Showing posts from January, 2015

On Unbound

I'm a big fan of crowdfunding, and I've helped fund films and the new album from my favorite band, American Aquarium. As much as I enjoy films and music, however, I'm much more devoted to books, which is why I love Unbound, a British crowdfunding publisher. The first book I pledged to support, Dead Babies and Seaside Towns, is now fully funded. I pledged £10, and my reward is an ebook of it when it's published. I also get my name in the back of the book, as do all those who pledge. It's a memoir, and its author, Alice Jolly, is a published novelist and playwright. In 2007, she wrote an editorial about her stillborn baby. To me, this book shouldn't need a platform like Unbound, and I was glad to support it. I look forward to reading it later this year.

So far, it's the only book I've supported, but I've certainly been tempted to pledge my support for other titles. In time, I will. Unbound lets you browse or search by category. I was first drawn to t…

My Book Club: March Picks

My book club met last night and had a great discussion about both The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiroand The Secret Sister by Diane Chamberlain. We meet every other month and read two books.This year, we're trying a new way to pick books, and each member gets a chance to pick a book. I'm curious to see how our reading will play out. We have two very different (from each other) picks for our March meeting.

We'll be reading Slow Dancing With a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer's by Meryl Comer and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. I know many of you have loved The Rosie Project, and I'm looking forward to reading it. I'm not familiar with the Comer title, but Alzheimer's is a vicious disease, and while I'm intrigued by it, I imagine it may be difficult for me to read. My book club rarely reads nonfiction, so I am definitely looking forward to some more variety.
Now tell me: have you read either of these titles? What did you think--do they mak…

audiobook review: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

narrated by Julia Whelan

The backstory: As a holiday gift to members, Audible enlisted its 2014 narrator of the year, Julia Whelan, to record a new edition of the classic fable, The Snow Queen. (It's free on Audible until January 31, 2015.)

The basics: The Snow Queen, most recently made more famous as the inspiration for Frozen, is the story of two friends: one who gets lost in the woods and the other who goes on a journey of rescue.

My thoughts: I was curious to listen to this inspiration for Frozen. I assumed it would look quite different than the film, which I liked but did not love the way everyone else seems to. And it did, but it was not quite the cozy, winter read I envisioned. The story is divided into seven parts, and I found this structure odd, as not all of the pieces seemed essential.

Perhaps the most unexpected part of this story was how overtly Christian it was. Comically, when the story veered to the religious, I turned to look at my car's dashboard and nearly aske…

book review: The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

The backstory: The Silent Sister is one of my book club's picks for January (we meet every other month and read two books.) The other pick is The Art Forger.

The basics: Riley MacPherson has a complicated relationship with her family. When her father dies, she's left to pack up his house. Her veteran brother, who still lives in the small town of New Bern, refuses to help. And her older sister committed suicide when Riley was very young. While going through her father's things, Riley begins doubting some of her family history and sets out to separate fact from fiction.

My thoughts: It was challenging to write the description of this novel without spoiling too much. It's challenging to talk about this book much at all without spoiling too much, so this review will remain more vague than I would perhaps like (and I am so looking forward to discussing this one with my book club!) The Silent Sister is a book I would almost classify as a mystery or a thriller because there are…

audiobook review: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

narrated by George Newbern

The basics: As the title indicates, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is the story of Robert DeShaun Peace's life, as written by his college roommate Jeff Hobbs, a novelist who relies on the memories of Rob's friends and family members to construct this biography of sorts.

My thoughts: As if the title itself isn't descriptive and sad, the subtitle, "a brilliant young man who left Newark for the Ivy League," underscores the sadness of Robert Peace's death. Even though I knew this story ends with his death, I compulsively listened to this book. It begins as a story of success. The tale of Robert Peace's childhood is remarkable and inspiring. It's a story too astonishing to be fiction.

Although I knew the ending of this book when I began it, Hobbs writing infuses so many mysteries into this book. I became obsessed with the hows and whys of Robert's life. There are so many wow moments, both happy and sad ones, and yet …

Sunday Salon: Read Harder (Without Really Trying?)

I've finished five books this year. Four of them have counted toward my Read Harder Challenge. While I'm excited to be off to such a great start, I didn't pick any of these books based on the challenge. I'm one-sixth done with the challenge, and I haven't even challenged myself yet. To be fair. I completed seventeen of the twenty-four tasks last year without trying, so for me, a lot of the Read Harder challenge is in line with what I'm already doing. This week I got to thinking: given how easy it is to Read Harder, what other tasks are missing? Here's my list of possibilities so far:

A mystery: Romance and sci-fi get love from Read Harder, but what about mysteries? It's my favorite genre, and I think it deserves a spot with those tooA historical novel: I love exploring other times and places through historical fiction, and it works across many genresA book published the year you were born: Read Harder goes back before 1850 and includes a 2015 book, but w… 20 Days!

Last February, I found myself home alone on a Friday night, pregnant, and wishing for a crime drama to watch. (Now I realize that sounds a lot like my current Friday nights, except instead of being pregnant, I'm home alone with a sleeping baby. Ah, the life of a restaurant manager's spouse!) I decided to watch the pilot for"Bosch," based on Michael Connelly's series, as part of Amazon's pilot season. I liked it, and so after I finished, I picked up my Kindle and started the first book in the series, The Black Echo, which I purchased four years earlier. I was hooked (my review), and I proceeded to read all twenty-seven of Michael Connelly's novels in 2014 (nineteen of them feature Bosch). I'm been impatiently waiting for season one of "Bosch" to premiere, and this week, we (finally) found out when it will: February 13, 2015. That day also happens to be the day Hawthorne turns six months old, but I didn't plan to take the day off work for…

book review: Halfway Home by Christine Mari Inzer

The basics: Halfway Home is a graphic journal of Christine Mari Inzer's trip to Japan, the country where she was born.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of travel writing, so I was eager to read Halfway Home, the debut from Christine Mari Inzer, a teenage graphic memoirist. Inzer was born in Tokyo in 1997. Her family moved to the U.S. in 2003. In the summer she turned sixteen, she returned to Japan by herself to visit family and explore her roots.

Halfway Home transported me to Japan along with Inzer. It made me feel sixteen again, in the sense that she captures the good and the bad parts of being that age. Inzer's trip to Japan is unique, in that she is exploring both by herself and with family. As she explores alone, however, she also has advice from her father about where to go and what to see.

Like so many travel journals, food is a big part of Halfway Home, and I quite enjoyed Inzer's depictions and descriptions of her meals. As I read her travel journal, I felt as though…

book review: Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

The backstory: Lord of Misrule won the 2010 National Book Award and was longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize (now Bailey's Prize.)

The basics: Set in 1970's West Virginia, Lord of Misrule offers a glimpse at the life at a rundown horse race track.

My thoughts: I started this book many, many times since November 2010. First when it was named a finalist for the National Book Award. Again when it won the National Book Award. Again when it was longlisted for the Orange Prize. Despite not really wanting to read it because of its content, I was determined to finally finish this slim book, and I did. But I was right: I didn't like it.

Usually, when I'm underwhelmed or ambivalent about an award-winning novel, I can see its moments of merit, but I struggle to understand how this managed to win the National Book Award. I went in with very low expectations of enjoyment, but I did expect to be wowed by its construction, or its language, or its setting. Instead, I found myself readin…

audiobook review: The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

narrated by Orlagh Cassidy

The basics: The Astronaut Wives Club offers extraordinary access into the actions, thoughts and feelings of the wives of the Mercury Seven, the Gemini missions, and the Apollo missions. It's a look at what life was really like for these women. Through these women, Koppel also tells the story of the space program and the world at that time.

My thoughts: I downloaded this audiobook from the library on a whim, and it ended up being a fabulous listening experience. I am definitely young enough that I took space travel for granted. The Astronaut Wives Club took me back to the time when space travel was beginning. I was riveted as the wives of the Mercury Seven transitioned from military wives with humble lives into media celebrities.

For women who were so frequently portrayed in the media at the time, The Astronaut Wives Club offers a behind-the-scenes look into what it was really like, from the every day moments to how they supported one another in times of tr…

book review: Brick Lane by Monica Ali

The backstory: Brick Lane by was longlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize (now Bailey's Prize) and short listed for the 2003 Booker Prize. I previously loved her most recent novel, Untold Story.

The basics: Brick Lane, Monica Ali's debut novel, is the story of Nazneen, a young woman born in Bangladesh who moves to London as part of an arranged marriage when she's eighteen.

My thoughts: I've been meaning to read Brick Lane for many, many years, and I'm so glad I finally did. I've long been fascinated by arranged marriage, and while it's easy to dismiss it as an appalling practice, Ali presents a fascinating and nuanced view of it here. Brick Lane is very much a coming of age story, even as Nazneen's coming of age happens later in life than the traditional western time. She is undeniably naive when she arrives in London, yet she carefully takes in information and experiences, those shared with her husband, other Bangladeshi immigrants, and on her own, Through t…

book review: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

The backstory: Last year, I read Maggie Shipstead's second novel, Astonish Me. I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to read her debut novel, Seating Arrangements, too. Seating Arrangements won the 2012 Dylan Thomas Prize and was shortlisted for the 2012 Flaherty-Dunnan Prize.

The basics: Set over one wedding weekend at their New England island house, Seating Arrangements is the story of the Van Meter family. Patriarch Winn is obsessed with joining a prestigious club on the island, his wife Biddy has planned the wedding with immense detail, his daughter Daphne is getting married while very pregnant, and his daughter Livia is still reeling from the break-up with her boyfriend Teddy, the son of Winn's college girlfriend and current nemesis.

My thoughts: When I read Astonish Me, I called Shipstead's prose "astonishingly good" and having "so much interior insight." I can easily say the same about Seating Arrangements. In the early pages, this description that could …

Sunday Salon: the nomadbaby is on Goodreads

I still have a ridiculous backlog of unpublished reviews from my end-of-year reading binge, but eventually, those will stop, and I will have to figure out how to talk about picture books on a semi-regular basis. Because some days, I spend more time reading picture books to Hawthorne than I do reading my own books. As he is only five months old and has no concept of story or message yet, I am relishing having the ability to be The Decider of What We Read. All he really cares about is that the pictures are somewhat colorful and interesting, that he getting to sit on my lap and snuggle, that he gets to hear my voice (I talk a lot, and he was around my voice all the time while I was pregnant, so it still comforts him), and increasingly that he can actually TOUCH the book itself. So mostly I pick up the picture books at the library that look really fun. Sometimes I am very right:

Other times I am very, very wrong:

To help get better at picking picture books, I started a Goodreads account …

Five months? Meh.

This week, the nomadbaby turned five months old. For the first time, I found myself feeling relatively unmoved about a monthly milestone. Five months feels like a rest stop on the way to six months, a milestone I cannot believe is less than a month away and am ridiculously excited for. So I am a few days late with five month pictures because it fell on a Tuesday, and I have not mustered the energy to care much about placing a special sticker on a plain outfit because I have a terrible cold, and I am managing to take adorable pictures of him without it.

He is still a wonderful baby, but he is so much more of a wiggling, determined, capable little person. If you let him hold your finger, he will find a way to put it in his mouth. If it's within his reach and he is at all interested, he will grab it (and put it in his mouth.) If you laugh, he will laugh with you. No one laughs alone with Hawthorne. I can't quite tell if he thinks he's saying or doing something that is the rea…

audiobook review: The Red Thread by Ann Hood

narrated by Hillary Huber

The backstory: I previously enjoyed Ann Hood's novel The Obituary Writer on audio.

The basics: The Red Thread is the story of a Providence, Rhode Island adoption agency specializing in the adoption of Chinese girls. Run by Maya, a divorced woman still dealing with guilt over her own daughter's death, the novel tells the stories of one co-hort of couples adopting Chinese daughters from the beginning of the process through the end.

My thoughts: I feel like my review of The Red Thread is really two reviews: what I thought about it while reading it and what I thought about it after I finished and really thought about it. I tend to enjoy novels told from multiple perspectives, and The Red Thread included many characters, all of whom wanted to adopt for somewhat different reasons. I appreciated the relative diversity of the couples, as it was easy to keep all of the characters straight. While I enjoyed some of their situations and storylines more than others, …

book review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The backstory: Life After Life was shortlisted for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction (now Bailey's Prize) and was a 2013 New York TimesNotable Book and named to its Top Ten of 2013.

The basics: Life After Life is the story of a young British woman born in 1910. Throughout the novel she dies many times, and each possible life serves as an exploration of how small moments have enormous impact on our lives and deaths.

My thoughts: The opening scene of this novel is incredible: twenty-year-old Ursula kills Hitler in 1930 in a German cafe. She is promptly killed. Then the action goes back to Ursula's birth. In the next few scenes, various iterations of the doctor getting stuck in a snowstorm and making it to her birth or not play out, as do various causes of her death. Atkinson plays with life and death somewhat whimsically here, which I appreciated: "I hear the baby nearly died,” Mrs. Glover said. “Well…” Sylvie said. Such a fine line between living and dying."

The ea…

audiobook review: Euphoria by Lily King

narrated by Xe Sands and Simon Vance

The backstory: The New York Times named Euphoria a 2014 Notable Book, as well as one of the ten best books of the year. Euphoria also won the 2014 Kirkus Prize.

The basics: Set in 1933 New Guinea, Euphoria is the story of thee young anthropologists, Nell, Fen and Bankson. Nell and Fen, a married couple working together, seek the help of Bankson, an expert in the area, to identify a tribe worth studying.

My thoughts: Longtime readers of this blog know I'm a huge fan of fiction about real people, so when I heard Euphoria was inspired by the life of Margaret Mead, more specifically a 1933 New Guinea expedition Mead took with her second husband. On this expedition, they collaborated with the man who would become Mead's third husband. It's a trip that's ripe for fictional speculation, and King takes this tantalizing set up and explores its possibilities beautifully.

I realized as I listened that I took the early days of anthropology for gra…

Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge: Plans for 2015

Yesterday, I wrote about Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge and looked at how I would have down if I attempted the challenge in 2014. Today I'm highlighting possibilities for my reading in 2015 to help prioritize. I've found the Goodreads forums helpful in some cases. Many of these titles can count for more than one category, but I will commit to counting each book for only one category.
A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25.White Teeth by Zadie Smith has been on my TBR since it came outSense and Sensibility by Jane AustenPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozie AdichieA book written by someone when they were over the age of 65.God Help the Child by Toni MorrisonLila by Marilynne RobinsonLovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine ProseA collection of short stories.American Innovations by Rivka GalchenBark by Lorrie MooreCan't and Won't by Lydia DavisBefore You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle EvansA book published by an indie pres…

Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge: How I Would Have Fared in 2014

When I first started blogging about books, I became somewhat obsessed with reading challenges. Over the years, I've phased out formal challenges, but I'm still grateful to them for making me more mindful of my reading goals. This year, Book Riot is hosting a Read Harder challenge. It features 24 tasks to encourage people to read outside of their comfort zone. As I looked over the list, I thought most would be pretty easy to check off my list, so I decided to look more carefully at my 2014 reading and see how close I came to accomplishing this challenge without trying. Tomorrow I'll share some of my picks for 2015, particularly in the areas I didn't read this year.
A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25.I know of at least one: Halfway Home by Christine Mari Inzer. I don't pay too much attention to the age of writers, but it's something I'll start tracking better.A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65.Lord of Misrule …

audiobook review: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

narrated by Xe Sands

The backstory: The Art Forger is one of my book club's picks for January (we meet every other month and read two books.)

The basics: Claire Roth is an accomplished painter who creates and sells reproductions (legal) of famous paintings. Twenty-five years ago, there was an art heist at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (the heist happened in real life). Now an art dealer brings one of the stolen paintings to Claire to ask her to forge (illegal) it.

My thoughts: The Art Forger had been on my TBR since it came out, so when my book club picked it, I was excited to finally read it. I opted to listen to it on audio, and the experience was a great one. I know a fair amount about art history, so I particularly loved this exploration into the art world, both historically through the heist paintings and Claire's reproduction work, and into the contemporary art world, where she struggled to find fame. Shapiro goes in depth into the details of art and forgery,…

The Best of 2014

2014 was quite a year. I had a baby. And I kept reading (it's possible! It wasn't even hard!) I somehow managed to read 139 books this year (and no, that doesn't count any of the children's books I read to Hawthorne.) I read (significantly) more books in 2014 than I did in any other year in which I've kept track of my reading. In September, I hit 100 books. I've spent a lot of time thinking about why I managed to read so many books this year, and I think it comes down to making reading more of a priority. I didn't watch nearly as much television in 2014 as I did before. And I didn't even see as many movies. I read. If a book wasn't working for me, I set it down and picked up another one. Sometimes I picked it back up again, but sometimes I didn't. And I gave up review obligations. I still read plenty of books from publishers, but I didn't commit to reviewing them on specific days. When I picked up a book, it was because I wanted to read it a…