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

Monday, December 31, 2012

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity was given to me by a friend, and just the other day a different friend said she had just started the book--much to my surprise! I love it when that happens.

Alice wakes up in a gym after a nasty fall in her spin class. It's 1998 to her--she's pregnant with her first child and she certainly doesn't work out (spin???). Except it's actually 2008, she is getting a divorce, she has a new boyfriend, she has three children, and she is obsessed with her appearance. Pardon me? As Alice learns to cope with her "new" life and her lack of memories regarding the last ten years, she must accept the person that she has become while righting some of the wrongs that her 29-year-old self would have never accepted in her 39-year-old self.

This book was a positively outstanding and lovely holiday read. It takes place in Australia (Sydney to be exact) and I loved the differences in language. Beyond just the language, though I loved the story of Alice waking up ten years later and growing to accept and then rectify the differences between her new self and her old self. It's amazing to think how much I have changed over the past ten years--if I were to lose my memory today, would my 20-year-old self like my 30-year-old self? I sure would like to think so, but as we learned in Alice's case, ten years is a big difference.

Things change--relationships bloom and fall apart, children grow into their personalities, and feelings change. All this Alice learns in the few weeks she has no memory. The greatest gift she receives in this book, however, is the balance she can achieve between what her young self wanted for her older self and the truth of what changes in life as we grow and mature. Our kids will not always be the lovely little angels they were during pregnancy and the relationships with our loved ones will not always be simple and strait-forward as we want them to be. Life is messy, and it's who we grow into through the occurrences in life that matters, not the actual occurrences.

Links to purchase the book below; Kindle on the left, hard copy on the right:

Friday, December 28, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

I found this book by overhearing two friends talk about it in the lounge at grad school. True story. Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin sounded ridiculously fascinating and right up my historical-loving alley.

In 1933 a new American ambassador is assigned to Germany. After several others turn down the post, William Dodd takes it hoping it will give him down time to finish his epic history of the Civil War. Was he ever wrong. Adolph Hitler, the German Chancellor, is about to cede complete power over the state and is, in the meantime, building up the Nazi party to hold sway over the German people. It is a volatile time for the country, and matters are not helped when Dodd's daughter, Martha, becomes a society fixture. It's a game of cat and mouse with the German people that becomes more frightening and strange as the years soldier on. The rest, as they say, is history.

This book was utterly and completely engrossing. Larson writes this nonfiction story as he would a dark thriller that could only capture our worst imagination. Except it's real, and you know that reading this book, and that's what makes it all the more frightening. We know what is to come, but very few high school history classes cover the period before 1939 or so when understanding the lead up to Germany's takeover of Europe. I know I didn't receive much education on this front. The rise of the Nazi party is horrifying and frightening for me almost 80 years later--I can't even begin to imagine the daily fear and the desperate need to escape the country at that very time.

This book left me satisfied yet aching for what might have been. Larson truly gave me a sense that I was present and living with the Dodd's through their political struggles, their parties, Martha's love affairs, and the difficult decisions William Dodd had to make in order to keep those around him safe. Larson created a sense of the heightened tension in Berlin at this time and I found his book to be absolutely incredible. I closed the back cover of this book a little more edified, a little more respectful, and a little more cautious of how easily we turn our heads to the painful plight of others.

You can buy the book below; Kindle link on the left, paper copy on the right:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Too Bright To Hear, Too Loud To See

I was gripped by the premise of Too Bright To Hear, Too Loud To See by Juliann Garey--mental illness and the effects of a breakdown.

Greyson Todd has a fabulous life--a beautiful wife, an equally beautiful young daughter, and a dream job at a movie studio. But he can't escape his mind. He has been functioning since his breakdown in law school, but the manic depression comes back with a vengeance and he disappears. This first-person account of a decent into madness and the desperate clawing back out takes the reader around the world but never outside of an aching and anguished head.

This book left me stunned and bereft. I feel as though everyone has had some run-in with mental illness and can imagine the pain that a person must go through when demons overtake their being. I can't say that I personally understand this type of madness that Greyson goes through, but I can tell you that reading this book made me sympathetic to the choices, the lack of control, and the feeling of undoing that happens in the midst of manic depression.

Garey has done a beautiful job of weaving together a story that could easily have gone off the rails into, "What on earth..." I was addicted to Greyson and his story and I felt that I was letting him down when I had to turn off my Kindle to get off the train. I was pulling for him by the end of the book, and while we don't get a happy ending (because that wouldn't be fair, really), we do get a satisfyingly unsatisfying one. Life will never be perfect for anyone, regardless of mental state, so let's make the best of what we can.


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was given to me by a friend who was unloading a cart full of books for me. You know I love when I find something by happenstance.

 Written in epistolary format, this book follows writer Juliet's journey from London to Guernsey. She begins corresponding with the inhabitants of Guernsey, an island off of France, when she is assigned a multi-part article for a large newspaper on the effects of war. Her angle is the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, founded one night when friends sneaking home from dinner after curfew were apprehended by German soldiers and had to quickly come up with a cover. It snowballed from there. Juliet grows to know and love the island's inhabitants and when she journeys out for a visit, she might never return to London.

This was such a lovely holiday-season book. I loved the relationship between Juliet and all of the men in her life. There is her publisher, her American suitor, and the mysterious man on the island. Quite a lady, she is! I loved the backdrop of post-World War II and all of the intricacies of the war introduced and discussed through the letters between Juliet and everyone in her life, from London to Guernsey.

This is a book I passed on to my mom and asked her to pass it on to my brother's girlfriend. From there she will pass it on to another friend. It's just that kind of book. It was a great read to curl up with in front of the fire, getting lost in the past and a time of recovery. I loved the relationships between characters and I was highly satisfied with the ending. I believe this is what you would call a recommendation.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Dear Life: Stories

I thoroughly enjoyed Runaway, so when I found out Alice Munro was coming out with a new collection of stories called Dear Life, I jumped in the library queue quick quick quick.

These stories run the gamut from love found (and lost) in a sanitarium; a lovers rendezvous on a interterritory train; an affair leads to blackmail; and running away from the life you know when you have a chance. Regardless of the characters in the story, all of these short stories revolve around chances taken when they arrive and loving and losing in the process of life as it happens.

I really enjoy Munro's writing her sense of an ending which often happens to be none at all. Her stories are of a manageable length and always have a way of punching you in the gut.

The most beautiful story in this collection was "Amundsen," the story of a woman who goes to a sanitarium as a teacher and is drawn in by the doctor. She agrees to marry him. Life has other plans. It was the most heartbreaking of stories in this collection and it stuck with me long after putting down the book. This collection is very classic Munro recipe with a Canadian base, relationship for the body, and lack of closure for taste.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Northwest Corner

John Burnham Schwartz has been on my reading list for a long time, so when Northwest Corner became available on my Kindle through the library I jumped at the chance to read this.

Twelve years after he hits a young boy and flees from the scene, Dwight has served his time and settled into a new life in California with very little contact with his old life--including his family. Until, that is, the day his college-age son shows up in his home after almost beating a fellow student to death with a baseball bat. Soon Dwight's ex-wife, the mother of his child, joins them. Together they must figure out how to function in their new reality.

I haven't yet read Reservation Road which has been on my list forever, but I didn't need to read it in order to catch up with the details of this book. Schwartz writes it as if the reader knows nothing of Dwight's past, so you can pick this up before or after Road.

This was such a beautiful book. It is written from different character perspectives and I felt that lent itself to a more 360 degree view of the situation at hand. These characters struggle with their own inner demons: Dwight with his acceptance of the past yet the desire to reconnect with his family; Ruth, his ex-wife, with her choices and a chronic illness; Sam, their son, who struggles with his own mind and his own rage; Emma, Sam's sometimes-fling and brother of the boy his father killed, with her own family unit breakdown and unclear understanding of these dynamics. It's twisty and winding but still so simple and clear--life is so complicated yet so simple.

I enjoyed sitting down and entering into the world of these people for a short time. I watched them struggle, fall, and then get back up and learn to grow again. It's a never ending process, this growing as a human being, and learning that in and of itself is a step forward. Schwartz is a languid writer who stays even-keeled in his prose. I loved it; it felt like laying on the stern of a boat on a bright, warm afternoon and just letting the waves rock me. Stories such as this are a gift.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Kiss of the Butterfly

A Mormon vampire hunter? What's not to love? This is Kiss of the Butterfly by James Lyon.

A young PhD student at a California university is studying Balkan history. His professor gives him a grant from the Balkan Ethnographic Trust to do extensive research for 12 months in the area. The only problem? It's the early '90's and the Bosnian war is going on. That, however, soon becomes the least of Steven's worries. A greater priority? Vampires. Steven's research has led him to discover that these creatures are more than just myth and that they are not happy with his digging and disseminating.

I will not lie to you, kids--I loved this book in the most indulgent, caramel-cheesecakey kind of way you can imagine. I will be the first to tell you that I don't love paranormal stories so I picked up this book expecting to feel the same about it and I ended up addicted to this book. The writing is so clear and straightforward and honest that I found myself thinking about the characters and what would happen next while I was doing things like writing a research proposal or scanning pages for work. I was a full-on addict with nothing to lose except the story
To all of my vampire-loving friends, click on the link below to purchase this Kindle book for $3.99. You will not be disappointed. I found the Balkan vampire history fascinating and I couldn't stop reading once the climax hit and the vampires came a-knockin'. I was a vampire addict for four days. Seriously, it's just delightful and indulgent and a great holiday read. For realsies.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Stolen Life

A friend bought a copy of Jaycee Dugard's memoir, A Stolen Life, and passed it on to me for weekend reading.

In 1991, Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped off the street on her way to the bus stop one spring morning. For 18 years she was held by a man and his wife as what is equivalent to their concubine. She never felt she had a chance to escape. At age 14, she became a mother to her first child and three years later she had her second child. She was never allowed to say or write her real name--until the day she could reveal herself.

I agree with my dear friend's assessment of the book. While it's not the most fluid prose or eloquent writing, it is truly Jaycee's book. She breaks up her chapters by inserting her present day thoughts into what was happening then; the rest of the chapter is written from Jaycee's perspective as a child. It's fascinating, petrifying, and like a train wreck that you can't stop watching. It's almost unbelievable what Jaycee went through and for 18 years. I absolutely do believe it, though, because truth is (almost) always stranger than fiction (I am thinking along the lines of Stephen King here, one of my ab fabs).

If you love true crime as much as I do, or if you are fascinated by the macabre, or if you just want to figure out why Jaycee didn't try to escape, you should pick this one up. I understand why she couldn't try to escape or why she didn't speak up when she was out in public, but you should try to understand for yourself. It's a crazy ride, and I closed the book thankful that Jaycee could enter back into life with her two girls.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The End of Everything

Megan Abbott's The End of Everything was right up my alley--a little bit fictional, a little bit crime-y, and a little bit wistful without being mushy. Read on, dear reader.

Lizzie and Evie are best friends. Coming to the end of 8th grade, they are preparing for all that high school brings: boys, field hockey, and grown-up things. That is, until one day Lizzie doesn't walk home with Evie; her mom is taking her to the mall. Evie doesn't make it home. For weeks the police grasp on to every lead and Lizzie holds herself responsible. Will Evie ever return? Will things ever be the same?

I was so happy I finally got my mitts on this book. It was so interesting and layered that I had a difficult time putting it down. The story is told in first person with Lizzie as the narrator, and it is fascinating to read a book written so carefully as a full-bodied character that is thirteen and so determined yet so fragile. Lizzie must mature quickly but is also still a hormonal, hurting little girl.

There is much I cannot say about this book for fear of giving away some of the plot twists, so I will say that this book was an excellent read for my weekend mental getaway. The relationships are intricate and delicate; Lizzie must navigate Evie's family as well as her own mother, and as truths come out about the day Evie disappeared and the weeks following, nothing is as simple as it seems--not even a kidnapping.

Monday, December 10, 2012


In Franzen's book of essays, Farther Away, he writes an essay on the brilliance of Alice Munro as a short story author.  So what do I do?  Check out a book of her short stories, Runaway, from the library as quick as possible.  Duh.

I can't do justice to Munro's stories so you will just have to pick the book up yourself if you want to know what they are about in detail.  They are about love lost and found and then lost again; they are about family real and imagined; they are about life as it comes and goes in the blink of an eye.  They are about life in full effect.

Muno has this way of telling story that gets you engrossed and deep into the psyche of her characters before she cuts you off and makes you think.  She is not a writer who wraps her stories up in neat little packages covered in pretty glossy paper with tight little bows; she wants to leave you hung out to dry and devastated and wondering how you just got sucker punched when you were paying so much attention.  Of course, I don't know Munro personally so I can't say for sure that this is what she desires; this is only what I took from this lovely and incredibly powerful book of short stories.

I love a book that leaves me wanting to crawl back inside of it to find the characters and ask them why, or how, what made them do what they did.  So thank you, Alice Munro, for giving me the gift of your writing.

Friday, December 7, 2012


I have been itching to read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis for years and I was recently presented with the opportunity when a friend of mine shoved in my hand and said, "You have to read this!" So I most certainly did.

During the tumultuous period in history, Marjane lives with her parents in Tehran when the Islamic Revolution breaks out. Marjane's parents privately rebel while she herself becomes more and more outspoken as she loses friends and family. Close calls occur with the authorities occur until it becomes too much for her parents. Something must change.

I was genuinely bowled over by this book. I am so glad my friend sent me away with this, the sequel, and the movie. It was gorgeous, fulfilling, and honest. It was full of pride in country and in family. The story was raw and emotionally painful at times. But it was Marjane's story, and I am so thankful she told it so I could experience it.

I believe I have said before that my life has a wonderful way of connecting information in ways I could never predict. I picked this up during Hurricane Sandy, which happened just a couple of weeks after I saw the movie Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, which focused on the American hostages taken during this time at the American embassy in Tehran. Each of these pieces of art informed and enhanced each other.

Back to Persepolis. Many of you have probably read this, but you should pick it up again. Many of you have not yet read it, and you should get it for your upcoming holiday travel. Or you might want to pick it up to give as a gift this upcoming holiday season. Hint, hint.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Everything Matters! A Novel

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. was handed to me by a publisher friend for whom this book is a favorite. I can see why, no doubt.

Junior is born with the ability to see the past, the present, and the future. He knows that at a certain point in his adulthood the world will end. He will sound crazy if he tells anyone. He confides in the love of his life, Amy. She leaves him. Through the course of his adult life, Junior spirals downward until he finally has the ability to do good. But is this how things have to turn out? What if, just maybe, he can retell his story and never confide in Amy in the first place?

I thoroughly appreciate Currie's storytelling. He is a little bit Vonnegut, a wee bit Yates, with a dash of earnestness thrown in. I loved the first 100 pages and fell in love again the last 50. I will be honest that I got a wee bit lost in the middle 150 pages, but that didn't take away my appreciation for and care for this book.

It is beautifully written and a labor of love. Junior is the heart of the book and his relationship with his family, combined with his "very special gift", make for an intriguing story that makes you want to give Junior the love he so desperately craves. I understand why he fell so in love with Amy--I might have too--and I only wanted them to work out. I won't say whether they did or not, as you must read this for yourself. But it's worth the journey, so consider lacing up your shoes and making it.


Monday, December 3, 2012

The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides: I know what you are thinking. You are saying to me, "But Nicole, you hated The Marriage Plot. Why on earth did you choose this book?" Well dear readers, I loved the Coppola movie and this was supposed to be a fantastic book. Did it live up to the build up? Read on, please.

The narrator tells us the tale of the Lisbon sisters, five neighborhood beauties whose parents treat them like porcelain dolls on display until the youngest, Cecilia, attempts suicide. Things only go downhill when she succeeds on her second try during the girls' first and only party. The Lisbon parents remove the remaining sisters from school and lock them up behind closed doors. The family only grows more peculiar until one day the girls invite the neighborhood boys over to help them run away. The only problem is that the girls intend to leave in a much different manner.

I have to say, the beauty and the heartbreak of this book surprised and heartened me. I was floored by my intense feelings of defense for the Lisbon girls in my head as I turned the final few pages of the book--by how protective I felt of them and how right I thought they might have been regardless of their horrible choice of rebellion.

As I said earlier, I loved the movie and I was hoping that this book would live up to my expectations. It most certainly did and I am thankful I picked it up and gave this world a chance.