Showing posts from February, 2014

book review: The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

The backstory: After enjoying the Bosch pilot on Amazon, I decided to finally start reading the Michael Connelly series so many, including Alafair Burke, one of my favorite crime novelists, rave about.

The basics: The Black Echo, the first novel in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series, introduces readers to the LAPD homicide detective. When a dead body is discovered in a pipe, Bosch recognizes the victim as a fellow tunnel rat from his days in Vietnam. What otherwise might have been classified as a junkie dead from an overdose turns into a complicated, intriguing mystery stretching back to the Vietnam War itself.

My thoughts: Originally published in 1992, The Black Echo is a delightful time capsule into its time. As close as 1992 seems, the Vietnam War is closer to it than it is to today. This mystery is firmly grounded in the lingering impact of Vietnam, and it even takes its title from a War reference:
"Meadows was something else…. Back then, we were all just a bunch of kids,…

Sunday Salon: Hello from Kansas!

It's another Sunday, and I'm in another city I still call home. The great second trimester travel tour is cruising along, and visiting places I used to love has me marveling at what paths our baby's life will take.

I drove down to Lawrence yesterday afternoon to go to the Kansas-Texas basketball game. It was my first game at Allen Fieldhouse in ten years, and it was a great one! Our seats were incredible. My father and I sat nine rows back from the court, behind the Texas bench, and next to all of the Kansas players' families. It's always a special time at Allen Fieldhouse, but last night was extra special, and I'm so glad I could share it with my father. Baby D-L's in utero experience was definitely unlike anything s/he has experienced so far.

As much as I love Lawrence, I'm glad this trip is such a short one because I only got back from Atlanta a few days ago and leave for Orlando Tuesday. In this whirlwind of traveling, I miss Mr. Nomadreade…

Sunday Salon: Hello from Atlanta

Happy Sunday! I'm writing this morning from Atlanta, the town in which I grew up. I flew in yesterday and spent the afternoon drinking ginger beer with my brother on his front patio (heavenly!), followed by hanging out with our cousins, and a wonderful dinner with my brother and sister-in-law at Gunshow, the new restaurant from Top Chef 7 alumnus Kevin Gillespie (also heavenly!) Today is the baptism of the daughter of one of my best friends. The rest of the weekend is filled with more time with friends, family, and meeting several babies born since the last time I was here, plus eating at more restaurants that are old favorites and discovering new ones. It's hard to believe it's been almost six years since I moved away from Atlanta (probably for good this time). It still feels likes home, even with so much changing over the years. The thought that the next time I'll be here, I'll have a baby is also hard to believe. All in all, the 60 degrees and sunny weather is p…

book review: Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists

The basics: This collection of personal essays from a varied collection of writers (mostly women) illuminates the a-ha moments when feminism "clicked." Edited by J. Courtney Sullivan and Courtney E. Martin, the idea for this collection arose when J. Courtney emailed a group of friends asking what their a-ha moment of feminism was so she could give a character in Commencement (my review) a particularly powerful one.

My thoughts: I've been meaning to read this essay collection for years, but now I'm glad I read it while I'm pregnant. A common theme running through many of these essays was the impact of a mother's (or mother's and father's) feminism on a personal embrace of the word, if not its meaning. As one half of a feminist couple about to have a baby, I kept wondering when my baby's "click" moment would be. And, yes, I also found myself browsing collections of feminist onesies as I read.

One of my favorite things about this collection …

book review: The News: A User's Manual by Alain de Botton

The basics: The News: A User's Manual is a manifesto for what we should want and demand from news organizations, as well as a critique of their current offerings.

My thoughts: I majored in journalism as an undergraduate, and although I walked away from my desire to ever be a journalist, I still have a deep love for journalism. I spend a lot of time with the news, as a consumer and as a critic. I assumed I was the target audience for this book, but de Botton operates under the faulty assumption that no one else has ever thought critically about the news and its role in our lives. To be fair, the more I read, the more I came to believe de Botton isn't interested in being a journalist himself, and this book is less an examination of the news as it is a personal examination of the news. de Botton doesn't investigate the large body of historical or contemporary news criticism. Instead, he seeks to do it all himself. Again, at times this approach is more successful than at others…

Sunday Salon: Hello, Bosch

Sundays that follow Saturdays when I work the reference desk are the best, most restful Sundays. And today is one of those blessed Sundays.

After work yesterday I started The Black Echo, the first mystery in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch police procedural series. Friday night I watched the Amazon pilot for Bosch, and I really liked it. I'm often intimidated by long-running series, but so many people have raved about these over the years, I impulsively bought the first six Bosch novels in Kindle bundles when they were on sale....four years ago. At least I'm finally getting to them!

One of the big changes I made when I found out I was pregnant was cutting way back on review books with specific dates. I wanted to spend these last few childless months reading whatever struck my fancy. I'm really enjoying this freedom to read, and I'm actually reading more. I'm currently three books ahead of my two-book-a-week goal pace. It's also opened up the time to t…

film review: Short Term 12

The basics: Grace (played by Brie Larson in a Critics Choice Award nominated performance) works at a group home for troubled teens, along with her boyfriend, Mason.

My thoughts: I knew nothing about Short Term 12 when I sat down to watch it. It intrigued me because Brie Larson was nominated for a Critics Choice Award for Best Actress for it. All of the other nominees were this year's usual suspects. Why had I not heard of this film? After I finished it, I was even more baffled, as it's the best film I've seen in quite some time.

Brie Larson's performance is phenomenal, but I'm not necessarily convinced it's the film's best. I'd give that honor to Keith Stanfield, who plays Marcus, a long-time resident of the home who is about to turn eighteen (Blessedly, Stanfield is nominated for an IFC Independent Spirit Award for his performance.)

From start to finish, there is an emotional delicacy to this film. It would be very easy to sensationalize the trauma of t…

book review: The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

The basics: Set in 1946, shortly after the end of World War II, The Secret of Magic is the story of the death of Joe Howard Wilson, a young black man who was returning home to Mississippi after serving in the war. M.L. Calhoun, the notoriously reclusive author of The Secret of Magic, who is from the same town as Joe Howard, writes to the NAACP. Young, African-American NAACP lawyer Regina Robichaud, who loved Calhoun's book as a child, convinces Thurgood Marshall to let her go investigate Joe Howard's death.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of both novels based on real events and novels about racial and gender equality, so I was very excited to read The Secret of Magic. The novel begins with the last moments of Joe Howard's life. It was difficult to read, but I appreciated how it set the stage and gave him a voice and personality. When the action shifted to Regina in New York City, I hoped for a heroine like Alice in Scottsboro. But too soon Regina began to drive me a bit cra…

book review: The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol

The backstory: The UnAmericans, Molly Antopol's debut short story collection, was named one of the National Book Award's 5 Under 35 last year.

The basics: This collection of stories addresses themes of home, immigration, and history.

My thoughts: Longtime readers of this blog know that short stories are not my favorite medium, but the reviews were so universally glowing for Molly Antopol that I've been anticipating this collection since I first heard about it. The collection's first story, "The Old World," is among its best. It absolutely blew me away, and perhaps it set my expectations for the rest of the collection too high.

As my reading continued, I found the collection to somewhat uneven, except the highs were exceptional stories and the lows were still good stories. There was one story that I found relatively ordinary, but as a collection, it's impressive. I often struggle with assessing story collections as a whole because the order matters so much mo…

mini-film reviews: In a World, Peeples, and Captain Phillips

In a World by Lake Bell

Lake Bell does triple duty in this comedy she wrote, directed, and starred in. She plays a  Carol, a struggling vocal coach who finds relatively unexpected opportunities in voiceovers for movie trailers, a strictly male-dominated field. The film's biggest strength is its smart, often dark humor. When it veered into schmaltz at times, it was less successful, but still highly enjoyable. Intelligent comedies with strong female characters are far too rare, and this one is definitely worth watching.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Availability: dvd

Peeples by Tina Gordon Chism
Peeples is an utterly forgettable script made quite entertaining by the tremendous talent of its cast. Kerry Washington, unsurprisingly, is amazing as Grace Peeples, a smart, talented young woman from a rich, Sag Harbor family. She's dating (and living with) Craig Robinson, but her family has no idea she is. He's goofy and likable, but I found their coupling on the laughable side of believable. Bot…

book review: The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

The backstory: The Last Days of California is Mary Miller's debut novel.

The basics: Jess is fifteen and on a road trip from Montgomery, Alabama with her pregnant seventeen-year-old sister Elise, her evangelical father, and her mother. The family is heading to California because the rapture is coming in a matter of days.

My thoughts: The thought of being fifteen on a road trip with my older sister and parents is enough to make me feel claustrophobic in reminiscence (I'm sort of kidding--I don't have an older sister.) It's not a situation I would necessarily choose to immerse myself in, but from the moment I started The Last Days of California, I was hooked and didn't want to leave this journey.

Miller is an intriguing writer. This novel has dark humor in some unexpected places:
"Molly Ringwald was never pretty enough to be a leading lady, but the eighties were a dream world in which the captain of the football team would leave the homecoming queen for an awkward…

book review: The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes

The backstory: I previously loved Strangers at the Feast, so I was eager to read the latest novel by Jennifer Vanderbes.

The basics: When her older brother and best friend goes off to fight in World War II, seventeen-year-old Juliet is devastated. Soon she receives a mysterious letter from him and discovers he's missing in action. Juliet lies about her age and enlists as an Army nurse, with the goal of getting as close to the front as possible so she can find answers about her brother's disappearance.

My thoughts: Juliet is a character who intrigued me from the beginning, when we meet her working after school in the science lab. She's smart, driven, and young, and I was curious where life would take her. As she decided to join the war effort, it made sense:
"But Juliet was growing increasingly certain of her intent to leave Charlesport; she did not want to be as Tuck had once described her--a girl who curiously opened every door but never walked through one." There…

Sunday Salon: Hello, February!

Happy February! January proved to be a pretty great month in terms of my 2014 goals. I'm ahead of schedule on reading (10 books!) and film watching (30 films, 21 of them documentaries!). I've read each issue of The New Yorker, which I'm really enjoying. My participation in the #fmsphotoaday instagram challenge petered off in January, but I hope to get back into it this month. I've been keeping up with film reviews really well, but I entered 2014 with such a backlog of book reviews, I really need to get caught up on, that I haven't published reviews of most of my January reads yet. Over all, I'm quite satisfied.

Today I hope to finish both Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists, an essay collection, and The UnAmericans, Molly Antopol's debut short story collection. I've enjoyed dipping in and out of both collections the past few days, and I realize I should pair essays and short stories more frequently. Next up: the pile of February new releases. …

mini-film reviews: Fruitvale Station, The Call, and Blue Jasmine

Fruitvale Station by Ryan Coogler

Near the beginning of Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler's debut (as screenwriter and director), the audience sees some of the actual cell phone video of the last moments of Oscar Grant III's life in Fruitvale Station in the early morning of January 1, 2009. I was familiar with the story before this film, but this choice places an omen over the rest of the film, which then takes the viewer to get to know Oscar through the last day of his life. I was gripped with fear throughout the film. In each scene, I kept expecting something terrible to happen, even though I knew the terrible moment, when Oscar is shot in the back by a security guard while handcuffed on the ground, would come near the film's end. The tension is still palpable. Coogler paints a well-rounded portrait of Oscar. He isn't made a martyr--the viewer sees all of him, both the positives and the negatives. Some of these moments were more successful than others, but I think it w…