Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me about Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love by Joseph Luzzi

I have struggled with what to think of this book since I read it. I am still not sure what my final verdict is. Maybe writing this review will help me solidify things.

Joseph Luzzi's wife, Katherine, was killed in a car accident, but she was kept alive just long enough to deliver their daughter, Isabel. Joseph was devastated by this loss. I mean, completely unable to function in most ways. He is a professor at Bard College in New York, and he and Katherine had been living in a small town just north of the city. He moves back to his hometown in Rhode Island, to give over the care of Isabel to his mother and four older sisters.

He throws himself into work, commuting from two states away, writing an academic book. His family and friends are baffled by his ability to function so well on campus, but his utter inability to be a parent. And I was baffled too. I just wanted to shake him. He was so self-indulgent. He kept saying that he just couldn't function as a parent. But I disagree. If he hadn't had this safety net to fall back on, I think he'd have managed. As much as he praises his mother for her selflessness and her love for and care for his daughter, I think she was in some ways an enabler. Not to mention this meant that Isabel was being raised by a woman still steeped in the old ways of Calabria, a woman who had been merely fourteen when she had been married, and a woman still very much enmeshed in the machismo social structures of Italy. In addition, she fed Isabel garbage food and although Joseph said he wanted Isabel to eat organic food from Whole Foods, I'm not sure if he ever even told his mother this, and if so, he certainly didn't do anything when she refused. I was unimpressed with his excuses for Isabel's neglect. I totally get that Katherine's death was horrible, devastating, and threw him for a loop, but how long does he get to use that as an excuse? You can be depressed and in mourning and still feed your child decent food. If he could pull himself together enough to write an academic book, I say it's not that he didn't have the energy or wherewithal to parent properly, but he was misdirecting it. And what was more important, his career or his daughter? His choices were damning.

In fact, he only ever seems to pull out of his funk and start to operate like an adult again, when he meets the woman who is now his current wife. He claims that he started to function again and started to take over Isabel's rearing on his own, but from what I saw it seemed like it was only when he met Helena that he started to parent again. (His dating, by the way, also got a lot of his time and attention when Isabel was still being neglected at home. That also gives me serious pause regarding his "I was so depressed and couldn't function!" argument.) I got the feeling that he was a Mama's boy who really can't get along well without a woman in his life to take care of the details.

I will give him props for his brutal honesty. He certainly gives readers all the information so we can judge him harshly if we see fit. He may give excuses, but he doesn't obscure the facts.

I know I'm supposed to be impressed with his deep reading and the way he found solace in his critical appreciation of Dante's The Divine Comedy, but I thought it was too much and he took it too far. It started to feel a little like class. I did read the books back in college, but he gives you so much of them, that it's unnecessary: you will feel like you read them after this. The interpretation was completely accessible and not academic, and I liked it up to a point.

I guess what it boils down to for me is that this was a tragic story, very well told, but in the end, I just don't like Joseph as a person. And in a memoir that's hard to get over. It's one thing if he were ruining his own life (I've enjoyed those types of memoirs! I adore schadenfreude.) but to be screwing over his innocent infant daughter at the same time is hard to overlook. If wrenching honesty and beautiful writing are what you like in a memoir, this book is for you. (But not for me.)

The publisher gave me a copy of this book to review.

Teaser Tuesdays: In a Dark Wood

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me about Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love by Joseph Luzzi p. 100

"Every night I went to sleep terrified of dreaming about Katherine. There was a sound in the room next to mine, a rhythmic breath as steady as the forward movement of time."

The breath in the next room is his infant daughter, who he's really neglecting and letting his mother spoil. I don't blame him for trying to not dream about his now-dead wife, though.

Monday, June 29, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week: 
Spinster by Kate Bolick

Books I am currently reading/listening to: 
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Up next: 
Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; Or, Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog by Jen Lancaster
That Should Be a Word: A Language Lover’s Guide to Choregasms, Povertunity, Brattling, and 250 Other Much-Needed Terms for the Modern World by Lizzie Skurnick

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Beginnings: In a Dark Wood

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader.

In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me about Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love by Joseph Luzzi

"'In the middle of our life's journey, I found myself in a dark wood.' So begins one of the most celebrated and challenging poems ever written, Dante's Divine Comedy, a fourteen-thousand-line epic about the soul's journey through the afterlife."

And our author, a Dante expert, uses the dark wood as a metaphor and a path through his own grief after his wife dies.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

“Waiting On”: Maybe in Another Life

“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:

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From the acclaimed author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do comes a breathtaking new novel about a young woman whose fate hinges on the choice she makes after bumping into an old flame; in alternating chapters, we see two possible scenarios unfold—with stunningly different results.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

Publishing July 7, 2015 by Washington Square Press.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book review: The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne

Josh Hanagarne is a librarian. And yet, when you meet him in this memoir, that seems very implausible. For one thing, he's enormous. He's 6'7" and regularly throws around enormous weights and rocks in his backyard, training in specialized programs. For another, he has Tourette's which causes him to tic and make noises seemingly contrary to the quiet of a library (although I know for a fact that most libraries these days aren't very strict with the quiet anymore. In the library where I volunteer, only the adult nonfiction section is labeled as a "quiet section" and the rest of the library is free for talking. The children's department in fact can be quite loud at times.) But that's part of what drew him to the field: the challenge. Sometimes being in a place where he can't tic, makes his Tourette's go haywire. Other times he can tamp down the symptoms temporarily, although they then come bursting out doubletime when he's out of the situation.

As you can imagine, it's not easy to grow up either as a giant or with Tourette's. Having both makes for a rough childhood, although luckily he had extra-cool parents who did their research and took him to the right doctors, but who didn't make a big deal, and made his life as normal as possible. And I give props to his schools where he seemed to experience only a small amount of teasing (perhaps his enormous height helped with that, as it's not as easy to tease someone who's looking way down on you.)

Throughout this book Josh struggles with his Mormon faith, struggles with trying to finish college (which took him about 10 years), struggles to find a girlfriend who will understand and not be bothered by his differences, and struggles to find his place in the world. He seems to feel that once he finds his place, the tics will stop, and while that's unrealistic, there are of course some situations which make them better. Reading is one of the best. He doesn't tic when he reads. Throughout the book he talks about what books he reads, what influences him, and I love how he reads so widely as a child that he reads a lot of books that boys don't normally read, like the Ramona books and Charlotte's Web.

Josh has had to overcome a great deal. He doesn't feel sorry for himself at all, even when things look pretty bleak. He does find coping methods such as weight-lifting, and he muscles his way through his issues, finding ways around them and through them. And of course books keep him company all along the way.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

Teaser Tuesdays: The World's Strongest Librarian

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne p. 45-46


"I never found answers in silence. Of course, sitting still and listening for inspiration was challenging with the constant interruptions of my blinking eyes and facial contortions."

This line is a foreshadowing of the end and what actually quiets Josh's Tourette's tics.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Update on How Much it Costs to Publish a Book

Hopefully you remember that last year I published my book, An Insider's Guide to a Career in Book Publishing. Last year I also wrote a post about exactly how much it had cost me to publish said book. In the nine months since I wrote that post, I have had a few additional costs such as doing a postcard mailing (designing and printing and postage costs) to college career counselors and last fall I did a small content update that created more design costs. So I thought I'd do an update, to once again show writers who want to self-publish, just how much it costs, and what the return is.

These costs are even a bit low. I had two developmental edits done for free (in trade) by colleagues I know well. My copyedit and one or my proofreads were discounted, again because I know the people. A friend with a great deal of experience in direct marketing helped me with the postcard design and layout for only the cost of dinner. My publicity costs were also low because I used a publicity intern for $10/hour instead of a publicity professional for much more (which meant I had to spend a great deal of time directing her and assigning her work.) My mother, a retired Marketing VP, also chipped in with sending out press releases for free. Because I am a member of the WNBA, my local bookstore, Park Road Books, waved its usual consignment fee. I also did have to add a page to my website, but I didn't break that cost out from the usual cost of updating/maintaining my business website.

I used IngramSpark for the printing and fulfillment. And Vistaprint for the postcards. Otherwise I used freelancers (mostly local, a couple in NYC) who I know or had personal references for. I did not want to scrimp as it is much more important to me that the book be of top quality than be inexpensive. Which is what every author should want for their book. If you truly can't afford this, you really need to aggressively pursue traditional publishing first, as they would pay for ALL of the costs here with the exception of the $50 I paid to one contributor. Everything else is accounted for here through now. To date I have spent $5368.22 on my book. I have made $1140.76. Fortunately, I was not counting on this book for income! I do think the postcard mailing will eventually work, although first it will cost me more. My expert friend recommends I do a second mailing in the fall, combined with something like a Facebook ad, to really get people to make the purchase (usually they have to see something three times) and the mailing just went out about 6 weeks ago so I don't think any sales from it will have shown up yet. Just last week I did a mailing to 13 of the 15 American publishing programs (the other two already knew about it). And I'm about to do another Goodreads giveaway so there will be more postage costs with that. As you can see from the costs breakdowns, design has been the biggest expense to date. There was a problem with getting the ebook to format properly. The book has a glossary of industry terms and we wanted a reader to be able to click on the word and go to the glossary (easy) and then from the glossary, go back to where they'd been in the text (very hard). After all, shouldn't we take advantage of the things ebooks can do that print books can't? But publicity is a close second on costs and will eventually eclipse design (although I do have a list of corrections/updates out to my designer right now, so we'll see.) If I were to add in the shipping, copies of the book, book events, and reviews, publicity would already be a much bigger line item.

What's the lesson here? Self-publishing, at least if it's done right, isn't cheap. It won't make you rich. In fact, it might make you poor. You need to have a solid marketing and publicity plan, you need to be able to do as good a job on the production as a traditional publishing house (if you need assistance with that, I can help), and your audience needs to be easily reachable.

And if you know any English majors who might be interested in working in publishing, buy my book!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini

Books I am currently reading/listening to: 
Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick
Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle

Up next: 
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland
I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman
The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett


Who doesn't love books about books? And multiple story lines? And literary mysteries?

Peter Byerly is an antiquarian bookseller who has moved to England to recover from his wife's death. They had only been married ten years and couldn't have children, so it's a particularly sad death without much solace.

In alternating chapters, we flash back to when Peter met Amanda in college. He worked in the school library, in the antiquarian room, which her grandmother had endowed (the whole library not just the room). Peter and Amanda truly brought out the best in each other and so now, without her, he is feeling particularly bereft and out of his element.

A third set of alternating chapters flash back to Shakespeare's time and follow the path of a manuscript through many hands before one day, it crosses paths with Peter--or does it? Is this manuscript a fake? A fraud? Or is it the real deal? And who wants to keep it a secret? It's the first thing Peter's gotten excited about in a long time, particularly as it is linked to a small watercolor he finds in an antique book, which looks exactly like his deceased wife. And Peter will not stop to find out the truth behind the painting and the manuscript.

This book was lovely because it wasn't a typical thriller with unrealistic heroes and insane secret societies trying to kill people (although sure, there is a bit of danger.) Peter doesn't turn into the swashbuckling hero of The DaVinci Code or the Indiana Jones movies--he stays the introverted and cautious man that he is, just with a little more gumption inspired by the picture of his wife. The story of the found manuscript is plausible and I appreciated that the author explains things like provenance for those who might not understand, and explains how a thing like this might be faked (I'm not saying it's a fake! Or that it isn't! Just that it could be.) I didn't even need the chapter headers to tell me when we were as it seemed very obvious to me and read fluidly. Sure, Peter and Amanda's relationship feels a little too-good-to-be-true, but a lot of good relationships look like that from the outside.

For Anglophiles, bibliophiles, and those who like a good quiet but riveting historical mystery, this book hit the nail on the head. It took me about 100 pages to really get into it, but once I hit that mark, it was hard to put down.

I bought this book at Bibliofeast, the National Reading Group Month festival held by WNBA-Charlotte, sold by Park Road Books

Book Beginnings: The World's Strongest Librarian

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne

 "Today the library was hot, humid, and smelly. It was like working inside a giant pair of glass underpants without any leg holes to escape through."

I did two lines instead of one today because that second line is so visceral. Ick.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Summer Secrets

“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:

Summer Secrets by Jane Green

Synopsis from Goodreads:
June, 1998: At twenty seven, Catherine Coombs, also known as Cat, is struggling. She lives in London, works as a journalist, and parties hard. Her lunchtimes consist of several glasses of wine at the bar downstairs in the office, her evenings much the same, swigging the free booze and eating the free food at a different launch or party every night. When she discovers the identity of the father she never knew she had, it sends her into a spiral. She makes mistakes that cost her the budding friendship of the only women who have ever welcomed her. And nothing is ever the same after that.

June, 2014: Cat has finally come to the end of herself. She no longer drinks. She wants to make amends to those she has hurt. Her quest takes her to Nantucket, to the gorgeous summer community where the women she once called family still live. Despite her sins, will they welcome her again? What Cat doesn’t realize is that these women, her real father’s daughters, have secrets of their own. As the past collides with the present, Cat must confront the darkest things in her own life and uncover the depths of someone’s need for revenge.

Publishing June 23, 2015 by St. Martin's Press.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Truth and Beauty

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

"I called every night. I wanted to talk to Lucy and Lucy wanted to be the kind of person who got the most calls."

This was when Lucy was at Yaddo, and there was just one phone in the dining hall and whoever the call was for would be announced so everyone would know how many calls Lucy got. This also shows how needy Lucy is--both for Ann's attention and for everyone to think she's popular.

Book Review: Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

I have known of Ann Patchett for pretty much her entire career as she and I both are native Nashvillians. She now owns the independent bookstore in Nashville, Parnassus Books. In fact, I was there two years ago when she was given the WNBA Award. But I never read one of her books. Until now.

Naturally, given my penchant for memoirs, I started with hers instead of one of her many novels. Ann went to the University of Iowa for her MFA (wow, best program in the country if not the world.) So did Lucy Grealy. They'd gone to college together but didn't know each other then. Ann knew who Lucy was though. Everyone did. When Lucy was a child, she had cancer, which left her with almost no jaw left, so she had a distinctive face. Ann and Lucy became roommates and best friends, and stayed best friends for the next twenty years.

Typically, opposites attract. Ann is steady, methodical, responsible. Lucy is wild, emotional, passionate. Even after graduate school, the talk and write nearly every day. Lucy has a series of surgeries (which never really stopped since she was a pre-teen) to try to fix her jaw, including taking her tibia and having skin grafts and other soft tissue and bone grafts. For a while, those surgeries kept her trapped in Scotland (a UK native, she could get free surgeries there) where she was a prolific letter writer. Meanwhile, aside from a young marriage and quick divorce, Ann, the novelist, is cautious, she writes her designated number of pages every day, and she moves home to Nashville to waitress, because that is the smart move financially. Lucy, a poet, has a series of terrible relationships, gets deep in debt, and moves to New York because it's exciting. She writes when her deadline is on top of her (or past.)

Eventually, they both find success. Ann, with her fourth novel, and Lucy with an essay in a magazine that leads to a memoir. But Lucy is always chasing love. The adulation of fans is great for a while, until it dissipates and she just can't write her contracted-for novel. But her great need for love doesn't fade with her fame. Her constant chase for something new, something better, for a fix for her face, leads her down a bad path. Ann tries to help her, but she can't save her.

The writing is stunning. Lucy's letters in particular have lines of pure brilliance. Ann's talent lies in making us feel empathy and understanding towards a woman who seems like the neediest, most hysterical bipolar person I could ever hope to meet. And yet through Ann's eyes, I see the beauty in Lucy, the excitement, the challenge, the hope in being her friend. I admire Ann for standing by her for all those years, while admitting that I'm not sure if I would have. Ann seems to be a woman of infinite patience. And Lucy was lucky to have had her as a friend. And she was lucky to have had Lucy.

I have no idea where I got this book, but I at one point owned two copies. I've owned it for years.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Book Review: Irrationally Yours: On Missing Socks, Pickup Lines, and Other Existential Puzzles by Dan Ariely

I have always enjoyed Dan Ariely's books, so this one was super-appealing: Dan answering questions written in by readers of the Wall Street Journal. I especially love that not all of them are serious (Dan's father writes in to complain that his son travels a lot and how can they get him to visit or call more?) The questions are usually paired up with cartoons from a New Yorker cartoonist. He does also answer more serious questions, but he always comes at them from the point of view of behavioral economics, so you don't get the moralistic tone of other advice columnists.

It's a fun, easy read (very easy, I read it in one day), giving you the practical and realistic answers behind why do do things or why we should do things. If you like this sort of thing, either advice columns and/or behavioral economics, this is a great quick distraction read.

The publisher sent me a copy of this book. 

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week: 
Dietland by Sarai Walker
The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician's First Year by Matt McCarthy
Irrationally Yours: On Missing Socks, Pickup Lines, and Other Existential Puzzles by Dan Ariely

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle
Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini

Up next: 
Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review: How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis

A delightful book! Part memoir, part literary analysis of books featuring heroines, Samantha Ellis takes readers on a meandering path through adolescence and growing up, showing us the literary heroines who have lead the way for her, and what she learned from each of them.

With characters as different as Jo March and Scarlett O'Hara, Elizabeth Bennett and Flora Poste, Samantha has clung to her fictional friends as both protectors from the scary "real world," and also as big sisters to look up to and learn from how to navigate uncertain and sometimes frightening situations. She grew up in a household of outsiders as her parents were immigrants from Iraq now living in London, she's also Jewish, and children of immigrants often feel like outsiders in their own homes. Her parents and grandparents are telling her one way to live, are worshipping a homeland they likely will never return to, and her religion is also telling her a specific way to live, but the outside world pulls her in yet a third direction. What to do? Read a book. Figure out what Jane Eyre would do.

Each chapter can be read as a stand-alone essay, although the book does progress chronologically through Samantha's life. Each chapter also is based around a theme, whether it's the role of religion, independence versus obedience, and the nature of love. It's nice because you can pick it up and put it down. I never did completely feel connected to this Jewish-Iraqi Brit although I think we would be friends. But I was disturbed by her love of Catherine Earnshaw and her romantic notions about Heathcliff. While she does acknowledge that he is abusive and that Catherine really didn't have any other options than to do what she did, she still seems to think that Heathcliff could have been a nice guy, if only.... Blech. No, he was awful. I am baffled by women who see him as a romantic hero. Which makes me think Ms. Ellis and I would never get beyond being casual friends. But then, how can she also love Elizabeth Bennett and Flora Poste, who would never give Heathcliff the time of day? I think if Ms. Ellis continues to see her future in the direction of those two young women, and gives up her romantic notions of Wuthering Heights, she can have a very happy future. Hopefully one filled entirely with books. I hope she does.

A friend, who works at a bookstore in New Hampshire, sent me this book.

Book Beginnings: Truth and Beauty

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

"The thing you can count on in life is that Tennessee will always be scorching hot in August."

I can attest this is completely true. And it's also humid.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Early Warning

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


Early Warning by Jane Smiley p. 52

"Then, one night, she got up to go to the bathroom, and when she got back to bed, in the moonlight the tears were glistening on his cheeks and his eyes were wide open, even though he was lying still and not saying a word. It was like getting in bed with a stranger."

That would be a chilling thing to see in one's husband--silent middle-of-the-night crying. Even more alarming if he words for the CIA.

Book Review: Early Warning by Jane Smiley

Early Warning is the sequel to Some Luck, and while I normally don't read trilogies until they're all published, Jane Smiley is doing something different and innovative (as per usual): she's publishing all three volumes of this trilogy in one year. So while I don't know what the third book's title is, or when it's coming out, it should be in the next 6 months, so I won't forget too much.

Which is good because that could be a bit of a problem. In these books, we are following the Langdon family from Iowa, over 100 years. Some Luck started in 1920 and covered 33 years. Early Warning begins in 1963. And the family has grown. In the first book, I really didn't have trouble keeping the characters straight and telling them apart, but that's because it was really focused on Walter and Rosanna and their children. But as those children are now grown up, married, with kids (and grandkids!) of their own, the cast of characters has expanded greatly and I find myself flipping to the front family tree occasionally to refresh myself. Normally, I hate those family trees as they indicate to me a writer who can't distinguish between her own characters well enough for me to remember, nor who is able to edit her characters down to a manageable number. However, Smiley has the second problem but it's not a problem here as of course it makes sense in this scenario. Of course a farm family in the 1920s would have 6 kids and this is just the math that happens over 66 years. Yes, a few people have died, and I expect that to pick up in the third book, but not enough. Still, it's not a huge thing here.

It's hard to review a book in a trilogy without giving spoilers for the previous books. Suffice it to say that good people get better, immature people grow up, there are hippies, everyone spreads out across the country, but they all come together for the important things. As usual, Smiley is a master at subtly creating very three-dimensional characters, and at creating a riveting story out of everyday life that doesn't feel like a plot. It did take me a while to get into this one but once I did, I couldn't put it down. In this book there is also an extra mystery character and I did figure out who he was before it was revealed (but there was a good red herring--it could have gone either way). I read a review headline asking if Smiley, with this trilogy, is the American Tolstoy. Well, we'll have to see how she brings it all together with book 3, but she's off to an excellent start and the minute the third book is announced, I will put it on reserve.

I checked this book out of the library. In fact, because I put it on reserve so early, I was the very first patron ever to check this particular book out!

Monday, June 8, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week: 
The Promise by Ann Weisgarber
How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis

Books I am currently reading/listening to: 
Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle

Up next: 
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio by Andrea Mays

Friday, June 5, 2015

Book Beginnings: Early Warning

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Early Warning by Jane Smiley

"The funeral was a riot of floral exuberance--not just lilies, but daffodils and tulips and sprays of apple and pear blossom."

That sounds lovely. I like the more pedestrian, non-florist flowers like daffodils. I think I'd like that at my own funeral.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Jezebel Remedy

“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:

The Jezebel Remedy: A novel by Martin Clark

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Martin Clark, "the new standard by which other works of legal fiction should be judged," now delivers his breakthrough novel.

Lisa and Joe Stone, married for twenty years and sole partners in their small law firm in Henry County, Virginia, handle less than glamorous cases, whether domestic disputes, personal injury settlements, or a plethora of complaints from their cantankerous client Lettie VanSandt ("eccentric" by some accounts, "certifiable" by others). When she dies in a freakish incident, the Stones think it's within the realm of possibility that she was cooking meth in her trailer. But details soon emerge that lead them to question how "accidental" Lettie's demise actually was, and settling her peculiar estate becomes endlessly complicated.


Before long, the Stones find themselves embroiled in a corporate conspiracy that will require all of their legal prowess--not to mention some serious guts--for them to survive. Meanwhile, Lisa is making secret, herculean efforts to shield Joe from an egregious error that she would give anything to erase entirely, even as his career--and her own--hangs in the balance.

In The Jezebel Remedy, Clark gives us a stunning portrait of a marriage, a gripping courtroom drama, and a relentlessly entertaining story that is full of inventions, shocks, and understanding.

Publishing June 9, 2015 by Knopf.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Here Is Where

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History by Andrew Carroll p. 40

"In row after row we see white markers with only UNKNOWN U.S. SOLDIER engraved in the marble. There are more unidentified U.S. troops buried here, I learn, than anywhere else except Arlington National Cemetery."

Andrew is at the Memphis National Cemetery, where the victims of the Sultana catastrophe are buried. it's amazing how few people know about this tragedy. Officially the tally was 1547 fatalities, but most historians believe the number is closer to 1800. It's America's worst maritime disaster, and even with the lower, official number, it's more people than dies on the Titanic.

Book Review: Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History by Andrew Carroll

Why did I put off reading this? It was only by a few months, but this book couldn't have been more perfect for me. It's long (450+ pages) and yet I wished it was longer!

Mr. Carroll researches minor historical events (or major ones that have inexplicably been forgotten) and he sets out to visit scores of them, all with the explicit rule that they must not have a historical marker, showing how they have been neglected or overlooked. Some are major (The death of nearly 1800 Union troops on the steamboat Sultana immediately after the end of the Civil War! Hitler and his doctors' eugenics program was inspired by an American--who also helped to save the California redwoods and the bison! One America, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, invented the mumps vaccine, and measles, and the MMR, and more than 40 vaccines including those for chicken pox, and hepatitis A and B!), some are minor (Washington had a slave who ran away! The Spanish flu started in Kansas!), some are just fun trivia (The inventor of cruise control was blind! The man who cast the bronze status on top of the Capitol building during the Civil War was a slave! Al Capone's older brother was a famous Prohibition agent!) several of them circle around and come up again and tie together, showing how all of history is linked and is hard to pull apart.

Not only was this book about awesome trivia, but it was an engaging travel book filled with quirky characters and it made me feel like on my next road trip, I could possibly be finding it much more enlightening and enthralling than anyone else. For example, if I go to the Heights Arts Theater in Cleveland, I could say, "That's where the film The Lovers was shown in 1959 that eventually inspired the Supreme Court to say can't define porn, but they know it when they see it! And until the early 1980s, the Court had a regular adult movie day, screening porn films to decide if they had any educational or artistic merit." Wouldn't it make travelling with me more fun?

Thoroughly entertaining, well-written, meticulously researched, I don't know how Mr. Carroll found so many overlooked and forgotten historic moments but I hope there are more, enough for a sequel!

I got this book in exchange for a review from Read It Forward.

Monday, June 1, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I love vacations where I can read a book every other day! Later this week I'll be meeting Ann Weisgarber who is coming to our book club discussion! This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week: 
The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne
The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett
In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me about Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love by Joseph Luzzi
 
Books I am currently reading/listening to: 
The Promise by Ann Weisgarber
Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle
How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis

Up next: 
Dietland by Sarai Walker
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah