Wednesday, April 27, 2016

“Waiting On”: Girl Walks Out of a Bar

“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:

Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir by Lisa Smith

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Girl Walks Out of a Bar is Lisa Smith's darkly comic and wrenchingly honest memoir of her descent into and recovery from high-functioning alcoholism and cocaine addiction. From the outside, her professional, well-heeled life as a lawyer in a big New York City firm looked great, and she played the part gamely. On the inside, though, she thought of nothing but her next chance to use and how to continue to hide her secret and the havoc it was wreaking in her life.

One morning in 2004, out of drugs and feeling on the verge of death, Smith made a snap decision to go to detox. She inadvertently checked into a seedy psychiatric hospital. She returned to work the following week, not knowing how she could function in the world that she previously had navigated only while abusing substances.

Girl Walks Out of a Bar nakedly depicts the fears and insecurities that plagued Smith since childhood. These issues—the by-products of depression and anxiety—took Smith to dark places while, on the surface, all appeared well. Smith is concurrently candid about the tools and support she utilized to build a new life free from the grip of alcoholism and cocaine abuse.

Publishing May 10, 2016 by Select Books (NY).

Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Review: Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy (Audio)

This book is shocking, horrifying, and everyone ought to read it.

Ms. Leovy takes the story of the death of one nineteen-year-old African-American in a bad neighborhood in Los Angeles, and extrapolates from it to indict the entire justice system and policing system for how race and crime have been inextricably twisted together in this country.

Bryant it turns out was no gang-banger, in fact he was the son of a police officer. And because of that, his case, which under ordinary circumstances would have gotten  cursory look and been dismissed as unsolvable, was solved. And the police don't do this because they're uncaring--homicide detectives have a thankless job--but because of the sheer volume of the work, not to mention the uncooperativeness of witnesses and the lack of usable evidence. But the officers in this case, particular Detective Skaggs, prove that nearly every case is solvable with enough dogged determination. In fact, regardless of the parentage of the victims, he has an insanely high level of solved cases despite working in a district where the vast majority are not solved.

Mostly this is a work of sociology, as Ms. Leovy delves into the factors that have lead us to where we are. Counterintuitively, a huge part of the problem is a lack of effective policing in bad neighborhoods, and we all know another big problem is a lack of opportunities for young black men. Parts of this book mad me furious, parts made me want to cry, and parts made me proud. It's hard for a book to do all of these things, and to be readable and thoroughly researched as well, but Ghettoside does it. Go read it now. I'll wait.

I checked this e-audiobook out of the library.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Review: H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Helen's father died unexpectedly. She's an only child and was very close to him. She's an adult, but it still hits her very hard.

She begins to train a goshawk, one of the hardest raptors to train. A falconer, she has trained other hunting birds before, but decides now she needs to make this hardest attempt, in her grief. Amidst her training, she reads T. H. White's book, The Goshawk, which he wrote years before The Once and Future King. White did a dreadful job with his hawk, and at times it's painful to hear about. MacDonald obviously also did a vast amount of research about White and his life, beyond just reading this book. She sees echoes of his life in The Once and Future King, and finds the metaphor in his goshawk training, and also her own, as she grieves her father's death. He was a photographer who was interested in all sorts of things (he took a picture of every single bridge across the Thames). The small details were what stuck with me, like how Helen and her mother set out a couple of days after his death to try to hunt down his car, which was street parked somewhere near his office (turns out it was towed.)

This memoir is beautifully written and touching, but I think it was over-hyped to me, as I was expected something truly transformative, and instead I just found it lovely and sad. I was disappointed but I think anyone else, not going in with these expectations, would love it. I did enjoy it a great deal, but I'd just been lead to understand it was one of the most brilliant memoirs ever, and as a memoir connoisseur, I can say it's above average, but it didn't blow me away. But don't get me wrong--I do recommend it.

I downloaded this book from the library via Overdrive.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book review: Mort[e] by Robert Repino

I know some people don't like anthropomorphic animals, but luckily, I am not one of them because this book was such a treat! I can't remember the last time I read such an inventive book, and yet it felt very grounded in the real world, or at least it starts off in a world we recognize.

Sebastian is a house cat. He lives with the Martinis. The mother in the family starts to have an affair with a neighbor, who brings along his dog, Sheba. Sebastian loves Sheba. Yes, something is bothering his owners, but overall everything is fine. He has food, sunbeams to lie in, and a wonderful basement to hang out in with Sheba.

One day he grows to human-size, his paws turn into hands, and he can understand the humans talking to each other. Bear with me. See, in the last few weeks/months, the ants have started a war against the humans. And as part of that war, they released a hormone into the water system that causes these effects in mammals. They developed the hormone over centuries of study when the Queen bred scientists ants, who developed ways to keep her alive for centuries (millennia?) and it had this side effect. They also used it to develop 10-foot-tall ant soldiers. Ants are formidable opponents in a war because they can bite through anything, even metal, and they don't care when their compatriots are killed.

Sebastian joins the other cats in fighting the humans with the ants. He takes on the name Mort(e) over his slave name. And partly it does indicate his amazing killing ability (despite the fact that his fingers are short and stubby, due to him having been declawed as a kitten.) But as the war progresses, Mort(e) really only wants one thing: Sheba. Will he ever find her? Will she even remember him? Is she still alive? How will this war end?

This book was so creative, so unique, although yes it does have hints of Watership Down, but as fantastical as it gets, its power is in its grounding in the possible and in a world that looks just like where we live today. Yes, it will make you look sideways at your own cats and wonder about the "slave names" you've given them (Doozy might not be embarrassed by hers but Turkey will resent us) and worry about whether they'd kill you, given the chance and opposable thumbs.

I was thrilled at the end of the book to learn the sequel will be coming out next summer! While the book was pretty perfect and I did love the ending, I can't wait to find out what happens next! Mort(e) is a wonderful protagonist who I'd follow into battle any day.

I checked this book out from the library.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Atomic Weight Of Love

“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 Atomic Weight Of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

Synopsis from the publisher's website: 

In the spirit of The Aviator’s Wife and Loving Frank, this resonant debut spans the years from World War II through the Vietnam War to tell the story of a woman whose scientific ambition is caught up in her relationships with two very different men.

For Meridian Wallace—and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s—being ambitious meant being an outlier. Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian had been obsessed with birds, and she was determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother’s sacrifices to send her to college pay off. But she didn’t expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he’s recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him.

What began as an exciting intellectual partnership devolves into a “traditional” marriage. And while the life of a housewife quickly proves stifling, it’s not until years later, when Meridian meets a Vietnam veteran who opens her eyes to how the world is changing, that she realizes just how much she has given up. The repercussions of choosing a different path, though, may be too heavy a burden to bear.

Elizabeth Church’s stirring debut novel about ambition, identity, and sacrifice will ring true to every woman who has had to make the impossible choice between who she is and who circumstances demand her to be.

Publishing by Algonquin Books on May 3, 2016.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

“Waiting On”: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

“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 Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick


Synopsis from Goodreads:
In this poignant and sparkling debut, a lovable widower embarks on a life-changing adventure.

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam's death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam's possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he's never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife's secret life before they met--a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a curiously charming debut and a joyous celebration of life's infinite possibilities.

Publishing May 3, 2016 by MIRA.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

“Waiting On”: The Versions of Us

“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 Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The one thing that’s certain is they met on a Cambridge street by chance and felt a connection that would last a lifetime. But as for what happened next . . . They fell wildly in love, or went their separate ways. They kissed, or they thought better of it. They married soon after, or were together for a few weeks before splitting up. They grew distracted and disappointed with their daily lives together, or found solace together only after hard years spent apart.

With The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett has created a world as magical and affecting as those that captivated readers in One Day and Life After Life. It is a tale of possibilities and consequences that rings across the shifting decades, from the fifties, sixties, seventies, and on to the present, showing how even the smallest choices can define the course of our lives.

Publishing on May 3, 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Friday, April 1, 2016

My month in review: March

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date:

Books completed this month: 
Landfall by Ellen Urbani
Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
Son of a Gun: A Memoir by Justin St. Germain
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy
The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters by Wes Moore
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Mort[e] by Robert Repino

Books I am currently reading/listening to: 
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

What I acquired this month: 
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker; I got this book for free in a giveaway by the publisher to my WNBA group to stir interest in the movie (I also got a cool scarf.) I did go see the movie just a few days later (and like it!) so it worked!
Burning Down George Orwell's House by Andrew Ervin; I got this book when I visited the publisher, Soho Press.

Book Review: Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon




How are there not already dozens of novels about The Hindenburg? It's obviously on par with The Titanic in both the novelty of the disaster and also the sheer size of it. Although The Hindenburg had a fraction of the number of people on board. Still, it seems ripe for a novelist's fantasies.

Luckily for all of us, Ariel Lawhon figured this out. She takes the real names, jobs, and outcomes of a dozen or so staff and passengers on The Hindenburg and takes readers on a journey from boarding through the crash. Meanwhile she crafts fully three-dimensional backstories and interior lives for these few souls. She stays true to what actually happened and they live or die based on whether they really lived or died at the end. But fortuitously, we still don't know what caused the explosion, so she's free to imagine a scenario that causes the fatal spark. We follow Emelie, the very first female staff member of the Zeppelin company, a stewardess (no, I am not changing that to flight attendant as that was the term at the time), Werner, the cabin boy, and Max the navigator. On the passengers' side, we follow Gertrude, a journalist, and a shifty, unnamed American. The trip takes three days, but lifetimes are lived in that brief moment. Loves are lost and won, Lives are nearly lost and saved, crucial things are stolen, an acrobat swings from the rafters, and a starving dog is saved. These people truly come alive under Ms. Lawhon's deft hand, and it's a tribute to them that she makes the readers care for these doomed souls. Yes, I know many survive, but their souls are still scarred for life after this event.

I'm always impressed when a writer can take an event with a foregone conclusion and create suspense anyway (although I never looked up to see who died so that was real wonder for me.) My heart was in my throat through the last 50 pages, as the doomed ship came ever closed to her final minutes. This book is an impressive feat of historical fiction.

I got a free ARC from the publisher at SIBA.

Book Beginnings: Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

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.

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

 "'This was not the first bomb threat, correct?'"

The book begins with the Hindenberg Accident Hearings in New Jersey but then we go back in time to three days before the accident, when the Hindenberg is taking on its passengers in Frankfurt, Germany, and gives us the story of many of the passengers and crew aboard the ill-fated voyage.