Showing posts from September, 2014

Sunday Salon: On 100 Books Read and the Year of Michael Connelly

On Monday, I hit a major reading milestone for the year: I finished my 100th book. For comparison, in 2013, I only read 94 books all year. In 2012, I read 118 books, but I didn't reach 100 until the end of November. In 2011, I read 108 books and reached 100 in December. In 2010 and 2009 (the earliest year I kept good data on my reading), I didn't make it to 100. For me, 100 is momentous whenever it happens in a year, but to reach it on September 22 surprised me.

Appropriately, book 100 was The Burning Room by Michael Connelly (my review will post on its release date, November 3.) Of the 100 books I've read this year, 27 were written by Michael Connelly. I don't think I've ever read so many books by a single author in a single year. I'm not even sure there are other authors I've read that many books by. Ever. 2014 has clearly been the year of Michael Connelly.

I started my journey with Michael Connelly in February. It was Amazon pilot season, and I decided t…

book review: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

The backstory: When I was pregnant, I found myself enjoying memoirs of pregnancy by great writers so much more than the traditional self-help pregnancy books. Several people recommended this one to me, and I opted to save it to read while on maternity leave.

The basics: When Anne Lamott finds herself thirty-something and pregnant, she decides to have the baby. His father immediately exits the picture, and she must rely on her family and friends to serve as a support system for her single parenthood.

My thoughts: First of all, I'm so glad I waited until after Hawthorne was born to read this. Lamott's son Sam was horribly fussy, and knowing how bad it could be would have been awful for me to imagine while pregnant. My baby is blessedly not very fussy (he does have his days), and I often found myself feeling sorry for Lamott in the early weeks. I'm also fortunate to have a supportive partner. I cannot imagine Lamott's version of motherhood. While it does get better as Sam g…

book review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The backstory: Big Little Lies is one of my book club's September selections (the other is Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.) I've previously read two of Liane Moriarty's earlier novels, What Alice Forgot, which I quite enjoyed but apparently never reviewed here, and The Husband's Secret, which I liked, but not as much.

The basics: Set in a picturesque Sydney, Australia beach community, Big Little Lies is the story of three women, all of whom are mothers of kindergartners. Madeline, a divorced and re-married mother of two. She has definite opinions about everyone. Her best friend, Celeste, who is impossibly beautiful and a mom to five-year-old twin boys. Lastly, Jane, a new-to-town single mom who is shockingly young. The book opens on the night of a costume fundraiser at the school, when there is a mysterious death. The action soon jumps back six months to the day of kindergarten orientation, when Jane meets Celeste and Madeline.

This review contains some spoilers because…

book review: An Age of License by Lucy Knisley

The backstory: Lucy Knisley is perhaps my favorite graphic memoirist. I've thoroughly enjoyed her first two graphic memoirs: French Milk and Relish.

The basics: In An Age of License, Knisley recounts her European book tour.

My thoughts: An Age of License is somewhat reminiscent of French Milk, as it's a travelogue and takes the form of her travel diary. While food is a frequent theme in this graphic memoir, as it is always is in Knisley's work, the emphasis here is more on life and reality. Even as Knisley enjoys her trek across Europe, there's a seriousness, and even a darkness, to this memoir.

Knisley's most recent long-term relationship recently ended. She still loves him, but she wants kids (one day), and he doesn't. As someone who didn't want kids for many years, and then was ambivalent about having kids for many more, I fully appreciate this tension. Disagreement about children trumps love. As Knisley rebounds from the end of this relationship, she trie…

Sunday Salon: One month

One month old!
Last weekend Hawthorne turned one month old. Six days later, I managed to actually take his one-month photos. This one is my favorite, even though his feet moved out of the frame:

Blogging: Thanks to my parents watching Hawthorne for a few hours on the weekend, I can write my blog posts for the week and not think about them during the week, when things seem crazy busy despite Mike having two days off and me still being on maternity leave. Alas, time is flying, and in a few weeks I'll be back at work and wondering what I did with my maternity leave. Coming up on the blog this week: reviews of An Age of License by Lucy Knisley, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, and Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. Here's a preview: I only liked one of them.
Reading: I'm still reading sporadically. Some days are great. Others are not. Mostly my ability to want to spend my downtime reading depends on how much sleep I've gotten. Thankfully, when Hawthorne has a low sleep …

book review: The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

this review may contain spoilers from previous Mickey Haller novels

The backstory: The Gods of Guilt is the fifth Michael Connelly mystery to feature Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. For my reviews of the previous novels (and all of Michael Connelly's novels), please see my Review Database.

The basics: Mickey Haller gets called to defend a man accused of murder. The victim, Gloria, a prostitute and former client of Mickey's, told him if anything ever happened to her, he should call Mickey. Gloria's death haunts Mickey, and as he prepares to defend her accused murdered, he also investigates her death and fears his own actions defending Gloria many years ago may have played a role in her death.

My thoughts: I've raced through all of Michael Connelly's novels this year. While I enjoy the Harry Bosch novels more than the Mickey Haller novels, Haller, like Bosch, is a fascinatingly flawed character. When we last left Haller, he was planning to run for D…

first thoughts: 2014 National Book Award (fiction) longlist

Thanks to Twitter, I learned the National Book Foundation announced their Fiction longlist twelve hours earlier than expected (thanks for letting me sleep in, National Book Foundation!) Here are this year's ten longlisted titles:

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih AlameddineThe UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (my review)Wolf in White Van by John DarnielleAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrRedeployment by Phil KlayStation Eleven by Emily St. John MandelThunderstruck and Other Stories by Elizabeth McCrackenOrfeo by Richard PowersLila by Marilynne RobinsonSome Luck by Jane SmileyMy first thoughts: 
The judges seem to like short stories more than I do. This year's longlist has three story collections, and two are by debut authors (Antopol and Klay). If all three make the shortlist, I'll be surprised.Cheers to the Iowa Writer's Workshop...and Iowa! Four authors have strong Iowa ties: McCracken, Robinson, Smiley and Darnielle. (John Darnielle has lived in Iowa.) The longlist …

book review: Inside Madeleine by Paula Bomer

The backstory: After thoroughly enjoying Paula Bomer's debut novel, Nine Months (my review), and her debut short story collection, Baby & Other Stories (my review), earlier this summer, I was excited to read her newest collection of stories, Inside Madeleine.

The basics: Inside Madeleine includes eight short stories and the titular novella.

My thoughts: When I read Bomer's first collection of stories, I said, "When I do enjoy short stories, I like a boldness of story telling: use the medium for its benefits. Bomer did not disappoint." Yet Inside Madeleine is even more bold than Baby & Other Stories. I even think it's more bold than Nine Months. Bomer has emerged as one of my favorite writers this summer, and I'm surprised to say I enjoy her short fiction as much, if not more than, her novel. She's an astonishingly brave writer.

I thoroughly enjoyed each of the stories in this collection, but "Inside Madeleine" really takes this collection …

book review: The Dog by Joseph O'Neill

The backstory: The Dog is on the 2014 Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: The unnamed narrator leaves New York for Dubai to work as the family officer and go-between for the very rich Batros family.

My thoughts: The narrative voice of our mysteriously unnamed narrator grabbed me immediately. He's quirky and weird, and a dark humor inflects the narrative:
"In Switzerland they eat dog sausages, and I cannot say the Swiss are stupid. Cold, yes. Greedy, yes. Stupid, no. But eating tigers for medicine? Very stupid. Maybe this should be our focus, the fight again stupidity. It's a very serious problem. There is a lot of stupidity in the world. It does much harm. You must understand this very well, coming from the United States." Early on, I quite enjoyed this novel. The narrative voice was fresh, interesting, smart and funny. It brimmed with interesting commentary and observation, both about himself and the world. As he (and thus the novel) moved to Dubai, I was further intr…

book review: The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker

The backstory: The Ways of the Dead is the debut mystery by Neely Tucker, a veteran journalist and memoirist.

The basics: Set in the late 1990's, The Ways of the Dead opens with the murder of Sarah Reese, the fifteen-year-old white daughter of a U.S. federal court judge. Veteran newspaper reporter Sully Carter, who like Tucker himself spent years covering foreign wars, notices a pattern of other dead young women on the same block, but the others are poor and not white. While the police actively pursue Sarah's death and mostly ignore the other deaths, Sully uses his contacts and press badge to follow the whole story.

My thoughts: I majored in journalism in college, and although I ultimately opted not to make my career in the field, I am drawn to tales of journalism, both in fiction and in non-fiction. As a journalist writing a novel whose main character is a journalist, Tucker brings great authenticity to the character of Sully. I loved the details of the news business, particula…

Sunday Salon: I am reading too many books (also my baby pouts adorably)

Some days, I spend hours and hours reading. Although it's been a few days since that happened. Not coincidentally, it's been a few days since Mr. Nomadreader went back to work (maternity leave is so much more fun with your husband home too) and since my in-laws went back to New York. Hawthorne and I are on our own for the most part, but we are surviving (if not necessarily thriving every day.) Hawthorne has developed an odd aversion to sleeping three hours at a time all day, every day (those were nice days, and I miss them.) Despite still having time to read, I am not in control of choosing when I have time to read each day. We are nowhere near a scheduled life around here, and it's a mystery to me each day how often Hawthorne wants to eat, have his diaper changed, sleep, and stay awake. If I could predict which naps would last ten minutes and which would last three hours, I'd be a very happy lady. Yesterday I was 0 for 5, which meant I attempted to nap with him many t…

book review: The Black Box by Michael Connelly

The backstory: The Black Box is the eighteenth Michael Connelly mystery to feature LAPD detective Harry Bosch. My reviews of the previous seventeen (and Connelly's other mysteries) are listed in my Book Review Database.

The basics: Twenty years ago, during the L.A. riots, Harry Bosch and his then partner were called to help investigate murders during the riots, when that precinct had too many murder victims to handle alone. With only a few hours at the crime scene of Anneke Jesperson, a young Danish photojournalist, Bosch knew then the crime wouldn't be solved. Now, in 2012, a ballistics match gives a new lead to the puzzling mystery of why a young, white foreigner found herself shot execution style in South Central L.A. during the height of the L.A. riots.

My thoughts: The titular black box is a powerful metaphor for Bosch's sense of justice and purpose:
"He believed that every case had a black box. A piece of evidence, a person, a positioning of facts that brought a c…

book review: The Amateurs by Conor Stechschulte

The basics: The Amateurs, the debut graphic novella from Conor Stechschulte, is the story of two butchers who arrive at work to find an empty shop and have no memory of how to do their jobs.

My thoughts: I'm still not quite sure what to make of The Amateurs in its entirety. As a reading experience, I quite enjoyed it. It's dark and funny, a winning combination for me, and I was enchanted with the hilarious attempts the butchers made to try to fill meet orders when there was no meat, only one cow and one pig. Along with their memory, these two also lost their common sense.

Over all, The Amateurs is bizarre. There appears to be much more going on, and while I enjoyed and appreciated the horror and humor, I wanted more of a resolution, even an ambiguous one. The ending came abruptly in my opinion, and I felt myself saying, "that's it?"

The verdict: While I enjoyed the experience of reading The Amateurs, I wished for more of a finale than it had. Still, Stechsculte is …