Wednesday, June 29, 2016

audiobook review: The Assistants by Camille Perri

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 wonderful punch without feeling like an idea novel.

Audiobook thoughts: Jorjeana Marie was a delightful narrator. At first, I found her voices for other characters to be slightly over-the-top, particularly Robert, but I soon grew to enjoy them. She reads in a somewhat confessional tone, and I thought she captured Tina perfectly. The tone of this novel is key to its enjoyment, and Jorjeana Marie delivers.

The verdict: I love novels that entertain me and make me think, and The Assistants does both. It's the perfect balance of light and deep, and I enjoyed the time I spent with it. I listened compulsively, but it's biggest gift is how much I'm still thinking about it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 7 hours 49 minutes (283 pages)
Publication date: May 3, 2016
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Assistants from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Follow Camille Perri on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

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

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 El Rashidi herself, are about the same age. To see the summer of 1998 unfold was fascinating in three ways. In some ways, it's the most interesting piece of the puzzle of Egypt, as I knew the least about this time period. I am also drawn to narratives of college as a vehicle for deep thinking--to have that experience against that political backdrop moved me deeply. To view Egypt and our narrator in the year of 1998, which was such a pivotal year for me personally, as I graduated high school and I entered college, made me critically examine the world in 1998, including my own place in it. El Rashidi writes about this time beautifully:
"There isn't a language for what we are living. We need our own vocabulary, not just new forms of literature and art. He is teaching himself Russian because he thinks he might find answers, a language that speaks to all he feels about the politics of our times."
"She doesn't use the term Middle East because it is a creation of the British. To use it is to remain colonized. I used Middle East all the time. I nodded and made a mental note to be careful."
When the action shifts to the last summer, 2014, I was excited. I knew the most about this time, and I thought El Rashidi had set up the story beautifully. In some ways, this section disappointed. It was certainly a fitting end, but it felt less fully realized in some ways. Perhaps because we are still so close to the events, it did not offer the historical insight the other two pieces did. In a sense, the whole book is saying that: even if we understand how we got here, how did we get here? There aren't answers, of course. As I ponder why the third section felt like I let down, I think it tried to do much; it felt too convenient. Most of the novel felt like it was the story of one woman first and her country second. In the third section, I didn't feel as connected to our narrator. So many people and places get an ending, and I found myself wanting more of her present and future.

Favorite passage: "It seems that politics is at the foreground and background of everything yet not something that can be impacted in any way."

The verdict: Chronicle of a Last Summer is a beautiful glimpse into Egypt from the 1980's to the present. El Rashidi skillfully straddles the line of knowledge and emotion in a way that this book could be enjoyed by readers who know little about contemporary Egypt as well as those who know quite a bit. I'm drawn to short novels that do a lot, and Chronicle of a Last Summer is just that. El Rashidi showed immense restraint to tell such a large story in this way, and it makes me quite excited to see what she'll write next.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 192 pages
Publication date: June 28, 2016
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Chronicle of a Last Summer from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Follow Yasmine El Rashidi on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, June 27, 2016

book review: Blood Defense by Marcia Clark

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 and Paige. The mystery drives the narrative and offers insights into Samantha's interior monologue. There are other small storylines featuring other clients on low or no-profile cases that offer a nice glimpse into the working life of a defense attorney, but the murders of Chloe and Paige is the focus. It's clear why Dale looks guilty, but it's satisfyingly murky if he actually did. There's plenty of circumstantial evidence, of course, but that leaves plenty of room for reasonable doubt. Samantha and her investigator, a hacker and former client, work hard to find other theories of the crime. Samantha struggles to both find another theory she can use in the courtroom and to figure out if Dale actually did it or not.

The verdict: I was ambivalent about Samantha as a character for most of this novel. I found the primary mystery quite compelling, but the final pages found me sitting with my jaw open, followed by squealing and immediately pre-ordering Moral Defense, the second novel in the series, which will be published November 8, 2016. I'm fully, ecstatically on Team Brinkman, and I cannot wait to see what she does next.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 400 pages
Publication date: May 1, 2016
Source: personal copy

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Blood Defense from Amazon (Kindle edition is only $5.99 and free for Kindle Unlimited readers!)

Want more? Visit Marcia Clark's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Salon: Two Weeks in Review

The Sunday
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 devouring Wendy Walker's psychological thriller, All Is Not Forgotten, which comes out July 12th. Thanks to many shuttle rides between meetings and events (did I mention it's hot in Orlando?), I read half of it yesterday. I'm also listening to The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. It's fascinating, and I'm learning so much about Chinese cooking and culture.

What I Watched This Week
1. I'm almost done with season 2 of Grace and Frankie on Netflix. I really enjoy this show and its complex characters.
2. ALA is an exhausting conference, and by the end of the day, I want to lay in bed and watch a little tv to unwind from all the library and book talk. Watching the first two episodes of my long-running summer guilty pleasure Big Brother has been the perfect way to end my evenings. I'm disappointed at the identities of three of the returning players, as I read a report that included four very different people, but I am really excited about this year's twists (so far) and the new houseguests. 
3. On the plane to Orlando, I took a break from reading and watched the first two episodes of Blindspot. It was fascinating and entertaining. Unfortunately, the rest of the season isn't available to stream currently, but I hope it shows up somewhere later this summer.

The Best Thing I Bought This Week
In a clear sign of "I obviously spent too much money on Kindle books for awhile," my settlement from the Apple ebook case was almost $200. My jaw hit the floor. I decided to treat myself to a Kindle Paperwhite. I adore my Fire, but I don't always love it for reading text-based books. And I don't love having to charge it every night. My original Kindle is collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, and the Paperwhite is everything I miss about it and more. It's the perfect combination of e-ink and backlight. 

The Best Thing I Ate This Week
In a sign I don't remember many of my meals, I did say yes three times to the passed shrimp ceviche with avocado cream at a reception at Cuba Libre last night. I would have said yes again, but they stopped coming around.

What I'm Looking Forward to This Week
1. Hawthorne snuggles and kisses! I miss him so much, but this trip he is both aware I'm gone and asking for me. During a video chat with him Friday, He put his arms up indicating he wanted me to pick him up, and then he cried when I didn't. While I enjoy having some time to myself, and I love the excitement of this conference, I cannot wait to be back home with my boys.
2. While I'm here, however, I am excited to enjoy a few more loops on my hotel's lazy river. It is so relaxing, and it helps cool me off in this miserable heat.
3. This morning I'm off to hear the daughter of Margaret Mead speak. I'm fascinated by Mead, not only because Euphoria, Lily King's novel inspired by her, is one of my all-time favorites.

Your turn: tell me something great you watched, read or ate this week.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Salon: Introducing The Week in Review

The Sunday
Hi, there! It's been awhile. I'm reading some, listening to audiobooks more, and writing reviews not at all. I've also been pondering some new ideas for this space I love. As I've shifted away from prize list reading to reading whatever strikes my fancy, I find I'm almost always reading books not yet out or books published in the last month. I love this impulsive reading, but when publishers ask you to hold reviews, there's been a disconnect between when I read the book and when the review posts. I don't want to stop doing reviews, but I do want to find a way to talk about things as I'm reading them. I do some of that on Twitter, but I want to find a way to carve out more of me in this space.

Thus, today I'm launching The Week in Review, which is inspired by Maris Kreizman's The Maris Review (you should subscribe to this Tiny Letter. It's awesome.) I like the idea of keeping track of books, tv, movies (in theory), articles I've read, food, and Hawthorne's antics. This week will also see the return of reviews. Some reviews will be in my traditional set-up, but I'm also playing around with different types of reviews.

What I Read This Week:
1. I finished Maestra on audio. It was a fun listen, but it reminded me Hawthorne is old enough I need to be more mindful of my audiobook choices. I do not need my 22-month old learning the c-word, which is used plentifully in that novel. Review to come.
2. I've been reading Marcia Clark's new novel Blood Defense. It's the first in a new series (and with a new publisher.) I loved her Rachel Knight series, so I had high hopes, and I like it, but I think I've been reading it for three weeks already. I pledge to finish it this weekend.
3. My current audiobook is The Assistants by Camille Parri. It's fun and sometimes funny. I'm over half-way through, and I keep wondering if it's just going to keep going at this pace. It's fine, but I hope it goes somewhere. And that I can finish before my library download of it expires in three days.

What I Watched This Week:
1. I hearby declare my love of The Bachelorette. I wasn't sold on this season, but this week's episodes were delightful. There was romance (that hot yoga date--swoon!), there was comedy, there was drama, and there was a two-on-one date, which provides the joy of leaving someone on a mountain and someone coming to awkwardly collect the luggage. I've been back on The Bachelor/Bachelorette bandwagon since they cast Iowan Chris Soules as The Bachelor, and I'm ready to publicly admit I like the show, even as I abhor so much of what is stands for. It's damn entertaining.
2. I started the six-part series The Vanishing Women on Investigation Discovery. As filmmaking, it's not very polished, but the story is fascinating: in the span of one year, six women disappeared from Chillicothe, Ohio (population 25,000). Four have been found dead. Two are still missing. The first episode went in depth into the disappearance of the fourth woman to go missing. It relies too heavily on unnecessary reenactments, but the story is a compelling and haunting mystery. I'll keep tuning in.

The Best Thing I Ate This Week:
A frosted sugar cookie (okay I had two) from The Bake Shoppe. A rare indulgence, but they are so, so good.

What I Avoided This Week:
The outside. It's that terrible time of year in Iowa when I don't want to go outside. It's too hot. And the ten-day forecast shows more of the same. I'm trying to embrace the heat more for Hawthorne's sake (although he seems to share my dislike of it), but it's going to be 98 today. That is too much.

What I'm Looking Forward to This Week:
1. A Tuesday off with Mr. Nomadreader and Hawthorne. To use the last of my vacation days by the end of June (as is required), I'm taking Tuesdays off so we have a day off together as a family. It's been delightful thus far this summer.
2. The last play of Stage West's season (we have season tickets) is Thursday night: Mothers and Sons by Terrence McNally.
3. I bought Hawthorne a few new books in preparation for our trip for a family reunion next month. I hope some of these edge out the ones I'm a little bored of reading to him over and over again.

My Favorite Photo of Hawthorne This Week:
My phone tells me I only took videos and Snapchats. I'll work on that for next week. He turns 22 months old tomorrow (!)

Your turn: tell me something great you read, watched or ate this week

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!