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Showing posts from August, 2014

book review: The Drop by Michael Connelly

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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 stor…

book review: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

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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 bureaucrati…

book review: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

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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 o…

mini-book reviews: Nine Dragons, The Reversal, and The Fifth Witness 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: 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 th…

book review: Thirty Girls by Susan Minot

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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 mono…

book review: An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd

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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.…

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

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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. Agreei…

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

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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 technol…

Sunday Salon: the new normal

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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.

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), …

mini-book reviews: The Overlook, The Brass Verdict, and The Scarecrow 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: 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…

Introducing...the nomadbaby!

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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:-)

audiobook review: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

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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…

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

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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…

book review: The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

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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 …

book review: Baby & Other Stories by Paula Bomer

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The backstory: After lovingNine 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 theyareawesome.)

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 pa…

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

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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…

mini-book reviews: The Closers, The Lincoln Lawyer, and Echo Park 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 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 Bosc…

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

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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 r…

book review: History of the Rain by Niall Williams

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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 Ou…

Sunday Salon: any day now

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I'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 i…