Featured Post

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...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Most Dangerous Thing

I can't even remember how I heard of The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman. All I can say is that I am so glad I picked this book up.

Tim, Sean, and Go-go, the Halloran brothers, were inseparable from best friends Mickey and Gwen in childhood. They spent their days together wandering the woods on the outskirts of town and generally being kids until the night of the hurricane. Something so horribly unspeakable happens that it tears their group up for good. Decades later Gwen returns to town to take care of her injured father and discovers Go-go is recently dead. This leads everyone to reexamine what happened that night--or what it is they think happened. The truth may not always be what it seems.

This book was two parts engrossing, one part creepy, and a whole lotta intriguing. So intriguing, in fact, that it was super hard to put down. I love that the book toggled between present day and the past in order to give me, the reader, an understanding of what led up to the night in question and how those events related to who each person is in present day. The incident shaped these characters' lives in ways you won't understand completely until you get to the very end of the book. It is wild.

Lippman has created a world in which each child has grown up into an arrested version of themselves had they made different decisions. When the second section of the book begins and the story is told by the adults, everything you thought you knew is thrown off the rails. We never really know our parents until we are grown, do we?

As usual, Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries

I loved The Psychopath Test, so I hurriedly jumped into the library queue for Jon Ronson's Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries. It made my week.

Ronson's book of investigative essays read as though you are sitting across the kitchen table from him listening to him tell you tales of his work. He looks at how credit card companies choose you to hit up rather than your neighbor, what happens if you go missing on a cruise ship, and why the Insane Clown Posse are only pretending to be hard-core killers and abusers but are actually evangelical Christians. He goes to the North Pole in Alaska to investigate a school shooting plot, to the East Coast to interview assisted suicide advocates, and to five different homes in the USA that represent a range of incomes from desolate to billionaire.

This outstanding piece of work is a book you should experience. Ronson has an incredible way of sharing the stories of people you might never have even considered exist. Sometimes they are people on the fringes, but other times they are people whose stories have layers that peel back like an onion to reveal a surprising humanity.

What I love most about Ronson is how much judgement he reserves for his subjects. Whether it's alien invasion or an obsession with projecting all-Christmas-all-the-time, you never know exactly what Ronson is thinking about these people he is interviewing. Oh sure, as the reader you are very aware that he is fascinated by them and wants to know more, but whether or not he thinks this people are batty is never known.

I learned so much from this book and I am so happy I added it to my queue this month. I strongly suggest you pick it up if you have even the slightest bit of curiosity in life.

This too can be yours for a read. Kindle on left, hard copy on right.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Casual Vacancy

I waited for J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy for months. It came! It came! It came!

Barry Fairbrother keels over on his anniversary without warning. His death shocks the entire town of Pagford where Barry sits on the town council and is in the midst of quite a fight over whether or not to keep an addiction clinic up and running. Barry's death leads to some down and dirty fighting over his empty council seat while everyone deals with their own demons. People's lives are not always what they appear.

I will be upfront and say this is a bit of a weighty book, but it is pure Rowling and I loved it.

Rowling is such a whimsical writer, and what I mean by this is not that her stories are light and fluffy and bright or that her characters are imaginary, but that she writes with a flourish that I find so intriguing and lovely. She has created a large set of characters that fascinating individually and practically addicting as a set. Who knew that a man who only appears on a handful of pages could be such a commanding presence throughout the rest of the book? Barry Fairbrother is a commanding presence even in death.

Rowling takes on a vast array of characters, from a mama's boy in a frustrated marriage to a seemingly happy marriage that holds dark secrets that they may not even know; from a foreign doctor who cared deeply about the deceased to a man in love with his dead best friend's wife; from a school principal with a secret to hide to the daughter of a drug addict only trying to get by. It's an incredible mishmosh of goodness.

The author tells the story with such deftness and a with a beautiful story arc that it's hard to put the book down at times. It's funny and sad and wistful and honest, each emotion popping up like a Wackamole game--sometimes just one and sometimes they come all at once. I closed this book with a final sadness that can only be rivaled in great reading. Bravo to Rowling for producing such a lovely piece of literature.

Love Rowling, love her book. Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Ten-Year Nap: A Novel

This was a book that was passed on to me by a friend; these things always make me so happy. I dove into Meg Wolitzer's The Ten-Year Nap one rainy Saturday last week, and I found myself in the familiar world of New York City.

A group of four married mothers in New York City are panged with what could have been--had they made different choices, had they worked harder in their careers, had they not given it up to stay home. All of these questions lead each woman to reexamine that which she holds dear and to each make the ultimate decision about how to genuinely find happiness in the world she has chosen.

This book was a thick murky lake that I dove into headfirst. It's not difficult to relate to women who wonder what might have been, or what might be different if only you knew then what you know now. Each of these women married young and had children in their 20's; now that their children are old enough to be moving toward adulthood these women must find themselves independent of their children and husbands. There is love and resentment, excitement and bitterness. It's a roller coaster ride of emotions.

It's not unlike life. It's easy to sit and wonder about the vastly different life you could have if you only took another course, but as these women discovered, it's not worth playing the "what if" game. It's more worth your time to let it go and enjoy your life exactly as you have it now.

You can get the book below; Kindle on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me

A graphic memoir about manic depression? Of course I want to read it, silly goose! This is Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney. Pass it over.

Ellen Forney has been a celebrated cartoonist for most of her life. All is well until she realizes one day that it isn't. She is diagnosed as bipolar and struggles for the next decade to get the peaks and valleys, which she can now name, under control. It's a long process fraught with drug changes, informing those around her, and acceptance of what it is. Ellen chronicles this with her trademark wit and drawings.

I love graphic novels for the exact same reason that I love musicals. I once heard someone describe musicals as necessary for hard or dark information. When we no longer have words, we sing. I feel that this is similar to the needs of graphic novels; sometimes words just aren't enough and a picture can tell us so much more of what we need to know with twice the emotional power.

I found this memoir to be touching and powerful. It is hard to watch someone you know and love spiral downward into their own mind, and it is even worse on the inside. I felt that Forney really captured the essence of the highs and lows of this disease while being so brutally honest with the reader about her struggles. I am so appreciative that she went out on a limb to present the realities of her disease as seen through her eyes.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Innocents

There was this one time I reviewed Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence. Not long after that, Francesca Segal released her updated remake of the classic story of lust and tradition, The Innocents. This is its story.

In London, Adam is madly in love with Rachel and has always been so, ever since meeting her at summer camp at 16. He proposes over a decade later and they begin planning the rest of their lives together. That is, until Rachel's cousin Ellie shows up from America. Ellie is someone Adam has never seen before--sexy and confident yet so in need of care. She throws his life for a loop, and his relationship with Rachel may never be the same.

This was a world of which I am totally unfamiliar: the elite Jewish community of suburban London. It was incredibly interesting and not unlike Wharton's original to watch class and society play out among the crowd. I have to say that I am impressed with Segal's present-day interpretation of the classic; it translated well and kept the forbidden-love vibe alive and well in the text.

There was also a mirrored feeling of lusciousness that filled the pages. Segal's writing was proper and staid in the same way that I found Wharton's without being a copy. The author did an excellent job of staying true to the essence of the main character's tale of woe but updating it and making the story much more accessible to anyone under the age of 40. This was an great read for a rainy afternoon and a hot cup of chamomile.

As usual, Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker

I was attracted to this book by the tell-all promises that came with the reviews and by the go-girl magazine pluck of the great read Good Girls Revolt. I was hoping Janet Groth's The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker would be along the same lines.

With the audacity and pluck that only a recent college graduate could have, Janet lands herself a receptionist position at The New Yorker in the 1950's. For 21 years she has the best seat in the house; she witnesses greatness and failure, love and affairs, and celebrities out the wazoo.

This memoir had some interesting moments. When Groth was speaking about instances that occurred at the magazine, I was all in and interested. Unfortunately, most of this memoir is about Groth's life in New York City as a whole and less about the great stories of the history of the magazine. It is very focused on Groth's love life over the course of her life in New York, little of which occurred inside the magazine save for one love affair that went horribly wrong. It is not a bad read, but it is also nothing that I haven't read before.

But, as I said, when Groth writes about the goings-on at the magazine the book really peaks interest. Stories about the men (and yes, the writers were almost exclusively men at this point in time) and their exploits were fascinating; who had affairs, who was boozed out most of the time, and who got sacked when they couldn't hack it any longer. It was particularly interesting listening to Groth talk about her momentary promotion of which she was slickly pushed out when she went on vacation. That is the stuff of which a memoir about The New Yorker is made.

You can get the book here (Kindle on left, hard copy on right):

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Drowning House: A Novel

A good suspense is so good for your heart. Gives it a solid workout. Let's get to Elizabeth Black's The Drowning House, shall we?

Clare Porterfield's life is falling apart. Her marriage is at an impasse, her family is estranged, and her daughter died one year ago. When Clare is called home to Galveston to put together a gallery exhibit, she realizes that things are not what they seem--and they may never have been. Secrets abound in both the present and the past for everyone.

Heads up: this book is about to get a rave.

I was smitten from the first chapter. This book was incredibly intriguing, filled with strange characters and a murky story--it was downright riveting. If I could paint this book a color, it would be a hazy, dark, midnight purple, almost Gothic. I digress; back to the incredibleness that poured from this book.

Clare is a phenomenal character--truthful with a clear character arc, yet so humanly fragile and flawed. The story is told in first person and I felt that Black just folded me into this character. I knew her, inside and out. While I was horribly intrigued by the secrets and deceptions withheld from me, the reader, I was calm throughout the book, knowing that they would all unfold slowly like a blanket hiding a trinket to be savored.

Black has created a world of fascination that anyone from a small town can understand. She paints the town of Galveston in a full, colorful picture and she creates characters that won't let you down. Each holds a piece to the puzzle. Dive in and let the waves wash over you. You won't be disappointed by spending time in this world.

You should click below and buy the book. Really. Kindle on left, hard copy on right. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain has been everywhere lately--on all of the "Best Of 2012" lists, book blogs, magazines. You name it, the book is there.

Bravo company returns home for their victory tour--they survived a firefight with rebel insurgents in Iraq, losing two of their company members. After spending weeks traveling around the country, and two nights and one day at home with their families, the company heads to Dallas to attend the Cowboy's Thanksgiving game as guests. A half-time show, dozens of drinks, and a movie deal later, the company can't quite figure out what hit them--both literally and figuratively.

I was so taken by this book and by Billy Lynn. Fountain has created a character so honest and truthful in a nineteen year-old soldier who joined the army rather than face further consequences for defending his sister's honor. I adored his relationship with his completely imperfect family, even his louse of a father who in his infirmity makes his family unhappy. Billy's short time home is so sad yet it is written with such love and care that sometimes I couldn't help but smile.

It is, however, Bravo company's scenes at the Cowboys games that are the funniest and most warming to read. Fountain reminds his readers that those who are fighting are often just boys, young men who are like any others you might see on any given Sunday. They drink, they joke around, and they make fun of one another, but these boys have something deeper than any other group at the game--they are truly a band of brothers. It was touching to watch their relationship unfold in the pages of this book.

There is so much wrapped into these 300 or so pages, both physically written in the book and emotionally in my soul. I am thankful for Billy's story.

You can read this gem yourself! Kindle on the left, hard copy  on the right:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An Italian Obsession

I really enjoyed Kfir Luzzatto's Have Book, Will Travel, so I was happy to pick up his latest, An Italian Obsession, over the holidays.

Roberto grew up in 1970's Italy, where sex was frequent and drugs were ubiquitous. Roberto falls in love, loses love, and works the underground cigarette market. He gets caught in the act and is sent away; before he knows it, he commits a crime so great it will change the course of his life. This coming of age tale reveals that you can't outrun your past.

Luzzatto's stories are like winding paths in the forest--you can never be too sure where you might end up if you just stay on the path long enough. You might take a sharp turn without warning after miles of walking calmly in a strait line. That's what makes Luzzatto's writing so interesting, and this book was no exception.

Luzzatto spends a great deal of time on character development, and his story arc is dependent upon these strong and defined characters. I was able to dive into the events of this book and care about the outcome of the people involved. His story kept me on my toes and kept my fingers turning the page to find out what would happen next; it made for a great reading experience.

As usual, Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right. Enjoy!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Clive: A Memoir

The title references to inestimable Clive Davis. Don Silver's Clive grabbed me with its description of Silver's time spend with Clive in the music business. I was hooked!

Don Silver knew he wanted to be in the music since he was a small child. He clawed his way into Arista records to work under Clive Davis, only to discover that all that glitters is not gold. This is his story and his relationship with the big man who holds all the musical power.

This book was short and sweet. Silver tells his story as it is, from the soul-crushing search for a job in a field in which you are dying to work to the stomping of that dream when you finally get where you think you want to be. It's true, I think, for most passion-driven fields: You think it's where you want to be until you get there and all that you love becomes demystified.

I really appreciate Silver's memoir, as it came at a time in my life when I was struggling with these very same things. To stay or not to stay in a job you always thought you wanted but never knew was not for you? Silver finds his way post-Clive but never really gets over the larger than life character. And who would? Not I, said the sheep.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus jumped out at me with it's super cool cover and interesting premise. I have never read anything like this before. Ever.

A hikikomori is a shut-in--one who shuts him- or herself in by choice. A man has become a hikikomori after the death of his son. He is punishing himself for killing his son. But did Thomas actually kill his son? His wife tries desperately to get him out of his padlocked room to no avail. So she hires Megumi, a rental sister, to try to persuade Thomas to leave. Sometimes life just isn't what we expect it to be--now, or ever. It can surprise you.

I have been head over heels for this book since I read it late last year. I have been telling everyone that I have found this incredible book that you must read. The chapters toggle between Thomas's first-person thought process and third-person understanding of Megumi. I grew to know Megumi and the hurt in her past. My heart absolutely bled for Silke, Thomas's wife, who only wants her husband back so that they may move past their grief and form a life together again. I grieved with this couple and I rooted for them. I wanted all of these characters to simply find their way in this crazy maze of life.

Backhaus has written a most elegant yet halting novel that made me wish I could know what is happening in his brain and, of course, when his next book is coming out. I was shocked at the love I had for this book and the utter and complete need I feel to get this book in your hands. It's fairly short and can be read in a manageable amount of time and it is certainly worth picking up for the long, cold winter afternoons by the fire. This book is so lovely. Have I mentioned yet that you must read it?

Get this book for yourself, and fast:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Chronicles of Gilderam, Book One: Sunset

I have been waiting on this novel for almost five years. Yes, you read that right: FIVE YEARS. So when I get an email with the book attached, of course I dropped everything and picked up my Kindle to read Kevin Kelleher's Chronicles of Gilderam, Book One: Sunset.

This novel is epic. Owein is a bodyguard hired to protect a great new ship on its maiden voyage...until the ship is attacked and all hell breaks loose. Owein discovers that he is at the center of a much larger prophesy in which he is the chosen one--you know, as if he doesn't have enough to deal with fighting off bad guys. His team of unlikely allies must defeat forces much bigger than they ever could have imagined in order to survive, and in turn, save the world.

First of all, I have known Kevin for some time and I am ridiculously proud that this book is not only out but that it is outstanding. We all know that I am not the greatest lover of fantasy and science fiction, but I loved the story here. The opening sequence of this book hooked me immediately and my mother had to drag me away from the couch to help with Christmas dinner. Nothing says Merry Christmas like pirates on a ship.

There were many times throughout this book that I just shook my head in disbelief at the sheer volume of creativity and thought and care that went into crafting this story. The detail is superb and not a question was left standing in my head about who these characters were, what their relations were, and what their arcs were. I cared deeply about the characters, and I specifically have to applaud Kevin for his creation of strong female characters. A lady captain? I can get behind that! Go team!

I am a lover of stories, be they in print, on the stage, or on the screen. Anyone who can craft a narrative that is strong, tight, and fluid gets my vote. Sunset is that story. The writing is solid yet creative and intelligent, and I seriously raced though this book in just a matter of days. That, my friends, is the mark of a good action story.

I think you would feel better about yourself if you just pre-ordered the book below. Unless you are reading this after January 2013, in which you will order it in real time. Also, check out Kevin's website.