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Showing posts from May, 2014

book review: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

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The basics: Stretching from the 1970's to the early 2000's, Astonish Me is the story of Joan, a young ballerina good enough to make the corps but not good enough to ever be a star. Joan's story is told in chapters and vignettes that move back and forth in time.

My thoughts: As someone who has little coordination and even less grace, my fascination with ballet and dance truly stems from appreciation. Maggie Shipstead clearly shares my fascination with ballet, and the characters in this novel are at times both reverent and critical about ballet. These complicated feelings about ballet extend into the characters' lives too, and Shipstead's prose is astonishingly good.

For so much interior insight, there is also a lot of action. Joan is at the center of this novel, but the secondary characters are actually more intriguing. From Joan's roommate and fellow dancer Elaine, to Russian defector Arslan Rusakov, to Joan's husband and son, as well as her neighbors, Joan …

book review: Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York edited by Sari Botton

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The basics: This collection of essays takes its inspiration from Joan Didion's famous essay of the same name and invites a younger generation of writers to write about their love affairs with New York.

My thoughts: I lived in New York City for only one summer, between my first and second years of college, but it was one of my favorite summers. I always imagined I'd end up living there, and when I met Mr. Nomadreader, a native upstate New Yorker, in Atlanta, we both figured we'd end up there. When we moved to Albany for me to go to graduate school, I still thought we'd end up in New York or Boston or somewhere nearby, but then reality charged in, and I realized the difference between academic librarian salaries varied little based on where you live, and as much as I love New York, I did not pick a job that would let me have any real quality of life if we lived there. Still: New York City is magical for me, and I knew this collection would be filled with people who simila…

book review: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

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The backstory: I've previously enjoyed Emma Straub's short story collection, Other People We Married, which apparently I never reviewed, but the story "Fly Over State" remains one of my all-time favorites. Her debut novel, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, was a delightful audio experience, and I was eager to see what she would do next. Once again, it's something quite different from her previously published work.

The basics: The Post family are off to spend two weeks in Mallorca. Franny and Jim are celebrating thirty-five years of marriage, but it may be coming to an end. Jim has also lost his job. Their daughter Sylvia is off to Brown in the fall. Their son, Bobby, and his older girlfriend, Carmen, live in Miami. Franny's best friend, Charles, and his husband, Lawrence, also join them.

My thoughts: The Vacationers is one of those books that enchanted me from its opening pages. It's the perfect combination of so many factors, and reading it gave me that…

book review: The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

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The basics: The Lobster Kings is the story of the Kings family, who have lived and fished off of Loosewood Island, Maine for generations, beginning with Brumfitt King, a famous artist. The current generation of Kings, and the focus of most of the novel, are patriarch Woody and his three daughters, but mostly Cordelia, who loves the sea as much as her father.

My thoughts: There's an ethereal quality to the writing and setting of this novel that captured me from the novel's first pages. Zentner's writing has a calm fluidity that perfectly matches the maritime setting and the novel's pace. Big moments happen in short, unassuming sentences, which I quite enjoyed, but it sets a specific tone for this novel.

Despite the presence of many tragic and depressing events, the novel itself isn't marred by those emotions. Zentner's writing matches the demeanor of the Kings: there's an acceptance of how life is, which might be tragic by many standards, but is the norm for …

Kicking Off Armchair BEA 2014!

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In celebration of the first day of this year's Armchair BEA, participants are asked to answer five questions (from a provided list of ten.) Here are mine:

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

I'm Carrie. I live in Des Moines, Iowa, where I work as an academic librarian. As the name of my blog indicates, I'm a nomad and a reader. By my count, I've moved twenty-times in my thirty-three years, but Mr. Nomadreader and I bought a house last spring, and we both hope we're living in it until it's time to move to the retirement home. I started blogging in March 2007, and I've moved many times in those seven years. I started blogging when I started working temping as a receptionist when I was applying to graduate schools. I had a lot of time to browse the Internet, and I initially started the blog as a place to write about everything I read:…

Sunday Salon: upcoming bookish events

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I'm already up and enjoying this leisurely, holiday Sunday! Memorial Day weekend is my favorite three-day weekend all year, mostly because I work in academia and welcome the first post-academic year reprieve with open arms. It's also the only three-day weekend--with the sometimes exception of July 4th when it falls on a weekend--not during the academic year, which means I can just relax and read, read, read. As I wait for the cinnamon coffee cake in the oven to finish baking, I'm gearing up for two exciting bookish events coming up: Armchair BEA and the World Cup of Literature.

I haven't been to a BEA in person for years, but I always enjoy the opportunity to participate in Armchair BEA, which starts tomorrow. There are daily prompts, giveaways, an Instagram challenge, Twitter parties, and so many fun ways to connect. I'll be participating in some of the prompts, but I'll also be posting reviews this week because I've been reading like a woman who soon won&#…

mini-book reviews: Void Moon, A Darkness More Than Night, and City of Bones

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I've been tearing through Michael Connelly's lengthy backlist, and I often find myself with repetitive things to say about them, so I'll mostly be doing mini-reviews of his titles, unless one compels me to write more deeply. Find links to all my Michael Connelly reviews in my Book Review Database.
Void Moon is a stand-alone thriller featuring Cassie Black, a con artist. In that sense, it's quite a departure for Connelly to write from the point-of-view of the criminal. it's also a departure to have a female narrator. Connelly does both well. Cassie shares narration with a private investigator hired to recover what she steals. This approach was mostly successful, but it slowed down the fast-pace of this novel a bit. Overall, Void Moon was a page-turning thriller more than a mystery, and while it lacked the jaw-dropping twists I've come to expect from Connelly, it did keep me on my toes until the last page.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: library

A Darkness More Than Night

book review: Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

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The backstory: Emma Donoghue is among my favorite authors. Room remains one of my all-time favorite books, and I've also enjoyed The Sealed Letter and Astray.

The basics: Set in the summer of 1876 in San Francisco in the midst of the smallpox epidemic, Frog Music is the story of the murder of Jenny Bonnet, a cross-dressing young woman who dies in the novel's first pages. Her new friend Blanche Beunon, a French burlesque dancer and prostitute, tells the story. The action shifts between the days after Jenny's murder and a month earlier, when Jenny and Blanche meet.

My thoughts: Although Frog Music is the story of an unsolved murder, I'd classify it more as historical fiction than historical mystery. The mystery itself is compelling, particularly as the novel climaxes, but it's not what I loved most about this novel. As I read, I was immediately immersed in San Francisco in the summer of 1876. Donoghue strikes the perfect balance between vivid historical detail and a fa…

book review: Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

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The backstory: Think Like a Freak is the latest book collaboration of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I've previously adored Freakonomics (read before this blog) and Superfreakonomics (my review.)

The basics: Think Like a Freak is a glimpse into a different way of thinking. What it lacks in extensive statistical evaluation, it makes up for in terms of anecdotes and process.

My thoughts: In many ways, Think Like a Freak is somewhat of a departure from the first two Levitt and Dubner books. It's written in a very similar style, and as I read I felt as though I was privy to a casual conversation between the two. The book itself is broken up into chapters, each with a different lesson of how to think like a freak.

While this book lacked many of the wow moments I so loved about the first Freakonomics, it's lessons are wise and interesting. I read this book quickly (in only a few hours), and I was fascinated as I compulsively read. Even a few days later, however, I'm s…

book review: The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

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The backstory: The Undertaking, the debut novel by Audrey Magee, is on the 2014 Baileys Prize shortlist. It was also longlisted for the 2015 Walter Scott Prize.

The basics: In early World War II, teacher and German soldier Peter Faber, desperate to escape the Russian front, even if only for a few weeks, decides to marry a woman, Katharina Spinnell, he has never met. She gets his pension if he dies, and he gets two weeks leave, which he spends with Katharina and her parents in Berlin.

My thoughts: I confess, when I saw The Undertaking on the Baileys Prize longlist (and eventually the shortlist), I was skeptical. "Another World War II novel? Hasn't it all been done?" I'm hardly an expert on World War II fiction, but I've been suffering from fatigue for several years. Good news: The Undertaking is fresh, enchanting, and an incredibly accomplished debut.

The relationship between Katharina and Peter is fascinating to watch. There initial time together is incredibly awkw…

Sunday Salon: on pregnancy cravings (the expected and the surprising)

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One of the questions I get most frequently from people lately "what are you craving?" I am an eater (and a drinker), and I was curious how those habits would change when I got pregnant. I miss the ability to have more than one drink less than I thought I would (most nights). I really miss rare steak, blue cheese and goat cheese. I love the ability to eat gluten again (although still, not too much of it!) And I've developed an affinity for spicy food and chocolate much to the delight of Mr. Nomadreader, as those are two of his favorite good groups.) And, no, I haven't had the dreaded pregnancy heartburn (at least not yet), so I'm really enjoying my exploration of spicy foods and not-so-secretly hoping I won't lose the ability to enjoy spicy foods after the nomadbaby arrives.

But what I've been most surprised about is a craving of a very different sort: classic literature. I anticipated spending my pregnancy days lounging on the couch or in the hammock (wea…

audiobook review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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narrated by Kate Rudd

The basics: The Fault in Our Stars is the story of the romance of Hazel and Augustus, teenagers who meet at a cancer support group.

My thoughts: I don't read a lot of young adult fiction, but it's been impossible to ignore the acclaim of this novel, particularly it's impressive performance in the 2013 Tournament of Books. I opted to listen to it on audio, and Kate Rudd's narration captured a delightful tone for the novel. There are moments of levity, seriousness and relative normalcy, and Rudd moves between them deftly. The subject matter of this novel is dark: teenagers with cancer, but the novel is rarely dark. While this tone makes it more entertaining read, it also functioned to keep me from becoming as emotionally invested in the characters as I would have liked to be.

The Fault in Our Stars is the first young adult novel I've read since I became pregnant, and it was a somewhat jarring experience for me to feel more connection to Hazel's…

book review: Wonderland by Stacey D'Erasmo

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The basics: Wonderland is the story of Anna Brundage, a forty-four year old indie rock star who has been out of the public spotlight for seven years. She's on her international comeback tour promoting her latest album, which she had to self-finance. Wonderland unfolds in the present, on tour, as Anna also recollects her first rise and fall in music, as well as her life until now.

My thoughts: Wonderland is one of those books I wanted to like so much more than I did. The premise is fabulous--a female indie rock star primed for a comeback and traveling across music drinking and playing shows? It's practically tailor-made for me. Yet as I read, I never felt connected to Anna. Worse still--I never particularly cared about her. D'Ersasmo is a gifted writer, and I enjoyed myself as I read, but I kept waiting for something more, and this never fully came together for me. Still, it was a quick read, and I enjoyed the time I spent with it, but I doubt it will stay with me for long.

T…

book review: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

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The backstory: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride's debut novel, is shortlisted for the 2014 Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction.

The basics: "Eimear McBride's acclaimed debut tells the story of a young woman's relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumor, touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma."--from the publisher

My thoughts: When I sat down to start A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, I was curious and excited. I knew it was receiving praise from some very big namesand that it was experimental in nature. I eager to become part of the Eimear McBride club. After ten pages, I realized I had zero idea of what I had read beyond words. I started over.

Finishing A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is something of an accomplishment for me. It was incredibly challenging to read and required a high level of concentration. It was not a book I c…

book review: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

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The basics: Set over one weekend in late summer, Cutting Teeth is the story of a Long Island beach house vacation for a Brooklyn playgroup of four-year-olds and their parents.

My thoughts: Despite having a large cast of characters, I never struggled with keeping the characters straight. Alternating narration from most of the parents certainly helped, as the reader gets to know both the personalities of each character as well as their interior monologues. In this sense, the narrative style greatly contributed to the tension of the weekend, which predictably builds as the novel goes on.

Cutting Teeth is both funny and serious. Fierro, herself a mother of two young children who lives in Brooklyn, frequently pokes fun at the stereotypes and caricatures of Brooklyn parents and children. But while the commentary veered into satire at times, I was also struck by an underlying sadness at its heart. I think of parenting a little differently now as I'm a few months from becoming a parent. The…

Sunday Salon: the home stretch?

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Good morning! We're expecting a day of storms, so I've traded in hammock-lounging for porch couch lounging today. Plus, I have a ton of things I'd like to do around the house before celebrating Mother's Day with my mom, grandmother, and aunt tonight.

Pregnancy
It was a week of milestones: Friday marked three months until the nomadbaby's due date, and I hit 27 weeks yesterday, which means I've officially entered the third trimester. I feel like I'm in the home stretch now. Unlike most people, I keep feeling better the longer I'm pregnant. I struggled with pre-partum depression the first two trimesters, but I've been feeling more and more like myself in the past few weeks. I think I've finally reached an equilibrium, where August 9th seems close enough that my impatience is waning (I accept that there will be a baby...and relatively soon), which allows me to be both excited for the nomadbaby to arrive and excited to enjoy these last weeks as a fami…

book review: Expecting Better by Emily Oster

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The basics: The subtitle of Expecting Better really says it all: why the conventional pregnancy wisdom is wrong--and what you really need to know. Emily Oster is a health economist, and in this book she offers up her analysis of what the data behind the pregnancy rules (the good, bad and unnecessary). While she offers her decisions, she also leaves room for the reader to make her own informed decisions about her pregnancy.

My thoughts: Expecting Better made headlines when it came out last August. I vividly recall the NPR headline "Pregnant? It's okay to have a glass of wine*" with the asterisk indicating "according to an economist." Which is true, but also according to doctors across Western Europe and Australia, but I'm getting ahead of myself. In August, we were still in that very frustrating stage of trying to get pregnant, so I purchased the book for my Kindle and impatiently waited until I was actually pregnant, which blessedly finally happened in Decem…

book review: The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne

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Update: The Dogs of Littlefield was published January 12, 2016 in the U.S.  I've reposted my review here.
The backstory: The Dogs of Littlefield is on the longlist for this year's Baileys Prize. Suzanne Berne won the Orange Prize in 1999 for her first novel, A Crime in the Neighborhood (my review.)

The basics: Set in the idyllic (fictional) town of Littlefield, Massachusetts, famous for its place on the Ten Best Places to Live in America list, as well as its disproportionately high number of psychotherapists, The Dogs of Littlefield explores the characters of this town through their own eyes and through the eyes of Dr. Clarice Watkins, a cultural anthropologist spending a year in Littlefield as a visiting scholar. Soon after she arrives, dogs start getting poisoned, and the paranoia and repercussions of these events ripple throughout Littlefield.

My thoughts: When the Baileys Prize longlist was first announced, the title I was most surprised to see was The Dogs of Littlefield. How…

book review: The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman

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The backstory: Ellen Feldman is one of my favorite authors. I've adored her two most recent novels: Scottsboro (my review) and Next to Love (my review.)

The basics: The Unwitting opens on November 22, 1963, but it's not a novel about the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. In this prologue, the reader learns it will be a momentous day for Nell and Charlie Benjamin, but before we find out why, the action jumps back to the beginning of their courtship.

My thoughts: The titular unwitting refers to those who were unaware of CIA connections and financial support of non-governmental foundations, publications and organizations. Throughout this novel there are questions of loyalty and paranoia about the CIA and its involvement, but these themes extend beyond the CIA into secrets and trust, of the government, of spouses, and of associates. These themes run rampant in this novel, and the reader shares the doubt of the characters as we all wonder "will we ever really know the truth?" T…

book review: How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane (And Other Lessons in Parenting from a Highly Questionable Source) by Johanna Stein

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The basics: As the title indicates, How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane is a humorous parenting book. It's a collection of essays and anecdotes

My thoughts: I tend to shy away from straight advice books about parenting, as I did when we planned our wedding, started trying to get pregnant, got pregnant, and now are approaching parenthood. Advice-filled parenting books will likely find a place in my reading life once I know my child and his particular issues, but until then, I increasingly find myself drawn to humor, essays, and fiction about parenting. How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane is a delightfully humorous essay collection about Johanna Stein's adventures in parenting.

I frequently laughed out loud as I read this book, which made Mr. Nomadreader comment how nice it is to hear me reading a funny book. Apparently my typical reading tastes cause me to gasp and cry rather than laugh. Stein's humor doesn't completely mesh with my own. At times I also found myself critiq…

mini-book reviews: Trunk Music, Blood Work, and Angels Flight by Michael Connelly

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I've been tearing through Michael Connelly's lengthy backlist, and I often find myself with repetitive things to say about them, so I'll mostly be doing mini-reviews of his titles, unless one compels me to write more deeply. Trunk Music is the fifth novel in the Harry Bosch series. Harry is back from his disciplinary leave and now has two partners: Kizmin Rider and Jerry Edgar. Their first case as a team of three is the murder of Hollywood producer Tony Aliso, who is found in his trunk in what appears to be a Mafia hit. The real story is a twisty, satisfying and surprising story I've come to expect from Connelly. The novel veers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and brings a familiar face back to Harry's personal life, Eleanor Wish, from The Black Echo. On the whole, Trunk Music is a deeply satisfying mystery and also moves Harry's story forward.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Source: purchased

Blood Work is a stand-alone novel that introduces Terry McCaleb, an FBI agent who retir…

book review: All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

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The backstory: All the Birds, Singing, the second novel by Australian author Evie Wyld, was longlisted for the 2014 Baileys Prize.

The basics: Jake lives on a sheep farm in England, where she mostly sticks to herself and with her dog, Dog. She's clearly running from her past, which adds a bit of mystery, and the action shifts between flashbacks to the past and the present.

My thoughts: All the Birds, Singing is a book I wanted to like more than I liked. Perhaps I read it at the wrong time, but I struggled to get through this slim volume. If experimental nature fiction is a genre, then this novel is it. On the whole, I felt this novel was disjointed. Most obviously, the narrative is intentionally disjointed, as the action shifts (often awkwardly for this reader) between time periods, but without clear markers. From the first pages, there's an assumption the narrator won't tell this story from the beginning and expects the reader to make sense of the characters and events as t…