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Happy 6th Birthday, SPR!

As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Are You My Mother?

I read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic a couple of years back and fell in love with the book (and the graphic novel genre as well).  It was one of the most affecting and jarring books I had read at the time and I couldn't stop telling people about it.  Are You My Mother is Bechdel's newest about her relationship with her mother.

Bechdel has always had a fraught relationship with her mother, quite a bit of it stemming from her parent's relationship.  Bechdel uses the theories of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott to frame her coming-of-age story with her mother in this graphic novel.  At a young age her mother told her that she was too old for hugs and kisses, leaving the affection to her younger brothers.  As Alison matures into adulthood and tries to form stable relationships of her own, she sees the effects of this lack of affection taking hold in her everyday life and it's negative effects.

I just think that Bechdel can do no wrong in her novels.  She writes with such pathos and care, and she holds nothing back with her beloved readers.  She cares about sharing her truth and using this medium as a catharsis.  I am grateful for this, as she has created books that keep me reading until I reach the bitter end--there are no breaks for air or for water when reading Bechdel's work. 

I can't recommend Bechdel enough to any reader who wants an emotional and observer experience into relationships that are fraught with missed connections and a deep fear of intimacy.  These books will make you think; these books will make you be grateful for the relationships in your life.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain was recommended to me by a dear friend, so of course I requested it right away from the library.  It was a great travel book.

Enzo is a dog who belongs to Denny, his master.  Denny is a race car driver, and he and Enzo are attached at their respective hips.  Denny gets married to Eve, has a baby named Zoe, and all the while Enzo stays wrapped in their lives.  When Eve becomes gravely ill things start to fall apart with their family.  How can they all emotionally survive?  And will things ever be all right again?

I really enjoyed this book, particularly the uniqueness of using the dog as the narrator's point of view.  It was interesting reading a story from the omniscient family pet--he sees all and hears all, yet he can not speak or participate in any audible manner other than sound, making him intriguing.

I also enjoyed the story about Denny and Eve's relationship, Eve's illness, and the evil that takes over families when control is so desperately needed.  Eve's parents take desperate measures when they find out their daughter is dying, much to the detriment of Denny's relationship, his daughter, and his career--not to mention his reputation.  This book is a great summer read and one you will probably highly enjoy as you kick back, grab a cold beverage, and enjoy a day in the sun.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Idiotville: The Fools' Handbook for the 21st Century by Robert Kral sounded super fun when I read the blurb--I love a good social satire and am always up for a little mocking.

Idiotville is an everytown in an everystate in America.  Their residents lack common sense and often find themselves maimed or killed for their stupidity.  Each chapter follows different residents through their days in their lives of Idiotville leaving the audience with a clear picture of why they would never want to live there--but are glad the residents of Idiotville do for our entertainment and enjoyment.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  It had me chuckling on my train ride and getting funny looks from passengers.  I love a good satire, and Kral certainly has provided me with an enjoyable one.  The residents of Idiotville are not entirely unlike what we East Coasters envision middle America (that's not the Midwest people, it's more of a general wash of people who vote for the Presidential candidate with which they would most like to party).  My favorite moment in the book was a wedding ceremony between the town indigent and the mayor's daughter performed by a priest with Tourette's.  I can't give the scene away because it will ruin one of the most hilarious literary moments I have enjoyed this year.

You can pick up the Kindle version here for $2.99, or just head to Amazon to order a hard copy for less than ten bucks. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Girl Walks Into A Bar

Celebrity Memoir Friday is back!  Back with the recently released Rachel Dratch memoir, Girl Walks into a Bar...: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle.  Whoop!

Rachel Dratch is best known for her seven year stint on SNL.  She is also of the originally-cast-as-Jenna-in-30-Rock-but-was-replaced-by-Jane-Krakowski fame.  She started out in Second City, rose to fame on SNL, and now plays the typified "funny chick" in movies and TV.  She also had a son in her mid-40's by surprise.  Her bad date stories rival mine.

I must have been living under a rock during the replacement on 30 Rock, which was just fine because I have always thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Dratch's comedy.  So it was interesting to read what a brouhaha the whole thing was with a distance of half a decade.  Rachel herself was never totally scandalized by the whole thing--as she tells it, replacing actors in a pilot is typical business.  It's amazing what we as an audience are so desperate to scandalize. 

I had a great time with this book; I got through it in just a few hours.  Ms. Dratch has an easy writing style that makes you feel as though you are friends sharing a glass of wine and you are sharing bad dating stories.  I loved reading the sections on meeting her now-boyfriend-like-man and the surprise pregnancy that gave her what she always suspected that she wanted.  Her attitude about where her life is now is great for someone like me to read.  So enjoy this book.  I sure did.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Complete Mystery of Matthew Alcott

Oh yes, my completely unhealthy obsession with Mormons.  I can't get enough.  That's where The Complete Mystery of Matthew Alcott comes in.  He is being chased by Mormons.  I love it.

Matthew Alcott is an excommunicated Mormon--kicked out of the church because he dared to question.  While working in the historical archives, Matthew comes across documents showing that Joseph Smith was the first playboy--obsessed with collecting wives and tampering down the rights of women within his religion.  When he publishes his book, he finds that he is not just hated--his life is in danger by some of the richest and most powerful men in the country.

I really enjoyed the premise behind this book--it was fun and the potential was very high for a non-stop, high adrenaline thriller.  The story is fascinating, looking at the archives and the Mormon church's (fictionalized or not) view on women and their rights.  However, there were many times when reading this book that I was highly confused about where action was coming from.  All of the sudden we would be in a new location or things would be happening that didn't connect to previous action, and I had to look past this in order to focus on the core of the story.

The subject matter is fascinating and the characters are so interesting.  In fact, I ended up having a dream that I was writing the book and the Mormon upper echelon was after me which then made me threaten to sell my cats to the Mormons.  So obviously this book affected me and caught my interest.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Girls In White Dresses

I had a long bus ride the other week so I picked up Jennifer Close's Girls In White Dresses for the ride.  I am so glad that I did.

A group of young ladies graduates from college and moves to New York City.  They grow up, their friends marry, they marry, some don't marry, kids come, jobs go, breakups happen, divorces happen, people move, and all the while they never feel old enough.  When is old enough, and how did we get here?

I absolutely enjoyed this book down to it's core.  It's not a terribly deep book, but it hit a cord with me.  These ladies age from 22 to about 35 or so, and I understand some of their experiences so deeply that I laughed and I...well, I didn't cry, but I could have if I were a more cry-like-person.  Sometimes the ladies were a bit too optimistic to actually be my friends, but what lady in NYC can't relate to horrible dates and bad decisions?

Seriously, this would make a fantastic park read or beach read this summer.  Revel in the meaningful coming-of-twenty-something-age story.  You will, I promise.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Latitudes: A Story of Coming Home

Anthony Caplan's Latitudes: A Story of Coming Home is a long, winding journey of a boy's coming-of-age story across two continents.

Will and his three sisters grow up in a fraught home in Caracas, Venezuela.  When his mother leaves on vacation, she takes the children with her--for good.  This leads to kidnapping back and forth until Will finally stays ends up in boarding school.  He heals through reconnecting with his mother and finding a side to his father that he couldn't know as a child. 

This was most definitely a coming-of-age story.  We watch Will grow up from a small child into a young man.  We watch him work summer jobs in New York City and in Venezuela.  We witness his coming to a point of acceptance in his relationships with each parent.  The most interesting points in this book, however, were not the family portions, but the confusion that surrounded each kidnapping and attempted kidnapping as told from the oldest child's perspective.  I also enjoyed watching Will go off to school when the action really picked up and became intriguing for this reader.  Watching Will find his place in school had a nice flow.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hope: A Tragedy

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander is another Anne Frank book that I had to pick up once I read the synopsis.  This time, though, Anne has a bigger role.

Solomon moves into a farmhouse to get his family away from the city.  His child has faced a dramatic illness and was lucky to survive.  His mother moves in with them.  They pick up a border for their extra room.  Solomon is failing at his job.  An arsonist is taking out farmhouses in the area.  The biggest of all, though?  Anne Frank is alive and living in his attic.  How she got there and what she is doing is for you to determine when you read the book.

This book was such a fascinating read that I couldn't put it down.  There were moments where I just couldn't understand why events were happening and I wanted to take a break but the book wouldn't let me.  It was just so intriguing and I needed to know where it was going.  So be forewarned--you are going to want to push forward with this book.

There are some moving moments in here and I found the use of an older Anne Frank as a character was fascinating and well-done.  The use of her history after that which (in reality) is already establishes was a fascinating literary device and added to the intrigue of the book.  Pick it up for a rainy day read.  And enjoy it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Since taking on a project with the Anne Frank center here in NYC for my everyday job (Wait, whaaaaaat???  Nicole, you have one of those???  You don't just book blog all day???), I love reading books that mention Anne or are about her.  So when Nathan Englander released What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank late last year I put it in my library queue.

This is a collection of short stories that focus on the Jewish experience in America.  The most notable essay is the title essay that references Anne Frank in a conversation between two couples that runs the gamut between Hassidic living to pot smoking and everything in between.

Englander is an adept writer who tells the story in a clear and moving arc; his stories have fleshed out characters that aid the story.  My two favorite essays were "Camp Sundown" which tells the tale of an old-folks summer camp where the campers believe without a doubt that one of their own is a Nazi, and "How We Avenged the Blums" which follows a group of young boys attempting to avenge the bullying of the smallest of their crew by a neighborhood kid.  The stories were enjoyable; Englander has a way of mixing black humor into these stories by which we should truly be shocked.  Why on earth, you ask yourself, am I laughing at elderly people who believe in taking justice for the Holocaust on their shoulders?  You feel partially guilty but then you ignore it and just keep reading.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The First Zombies

ZOMBIES.  Doesn't that word just warm your heart?  While I am not a huge fan, when offered a short chapter on the finer points of the living dead I think to myself, "Why not?"  That's how I wound up reading The First Zombies by Josh Atkins.

David, Mark, and Gina are just regular college students--playing video games, ordering pizza, and horsing around.  That is, until a news flash falls across the television informing them to stay inside due to a "virus" overtaking the area.  Suddenly the trio finds themselves harboring fugitives, fighting zombies, and doing what they can to just stay alive. 

At only 30 pages, this story was fun and made me giggle.  Zombies do that, you know--make me giggle.  I appreciate that Atkins got right to the point and didn't drag out the story of the trio.  There was exposition, zombie attack, resolution.  I thoroughly enjoyed that.  The only thing I would have liked to see more of was the relationship development between the trio.  Other than that, this was a nifty little read.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Losing Elizabeth

Losing Elizabeth by Tanya J. Peterson is one of those YA lit pieces that I love.  Easy to read, a good message, and often a good story.  Just like today's book!  Let's get started, shall we?

Elizabeth is a junior in high school and she really does have it all--a spot on the varsity tennis team, the smarts to be an engineer when she grows up, and great friends.  When she meets Brad, the star of the school, she falls head over heels--and suddenly finds herself in the middle of an abusive relationship.  She quits organizations that are important to her and she begins isolating herself from her family and friends.  Will her friends be able to reach her in time--or will she lose them forever?  Will she realize the danger Brad poses for her before it is too late?

I really enjoyed this book and was very happy that I picked it up.  I found it to be a compelling read, and the characters were realistic and lacked the cardboard-cutout-feel that a good bit of YA novels have.  I was worried toward the end when things appeared to be wrapping themselves up in a nice little package with a big red bow, but I was pleasantly surprised with the ending.  It was a little saccharine but it felt honest while still giving young people a lesson in walking away when you have to even when you don't want to.

This is a book I would like to see recommended to young women everywhere.  I was very fortunate that I was a strong willed young lady and once told a boyfriend that if he ever spoke to me in "that way" again I would leave him faster than his head could spin--my daddy can't kill you faster than I can.  However, I felt that I knew Elizabeth, so happy to have her first boyfriend and to have the most awesome guy at school.  I understood her need to not lose him at all costs.  Pick up this book and pass it on to a young lady in your life.  You might be glad that you did.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Quest For Good Manners

This is my first children's book on Sassy Peach Reads, and I am super excited about it!  Karin LeFranc's A Quest For Good Manners came to me and I thought it was the cutest idea: Teach children manners through a story book. 

Rosalind is a young princess who has a pet dragon, Sparkler, and horrible manners.  Her mother gives her three days to find good manners or she will banish the dragon.  Rosalind leaves on her quest with Sparkler, and on the way she finds a wizard who gives her a golden fork, a fairy who teaches her the beauty of "please" and "thank you", and Lady Grace who teaches the pair table manners. 

I can't begin to tell you how adorable this book is.  The pictures are just delightful and correlate beautifully with the story.  The story is easy to understand and well-structured, making it a great one to read to small children as well as those pushing Kindergarten and above.  I just love the three people that Rosalind finds on her quest that teach her proper manners, and it's a lovely and creative way to instruct.  It's on Amazon, and I cannot wait to give this book as a gift to my pregnant friends!

Monday, June 11, 2012


Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 was one heavy endeavor.  It was originally written to be a trilogy, and of course America was all like, "Bah!  We like everything bigger and better!  Combine them all into one!"  And I was all like, "No way, America.  I am doing this the Japanese way."  It was actually quite heavy and I needed to split the book into it's original three parts. 

You are not going to get a synopsis from me here, and there is a reason for this.  This book is intense.  It has been described much more succinctly and clearly by people other than myself, which is why I am sending you to Amazon to get educated.  I know where my skills lie, and it is not in giving you an excellent description of this monolith of literature because it would not be fair to this supremely awesome book.

Holy hell, this book was super good.  I continually tried to figure out where things were going during the first section, but that's near impossible.  I just had to sit back and let Murakami take me where he needed me.  The chapters are split between two people (a third person is added in the third section), Aomame and Tengo.  These two characters are absolutely fascinating and I found myself racing through one chapter so that I could get to the next story--then racing through that chapter so I could get back to the other story.  Wash, rinse, repeat, y'all.

The further you get into this book the deeper you go and the harder it is to get out.  Sometimes I found myself giggling at Murakami's blunt writing style--this was translated, after all--but I was able to enjoy it as I fell deeper and deeper into this world that Aomame refers to as 1Q84. 

Friday, June 8, 2012


I have no idea where I heard about Alan Bennett's Smut: Two Unseemly Stories.  I just liked the title.  I am not even a typical fan of short stories.  I just liked the title.

This book contains two stories, each revolving around sex but without sex being the main character.  The first story is "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson," in which an older Mrs. Donaldson finds herself in a precarious yet thrilling position with her two college-age lodgers who can't pay rent.  The second story, "The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes," follows the dalliances of Mrs. Forbes's son, Graham, who happens to be gay yet is married to someone who, as Mrs. Forbes believes, is 'below him'. 

I was so ridiculously and wholly thrilled by this little book.  Seriously, it's half the size of a regular book and it's only 150 pages.  You will zip through it.  These stories were so intriguing and not-quite-predictable-but-they-still-kinda-are-at-the-same-time.

The characters are immediately fleshed out and clear, and I wanted to personally know every single one of them.  To me, the most glorious things that can happen with a book is to either feel as though it is a memoir when it is really a novel or to feel as though you are a fly on the wall of another person's life (or people's lives) for a time.  I felt the latter with this lovely little ditty, and I am so grateful it came in to my life.  At alternating times the stories were silly, heartfelt, exciting, and shocking.  You know--what a good short story should be.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Meantime: The Aesthetics of Soldiering by Stephen Paul Register is the memoir of a soldier on several tours of duty--Operation Freedom, Katrina, and the like.  This is his story.

This book often felt like a sporadic read--very few consistencies in story telling and definitely no arc to the story.  Register's anecdotes are sectioned off into chapters but are told in fits and starts--often it is hard to tell which war or location he is speaking of.  We as the audience jump time and place in the same chapter so that one moment you are camped in the desert of Iraq and the next our soldier is married and at home.  This makes for a super confused reader.

The parts that I enjoyed the most in this memoir were the moments where Register had an emotional connection with people.  The Thanksgiving that he spent on leave at home was the most raw and powerful story he told in this book.  It's hard to not be moved by his account of feeling the rain after being in Iraq for so long.  The moments where Register writes that he spends with his girlfriend, later wife, are beautiful and told with such care by a man who clearly loves this woman and wishes to protect her.  When Register writes about the Iraqi contractor who was kidnapped--my heart hurt for Register and for his friend.  These are the moments that keep the story alive.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Sun Zebra

R. Garcia's The Sun Zebra is a book of short stories that focuses on Garcia's young daughter Nell and his wife Rhonda.  The title story tells of his daughter's creativity and zeal, and the rest of the stories follow in their utter cuteness and meaningfulness. 

These stories were heartfelt and heartwarming.  I enjoyed them immensely if only because they were told with such conviction by a man who clearly loves his family.  The amazing story of the "insectonaut" made me smile and feel a sense of warmth, and the story of a young girl learning what death means through the passing of pet hit home.  These stories were positively lovely and certainly worth a read.

Pick this book at Amazon for $1.99!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The First To Say No

The First To Say No by Charles C. Anderson sounded intriguing so I thought, "What the hey!"  Let's do this.

Kate Taylor is an emergency room doctor in Parkview, a city on the East Coast that saw a great decline until finally a gang, the Plagues, completely took it over.  The hospital itself has seen the worst of this violence--nurses beat to a pulp and candy stripers raped--all at the cost of letting their attackers go.  Kate and her colleague, Elita, refuse to allow this to continue happening.  Can they take back their town, and will their extreme measures help them win back their town or will they face a fate worse than that caused by the Plagues?

Overall this was a very suspenseful read and I was glad I picked it up.  I will forewarn you, however, that this book opens on a fairly graphic sexual assault and you should be prepared for this.  It's not so much a spoiler as it is a caution if you are sensitive to this type of material.  Anderson's characters are well-developed and have strong arcs, and I found them compelling enough to keep coming back to the story.  The story itself, while grounded in reality, is a bit fantastical, but I certainly enjoyed this aspect of it.  After all, if you are going to read a story about vigilante heroes, why not go big or go home, you know?

There were some issues I had with the writing; for instance, at times the author gets bogged down in telling his readers the details of cooking moonshine, for example, that it causes the story to stall.  It's not enough to stop me from telling you to read the book, but there were some specifics regarding health care that I glossed over--I just didn't need to know the specifics of medicine makeups.  The last conversation in the book was also very abrupt and unrealistic, but again, the story itself is more on the fantastical vigilante justice side of literature so just go with it.

You can get this on Amazon in both hard copy and for your Kindle.  Happy reading!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Better Angels of Our Nature

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker is one huge piece of literature.  It tops out at 832 intense pages of facts, figures, and analyses.

Pinker's thesis in a nutshell is that violence has declined over time.  We aren't talking man-on-man-stabbing-people-and-stealing-their-cars violence; we are talking large-scale violence (wars and government takeover) that then trickles down into the man-on-man violence.  Using an insane amount of research, graphs, and sources, Pinker lays out his argument that we are actually in a fairly peaceful time at present regardless of the amount of wars that we have seen in the 20th and 21st centuries. 

I will not lie to you folks--I had to check this book out of the library three times to get through the whole thing on my Kindle.  It is incredibly dense and a super big time (and emotional) commitment because it is written in a scholarly-like fashion.  I appreciate this type of writing and loved sinking my teeth into it, but I feel it is only fair to warn you so you won't get mad at me later. 

There were of course some points of contention that I took with Pinker's arguments about why empathy doesn't really matter in the long-term; I am a social science researcher, after all.  I did, though, enjoy Pinker's intricately laid-out argument for his ideas and his research.  I am also not entirely sure that I agree with all of his arguments about why we are in a time a peace, but overall I think he did an excellent job of laying out his data to provide his readers with a thoroughly convincing argument.  I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in exploring the idea that we are currently in an era in which we enjoy decent government (as compared to the past) and much lesser fear of being killed by our neighbors.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man & Ninety Days

I picked up Bill Clegg's Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man years after reading an excerpt in one of the dozens of magazines that I read.  It came back into my life after the reviews of the recently-released Ninety Days came out, which led me to pick up both and review them in one post.

Bill Clegg becomes an addict at an early age, but in his mid-30's he is a successful literary agent in a loving relationship and a happy man.  Although he has continued to use throughout his adult life, at this point he goes on a two month bender that sends him over the edge and causes him to lose everything.  This is the story of Bill's decent into the hell he makes for himself and the history he uncovers that reveals his past's effect on his current state.

Mr. Clegg's story continues in Ninety Days, focusing on his recovery and the effect of his time in rehab--as well as his relapses before finally getting completely sober.  It's the story of a climb up the ladder rather than the spiral down of Portrait.  He makes new friends, tries to repair the relationships with old ones, and searches for who he truly is without his vices.

I finished each of these books in a day (that makes a total of two days, by the way).  Mr. Clegg's story is riveting and addictive in a way that mimics his manic descent into addiction.  He follows it up with a story that makes you feel as if you are clawing your way into sobriety with him.  You root for him and he breaks your heart when he relapses.  You desperately want him to be the man he was meant to be---and eventually you want to turn to him and say, "Keep coming back."