21, 2002
Source: purchased

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

Want more? Visit Tayari Jones's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

 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, January 2, 2014

book review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

The backstory: After liking J. Courtney Sullivan's first novel, Commencement (my review), I finally got around to reading her second novel, Maine. 

The basics: Maine traces the story of the Kelleher family one summer at their Maine beachhouse. Four women share narration: Alice, the matriarch, whose husband Daniel, died ten years ago; Alice's daughter  Kathleen, who lives with her boyfriend and runs a worm farm in California; Alice's daughter-in-law Anne Marie, who has become obsessed with dollhouses; and Kathleen's daughter Maggie, who is thirty-two, unmarried and pregnant.

My thoughts: In recent years I've realized how much I enjoy family sagas. I've always enjoyed multiple narrators, so Maine was right up my alley. I love the way Sullivan writes, and she's grew as a writer between Commencement and Maine. There's a maturity to Maine and its characters that I quite enjoyed. While Maine takes place over the span of a little over a month, the action is split equally between the present and explaining the family's history. In many cases, the four narrators had quite varied perspectives on the same events, which made the reader the most knowledgable person in the room. This technique can frustrate me to no end, but Sullivan does it well--the knowledge helped explain each character's perspectives and actions more thoroughly.

Sullivan's characters have interior monologues that kept me laughing out loud: ""What on earth would we talk about?” Arlo asked, as if most people interacted with their families for the riveting conversation." While it's expressed in humor in this passage, the theme of how, why, and when we spend time with family is a powerful theme in this novel.

Favorite passage:  "The joy and spontaneity of summers past were gone now. Daniel’s death had ended them as a family. Each had pulled away from the others, and at some point without realizing it, Alice had gone from the matriarch—keeper of the wisdom and the order—to the old lady you had to look in on before the day’s fun could begin."

The verdict: Maine is not a book that made me wish I were vacationing at their Maine beach house alongside the Kelleher family, but I loved the day I spent with them. I kept changing my mind about which narrator or storyline was favorite, which is a testament to Sullivan's characters.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 530 pages
Publication date: June 4, 2011
Source: purchased

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

Want more? Visit J. Courtney Sullivan'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!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Very Best of 2013

Happy New Year, y'all!
As always, I start the new year by looking back at the best books I read last year. Admittedly, 2013 was not the best reading year for me. I went through several reading droughts and several slow blogging periods. I thought of walking away from this blog more than once (and I'm so glad I remembered why I love sharing my reading with y'all. I'll be sticking around for quite some time.) Despite some reading and blogging disappointments, the year itself was a delight. Mr. Nomadreader and I bought our first (and I hope last) house. I discovered my new favorite band, American Aquarium, and took a solo road trip to one of my favorite cities, Nashville, to see them in concert for my birthday. I continue to love my job and all around, I feel very blessed and happy.

In terms of reading, I didn't even manage to read 100 books in 2013. (It's the first time since graduate school I haven't read 100 books, and I'm disappointed in myself for not making reading more of a priority. There's nothing necessarily magic about 100, but my initial goal was 150, and I really didn't come close to that. I don't think I would mind if I could point to something else of substance I was doing instead, but I can't.) I thought after moving into our house and getting rid of satellite television, I would read more, but I didn't. On a positive note, I think I finally found my groove again late in the year and am optimistic 2014 will be a year in which reading and blogging are once again priorities.

When I sat down to look at the books I most enjoyed in 2013, I was delighted to reread my reviews and remember the joy of reading each of these books. While the overall quantity was down, I still have 11ish (it's hard to separate books in a series!) titles I hope you'll all take the time to read. The biggest surprise: four (!) are nonfiction. (Some perspective: a nonfiction title hasn't made my best of list since 2009.)

The Top 11ish
These are books I read in 2013, not necessarily books published in 2013.

Want to buy these titles? Clicking on the covers take you to Amazon. 

11. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor (my review)
Sotomayor's drive is even more remarkable given the circumstances of her childhood. If I didn't know differently, I would have a hard time believing her career trajectory was true. Sotomayor is an inspiration. Her spirit, intelligence, dedication and loyalty are admirable.

10. The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver (my review)
The End of the Point is a beautifully written, deeply moving portrait of three generations of the Porter family and the their evolving relationships with their servants and caregivers. I was thrilled when it was longlisted for the National Book Award.

9. The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man by Peter May (my review & my review)
The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man are the first two mysteries in Peter May's Lewis trilogy. Their narratives are so closely linked, it's difficult to separate the two. Both are deeply satisfying literary mysteries infused with strong elements of ethnography and fascinating character development. Peter May's writing is beautifully fluid and his characters are richly developed.

8. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (my review)
Relish is a more ambitious graphic memoir than French Milk, and it succeeds on more levels because of it. It's a graphic memoir I'll return to re-read again and again over the years, as I, too, form more new food memories.

7. The Michael Kelly series by Michael Harvey
 (my reviews: The Chicago Way, The Fifth Floor and We All Fall Down)
Having three out of four novels in a series earn 5 stars from me is unprecedented. The Michael Kelly series are gritty, contemporary mysteries at their best. Michael Kelly is a character to root for, and given the depth of corruption in Chicago in these novels, that's a blessing. What makes them so good, however, are the mysteries themselves. These books are complicated, smart and filled with fantastic twists.

6. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (my review)
Easily the most surprising title on this list, I'm still referencing passages from it two months after I finished it. If I had to sum up the message of Sandberg's book, it would be with this passage from a speech she made at a college graduation: "I hope you find true meaning, contentment and passion in your life." It's simple and eloquent, and the rest of her book outlines all the complexities of our world that make that so much easier than said done. Sandberg asserts the world would be a better place if we had more women running companies and more men running homes, and I agree. I also think the world would be a better place if everyone read Lean In.

5. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (my review)
Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors, and in a year when I only read one of her books, reading it felt like reconnecting with an old friend. I can't recommend This is the Story of a Happy Marriage highly enough. It's a smart, beautiful, and poignant collection of essays, and while I favor some more than others, there isn't a bad one in the entire collection.

4. Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam (my review)
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.

3. Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel (my review)
Susanna Daniel is now two for two with me, and Sea Creatures is even better than Stiltsville, which I adored. It's a beautiful, intelligent, and heart-wrenching novel, and I hope it becomes a modern classic, just as I hope Daniel gets the recognition she deserves.

2. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (my review)
How did Curtis Sittenfeld follow up my all-time favorite novel American Wife? With a novel that is completely different but utterly transfixing. Sisterland builds slowly, albeit beautifully and with wisdom, and near the end I began to fear Sittenfeld had written a glorious set up to an ultimately disappointing novel. The last chapter, however, is a literary tour de force and could serve as a masterclass in detailed plot development free of gimmicks.

1. Tampa by Alissa Nutting (my review)
Oh, Alissa Nutting, I fell in love with you while I read Tampa. It's a novel that reminds me why I will always love fiction best. Alissa Nutting masterfully gets inside the mind and body of Celeste. The result is a modern masterpiece whose story can only be told this deeply in a fictional way, and its haunting final pages will stick with me for a very long time. In fact I've re-read the novel's last two pages three times since I finished this book...earlier this week.

Thanks for reading along with me in 2013. Now tell me: what was your favorite book of 2013?

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!