Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Salon: It's a __________!

Bestill my pregnant heart--I think spring has finally arrived in Des Moines! Yesterday (while I was working all day, of course), it got up to the mid-fifties and was sunny and beautiful. Today is set to be even better: 68 and sunny. I'm preparing myself for back deck-sitting reading weather for most of the day. Chores? Probably not happening. Grilling out for dinner with Mr. Nomadreader? Definitely happening.

In other news...
It's a boy!
...the nomadbaby is happy to tell you he's a boy! I was not one of those moms-to-be who knew what I was having. Everyone else seemed convinced we were having a girl, however, and I was a bit surprised to see he's a boy. I'm also ecstatic. I didn't care whether the nomadbaby would be a boy or girl, but it's so nice to know. And to use the right pronoun. And picture what he will look like. And to have an answer to at least one question (no, he doesn't have a name yet, but there are several strong contenders. I even think Mr. Nomadreader and I now agree on which those strong contenders are--we've both abandoned a few names we each alone loved.)

The nomadbaby is also now big enough (21 weeks yesterday!) that I can feel him moving around inside of me all the time. It's totally awesome (and a little weird), but I can see how in a few weeks his constant dance moves may get annoying. Until then, if you see me, I might appear to be having a conversation with myself as my face betrays the movements my belly feels.

Perhaps the pregnancy brain fog is finally lifting because I'm actually craving literary fiction again (I'm still loving mysteries too!) Today I'm finishing up Thirty Girls by Susan Minot, which I've been reading since February and is actually really good, but it's depressing and the language is beautiful, and I have been a very moody reader rarely in the mood for it. Next up: more Bailey's Prize longlist titles. Perhaps The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto. 

Now tell me: is it spring where you are? What are you reading?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

book review: Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly

The backstory: Concrete Blonde is the third mystery in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. Read my reviews of the first two: The Black Echo and The Black Ice.

The basics: Harry Bosch is on trial in civil court for the killing of the Dollmaker serial killer four years ago. Meanwhile, it appears the Dollmaker may not be dead. A new note, presumably from the killer, is received, and it points to a new body, one who died after the Dollmaker.

My thoughts: I have an odd fascination for serial killer stories, and Concrete Blonde is a good one. By re-investigating the murders from four years ago, before the Bosch series begins, the reader gets to know more about this case that demoted Bosch from the prestigious Robbery Homicide Division to Hollywood homicide. In many ways, this book felt allows Bosch and his recent past to come full circle. It's simultaneously an intriguing mystery and a suspenseful legal thriller, as every clue to the new body and note have potentially dire implications for Bosch's civil defense case.

I enjoyed each element of this novel, but I most appreciated the depth with which Connelly explores Bosch's backstory in this mystery. I'm frequently annoyed when mystery writers stifle character growth, even when paired with a compelling mystery. Connelly shows no fear, either in his mysteries tinged with law enforcement corruption or with exploring Bosch's demons. Bosch isn't a character I would say I particularly liked, but he is one I increasingly trust and remain fascinated by. I can't wait to see where Connelly takes him nest.

The verdict: Concrete Blonde is another excellent book in a superb series. While I correctly predicted some of its twists and turns, Connelly once again kept me on my toes. The biggest strength of this novel is the combination of beguiling mystery and the continued growth of Bosch as a character.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 392 pages
Publication date: June 1, 1994
Source: purchased

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

Want more? Visit Michael Connelly's websitelike 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!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

book review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

The backstory: The Other Typist is one of my book club's March picks (we meet every other month and read two books.)

The basics: Rose Baker is an orphan who works as a typist at a Lower East Side police precinct in the 1920's. When Odalie joins the precinct as the titular other typist, she and Rose develop a friendship, but their lives seem fraught with peril and obsession.

Warning: this review contains some vague spoilers.

My thoughts: Rose narrates from the future, and it's clear from the beginning that she isn't always telling the reader everything. Her narration is concerned with what to tell and when. I don't think it's a stretch to say there are many clues she is not the most reliable narrator. I'm a huge fan of unreliable narrators, and as I read I savored the clues Rose doles out. I wouldn't go so far as to say the novel reads like a thriller, but I expected a big reveal of some sort for the reader to finally piece together the validity of Rose's story. Instead, the end of the novel raises many more questions than it answers.

As a reader, I don't need every element of a story tied up in a neat little package for me at the end of the novel. After all, life is rarely so neat, and I like some ambiguity. The Other Typist reminds me that there is definitely such a thing as too much ambiguity. I was enchanted with this book as I read. I thoroughly enjoyed my suspicions of Rose throughout the novel. I'm drawn to characters who are interesting, regardless of whether or not they're likeable (and Rose is definitely not always likeable.) She is, however, interesting and usually understandable.

When I turned the last page, I had one of those moments where I had to ask "that's it?" Initially, I hoped that although the ending wasn't what I expected, I could come to understand it. I didn't. I'm of two minds about this novel. I had a delightful reading experience with this novel, but I really disliked the ending. Does the ending taint my enjoyment of the novel? No. It does, however, tinge the reading experience with some sadness for the unfulfilled promise of this novel. I'm very much looking forward to our discussion of this novel tonight!

Favorite passage:  "The typewriter is indeed my passport into a world otherwise barred to me and my kind."

The verdict: While I loved the experience of reading The Other Typist and trying to figure out Rose and her story, the ending was too ambiguous to be satisfying.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 359 pages
Publication date: May 7, 2013 (it's out in paperback next week)
Source: library

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

Want more? Visit Suzanne Rindell'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!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Salon: Home again, home again!

The Sunday Salon.comHappy Sunday morning from my beloved porch couch! Our three-season porch is my favorite part of our house, and I expected to be able to use it all winter, but it turned out to be far too cold for that. We've just opened it back up, and I love having its extra space, particularly as we very slowly drift toward spring (yes, it's supposed to snow tomorrow, but then we should see a 68-degree-high later in the week.)

The great second trimester travel tour came to an end when we got back from New York yesterday afternoon. For the past five weeks, I've spent more time away from home than at home. It's been such a joy to visit all of the other cities I've called home in my adult life (Atlanta, Lawrence, Kansas City, and Albany) and have my baby bump rubbed and kissed and loved by so many. Our baby already has quite the village cheering its arrival in August. As much fun as my trips have been, it's also really good to be home. I'm starting to feel that nesting instinct kick in, and I have the first urge to clean my house since before I got pregnant. I'm ready to settle in and enjoy life at home again.

This weekend I hit a major milestone: 20 weeks. It's technically the half-way point, and the psychological boost it's giving me is a blessing. I'm starting to believe I actually will have this baby and not just be pregnant forever. Pregnancy is definitely not my favorite life experience. In many ways, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. The physical symptoms aren't excruciating or unbearable (at least not yet, as everyone seems so eager to tell me.) I've struggled with the emotional and psychological symptoms of pregnancy much more than the physical. It's emotionally grueling. I feel like a teenager again, and I did not enjoy being a teenager. It's exhausting being on guard all the time to deny myself things I love to eat and drink. And it feels interminable. Thankfully, the twenty-week benchmark is shifting my mood somewhat. I'm finally starting to believe I will actually have a baby at the end of this experience and not just get stuck in some science fictional universe where I really will be pregnant forever. In the meantime, please don't tell me to enjoy this time now because it's only getting worse. Pregnancy is hard, but I think different parts of it are harder for some than others, and I would gladly have more physical than psychological symptoms. It would be a relief to point to something specific to complain about instead of trying to put into words why as much as I already love this baby growing inside of me and am glad to have this life experience, I do not enjoy being pregnant. Eventually I hope I find the words and can write an essay explaining my complicated thoughts and feelings on being pregnant.

While Mr. Nomadreader and I drove to New York and spent a week relaxing with family and friends, I took a break from my Baileys Prize longlist reading and binged on more Michael Connelly mysteries, which are much easier to read while also half-watching television or chatting or navigating from the passenger seat. I decided to read Connelly's books in the order in which they were published, so I had the pleasure of reading The Poet, the first non-Bosch mystery (it was fabulous.) I'm currently back to reading a Bosch mystery, Trunk Music, and I hope to finish it in the next few days. I'm eager to see how the Connelly universe continues to expand and overlap as new series begin.

I am also eager to get back into the Baileys Prize longlist. A stack of longlisted titles arrived from the UK while I was out of town, and the last two should arrive later this week. Staring at the physical pile of titles fills me with anticipation, and I haven't decided which one to read next. At this point, I doubt I'll finish the longlist before the winner is announced, largely because I'd rather alternate the longlisted titles with mysteries. There are also a ridiculous number of new releases coming out in April and May by authors I've enjoyed in the past. I now plan to read whichever longlisted title most strikes my fancy at the moment until the shortlist is announced. Then I'll focus on those titles until I finish, before moving back to the longlisted titles. I've realized so far in 2014, when I've left myself read whatever appeals to me in that moment rather than committing to specific review dates, that I most enjoy reading when finding a good balance between goal-oriented reading and mood-based reading. I think aiming to alternate Baileys Prize titles with other titles will work well.

I plan to spend the rest of the day reading Trunk Music, writing a few blog posts for this week, watching basketball, and running errands before heading back to work tomorrow. I'm really enjoying the men's NCAA tournament again this year, and Michael Connelly chapters are often the perfect length to read during commercial breaks.

What are up to 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!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

book review: The Black Ice by Michael Connelly

The backstory: The Black Ice is the second mystery in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series (read my review of The Black Echo, the first in the series.)

The basics: When LAPD detective Cal Moore is found dead of an apparent suicide in a LA hotel room on Christmas, Harry Bosch investigates.

My thoughts: After loving the first Bosch novel, I was curious to see if Michael Connelly could write another that was as good. He did. I was foolishly impatient when The Black Ice began. "Where's the mystery?" I wondered. Soon, the novel was swirling with numerous mysteries that may or may not be connected, and I was enchanted.

There are some similarities to The Black Echo I could foresee becoming tropes, but they work here. Bosch is somewhat of a rogue, but he isn't a rogue for the sake of being one. As the action shifts to Mexico, the action became even more intense. I won't spoil the resolution, but I will say it is beautifully executed.

Favorite passage:  "We want the truth, Detective. You are confusing that with what we choose to tell the public."

The verdict: The Black Ice is every bit as good as The Black Echo was. If you're a fan of dark mysteries, drop what you're doing and start reading this highly addictive and accomplished series.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 388 pages
Publication date: June 1, 1993 
Source: purchased

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

Want more? Visit Michael Connelly's websitelike 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!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

book review: Bumpology: The Myth-Busting Pregnancy Book for Curious Parents-to-Be by Linda Geddes

The basics: Linda Geddes, a British author and journalist, wrote the New Scientist column entitled Bumpology. It now continues on her website.

My thoughts: Since the moment I found out I was pregnant, I've eagerly explored the non-traditional pregnancy books. I'm more interested in the how and why than in the strict, traditional rules. I'm more interested in exploring the experiences of real pregnant women than the advice of the experts. I'm most interested in learning about pregnancy across the globe, so Bumpology was right up my alley. I'm continuously startled at the differences between the pregnancy and birth experiences in the U.S. and Europe (and Australia): "Around 58 percent of U.S. women have an epidural, while in the UK, it is closer to 20 percent."

Much of what I read in the early sections of Bumpology I had already learned in Emily Oster's excellent Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong--and What You Really Need to Know (review coming next week.) I won't fault Bumpology for that, as there need to be more sources, particularly for U.S. women, exploring the truth behind the rules we're given without evidence. Still, what reading these two books close together made clear is that while many of the ideas are the same, the two authors take dramatically different approaches. Different readers will have different preferences.

Bumpology is essentially a collection of Bumpology columns. One big pro to this approach is the breadth of topics covered. Bumpology begins with pregnancy, continues with birth, and ends with babies. I will definitely pick it up to re-read those sections when the time comes. One big con, however, was how little information was included about some topics. With 150 sections in just over 300 pages, very little is explored in depth. For some topics, the amount of information was just right, but for others, I wanted more. I wish Geddes would have expanded some columns. I also wish she would have done some more revising for this U.S. edition of the book. While I welcomed her British perspective, there were numerous opportunities to play up different policies and results.

The verdict: There's a lot of good information in Bumpology, but it left me wanting more of many vignettes and less of others. As a reading experience, it was uneven, but as a resource to refer to as I get closer to birth, and as my baby grows after s/he is born, I think it will prove a helpful one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: March 11, 2014
Source: publisher

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

Want more? Visit Linda Geddes' 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, March 10, 2014

book review: The Bear by Claire Cameron

The backstory: The Bear, Canadian author Claire Cameron's second novel, is on this year's Baileys Prize longlist.

The basics: Based on the true story of a couple killed by a bear at a Canadian campsite in 1991, Claire Cameron re-imagines the story to include two young children camping with the children.

My thoughts: I've never been camping, and I have no real desire to ever go. As I read this gripping novel, I asked my husband, "are there really people who take a five-year-old and an almost-three-year-old camping?" It sounds excruciating to me, but I was fascinated by the characters and story. Cameron smartly opens with a descriptive author's note identifying the real-life inspiration for this novel. The novel reads so real, I likely would have been researching its origins as I read if I didn't already know.

Anna, the five-year-old daughter, narrates this story. Traditionally, child narrators are hit or miss for me. Aside from Room (my review), one of all-time favorite novels, I too often find them distracting or unnecessary. Perhaps there's a magic for me as a reader with a very young narrator. Or perhaps there's magic in a child narrator telling a story no one else is around to tell. Or perhaps its as simple as having a child narrator sound like an actual child rather than also including adult observations. As a writer, I imagine it takes incredible restraint to truly tell a story through the eyes and words of a child, but Cameron does it well.

As much as I enjoyed this novel as I read it, I guessed it might be one I enjoyed while I read because of its fast pace and compelling narrative but might not stick with me. Admittedly, I am more partial to an epilogue than the average reader, and this novel's epilogue took the novel to the next level for me.

The verdict: The Bear is a captivating and haunting novel of a very dark subject. I raced through it in less than a day and haven't stopped thinking about it since I turned the last page. I would not be disappointed to see it on the Baileys Prize shortlist.

A note on the cover: I rarely comment on covers, and this one certainly didn't grab me until I picked up the novel, but it captures the action of the novel beautifully. Looking at it haunts me, although I wish Anna's other hand held her stuffed bear.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 241 pages
Publication date: February 11, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Bear from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Claire Cameron's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter 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, March 6, 2014

The 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist: A U.S. Reader's Guide

The 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction longlist is finally here! Known for years as the Orange Prize, this is my favorite literary prize, and I always greet its longlist with a look at how U.S. readers fare when trying to track down copies of all twenty books (see my U.S. Reader's Guides for 2013, 2012, & 2011.)

The One I've Already Read:

The Ones Available in the U.S. Now:

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
  • MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
  • The Bear by Claire Cameron
  • Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter

  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  • The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner

  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Ones Coming Soon to the U.S.:

  • Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies (September 9, 2014)
  • A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (September 9, 2014)
  • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (April 15, 2014)
The Ones We Hope Make Their Way to the U.S. Soon:
  • The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne
  • The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto
  • The Stranger Vine by M.J. Carter
  • The Undertaking by Audrey Magee (not pictured)
  • Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson
My thoughts:
This longlist is long. Neither The Luminaries nor The Goldfinch are surprises, but both are chunksters that help make this the longest longlist since 2010. It would be impossible for me to read 7500 pages before the shortlist announcement on April 7th, but I do hope to read the nineteen titles I haven't read before the winner is announced June 4th.

With two former winners (Suzanne Berne and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) vying with numerous literary heavyweights, plus several less established authors, this year's race will be a fascinating one to watch. I'm thrilled with the combination of expected titles and under-the-radar surprises.

I was able to get a copy of all of the titles coming soon to the U.S., as well as the five with no available U.S. publication dates, thanks to the Book Depository and Amazon's third-party sellers. While those make their way to me, I'm eager to dig in with the titles I currently have loaded on my Kindle (oh, e-galleys, I love you!) First up: I think I'll start with The Bear by Claire Cameron, which I meant to get to last month and didn't.

Now tell me: which title are you most excited to see on this year's longlist?

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, March 2, 2014

Sunday Salon: from Orlando to below zero

The Sunday Salon.comHappy Sunday! Lately, another Sunday means another city. Today I'm writing from the Orlando airport (cheers to free wifi, Orlando!) I'm heading back home this morning, where the temperatures promise to be below zero when I arrive. As much as I love winter, negative temperatures are too cold even for me. At least my sunburn will help keep me warm!

I've been in Orlando since Tuesday. I spent two days at the Information Fluency Conference, where I presented on using documentary films as vehicles to teach information literacy, media literacy and visual literacy. It was a great conference, and when it ended I went to the other side of Orlando to meet up with my three best friends from high school (one of whom lives here), including two six-month old babies. We had a delightfully relaxing few days. I'm having a hard time grasping that our trip next February or March, I'll be the one with the six-month old.

As much as I love traveling, I am greatly relieved and excited to be staying home for the next week and a half. I miss Mr. Nomadreader terribly, and I'm ready to spend my weekend relaxing at home.

I haven't done much reading this week, but I did read The Black Ice, the second Bosch mystery by Michael Connelly on the plane. It kept my attention so well on my long day of travel that I started The Concrete Blonde, the third in the series, this morning. I hope it will be just as good. Although I am in serious danger of racing through this entire series before the end of the year, when the newest one comes out. Devouring a long-running series so quickly feels utterly gluttonous, but I love it.

I read eight books in February, which is right on track for my goal of two each week. For as little time as I've spent at home, I'm pleased with this number. Of course, I still need to write reviews for three of them. Both The Black Echo and The Black Ice (review coming this week) were five-star reads for me, and they were my favorite books of February. I'm eager to see if Connelly can keep up this level of excellence throughout the series.

Baileys Prize
Friday brings the announcement of the 2014 Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) longlist. I doubt I'll commit to reading all twenty titles this year, but it's still my favorite literary prize, and I'm excited to see which books make the list. I'll weight in with my thoughts after the longlist is announced.

I hope the end of my whirlwind traveling means the blog will get back to consistent posts this week (but don't hold your breath for tomorrow!)

I still haven't seen most of the Oscar-nominated films because I'm waiting for dvd, but I'm looking forward to seeing who wins tonight. I've been following the Best Documentary race most closely, as I've seen all five of those films. I'm rooting for either Dirty Wars or 20 Feet from Stardom, both of which I rated five stars.

Now tell me: what's the best book you read in February?

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!