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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, March 29, 2013

The Green Mile: A Novel

This book truly affected me deep down in my soul. Stephen King is one of my favorite writers anytime/anywhere, and this book, The Green Mile, had me on the floor in tears.

In a small town prison in the 1930's, a gentle giant is sentenced to death row for the rape and murder of twin nine-year-old girls. Everyone is aware that he didn't do it, but that is beside the point. This is the most intriguing, beguiling man to ever enter the doors of Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Who is this man? Why is he so gentle? How can he care about people as much as he does for being such a supposed monster? And why does the errant little mouse loose in the ward love him so much? Told from the point of view of Paul Edgecomb, the head of the ward, this tale of love, hope, and faith will keep you hanging on until the end.

Very few novels have had me beside myself to the point where I literally could not see the page in front of my face because my eyes were too full of tears. This novel owned me. With approximately 40 pages to the end, I had to stop and have a humongous cry, then calm myself down, allow the heaving to relax into normal breathing, then pick up this book (albeit tentatively) to finish. This was the most genuine, raw, and difficult reading experiences of my life, and I mean that in the most wonderful way possible.

It is no secret at this point that King is one of my top-five favorite authors of all time. I think he is one of the most brilliant writers to ever live, and I feel that this book is (in my very humble opinion) the defining crown in his cap. I read this book for the first time in 2005 and it has stayed with my heart and my soul since. I hear someone mention this book and I gasp out loud. I credit this book in some small part to my compassion and moral development, and I only hope that you take some time this summer to pick it up and experience it for yourself. You will not regret the time you spend with Cold Mountain Penitentiary.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Revolutionary Road

Still on vacation. I am having a blast, of course, but I will not leave you without your reading nourishment. Enjoy, and read on!

I have about five all-time-favorite books, and Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road is one of them.

Frank and April Wheeler appear to have the perfect life--a house in the suburbs, solid employment, and a happy family. It only looks perfect, though. Their life is far from it. Resentment bubbles under the surface and lingers for years growing more and more rank as the days go by. Only when they decide to make a major life change do things start to look up. Only one of them is not entirely on board.

Of course I loved the Sam Mendes' movie, but Yates has a way of breaking your heart with his words. It's incredible. Goodreads uses the term "remorseless clarity" to describe Yates' writing in the book description and I couldn't agree more. Yates writes like the smoothest sailboat ride you could imagine on the most gloriously sunny day of the year. Only suddenly your boat capsizes out from under you. When I read his writing it's like the wind in my hair, staring off into the glorious ripple of the endless water ahead of me, suspecting absolutely nothing. It's absolutely stunning. He reels me in and dashes my hopes all in one fell swoop.

I am madly in love with April Wheeler as a character. I am so drawn to her flawed optimism and caring disdain. I want to be her, only I obviously don't. I guess what I really want to do is save her. I want to change the course of her life. I want to go back to the beginning of the story and stop her and Frank every time they go to make a decision that leads to the ultimate ending. If only, if only...

I am not big into re-reading books or re-watching movies and plays. This book, however, is one of the few that I will always keep on my shelf and that I will pick up again and again. I love these characters so fiercely and I gobble Yates's words and sentences like a starved marathon runner desperate for fuel.

(Now I really want to re-read this. Laura, can I get my copy back?)

You should get this for your library. Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Road

I own this book in several forms--nice copy, highlight copy, Kindle copy. It is, hands down, my all-time favorite. Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

A post-apocalyptic America sees a father and son on a journey alone, heading to the coast. They are not sure where, , and they can not be certain what awaits them. They only know that to stay still means certain death. They have lost everything, but they have each other.

To tell you anything more would be a travesty on my part. This novel had me in pieces on the subway the first time I ventured through it. I almost missed my stop just to finish the final pages. I have read it over and over, again and again and I fall apart every time. I feel beyond devastated to the point of emptiness; it's as if McCarthy is performing open-heart surgery on me without anesthetic and with no regard to my humanness. I mean this in the absolute best way possible, because this book is genuinely one of the greatest masterpieces of our generation.

Every time I crack this book open I feel a rush of love and excitement almost immediately followed by an acute sense of loss. This book is my friend and my confidante and is so endemic of the human condition. We love fiercely and we lose anyway, but we will do all we can to protect what we have until the bitter end.

This should probably be on your shelf. Kindle on left, hard copy on right.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Haiku for the Single Girl

Hi loves! I am on vacation until Wednesday, April 3 (it's Spring Break!!!), so the next few posts will be devoted to my favorite books of all time. I will be reading non-stop while I am away so there will be plenty of new books to discuss when I return!

My sister gave me an off-list gift for Christmas a few years ago--Haiku for the Single Girl by Beth Griffenhagen. It is just so absolutely amazing I have to share it.

How do I even begin? It's a book of haiku about being a single girl. Some are silly, some are serious, but all of them are riotously true. I have dog-eared the daylights out of this book with my favorite ones. Seriously, I look back on this all the time, especially after a bad date and I need to be reminded that I'm awesomely single.

I won't actually reprint any of the haiku here since you need to read this for yourself. It's short and sweet, gift-book size if you will, so it's not heavy reading. It's sweet and lovely with adorable line drawings to illustrate the poetry. Just get it. You will love it.

It makes a great gift. For others, or for yourself.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Both Flesh and Not: Essays

I love David Foster Wallace. I love his love of vocabulary, of grammar, of sentence structure. I love the way he plays with our understanding of it all. So here are the essays of Both Flesh and Not.

Mr. Wallace's collection (well, the one the publisher put together anyway) runs the gamut from his love of tennis to his outward contempt for people who use words incorrectly. One essay excoriates those who choose to use words such as "if" and "individual" in incorrect forms. It's hard not to love him. His guest editor introduction to The Best American Essays 2007 is reprinted here under the title, "Deciderization 2007 - A Special Report" which I just adored through every word, period, and comma. Honestly, I could have ended the book after the second essay, "Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young," reprinted from The Review of Contemporary Fiction in 1988. I, too, have issues with the mid-80's trio of Family Dancing, Less Than Zero, and Bright Lights, Big City that (for the most part) align with Wallace's convictions. I fell even deeper in love with the writer three sentences into this essay and could have died happy just then and there.

I think David Foster Wallace is one of those writers with whom you either fall in love or quickly come to despise. I love the riddle that is his writing, so much in fact that I am taking the whole year to read Infinite Jest. I have adored his books of essays and I can't wait to read more. His way around a sentence is nothing short of marvelous and frankly, awesome. "Federer Both Flesh and Not" is a riot in the way that this man could take his love of a sport and heighten it to a level worth of a Pulitzer.

His final essay in this collection, "Just Asking," reprinted from a 2007 edition of The Atlantic, stunned me with its honest and forthright of our government and our blindness to everyday sacrifices. Want to know of what I speak? Read the book.

What a loss to the literary community, and anyone who loves a smart read. I am thankful to have found his words.

Yours to own. Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Adults: A Novel

This book cover reminded me of an amazingly well-done and creepy movie I remember seeing years ago, so of course I was all like, "Uh, yeah I want to read The Adults by Alison Espach!"

Emily Vidal is an exceptionally smart teenager, and particularly perceptive of the world around her. She knows her father is sleeping with Mrs. Resnick next door and that her mother is not quite as stable as she seems. She knows her teacher, Mr. Basketball, finds her attractive. And she knows that as her father moves to Prague and her parents divorce that she must find a way to fend for herself. As Emily grows into an adult herself, she must face her choices of both past and present.

I dove into this book like a fly into pudding--it looked yummy and smelled yummy and I had no idea what a crazy time that was going to be. Of course I mean that in a great way because this book was a literary crazy-fest.

I love that from the beginning it seems this book is going to be about Emily's observance of the adults around her when in fact this story spans quite a bit into Emily's adulthood. I watched the ramifications of Emily's choices as a young teenager hit with the force of a dump truck in her early 20's and then again in her late 20's. I watched Emily grow up but not, because at the end of the day aren't we always just an arrested development hologram of who we feel we should be? Or is that just me?

This book was thick and juicy and eye-popping with with words. Espach is a master of mood and I felt like a visitor in the WASP-y confines of Emily's life, from then to now. I watched with fascination at Emily waded through her world of unknowns and I am so happy I had a chance to sit for a spell with this woman and her world.

Try it on for size. Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie: A Novel

I was introduced to The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis before it came out--it turns out Ms. Mathis is a friend of a friend. So I was urged to pick up this book ASAP.

Hattie and her family narrowly escape trouble in Georgia and settle in Philadelphia in the early 20th century. There she meets August, marries at 15, and finds herself with two beautiful twin babies soon after. Their death as infants marks Hattie permanently, closing her off to love and affection for the rest of her nine children and her husband. Each child faces trials of their own told over the course of fifty years, several good choices and even more bad ones, multiple heartaches, and numerous loves and losses. Each child must find his or her own way in the world while still finding a way to accept the family for exactly who they are--each and every one of them.

This book was beautiful. So much heartache in such a small book--the level of emotion contained in these pages was astounding. We are from where we come, and each of the Shepherd children must find a way to accept self and reconcile their past with his or her present and, subsequently, his or her future. Each story is an emotional roller coaster ride that lead the reader on a search for happiness, love, and peace of spirit.

This book was a wonderful way to pass the time over the weekend. I love that the stories were broken up and that each one built on the last in chronological order. I loved the family unit that was together yet so separate, and I found the storytelling narrative that flowed through time to be coherent and excellent. I love that each child knew so much more than Hattie thought could be possible--just as children believe their parents have no clue, parents have no clue that their children actually know that which we would like to hide. Family secrets can only remain as such for so long.

Add this to your library. Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Andalucian Friend: A Novel

Alexander Soderberg's The Andalucian Friend was such a genuine mindf&%# that I can't wait for you to read it for yourself--that's just how awesome this experience was for me.

Hector Guzman is the powerful leader of a crime syndicate in Stockholm. Someone tries to break his legs, he winds up in a hospital, and meets Sophie Brinkmann, a single mother and devoted nurse. She is intrigued by this man and agrees to meet him again outside of the hospital and finds herself embroiled in an international feud between families, criminals, and the police that seems to have more curves than the Andes mountains. If she can make it out alive, will she lose everything--or gain so much more?

This book is a solid piece of work and I ripped through it like it was a picture book for three-year-olds. I debated cancelling class yesterday so that I could finish it in piece--I mean, how was I supposed to lecture on cultural diversity when the Russians were trying to kill the Spaniards? Who would live? And who would die? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WORK UNDER THESE CONDITIONS?!?

Seriously, though, this story is so ingeniously crafted and so consistent across the board that it is as addicting to a serious reader as pixie sticks are to small pageant contestants. The characters are beautifully shaped and are so vivid and so authentic that I honestly expect to encounter them the next time I travel to Scandinavia. In fact, this book has such a hook in me that I may just go there before the year is out.

Soderberg has built a spiderweb of a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat (quite literally, if you are riding NYC transportation) and will make you miss parts of your life for fear that the story will go on with you. I. Love. This. Book. So. Hard.

And then I find out this is the first book of a forthcoming trilogy??? Holy hell, I don't think you understand how much I am currently salivating for the second book. Hurry, please, Mr. Soderberg?

For you, dear readers. Don't miss this one. Kindle on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mumbai New York Scranton

Tamara Shopsin's Mumbai New York Scranton grabbed my attention with its premise: A tale in three cities about life, love, and discovery.

Tamara meets her husband in Mumbai for a whirlwind tour of India. It's an amazing and new experience, it's just too bad that she becomes ill while there. Don't drink the water, they say. When they return to New York she remains sick thinking that it's jet lag, the remains of her trip, etc. She and her hubby head off to Scranton where they have their second home. One night the pain becomes too much and Tamara heads to the doctor. Life will soon change.

I honestly can't give away any more detail than that. I was so happy that I walked into this book only knowing slight details because the shock and the emotional journey was so much more real than if I had suspected what was to come.

This book is full of pictures from their trips and Tamara's beautiful and simply drawn illustrations to help guide the story along. Sometimes there are no words--you need visual representation. I loved Tamara's intense search for meaning in all she does, and I love her imagery in her world. This was a lovely book.

For you! Kindle on left, hard copy on right.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Thousand Pardons: A Novel

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee jumped out at me when I read the description. How does a family cope with each others' choices?

Ben and Helen are trying to make their marriage work for the sake of their daughter, Sara, until one night Ben makes choices that will forever affect the trajectory of their family. Helen must move on from her marriage and forge a life of her own--something she has never had to do in her almost two decades of marriage. She finds a job in which she can excel and settles into her new life just before it's thrown back into chaos by the return of her ex-husband, her daughter's adolescence, and the surprise and life-altering appearance from a childhood love. How do we learn to ultimately forgive each other and ourselves?

This is not a book for the weary-hearted. It is a deep and thoughtful look at a family fallen apart and put back together again. This is a concentrated character study that looks at a group of people so lost and in search of their true selves that it serves as a reminder of how fragile we all truly are in this world.

Ben is a lost soul who is forced to find himself when messes up so hideously that he loses everything that he has. Gaining it back takes time and a contentedness that must be built and earned, not taken from somewhere else. Helen is a woman who has far more strength and savvy than she could ever imagine she has deep down inside of her. It takes gumption to not allow the difficult times to overtake you, and Helen stood up to the challenge when called upon. They must find a way to coexist and to make their new and slightly dysfunctional relationship work--if not for themselves, then for the family, the home, and the respect they once had for and and with one another.

I found myself incredibly invested in this book. Every time I picked this book back up I felt I was descending a staircase into the dark recesses of Ben's and Helen's lives. I felt a part of their world, and I wanted their story to turn out all right--if anyone could figure out what "all right" was in this case. I loved the flawed human beings that Dee built in his characters and the openness with which he shared these people with us, his readers. I closed the book understanding the old adage that if everything is not right in the end, then it's not the end--and I certainly did not think the end of the book was the end of the road for these incredible and multilayered characters.

Add this to your collection. Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Miniature Wife and Other Stories

The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales. Let's get started.

A plane is hijacked and it never lands. A man miniaturizes his wife--and there is hell to pay. A zombie tries to make it as a person in the real world. A strange beast is eating all of the animals. Africa (as in the continent) is gone. Also, you should always bring cash to a killing. This crazy and incredible book of short stories will knock your socks off. I lie not.

I had no idea what to expect jumping into this book and thank goodness for that. Every story I read sucked me in like a vacuum and sunk its tentacles in me like an octopus. I felt like I dove headfirst into the spine of this book and lived inside of it for a few days. I started each new story with trepidation not because I didn't like the book, but because I knew that I would lose myself for a period of time and wake up in a world where things are so insane it's delightful.

I have been recommending this book nonstop since I got to the middle story. It's wild and completely unpredictable; not every story has an otherworldly tint to it but that's part of it's charm. You never know what you are going to get next. Gonzales is a superb writer and his voice is one that we will be hearing from again and again as the years roll on. His imagination rivals the best of them, and his pen glides across the page to create narratives that are astounding.

Did I mention you should always bring cash to a killing? (This was my favorite story.)

I adored, adored, adored this book. Amazing. Phenomenal. A must-read.

Get this book NOW. Kindle on left, hard copy on right:

Monday, March 4, 2013


Oh, my Mormons. How I love stories about thee. That's why I picked up Elders by Ryan McIlvain. I got so much more than I bargained for in beauty, in characters, and in story.

Elder McLeod is so close to finishing up his mission in Brazil; just a few more months and he can head home. The only problem? He has yet to find the security in his faith he set out to find on this mission. When he is joined by a new partner, Elder Passos, Elder McLeod must dig deep to find care, honesty, and forgiveness, which isn't easy--each has his own demons with which to wrestle. As Elder McLeod's choices lead toward a final, fateful one, these two learn what friendship is and how fraught it is with emotional landmines.

This book was a lovely and beautiful piece of artwork on love, faith, and struggle. It is earnest and careful, and McIlvain cares for his protagonists so deeply. It shows in the writing. These boys have such beautiful characters arcs and they are written so beautifully that it is hard to not understand McLeod's choices that result in his downfall. I couldn't blame him for his choices, which did not mean that I cheered him on. I could only be a mother to him and hug him when he returned from his mission.

I also found this same pathos for Elder Passos who had lost his mother at a young age and yearned for a faith that could guarantee the hereafter on a tangible level, which the Mormon faith was able to give him. Even if you despise the dogmatic you can't help but feel such empathy for the young man who only yearns for what he had and seeks solace in his rigid beliefs.

It's just a lovely, lovely book that speaks to the humanity in us all, regardless of our faith, gender, or creed. I feel so honored to have read this novel that spoke to my soul.

For you!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Heartburn: A Novel

After the indefatigable Nora Ephron passed away early last year, her novel Heartburn was spoken about in such high regard. I had to wait over six months to get this from the library! It was worth the (patient) wait.

Seven months pregnant, Rachel discovers that her husband, Mark, is in love with another woman. What the...?!? As Rachel learns to cope with this new revelation, she must also decide what her next course will be. With one small child and another on the way, will she stay with Mark? Or will she leave behind the life they have put together in Washington, D.C. or will she return to her home in New York City? And can we all just beat Mark to a pulp for being a moron?

This book made me fall in love with it slowly and surely. It took a handful of pages to get into, but once I did, I became super protective of Rachel and I was full-fledged on her side. It is no secret that this roman a clef was written by Ephron after her marriage with Carl Bernstein fell apart, and as I read it I kept saying to myself, "Carl, you dirty dog!"

I really did grow to love the characters Ephron created in this piece with such pathos and care. I just think Ephron is a lovely, witty, heartfelt writer, and it all came out in this book. I felt that Rachel and I were genuinely friends because the sentences that would come out of her sounded like they came from my world:

"A man in a plaid shirt sitting next to me [on the subway] looked at me and winked. I immediately wondered whether he was single, and if so, whether he was a college graduate and strait" (p. 50). Yes, I too wonder these things in this same order, Rachel.

"I think of myself as a healthy person with a strong sex drive, but it's never occurred to me to forgo meals" (p. 63). Preach it, sister.

There are some recipes in here (toasted almonds, cheesecake), but the recipe for humor and care was the best thing I took away from this novel. Ephron is surely missed, but her candor and humor remain in her work for which I am so grateful for time spent with it.

Buy the book below; Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right: