Wednesday, September 28, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Today Will Be Different

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.

Today Will be Different is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.

Publishing October 4, 2016 by Little, Brown.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book was amazing, just like everyone said. I read parts aloud to my husband (and bit my tongue at many more I wanted to.) However, it hasn't really stuck with me. I think the reason is that for me, stories resonate more than philosophy or political viewpoints or construction plans. Those are great and necessary, in fact long overdue. However, they don't stick in my Swiss-cheese brain.

This book's conceit is a letter written by Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son, about how to function as a black man, about why American society operates in the crazy unfair way it does, and why and how it needs to change. He does brush on both his personal history and the history of blacks and whites in America, but while it is very accessible and brief (which is just what today's attention span needs), I think personally I was looking for something more substantial. Now, I can get what I'm looking for in books like The Warmth of Other Suns and A Hellhound on His Trail, but this book, while important and passionate, just wasn't the meaty tome I wanted. I did love it, but it was ephemeral personally. I suspect I am looking for something more along the lines of Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (and I am moving that up on my TBR list.)

All that said, this book is amazing and powerful and everyone should read it, particularly those who aren't big readers. It's a fast, easy read that will have you thinking hard about race in America and how we can get ourselves out of this mess we've dug ourselves into.

I got this book out of the library on my cruise ship, Oceania Regatta.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Fortress by Danielle Trussoni

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From their first kiss, twenty-seven-year-old writer Danielle Trussoni is spellbound by a novelist from Bulgaria. The two share a love of jazz and books and travel, passions that intensify their whirlwind romance.

Eight years later, hopeful to renew their marriage, Danielle and her husband move to the south of France, to a picturesque medieval village in the Languedoc. It is here, in a haunted stone fortress built by the Knights Templar, that she comes to understand the dark, subterranean forces that have been following her all along.

While Danielle and her husband eventually part, Danielle's time in the fortress brings precious wisdom about life and love that she could not have learned otherwise. Ultimately, she finds the strength to overcome her illusions, and start again.

An incisive look at romantic love, The Fortress is one woman’s fight to understand the complexities of her own heart, told by one of the best writers of her generation.

Publishing September 20, 2016 by Dey Street Books.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book Review: A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade by Kevin Brockmeier

Do you ever accidentally end up reading just the right book at just the right time? Isn't that a wonderful moment, even if the right time isn't a happy one?

I had put this book on my library reserve list because I want to get further along with my 50 states reading challenge, and it was short and a memoir, so I figured I could knock it out in no time. I've never read any of Mr. Brockmeier's fiction, although I might now. I didn't have huge expectations, just wanted to read a book set in Arkansas.

This is a memoir of one year of childhood, much like I Will Not Leave You Comfortless: A Memoir by Jeremy Jackson, with Kevin focusing on seventh grade when he was twelve. Seventh grade is hard for a lot of us, and more so for Kevin. Mr. Brockmeier gives us glimpses of his life as an adult, showing that is continued to be hard for him to fit in and have successful relationships. But in seventh grade, the worst thing happened. His long-time best friend, Thad, suddenly because not just not his friend any more, but an enemy. Someone who know he weak spots, his foibles, and his eccentricities like no one else, and knew how to break him. It was a very tough year for Kevin. As it would be for most of us. (This happened to me too, although not the part where my friend turned on me. And many nights of crying on the phone did manage to turn the situation around.) And Kevin gets through it. Occasionally with flying colors, such as when the school performed a play he'd written, a mystery about their kidnapped English teacher. Other times it was tough, and that same English teacher ended up calling the principal to talk with Kevin about the treatment from the abovementioned former best friend and other boys. But, again, he got through it, and while it wasn't fun, he learned a lot and made new friends.

I was having an especially bad day when I finished this book, and reading about Kevin's bad year made me feel better. It made me remember my bad year and how I got through it, with the usual analogy that I would get through this. No matter what goes wrong, at least I'm not in seventh grade anymore. It would be awesome to still be at an age and time where drinking Capri Sun and playing Pitfall on Atari made for the very best afternoon with friends. But the trade-offs aren't worth it. I'm glad I made it through, I'm glad Kevin made it through, and no amount of Pop Rocks or Saturday morning cartoons would ever make it a reasonable idea to want to be twelve years old again.

One odd thing: the book was written in third person. I'm guessing it's a combination of not wanting to immerse himself in that mindset again (although you do totally feel like you're in Kevin's mind, and that you understand how he thinks), and of just not being able, from a distance, to be able to imagine yourself into a scrawny 90 lb. body anymore. It was an unusual choice, I wasn't thrilled with it, but I quickly forgot about it. After the first ten pages, it didn't bother me at all. Mr. Brockmeier has some perfect turns of phrase that really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in eerie recognition of exactly what he meant or felt. I adored this book. I hope he'll write more memoirs.

I checked this book out of the library.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Book Review: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Once I heard a Sarah Vowell book on audio, I can never go back. Now I only listen to them on audio. I love all the guest readers she has like Nick Offerman, John Hodgman, and John Slattery. It really makes the history come alive, and it is also funny as Nick Offerman was born to play an exasperated George Washington.

When I originally moved to New York in 2000, I had no problem pronouncing Houston Street right (How-ston. Not Hue-ston). But Lafayette Street gives me troubles. I am from the South. And in the South, that name is pronounced La-FAY-ette. Heavy emphasis on the FAY. (Seriously, in my defense, the Sheriff in my hometown of Nashville while I was growing up was named Lafayette and he went by Fate, as that's how the middle of his name sounded. People would seriously look at you funny if you pronounced it the French way.) Listening to this book has gone a long way toward correcting my pronunciation.

During the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans went insane about the French and our silly Congress wasted time renaming French Fries "Freedom Fries" among other inane anti-French activities. My mother on the other hand railed against these idiots who didn't appreciate General Lafayette and the French without whose help during the Revolutionary War, we'd be royalists today. And it's true. I knew that much. But I didn't really know anything else.

In Ms. Vowell's book, history comes alive. Washington goes from being a wooden figurehead to a real live, sometimes annoyed person. Lafayette, I discovered, was shockingly young (19), but also a very team-player guy who frequently had to take on roles he was way overqualified to make some older, unqualified guy with connections feel better, and he always did it cheerfully and well. And seriously, if it weren't for Lafayette, Washington may well have lost. Along the way I learned lots of fun trivia such as that before being a general, Knox (of Fort Knox fame) was an independent bookseller. I think I like Ms. Vowell's writing so much because she loves our country and she loves history, but not to the point where she views it through rose-colored glasses. She still calls out the Founding Fathers for deeming slaves to be 3/5 of a person and other batty things politicians have done over the years. But she loves them for all their blockheadedness.

My favorite line from the book:
“The scene of Washington cussing out Charles Lee was for some reason not included in the series of bronze illustrations of the Battle of Monmouth on the monument at the county courthouse. Even though it was the most New Jersey–like behavior in the battle, if not the entire war.” As a newly minted New Jersey-ite (New Jerseyan? New Jerseyer?), I greatly appreciated that.

As usual, hilarious and informative. If you like Sarah Vowell, she hits it out of the park on this one.

I checked this audiobook download out of the library via Overdrive.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Third NJ Store: Little City Books, Hoboken

Last Monday (Labor Day) I decided to start my quest to visit all the NJ independent bookstores. After we struck out on the first one (who is closed on a federal holiday when loads of shoppers are out and about?!), we ended up at Little City Books in Hoboken, NJ. And it is such a cute store! It's on the small side (as is everything in this neck of the woods. You must learn to be efficient!) But that didn't hurt its selection at all! As you'll see from the picture (forgive my hair; I hadn't thought about picture taking that morning), I got to a point where I just had to stop myself. It wasn't that I stopped finding books to buy, either, but that I just needed to stop looking before I went broke!

I chatted briefly with Kierstan, the children's department manager, who was super nice. Then we walked around the neighborhood for a bit, found a pocket park to start reading our books in, and headed home. It was a terrific afternoon.

I am so looking forward to continuing this project! I'm not sure what store will be next, but if I do one a month I'll have them all in a year and a half. If I occasionally slip in an extra, I'll have them all in a year. Lovely!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Book Review: Who Watcheth by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargey

This book gave me that creepy, tingly down my spine feeling that I look for in a good Scandinavian mystery. And refreshingly the main character, Detective Irene Huss, has a good relationship with her husband, a chef, and her two adult daughters. It's a nice change of pace from the crusty old loners and sad, vulnerable spinsters populating so many mysteries. It's also nice that she's sensible and does not go off and do scary stuff on her own and set herself up for obviously stupid situations. I appreciate that.

Someone is watching Detective Huss. And someone has been killing women who have been watched. It seems there is a serial killer on the loose in Goteborg and Irene could be next. Mostly the case is solved through good old solid police work, which is also refreshing. I hadn't read the previous books in the series, and you totally don't need to have as I didn't at all feel I was missing anything. Some of the Swedish names can throw the reader for a loop but I have little trouble just pushing through on those. It's a solid police procedural and I'm glad I wasn't reading it at home, alone, at night, like the last Jo Nesbo book I read where I had to put it away and read something else and I could only read it during the day. This one I was reading on a plane during the day and that was perfect. It's a solid Scandinavian mystery, and if you like those in general, you will very much enjoy this one.

Sadly, you can't get this book for a few months. It comes out in December 2016. This book is published by my employer, Soho Press.