Monday, January 9, 2017

book journal: A Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan

This year, Mr. Nomadreader and I are starting a new tradition for our family: we hope to visit one new country each year with Hawthorne. Our family is complete, and I'm excited to be starting a new family tradition. Hawthorne will be two and a half next month (!), and we're ready to start showing him the world. Our first destination: Amsterdam, this spring. While we've been studying the guidebooks and planning our days, I've also been busy making lists of fiction I want to read that is set in Amsterdam, both past and present.

I've been intrigued by Chris Ewan's The Good Thief series, as each one is set in a different city, but our trip made me pick up his first in the series, The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam. The titular good thief is Charlie Howard, a novelist who writes books about a globetrotting thief named Faulks. He also secretly works as a thief himself.

There is a lot going on in this novel. In its opening pages, Charlie gets an intriguing offer to steal two monkey figurines to match the set's third (it's a classic see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.) It seems too good to be true, and predictably, things go terribly wrong. Thankfully, they go wrong in an incredibly fascinating and compelling way. As things are going awry in the thieving life, Charlie is also struggling with a key plot point in the manuscript of his latest novel he's submitted to his agent and confidante, Victoria. While the plot of his novel is interesting, and provides keen insights into Charlie's mind (as well as a few carefully placed similarities to the case he's working in real life), the star of this show is figuring out the thieving mystery.

Considering how much danger and death there is in this novel, it feels comedic at times (and partly farcical.) Ewan pulls off this tone well. While some of the twists in this novel are expected to those who are fans of mysteries, I got the sense Ewan wanted the audience to expect some of the twists, so when he pulled the real ones, I was even more surprised (and impressed.) This novel feels like a combination of homage and something new. Although it's his debut novel, he writes with the skill of his character, Charlie, who has been novels under his belt.

I chose this novel for both its location and its premise, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. Because we'll be in Amsterdam this spring, I took the time to look up some of the locations I wouldn't otherwise have done as I read, and Ewan seems to captures the ambiance and neighborhoods well. Most importantly, he ties the geography to the characters and mystery. I'll definitely be reading the next novel in this series, The Good Thief's Guide to Paris. Even if you're not heading to Amsterdam soon (or if you've already been), The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam is a fun, funny, engaging and twisty read.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: November 2007
Source: library 

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Chris Ewan's website and follow him 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, January 2, 2017

book journal: The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley

Books are one of my favorite ways of exploring new places and revisiting familiar places. When I travel, I've always loved to read books set in the place I'm visiting. This year, I'm leading a J-term travel seminar to Chiang Mai, Thailand. The course is the culmination of almost two years of work, and I'm spent a lot of time learning about Thailand. When our flights were finalized, I learned we're flying through Beijing both ways. I began seeking out books about China, and I was intrigued by Susan Conley's memoir about the two years she and her family spent living in Beijing. Conley is a novelist, and I'm drawn to memoirs written by fiction writers. Moreover, I wasn't necessarily interested in immersing myself in China; I wanted to see it through the eyes of a western woman so I could anticipate my own experience with culture shock. I sought answers to the questions I didn't even know to ask. I wanted insight into Chinese culture and the difficulty of adjusting to it.

There are many places in the world I can imagine myself living, particularly in the short term, but China is not one of them. I am intimidated of China and would be deeply uncomfortable living under its government's laws. Conley wasn't as reluctant as I am, but she was certainly trepidatious in ways I could easily relate to. I enjoyed joining Conley in her frustration and joys, be they related to China, parenting two young boys, or cancer.

While this is a travel memoir, it's more of a personal memoir. While in Beijing, Conley learns she has breast cancer. In that sense, this memoir is one of two journeys, but those journeys are inextricably linked. Conley doesn't isolate her thoughts on cancer, living in China, or any other part of her experience; this memoir is the story of two years in her life. I came seeking a book about Beijing, and while I got that, I got so much more out of reading this memoir. One of the highlights of this memoir was discovering Conley's close friendship with Lily King (I adored her last novel, Euphoria.) I think one of the reasons I love reading nonfiction by fiction writers is discovering all of their connections and friendships.

While living in Beijing, Conley worked on a novel that would become Paris Was the Place. It's premise intrigues me, and given how much I enjoyed Conley's writing in this book, I'm adding it to my list.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 280 pages
Publication date: February 2011
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Foremost Good Fortune from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Susan Conley'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, January 1, 2017

My Favorite Reads of 2016

2016 wasn't my most productive year of reading, but I did manage to read 104 books, which averages out to two a week, and I'm pleased with that. I didn't review most of those, so this post is not full of linked reviews as in years past,  but I did rate eight of them 5 stars. 19 more were 4.5 star reads. The books I loved were incredibly diverse in genre, so this year, instead of ranking them, I offer my favorites by categories. Dig in! (Pictures take you to Amazon and linked titles take you to my reviews--if I actually wrote one.)

Best Comic (tie)

Something New by Lucy Knisley & Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Best Nonfiction

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

Best Short Story Collection

American Housewife by Helen Ellis

Runner Up: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Best Mystery (standalone)

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

Runner Up: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Best New Mystery Series (tie)

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark (Samantha Brinkman series) & City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong (Casey Duncan series)

Best Audiobook

All Involved by Ryan Gattis

Runner Up: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Great New Novels by Authors I Already Loved

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Ex by Alafair Burke
The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Best Debut Novel 

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Runner Up: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Honorable Mention: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

Best Novel

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Now tell me: what were your favorite reads of 2016?

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!