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Showing posts from October, 2014

book review: Redeployment by Phil Klay

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The backstory: Redeployment, the debut short story collection by Phil Klay, has been honored twice by the National Book Award. It's on the 2014 shortlist, and it's also a 5 Under 35 pick.

The basics: This thematic collection of short stories focuses on soldiers fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Klay served in the U.S. Marine Corps and in the Iraq War.

My thoughts: There's been a surge of fiction about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in the past few years. I've read and reviewed several titles here: Eleven Daysby Lea Carpenter, Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, and You Know When The Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon. Just as I've come to compare books about World War II to one another, I've also apparently reached the threshhold where stories about the Iraq and Afghanistan cause me to reflect and compare them against one another. In this sense, Phil Klay is at a disadvan…

book review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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The backstory: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is one of my book club's November picks. The other is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which I LOVED. (My book club meets every other month and reads two books.)

The basics: A.J. Fikry is a widowed book store owner on Alice Island, a fictional Martha's Vineyard-like place. His prized possession is a valuable and rare copy of very early Poe poems has been stolen, and he is rather miserable all around.

My thoughts: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a story for book lovers. It's filled with recommendations and inside jokes:
"He wants Maya to read literary picture books if such a thing exists. And preferably modern ones. And preferably, preferably feminist ones. Nothing with princesses. It turns out that these works most definitely do exist. He is particularly fond of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Emily Jenkins, Peter Sis, and Lane Smith." At times the novel gets somewhat meta, and I found these moments i…

audiobook review: The Expats by Chris Pavone

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narrated by Mozhan Marno

The basics: The Expats is the story of Kate Moore, a D.C. policy analyst whose husband Dexter receives a compelling job opportunity in Luxembourg. Kate and Dexter, along with their two young boys, soon make the move to Luxembourg, where Kate joins the thriving expat community for morning coffee, but all is not what it seems in this spy novel.

My thoughts: Please ignore the basics of this book. It was quite challenging to remember what I thought was the setup early on in this novel, and I think it's most exciting to read without the knowledge of some of its secrets. Pavone has his characters start spilling secrets very early on, and the twists keep coming throughout the novel. It's clear from the beginning that The Expats is a spy novel. What isn't clear initially is who the spy is (or who the spies are.) The characters weave a complicated collection of secrets and lies, and I enjoyed every single reveal. Some I correctly guessed before the characters…

book review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

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The basics: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" is part memoir, part thematic collection of essays, part humor, part advice, and part self-help vignettes.

My thoughts: I'll start with the disclosure: I'm a huge fan of Lena Dunham. Although I know of no actual relation to her Dunhams, I still try to claim her (and I'm only a Dunham by marriage.) So it was with huge excitement that I started Not That Kind of Girl the moment I picked it up from the library. It's no secret Lena Dunham can write dialogue, but how would it transfer to prose? She can build a scene beautifully in prose too:
"On Saturdays my friends and I load into somebody's old Volvo and head to a thrift store, where we buy tchotchkes that reek of other people's lives and clothes that we believe will enhance our own. We all want to look like characters on the sitcoms of our youth, the teenagers we admired when we were still kids." And she can stil…

Sunday Salon: a very Iowa weekend

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Happy Sunday! The nomadbaby and I are having a very Iowa weekend. Unfortunately, I did not get to participate in the readathon yesterday (tear!), but I hope those who did had a great time (and are doing something not related to reading today--I always needed a break the day after a readathon.) Mr. Nomadreader and I are still sometimes getting used to the idea that we have a baby. We know we have a baby, of course, as we're with him every day, and he's in our thoughts constantly, but sometimes it doesn't quite seem real, as if I'm not old enough or something enough to be a parent yet. I feel similarly about raising an Iowan. I know I live in Iowa, and I even love living in Iowa, but somehow it seems odd to me that the nomadbaby was born in Iowa and will grow up here. And yet, it's a great place to grow up. I just hope he finds his way to a different part of the country for college or some adventure.

Yesterday I had a meeting in Greene, Iowa for my very part-time job…

book review: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

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The basics: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is a collection of unrelated short stories.

My thoughts: Hilary Mantel is an author who intimidates me. Although many rave about her two most recent novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both of which won the Booker Prize, I don't find myself as drawn to them. Still, I wanted to read Mantel, and her new collection of stories presented the perfect opportunity. The title story and book cover are audacious, and I was eager to dive in.

There is no link, thematically or otherwise, to these stories. In that sense, the collection doesn't feel like a collection. If pressed, I wouldn't even guess the same person wrote all of them. As is typical, I enjoyed some more than others. The standout story in this collection is "The Heart Fails Without Warning," which tackles anorexia by examining the perspectives of each member of a family with two daughters, one of whom is anorexic. It's haunting and beautifully written. …

book review: Reunion by Hannah Pittard

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The basics: Reunion is the story of Chicago screenwriter Kate Pulaski and her brother and sister. The titular reunion happens in Atlanta when their estranged father dies, leaving behind their many half-siblings and ex-stem moms. Kate is shocked her siblings want to go to the funeral, but she begrudgingly joins them.

My thoughts: Not very far into Reunion, I looked up Hannah Pittard's biography because I figured she had to be from the same part of Atlanta in which I grew up. She nails the details of geography and attitude of the city in a way only someone who shares my love/hate relationship with it can. As I read, I was simultaneously homesick for Atlanta and reminded of why I left. Kate certainly shares my ambivalence of Atlanta: "It's that it reminds me of all that is fake about the sweetness of the South."

As much as I enjoyed the setting of this novel, I would have loved it if it were set anywhere. Reunion is far from a feel-good family story. The Pulaskis are dysf…

book review: How to Be Both by Ali Smith

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The backstory: How to Be Both is on the 2014 Booker Prize short list. Update: It also won the 2015 Baileys Prize and was shortlisted for the 2015 Folio Prize.

The basics: How to Be Both is told in two parts, one from the point-of-view of George, a 16-year-old Cambridge (England) girl in current time, and the other from the spirit of Francesco del Cossa, a 15th century Italian artist. Which narrative you read first depends on the book; half the copies were printed with George's narrative first.

My thoughts: A few years ago, I read my first Ali Smith novel, There But For The (my review), when it was longlisted for the Orange Prize. I didn't love it, but I was impressed with Smith and her ideas, so I was eager to see what she would do next. Before starting this book, I did something I rarely do: I looked at a professional review (I usually think reviews give too much away.) I'm so glad I knew there are two orders in which to read this novel before I started (my copy had George&…

Sunday Salon: Team Gale?

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Last week, two big things happened: I went back to work and I finally captured Hawthorne's smile on camera. I'm so very grateful this kid decided to enter the world in the middle of the week because starting back to work on a Thursday really helped me transition back to the reality of dressing professionally and waking up to an alarm. So did having this picture to stare at while I missed him during the day:

Now that I'm back at work, I feel like we're embracing our new normal. As lovely as maternity leave was, it didn't feel like real life, and I was ready to be back at work. I'm so glad to love my job because even though I miss my baby when we're apart during the day, I'm happy to be at work. I imagine the alternative would be pretty devastating. 
Speaking of Hawthorne. I named my baby Hawthorne and not one person book blogger has made a Team Gale joke? When you're a librarian and a book blogger and the person most people in real life think of as a R…

book review: Us by David Nicholls

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The backstory: Us was longlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize. I also adored One Day, the last novel David Nicholls wrote.

The basics: Us is the story of Douglas, a middle-aged biochemist, his wife Connie, an artist, and their seventeen-year-old son Albie. Connie announces she thinks she wants to leave Douglas, but she isn't sure yet. They set out on a tour of Europe with Albie as a last family trip, both before he goes to college and perhaps for their marriage too. The present day unfolds in the narrative while Douglas also tells us the story of their marriage from the beginning.

My thoughts: After loving One Day, I was already excited for Us. When it made the Booker longlist (before I could get my hands on a galley), I was surprised and ecstatic. My expectations were high going into this novel, and although I didn't love it quite as much as One Day, it is a smartly crafted, well-written, thoughtful exploration of marriage. It's also a medium-paced travel adventure novel. This…