Showing posts from September, 2015

audiobook review: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

narrated by Mindy Kaling

The backstory: I thoroughly enjoyed Mindy Kaling's first memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), so I was eager to listen to her new memoir too.

The basics: Why Not Me? is a memoir in essay form.

My thoughts: I picked up Kaling's first book on a whim while I was pregnant and mostly in the mood for something not depressing to listen to. I loved it and immediately started watching The Mindy Project (we still watch it.) This time, I had expectations and also fears. Would Why Not Me? be as good (it is.) The two books are obviously similar, but they felt different to me. Why Not Me? feels less like a memoir and more like a collection of essays, many of which are memoir-like.

Perhaps what I liked best about this book is how surprising it is. I find Mindy Kaling to be laugh out loud funny. We have similar senses of humor, and this book definitely made me laugh out loud. What surprised me were the moments of deep contemplation and insigh…

book review: The Wallcreeper

The backstory: The Wallcreeper, Nell Zink's first novel, was named a 2014 New York Times Notable book.

The basics: The publisher uses this Keith Gessen blurb as the summary, so I will too: "Who is Nell Zink? She claims to be an expatriate living in northeast Germany. Maybe she is; maybe she isn't. I don’t know. I do know that this first novel arrives with a voice that is fully formed: mature, hilarious, terrifyingly intelligent, and wicked. The novel is about a bird-loving American couple that moves to Europe and becomes, basically, eco-terrorists. This is strange, and interesting, but in between is some writing about marriage, love, fidelity, Europe, and saving the earth that is as funny and as grown-up as anything I've read in years. And there are some jokes in here that a young Don DeLillo would kill to have written. I hope he doesn’t kill Nell Zink."

My thoughts: The Wallcreeper has one of the most memorable narrators I've encountered. Tiffany is hilarious …

book review: Local Girls by Caroline Zancan

The basics: Set on one night in a dive bar in Orlando, Florida, Local Girls is the story of three recent high school graduates and best friends, Maggie, Nina, and Lindsey, who find themselves talking to a movie star on what will be the last night of his life.

My thoughts: How fabulous is the set-up to this book? I first heard about it as a "re-imagining of the last night of River Phoenix's death," but as I read I realized how common the accidental overdose death of talented young actors is, and I found myself imagining Cory Monteith in Sam Decker. I felt the emotions of Maggie, Nina, and Lindsey--it felt like the greatest night of their lives, even as the reader can see the signs of trouble in Sam Decker.

I'm drawn to stories about big, momentous nights. Most nights are incredibly ordinary, but some nights change your life and become part of your story. The night in Local Girls is one of those nights, albeit in different ways for each of the four main characters. Zanc…

audiobook review: Early Warning by Jane Smiley

narrated by Lorelei King

The backstory: Early Warning is the second installment in Jane Smiley's Langdon family trilogy. I enjoyed the first installment, Some Luck.

The basics: Each of these novels cover thirty-three years, with each chapter covering a year. Early Warning begins in 1953 and ends in the 1980's.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed Some Luck, but I didn't always love King's narration. I planned to read this one instead of listen to it, but I'm so glad I decided to listen instead. King's narration improved in this installment, and her different voices helped me re-acclimate to this large family. I'm often leery of audiobooks longer than twelve hours, but I breezed through this one. On a personal note, there's something enchanting about listening to an Iowa family saga while driving around Iowa with my baby in the car. One character in this volume lives very near Hawthorne's day care.

It took me a few chapters to get re-invested in some of the La…

book review: Family Life by Akhil Sharma

The backstory: Family Life won the 2015 Folio Prize and was named one of the 5 best books of 2014 by The New York Times.

The basics:  "We meet the Mishra family in Delhi in 1978, where eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju play cricket in the streets, waiting for the day when their plane tickets will arrive and they and their mother can fly across the world and join their father in America. America to the Mishras is, indeed, everything they could have imagined and more: when automatic glass doors open before them, they feel that surely they must have been mistaken for somebody important. Pressing an elevator button and the elevator closing its doors and rising, they have a feeling of power at the fact that the elevator is obeying them. Life is extraordinary until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother severely brain-damaged and the other lost and virtually orphaned in a strange land. Ajay, the family’s younger son, prays to a God he envisions as Superman, longing to find h…

audiobook review: We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

narrated by Emma Bering and Robbie Daymond

The backstory: Vanessa Diffenbaugh's first novel, The Language of Flowers, has been on my TBR list since it came out, yet I never got around to it. When I saw her speak at the American Library Association conference this summer, I was wowed, and vowed to read both her books.

The basics: We Never Asked for Wings is the story of Letty, an American born to Mexican parents in the U.S. She works as a bartender, and her parents have largely raised her two children, Alex, fifteen, and Luna, six. Life is hard for Letty and her children, and she vows to find a way to move to a good neighborhood in the San Francisco area before Alex starts high school.

My thoughts: It took me about twenty minutes to get my bearings in We Never Asked for Wings. It's hard for me to tell sometimes if that's the novel or the act of listening on audio, and Diffenbaugh is intentionally vague in the opening scene. In this case, it may also due to the fact that based …

book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The backstory: All the Light We Cannot See won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, was named one of the top five books of 2014 by The New York Times, and won the 2015 Carnegie Medal. Update: It was also the 2015 runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The basics: Set during World War II, All the Light We Cannot See tells the interwoven stories of Marie-Laure, a young Parisian girl going blind whose father works at the Museum of Natural History, and Werner, a young German teenager growing up in an orphanage, where he develops a fascination with radios.

My thoughts: Over the years, I've grown weary of World War II tales. I find it a fascinating time in history, but I've read so many great novels about the time and so many good novels about the time that most new WWII novels have a hard time sticking out. Admittedly, if I read this one several years ago, I might have enjoyed it even more than I did.

What makes All the Light We Cannot See

book review: The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami

The backstory: The Moor's Account is on the 2015 Booker Prize longlist, was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, and was a 2014 New York Times Notable book.

The basics: The Moor's Account is "the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America—a Moroccan slave whose testimony was left out of the official record. In 1527, the conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez sailed from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with a crew of six hundred men and nearly a hundred horses. His goal was to claim what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States for the Spanish crown and, in the process, become as wealthy and famous as Hernán Cortés." (from the publisher)

My thoughts:  Lalami uses language to differentiate our narrator from his captors: "How strange, I remember thinking, how utterly strange were the ways of the Castilians—just by saying that something was so, they believed that it was. I know now that these conquerors, like many others before them, and no doubt like oth…

book review: Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

The backstory: Sleeping on Jupiter is on the 2015 Booker Prize longlist.

The basics:  From the publisher: "A train stops at a railway station. A young woman jumps off. She has wild hair, sloppy clothes, a distracted air. She looks Indian, yet she is somehow not. The train terminates at Jarmuli, a temple town by the sea. Here, among pilgrims, priests and ashrams, three old women disembark only to encounter the girl once again. What is someone like her doing in this remote corner, which attracts only worshippers? Over the next five days, the old women live out their long-planned dream of a holiday together; their temple guide finds ecstasy in forbidden love; and the girl is joined by a photographer battling his own demons."

My thoughts: Roy is an author I've been meaning to read for years. I have copies of her earlier books on my shelf, so I was thrilled to see this book, which I had not heard of (there's no announced U.S. release). From the first page, I was enthralled…

book review: Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

The backstory: Satin Island is on the 2015 Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: I'll let the publisher describe this one for you: "U., a “corporate anthropologist,” is tasked with writing the Great Report, an all-encompassing ethnographic document that would sum up our era. Yet at every turn, he feels himself overwhelmed by the ubiquity of data, lost in buffer zones, wandering through crowds of apparitions, willing them to coalesce into symbols that can be translated into some kind of account that makes sense. As he begins to wonder if the Great Report might remain a shapeless, oozing plasma, his senses are startled awake by a dream of an apocalyptic cityscape."

My thoughts: The cover of this novel is awesome. Many things are crossed out: a treatise, an essay, a report, a confession, and a manifesto. What remains: a novel. Maybe. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone paying attention that McCarthy has written a compelling, unconventional and demanding novel. Phil Hog…

book review: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

The backstory: Did You Ever Have a Family is on the 2015 Booker Prize longlist. Update: it was also longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award.

The basics: On the night before her daughter Lolly's wedding, June Reid's Connecticut home bursts into flames, killing four people. Lolly and her fiance, June's ex-husband, and June's boyfriend Luke.

My thoughts: Despite not loving Bill Clegg's memoir, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, I did appreciate the quality of his writing, and I was curious to see how his first novel would fare. When it made the Booker Prize longlist, I admit to being surprised. The premise sounds grim and depressing, yet this novel manages to veer towards hope rather than wallow. This shift in tone stems from Clegg's wise choices in timing. It isn't told in a strictly linear way. Most of the focus of the novel is after, but not immediately after. This emotional distance helps the novel feel more redemptive without ignoring the horror of s…

book review: Girl at War by Sara Novic

narrated by Julia Whelan

The backstory: Girl at War is on the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize longlist. Update: Girl at War has been longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Prize.

The basics: In 1991, Ana is living a typical ten-year-old's life in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, when the Yugoslavian war breaks out.

My thoughts: I'm about the same age as Ana, so I was immediately drawn into her story. As a ten-year-old, she doesn't understand what's happening, and as a reader, neither did I. I've heard of the war, but my knowledge of it was slim at best. While coming of age stories set against a war backdrop are hardly new, Novic takes Ana's story in unexpected directions.

We enter the story in 1991, but the story is told in several nonlinear parts. The action next jumps to New York City in 2001, where Ana is in college. Novic skillfully moves locations and times in a way that enhance the story, both emotionally and in structurally. Again, I could have been one …