Thursday, August 3, 2017

book journal: The Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico

The backstory: The Lucky Ones is longlisted for the 2017 Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize.

The basics:  "A literary jigsaw puzzle of a debut novel set in Colombia during the peak of its decades-long conflict, and in New York City."-publisher

My thoughts: When this year's First Novel Prize longlist was announced, I'd already read two. The Lucky Ones was the first one I picked up from the longlist, so I had high expectations. I started it on my lunch break. The first chapter left me breathless; it was extraordinary. It, and many of the other stories, were originally published as short stories, and it shows. Some chapters are stronger than others, and the order certainly matters. Pachico uses names sparingly, and I spent the first parts of most chapters trying to figure out who the narrator was and if/when I'd read about them before. I enjoy non-linear stories told in this way, and I enjoyed it (for the most part) in this novel. I was hoping for the final chapter to bring more cohesion to the novel, and instead it added more questions. While I think this choice was intentional, and it certainly mimics reality, I found myself turning the last page disappointed and still wanting more.

After I finished, I kept puzzling over this novel. It has certainly kept me thinking and trying to articulate what I wish would have been different. I have some ideas, but I also respect the boldness of Pachico's decisions. When I finished this novel, I rated it 3.5, but as I keep thinking about it and recommending it to people (not only so someone will talk to me about it), I realized it is at least a 4 star read. It's not a perfect book, but it is an incredibly accomplished book. It's smart. It's bold. The first chapter is superb and worth reading, whether on its own or as the beginning (of sorts) of this puzzle of a novel.

The verdict: The Lucky Ones is at times brilliant, but ultimately it wasn't as good as I think it could have (and should have) been. It is, however, a book worth reading, as it won't leave my brain. I will be first in line to read whatever Pachico decides to publish next. She's extraordinarily talented.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: March 7, 2017
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Lucky Ones from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Julianne Pachico's website and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Looking Back on July 2017

July 2017 was a phenomenal reading month for me. It has given me hope that my reading and blogging mojo are back in full force. Now if I can only hang on to both once classes start at the end of the month! Here's what I read in July:

Books Read: 15
Fiction: 12
Nonfiction: 3
Mystery/Thriller: 3
Not Yet Released: 4 (one came out this month after I read it)
Audio: 2
New-to-me authors: 13
My Favorite July Read: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Will I get around to reviewing them all? I don't know, but I have been really engaged with posting reviews as I finish books on Litsy. You can find me there as nomadreader, of course.

Now tell me: what's the best book you read in July?

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The "Darling, but..." Book Club Is Back

Two years ago, I convinced my spouse to create a book club with me. I read more than he does, but he loves to read. I love discussing pretty much anything with him, and I am forever recommending books to him. We fizzled our pretty quickly, at least partially because Hawthorne wasn't even one yet, and finding a routine to anything was hard. Last week, Mr. Nomadreader suggested we start our book club back again in August. Of course, I agreed.

Our book club is pretty fun, but we do have a few rules. Each month, we each pick one book, and we both read both books. 1. We're not allowed to pick books we've read before (I am not the creator of this rule, but it is a good one because it's terrible to hand a book to your favorite person and say, "I loved this book. I know you will love it too!" And then they don't. I also have so many books I want to make him read.) 2. No one may pick Infinite Jest or a similarly long book.

Here's what we picked for August:

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips (my pick)
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee (Mr. Nomadreader's pick)

I'm really excited for both picks. Fierce Kingdom is getting rave reviews, and I've been meaning to read On Such a Full Sea since it came out. The only question left is: which one do I read first?

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, July 31, 2017

book review: Deadfall by Linda Fairstein

The backstory: Deadfall is the 19th mystery featuring Alexandra Cooper. I've read them all and reviewed a lot of them.

The basics: Killer Look ended with quite a cliffhanger, and Deadfall picks up right where it left off, so spoilers of Killer Look abound in this review.

My thoughts: Over the years I've criticized Linda Fairstein a bit for how little things change in this series. There's comfort in that, sure, but as someone who has been reading this series for fourteen years, I would love to see more time pass in Alex's life. Fairstein upped the ante with the ending of Killer Look--the murder of Manhattan District Attorney Paul Battaglia. Battaglia's demise had been coming for a few books, but the surprise at the end of Killer Look was a great one. Deadfall seeks to solve his murder.

As always, one New York City landmark serves as the focus of the book. In Deadfall, it's the Bronx Zoo. Fairstein infuses current issues about illegal animal trade and big game hunting in unexpected and delightful ways. The history of New York City, and its two zoos, is richly detailed and flows with the plot beautifully. I continue to enjoy seeing Alex and Mike together

Favorite passage: "Superstition, I thought. All of these species--and so many others--killed because of human ignorance, for beliefs in magical fixes and supernatural protections."

The verdict: Deadfall was a fun, fascinating mystery. I hope Alex will be emotionally healed and back in the courtroom in Fairstein's next book. I'm really curious where Fairstein will take this series after Battaglia's death.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 397 pages
Publication date: July 25, 2017
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Deadfall from Amazon (Kindle edition.) But you really should start with the first book, Final Jeopardy (Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The 2017 Booker Dozen: A U.S. Reader's Guide

Although I've (finally) stopped pretending I will ever actually read all of the longlisted titles, I still eagerly await the Booker Prize longlist each July. Okay, so I do still harbor ideas about reading the longlists once Hawthorne reaches a certain age. What age? It's still unclear. Regardless, the longlists are more fun since the Prize has been opened up to U.S. authors, but I also find it has fewer unexpected picks. This longlist reads like an all-star list, and I'm excited to see who makes the short list (and wins.)

The One I've Already Read

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (3 stars)--I need to review this one, but I also feel like I should read it again. I listened to the audio because of the novelty of having 166 narrators. It was fun to hear so many voices, but the incessant repetition of op. cit. drove me bonkers. I may try it in print, as everyone else seems to love it.

The Ones Available in the U.S. Now

4321 by Paul Auster
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Autumn by Ali Smith
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Ones Coming Soon to the U.S.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (September 19, 2017)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (November 1, 2017)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (August 15, 2017)

The Ones We Hope Make Their Way to the U.S.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

I won't commit myself to reading all of these this year, but I do hope to make time for those that have been lingering on my TBR for too long, and I'm definitely making time for Home Fire. First up? Autumn because I adore Ali Smith, and I can't believe I haven't made time for it already.

Now tell me? What are you most excited to see on the longlist? What are you shocked to not see?

Happy reading!

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

book journal: Little Deaths by Emma Flint

The backstory: Little Deaths, Emma Flint's first novel, is on the 2017 Baileys Prize longlist.

The basics:  "It's 1965 in a tight-knit working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Ruth Malone--a single mother who works long hours as a cocktail waitress--wakes to discover her two small children, Frankie Jr. and Cindy, have gone missing. Later that day, Cindy's body is found in a derelict lot a half mile from her home, strangled. Ten days later, Frankie Jr.'s decomposing body is found. Immediately, all fingers point to Ruth."

My thoughts: When the Baileys Prize longlist was announced, the title I was most excited to see was Little Deaths. It got a lot of pre-publication buzz, and it was billed as feminist literary crime fiction based on a true story. I love all of those things. It was the first longlist title I picked up, and as eager as I was to read it, I found the pace very slow. The title alerts us that Frankie and Cindy die, yet they don't die on the page for some time. Immediately, speculation is on Ruth. Ruth is a complicated woman who is judged unfairly, but in ways that are familiar.

Part of my issue with this novel is wrapped up in what it is and what it is not. Fair or not, Little Deaths is billed as a crime novel, and while it is, undoubtedly about a crime, I would not classify it as a crime novel. The focus isn't on solving the crime. Instead the focus is split on exploring Ruth's life after the death of her children and on a reporter Pete Wonicke, who takes an unhealthy interest in the case and Ruth. I found his character odd and his actions increasingly bizarre (and not in an interesting way.)

Overall, the book didn't have enough narrative momentum for me. I wasn't sure where I was supposed to focus. The killer (to me) clearly wasn't Ruth, but Flint doesn't spend enough time exploring suspects. To be fair, the fact the police don't do this work because they're focused on Ruth is pivotal to this story, but it's also very dull. Part of me hoped for an ambiguous resolution, but instead Flint chose an incredibly disappointing approach that made me not much care for this novel that didn't accomplish nearly enough with its execution.

Favorite passage:  "He stopped at the next corner and wrote down the details and found his fingers itching to describe Salcito’s heavy walk, his lost expression. But he told himself he would not do that because it was unnecessary. It was unprofessional. When, in fact, he did not want to make this man human. He was not a character in a story to be identified with: he was a possible witness, a possible accessory, a possible killer."

The verdict: I found the pace of Little Deaths too slow and the mystery to be so glaringly obvious I was embarrassed it's billed as crime fiction. Flint explores a fascinating story, but I think it would be better executed on film.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 17, 2017
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Little Deaths from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

book journal: Marlena by Julie Buntin

The backstory:  Marlena is Julie Buntin's first novel.

The basics:  "The story of two girls and the wild year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades."

My thoughts: Marlena consumed me as I read it. It opens in the present day, where we meet Cat. This glimpse into the present felt brief, but I soon realized the real action of this novel is in the past. Initially, I found myself hungering to return to the present, which is at least partly do to my fascination with knowing how things end because figuring out how characters move from the past to the present (or future) fascinates me. But as this novel went on, I found myself much less invested in present Cat, which surprised me.

Buntin is a gifted writer, and she made me love reading about teenage angst in a way I haven't enjoyed in years. She made me prefer a teen storyline to an adult storyline. At times, she even made me remember my teen years with fondness, "Everyone has a secret life. But when you're a girl with a best friend, you think your secret life is something you can share."

Favorite passage: "The truth is both a vast wilderness and the tiniest space you can imagine. It's between me and her, what I saw and what she saw and how I see it now and how she no now."

The verdict: Buntin is at her best writing about the past, and that rightly constitutes most of this novel. While I enjoyed seeing where Cat was, it didn't feel as authentic. I wish Buntin would have delved more into the present or left it out, as it muddied an otherwise extraordinary narrative. As much as I liked Marlena, this novel made me fall in love with Julie Buntin as a writer, and I can't wait to see where she goes next.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: April 4, 2017
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Marlena from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Read this beautiful essay, "On Making Things Up: Some True Stories About Writing My Novel." Visit Julie Buntin's website and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, March 27, 2017

book journal: City of the Lost and A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong


A brief timeline of my relationship with Casey Duncan:

Summer 2016: I keep reading and hearing about City of the Lost, the first in a new mystery series set in Canada featuring a woman named Casey Duncan. I should read that. It sounds really good.

September 2016: Oh, right, City of the Lost. Let me check that out from the library.

October 2016: [receives an early copy of A Darkness Absolute] Wait, the second Casey Duncan novel comes out in February? I should really read City of the Lost. [reads City of the Lost.] I should really write a review of City of the Lost before I start A Darkness Absolute. [Decides the temptation to pick up A Darkness Absolute is too strong.] [Reads A Darkness Absolute.] [Tells Mr. Nomadreader to buy City of the Lost for his mom's birthday.] I should write my review of A Darkness Absolute even though it doesn't publish until February.

March 2017: It's March already? Should I just wait until the third Casey Duncan novel is out? Hmm, no word on when that will be, I'll go ahead and write about Casey.

Here's the premise: "Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday this crime will catch up to her. Casey's best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana's husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it's time for the two of them to disappear again.

Diana has heard of a town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you're accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council's approval. As a murderer, Casey isn't a good candidate, but she has something they want: She's a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in." In short: Casey solves murders in a dystopian reality 

The verdict: If you're been meaning to read City of the Lost, do it. If you haven't, why the hell not? Buy it from Amazon (Kindle version.) You might want to buy A Darkness Absolute (print, Kindle) while you're at it. If you're like me, you'll want to start it as soon as you finish City of the Lost.

Kelley Armstrong, you're working on #3, right? I eagerly await it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pages: 416 & 400 pages
Publication dates: May 3, 2016 & February 7, 2017
Source: library and publisher

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist: A U.S. Reader's Guide

I've been slowly working on this post for two weeks, but it's finally here: my 7th annual Women's Prize for Fiction U.S. Reader's Guide! Longtime readers knows this prize, known for most of its history as the Orange Prize, is my favorite literary prize. The longlist announcement is always one of my favorite moments of the year, and it shapes my reading for the months and years to come. I didn't make predictions this year, partially because the prize announced it was trimming the longlist from its traditional length of twenty titles to only twelve. (The judges ended up with sixteen titles on the longlist.) For the seventh year in a row, I'm offering my thoughts on the longlist along with information on when U.S. readers can access these titles (see my U.S. Reader's Guide for the longlists in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011.

The Ones Available in the U.S. Now

Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood
Little Deaths by Emma Flint
The Mare by Mary Gaitskill
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
First Love by Gwendoline Riley (out Tuesday)
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

The Ones Coming to the U.S. Later This Year

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (August 22, 2017)
The Power by Naomi Alderman (October 10, 2017) (no U.S. cover yet)
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (June 6, 2017)

The Ones We Hope Make Their Way to the U.S.

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
Midwinter by Fiona Melrose

My Thoughts
If I think about my excitement for the titles included here (Linda Grant!) instead of all the wonderful books that didn't (Ann Patchett), I'm really excited for this list. Many of these books have been on my TBR for far too long (ahem, The Mare), and I'm thankful for this push to read them. Some are not yet out but have been on my radar already. Others are new to me with this list (The Power, a premise that delights me.) And a few intrigue me but are terrifyingly long (for me), but I hope to find the time to dig in to Barkskins and The Sport of Kings.  I'm slowly making my way through the longlist, and I'll be posting my thoughts on these sixteen books as I take the time to read them.

Now tell me: what title are you most excited to see on this year's longlist?

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!