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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 28, 2013

Wave: A Memoir

Memoir is one of my favorite genres, bar none. I love a good thriller, mystery, true crime, etc., but memoir will always rank toward the top. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala has been rated as one of the top memoirs of 2013, and I couldn't agree more.

The day after Christmas, 2003. Off the coast of Sri Lanka, a giant wave unexpectedly overtakes the land off the coast, as far as two miles inland. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Five of those lives were the Sonali's family--her husband, her two small boys, and her two parents. She doesn't want to go on living without her family, and few can blame her. Friends and family come from all over the world to sit watch over her to protect her from herself. Over the next decade, Sonali struggles to regain her strength and to rebuild a life without those whom she cherished more than anything else in the world.

This book will knock. your. socks. off. Like, right off your feet. Boom. Off.

You will sit mesmerized by Sonali's retelling of the events of December 26, 2003. You will desperately search with her for her family after she is rescued from the devastation. You will cry with her as she recounts the first few days, weeks, months, and years after this date. You will feel your heart warm as she goes back in time and recounts moments from her childhood, meeting her husband, and building a family with him. You will hide your head in shame as she details her mental breakdown and stalking of the new inhabitants of her childhood home. You will cry with her as she spells out her grief and the absolute devastation that wave brought on to her life. You will share her outrage at her friends and family telling her that she will move on--you know as well as she does that moving on is damned near impossible. You will ride this roller coaster of hell as she tries so desperately to rebuild her life. You, too, will experience the difficulty of what to tell people when they ask if she has a family.

(What am I talking about? You. I meant me. This is how I felt and I have no doubt you will feel the exact same way. So go on--get the book already.)

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sisterland: A Novel

I am a Curtis Sittenfeld fan. I really enjoyed American Wife (which I read way before the existence of this blog), and I am looking forward to taking Prep to the beach this summer. So of course I picked up Sisterland as soon as I could. [Insert happy dance here.]

Violet and Daisy are identical twins--both of whom were born with extrasensory perception. As they grew older they forged their separate paths, with Daisy becoming "Kate" in college, marrying, and becoming a mother to two small children. Violet left college after six weeks, moved home to St. Louis, bounced between jobs, and attempted to build her psychic practice. When Violet is interviewed on the local news following a small earthquake, she predicts a much larger and more destructive quake in the near future. This brings national attention and widens the rift between the sisters. Will the quake happen on the predicted day--and regardless whether or not it does, will the sisters ever be able to repair their relationship?

I was completely captivated by this book. Whole hog, all in, couldn't stop thinking about it. There were other books that I had waiting to be read, begging to be read, and I had to be all like, "No, other books, you can't be read right now. Sisterland is just too amazeballs." Sittenfeld's writing is so beguiling that I dare you, double dog dare you, to try to stop reading to do simple things like sleep and eat. You won't be able to do it.

Her characters are so mesmerizing that I become enamored by page 10. I loved Kate. I wanted to support Kate by reaching into the book, grabbing hold of her hand, and telling her to not worry so much. It wasn't a matter of whether the earthquake would happen--it was like a scary movie, where the build up is what counts. The build up to the actual event (or is it a non-event?) is what counts. And that count is high.

Being so enthralled and engrossed in a novel is something I live for, and being inside of this world for a short time was amazing. Sittenfeld has this magical way of creating characters with such fascinating back stories that my eyes light up while reading, and she has a knack for weaving her exposition throughout her story. Superb-o-licious.

It's the journey you seek out when you pick up a Sittenfeld book, not the destination. Isn't that amazing? That while I wanted to know whether or not the earthquake would occur, it was secondary to the relationships in the book, both between the twins together and between the twins and the others in their lives.


Get your copy now. Kindle on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Love All: A Novel

Dysfunctional families are right up my alley, so I jumped on Callie Wright's Love All ASAP.

Anne never expected that her mother would pass before her father, but that is exactly what happens when she suddenly finds herself moving her father into her home. Anne's marriage with Hugh is already rocky and her teenage children are going through their own growing pains. Underneath all of this lies a book from their small town's past that holds the dirty little secrets of the town--infidelities, unhappiness, and family drama, warts and all. Can one family explore what it means to have three generations living together, and and can they become a functioning family?

I love families that are depicted as real and dysfunctional, because in real-life I have yet to meet a family that doesn't have at least one crazy family member or a dark horse hiding somewhere. The Obermeyer family is just that, and Wright portrays them as they are with no sugar coating allowed. The story is told from several different perspectives, each of which is different yet each of which matches up with the other. It's intriguing, and it kept me turning the page.

My favorite character was Hugh, Anne's husband and proprietor of the local preschool. I found him to be the most raw and conflicted of the characters (yes, even more so than his children!) because as an adult, he was making poor choices, realizing these choices, yet still pushing forward to make his family work regardless of his bad (or is is good???) behavior. Wright's portrayal of a real-life marriage felt a bit like salt in a wound; being a grown-up with responsibilities to others outside of yourself is a fact of growing up and having a family--but that doesn't mean it's ever easy.

Kindle copy on left, hard copy on right.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Silent Wife: A Novel

A woman may have killed her cheating husband? How quickly can I pick up this book? The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison.

Jodi has the seemingly perfect life. She is able to do what she loves thanks to the success of her husband's home building business. She has dinner on the table every night with a bottle of white chilling on the counter. She is able to use her impeccably dressed and lovely personality to help others as a therapist. The only problem is that underneath the perfect facade lies a marriage that is falling apart--her husband, Todd, has impregnated his mistress and leaves Jodi. She is about to lose everything she loves. Is she capable of the ultimate revenge?

How marvelously indulgent this book was for my daily reading. This book was like a train wreck in that the jolt and flip that comes at a certain point in the book (of which you will need to be surprised!) will knock you off your feet. The ride is smooth sailing--you sit back in your first class chair, indulge in your cold mixed drink of choice, and just as you start to feel comfortable and relaxed the train jumps off its tracks and knocks you into the next zip code.

That, my dear readers, is The Silent Wife.

I was addicted to this book in a way that I couldn't tell you at the time. You know how there is a type of food that when you try it, you say, "It's ok...wait, give me another bite. Hm, ok...give me another bite. And another. And...holy moly, this is incredible!" And you just can't stop eating it because it turns out it's crazy insane good in the most addictive way possible? Uh, yeah, try the few days I spent with my nose in this book. I couldn't stop reading in this kind of curious way. The characters are fascinating--full of false pretenses yet revealing so much. Utterly fascinating.

Oh, what a marvelous beach read. Kindle copy on left, hard copy on right.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book Expo America 2013

Every year in late May, Book Expo America comes to town. It’s the world’s largest trade show for books, and this was my first year in attendance. I was super excited to go. Because I started a summer job the week of BEA I was only able to attend on Saturday, but what a day it was!

It was a pleasure to meet so many publishers with whom I have had the distinct pleasure of reading and reviewing their work. A huge thank you to all of the publishers who trust me with their book babies—it means so much to be able to do what I love to do on this blog. (And of course, I love my readers hard-core too!)

It was books galore. I was able to get my mitts on some of the books I have been dying to read, namely The Testing, of which I read an excerpt a few months back and have been wanting to sink my eyeballs into.

There were many other autographs to be had, and most books I took away will show up on this blog over the next few months. I am so appreciative of all the authors who took the time to come out and sign books, meet with fans, and converse with the public who so adores them. 

Speaking of which, even though I had already read and reviewed Transatlantic the day before I attended BEA, I waited on line in order to meet this beautiful man and snag an unblemished copy of one of the most beautiful books I have read of late. Also, the autograph didn't hurt.

I was as giddy as a preteen at a Justin Bieber concert with a free t-shirt. 

The other great thing I did while there was attend a panel on book clubs with Wally Lamb and Elizabeth Gilbert. I love them both, with The Hour I First Believed (Lamb) and Committed (Gilbert) particularly sticking out as some favorites, and while I don’t really do book clubs I wanted to hear them speak. In particular, I wanted to hear them speak about their new books! It was a great discussion and both Mr. Lamb and Ms. Gilbert are superb human beings. I love writers who are kind and appreciative of their fans, and both stayed after for the reception and spoke with those of us in attendance. If, on a one-in-a-million chance either of you are reading this—you both are my heroes. Thank you for your love!

I took this picture for my mama, an Eat, Pray, Love fan. Thank you Ms. Gilbert, for being awesome!

Overall it was a great experience, and I am super pumped to go all three days next year, plus attend the bloggers conference. If you are in the New York City area and are interested in attending, BEA does a “Power Reader” day where you as a reader with no affiliation with an organization can register and attend on the last day of the  conference. You should consider it!

I am on to more books now. I love summer reading, don't you?

The loot!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Her: A Memoir

Her by Christa Parravani. I read a blurb about this book pre-release and had to get it. So I did

Christa and Cara were the ultimate twins, linked not just by DNA but by a spiritual bond that couldn't be broken under the worst of circumstances. This bond is tried, however, when Cara suffers an act of unspeakable violence and begins a downward spiral of out-of-control drug addiction and self-loathing. When she dies, a piece of Christa dies with her. What does it look like to move on from grief so intense it overtakes our very being and destroys our soul? Is it even possible?

This memoir was truly striking in its search for answers where there are none. There is no answer as to why Cara had to suffer such pain, not just at the outset of her tragedy but for so many years following, reliving the past as if it were a never-ending movie in her mind. Christa searches deep into her heart for an understanding of her sister's mindset, her reasoning, and her pain. It's indescribable, but Christa does one heck of a job trying to help her readers understand a relationship that so few of us have the privilege to do.

Christa is a photographer, and I felt that come through in her writing--and not just when she was describing projects or teaching photography to her undergrads. I felt it in her descriptions and her desire to express feelings through scenes. I felt present in her life, from the moment her father dropped her and Cara off at her mother's for the last time as children through the funeral that Christa couldn't believe was happening yet knew was coming. It was as if I was watching her story play though in a series of photographs at an exhibit, hurling through time and space to feel involved in the work. There were moments in the book where I felt as if I were standing in front of a picture, taking in every small detail, and feeling my heart ache for the woman in the picture.

How does one share in a book feelings that can't be put into words? This is what Christa explores in this beautiful and touching memoir, succeeding in the process of drawing in her reader and opening up her heart as if we were the surgeons examining her soul.

Kindle copy on left, hard copy on right.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Such is Life: Short Stories

It's bonus post week! Every once in a while I will post every day for a week--and it's your luck this week. I hope you are all enjoying your summer--now get outside and play.

Sometimes you need short stories to liven things up in your life, so I picked up Jeri Walker-Bickett's Such is Life: Short Stories this weekend.

These stories introduce characters who are all seeking the thing they most want—whether it be a ride home, artistic freedom, or sanity. Everyone is looking for something. In “Pretty Girl,” a young woman meets an older man—and it’s unclear who is taking advantage of whom. In “Leaving Big Sky,” a drug addict finds company while her company finds himself. In “Not Terribly Important,” a woman desires to teach her students the love of literature while being stymied by her conservative community. Other stories also feature a search for that thing that will make a person whole.

I was particularly taken by the story, “Not Terribly Important.” I found the narrator to be a very interesting character; a teacher in a conservative small town whose writing ambitions and worldview are much bigger than her current job. I found the relationship between her and her boss, the principal, to be interesting and not unlike many conservative schools across the country. I like that the character wrestled with whether or not to censor the stories she was giving her students—to black out curse words would make things easier for her, but it breaks her code of literature appreciation and respect. What is this teaching the students? It is a battle to which anyone in education can relate, and I found the story to be a nice representation of the internal struggle between what is right and what appeases the masses. 

This is a steal--$0.99 on Amazon! Click below to get yourself a copy.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Anonymous Sources: A Novel

I love crime. I love it. True crime, fake crime, whatever, doesn't matter. So I heard about this spy thriller involving lots of crime by a former NPR correspondent, Mary Louise Kelly, and I just about tripped all over myself to read this book. Anonymous Sources, here we come.  

The death of a recent Harvard graduate starts out simple but gets complicated quickly. Although he fell from an on-campus tower, it was obviously not a suicide. Who would want the young man dead? Alexandra James, a reporter for the Boston Chronicle with secrets of her own, seeks out the answer only to discover an international plot full of intrigue, danger, and powerful people with much to hide. Can she figure out the web of conspiracy before she becomes the next victim?

I COULDN’T PUT THIS BOOK DOWN. I tore through this book in two days like a starving artist into a free sandwich. Not because the book is short, mind you (it's not!)—but because this book is so ridiculously excellent and indulgent and HOLY MOLY OH EM GEE I LOVED IT.

Alexandra was a very compelling character; I found out enough about her in the course of the story to find her sympathetic and likeable but not so much that she ever became self-indulgent or overwrought. She was smart, strong, and just about everything else I like in a lady character, and I can’t praise Kelly enough for creating a fantastically flawed female with enough strength to kick her male colleagues’ butts. Because of the strong female lead, the story was able to take interesting twists and turns that might have not otherwise be possible.

I found the story incredibly gripping; when I say that I couldn’t put this book down I mean I literally could not put it down. I held it in my mitts and read it while walking down the sidewalk, eating meals, and brushing my teeth. This is not an exaggeration. Kelly has written a novel with twists and turns, some of which you can figure out and others that will knock you off your feet. I enjoy the element of surprise, and I am thankful to have had it here. You should read this book—it is a great beach read and an even better rainy day indulgence.

You should get this book. Seriously. Kindle version on left, hard copy on right:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief

We all know how much I am obsessed with Mormons; well, it's much to your surprise, I'm sure (or not at all), I am equally obsessed with Scientologists. So I picked up Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief . Oh, holy hell.

From early writings of L. Ron Hubbard to the celebrity spokespeople, Scientology has been a presence in American religion. In this expose, Wright traces the evolution of the religion from its inception up through its present day iteration as run by Hubbard’s protégé; this missive explores not just the origin of belief, but the absolute dependence on stars to highlight its PR campaigns in order build membership.

I will keep my opinions on the actual religion quiet (and it has been deemed an actual religion based on the definition of “religion” regardless of my opinion on the matter), as I find the level at which the upper echelon operates to be mindful of  (and vindictive toward) all vocal detractors. Instead, I will focus on Wright’s work, which is absolutely outstanding and worth your time to read.

Wright is a journalist of the highest degree. His research is clearly thorough and transparent, and he often seeks to find both sides of a story to present within each major subject heading. He tells a story that has a through-line with life and vigor, so much so that if this were a fictitious narrative tale of one man’s egotistical desire to create a flock of followers by calling himself the messiah, I would buy it hook, like, and sinker. Wright is a superb non-fiction storyteller and I can’t wait to pick up his other work. He has told an unsettling and goose bump-inducing tale that just happens to be based in reality. [Insert a shiver here.]

Another thing I found interesting about the history of this religion is how closely Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master lined up with what Wright has written as the early beginnings of the religion. I found myself getting super creeped out by the story the more I read, so much so in fact I told my mother on the phone that I had an irrational fear that someone would come to my house without my permission to force me to stop reading more. This book is a superb piece of work and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject, or great journalism, or Lawrence Wright.
Kindle copy on left, hard copy on right.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Silver Star: A Novel

I am often hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't love Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle, often named one of the best memoirs of all time. I am not disagreeing--it was marvelous. When I found that I could grab a copy of her new novel, The Silver Star, I jumped at the chance.

Bean Holladay and her older sister Liz are pros at taking care of themselves. Their mother, a “singer/songwriter”, is often out of town or emotionally incapacitated. After a particularly bad episode, she disappears for some time, and Liz and Bean are forced to travel cross-country on their own to get to their mother’s hometown in Virginia. There they settle in with their eccentric uncle and attempt to find where they fit in the town. When a horrible event is propagated on the family, Bean must decide what kind of person she is—does she stand up for what she knows is right, or does she conform to what the town wants her to be?

I absolutely adore Walls’s writing. She has such a distinctive voice that is unmistakably hardscrabble Southern; I love every second of reading her words and I fall madly for her work every time. This book was no exception—I enjoyed it immensely. 

Walls has created characters that are genuine and flawed, and I love characters that are genuine and flawed. The story is told from Bean’s perspective, and this was a lovely choice that I found fascinating and wonderful to read. I read in an interview recently how much Walls loved the character of Bean, and I can absolutely see how this is the case—she is written with such care and love, and her fiery personality only lends itself to getting into trouble but always for the right reasons. She has a code, and she sticks to it. I admire that.

I adored the story arc in this novel. Bean and Liz’s mother is most likely bipolar (although that’s never made clear in the book); this drives the initial (and later) action of the plot, and it was a fantastic kick-off to the story and one that I think made it all the richer. This is a morality tale interspersed with grit and love, and I am so happy that I spent my hours this weekend with these girls. They are characters with whom I would love to spend any lazy summer day—name the time and place, and I will bring the lemonade.

Kindle on the left, hard copy on the right.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of Murder in My Family

It's true crime time! Oh, how I lovelovelove true crime. Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of a Murder in My Family by David Berg.

David has always worshiped his older brother, Alan. Between dealing with their divorced parents (a kooky mother and an overbearing father), the two can rarely catch a break. They always had each other, though, to survive their childhood. One night Alan disappears after work while grabbing a drink with a pal. The happily married father of two with one more on the way is not one to just vanish, and David knows something bad has happened. When the police give up on the case, the family continues their search on their own. After months of searching and hundreds of tips, they find Alan's body. It doesn't take long to find the killer--it is Charles Harrelson, father of soon-to-be-famous actor Woody. Can justice be served in their hometown of Houston? Or will Harrelson get away with murder only to do it again?

Berg's story is fascinating and full of twists and turns. He is a lawyer, and I found this to bring a particular interesting perspective to the part of the book focused on the court case. My heart stung for him as he went through the judicial process, his knowing full well that it's not always about guilt or innocence, rather it's more about the game being played in the courtroom. And this trial was the Monopoly of court cases.

I remember years ago my mother telling me that Woody Harrelson's father was a killer, so when I saw this book I had to pick it up. I went into it with an open mind, not wanting to hold the sins of the father against the son but also to find out what kind of killer Charles was. A serial killer? A contract killer? A rogue hit man? A bar fighter? What he turns out to be is what you will find when you read the book, and I can't say that I have been swayed in a particular direction regarding my thoughts on the matter. I will say, though, that this book has colored my thoughts and has given me insight that is a little more personal than I would have gotten through the Wikipedia page.

It's worth a read if you love true crime on the level that I do.

Kindle copy on left, hard copy on right.

Friday, June 7, 2013

I'll Take You There: A Novel

It is my (newish) tradition to bring a Joyce Carol Oates book with me when traveling abroad. In Finland and Estonia it was them, and this time, all over Eastern Europe, it was I'll Take You There.

Our unnamed author is a young woman in the 1960's from a small town in upstate New York. Her mother died when she was an infant and her father has worked on the road as long as she can remember. When she goes off to school, she joins a sorority, only to find that it is causing her to go crazy. She becomes obsessed with a handsome stranger, and in the course of her second year of undergrad manages to lose her mind and find her voice.

Let's be clear about something from the get-go. I love JCO. Whole heart and soul. A dear friend told me this was her favorite so I added it to my Kindle and I agree with this friend--the book is solidly marvelous. I didn't want to let it go when I had to take a break; I found myself so compelled by this young woman and her story that I wanted to grip the book with a vice.

I was stunned by the first section, which is the author cracking up in her sophomore year in the sorority house of Kappa Gamma Pi. It was so hauntingly close to my sorority experience (without the cracking up part!) that it shook me. JCO writes in the Afterwards that while she also didn't crack up, she found herself in similar situations with fines and such due to her need to work. It was such a stunningly beautiful section of the book that I was almost afraid the next two-thirds couldn't live up.

I will admit when I'm wrong. It was fabulous. Heartbreakingly honest and raw, JCO has no problem building our love for and empathy toward such a lovingly flawed character to the point where we are willing to jump into the pages and rescue her oursleves.

What I love most about JCO is her deep and abiding skill for writing strong female characters. Underneath the fatal flaws, the tragedies, and the true-to-life experiences she writes with such adeptness are female characters that feel, fight, and survive. JCO writes with such elegance that I fall in love with each book for it's own reasons, but always for the same--lovely, full-arced woman. Basically Ms. Oates, this is my love letter to you.

Thank you.

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

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The One-Way Bridge: A Novel

I love a good old-fashioned storytelling experience. Which is why I picked up Cathie Pelletier's The One-Way Bridge this weekend.

Mattagash, Maine is a small town with all of what you would expect in a small town. Everyone knows each other, and everyone knows one another's business. Billy Thunder, one-half Mattagashian, has just come back to town and is up to no good. Orville, the mailman, sets out to retire while reigniting his marriage. His longstanding feud with Harry lights up the days, while Harry begins a late-in-life romance with Blanche, the owner of the diner in town. Under all of these surface stories lies humans with real and raw issues--how to keep the intimacy alive in a long-lasting marriage, finding new love in your autumn years, choosing to let go to love that may not be such anymore.

This book was just the most lovely piece of literature I could have had in my hands this week. Just like in small towns, looks can be deceiving. On the one hand, what I loved most about this book was how adorable it was. I found myself grinning and giggling over some of the high jinks in the book, and I lovedlovedloved the war of the moose mailbox. (If you want to know what this "war" is, buy the book. There are links below--I am not giving it away!) It was the most fun I have had giggling in a book in a while.  On the other hand, however, there was a deep undercurrent of understanding that what you see on the outside hides a wad of emotions, feelings, and choices underneath the surface. What seems to be a sleepy small town in Maine is actually a vessel full of love, hate, longing, regret, and everything in between.

This book made me happy. I love books that just simply make me happy. I was able to get lost in this town of kooky characters that remind me of small-town Southern living. It turns out small towns are the same no matter where you go--north, east, south, or west. I adored the characters--they were so real and so truthful, and I enjoyed the hours I spent with them invading their lives for my daily enjoyment. This novel makes me smile every time I see the cover--and that, dear readers, is what I call a successful reading experience.

Kindle on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence: A Novel

I remember reading the description for David Samuel Levinson's Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, but I don't think I knew entirely what I was getting myself into.

Catherine moved to Winslow, the small, sleepy college town, for love. Her husband, Wyatt, was novelist who taught at the college until the night he died in a suspicious car accident. A year and a half later Catherine is still working at the local bookstore and grieving for the loss of her love when suddenly a former flame rears his ugly head though Antonia Lively, a beautiful young woman about to be the toast of the New York literary community. But odd things start happening surrounding Antonia's arrival, and no one may ever be the same.

Like I said, I didn't know quite what I was getting myself into. I am so thankful that I didn't walk into this book with previously held expectations because I really did love it for exactly what it is. It's a story that unfolds chapter by chapter in the most intriguing way possible, keeping me fully engaged in the story without telling me everything and heightening the narrative as it goes along. Never once did Levinson assume I was any less smart than I am; he clearly trusted me to hang on with patience for my reward.

I was certainly rewarded with a well-thoughout-out, clearly planned, and inspiring book that made me fall as desperately in love with the title character as did everyone else around her in the narrative. Antonia Lively is created as such a full and lovely character that I felt drawn in by her charisma much as was the town of Winslow. How fascinating this woman was and how badly I understood Catherine's desire in her friendship; I can't say I would have been much different. I loved the intrigue in the story that kept me coming back--the narrative was like a ball of yarn that would not stop unraveling. It was astounding.

I have been recommending this book left and right since I picked it up. I now recommend it to you. This would make an excellent book club pick or just a nice rainy day read by the fire with a warm cup of tea.

You too can dive in! Kindle on the left, hard copy on the right.