Saturday, July 7, 2018

On making lists, reading long lists, and creating a new reading challenge for myself

I like making lists, which, at least among my bookternet communities of readers, writers and librarians, is not at all unusual. Lately, however, I've realized that I don't enjoy crossing things off lists as much as others seems to. It seems, odd, right? Isn't the point of lists to finish them? Either I truly don't enjoy reaching goals or I have become a realist. Here's my secret: I don't think I've ever actually finished reading an entire list of books I've made. I am one book away from finishing the 2012 Orange Prize (now Women's Prize) longlist (including the short list and winner.) But I'm also working on reading every book ever longlisted, shortlisted, and winners. (And by working, I mean I have many lists, one listing the ones I most want to read, one listing them in order from shortest to longest--achieve more faster!, one listing winners, one listing the one I most want to read for each year of the Prize, etc.) I've similarly attempted to read all the books for most major awards. It's not possible, unless, of course you enjoy crossing things off of lists more than making new ones. Or if you read more than I do. Or if you can manage to not get distracted by the next book award list or galley of your favorite author or decide what you really need in that moment is a good mystery or memoir or graphic novel or classic.

The 2018 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize long list

All of this is to say: I'm going to attempt to read this year's First Novel Prize long list, which is hilarious and also exciting, even if I don't actually read them all. I will read more than I would have if I didn't just make a checklist in Google Keep. You might ask why I would attempt such a thing when I have a terrible track record. There are two reasons. First, my reading has been floundering. I am in need of a list to guide at least some of my reading. I don't want to pick from the thousands of books I want to read; I want to pick one from a specific list. Second, this particular longlist features 26 books, and I want to read all of them. Not just the ones by women (who, incidentally, comprise a majority of the list). All 26 of them. None of them are chunksters (those always derail my best intentions.) They're diverse and exciting. And as much as I love picking out my own books to read, I also like it when other people give me a list and tell me to read them all. What I love most about reading book award long lists, however, are the conversations. I like to pretend I'm judging along with the judges. Which novels would I put on the short list in September? Why? Which would I pick to win? Inevitably, it will never be the one to actually win because I have my own taste in what makes a book the best of the bunch.

I hope to read all 26 titles before the shortlist is announced in September. I also realize there is very little chance of that actually happening. So I also hope to read all 26 titles by the end of 2018. And I hope to read one by the end of the weekend. As always, you can follow my progress on my First Novel Prize page.

Now tell me: have you read any of these titles? What should I push to the top of my list?

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 26, 2018

A letter to Taylor Jenkins Reid

Dear Taylor,

A year ago, I didn't know who you were. A couple of your book covers were vaguely familiar, but I hadn't read any of them. In July 2017, I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and I fell in love, with Evelyn and with your writing. It's a book I've recommended to many, many people over the last year, and they all report back how much they love it too. It was my favorite book of 2017. It's a book that made me want to read our backlist in order. I devoured Forever, Interrupted and After I Do in fall 2017 (they both made my top 10 fiction reads of 2017), and then I made myself slow down because I didn't want to live in a world where I didn't have more of your books to read. Instead I enjoyed following you on Instagram and Twitter. I read books you recommended and was recently thrilled to discover how much we both love The Bold Type.

When I saw you were speaking at the American Library Association conference, I was ecstatic. Your speech was so much life your novels. I laughed (a lot.) I cried. And I frantically tried to write down a few quotes. I fear I didn't capture this one exactly as you said it, but it perfectly sums up why I love your books so much: "I like writing about the difference of public perception and what it's really like." I'm fascinated by that too; it's what makes me the reader I am.

Every year at ALA, there's one book I'm most excited about or one author I'm most excited to meet. This year, it was you and your so-far-away-it-hasn't-even-really announced new novel, Daisy Jones & The Six. (Note: it is available for pre-order. It published March 5, 2019.) Obviously, this year it was you. When I introduced myself, I couldn't believe you recognized nomadreader and jumped up to hug me. Thank you for your books, and thank you for your joy at meeting readers.

Part of me wanted to wait to read Daisy so I can savor it, but I already started it. It's a good thing I still have two more of your backlist titles to read when I'm done.

With much love from one of your biggest fans,

P.S. Readers, if you haven't read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, it's out in paperback with a gorgeous cover.:

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 19, 2018

Win a copy of The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Update: A winner has been drawn. Congratulations, Andy B!

Today I'm thrilled to celebrated the publication of Rebecca Makkai's latest novel, The Great Believers, by giving away a copy to one of you. It's already received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist

Here's a synopsis: "In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster."

To enter, fill out the form below by 11:59 p.m. (Central time) on Thursday, June 21st. I'll randomly select a winner. (Open to U.S. residents only.) Good luck!

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 18, 2018

Oh, hi!

Dear readers,

Hi, there.

I haven't been around much this year. Remember how I managed to blog so much in January that I wrote more posts than I wrote in all of 2017? That was awesome. Then I got home from Thailand and blogging fell apart again. Reading fell apart for awhile too. I've been seeing a lot of movies, and that's fun too.

But I miss this space. I miss writing. I miss the comments and conversations. I miss the accountability to write about what I'm reading (and watching, doing, eating, and seeing.) I've been thinking about how to find my way back to regularly writing and posting, and today I decided just to jump in and do it honestly.

Tomorrow, I'm back with an awesome giveaway for y'all.

Thanks for still being here,


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!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Audiobook thoughts: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Four years ago I bought the audiobook of Crazy Rich Asians when it was the Audible daily deal. This month, I finally listened to it. These are the things I learned:

1. There are A LOT of characters. Don't let it worry you. In the first chapter featuring all of the mothers, I almost gave up or started over. Keep listening. The more important characters emerge, and I wasn't confused. Part of that is due to:

2. Lynn Chen's narration is excellent. She utilizes voices so well, I wasn't even aware of them. I soon could tell who was talking simply through her performance, which makes me sad because:

3. She doesn't narrate the next two books in the series. This book is the last one she narrated. I hope it's because her acting career has really taken off and she doesn't have time.

4. Speaking of the next two books, this book's ending is: abrupt and unsatisfying. I looked at my phone and couldn't believe the book was over. It begs the reader to start the second book soon, which makes me wonder:

5. Will the film have the same ending? I typically prefer films keep a book's ending, but I am open to a more fitting ending.

6. Although I'm not traveling in China or Singapore, I'm really glad I listened to this novel while in Asia. It was an entertaining read with fascinating characters, but it was also an illuminating glimpse into the Asian elite.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 546 pages (13 hours 53 minutes)
Publication date: June 11, 2013
Source: personal copy

Want to read for yourself? Buy Crazy Rich Asians from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

February 2018 Most Anticipated New Releases: Authors I Don't (Yet?) Love

Last week I shared the two February releases I'm most excited about from authors whose work I already know and love. Today I'm excited to share with you two new releases from I don't (yet?) love. 

The Queen of Hearts is Kimmery Martin's debut novel about two best friends, one a trauma surgeon and one a pediatric cardiologist. Martin is a doctor herself, and I'm intrigued at a glimpse inside the lives and loves of two doctors. It's being billed as a novel in the style of Grey's Anatomy, which sounds pretty great to me. Pre-order it now (Kindle version.) It releases February 13, 2018.

She Regrets Nothing is Andrea Dunlop's third novel. I first saw this novel on Taylor Jenkins Reid's Instagram, and when I looked it up, I was hooked by the first line of its blurb: "In the tradition of The Emperor’s Children and The House of Mirth, the forgotten granddaughter of one of New York’s wealthiest men is reunited with her family just as she comes of age—and once she’s had a glimpse of their glittering world, she refuses to let it go without a fight." Pre-order it now (Kindle version--only $7.99!) It releases February 6, 2018.

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, January 23, 2018

A Cautionary Tale: The Night Trade by Barry Eisler

Livia Lone, the first in a series featuring the titular character, was my favorite mystery of 2017. I've been looking forward to The Night Trade since I finished Livia Lone. I loved Livia Lone so much that I also wanted to read Eisler's other books, and I read the first in his John Rain series, A Clean Kill in Tokyo, earlier this month. I knew from the blurb that Livia returns to Thaiand in this book, and I managed to wait until I was in Thailand to read it.

The Night Trade picks up shortly after Livia Lone, and, as should be expected, there are tons of spoilers from the first book. It's clear this series is not one that can be read out of order. Livia Lone is a critical foundation for both the characters and story of Livia. Eisler recaps the highlights well in The Night Trade in case you've forgotten, but there's no substitute for reading the book itself.

What I wansn't expecting in The Night Trade was Dox, a character from the Rain books. I didn't encounter Dox in A Clean Kill in Tokyo, so I'm not sure when he enters (and exits?) the series. Because I haven't yet read the Rain books, it's hard to tell how much of Dox's back story and references to things Rain has done will serve as spoilers. Having characters crossover is one of my favorite things about Michael Connelly's books, and I'm choosing to believe getting to know (and, yes, love) Dox in The Night Trade will make me excited to encounter him in the Rain books.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Night Trade. It's an immensely satisfying novel. It builds on Livia Lone, both in plot and character, beautifully. It feels like a continuation of Livia Lone in many ways, and not simply because it's the second in a series. In some ways, it feels as though the two books could be a single volume, and it left me immensely intriuged to see where Eisler takes Livia (and Dox) next. The Night Trade doesn't pull as many surprises as Livia Lone, but as a novel, it's an incredibly satisfying read and once again left me eagerly anticipating Livia's next appearance.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 316 pages
Publication date: January 23, 2018
Source: publisher

Want to read for yourself? Buy The Night Trade from Amazon (Kindle edition--only $5.99 or free with Kindle Unlimited.) 

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 22, 2018

A love letter to Alafair Burke, author of The Wife

Dear Alafair,

I am so excited The Wife is making its way into the world this week. It was one of my favorite books of 2017, and I've been impatiently waiting to talk about it since I read it over Thanksgiving.

You're in my Hall of Fame, and I've read and enjoyed all of your books, from the Samantha Kincaid series to the Ellie Hatcher series, all of the standalones, and even the Under Suspicion series you write with Mary Higgins Clark. But, let's be honest, the books you write yourself are the best. And The WIfe is your best book yet.

Not only is The Wife your best book yet, it's unbelievably timely. The titular wife, Angela, finds herself in a situation that has become all-too-familiar in recent months: her husband, Jason, an NYU economist who has found relative fame after a book that helped launch a media career, is accused of sexual harassment by an intern. Soon, an allegation of rape from a colleague follows. This novel offers sobering, and often depressing, context about the legal nature of sexual harassment claims:
"So is there no way to prove such a thing?" she asked, her voice jumping an octave. "Instead of pulling back, I should have waited until he raped me so I'd have scientific evidence?'
Corinne had to admit, the woman had a point. In a world where DNA evidence could make or break a case, sex offenders could grab and grope and grind and gratify, as long as they didn't leave behind physical evidence.
It makes perfect sense, of course, but it provides such essential context to the stream of accusations and the #metoo movement. Of course it has to happen publicly and collectively; there is no real legal recourse.

Aside from the astute political and legal exploration of sexual harassment, this book is a bona fide thriller. On the surface, the mystery is deceptively simple: did Jason do it or didn't he? Of course, it's not that simple, and I loved seeing this story unfold through the eyes of so many dynamic (and mostly female) characters.

Alafair, I love this book for so many reasons. I read it compulsively in a day. It made me think about politics, sexual harassment, power, crime, loyalty, and honesty. I read to not only find out what happened but how. I read to discover the hidden secrets and to see when and how the other characters would learn what the reader knows. Through all that, you did what few authors can pull off: an epic twist when I didn't think there were any more twists to come. You flipped this book on its head in the most satisfying way, and it left me breathless with my mouth agape. That's not hyperbole: as I finished this book in the presence of my spouse, brother, and sister-in-law on the night before Thanksgiving, they all said, "so I guess you would recommend this book to all of us?" Emphatically yes. And also to everyone else.

Happy publication week, Alafair. I'll be doing all I can to spread the word about The Wife.


Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: January 23, 2018
Source: publisher

Want to read for yourself? Buy The Wife from Amazon (Kindle edition.) Xe Sands, one of my favorite narrators, narrates the audiobook.

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 21, 2018

Sunday Salon: Hello (again) from Thailand!

The Sunday
Good morning (again) from Thailand! It's my last morning waking up in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This afternoon, we fly to Krabi, where we relax at the beach for a few days before beginning the long, long journey home. Two of this week's highlights were our visit to the Elephant Nature Park and the night we spent in a rural village with beautiful mountain views:

This trip has been wonderful but challenging in many ways. I try to focus on the positive, and one of the things I've most enjoyed is how well I've integrated my reading and blogging into this trip. It's helped me stay connected to reality, as life in Thailand sometimes feels like I'm temporarily living in a different world. I'm thrilled that I've managed to still post each day this year. Considering I only managed 45 blog posts all of 2017, I think I've finally found my rhythm again, and it feels really good.

If you only read one thing I wrote last week...
Read my letter to Caroline Preston, an author I've been reading for twenty years. Her latest book, The War Bride's Scrapbook is such a fun and unique read.

...but if you want to read everything...
I wrote letters to Steven Hartley, narrator of Rachel Joyce's new novel, The Music ShopBarry Eisler, author of A Clearn Kill in Tokyo; Jenji Kohan, about the fifth season of Orange is the New Black and Ariel Levy, author and narrator of The Rules Do Not Apply.

I also introduced a new series highlighting upcoming releases I'm most excited about. The first installment highlighted two February 2018 releases by authors whose earlier work I've loved.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dear Ariel Levy, author of The Rule Do Not Apply

Dear Ariel Levy,

Many years ago, I read and enjoyed your first book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. For some reason, I didn't make the connection between the your books until I was listening to you read your memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply. Granted, the books are very different, and I read them thirteen years apart. I wasn't even tracking my reading in 2005. Still: knowing you wrote both of these very different, thought-provoking books makes it clear I will be in line to read any book you write.

I'm so glad you narrated The Rules Do Not Apply. It's such a personal story, and I can't imagine anyone else capturing the emotion, insight and thoughtfulness. Listening to this audiobook made me feel so close to you. When I decided The Rules Do Not Apply would be my next audiobook, I didn't know one of the themes of the book would be your international travel. It was such a happy accident for me, as I listened to it while I'm traveling in Thailand for work, without my family. To even compare our travels seems absurd to me, as so much of your book is about losing your child and your spouse. You write beautifully and thoughtfully about those losses. Mercifully, I do not know that experience. An experience I know well, however, is negotiating who I am, both as an individual and in relation to those whom I most love, and I love reading and thinking about how other people, but in particular women, navigate these identities.

I listened to this book in less than twenty-four hours. It will stick with me, and it will also remind me of my time in Thailand. I'm so appreciative of this book, and I will be thinking about it for a long time. Thank you for sharing your experiences so beautifully and for giving me the groundwork to think about mine in new ways.


Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 224 pages (4 hours 53 minutes)
Publication date: March 14, 2017
Source: library

Want to read for yourself? Buy The Rules Do Not Apply from Amazon. I recommend it on audio.

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!

Friday, January 19, 2018

February 2018 Most Anticipated New Releases: Authors I Already Love

Welcome to the first installment of a new monthly feature: Nomadreader's Most Anticipated New Releases! Today I'm highlighting two February new releases from authors I already love. Next week I'll highlight February releases by authors I haven't read before. 

As I looked over the long list of February new releases I'm really excited for, these two jumped right to the top. 

This Fallen Prey is the third book in Kelley Armstrong's Casey Duncan novel. I loved the first one so much, I immediately picked up the second one. This series is so original, but the mysteries are still fantastic. Pre-order it now (Kindle version). It releases February 6, 2018.

An American Marriage is Tayari Jones's fourth novel. Her last novel, Silver Sparrow (my review) was one of my favorite books of 2012. I've been eagerly awaiting her next novel for may years, and the premise sounds fabulous: 
"Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together."
It also releases February 6, 2018, but you can pre-order it now (Kindle version.)

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!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dear Jenji Kohan

[this letter contains spoilers about all five seasons of Orange is the New Black)

Dear Jenji Kohan,

I finally finished watching season 5 of Orange is the New Black. Yes, it took me seven months, but this season was intense. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it was definitely hard for me to watch more than one episode in a sitting. I've been watching since the beginning, and this season made me realize just how complicated my relationship with this show is.

It's still one of the shows I love the most, simply because of how you manage to incorporate so many diverse voices and offer a rare perspective on so many lives, inside and outside of prison.

Yet, increasingly, I think you have a pacing problem. After five seasons, spread across five years, only ten months have passed on tv. Perhaps this pacing affects me because of how different my life looks than it did in 2013, when I watched season one in a single day with a few glasses of wine. When season 2 premiered, I was (very) pregnant, but I still watched the season in a day. Now that I have a 3-year-old, I mostly find time for Orange is the New Black when I travel (Netflix downloads are a precious gift.) Here is the biggest pacing problem: the most exciting moments are beginning to happen at the end of the season rather than the end of each episode. In earlier seasons, I couldn't help but watch one more because each episode ended with a cliffhanger. You know what episode in season 5 made me want to immediately watch the next one? The last one.

When Poussey, my favorite character, dies near the end of season four, I was ready because I read an annoying spoiler less than a week after it premiered (I know, I used to be one who could watch an entire season in less than a week, but I'm not anymore.) It devastated me, but I also thought it was smart and necessary storytelling for the show. The emotional impact of her death impacted the audience and the characters, and I knew it had the power to set some things in motion. The end of season four left me breathless. The beginning of season six enchanted me.

As season five continued, I found myself wondering, "where can this show go?" I loved to see how far the characters were taking the riot, but I also dismayed at how little time passed. It may seem necessary for this particular season to not cover much time, but combined with all of the other seasons, it felt stagnant. By the end of season five, Taystee reminded me that Poussey died a few days ago, and I realized that for me as a viewer, the emotional reaction to her death has passed, but (understandably), it's still echoing in Litchfield.

Jenji, I trust you to always tell a good story and tell it in a bold way.  I love this show, and I cannot wait to see what's in store for season 6. That cliffhanger might be the best and worst to date. I spent a lot of season 5 wondering if this season was a way to both make a statement and provide a reset for the show. Perhaps more than any other season, I'm really curious to see where and when the next season begins. Season 5 appropriately begins in the moments after season 4, but I think it's time for a leap forward in time. Either way, I'll be watching.

Loyally and lovingly,


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dear Caroline Preston, author of The War Bride's Scrapbook

Dear Caroline Preston,

You hold a special place in my heart. I've always been a reader, but before I started blogging, I wasn't nearly as aware of all the new release books. When I was in high school, I discovered your first novel, Jackie by Josie, on the new release shelf at my local public library and checked it out. I loved it. I'm still drawn to fictional depictions of real women, and I loved that as much as the book was about Jackie O, it was more about Josie and her research. Your second novel, Lucy Crocker 2.0, about a woman who designs video games despite having no knowledge of technology, lived on my shelves for years (and moved a few times) before I finally stayed up late to read it at my mother-in-law's house the week Mr. Nomadreader and I moved to New York in 2008. I love when books stick in my mind so clearly I remember where I was when I read it.
When The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt came out in 2011, I read it immediately and loved it. I gave my mother a copy for Christmas that year too.

I was thrilled to see you had another novel in pictures in 2017. I was so excited to read it, I read an early copy in July 2017 and never reviewed it. Partly, it's because I wasn't really blogging much in 2017. But it's also because I didn't know how to write about it in a traditional review because it, like The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, is so unique. It's a novel, but it's mostly told through mixed media. It's not quite a graphic novel either. Regardless of how I'd classify it, I think what I love most about this type of storytelling is how intimate and historic it feels. It doesn't feel like I'm reading fiction; it feels like I'm looking at the scrapbook of someone else's grandma.

I don't know what the future holds for your writing, but I know I'll be in line to read it, whether you return to traditional novels or stick with novels in pictures. Cheers to twenty years of reading your books.


Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 224 pages
Publication date: December 5, 2017
Source: publisher

Want to read for yourself? Buy The War Bride's Scrapbook from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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, January 16, 2018

Dear Barry Eisler, author of A Clean Kill in Tokyo

Dear Barry Eisler,

Last year I read Livia Lone, the first in your new series about the badass titular character. It was my favorite mystery of 2017. I knew I wanted to start the rest of your backlist from the beginning, and I couldn't resist waiting to read your first mystery, renamed A Clean Kill in Tokyo, while I traveled through Tokyo earlier this month, as I love to read books set where I'm traveling.

I started A Clean Kill in Tokyo around 4:30 in the morning in Des Moines. I expected it would keep me company as I flew first to Chicago, then Tokyo, and finally to my final destination of Bangkok, where, incidentally, Livia Lone spent some time.

From the opening scenes (and the opening kill) of A Clean Kill in Tokyo, I knew I was in for a thrilling read. This book is relentless. As I read, I was impressed at how you balanced the pacing, character development, and setting. Tokyo (and to a large extent, Japan as a whole), is a character in this novel. As I read, I learned more about the city, the country, its culture and customs, and its government.

Two things happened while I was reading this book that will forever make me think of when I read it. First, our simple layover at Narita airport became a landing at Narita and bus transfer to Haneda airport. As I read, I realized I would get to see more of Tokyo than only the airport. I was ecstatic to see a little bit of the city I'd been picturing in my mind as I read. The second happened after our layover, as I didn't quite manage to finish it before arriving in Thailand. Late in the novel, Rain thinks, "My fingerprints were on file from the time I returned to Japan after the war--I was technically a foreigner, and all foreigners in Japan get fingerprinted." Had I not read this at this time, that line would have seemed like a throwaway. Instead, because of our flight delays and airport change, I, too, had just gone through customs and been fingerprinted. It's an eerie detail for a thriller, and I loved it because it's the perfect detail for a crime novel.

I'm glad the John Rain novels are living a new life with Thomas & Mercer, and I look forward to the next one. Like Livia Lone, this was a thrilling read. John Rain is a compelling character, and I'm curious to see where he goes next. It's also clear this book was originally published in 2002. There were a few lines in this novel that made me groan. You've gotten much, much better about writing female characters (thank goodness.) Midori isn't as dynamic of a person as she is a musician. I wanted more from her character. Please don't ever let a (male) character think, "It was like being raped" without some backstory that gives him that purview. That line is inexcusable, and because I've read Livia Lone, I doubt you'd use that simile today (thank goodness.)

All in all, I really liked A Clean Kill in Tokyo. It introduces a fascinating character in John Rain, offers a rich and deep backstory for him, features a dynamic and fast-paced mystery, and I learned a lot about Vietnam, Japan, and U.S.-Asian relations in the last forty years. I'm really looking forward to A Lonely Resurrection and the rest of your books.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 276 pages
Publication date: 2002 (reissued/updated August 5, 2014)
Source: purchased

Want to read for yourself? Buy A Clean Kill in Tokyo from Amazon (Kindle edition--only $1.99 or free with Kindle Unlimited!)

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 15, 2018

Dear Steven Hartley, narrator of The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Dear Steven Hartley,

I listened to most of The Music Shop on flights from Des Moines, Iowa to Bangkok, Thailand (with stops in Chicago and at both Tokyo airport.) I don't like to fly, but I do love to travel, and flying is part of that reality. To help distract me from the fact that I'm flying, I like to pick books to transport me to a different place, and your narration made me feel like I was on Unity Street in the 1980's.

I decided to read The Music Shop when it was named a January Book of the Month pick. This year, I'm aiming to read all 60 Book of the Month picks, and to do that, I know I'll need to listen to one each month. I was quite intrigued when I saw The Music Shop was your first audiobook. After listening, I'm surprised, but I'm confident it won't be your last. The Music Shop is told from the point of view of Frank, a curmudgeonly, but loveable man who is passionate about music and vinyl (only vinyl.) Your performance made Frank come alive for me. He isn't a character I would have been drawn to. In fact, if I read this novel instead of listened to you read it, I think I would have wished even more for multiple narrators. I longed to get inside the heads of the other cast of characters more. As a reader, I'm drawn to books about unlikely people forming strong bonds and becoming a sort of family, and The Music Shop's Unity Street does exactly that for its characters.

As I listened, I kept thinking that I enjoyed this book more because I was listening. First, I loved your choices of when to sing or hum to help people who may not know all of the music referenced. It was helpful both to make me feel like I was in the story, where the characters were hearing it, but it also gave the story itself more depth. Your music-infused performance was particularly wonderful during the Hallelujah chorus, where I imagine if I were reading, my eyes would have begun to skim past all of the Hallelujahs, but you forced me to listen to them and feel them.

When I read Rachel Joyce's first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I said "At times I felt dismissive of this novel as 'charming' or 'quaint', and while it is both of those things, Joyce's writing elevates this novel. She is a writer to watch." I feel much the same way about The Music Shop. It is cute and sweet and charming and quaint. It's also deftly plotted. As each reveal was made, I found myself thinking, "of course." None were surprises, but they were perfect for these characters and this story. Ultimately, I think it may have been too well plotted and well-planned out because it didn't feel as authentic as it should. It felt smartly convenient and enjoyable, but I like a bit more difficult and surprise in my books.

In closing, Steven, while I have some conflicting thoughts about the novel itself, I'm so glad I listened to your performance of it, for it truly was a performance. There are narrators whose performances I enjoy enough to listen to a book simply because they perform it. I'm astonished The Music Shop was your first audiobook, and I'll be keeping an eye on what you do next. Chances are, I'll be listening, not matter what it is. Thanks for transforming The Music Shop for me. I'll be recommending the audiobook to many.


Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 320 pages (8 hours 28 minutes)
Publication date: January 2, 2018
Source: purchased

Want to read for yourself? Buy The Music Shop from Amazon (Kindle edition.) Obviously, I recommend you listen to the audiobook.

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 14, 2018

Sunday Salon: Good morning from Thailand!

The Sunday Salon.comGood morning from Chiang Mai, Thailand!

What a crazy, fun, exhausting week it's been. Last Monday at 3:30 a.m., I met my co-professor and the fourteen students taking our J-term travel course at the Des Moines airport. After delays in both Des Moines and Chicago (fuel pump issue requiring us to change planes), we arrived in Tokyo after our flight to Bangkok departed. The airline arranged a charter bus to take us from one Tokyo airport to the other, where we finally boarded a flight to Bangkok and arrived at 6 a.m. instead of midnight. We spent two days exploring Bangkok, then we took the overnight train to Chiang Mai, where we're settled in for another week before heading to Krabi. After so much travel, it's nice to be in the same place for awhile. It's also nice to be in Chiang Mai, a city I adore and have had the privilege of visiting three times in the last year and a half. It's my last time in Thailand for awhile, so I'm trying to soak up every minute of it I can, while also taking some time to rest, relax, read and write.

One thing I've learned about traveling to Asia is that my body adjusts a bit faster than my brain. I don't sleep much or well on airplanes, so I choose my reading very carefully. Mysteries work because they typically have short chapters and a fast pace. I also spend a lot of time listening to audiobooks while playing games on my phone. Both are a great way to pass time, but I look forward to dipping into something a bit more serious this week.

Despite my travels, I'm really excited that I've posted every day of 2018. Perhaps my blogging finally is back. Most importantly, I'm having so much fun blogging. It's been delightful to change up my format and write more freely. I plan on using Sundays to look back on the week, share a little of what's happening currently, and sometimes look ahead at what's to come in the next week.

If you only read one thing I wrote last week...
Read A love letter to Chloe Benjmain, author of The Immortalists, my first 6-star read in two-and-a-half years. This book means so much to me, and I'm so glad it came into the world this year. Get a copy and enjoy.

...but if you want to read everything...
I wrote traditional reviews of two buzzy January thrillers, The Wife Between Us, which I enjoyed but didn't love, and The Chalk Man, which blew me away and still surprises me that it's C.J. Tudor's first novel.

I wrote about Explosion at Orly, a nonfiction account of the 1962 Air France crash that killed more than 100 Atlanta residents who were patrons of the arts. The 2018 release I'm most excited about is Hannah Pittard's new novel, Visible Empire, which is inspired by those events. I was ecstatic to get an egalley of it this week, and I can't wait to dig in!

I wrote a letter to Reza Aslan about his newest book, God: A Human History

I wrote a letter to people who tell me to read more classics about starting the year with the often-recommended The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. (Spoiler: I didn't like it.)

Lastly, I wrote two lists about the latest collaboration from Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke.

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!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Two lists about Every Breath You Take by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke

(this post contains some spoilers, both of this book and the rest of the series)

There is so much to like about this book:

1. That cover is stunning.

2. The premise, a tv documentary working to solve cold cases by interviewing everyone involved, including the suspects, is great. I would definitely watch "Under Suspicion" if it were real. Reading the books is like watching the show, but we also get the behind-the-scenes action.

3. Laurie's dad is really great.

4. This novel is set at the Met Costume Ball. That's fun. And it inspired a really funny conversation with my friend Leslie, where we guessed what the conversation was like between Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke. It went something like this: "Who is the most glamorous celebrity you can think of who would attend the Costume Ball?" MHC: "Barbra Streisand!" AB: "Definitely Beyonce."

5. It's a fun, entertaining read. but...

There is so much not to like about this book.

1. This is a series about making a tv show. 68% into this book, there's this line: "I think we're actually ready to start cameras rolling." Seriously, the show was barely in the book. Why spend 68% deciding what the show will be about and then make the show you've been thinking about making for two-thirds of the book?

2. Related: the mystery wasn't very compelling.

3. Laurie is pretty annoying when she's not working. I get it: her husband was murdered. It's hard, but can she have an original thought or feeling about that that she hasn't had for the last three books? Every time she mentioned or thought about Alex, I rolled my eyes and sometimes even groaned out loud. [spoiler--highlight to read] Thank goodness she and Alex got back together at the end, or I might not have been able to keep going. [end spoiler]

The verdict: This series really isn't that good. It may have peaked with All Dressed in WhiteThe last two were not nearly as good as the first two. But I also like this series enough to keep reading, even if they don't improve. There is time in my reading life for an entertaining page-turner with a mediocre mystery.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 305 pages
Publication date: November 7, 2017
Source: publisher
Want to read for yourself? Buy Every Breath You Take from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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!

Friday, January 12, 2018

A letter to people who tell me I should read more classics

Dear Friends Who Think I Should Read More Classics,

You'll be pleased to hear the first book I read in 2018 was a classic. You will be disappointed to hear I did not like it. At all. I admit, I was a little disappointed too. I had been meaning to read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for years. It sounded like a classic I actually would like. It's very short (132 pages). It's written by a woman. It's about girls coming of age. What could go wrong? I found it annoyingly dated and quite dull.

I can understand why it would have been a powerful, moving novel when it was written. At that time, a character like Miss Jean Brodie might have been a revelation. In 2018, she's not. Or at least, she's not to me, because I'm drawn to portrayals of complicated women in fiction. I know it's not fair to blame the book for being of its time. I'm not blaming the book or Muriel Spark. This reading experience perfectly illustrates why I don't typically read classics and reminds me why I didn't major in English. It took me four days to read this book because I avoided picking it up. When I did, I often found a reason to put it down after two pages. On the fourth day, I decided I would sit and finish it because I couldn't abandon a book this short. Also, I was tired of having my 2018 list of books read be blank.

So, my dear, well-meaning friends who I always tell me I should read more classics, I'm glad I made time for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, even though I didn't like it. Instead, this book reminded me of a valuable lesson: I don't really like the classics, and that's okay. I much prefer to read about the past from historical fiction and history. I learned this lesson in college when I tried to major in English and struggled to read the required books as I longed to read from the giant piles of newer books from the library that surrounded me.

In closing, I'm not saying I'll never read another classic. I hope to finally read Pride and Prejudice this year (and maybe a few more of Jane Austen's novels too.) I still want to read Nathaniel Hawthorne because even though I didn't name my child after him, I feel like as the parent of a child named Hawthorne, I should at least have an informed opinion of him. I will probably never read Moby Dick or the Russian classics. It's okay because you won't read of the most books I recommend to you either. I want you to read what makes you happy.



P.S. I do want to watch the movie to see Maggie Smith play Jean Brodie. Want to watch it with me?

Rating: 2 out of 5
Length: 132 pages
Publication date: 1961
Source: library
Want to read for yourself? Buy The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A letter to Reza Aslan, author of God: A Human History

Dear Reza,

A couple of years ago, I listened to you read the audiobook of Zealot: The Life and Times of  Jesus of Nazareth. I found it fascinating, if somewhat disappointing at the lack of (understandable) lack of information about Jesus himself. I really enjoyed listening to the book and liked the emphasis and enthusiasm you narrate with. When I heard you had a new book, God: A Human History, I wanted to listen to it too.

I, like many, have a complicated relationship with religion. I was raised in the United Methodist church. My father is a United Methodist pastor. Many of closest friends are also pastor's kids, and many more of closest friends are friends I met through church. About six years ago, I realized I didn't consider myself a Christian anymore. It was a big deal to me because being a liberal United Methodist was such a large part of my identity for so much of my life. It wasn't a big deal because I hadn't been actively attending church for a few years. I always took issue with some aspects of my religion. I never believed in hell. I wasn't a big fan of most of the Old Testament. I liked the idea that each religion of the world saw a different facet of the same god. I didn't make grand declarations about no longer being a Christian; I just wasn't.

I've attended church several times since then, and it's always a weird experience. I still find great comfort in the familiarity of United Methodist liturgy. I still find meaning and enjoyment in singing my favorite hymns. I also feel deeply uncomfortable with some parts. I have a deep love for the church and the memories and friendships it gave me, but I didn't want to be part of it anymore. After the presidential election of 2016, I found myself craving something like church. I considered visiting churches, including United Methodist, Unitarian, and Church of Christ. I still didn't consider myself a Christian or want to be one, but I wanted the communal comfort of church or something like it. I never visited because I couldn't quite wrap by head around what or why.

Your new book, God, came at an interesting time for me. I had again lost the urge to go to church, but I remain interested in the variety of reasons other people have for their faith.  I found God fascinating. Parts of it reminded me of The Last Neanderthal, a book that made me ponder all the ways we are similar to our neanderthal ancestors. I was most fascinated to learn how different cultures throughout history have sought the personification of God. It makes so much sense, and it seems so obvious, but seeing the connection was illuminating to me. I loved your exploration of the things that are similar across religions and across history. Your book helped me understand that the cravings I had last year connected me to so many humans across history. As I've spent a couple of months thinking about and reflecting on your book, I realized it fundamentally changed how I view religion. For me, religion had been primarily about belief, and when I lost the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, I lost religion, even as I held on to some belief in an unspecific god. Reza, your book gave me another approach to religion: comfort. Comfort was always part of religion and faith for me, of course, but it wasn't the point of access. I don't know if I'll want to find a church again, but if I do, I will feel okay exploring without committing. 

Reza, thank you for writing God and thank you for reading the audiobook. Reading it felt like having a long, thoughtful conversation with you. This book has remained circling around my thoughts since I finished it in November, and I imagine I'll keep thinking of it for a long time.


Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 321 pages (5 hours 22 min)
Publication date: November 7, 2017
Source: library
Want to read for yourself? Buy God: A Human History from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

  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!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

book journal: Explosion at Orly by Ann Uhry Abrams

The book I'm most excited about in 2018 is the new novel by Hannah Pittard, Visible Empire. I've loved two of her earlier novels, Reunion (my review) and Listen to Me. Like me, Pittard grew up in Atlanta and now lives in the Midwest. I'd be excited about any new novel by Hannah Pittard, but the premise of this one took my breath away:  "an epic novel—based on true events—of wealth, race, grief, and love, charting one sweltering summer in Atlanta that left no one unchanged. It’s a humid summer day when the phones begin to ring: disaster has struck. Air France Flight 007, which had been chartered to ferry home more than one hundred of Atlanta’s cultural leaders following a luxurious arts-oriented tour of Europe, crashed shortly after takeoff in Paris. In one fell swoop, most of the city’s wealthiest residents perished." How, I marveled, did I manage to grow up in Atlanta and not know about a plane crash that killed 132 people? As I began my quest to know more about this event, I discovered a nonfiction book about it, and I immediately requested it from the library. While I'm impatiently waiting for a copy of Visible Empire, why not read about the real event?

Explostion at Orly: The Disaster That Transformed Atlanta is a fascinating look at both the plane crash and modern Atlanta history. I read this book while I was in Atlanta for Thanksgiving, and it was fun to chat about it with my brother and sister-in-law. I learned a lot about modern Atlanta history, particularly its art scene. While I think some knowledge of Atlanta aided my enjoyment and understanding, Uhry Abrams does a good job orienting the reader. To write this book, she gathered the families of all those who died in the plan crash. This access to the memories and stories provides rich personal details, but it also bogs down the narrative. It's a slippery slope, as she's trying to tell the stories of all of those who took part in some or all of the Paris trip, and that's a lot of people to keep track of. Naturally, I was drawn to the stories of some more than others. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book unless you're really interested in the subject matter--it's written for a specialized audience. It's a fascinating and tragic story, and reading Explosion at Orly made me even more excited to read Visible Empire and see how Pittard will fictionalize this incredible story.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 237 pages
Publication date: September 24, 2002
Source: interlibrary loan
Buy The Explosion at Orly. Pre-order Visible Empire (Kindle edition.)

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, January 9, 2018

book review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The backstory: The Chalk Man is the debut psychological thriller from British author C.J. Tudor.

The basics: Told in dual narratives in 1986, when Eddie and his friends discover the dismembered body of a young girl in the woods, and 2016, when Eddie and his friends each receive a cryptic chalk drawing in the mail.

My thoughts: I didn't order The Chalk Man as my December Book of the month, but judge Kristin Iverson's blurb did make me immediately start the egalley I had on my Kindle. This mystery wasn't even on my radar, and I'm so glad she convinced me to read this one. (Want to try Book of the Month? I'd love it if you use my referral link!)

The Chalk Man is a crime novel, but it doesn't necessarily read like one, as the crime is only part of the story. To be sure, there is a body discovered, and her head remains missing (how eerie is that?), but part of the benefit of the two timelines is the very ordinariness of life that infuses this story too. The characters are dynamic and fully formed, and there is much to their lives beyond the dead body and chalk figures. The shifting timelines work so well and help build the suspense, but they never feel like a gimmick.

The novel builds beautifully to its last third, which is a tour de force filled with expected and unexpected twists. When I finished, I was astonished it's Tudor's first novel.

Favorite passage: "The thing you have to understand is that being a good person isn't about singing hymns, or praying to some mythical god. It isn't about wearing a cross or going to church every Sunday. Being a good person is about how you treat others. A good person doesn't need a religion, because they are content within themselves that they are doing the right thing."

The verdict: This mystery is remarkably smart, suspenseful, complicated (without being confusing), and accomplished. I'm shocked it's a debut novel, as the plot is so delightfully intricate.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: January 9, 2018
Source: publisher

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

Want more? Follow C.J. Tudor 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 8, 2018

book thoughts: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

The backstory: Greer Hendricks worked as an editor for more than 20 years. For her first novel, she teams up with one of the authors whose work she edited.

My thoughts: The Wife Between Us is one of this season's buzziest books, which is always a dangerous proposition for a thriller. And this particular thriller is one that benefits from the reader knowing as little as possible going into it. I'm glad I read this one before its publication so each surprise was still a surprise.

I read a thought of mysteries and thrillers, and I can't recall the last time I actually said out loud while reading, "wait, what?!" and flipped back a few pages to make sure I hadn't misread. This novel's first big twist is so much fun. It flips this novel on the reader, and it made me realize I was reading a very different novel than I thought I was. Unfortunately, after the thrill of that twist, I realized I actually preferred the novel this begins as rather than the one it ends up being. This novel relies heavily on its characters, and I couldn't believe they were actually real people. To me, this novel felt like a fun idea, but I never fully engaged in these women's stories because they didn't feel like real people.

The verdict: Despite my love for this novel's first twist, I couldn't shake the feeling that the authors tried too hard. I wanted the end to come together more and bring more twists. It was a fun read, but it could have been a better one. I'm glad I read this one, because it is a fun read, but it's won't make my list of best thrillers of 2018.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 342 pages
Publication date: January 9, 2018 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Wife Between Us from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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 7, 2018

A love letter to Chloe Benjamin, author of The Immortalists

Dear Chloe,

You probably don't remember me, but I was first in line for your galley signing of The Immortalists at the American Library Association conference last summer. When you got there, you were surprised and excited to see so many people in line for you, a relatively unknown author who was already garnering serious buzz about your sophomore novel six months before its publication. I admit, at the time, I thought it was your first novel because I didn't remember hearing about you. I'm sorry. I've requested your first novel, which was longlisted for a prize I follow very closely, from the library. I can't wait to read it.

I didn't pick up The Immortalists until December because I like to read books about a month before they're published. From the very first pages, I knew I was in good hands. I'm writing this letter because I want to thank you for writing the best book I've read in the last two and a half years. It's a really big deal to me to read a book and rate it six stars out of five. I've been blogging about books for more than ten years, and The Immortalists is only the seventh I've rated six stars. It's the longest gap I've had between six-star reads, but it also follows the blessed reading year of 2015 when I had an unprecedented two.

Six-star reads are really special to me. They're unexplainable to some extent because they are of the highest quality, which can be shared, but they also touch me so deeply emotionally and intellectually that they change me. Reading a six-star book is one of the most personal and unshareable experiences I know of. Six-star books mean so much to me they break my scale.

As I read The Immortalists, I was equally enchanted with your writing and your characters, who feel like family. I copied so many passages from this book, but I think this one is my favorite: "She knew that stories did have the power to change things: the past and the future, even the present. She had been an agnostic since graduate school, but if there was one tenant of Judaism with which she agreed, it was this: the power of words. They weaseled under door cracks and through keyholes. They hooked into individuals and wormed through generations." Perhaps it's my favorite because I agree. I also love it because it's exactly what this book did to me, and it made me feel like part of your book in the way your book has become part of my story.

I'll be recommending your book all year. I've already bought a few copies to give as gifts. I'm making Mr. Nomadreader read at as part of our two-person book club. I can't begin to explain how much I love this book and how much reading it meant to me. Thank you for the gift of this novel, and welcome to my Hall of Fame.


P.S. Please tell me where I can get a t-shirt or a bag or anything with Simon & Klara & Daniel & Varya on it. I need that in my life.

Rating: 6 out of 5
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: January 9, 2018
Source: publisher

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!