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Showing posts from 2016

Looking Back on 2016 and Looking Forward to 2017 (and beyond)

Oh, 2016: the year I accidentally quit blogging. I didn't actually quit blogging, but I rarely chose to spend my time blogging. I posted only 44 times this year. I think I spent more time creating elaborate lists about how I could and would catch up on all the unreviewed books I read than actually blogging. I miss blogging, both the writing and the interacting with those of you who (still?) read this blog. As I've been thinking (yet again) about what the realistic future of this space, I realized how much my online book life has changed in since I started blogging 2007. These days, I do more interacting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Litsy than here. I'm okay with that switch, but I realize I'm more drawn to those kinds of conversations about books than I am in writing reviews, and I want to make this space reflect what I'm most enjoying (and finding the time for) elsewhere.

So what's next? I want to talk about books more than review them. It's a fine …

book review: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

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The backstory: Michael Connelly is my favorite mystery writer. I've read and reviewed all twenty-eight (and now twenty-nine) books.

The basics: Harry is once again out of the LAPD and working as a private investigator. The case: discover if a very rich and powerful old man fathered a child in his youth and has an heir. At the same time, Harry is working as a volunteer detective for tiny San Fernando PD, where he's putting together pieces of what appear to be a number of crimes committed by the same perpetrator.

My thoughts: When I first started reading Michael Connelly, I loved that time passed between his books in real time. Each time we see Harry Bosch, he's a year or two older. But the first Bosch book came out in 1992. It's now 2016, and part of my brain knows Harry Bosch can't live and work forever. Until then, however, I eagerly await and savor each new installment. This one certainly does not disappoint.

In all the roles Bosch has served in over the years and …

book review: Spot 12 by Jenny Jaeckel

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The basics: Spot 12 is Jenny Jaeckel's graphic memoir of her experience giving birth and the months following, when her daughter Asa was in intensive care.

My thoughts: The premise of this book sounded right up my alley. Since I gave birth (26 months ago now), I've stayed interested in parents, particularly mothers, talking about the transition into parenthood. I was curious to see how Jaeckel's transition was similar and different given her daughter's health problems.

Unfortunately, I found Spot 12 to be more of journal than a memoir. The language was mostly simplistic and recounted events. I kept waiting for Jaeckel to offer more insight or hindsight, but it didn't happen. I was yearning for wisdom.

I think a few of Jaeckel's style choices contributed to the emotional disconnect I felt with Jaeckel's story. First, the memoir is entirely black and white and doesn't play much with the shape and size of cells. I prefer my comics to push the medium farther…

On reading guilt

I've been feeling guilty about my reading this year. I'm not reading as much as I was. I have bright spots, particularly when I travel for work and remember how much time in the day there is after a long day of work when I'm not playing with and taking care of a two-year old. This summer, I felt the shift as my reading became predominantly audiobooks, boosted by a nanny share that required a lot of driving (by Des Moines standards) two days a week. I realized I rarely picked up an actual book or my Kindle to read. I'd get back in the groove with one book, but then I'd lose my momentum again when I finished it.

When classes started, I found myself so stressed and intellectually exhausted that I often chose music in the car instead of my audiobook. I have been listening to the same audiobook since August 13th. I like it, but it is heavy, and I'm not always in the mood to listen to it. This weekend I finished a mystery by one of my favorite mystery writers. I start…

book review: All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

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The backstory: I saw Wendy Walker speak at ALA in June. I started All Is Not Forgotten the morning I heard her speak, as I figured it would be a good book to read during a conference--something that would keep my attention, but that I could put down while I was busy attending programs and events. I was right on one of those.

The basics:  "It begins in the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut, where everything seems picture perfect. Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, struggles to pretend this horrific event did not touch her carefull…

book review: Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

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The basics:  "Twenty-two, and knowing no one, Tess leaves home to begin her adult life in New York City. Thus begins a year that is both enchanting and punishing, in a low-level job at “the best restaurant in New York City.” Grueling hours and a steep culinary learning curve awaken her to the beauty of oysters, the finest Champagnes, the appellations of Burgundy. At the same time, she opens herself to friendships—and love—set against the backdrop of dive bars and late nights."--publisher

My thoughts: I am not often a reader who makes much of first lines. I don't know if that's a trait unique to me, or a result that the first lines of books I read aren't remarkably good or bad. But when I started Sweetbitter, I read the first paragraph, put the book down, added it to my favorite passages, and texted it to Mr. Nomadreader:
"You will develop a palate.  A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating …

book review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

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The backstory: I've adored Jacqueline Woodson's books for kids and young adults for many years, and when I heard she had a novel for adults coming out this summer, I squealed.

Seeing Jacqueline Woodson speak at ALA in June was one of the highlights of the conference for me (picture below.) She spoke at the same time as John Lewis, and I debated which one to go see. I chose Woodson because I haven't seen her speak before. I was lucky enough to have John Lewis as my Congressional Representative for many years, and I (not foolishly I hope) expect I'll have other chances to hear him speak again.

The basics: Another Brooklyn is the story of August and her memories of growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970's and 1980's.

My thoughts: Another Brooklyn captivated me from the first page. There is a sparseness to Woodson's prose in this novel that is poetic. I savored this book and hung on every single word. It's easy to do, as much of the novel is told in vignettes, wh…

book review: Killer Look by Linda Fairstein

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The backstory: Killer Look is the eighteenth mystery in Linda Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper series. I've read them all and reviewed a lot them.

The basics: Each Alexandra Cooper novel offers some piece of New York to serve as a backdrop. In Killer Look, it's New York Fashion Week. The hook is the apparent suicide (and possible murder) of a very high profile fashion designer.

My thoughts: Fairstein has been ending the most recent novels with wonderful (or terrible, given we have to wait a year for the next installment!) cliffhangers, andas with novels past, Killer Look opens very soon after the events of the last novel, Devil's Bridge. Alex is not yet back at work, which is a big difference from the rest of the series. Naturally, she still finds a way to help Mike and Mercer with this case.

I won't say I necessarily missed the courtroom element of this case, but I did miss seeing Alex in her element. Given the events of the last book (vague spoilers), she has a lot to …

audiobook review: Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson

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narrated by Tavia Gilbert

The backstory: Girl Through Glass is on the 2016 First Novel Prize longlist.

The basics: Told in alternating chapters, Girl Through Glass is the story of a young girl's coming of age at the highest levels of New York City ballet in the late 1970's, and where she is now, a dance history professor somewhere in Ohio. While it appears to be a simple narrative at first, it soon becomes clear there are many mysteries between the 1970's and today for the reader to discover.

My thoughts: Over the years I find myself less drawn to traditional coming of age stories, so I was excited to see this one offered two timelines, a narrative technique I enjoy. As is often the case with such a structure, I find myself trying to fit the pieces together as I read. The biggest challenge of dual narratives are what to revela when, and while I took issue with a few of Wilson's choices as I read, I admit I can't come up with a better way to tell this story.

As I read,…

book review; The Sellout by Paul Beatty

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The backstory: The Sellout won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and has been longlisted for the 2016  Booker Prize. It was also a 2015 New York Times Notable Book (including being honored as one of the five best fiction titles of the year) and a contestant in the 2016 Tournament of Books.

The basics:  "A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty's The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant."--publisher

My thoughts: The first ten percent or so of this book had me thinking, "this may be the most provocative and brilliant thing I've ever read." I should remind myself when I get that excited about a book that early, it's nearly impossible to sustain.…

The 2016 Booker Dozen: A U.S. Reader's Guide

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It's here! I find myself enjoying the Booker Prize longlist even more now that it's also open to U.S. authors. And this year is a good one. Each of the titles intrigues me enough to read it, and none are over 500 pages!

The Ones I've Already Read

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (3.5 stars)--I need to review this one still!
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (4.5 stars)

The Ones Available in the U.S. Now





Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (only $5.99 for Kindle!)
The North Water by Ian McGuire
Hystopia by David Means
The Many by Wyl Menmuir
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves

The Ones Coming to the U.S.


The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee (February 21, 2017)
Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy (October 18, 2016)
All That Man Is by David Szalay (October 4, 2016)

The Ones We Hope Make Their Way to the U.S.

audiobook review: The Assistants by Camille Perri

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narrated by Jorjeana Marie

The basics: The Assistants, Camille Perri's debut novel, is the story of Tina Fontina, a thirty-year-old who serves as the executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the CEO of Titan, a media conglomerate. What begins innocently soon spins a big scheme to falsify expense reports to pay off the student loans of assistants throughout the company.

My thoughts: As I wrote the basics above, I kept trying to come up with a description that made it sound like a book I would actually want to read. I didn't know much about this novel when I downloaded the audiobook from my library, and I think that's the way to go into it. It's a quick listen, and I found it entertaining, funny and surprisingly insightful. In that way, the book sneaked up on me. I was enjoying the story, as it was clearly diverting from reality into delightfully reckless fictional insanity, when I found myself wowed. Perri has absolutely written an entertaining novel, but it packs a wonderfu…

book review: Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi

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The basics: Yasmine El Rashidi's debut novel is set in Cairo in three pivotal summers in modern Egyptian history: 1984, 1998, and 2014.

My thoughts: I admit, most of what I know about contemporary Egyptian politics comes from watching the documentary The Square, which is harrowing and amazing. El Rashidi has the daunting task of writing a novel about a time and place readers may or may not be familiar with. She attempts to address this problem through her narrator. We meet her in 1984 when she is a child trying to filter the different things she hears from friends and family members to make sense of them. Child narrators don't often work for me, but this one was successful. She served as a filter for the reader to learn the state of things, and this section also sets the stage to offer contrast to the coming sections (if you know anything about Egypt, that is not a spoiler.)

The second section was my favorite. I partially attribute it to the fact that the narrator, and perhaps …

book review: Blood Defense by Marcia Clark

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The backstory: I thoroughly enjoyed Marcia Clark's prior mystery series, featuring Los Angeles prosecutor Rachel Knight: Guilt by Association, Guilt by Degrees, Killer Ambition, and The Competition. Blood Defense is the first in a new series featuring Los Angeles defense attorney Samantha Brinkman. (It also signals a change in publishers for Clark.) And yes, as her Twitter handle says, she's that Marcia Clark, who is still most famous for prosecuting O.J. Simpson for murder.

The basics: Blood Defense introduces Samantha Brinkman, a defense attorney struggling to make a name for herself. She appears as a defense expert frequently on a new talk show, but her office is in the heart of gang territory, and she lacks high profile, paying clients. That changes when she takes the case of Dale, an LAPD detective charged in the double homicide of Chloe, a starlet and his girlfriend, and Paige, Chloe's roommate.

My thoughts: The mystery at the heart of this novel is who killed Chloe a…

Sunday Salon: Two Weeks in Review

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Hello from hot and sunny Orlando! I'm here for the American Library Association's Annual Conference, which is once again proving to be an exciting and exhausting mix of work, fun, networking, book events and reading. My schedule calms down considerably tomorrow, so I hope to spend time drafting some of those reviews I keep meaning to write.

What I Read Last Week The Last Two Weeks
1. Since my last week in review, I finished Blood Defense by Marcia Clark. I am impatiently awaiting the second book in this series, Moral Defense, but I'm excited it's out in November. Two books a year? Yes, please!
2. I also finished The Assistants by Camille Perri on audio, which was entertaining and perceptive. It surprised me. I keep pondering it--in a good way.
3. I picked the new novel from one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett, to read on the planes to Orlando, and I'm so glad I did. Commonwealth isn't out until September, but it is a masterpiece.
4. I'm currently devou…