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Showing posts from July, 2014

audiobook review: Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons From My Grandmothers

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narrated by Adriana Trigiani

The backstory: Adriana Trigiani's fiction has been hit or miss for me. I really enjoyed Big Stone Gap, although admittedly I haven't yet read the rest of the series. I enjoyed Very Valentineon audio (my favorite narrator, Cassandra Campbell, performs) and listened to the sequel too, but I don't know that I would have bothered to read it in print because I really didn't like the character of Valentine (and I haven't read or listened to the trilogy's concluding volume.) I was curious to listen to Trigiani's nonfiction, as all of her fiction I've read has had some connection to her life and her family history.

The basics: In this memoir of sorts, Trigiani tells the stories of both of her grandmothers' lives, as well as their impact on her own life.

My thoughts: I've really been enjoying memoirs lately, and since I've been pregnant, I've particularly been enjoying memoirs about family and legacy. I thought it was th…

book review: Nine Months by Paula Bomer

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The basics: Nine Months is the story of Brooklyn wife and mom of two Sonia, who finds herself unintentionally and unhappily pregnant with number three. With frustration mounting, Sonia takes off on a cross-country trip alone--and does so many things pregnant women aren't supposed to do.

My thoughts: I've been saving Nine Months to read until I was very, very pregnant. I'm so glad I did because it was fun to live vicariously through Sonia. I'm happily pregnant, of course, but I also really dislike being pregnant. The thought of being pregnant again--ever--terrifies me. I can relate to Sonia's feeling of helplessness, but as real as it is, this novel is also escapist fun. It's fantasy that's firmly planted in reality:
""You’re pregnant. You’re doing a great job. I know it’s hard.” “You don’t know how hard it is. And I’m not doing a ‘great job.’ I haven’t done anything, except fuck you. This is happening to me, don’t you understand? I have nothing to d…

book review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

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The backstory: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has been longlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize. It also won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Prize.

The basics: Narrated by Rosemary, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is the story of her family: her academic psychologist father, mother, brother Lowell, and sister Fern. Rosemary slowly tells their secrets, but we learn early on she hasn't seen Lowell in ten years and Fern disappeared seventeen years ago.

My thoughts: Rosemary is the best kind of unreliable narrator. She's quite honest with the reader about how she's telling this story--out of order. But despite knowing she's not telling a linear story (although it's easy to follow and even enhanced by its structure), she still managed to surprise me more than once with key details she waits to share. She doesn't lie, but she does omit at times. She even tells the reader she's doing it in a beautiful way: "The beauty, the utility of this story is in its power…

book review: Suzanne Davis Gets a Life by Paula Marantz Cohen

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The backstory: Paula Marantz Cohen is one of my best-kept secret authors. I first discovered her in the winter of 2003. I graduated from college in December 2002, moved "home" to Kansas City, and found myself with lots of time to read in a very icy winter. On the new release shelves at the library, I picked up Jane Austen in Boca on a whim. I loved it and promptly read all of her other novels too. (Read my review of Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan.)

The basics: Suzanne Davis is a 34-year-old New York who works as a technical writer for an air conditioning union. She wants to have a baby, and as her birthday approaches, she decides she needs to get a life...and turns to those in her Upper West Side apartment building.

My thoughts: Suzanne Davis Gets a Life captured me from the first page. Suzanne's narration is satirical, hilarious, and wise. She addresses the reader directly as she tells her story, and I could hardly read fast enough to enjoy her world and perspective. Her ob…

Sunday Salon: I'm still pregnant, but the Booker longlist is out

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I confess: I am really hoping (and was really believing) the nomadbaby would make his appearance today. 27 is a special number in this family. Mr. Nomadreader and I were both born on the 27th (of September and August respectively.) We started dating on February (2/7). How perfect would it be for the nomadbaby to join us on the 27th? If the first half of my day is any indication: it would be too perfect to be true, despite my vigorous rubbing of key acupuncture points used to jump start labor. I strategically started around 4 p.m. yesterday, and all I have to show for it are some very sore pressure points. Alas, I am resigning myself to still being pregnant when this day is done (and yes, the nomadbaby isn't actually due until next week, but a very pregnant lady sure can dream.)

In the absence of having a baby today, I'm spending it reading, and I seemed to have once again found my reading groove. I started digging into the Booker longlist last week. This year I'm making n…

audiobook review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

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narrated by Mindy Kaling

The basics: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is part memoir, part humor, part observations, and part musings by comedian and writer Mindy Kaling.

My thoughts: Going into this book, I had a positive impression of Mindy Kaling, even though I never really watched The Office or The Mindy Project. I didn't know much about her life or background, aside from her more recent success, and I thoroughly enjoyed the snippets and anecdotes as much as the longer narratives in this memoir.

I expected this book to be funny, and it is. Kaling has a gift for delivery, and she was the perfect choice to narrate her own memoir. I enjoyed the book so much more because of her narration; it felt more personal. Her delivery helped distinguish between the more humorous and more thoughtful sections, but the most satisfying aspect of this book is that Kaling at times manages to be both humorous and thoughtful.

Soon after I finished listening to this audiobook, M…

On Pregnancy and Reading Limbo

I'm in that uncomfortable state of pregnancy where I'm uncomfortable more than I'm not. I'm 38 weeks pregnant tomorrow, which is so very close to the end, but even with a daily nap and a good, long, overnight sleep (almost) every day, the days are long and tiring. Although there are still two weeks until the nomadbaby is due, and he could easily come as much as a week late, he could also legitimately come at any time. I've taken to calling these last few days and weeks as pregnancy limbo--because who knows how much longer I'll be pregnant? With pregnancy limbo comes reading limbo.

I'm well aware life as I know it is about to change dramatically, and as reading is one of the most important things to me, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to prioritize my reading while pregnant and after the nomadbaby arrives. Pregnancy has been grueling for me, and I've found a way to relax and simply spend as much time reading as I can, while reading whatev…

book review: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

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The basics: The Empathy Exams is an essay collection. Each essay, including the titular one, addresses empathy, although some focus more on it than others.

My thoughts: I've really been enjoying essays lately, and The Empathy Exams is the most buzzed about collection this year. Having read several edited collections, it was delightful to dig more deeply into a thematic collection of essays by a single author.

The first (and titular) essay is astonishingly good. It details Jamison's time working as a medical actor, where her job was to act out symptoms for medical students, who were then judged not only on their diagnostic skills, but also their empathy, both verbally and visually. The essay is simultaneously a fascinating glimpse into an experience and a deep meditation on health, wellness, humanity, and empathy.

As I read this collection, which I didn't expect to be about empathy after the first essay, I realized how much I'm drawn to essays about personal experiences.…

book review: Friendship by Emily Gould

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The backstory: I've been a fan of Emily Gould for years, and I've recently enjoyed her essays in Goodbye to All That and MFA vs. NYC, both of which share themes with the characters in this novel.

The basics: Friendship is mostly the story of two young women in New York, Bev and Amy. The two share narration with Sally, an older more successful married woman trying to have a baby.

My thoughts: I adored the first two chapters of this novel, as Bev and Amy each introduced the reader to their worlds. When the action shifts to Sally in chapter three, the book takes a different turn. It was easy to guess how Sally might fit into this novel, and I was along for the ride. Except Sally doesn't appear again for quite some time. The placement of the third chapter struck me as odd. Unfortunately, as much as I loved a lot of parts of this novel, I kept running into issues like the third chapter where I pondered why Gould made some of her choices.

As a reader, I like to be transported. For …

audiobook review: Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

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narrated by Eric Martin

The basics: Detroit: An American Autopsy is part journalism, part current events, and part memoir. Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Charlie LeDuff makes the somewhat surprising choice to return to Detroit, where he grew up, with his wife and daughter. In this book, LeDuff explores what's become of the town his family has lived in for generations with a cynical, native eye.

My thoughts: LeDuff writes with a raw urgency I found infectious. The subtitle of this book gives a clue as to where Detroit stands, and as concerned as LeDuff is with the how, there's plenty of exploration as to how much really is wrong with Detroit. Part of telling that story is telling its prosperous history. Before Detroit became a sad story and a punchline, it was one of the most successful American cities. In the span of a generation, it changed drastically.

LeDuff explores these issues and themes both personally, in terms of his experience and his family's history, and profe…

book review: Birth by Tina Cassidy

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The basics: Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born is a historical and anthropological look at childbirth.

My thoughts: Since I got pregnant (the nomadbaby is due August 9th), I've become more interested in books about pregnancy and birthing. As with many things in life, part of me is drawn to the natural way of doing things, while part of me is drawn to modern convenience. For example, I eat as much local and organic produce, meat, eggs and cheese as possible. But I have no desire to actually have my own garden, grow my own food, or kill the animals I eat. So I rely on local farmers and belong to a two CSAs, one for meat.With pregnancy and birth, these choices between natural and modern seem to have impossibly high stakes. For the first time in my life, my biology dictates many of my choices. As the one carrying this baby, I have responsibilities Mr. Nomadreader doesn't. How far those extend after birth is something I think about often, particularly as we tend to div…

book review: The Competition by Marcia Clark

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The backstory: The Competition is Marcia Clark's fourth mystery featuring Los Angeles District Attorney Rachel Knight. Read my reviews of the first three: Guilt by Association, Guilt by Degrees, and Killer Ambition.

The basics: When a local high school is the scene of a mass murder, Rachel Knight is called in to aid the investigation, as is the procedure for high profile cases. It turns out to be a shrewd move in this case, as the two shooters managed to escape with their identities still unknown.

My thoughts: When I first heard The Competition would focus on a school shooting, I was confused. "Where's the mystery in that?" I wondered. Marcia Clark takes an all-too-familiar storyline and makes it into a mystery. The Competition asks harrowing questions: what if the school shooting is the beginning rather than the end? How do we keep the public safe and keep them from panicking? This novel is a journey into the cliches and nuances of mass murderers and high school life.

mini-book reviews: Chasing the Dime, Lost Light, and The Narrows 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. 
Note: the reviews of Lost Light and The Narrows contain spoilers from prior Connelly books.
Chasing the Dime is a stand-alone thriller about Henry Pierce, a tech guru whose company is on the verge of making millions. His girlfriend, and now former colleague, breaks up with him, and when his new apartment landline turns out to be the former number of a prostitute named Lilly. The frequent calls are a nuisance, but he soon sets off to track Lilly down and finds himself getting deeper into the sexual underworld--and putting himself, and his company, at risk. Chasing the Dime is the first Connelly book to have a narrator who is not a criminal nor in law enforcement. As a reader, I often found myself frustrated with Henry and his lack of access to resources.…

book review: Over Easy by Mimi Pond

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The basics: Over Easy is a partially fictionalized graphic memoir of Mimi Pond's experience as an art student and diner waitress in Berkeley, California in the 1970's.

My thoughts: I spent years working in restaurants. I never worked in a diner, but the wine bar in Atlanta where Mr. Nomadreader and I met, had an eight-hour brunch every Saturday and Sunday. Given my history (and Mr. Nomadreader's continued work) in the service industry, I'm drawn to books about the restaurant business. When I read Mimi Pond wrote a comic for Seventeen in the 1990's, I immediately remembered her, and I also knew she wrote for The Simpsons. Over Easy may be a debut graphic memoir, but she's an accomplished and experienced artist and author.

Pond captures the essence of 1970's Berkeley well. I was eager to explore that world, and the level of detail helped me immerse myself in it quickly. She also captures the naivete of her former self well. As is still the case, restaurants ar…

audiobook review: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

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narrated by Katherine Kellgren

The backstory: Her Royal Spyness is the first book in Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness historical mystery series, which is set in 1930's London.

The basics: Lady Georgiana is 34th in line for the throne of England. She's also broke and unmarried. Given her station in life, working is challenging at best.

My thoughts: I have a fascination with the 1930's and aristocracy, and I snapped up Her Royal Spyness in an Audible sale awhile ago. I'm glad I finally got around to listening to it. It's a cozy mystery series, and like many cozies, it's emphasis wasn't focused on the mystery, particularly in the first half of the book.

The novel is incredibly character driven, and Georgie is a fabulous character. She's funny, and she acknowledges the preposterousness of her situation with wonderful humor. She's a heroine to root for, and when a dead body turns up in her family's home, she finds herself playing sleuth. I'm drawn to…

2014: the half-way point

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2014 is half over? This year has passed more slowly for me than most, thanks to the nomadbaby, who is due five weeks and five days from today (yes, I'm totally counting.) Pregnancy hasn't been my favorite life experience, but as I get closer to its end point, I am finding myself having an easier time enjoying the moments I know will be hard to come by in the coming years. I thought I'd take this opportunity to check in on my 2014 goals and see how I'm doing.

I knew when I made these goals that I wanted to keep it simple. 2014 is a year unlike any other for me. I knew August would bring dramatic changes, and I didn't want goals that would be overly ambitious.

1. Read 104 books in 2014.
I set out to read an average of two books a week this year. I imagine August and September will be pretty thin reading months for me, and I knew if I accomplished this goal, I would likely read more than half in the first half of the year. As of today, I've read 70 books in 2014, …