Friday, August 29, 2014

book review: The Drop by Michael Connelly

The backstory: The Drop is the seventeenth title in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. I've read and reviewed them all.

The basics: Harry Bosch has just learned he has 39 months left before being forced to retire again. Eager for a new case to throw himself into, he gets two in one morning. First, a cold hit on a 1989 rape and murder matches a then eight-year-old; is it a crime lab mistake or could this sex offender really have started so young? Then, the police chief asks Harry to look into the alleged suicide of Irvin Irving's son at the Chateau Marmont.

My thoughts: The Drop features two mysteries, and both were intriguing. Bosch juggles them well, and it never felt like one was the main storyline. This equality, however, led to a somewhat unsatisfying pacing and climax. Both storylines were set in the past and present. It was interesting to see Irving appear again, and his history with Bosch is a key part of the storyline. In quite a different way, the cold case storyline was more deeply set in the present. Connelly used a clever technique to frame the nature vs. nurture debate of 'where does evil come from?' The questions of morality and fault echo throughout both storylines well.

The verdict: With each mystery having its own revelations and climaxes, the last portion of the novel in particular had an odd flow. While both storylines received satisfying resolutions, both were simpler than Connelly's resolutions typically are. Both were good, but this novel was not greater than the sum of its parts. The Drop is a solid mystery, but when judged against the rest of Connelly's backlist, it wasn't quite as strongly executed.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 401 pages
Publication date: November 28, 2011
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Drop from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Michael Connelly'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!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

book review: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

The basics: Set over the course of one year and told entirely in letters of recommendation from Jason Fitger, a curmudgeonly professor of creative writing at Payne University, a second-tier Midwestern school, Dear Committee Members is a satirical look at the current state of academia, particularly the humanities and English.

My thoughts: I work in academia, and I have a fondness for novels set in academia. Julie Schumacher is a professor creative writing, and it's clear she knows academia well in this novel. I found Fitger's commentary hilarious, but as satirical as this novel is, it's firmly entrenched in reality:
"The LOR [letter of recommendation] has become a rampant absurdity, usurping the place of the quick consultation and the two-minute phone call--not to mention the teaching and research that faculty were supposedly hired to perform. I haven't published a novel in six years; instead, I fill my departmental hours casting words of praise into the bureaucratic abyss. On multiple occasions, serving on awards committees, I was actually required to write LORs to myself." 
At times I wished to read the actual responses to Fitger's letters or be privy to the conversations and emails he references, but Schumacher's dedication to only using letters of recommendation he writes provides a solid structure to this novel. Fitger is a character who is not afraid of saying (or writing) what is on his mind, even at inopportune times. In a few instances, I found myself asking, "but he wouldn't really put that in a letter of recommendation, would he?" As these moments of perceived implausibility passed, however, Schumacher found clever ways to reinforce them. Due to her well-formulated story and characters, the novel's premise works. It shouldn't be possible to tell a story through a single man's letters of recommendation, but Schumacher pulls it off, with humor and wisdom.

Favorite passage: "Sometimes when the year grinds to its end and the new term begins I feel I'm living the life of a fruit fly--the endless ephemeral cycle, each new semester a "fresh start" that leads to the same moribund conclusions."

The verdict: Dear Committee Members is a fast, smart read. It's laugh-out-loud-funny, assuming you get the somewhat inside jokes. It's also a biting commentary on current trends and issues in academia. Despite telling the story entirely through Fitger's letters, the reader grasps both his perspective on events as well as how others view the same events. This duality adds a depth to this slim novel; Fitger is an impressively well-developed character.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 192 pages
Publication date: August 19, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Dear Committee Members from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Julie Schumacher'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!

Monday, August 25, 2014

book review: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

The backstory: One Kick is the first contemporary thriller in a new series from Chelsea Cain, author of the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell serial killer series (my reviews: Heartsick, Sweetheart, Evil at Heart, The Night Season, Kill You Twice, and Let Me Go.)     

The basics: When she was five, Kick Lannigan was kidnapped by Mel. He changed her name and birthday, and she came to know him as her father. As Beth, she became a famous child pornography star. She was rescued after six years and returned to her family. Now 21, Kick obsesses over children who go missing and tries to track them down to save them from child predators.

My thoughts: I love Chelsea Cain for her bold, dark characters, particularly the female ones, and Kick Lannigan is certainly both. The novel's prologue details the day of Kick's rescue, then the action jumps forward ten years. Kick is, unsurprisingly, a deeply scarred woman, both emotionally and physically. But she's also a remarkably strong and fearless one.

Cain is a fearless writer, and as this novel explores the underground world of child pornography, it is predictably dark. Thankfully, Cain doesn't treat the subject matter in an exploitative or salacious manner, nor does she shy away from its realities. Still, I was surprised how Cain kept the tone of the novel from being too dark. I attribute her success to having bad-ass, rule-breaking characters fighting against the bad guys. Kick is the most notable example; she knows the secrets of how and where Mel kept her hidden for five years, and she uses this knowledge to help track and find others. As always in Cain's novels, she explores the tension between good and evil in fascinating ways that are beautifully complicated.

This novel is fast-paced in its action, but it's also a thoughtful exploration of Kick's psyche and life. Her interior monologue is a fascinating one. It's at times depressing and at times uplifting, but it's always honest and absorbing.

Favorite passage: "Kick's fear dissolved into rage, which was a lot more satisfying. Fear came with two options: fight or flight. Rage offered more shades of possibility."

The verdict: One Kick is an exhilarating, smart, adrenaline-pumping read. Cain has created another memorable, dynamic character in Kick Lannigan. The ending manages to be both satisfying and set up the second novel in this series perfectly. I'm already eagerly awaiting more of Kick's adventures.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 321 pages
Publication date: August 19, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy One Kick from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Chelsea Cain'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!

Friday, August 22, 2014

mini-book reviews: Nine Dragons, The Reversal, and The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

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: these contain spoilers and references to prior Connelly books.

Nine Dragons is the fifteenth Harry Bosch mystery. When Harry and his partner catch the case of a murdered Chinese-American liquor store owner in South Los Angeles, Harry brings in the Asian Gang Unit to help. He also enlists the help of his daughter, Maddie, who lives in Hong Kong. Soon Maddie is kidnapped, and Harry's focus shifts to Hong Kong and saving her, while trying to figure out the connections between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Nine Dragons is perhaps the most personal Harry Bosch novel yet. It's an intriguing mystery, but Maddie's kidnapping is a suspenseful thrill-ride through the chaotic streets of Hong Kong. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Source: library

The Reversal is the third Lincoln Lawyer novel featuring Mickey Haller. here, the LA District Attorney asks Mickey to serve as a special prosecutor to retry a child murderer after the 24-year-old verdict is reversed on appeal. Haller agrees, with two stipulations: his ex-wife, Maggie, an assistant district attorney, must serve as second chair, and Harry Bosch must be named the investigator. Seeing Mickey Haller as a prosecutor was fascinating, and it was a delight to have him working closely with Maggie and Harry throughout this novel. The mystery at the heart of this novel was also compelling. Connelly consistently comes up with believable situations to combine characters, and those efforts worth well here. While I found the resolution somewhat anti-climactic, the journey sure was fun.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: library

The Fifth Witness is the fourth Lincoln Lawyer novel featuring criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. In this installment, criminal defense work has fallen off, and Mickey has become a specialist in foreclosure cases. The timeliness of this plot point was refreshing. Soon, however, Mickey finds himself back in the familiar territory of defending an accused murder. One of his foreclosure clients, a semi-famous anti-foreclosure activist, is accused of killing the banker trying to take away her home. The case receives a flurry of media attention, and it's a nice combination of intriguing mystery (if Lisa didn't do it, who did?) and contemporary social commentary. The trial is the bulk of this novel, and the pace felt slow to me at times, but the bright spots of suspense and surprise were well worth the slow spots.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: library

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, August 21, 2014

book review: Thirty Girls by Susan Minot

The basics: Thirty Girls is the story of two women: Esther, a Ugandan teenager who is one of thirty girls abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army from a convent home, and Jane, a young, idealistic American journalist who travels to Africa to tell the stories of these Ugandan children.

My thoughts: From this novel's very first pages, I was struck by the elegant brilliance of Minot's writing. I expected a serious treatment of a devastating part of our global history, and I got it. I also got stunning insight into the life of an idealistic young American woman. Admittedly, as a former idealistic, young American woman, I am partial to such character explorations: "Jane was sufficiently bewildered by what kind of person she was, so it was always arresting when someone, particularly a stranger, summed her up."

The juxtaposition of Jane's story with Esther's is haunting. It would be easy to make Jane and her problems seem vapid, but Minot handles the interior monologues of both young women beautifully:
"We are not fenced in. Here is not a prison and still we are not permitted to leave." (Esther)
"She felt far from everything. She often felt far from things in familiar surroundings, so it was a reassuring alignment when she had the feeling when actually far from home." (Jane) 
Often in dual narratives, I find myself enjoying or identifying with one more than another. As I read Thirty Girls, I didn't. I was as fascinated by Jane's story as I was by Esther's. The two women are so different and yet Minot skillfully forms connections between their stories and their perspectives. In the work of a lesser writer, this novel easily could have failed in several ways, but Minot skillfully writes these characters in this story in a way I won't soon forget.

Favorite passage: "Sometimes it seems discovery is the learning of all I do not know."

The verdict: Thirty Girls is a hauntingly beautiful novel. It's at times incredibly depressing, particularly as so much of it is based on real events, but the shared humanity Minot infuses her characters and this story worth make it an astonishingly important one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 321 pages
Publication date: February 11, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Thirty Girls from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Like Susan Minot 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!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

book review: An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd

The backstory: An Unwilling Accomplice is the sixth historical mystery in Charles Todd's Bess Crawford series. Bess is a World War I nurse. Read my reviews of the first five: A Duty to the DeadAn Impartial WitnessA Bitter TruthAn Unmarked Grave, and A Question of Honor.

The basics: While home in England on leave from her nursing post in France during World War I, Bess is asked to accompany a wounded soldier to Buckingham Palace, where he receives an award. Overnight after the ceremony, the soldier vanishes, and Bess immediately falls under suspicion as an accomplice. She sets out to find the soldier herself to clear her name, but the mystery soon turns darker and more dangerous.

My thoughts: One of my favorite things about this series is how well Charles Todd (the mother and son writing team of Charles and Caroline Todd) capture the atmosphere of World War I. Bess is such a dynamic character, and I always learn so much about manners and the time through her internal monologue. At first glance, a modern reader might not grasp the severity of this situation for Bess, but a woman's reputation is so important at this time, professionally and personally. Once again, Todd makes a cozy mystery not very cozy, which I adore.

I also quite enjoy the secondary characters in this series. Simon Brandon has always been a favorite of mine, as I'm fascinated by him and his relationships with Bess's parents and Bess. Simon features prominently in this mystery, and it was a joy to spend so much time with him. As this series creeps toward the end of World War I, I'm quite curious to see what happens to Bess. Todd could choose to write many more mysteries in its remaining months, which I'm sure would be enjoyable, but I'm also quite eager to see what becomes of Bess after the war. Either way, I'll be eagerly anticipating the next installment in this series.

The verdict: An Unwilling Accomplice is another enjoyable, suspenseful mystery in this beloved series. The mystery of this missing soldier is the primary focus of the storyline, but Bess's investigation also leads her to other sad stories of war and its impact on soldiers and communities. Todd manages to tell a story that is both small and large. While the impact of the war outshines the mystery a bit at times, it provides a meaty middle to an intriguing mystery.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: August 12, 2014 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy An Unwilling Accomplice from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Charles Todd's website and like them 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!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

book review: Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence by Rebecca Walker

The backstory: After enjoying Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood, I set out to find more memoirs of pregnancy and motherhood by great women writers. I stumbled upon this one at the library, and the subtitle, "Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence" seemed to fit me perfectly.

The basics: Rebecca Walker, known for her honest memoirs and her tumultuous relationship with her own mother, Alice Walker, shares her journey to motherhood in this memoir, written in journal format.

My thoughts: I read this memoir in the early weeks of my pregnancy, and I loved that Walker tells her story chronologically through journal format. For me, pregnancy was much more psychologically and emotionally challenging than physically uncomfortable, and charting Walker's similar struggles was a lifeline.

I spent much of life not wanting children. A few years into my relationship with Mr. Nomadreader, I realized our different ideas about parenthood could end our relationship. Agreeing on kids is perhaps the most important thing in a long-term relationship. After several months of pondering (without telling him), I realized I didn't want kids because I never really imagined myself in a relationship in which I would, yet here I found myself with a true partner in life, and I could. Still, many years later, as excited as I was to be pregnant, part of me remained terrified. What if I was right all those years ago? What if I wouldn't be a good parent? Walker shared some of my fear and ambivalence, and I welcomed her honest exploration of these emotions:
"I woke up this morning feeling the distance between my life now and all the people I still love but no longer know. After a lifetime filled with a seemingly endless array of choices, I’m somewhat stunned to find myself making such a definitive one. It’s thrilling to be opening the door to a new life with Glenn, but terrifying to be shutting all the other doors to all the other lives. A part of me wants to leave an escape route open, some amber from an old flame smoldering, just in case. But another part says, no, this is it, you have a child to think about now, and turns away."
Walker did not have an easy pregnancy, physically, psychologically, or in life. Her struggles were difficult to read at times, but she writes with such poignancy and grace, I was moved with sympathy rather than pity.

Favorite passage:  "You have a nomadic heart, do you not? You have learned that wherever you go that’s where you are, but gosh, you sure like getting there & meeting yourself again."

The verdict: Baby Love is a searing portrait of a difficult pregnancy. Walker explores the emotional, philosophical, cultural, and personal experiences and emotions tied up in choosing motherhood.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 244 pages
Publication date:  March 22, 2007
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Rebecca Walker's website, follow her on Instagram, 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, August 18, 2014

book review: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

The backstory: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris's third novel, is on the 2014 Booker Prize longlist. He's also one of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40. I've previously enjoyed his novel The Unnamed (my review.) 

The basics: Paul O'Rourke has a thriving dental practice in New York City, an obsession with the Boston Red Sox, and a rather pathetic social and love life. When a website for his dental practice appears, he's perplexed. Soon a Facebook page and Twitter profile emerge as well. Paul isn't behind any of them, and he's troubled someone seems to know so much about him and is misrepresenting him as religious.

My thoughts: Paul O'Rourke is an instantly memorable character. He's delightfully (or perhaps annoyingly to some) quirky. He's an alarmingly honest narrator who has no problem talking about himself honestly, and he has strong opinions on everything--from the small to the very big. The two biggest themes in this book are technology and religion. O'Rourke is an unabashed atheist, but even before the religiously-themed imposter posts appear online, he spends a lot of time narrating about religion: "That was a mighty Pascal's Wager: the possibility of eternity in exchange for the limited hours of my one certain go-round."

Much of O'Rourke's early monologues are incredibly humorous: "Her internalization and its institutional disappointments suited a dental office perfectly, where guilt was often our last resort for motivating the masses." Ferris's descriptive writing captures both the individual characters and how O'Rourke views them. This combination is lovely, and I was sad to see it dissipate somewhat as the novel continues. When this novel began, I was enamored. Ferris introduces strong, unique characters and sets the stage for exploring the huge ideas of technology and religion. After this strong start, the novel suffers from some pacing and execution issues. There are moments of brilliance that certainly make this novel worth reading (and wonderful fodder for discussing), but as a total product, I found it overall somewhat lacking.

Favorite passage: "The most unfortunate thing about being an atheist wasn't the loss of God and all the comfort and reassurance of God--no small things--but the loss of a vital human vocabulary. Grace, charity, transcendence: I felt them as surely as any believer, even if we differed on the ultimate cause, and yet I had no right words for them. I had to borrow those words from an old dead order."

The verdict: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a victim of its own ideas. Ferris's writing is strong throughout, and it was often what kept my interest. Paul was a fascinating character, but his observations were somewhat uneven over the course of the novel. While Ferris raises many provocative questions and explores ideas of history, technology, and religion, I ultimately found the novel itself both under and over-developed. As I neared the end, I grew bored; I longed for more of a climax. As I turned the last page, I found myself asking, "that's it?" Ultimately, despite strong writing and a plethora of intriguing ideas, I was left wanting much more from Ferris and this novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 341 pages
Publication date: May 13, 2014 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy To Rise Again at a Decent Hour from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Joshua Ferris'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, August 17, 2014

Sunday Salon: the new normal

The Sunday
Happy Sunday! It's just another lazy morning around here: lounging in bed with a book until 10 a.m., writing a Sunday Salon post, drinking coffee, eating a peach, getting ready to run errands, and WATCHING MY BABY SLEEP.

Note to self: turn off flash so contemplative
baby doesn't become perplexed baby.
I HAVE A BABY. Which makes me about a thousand times happier than I was this time last Sunday. We are all getting used to the new normal. In many ways, life is not normal at all. I think raising a child is a much more reasonable endeavor when neither parent has to go to work and the only required outing in the coming week is Hawthorne's first pediatrician appointment. That leaves a lot of time for everything else. So we are definitely enjoying the relative ease of these first few weeks. Of course, it helps that our little man is so amazing to be with. And (thankfully) he's a really good sleeper so far. Yes, he really did sleep until 10 a.m. this morning. Sure, he was mostly awake from 2-5 a.m., but I relished waking up without an alarm (baby or otherwise), reaching for my Kindle and sneaking in a few chapters without leaving bed.

I'm managing to read some. I'm currently loving The Black Box by Michael Connelly (big surprise) and re-reading Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier (timely!) Mysteries seem to be perfect, as most of my life exists in short bursts throughout the day (as in the entire 24-hour day.) Nonfiction is working well in small doses too. Sleep is somewhat plentiful overall, but it comes in a lot of short doses, and having a good, fast-paced book is working well for me. I stayed up an extra hour overnight reading after feeding Hawthorne and snuggling him back to sleep. Mostly, I just ignore the clock and sleep, eat and read when I can and when I feel like it. We're starting to get good enough at eating that I can imagine reading while feeding. For now, I'm really good at reading and snuggling him at the same time. I foolishly started The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (on this year's Booker Prize longlist) the night before I went into labor. It's written in Old English, which takes time and patience to muddle through. It may be one I read very slowly in moments of intellectual energy bursts over the next few weeks.

Coming up on the blog this week...
Reviews, reviews, reviews! Some pregnant people nest by cleaning and organizing. I nested by catching up on all of the unreviewed books from this year, and I still have reviews scheduled for the next week and a half. Now if I can only stay on top of reading at the same pace, as well as writing reviews soon after I finish books, things will stay pretty consistent around here. 

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, August 15, 2014

mini-book reviews: The Overlook, The Brass Verdict, and The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

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: these reviews all contain some spoilers and references to previous Connelly books.

The Overlook is the thirteenth book in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. It was originally published as a serial, and this pacing is evident. It's also a short novel, particularly by Connelly standards. Harry Bosch is now working with the Homicide Special unit, and he's called to investigate the murder of Dr. Stanley Kent. The case soon becomes a race against time due to the presence of missing radioactive agents. While the story is still a murder mystery at its core, it's more of a terrorism thriller. The pace is frenetic, and I cannot imagine having the patience to read it in its original serial form. Connelly masterfully, or perhaps annoyingly, ends each chapter with a cliffhanger. I raced through this one even faster than I usually do, and while the plot was interesting, there was minimal character development or action outside of the case. It's to be expected, of course, as I imagine the serial nature of this novel was designed at least partially to lure in new readers. While I enjoyed the mystery and the insight into terrorism, I missed the other hallmarks of Connelly's Bosch novels.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: library

The Brass Verdict is the second mystery in Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller series. It also features Harry Bosch. Mickey is coming off of a rough couple of years, including an addiction to pain killers after the events in The Lincoln Lawyer. He hasn't been practicing law, yet when his old friend and fellow criminal defense attorney Jerry Vincent is murdered, a clause in his will leaves his caseload to Mickey. The highest profile case is that of defendant Walter Elliott, a Hollywood executive accused of murdering his wife and her lover. While Mickey defends Elliott, Bosch investigates the murder of Vincent, which may or may not be related to Elliott or one of his other clients. The combination of Mickey and Harry was a treat. It seemed organic rather than a contrived plot device, and both mysteries had momentum throughout the novel. The ending is a tour de force of Michael Connelly twists, as multiple storylines end up with shocking and satisfying surprises.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Source: library

The Scarecrow is the second mystery in Michael Connelly's Jack McEvoy series (McEvoy has appeared as a minor character in a couple of other novels, but he's back to serving as a narrator and primary character here.) McEvoy is a veteran journalist, most famous for his role in The Poet case. Here he finds himself getting laid off from his newspaper job and searching for one last big story while he trains his much younger (and cheaper) replacement. He picks the case of Alonzo Winslow, a 16-year-old drug dealer who allegedly confessed to a brutal murder. He soon finds himself once again on the trail of a serial killer who has previously gone undetected. I'm a big fan of McEvoy as a character, and once again he stumbles upon a case that proves to be bigger than others thought. Once again, it's easy to understand why a journalist stumbles upon the connections rather than police from different divisions. Simultaneously, Connelly also writes from the point-of-view of the killer, which is mostly successful. I appreciated the insight, but it makes the resolution more of a thriller than a mystery, as the reader knows more about the plot events than any of the characters.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Source: library

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, August 14, 2014

Introducing...the nomadbaby!

He's finally here! Mr. Nomadreader and I are thrilled to welcome Hawthorne Blake D-L to the world!

He was born on August 13, 2014 at 1:18 p.m., weighed 6 pounds and 6 ounces, and was 19 3/4 inches tall.

More soon, but for now, thanks:-)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

audiobook review: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

narrated by Cassandra Campbell

The basics: Nora Eldridge, an aspiring artist and third-grade teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, tells the story of the year her utterly ordinary life becomes something more. The Shahid family, Skandar, a Lebanese visiting scholar, his wife Sirena, an Italian artist, and their son, Reza, arrive in town, and Nora finds herself drawn to all three of them. She shares a studio space with Sirena, teaches Reza, and looks forward to long talks with Skandar.

My thoughts: Nora narrates this story from the future. She's a few years removed from the action, yet her storytelling is still filled with emotion. Her rage often seems just below the surface, and the pain is so fresh. The rawness of these emotions brings an air of mystery to this story. There's a haunting urgency to Nora's story, as though she's begging the reader to believe and understand her actions and emotions, even as she reflects on how some of her choices were not the best.

Messud's control of this story, and this fascinating narrator and character of Nora, is masterful. She tells the story in a way that makes the reader understand simultaneously how Nora sees the world and how others likely see it. Coupled with Nora's story is the exploration of "the women upstairs," of which Nora is one. It's a powerful social commentary on gender, visibility, and worth.

Audio thoughts: Cassandra Campbell is my favorite audiobook narrator, and I sometimes joke I would listen to anything she read. It was part of why I picked this title to download from the library. As always, Campbell is extraordinary. Her narration of Nora was excellent. Campbell has a way of embodying the characters she reads. Even with her familiar voice, I forgot it was Campbell and not Nora herself telling me this story.

The verdict: The Woman Upstairs is one of those rare books I love as much as I admire. Messud's writing and storytelling are astonishingly good. When I finished, I found myself angry this novel isn't being talked about enough. Why aren't my fellow readers shoving it into my hands? Why aren't we singing the praises of Claire Messud louder? Here's your rallying cry, readers: The Woman Upstairs is a must read.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 11 hours 1 minute (321 pages)
Publication date: April 30, 2013
Source: library

Now tell me? After being so late to the Claire Messud party, which of her books should I read next?

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Woman Upstairs from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Claire Messud'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!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

book review: Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood by Anne Enright

The basics: Making Babies is Anne Enright's memoir of becoming a mother and the first two years of her two childrens' lives. Enright and her husband were together for 18 years before having children relatively late in life.

My thoughts: I remember wanting to read this when it first came out, but I put it in my virtual "wait until I'm pregnant" pile. When it arrived in the mail a few days after telling one of my best friends I was pregnant, I was ecstatic, and I knew it was exactly what I needed at that moment. As excited as I was to finally be pregnant, I was also somewhat ambivalent about it. I was nervous about all the changes pregnancy would bring, and Enright's words were reassuring in the best ways. She beautifully captures the joys, annoyances, and ambivalent moments of pregnancy and motherhood. Enright's irreverence, wisdom and humor shine through this memoir: "Humans give birth in pain so that they can’t run away afterward."

Although I'm not a successful novelist as Enright is, I shared some fear of losing myself in pregnancy and motherhood. How will I be a good parent and still be true to myself, I often wondered. Enright offers glimpses into this balance throughout this memoir (and she does so with two children, which is even more remarkable.) Writing in particular is an intellectually demanding career. Coherence while sleep-deprived is challenging. Enright traces the frustrating time through to her new normal, including drunken book tours without the baby.

After having enjoyed Enright's fiction (my review of The Forgotten Waltz), I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into her life. Her writing is gorgeous, in fiction and in non-fiction, and I would have enjoyed this memoir for its insights into life even if not reading it while on my own path to parenthood.

Favorite passage: "Do we need stories in order to produce emotion, or is an emotion already a story?"

The verdict: Making Babies confirmed I'm most interested in books about pregnancy and motherhood that are written by great writers.While there are lessons to be learned from this book, Enright's writing and refreshing honesty about the myriad of emotions and experiences of pregnancy and motherhood would enchant non-pregnant readers too. She beautifully taps into the truth of these life experiences with humor and grace.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 209 pages
Publication date: April 2, 2012
Source: personal copy

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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Monday, August 11, 2014

book review: The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

The backstory: The Blazing World is on the 2014 Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: Visual artist Harriet Burden and her work have long been in the shadow of her artist husband. When she recruits three young, male artists to show her work under their name, the men are heralded as brilliant and inventive artists.

My thoughts: Hustvedt arranges this novel as a series of (fictional, obviously) texts put together in an edited volume. There are contributions from Harriet's journals; art critics; previously published interviews and reviews; narratives from her children, her therapist and best friend; people who knew the male artists; and the male artists themselves. The degree of difficulty in this novel is incredibly high. Hustvedt made me forget I was reading fiction. This novel reads like nonfiction or journalism. It often felt investigative; I wanted to see where the story ended, and I had to keep reminding myself Harriet Burden and her experiment aren't real. It's a testament to Hustvedt's writing and confidence that she convincingly writes from so many voices and in so many different styles.

Partially because the text is written in a nonfiction style, it's often quite dense and filled with explanatory footnotes, yet the pacing flowed well. Most of the pieces are relatively short. The longer ones are broken up with other pieces in between. Interviews read more quickly because of the page spacing. I majored in art history and women's studies, so the philosophical bent of this novel was right up my alley. I do wonder if those without an interest or knowledge in contemporary art will find this novel as accessible as those who do, but ultimately I think they will. This novel is about art and gender, but it's an exploration of so many more ideas that those who like literature as an exercise in thinking will find much to ponder here.

Favorite passages:  "Had there ever been been a work of art that wasn't laden with the expectations and prejudices of the viewer or reader or listener, however learned and refined?"

"That is all there is--perception and memory. But it’s ragged."

The verdict: The Blazing World is a bold, smart, accomplished novel. It's a literary feat, and it's one I both enjoyed and admire. As I reflect on the reading experience, however, I'm struck more by how much Hustvedt impressed me. The technical feats are more impressive than the story itself. The idea, which is both brilliant and brilliantly executed, is the draw here. Hustvedt uses these characters to explore ideas about reality, perception, art, meaning, worth, love, and life more than to tell a story.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 369 pages
Publication date: March 11, 2014
Source: library (I received an e-galley from the publisher, but it was formatted incorrectly and thus un-readable)

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Blazing World from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Siri Hustvedt'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!

Friday, August 8, 2014

book review: Baby & Other Stories by Paula Bomer

The backstory: After loving Nine Months, Paula Bomer's first novel, I was so enchanted with her writing, I wanted to read her short stories (and y'all know short stories are not typically my thing. Except when they are awesome.)

The basics: This collection of stories is somewhat thematic, but not entirely so. Many of the stories feature parents of young children and/or pregnant women. In some stories these attributes are the focus, but in others they aren't.

My thoughts: One of the reasons I was curious about this collection was because I found Nine Months so bold. When I do enjoy short stories, I like a boldness of story telling: use the medium for its benefits. Bomer did not disappoint. The first story in the collection, The Mother of His Children" is raw and bold, but it's also a beautiful exploration of love and humanity.

As is often the case with collections (of short stories or essays), I enjoyed some more than others. What I loved about the experience of this particular collection, however, was how I thought of them both individually as part of a collection. Bomer's writing and characteristics got under my skin in the best way, and I can't think of any of these stories as orphans. I keep contemplating their strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences, as part of Bomer's larger work. She's an author I am unequivocally call myself a fan of.

The verdict: Baby and Other Stories is a rich, dynamic collection of short stories. Bomer's writing shines brightly, in both individual stories and when taking a step back to look at this confident, bold collection as a whole.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 176 pages
Publication date: December 15, 2010
Source: interlibrary loan

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Baby and Other Stories from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Paula Bomer'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!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

audiobook review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

narrated by Jeff Harding

The basics: When his mother Mary Anne is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Will Schwalbe accompanies her to her chemotherapy appointments. They form a two-person book club during these appointments, as they share their thoughts on life and literature.

My thoughts: A book about a mother dying might seem a peculiar choice to read while pregnant, but instead of it depressing me, I found it inspiring and filled with parenting advice. Will and his mother Mary Anne already had a close relationship before her diagnosis; the premise of this book is not a memoir gimmick. They share a life-long love of reading, but their discussions about what they're reading took a different turn as Mary Anne fought cancer. While this book is largely about their relationship with one another and with books, it's also a testament to Mary Anne, who was a truly extraordinary woman.

I was first drawn to Will recounting how his mother shaped his love of reading when he was a child. As an almost-mother who loves to read (obviously), I've spent a lot of time this pregnancy thinking about how to share my love of reading with the nomadbaby, and this book gave me many ideas, from childhood through adulthood.

While I found this book more inspiring than depressing, there is an undercurrent of death. We learn in the book's opening pages that Mary Anne does die, but as a reader, I shared her positive outlook: she lived a great life and had the gift of a diagnosis to let her know when her end was coming. She spent her final days, weeks, and months doing exactly what she wanted to.

The verdict: I utterly adored The End of Your Life Book Club. What could easily be a schmaltzy book instead was a charming, insightful tale of life and literature. Schwalbe uses his relationship with his mother to tell a story much bigger than the two of them. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 9 hours and 40 minutes (354 pages)
Publication date: October 12, 2012 
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The End of Your Life Book Club from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit the book's website, like it on Facebook, and follow Will Schwalbe 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, August 6, 2014

mini-book reviews: The Closers, The Lincoln Lawyer, and Echo Park by Michael Connelly

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 The Closers and Echo Park contain spoilers from prior Connelly books.

The Closers is the eleventh title in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. After being retired, Harry is back with LAPD, and he's working in the Open/Unsolved unit. It's a fascinating turn for Harry, as he and his partner are assigned a series of years, including some from when he was a beat cop. Will he have the chance to solve cases he has seen before? The case that dominates this book is the 17-year-old abduction and murder of Rebecca Verloren, a sixteen-year-old mixed-race teenager. The case benefits from new technology, and the mystery has an urgency to it that surprised me for a cold case.

As I read, I found myself hoping Connelly would let Bosch stay in the Open/Unsolved unit for quite some time, but based on the rest of the series, he doesn't stay anywhere too long, lest things get stale. Overall, I appreciate this approach, but cold cases seem the perfect place for Bosch, and I loved this novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Source: library

The Lincoln Lawyer is the first in Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller series. Haller, the son of a famous LA criminal attorney, has followed in his father's professional footsteps. He uses Lincoln towncars as his office, as he covers all 400 square miles of Los Angeles county. I liked the insight into the legal system Connelly explores here. Haller is a fascinating anti-hero character, and I appreciated his explanations about strategy and procedure. What was much less successful for me was the mystery at the heart of this novel. It's momentum was bogged down by the legal maneuverings, which made it less compelling. While it was intriguing, there weren't enough wow moments of mystery for me in this novel to counteract the exposition. I did, however, enjoy the film more than the book. The pacing issues weren't present in the film, which did not have the same exposition problem. Also, the casting and acting were perfect. The characters truly came to life on film. The bottom line: if you're really interested in the law, particularly criminal law, this book is fascinating. Otherwise, the movie is a better bet.

Rating: 3 out of 5 (movie 4 out of 5)
Source: library

Echo Park is the twelfth Harry Bosch book, and he's still working in the Open/Unsolved Unit. One of the cases Harry has quietly tried to keep working by himself all of these years is the murder of Marie Gesto, a 22-year-old woman found dead in 1994. He never solved it, and it's one that haunts him. When he receives a call that a serial killer is willing to confess to several murders, both unsolved and unknown, Harry relishes the chance to officially be on the case again, even as he has to call into question all the choices he and his then partner made in 1994. 

I'm oddly fascinated with serial killer stories, and this novel offers a compelling one. Coupled with the cold case with so few clues, this mystery is a complicated page-turner that I thoroughly enjoyed. At times, it read more like a thriller than a police procedural, but it works beautifully.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Source: library 

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, August 5, 2014

book review: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting by Mei-Ling Hopgood

The basics: Mei-ling Hopgood is a Taiwanese-American who grew up in Michigan and now lives in Argentina. When she and her American husband had their first child, Sofia, they were surprised to discover the differences between Argentinian parenting and American. Mei-Ling sought out to discover the ways different cultures around the world parent. Each chapter is devoted to a different country or culture and a specific parenting task.

My thoughts: I've always been fascinated by cultural differences, particularly the things one thinks of as normal that are far from normal in other cultures and parts of the world. When I stumbled upon this title shortly after I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to read it. (Admittedly, the title intrigued me too, as Mr. Nomadreader and I love to keep our house cold in the winter, and I'm always looking for options to keep the nomadbaby happy and warm without compromising our preferred temperature.)

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is part memoir, part reflection, part cross-cultural study, and part parenting advice. It's not a parenting how-to book (a genre I'm not terribly attracted to--I'd rather read books by writers about parenting than books by parenting experts.) I quite enjoyed the perspectives of Hopgood and her husband, whether they agreed or disagreed. While I don't imagine I'll make all the same choices they did, we share a thoughtfulness about parenting as an academic exercise worthy of research and reflection, as well as a life experience that you can't completely control. We share the desire not to mimic different parenting styles from around the world but to be aware of cultural differences and apply the parts that work best for our families.

Favorite passage:  "Our value of children has to increase,” Hewlett said. “Pretty much, here [in the Unites States], children are seen as a burden—we want to reduce the burden on us, so let’s spend quality time and not real time."

The verdict: Hopgood organizes this book in such a way that it can be enjoyed as a whole or as individual chapters. I certainly enjoyed some chapters more than others (at least partially because my child isn't even born yet, so I'm drawn more to the advice and experiences of newer parents), and for whatever reason, I found the first half stronger than the second half. There were nuggets of wisdom in each chapter, but I found myself sharing passages with Mr. Nomadreader much more frequently in the first half of the book.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 10, 2012
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Mei-ling Hopgood'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!

Monday, August 4, 2014

book review: History of the Rain by Niall Williams

The backstory: History of the Rain is on the 2014 Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: Ruthie Swain is home from college after a medical issue arose. She lives in the attic of her family's home, along with over 3000 of her father's books, and she plans to read all of them.

My thoughts: Ruthie is a delightful narrator. She's quite precocious, and at times early in the novel I had to remind myself how young she is, as she also tells her story with the wisdom of an older woman. There's also a boldness as she addresses the reader directly. Perhaps it's why I felt so connected to Ruthie--she speaks right to me in this novel. I adored Ruthie's view of the world. It was both humorous and filled with truths:
"Irish people will read anything as long as it's about them. That's what I think. We are our own greatest subject and though we've gone and looked elsewhere about the world we have found that there are just no people, no subject as fascinating as We Ourselves. We are simply amazing."
Through her father's books, she explores her family history. This story is both an ode to the (fictional) Swain family and its history, as well as to literature itself. As Ruthie tells the story of her family history, she sprinkles the titles of her father's massive book collection in parentheses. For me, many titles were familiar but others weren't. While my ignorance of some titles didn't appear to hinder my understanding or appreciation of the story, I imagine readers familiar with all of the referenced texts will pick up on even more nuances.

Favorite passage:  "We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That's how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told."

The verdict: This novel is a book lover's dream. It's filled with references to literature that illustrate the shared histories of readers. Ruthie was a wonderful character to spend time with, but I found myself enjoying her insights on the world more than her own family's history. Thus my enjoyment of this novel waxed and waned through these parallel narratives.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 369 pages
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy History of the Rain from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Niall Williams'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, August 3, 2014

Sunday Salon: any day now

The Sunday Salon.comI'm pregnant enough that a steady stream of colleagues stop by my office each day to see if I'm still at work. I imagine people are visiting this blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see if posts are appearing. Yes: I'm still pregnant.

Any day now the nomadbaby will be here. My due date is later this week, and my OB practice doesn't let patients go more than week past their due date. So, one way or another, sometime this week or next, the nomadbaby will be here. I'm definitely at "the sooner the better" stage. I am so excited to see his face, hold him in my arms, and see Mr. Nomadreader hold him.

It's getting harder to enjoy the last few moments without him here. I've been having cramping and mild contractions since Thursday night, which adds to my general physical discomfort at being 39+ weeks pregnant. If labor weren't on the horizon, I'd be more inclined to call them painful, but imagining what's coming, I'm trying to keep it in perspective and use words like "uncomfortable" instead. They're also such a tease. When they started, I thought labor would soon follow, but this baby seems relatively content for now, despite his kicks against contractions.

I've still been reading, but I've been faring better the past couple of days with mysteries and nonfiction than the Booker Prize longlist. Rolling cramps are much more distracting from beautiful language than from a tense thriller. Thankfully, I'm still sleeping pretty well, and I'm trying to stay as well rested as possible so when labor comes, I have as much energy as possible.

I have managed to read three of the Booker longlisted titles, and I've enjoyed all three. It's a fascinating longlist, despite its dearth of diversity and lack of female writers. I'm curious to see how the rest of it fares, as well as which titles make the shortlist in September. While I hope to read all the longlisted titles, the first few weeks of motherhood may not be the best time to tackle many of these titles, so I'm playing it by ear.

It's a rare treat for Mr. Nomadreader and I to have a day off together, and we're starting it by drinking coffee and reading on the patio. As it's likely the last day off together as a family of two, I hope we savor it.

Now tell me: what are you reading and doing 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!