Monday, October 28, 2013

My Education by Susan Choi: Read This If


My Education by Susan Choi was my favorite read this summer, and possibly one of my favorites for the year so far...

...And I started writing this in AUGUST so it was still going to be summer when I posted this, but now it's nearly WINTER (WHAT? WHAT?) and I thus prove my bum-ness in book blogging in 2013. Apologies.  Between the co-conspirator's workaholicness and my semipromotion that involves a whole lot more talking to people (sucking out all my introverted energy reserves) and the needy critter posse at the home, I just haven't had the time & inclination simultaneously.

Still, despite the dropping temperatures, you should pick up this book. Probably. Well:

Get thee to a book store or library and pick up a copy to read if:
  • You can relate to the passion of young, obsessive love but have attained enough distance from it that gives you maturity and clarity.
  • You don't mind (or possibly are looking for) a little sexiness in your literature, but in a well-written, non gray-shaded sort of way.
  • You're looking for some smart, mostly likable but tragically flawed intellectual characters to befriend in your imagination.
  • You find yourself nostalgic for your university days & want to relive a little of your experience without the hardship, or you want to feel better about not totally destroying your life while you were at it.
  • You just want to read something contemporary, frank and smart, pre-social networking.
Perhaps avoid this one if: 
  • You are looking for a high-stakes espionage thriller. This is not that.
  • Gay marriage makes you queasy. Which likely means gay makes you queasy. Which probably also means
  • You're really prudish, or maybe you're trying to maintain your prudish image despite the fact that you're actually human. 
  • You prefer your plots like some people prefer their whiskey: neat and to the point.
  • You hate intellectuals.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ebook copy to review, though I enjoyed it so much I did go out and buy it. Because I have a book-owning sickness. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Late Lights by Kara Weiss: Read This If



Late Lights by Kara Weiss is a novella of interwoven stories following the lives of three teenagers, Monty, Erin and B.J., with three very different backgrounds. It's set in the Brookline neighborhood of Boston. A little background: Monty is an only child with an abusive father, and finds himself in and out of juvie. B.J.'s brothers are also trouble-makers, with her oldest having served time in prison, where her other brother will undoubtedly end up one day as well. Erin is the only daughter of a well-to-do attorney couple, and grows up best friends with B.J. and Monty, until they inevitably drift apart during adolescence. Still, their underlying bond is never fully broken, and each is fully capable of making some serious mistakes.

I found B.J. to be the least fleshed out and most perplexing character for me, perhaps because she was only the focus of one story, while the other two characters each get two - I would have liked to have had a little more insight into how she dealt with the issues brought up in her story.

Overall, Late Lights is very tightly written, its vivid descriptions fully bringing the reader into the lives of the three characters. It is not a pretty world, and nothing is sugar-coated, but it is a realistic world not without hope for the future.

I'd recommend reading this if:
  • You have a 2-3 hour plane ride and want something you can read start to finish - this will engage you from the beginning.
  • You enjoy stories told in snapshots. 
  • You like characters you can imagine as real people. 
  • You appreciate books that are not afraid to talk about the baser aspects of life, and that are explicit in a realistic way - not for shock value.
Don't read this if: 
  • The slightest bit of violence or sex offends you.
  • You'd rather not know what your teenager might be up to.
  • You're looking for a light and fluffy read.
  • You have triggers to do with rape - there's one small scene that could bring things up.

*I received this book courtesy of the author and TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. See what others have to say.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Happy Book Lover's day

Book Lovers Day



I may not have time to grab a great book, a cup of coffee and relax into a fantastic story, but hopefully you do! Happy reading.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bookstore Loot & Oh By The Way I'm Still Alive


Why, hello! It's been quite some time since we've visited, has it not? Rest assured, I have not disappeared into the oblivion. At least, not quite yet. Or, not entirely. I make no promises for the future - that pesky oblivion - just like The Nothing - threatens to swallow me whole, or in parts, at any instant, but, as of this writing, it has not yet happened. That sounds much more depressing and dark than I meant it to be. Apologies.

So! Just what have I been up to, you ask? Or maybe you don't. Either way: it's been One Crazy Summer, and not in a Moore-Cusack kind of way (alas). The Spouse, aka The Coconspirator, has been working 2 jobs this summer (he's just so sought after!), so not only do I never see him, I have to pick up all the domestic slack as well. I am not good at domesticity. At all. It's a bit like living with a ghost roommate that leaves messes while I sleep. We also have 2 dogs, one of them quite new, who are untrained, unruly, and more than a handful. But super sweet and fun, when they're not trying to kill me.

Speaking of dogs trying to kill me, I was attacked just this morning, whilst on my run. Poor thing was afraid of me and his claw punctured my abdomen. It was a little shocking, to say the least. H2O2 & Neosporin to the rescue! I also did not manage to finish my run, which was really the worst part. Oh, and that: I've kind of picked up this running habit, quite regularly in the morning. Nothing crazy. Just 20-30 minutes in the mornings, mostly, as I'm just not that fit yet. I'm still waiting for that runner's high to strike. Any day now.

Remember how I mentioned the disappearing Spouse and his 2 jobs? Well, a couple weeks ago, I seem to have ended up with 2-3 jobs of my own, due to strange comings and goings at the company at which I work. That's still working itself out. It might mean a promotion and a raise. It also might mean the oblivion will swallow me up completely. Or not. Stay tuned.

Despite the craziness, I have still been reading. In fact, the book club I started has had 3 whole meetings already. Also, I just finished this absolutely exquisite book called My Education by Susan Choi, which I hope to have featured here shortly (possibly with a giveaway - again, stay tuned). Hot and well-written? Yes, please. Especially this summer. I also managed to use my birthday bookstore gift certificate finally, results above. I may have contributed a few of my own dollars. Just a few.

Oh, and, I finally got a proper camera, with interchangeable lenses and everything. I love it. But my "hobby" list is growing too much. Running, photos, reading, dogs, etc? That's quite a bit to do, with errands and work too. Let's just hope I win that amazing powerball this Wednesday. Of course, I'll have to remember to buy a ticket.

I hope you've had a more relaxing summer than I, and I'd love to hear about it, should you have the time!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fake Bookish Neurosis: Schizobibliosis

So Many Books (by ~Minnea~)

Lately, you may have noticed, I've mostly disappeared. Where did I go? You see, I got stuck. I'm buried under ALL THE BOOKS. (And other stuff. Like work, and dogs, and cats, and running, and spouses (well, just the one), and chores, and errands, and family, and, you know, stuff.)

How did this happen? Well, I accepted too many books to review, for one, so, that needs to change, or slow down, or something. The pressure to read the small pile on the review shelf is tying some seriously painful knots under my shoulder blades. I also started a book club in which we have a set day and time to meet every month, and, gasp, actually read and discuss the book,* and we had our first meeting, and it was grand. But since I started the thing, I actually have to be prepared! What? Add to this the fact that there are just so many interesting-sounding books out there. Lying in wait. To be read. By me. At some point. Maybe. Optimistically. Tragically?

All of which has resulted in me being in the middle of about 5 books at once. That's 2-3 too many, for me, really, which leads me to suffer from the dreaded, dreadful schizobibliosis. Too much jumping back and forth between plots and characters and comedy and tragedy and add to that that one of these is Infinite Jest, which is about 170 plot lines rolled up into one complicated, verbose novel that is often awesome and sometimes boring (sorry die-hards), and sometimes both at the same time. I mean, I couldn't pass up this whole Summer of Jest thing, even though I did miss the first call in, and am already behind the proposed schedule. But that's okay. I'm not terribly worried about that. It's The Spouse's favorite book ever, so, I guess it's time. (Although, I've said that before. Ha.)

See? I can't even stay on topic. What's the topic? Oh. Wait, what?

Luckily, schizobibliosis, unlike it's phrenetic (he he, see what I did there?) cousin, has a cure: I just need to finish some of these books before I start the rest of them. That's totally doable, yes? Don't you think? Yes. I think so. Probably. Most likely. We'll see. Or will we...

*The other book club that I'm casually, occasionally still attending can't seem to meet regularly or set a reasonable time to meet, every meeting scheduling shenanigan beginning with an email thread to check schedules and trailing off until a time is suddenly decided upon often less than a week ahead of time, 2 if we're lucky. This leads to the book often not being read (even by me, with such little notice), and discussions that tend to go off subject. Add to that, the off-subject subjects of discussion more often than not are topics that disallow my participation almost completely as a childless, non-Catholic non-teacher, since said discussions tend to revolve around (you guessed it) teaching, teaching politics, birthing, parenting, child behavior generally, and the goings on in a parish of which I am not a part and of which I have no desire to be a part, not being Catholic and all. The members are all smart, lovely ladies, but sometimes the prevalence of cliquey estrogeny teachiness can be a little overwhelming. So I call that my Wine-Drinking Catholic Teaching Moms That Occasionally Read and Might Discuss a Book, a Little, Sometimes Club, of which I am only an honorary member, my only qualifications for membership being that I can read and drink wine.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Appointment In Samarra by John O'Hara: Read This If


In a break from form, I'm going to introduce this novel (one that I can't believe I'd never heard of let alone read) with the description on the inside cover:
In December 1930, just before Christmas, the Gibbsville, PA, social circuit is electrified with parties and dances. At the center of the social elite stand Julian and Caroline English. But in one rash moment born inside a highball glass, Julian breaks with polite society and begins a rapid descent toward self-destruction. Brimming with wealth and privilege, jealousy and infidelity, O'Hara's iconic first novel is an unflinching look at the dark side of the American dream--and a lasting testament to the keen social intelligence of a major American writer.
Appointment in Samarra is a more frank, less stylized novel touching on the same themes as Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby - not that The Great Gatsby isn't fantastic - it is - this novel just presents its characters with more raw humanity than a novel as tight and stylized as TGG could possibly allow. The title, too, is quite clever - as a member of my book club pointed out, it's not only a metaphor for Julian's own fast demise, but, as the novel is set in 1930, a year after the crash of '29 that set off the Great Depression, it's also a metaphor for the rapid disintegration of a particular way of life. (Luckily O'Hara changed it from it's original - The Infernal Grove.)

You should definitely read this if:
  • You enjoyed The Great Gatsby and are looking for something set in a similar time period following a similar crowd.
  • You love realistic dialogue. (O'Hara was apparently accused of writing his dialogue TOO realistically.)
  • You want to know what the inside of an alcoholic's mind looks like. (I'm told it's quite realistic, so, beware.)
  • You wondered what the Jane Austen style of marrying off upper class men and women might look like in 1930s small town America.
  • You're looking for a short, fast read.
  • You have always wondered what might happen if you acted on some of your lesser impulses. (Answer: Nothing good.)
You might want to steer clear of this novel if:
  • Straight forward writing about sex and sexuality offends you.
  • You require happy endings. (If you know the story of the appointment in Samarra as retold by W. Somerset Maugham, which serves as an epigraph to this novel, I'm not giving anything away here.)
  • The crazed haze of alcoholism hits too close to home for you at this particular moment.
  • You are easily depressed.
  • You can't stand novels in which you're often silently pleading with the main character to make better choices.
Make better choices, all. Read this novel.

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. (I'm so glad I did - I wouldn't have known to read this otherwise.)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli: Read This If


Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli is a beautifully crafted  novel that I'm surprised I haven't heard much about. At all. It's compared to The Help on its paperback cover, but it's really nothing like The Help, except that it takes place in the South and deals with issues of race and class. That's where the similarities end. (Not to knock The Help, which I also thoroughly enjoyed - they are just two very different novels.)

Glow follows the lives of a few interconnected families in Hopewell County, GA, over the course of more than a century, from about 1834 to 1941, which covers slavery to freedom and all the fraught issues before and after the Civil War, including the rise of of the Ku Klux Klan. Not only does the novel deftly explore the race relations between blacks and whites, but also Native Americans, who were basically considered savage non-persons, especially after being kicked off their land in Georgia. The characters' tales are full of horror and humanity and authenticity and soul with a dash of ghostly haunting and redemption. The language captures the lilting dialect of the time and place (or so I imagine). (I listened to a good deal of the audio version, and it is superb.) I may even have shed a tear or two. That doesn't often happen these days. That's not to say it's sentimental - it's not.

You should read this novel. Seriously. This is a book I'm going to be running around telling everyone to read. I'm not saying it's the best book ever written, but the magic and vividness of the stories make them well worth reading. It's more like a novel of intertwined novellas, and be aware that it does not follow traditional or formulaic plot lines. It's more of a meandering, lilting set of tales, told with poise and heart.

Okay, you should read this novel if:
  • You are human. 
  • You can read. 
  • You think you've heard all angles of all tales of the south and slavery and racism and class (you haven't). 
  • You appreciate good prose and storytelling and strong characters.
  • You also appreciate stories that show the depth of our flawed human characters. 
Don't read this if: 
  • You can't read (in which case, learn to read, or listen to the audio). 
  • You hate books. (In which case, what are you doing here?)
  • You need formulaic, fast-moving, straight forward plots. 
  • Your soul is a crispy, burnt thing. 
*I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly: Read This If


Hello, dear readers, it's been some weeks since my last post. I finished The Burning Air by Erin Kelly some weeks ago, and just haven't been able to disseminate my thoughts on the novel adequately. The novel certainly builds suspense with a slow, steadily growing heat. It grows on the reader in the same way - what seems like a reluctant, meandering plot jumps into focus after a change in perspective. The characters are all normal, average English people who happen to cross paths with a boy who anything but normal or average, and who refuses to accept his shortcomings.

This is not a formulaic story arch. The MacBrides, the central family in the story, are actually the flattest characters of the bunch - it's the villains of the story that have a fair amount of life to them, to the point that you might find yourself rooting both for and against the main scoundrel at the same time - though in the end, you will definitely pick a side. His revenge plotting is so all-consuming that he cannot see anything beyond its realization. That alone lends the novel its most disturbing quality.

The Burning Air was a different sort of thriller for me - its pacing was much slower than the Tana French novels I managed to fly through in the earlier part of this year. It's a gradual build, but its psychological mind games and its haunting, creepy atmosphere is sure to stick with you long after you fini

You should pick up The Burning Air if:
  • You like seeing your story from the perspective of the villain. 
  • You crave psychological suspense in your novels. 
  • Your life has just seemed too sunny and happy lately, and you need some creepiness to shake it up. 
  • You can't get the song Private Eyes out of your head. (Ha! NOW you can't! You're welcome.)
You should skip this if: 
  • You just had a child and might be suffering from post partum depression. You're probably not reading much at all if that's the case, so I'm not too worried.
  • You are prone to anxiety and paranoia and already find most people creepy. This will just feed al
  • You are in the market for a light read akin to Bridget Jones Diary (I'd suggest Wife 22 or Domestic Violets to satisfy such a mood). 
  • You're looking for a more traditional fast-paced mystery.
*I received this book from the Penguin Viking in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma: Read This If


Kristopher Jansma's debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, is anything but unchangeable. The chameleonic narrator is about as unreliable and changeable as they come, or, at least, that's what he'd have you believe. He insists that he is a liar, a teller of tall tales, and someone other than himself. He'll never tell you his *real* name (or will he), or the names of his trio of friends - which keep changing from one chapter or story within a story to the next. He seemingly seamlessly (say that ten times fast) slides in and out of various characters, from student to writer to journalism professor to plagiarizer for hire to editor, but always he is a writer, or he would be if only he could write something he recognizes as real, and good, and true. Although, he does believe there is an art to - and a hunger for - lying:
The truth is that I actually have the greatest respect for those fantastic liars. Someday I'd like to teach a class entirely about them. "Late Great American Fakes." My humble thesis will be that America no longer desires truth, only the reasonable facsimile thereof. Like battered lovers, we're willing to settle. Our sense of values still holds us to dismiss that which we know, outright, to be blatant lies, but we avoid the truth with equal intensity. We wish to remain in the gray interregnum of half believe, when at all possible. 
Of course, as he later admits, most of his lying is really to himself, and he wonders how much he can change, and how much he has changed, if at all. He muses about such capabilities when he comes across the son of his former lover, his to-date lifelong obsession. The boy is the same age as the narrator when he wrote - and lost - his first book.
Someday he'll see that he can't have one without the other. He can't know he is the same unless everything around him has changed. It's like black spots on black fur - you can't see them, but they're there, all the same.  
He'll think he's moving in zigzags, getting anywhere but where he meant to go. But there are edges to the board, and someday he will reach one, and it is only then that life will place a true crown onto his head. It's only then that he'll be able to turn around and see for the first time a glorious path back from where he came. 
The leopard and chess motifs pepper the novel, and this quote nicely brings them all together.

I'd definitely recommend reading this if:
  • You enjoy contemporary novels that play with form. 
  • You don't mind it when your narrators might be lying to you. 
  • You covet explorations of the hazy lines between perception, truth, fiction, and lies. 
  • Your current theme song could be "You Can't Always Get What You Want." 
Don't read this if: 
  • You are easily confused and believe everything the media tells you.
  • You like your plots and characters to be pretty straight-forward. 
  • You don't like novels that make you think about stuff.
  • You love How I Met Your Mother and hate Mad Men.

A little fun bit from Viking Penguin: pictures and metions of the book in instagram, twitter and the like with the hashtag #leopardspotting. It's silly book fun! My editions:



You can see Mr. Jansma's own instagram here.

*I received this book in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley courtesy of Viking Penguin.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Nothing But Flowers

"Botanical Garden" by Lori Nix

Last week I mentioned my ever growing dystoparanoid tendencies  and posted a lovely picture of a dilapidated library diorama by Lori Nix. The above, from the same gallery of photographs, was another of my favorites, one that easily brings to mind the Talking Heads song "Nothing But Flowers" (embedded below for your listening pleasure).

For the record, dear totalitarian overlords of the near future, I'm mostly okay with the sort of dystopia (utopia? eye of the beholder, I'm sure) lamented in the song, though winter probably would  beg me to differ, unless I turned out to have some sort of mad tepee-iglooing skills (unlikely). And as long as there are still books and stuff. (Also sounds unlikely.) Never mind then. As you were.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight: Read this if


Well, that was something of an unputdownable. Reconstructing Amelia's premise may be one you'd want to keep at arm's length (busy, successful attorney mom whose teenage daughter takes a deadly fall off the roof of her fancy private school under mysterious circumstances), but once you start reading Kimberly McCreight's debut novel (but not her first!), you might not be able to do much else until you finish.

Kate Baron is your typical (but not stereotypical) high-powered, workaholic single mom, trying to juggle job responsibilities with parenting Amelia, an athletic, nerdy teenager not so popular with the cool kids. Because of her mom's job, Amelia is left to fend for herself much of the time, and Kate, like most parents, feels incredibly guilty about the time she doesn't have for her daughter and has very little idea of the crazy turn Amelia's life takes at the beginning of her sophomore year. Both Amelia and Kate come across as very real, both fully fleshed out and completely believable - people you'd probably want to know in real life. Well, if you're me, anyway.

Also, just because Amelia dies at the beginning does not mean we don't get to know her - the narrative mostly jumps between Amelia's first-person experience in the immediate past and Kate's third-person impressions of the present, all set in motion by an anonymous text to Kate: she didn't jump. The bullying Amelia suffers is absolutely heart-wrenching, making me beyond glad that texting and facebook and the internet weren't around when I was in high school - with so many tools at their disposal, kids have too many more means to a vicious end - it's just horrifying, and this book really brings that new avenue for teenage humiliation to life. The novel manages to cover all the confusion that goes along with being a teenager and discovering who you are and who you want to be as well as all the inner conflicts of trying to be everything as a parent and knowing you're just setting yourself up to fail, complete with Gossip Girl like setting. But it's not without hope, or redemption.

You should definitely read this if:
  • You're looking for a fast, gripping, unputdownable novel.
  • You can follow novels that jump around on a timeline.
  • You're a recovering bully.
  • You've been wondering what would happen on a darker version of The Gilmore Girls.
  • You want to see how a novel could seamlessly combine a mystery with the intricacies of female relationships with one another, with a little law firm & private school politics thrown in. 

Don't read this if: 
  • You're a very recent bullying victim.
  • Anything that discusses sex or sexuality makes you queasy.
  • You find minor mistakes in timelines hopelessly distracting (--> I read an uncorrected proof, and am hoping that has been resolved in the final edition or that I just read something wrong). 
  • You prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of what your teenager is doing. 
  • You don't like starting at the end and working your way backwards (sort of). 

*I received this book through of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. I'm not the last word - see what others had to say.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fake Bookish Neurosis: Dystoparanoia

Dystopian Dioramas by Lori Nix
I'm currently listening to Claire Danes' narration (fantastic, btw,) of Margaret Atwood's classic The Handmaid's Tale, which I've read a few times already & am re-reading in preparation for World Book Night. If you are not familiar, a) how is this possible and b) it's about a near-future society in which a right-wing religious "cult" has overthrown the US government and re-ordered society into biblically "traditional" roles, which basically means women have been re-relegated to property, on this earth solely to procreate and serve men. Independent thought police abound. It's not so great for the men, either - they're held to strict moral codes as well. Sounds fun, right?

The most terrifying thing about speculative fiction such as The Handmaid's Tale is the relative ease with which such a society could just... well, happen. Already paranoid about all this information sharing that we do, either wittingly or unwittingly, such dystopian novels - especially this one, which shows how easily the cylons/right-wing-nuts/borgs/alien invaders basically could flip a switch and take over - only heighten this dystoparanoia. I find myself thinking, with every post I make on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or the internet at large, "Oh, here's further evidence for the future religious dictator-oppressors to use against me! But it's not like I haven't given them enough already, so what the hell."

I have created quite the case against myself. That thing I just posted making fun of young anti-marriage equality people for their intolerance and lack of spelling ability? Yeah. The New Genesian Republic won't stand for such positions in a person's history. (That is, assuming I still have the status of "person.") The stuff I post speaking out against rape culture and for women's bodily autonomy? I'm sure I've violated several somethings in the Book of Leviticus, which would no doubt used against me at my "trial." I mean, maybe they wouldn't even go to such efforts, since merely being a woman will be a crime of some kind. Or women wouldn't have any rights to violate anyway. That video of the sneezing panda? Evidence of my lack of proscribed compassion, obviously. Raising money for rescue animals? Not a counter to the hilarious cat antics posts, no. Clearly I should have been focusing on human needs instead.

After that, my dystoparanoia takes a lovely turn, nightmaring about the future in which not only are we ruled by alien/cylon/borg/extremist-nut-job overlords, but, of course, the devastation we have wreaked upon the planet will be no longer deniable, except that it will be interpreted as some god's way of punishing human deviance and immorality, further supporting the authoritarian cause, instead of as what is the obvious, inevitable result of previous generations of consumerism and corporate greed.

Ironically, I slept quite well last night.

Anyone else suffer from this side-effect of dystopian fiction?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

THE TALE OF LUCIA GRANDI: THE EARLY YEARS - Read This If


The premise of The Tale of Lucia Grandi: The Early Years by Susan Speranza sounded incredibly promising: a 110-year-old centenarian recounts the details of her life to a biographer. The book begins with an eager, young graduate student wanting to record a biography of Lucia's life - excellent, I thought, that could be interesting, a biographer's insights and observations, but the story is told in Lucia's first person, not the biographer's. In fact, the biographer disappears completely after the prologue. Lucia also warns us at the very beginning that maybe she'll "just make it all up," which made me wonder if unreliable narrator issues would come into play - but no, that is dropped as well. Also, Lucia is 110 at the beginning of the novel, but was born in 1951. Why is she so old? Why are we getting her story from 2061? How does that color her perception of the 1950s and 60s? What's the world like 5o years from now? What does that add to the story? It seems to have no bearing on the rest of the novel, though, so the choice seems a little arbitrary, unless it is to become evident in later volumes of Lucia's life.

What the reader is left with is a somewhat disjointed telling of all Lucia's sufferings, and sometimes the sufferings of older family members whose sad stories are recounted incompletely before they disappear completely from the narrative. Pretty much everyone in the novel is horrible and/or is made to suffer horribly. The victimy mentality was a little much to take - I mean, I get it. Lots of people have super horrible lives. Suburbia was and is no idyllic land of merriment. But I need a reason to keep reading, and more awful things happening isn't a compelling one for me.

Lucia did remind me a little of Sally Draper on Mad Men, if her father was a police officer instead of an ad exec, and if they lived out on Long Island instead of in Westchester. I kept longing for a similar tone or narrative flow, but it was not to be. Where Mad Men succeeds in its melancholic disenchantment, with flawed, searching characters and glimmers of hope and growth, Lucia Grandi fails. Many of the characters (with, of course, the exception of Lucia, and the few people she likes), particularly the parents, are not merely flawed, they're just awful. Their humanity is missing.

This book is still not without potential. Despite her inability to find much joy, Lucia's life was interesting, and I did want to know what happened to her, and if she'd ever overcome all her hardships. I think the novel might have worked a little better if it had been told in the third person - no 5-year-old does that much naval-gazing on her own, but we all can find reasons for things we did as children once we have the perspective and experience as adults - or perhaps as a conversation between biographer and subject, similar to The Thirteenth Tale - where the reliability of the narrator can be toyed with. I was disappointed that that little kernel never reappeared.

To sum up, you should read Lucia Grandi if:
  • You love the literary realists and enjoyed Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser. 
  • You like your characters to suffer. It's character-building.
  • You've been missing your time spent with the strict nuns in Catholic school.
  • You don't mind a few caricatures for characters. 
Don't read Lucia Grandi if:
  • You're looking for a fast, light read. 
  • You like a little hope and redemption in your novels. 
  • You like all reasons for narrative choices to be self-evident.
  • You believe every character should contribute to the overall narrative in some way.

*I received this book through of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. I'm not the last word - see what others had to say

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple: Read This If


Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple has been popping up everywhere I look for the past several months. When I read a little about the author and discovered that she used to write for Arrested Development (and Mad About You and Ellen), well, I knew I had to read this immediately.

This book is hilarious. And slightly sad, and definitely heartfelt, and, well, real, despite the absurdities and caricature nature of the characters. I'm no McArthur genius, but I could definitely relate to Bernadette's antisocial tendencies (minus giving all my banking info to a virtual assistant) and sarcasm and sense of failure. Her daughter Bee's adorableness shines through the pages as well. In a family of quirky smartypants (her dad Elgin is a Microsoft guru), she's probably the most down-to-earth and adult character in the book, though her dad has many words of wisdom, such as:
It's for survival. You need to be prepared for novel experiences because often they signal danger. If you live in a jungle full of fragrant flowers, you have to stop being so overwhelmed by the lovely smell because otherwise you couldn't smell a predator. That's why your brain is considered a discounting mechanism. It's literally a matter of survival. 
and
When your eyes are softly focused on the horizon for sustained periods, your brain releases endorphins. It's the same as a runner's high. These days, we all spend our lives staring at screens twelve inches in front of us. It's a nice change.  
Bernadette had a bit of a breakdown after a scoundrel neighbor destroyed one of her greatest accomplishments. That's why she's a little loony seizing on all the bad and seeing obstacles where there really are none. She moved her family (before Bee was born) to Seattle to escape her failure, in a sense, but she continuously finds reasons to distance and disassociate herself with anyone around her:
People are born here, they grow up here, they go to the University of Washington, they work here, they die here. Nobody has any desire to leave. You ask them, "What is it again that you love so much about Seattle?" and they answer, "We have everything. The mountains and the water." This is their explanation, mountains and water.
She is so snobby it's painful, but in a funny, clueless way, not in a snide, mean way. She feels superior because she is superior, but no one knows she's a genius because of her refusal to engage with anyone. She calls all the moms from her daughters school 'gnats' because they are constantly pestering her to get involved in school community stuff. Because she's a mom and that's what moms do. She's Chandler, Monica and Phoebe all wrapped into one, with a super high IQ on top, or, bottom, really, since it might be hard to find that bit.

Anyway, you should totally read this if:
  • You found Arrested Development hilarious (though this isn't nearly as absurd as many of the plotlines in AD). 
  • You have a child in school and have sometimes found dealing with other parents...challenging. 
  • You've ever felt like a failure but seen the absurdity of identifying with it.
  • You're looking for a quick, funny read with a lot of substance. 
  • You appreciate character development - this is definitely character driven. 
Don't read this if: 
  • You are humorless and many would describe you as "no fun."
  • You truly believe yourself to be faultless parent of the year. You will just find this book offensive.
  • You're looking for a dark and gloomy read.
  • You're totally clueless. But then, if you were totally clueless, you'd probably lack the self awareness to know so. 
  • You hate Antarctica. And you can't stand penguins.

Friday, March 8, 2013

SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS by Marisha Pessl: Read This If


How could you not be compelled to pick up a novel entitled Special Topics in Calamity Physics? That's definitely what first peaked my interest. STCP (I seem to have a strong penchant for acronymizing all long titles lately, for brevity's sake, of which, of course, I've just defeated the purpose with this wickedly long parenthetical) by Marisha Pessl is one of the cleverest books I've read in a while, which both bolstered and hindered my overall enjoyment of the story. Sometimes the cleverness just took on a life - and trajectory - of its own, wandering through mazes of tangential paths of wit and whimsy without a a mere thought of finding its way back to a narrative flow.

It must be noted that I listened to the audio for this one, which was delightfully performed by Emily Janice Card - she managed to breathe much life into the (often annotated) asides and clever comparisons that conspicuously peppered the narrative, but obviously, that makes it hard to skim over the (what some might consider) somewhat superfluous text, and even if I had been reading with my eyes and not my ears, such skimming would lead to confusion because sandwiched in the middle of the random book titles and oddball similes, an important plot point inevitably could be found.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy the story - I did, in fact, in the end, appreciate much of what amused me in the beginning and annoyed me in the middle. Blue van Meer made for quite the quirky, smartypants heroine, with an equally quirky upbringing and smartypants father. After moving around the country every semester or two, they settle - for a whole 8 months - in a small town in North Carolina for Blue's senior year, where she is thrust unwittingly and unwillingly into a strange group of misfits (she - or the entire population of the school - calls them the Bluebloods) by an idiosyncratic teacher she meets in the grocery store. Many of the eccentricities later come into play after a series of mysterious events culminate in Part 3 - the partial wrapping together of these elements without tying them together with a neat little bow more than made up for the meandering nature of Parts 1 and 2.

You really should check out STCP if:
  • You've been longing for a story of the high school experience told with the nuance and insight of a John Hughes movie.
  • You like a little mystery to go with your high school shenanigans.
  • You don't mind a book that sticks the song "Somebody's Watching Me" in your head on autorepeat.
  • You like clever. No, you lurvvve clever.
  • You like big books and you cannot lie.
  • You want to torture or confound (or spark much discussion in) your book club.
You should take a pass on STCP if:
  • You're not a fan of lots of references you may or may not get.
  • You like your plots to move quickly, without fluff.
  • You really do need your plots wrapped together in the end with a shiny bow, no crinkles or loose threads to speak of. 
  • You value brevity over feats of literary (and often long-winded) wit.
  • You have the attention span of a gnat.

If anyone's read this & feels like discussing at all, let me know. It's definitely a discussion-worthy one. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

FLPM Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Heather from Between the Covers, winner of her very own autographed copy of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr! I hope you enjoy it, Heather, and can't wait to hear what you think! If you didn't win, please find yourself a copy, and enjoy - and remember, it's a book best read in a short period of time. Thanks to all who entered the giveaway, and a special thanks to Viking Penguin for generously providing the extra copy.



Wednesday, February 27, 2013

FLIMSY LITTLE PLASTIC MIRACLES: Read this if + GIVEAWAY!


(Psst - enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a SIGNED COPY of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr!)

I couldn't get enough of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles in the very beginning... and the second half. I am required to admit: There were moments during which I did not enjoy this novel... for a few bits in the the first half. In the end, I loved it, but it was definitely touch and go until Mr. Currie killed himself. Er, his character did. Er, attempted to kill himself.

I'm not spoiling anything, I swear; the impending suicide is laid out in first few pages. Why touch and go? Perhaps the very distinct maleness of the downward spiral, the violence of the sex (a little hard to stomach if you know my background), the one-that-got-away-ness (do all of you boys have a girl (or boy) that got away because you were a moron?) were all less than appealing to me, but then, I wasn't reading as fast as I should have. Had I been, I would have had the beginning's discussion of truth vs fiction fresh in my mind, the play on reality and perception, the relationship of narrator to writer to reader. I mean, the book begins with a comment on the audacity of epigraphs - how can you not end up liking it?

The novel is a continuous commentary on perception vs reality, fiction vs truth, and even the Singularity.(FLPM is actually the second book I've read in the past few months that mentions the singularity, and that mentions Garry Kasparov's defeat by a computer...is that eerie? Or just a normal case of synchronicity?) Anyway, to sum up:

Read this if:
  • You have a penchant for the absurd.
  • You like novels that play with form - this one is told in a series of short segments - a page or two, or sometimes only a paragraph, instead of in traditional chapters.
  • You delight in fiction that takes stock of itself - that explores deeper philosophical questions - the thin veils between truth and fiction and perception, for example. Even between honesty and truth.
  • Your favorite song is I Can See Clearly Now.
  • You, too, suffer from the-one-that-got-away-ness; maybe your favorite song is actually Pictures of You.
Don't read this if:
  • You take yourself very seriously.
  • Yours is a shadeless world of black and white.
  • You are not in a very good place right now. This may not be the best read for you until you emerge from your Very Dark Place, at least a little.
  • Your favorite genre is "chick lit" and you don't mind that it's called "chick lit."
  • You can't stand (or can't follow) novels that jump around in time and place.

Also! I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Currie in person last week, and he graciously signed my copies of the book - and now I have one to share with you, courtesy of Penguin (who also sent me this book in exchange for my honest review). See that book staged oh-so-cleverly above? That could be your copy! Just enter below by the time you go to bed on Monday, March 4. Don't worry; Rafflecopter only asks for a name and email so that I can contact you if you win! No password or anything. Winners to be announced next Wednesday, March 6. (Only open to US residents.)


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fake Bookish Neurosis: Plotjà Vu


It would seem that Tana French brings out the lit lunacy in me.

When I was last suffering from a fake bookish ailment, I thought I was a cop tripping over the edge in In The Woods. Some flicker of unintentional method acting gone bad. This time, I can't shake the feeling that I've read a book that I'm 98% positive that I haven't read: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, a sort of plotjà vu. For some reason, that novel has been hugging the shadows of my books-I-should-read periphery for a while now, and I can't figure out why. And there's no movie (yet), I checked, so that's not why the synopsis is hauntingly familiar.

I had the same feeling of overfamiliarity while reading/listening to French's The Likeness. I knew those weirdo overintellectual graduate students. Somehow. Well, not really, but the story had happened across my consciousness before, in some other form. But when? How?  Maybe I sleepwalked joined a crazy clan of snobby outcasts in college?

And thus, plotjà vu, suffering from a sense that you've already seen the plot before, somewhere else. I'm not talking about derivative plots, or authors/books that have obviously influenced the author in the current novel you're reading, but more of that not-quite-identifiable sense that you've seen something very similar before. Almost as if you've dreamed the plot, and now you're reading it. But in that ever ethereal slipping away of dreams, you can't quite remember when or where or even quite what happens. Mostly, it's the atmosphere that remains, that lingers on the edges of a current read.

And now I'm reading/listening to Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, and I've just been introduced to this novel's cliquish crew of pseudo-intellectuals. Seriously? What strange set of coincidences has set this reading sequence in motion? Don't answer that.

But do help me out: Is Donna Tartt's novel the source of this weird plot framework? Group of 4-5 odd but strangely close smartypantsy philosophizing youngins somehow accepts an outsider into their fold; bad shit happens. Usually, someone dies. I can't seem to trace back to the source of origin in my own psyche/reading history/movie history.  (I'm pretty sure) this isn't some bizarre mythology seeping into our Jungian collective subconscious. It must have originated from somewhere. Maybe I read/saw something else with the same plot elements. Or perhaps you did and can solve my little mystery?

Maybe I just need to (re?)read The Secret History to figure out my own secret history. (I know, I know, I just couldn't resist. Punning is my Achilles heel.)


Monday, February 4, 2013

ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes: Read this if


I normally wouldn't give a novel like this a second glance. The story of an aimless, accidental caretaker and a cranky, young quadriplegic told by an author of romance novels? Probably not the best tea for my cup, and yet, some intangible thing about this one compelled me to give it a go. And good thing! 

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, tinged with much more sweet than bitter, giving glimpses into the lives of the very well off and the not so well off, which can differ drastically whether you're talking about wealth of finances or wealth of spirit or circumstance. Admittedly, Lou's emoting and Will's stubbornness were occasionally trying, but overall the novel delivered a touching story, with fully drawn-out characters and a thought-provoking take on euthanasia without even hinting at preachy.

You should consider reading this too if:
  • You are looking for a surprisingly light, funny, heartwarming, fast read with some substance too it.
  • Obsessive marathoners drive you crazy. 
  • You've never thought about life as a quadriplegic.
  • You used to wait, standing outside a broken phone booth with money in your hand.
  • You're well acquainted with sibling rivalry.
  • Character development turns you on.
Don't read this if:
  • Disabled people make you queasy.
  • Feelings make you queasy.
  • You can't handle books that don't defy gender stereotypes.
  • You are a die-hard pessimist (but you think of yourself as a realist).
  • You're in a Stephen King kind of mood.
  • You believe all questions have one right answer.
*I received this book from Penguin in exchange for my honest review. Be sure to check out this book club kit for a recipe for what sounds like a refreshing tea cocktail (I'm not kidding) and lemon cream tart, a Q & A with the author, and some more information about the book, in case you're still on the fence.

Monday, January 28, 2013

THE WANDERERS by Edward Belfar: Read This If


It seems I have succumbed to one of the many viruses plaguing the country, my throat and nasal passages having swollen themselves into a gooey network of mini-tortures (I'm not being overly dramatic or anything, no no no), hence the lateness of my post and my apologies. I must say, these stories were not quite the cure for feeling ill, but they were definitely acute glimpses into the ordinary lives of ordinary men (many of whom disdained women in short white shorts). I must note that the women in these stories are not particularly fleshed out, but they are mostly stories about men, and men not at the best of times. All, as the title suggests, find themselves at some aimless point in their lives, some with hope of finding their way, some who haven't yet found that hope when the story ends. (I particularly liked "Matters of the Heart" - the priest was fantastic.)

I have a sneaking suspicion that these might be better savored than gobbled - reading them back to back highlighted similarities in names and phrase that could at times be confusing.

You should read this if:
  • You are looking for unique, realistic glimpses of ordinary life.
  • You are interested in portraits of life in Kenya (particularly Nairobi). 
  • You can relate to being down on your luck, sometimes at rock bottom. 
  • Reading about experiences that are likely worse than your own has an uncanny way of lifting your spirits. 
  • You currently can't stand your ex (the exes in these stories will make you appreciate them more, in one way or another). 
  • Tragedy is your middle name.
Don't read this if: 
  • You're looking for a little levity. 
  • You're currently on a fluffy bunny kick.
  • Stories about those at their worst or during their worst might just be the thing that pushes you over the edge into a dark, gloomy depression for the rest of the winter.
  • You're going through a divorce. Wait until later. 
  • You're lounging on the beach in the sun. 
*I received this from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. See what others thought here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield: Read This If


I finished The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield at the very end of last year, and, like so many other novels I've read recently, I haven't gotten around to offering my thoughts. I listened to the audio version, which I definitely recommend, though it is a moody, atmospheric listen, entirely appropriate for these frigid winter months. It is told through both the voice of a young(ish) happenstance biographer, and the elderly, sickly author that she is "interviewing" on the author's terms. I never did piece together where, exactly, in time this novel took place, but that could be because I missed a key detail in the audio that I would have caught in the text.

You should consider reading this if:
  • You enjoy stories that leave you feeling as if you're wandering on an English moor through a dense fog. 
  • You don't mind a bit of gothic moodiness and the occasional appearance of unexplained apparitions. 
  • You like novels full of rich, descriptive language and fully developed characters.
  • You're looking for the perfect book with which to curl up with under a thick blanket with a cup of hot tea (or coffee or cocoa) on a gloomy, winter day.
  • You are looking for a non-romance, non-chick-lit novel with female primary characters.
  • You loved The Secret Garden as a child.
Don't bother with this if:
  • You prefer novels that are straight-forward and fast-paced. 
  • The strange bond between twins is far less than fascinating to you. 
  • You prefer your stories illuminated by sun beams as opposed to moonlight. 
  • You find stories with no male primary characters intolerable.
  • Just reading about cold and dampness gives you an unstoppably runny nose.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fake Bookish Neurosis: Novelimmersionosis

Inline image 1 Inline image 2

This morning, I walked into work completely anxious about having to appear in court to take the stand and testify about a case I knew nothing about. This, of course, lasted for only a flash of a second, until I realized that I am not, in fact, an Irish detective named Rob Ryan, but the same self I've always been. Rob Ryan resides in Dublin, in In The Woods by Tana French. I have never been to Dublin. Not physically, anyway. But it seems that when I am deeply immersed in a story, the lines between fiction and reality blur a bit, if only for fractioned moments.

This sort of thing, this novelimmersionosis, if you will, is not entirely uncommon, especially lately, since I've been listening to more audiobooks, and as the long winter sets in. The same thing happened while listening to the eerie The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (impressions forthcoming) though I actually never had a hold on where in time much of that novel took place. (I miss little things like that, sometimes, that I might otherwise have caught, had I been reading the text, since I'm listening while driving or walking most of the time.) 

I have nothing particularly clever or insightful to remark upon this clumsy phenomenon, but I do wonder how many of the rest of you occasionally confuse your lives with the lives of the characters you're reading about. Anyone care to admit to such a thing?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

THE DARLINGS by Cristina Alger: Read this if

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Miss me? Well, either way, I'm back, for the moment, after a ridiculously busy open enrollment/holiday season, fresh with impressions of The Darlings by Cristina Alger, a novel that is a rough equivalent of (Gossip Girl + Edith Wharton - romantic drama) x Bernie Madoff + Bonfire of the Vanities + (Damages - murder schemes).

With the elite of the 1% and the financial tailspin of 2008 as subject matter, it would be easy to dismiss this novel as something to avoid, but you really shouldn't. It's a compelling read, driven by the interplay of characters not only from inside the upper echelons of Manhattan "royalty," but also by those lingering on the outside, less mired in glittery facades. Though I was put off by some of the characters in the beginning, many managed to grow on me. None perfect, but none completely villainous either. All human.

The novel reminded me of exactly why I loved New York and exactly why I left, with passages like:
Manhattan was a Darwinian environment: only the strongest survived. The weak, the nice, the naive, the ones who smiled at passersby on the sidewalk, all got weeded out. They would come to New York for a few years after college, rent shoebox apartments in Hell's Kitchen or Murray Hill, work at a bank or wait tables or audition for bit parts in off-off-Broadway productions. They would meet other twentysomethings over after-work drinks at soulless bars in midtown; get laid; get their hearts broken. They would feel themselves becoming impatient, jaded, cynical, rude, anxious, neurotic. They would give up. They would opt out. They would scurry back to their hometowns or to the suburbs or secondary cities like Boston or D.C. or Atlanta, before they had a chance to breed.

The ones who stayed long enough to raise children were the tough ones, the tenacious ones, the goal-oriented ones, the gold-digging ones, the deal-closing ones, the "kill or be killed" ones, the ones who subscribed to the philosophy "whatever it takes." They looked out for themselves and slept with one eye open. Being born in New York wasn't enough to make someone a true New Yorker; it was in the blood, like a hormone, or a virus.
The passage carries some truth - NYC is definitely not the center of the universe, but it is not for the laid-back or the realistic - there comes a point that the chaos crosses the line between energizing and exhausting. The novel shows that even the uber-privileged and the driven are not immune to finding themselves on the exhausted side of the line.

To summarize, you should read this novel if:
  • You love New York.
  • You hate New York.
  • You love to hate New York.
  • You hate to love New York.
  • You are secretly addicted to Gossip Girl and reruns of all iterations of Law & Order.
  • Most of your friends are lawyers, bankers or journalists. You might be one as well. Or you might as well be one.
  • You like fast-paced novels that take place over a very short period of time (in this case, less than a week).
Don't read this if:
  • You think the very privileged are cluelessly inhuman, and could not possibly be swayed otherwise.
  • You are easily confused by novels told from many points of view.
  • You don't like the pace of a novel interrupted with back-story.
  • You couldn't possibly relate to someone that considered clothes from Brooks Brothers as ill-fitting, off-the-rack attire.
  • You are secretly addicted to Little House on the Prairie and The Brady Bunch reruns. (I know. I'm dated. Apparently I need to watch more TV.)
  • You are looking for something light-hearted and humorous.


*I received this book from the publisher (Penguin Books) in exchange for my honest review.
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