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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...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Happy Halloween everyone! I love this holiday. It's my favorite. In celebration, I read Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow this weekend and it was divine.

Is anyone here not familiar with the legend of Sleepy Hollow? In a town close to Tarry Town, New York, just north of New York City, there is a small town called Sleepy Hollow where ghosts never stay for long--once their ghost friends disappear, there's not need to hang around. There is one, however; a headless horseman who is rumored to be a ghost of a soldier. Ichabod Crane, the town schoolteacher, has dinner one night at the home of his beloved, only to disappear that night with no trace of him to be found. What happened to Ichabod? Did he leave town?

I love Halloween, and I loved this book. It's so short and so lovely for the holiday. It has a jilted romance, a bad guy who might not be so, and an unwitting schoolteacher. It has the ultimate creep factor--YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! Irving understood this better than anyone. What you don't know is always far more fearsome and creepy than what you do.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Every Day

I find sometimes that YA Lit is so much more than just a genre for young people. David Levithan's Every Day was one of those stories.

Each morning A wakes up inhabiting a different body--never the same body twice. A is only male or female when he wakes up as one, and he ages as the bodies do. He makes no connections until one day, in the body of a jerky high school boy, he meets  Rhiannon, the beautiful girlfriend and lost soul of the body he is in. He falls in love and can't let go. As A falls deeper and deeper as the days wear on, he effects the lives of those he inhabits. Can he learn to let go in order for others to continue on?

This book was at times fascinating and at others engrossing. I had such a hard time putting it down to go do things like eat or swipe my Metrocard. I was fascinated by Levithan's creation of A and the world he works within. The details are well-thought-out and intricate, and the plot is beautiful. The choice A makes at the end punched me in the gut and left me feeling slightly bereft but in awe of the good that can come if we just take a leap of faith. There is a subplot about possession that is funny and horrifying.

I had a lovely journey with this novel over the weekend and I would like to encourage you, too, to curl up on your couch with a good book as fall is upon us.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights

I whipped through these books--one day per book.  It was quite a feat, I tell you...except not, because I read fast and they were good.  Since Blue Nights is sort of a follow-up to The Year of Magical Thinking, I opted for a double blog post for your reading pleasure.

Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles the year and a day immediately following her husband's unexpected death due to cardiac arrest.  They were simply about to have dinner with venerated novelist John Gregory Dunne fell over face first.  In the year that follows, Didion must face her grief and begin to mourn.  She is forced to discover how to live without her constant companion, her shared brain, and her best friend.  It is by far the most difficult year of her life and in this book she bares her soul for her readers.

Blue Nights is Didion's most recent book that chronicles her pain as she deals with her daughter's death just a year and change after that of her husband as chronicled above.  Quintana Roo is the only child of Didion and Dunne, and in Year we hear so many stories of her childhood and we follow Didion through Quintana's illnesses.  In Blue Nights, she succumbs to them.

Both of these books were fantastic--soul-baring and heart-breaking and lovely and overwhelming in grief.  Didion takes her experiences and puts them into words that are searing and honest.  I have to be truthful with you readers and tell you how lucky I am that I have lost very few people close to me in death, so reading Didion's description of her grief really got to me and struck me in my heart.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception

I am fascinated by the people who claimed to be 9/11 survivors but who were not--at all. Why would you say such a thing? What would motivate you? The question with which I started Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr.'s The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception was: How could you live with yourself?

Tania Head had an incredible story of surviving on 9/11--and losing her beloved fiance. The met cute in a cab one day leaving the WTC, fell in love, and secretly married in Hawaii right before that fateful day. Tania held herself responsible for his death--if she had agreed to meet him for coffee they might have both made it out in time. Tania headed up the Survivor's Network and was a media hound with her story until one day around the sixth anniversary when a New York Times reporter started asking too many questions. Why didTania refuse to share her fiance's last name? Why did she refuse to confirm her alma mater? Or provide evidence of where she worked?

I was astounded by this story. I remember reading about it a few years ago and thinking about how awful a person must be to make this up. We all know magnetic people in our lives--people who, if you were giving advice to a friend in a similar situation, you would encourage them to cut ties. It appears that Tania was one of these people. Magnetic and vulnerable, and someone who makes those around her turn into a puddle of jelly to help her. I get that her story was so fantastical that no one questioned it; it seems like every survivor's story that day is one of beating the odds.

My only complaint with this book is that I felt it ended too abruptly. I was with it the whole way through, but the end comes together too quickly and ends suddenly. I imagine this is how the fellow survivors felt when Tania's story came out--as if they slammed into a brick wall. I would have liked to explore some of the aftermath.

This was a quick read and I was invested in the story. One of the authors (Guglielmo) knew Tania personally and was pulled into her orbit. His documentary of the same name is on my list to watch; it contains Tania telling her "story" in a film that she pushed before she was revealed.


Monday, October 22, 2012

What In God's Name

Do you not laugh at life? Do you get offended easily? Does having a good giggle at parodies on God incense you? If your answer to any of the previous questions was "yes", do yourself a favor and exit the browser now. If the answer was, "What the hell? No!", read on. You will love What in God's Name by Simon Rich.

God, fournder and CEO of Heaven, Inc., decides one day that he is tired of the gig and wants to open an Asian fusion restaurant. This will, of course, mean that he has to destroy Earth. Fire or flood? Eh, wait until the day of to decide. One angel, Craig, who works in the Department of Miracles, can't accept this. He loves his job and believes in the power of what he does. He strikes a deal with the man upstairs (literally): if Craig can pull of the hardest miracle of his career--getting together two people who have prayed to be together but never cross paths--God will not destroy Earth. Can Craig do it in time? Or will he fail miserably?

This was a ridiculously fun read that required nothing more than a great attitude and an openness to laughing at satire. Rich does not treat this subject with venom or negativity; in fact, quite the opposite. Rich goes out of his way to create characters that are laughable, real, and open to love. I had such a great time with this book last weekend that there was no way to hate on Rich for his lampooning Heaven.

Like I said earlier, if you are easily offended then perhaps this book is not up your alley. But if you can take a joke, if you can laugh at yourself, and if you enjoy life as it is, this quick story will brighten your day and make you believe that maybe, just maybe, there is a team of workers up in the sky making things happen for you.

Get it for yourself. Kindle copy on the left, hard copy on the right:

Friday, October 19, 2012

One Last Thing Before I Go

I looooooved This Is Where I Leave You.  So much so it is one of my favorite books ever.  So as soon as I heard Jonathan Tropper was coming out with One Last Thing Before I Go I jumped in the virtual line at the library.

Silver is a forty-something former musician whose ex-wife hates him and his 18-year-old daughter feels nothing but apathy toward him.  Then one day it hits the fan.  His daughter secretly tells him she's pregnant, his ex-wife's wedding is fast approaching, and it turns out Silver is dying.  When he refuses to undergo a lifesaving surgery, his family goes to great lengths to convince him why he needs to stay around.  But Silver must discover for himself the reasons he must fight for his life.

I just love Tropper's writing.  He is honest while not being mean, and he is funny while still keeping the humanity of his characters alive and well.  I wanted to cry for, and to laugh at, Silver all at the same time.  The character recognizes what a screw-up he is yet can't, or won't, lift himself out of the position into which he has lowered.  It's hard not to love him while still pitying him at his lowest human point--but this is where he finds himself.

Yes, I would recommend this book.  It was honest, it was heartwarming, and it was written with love and care.  I loved the characters who populated this book, and they left an indelible impression in my life.  I am so thankful for Tropper's books, as they make me look outside of myself for something greater in the heart of his characters.  Deep down they are good people set in a strong story that leaves me satisfied.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Maine: A Novel

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan was a recommendation from an entertainment magazine on a list of stories about families. It looked interesting, and boy howdy, was it!

Not long after the Great War, a young couple come into land on the coast of Maine. The Kellehers build a summer home there that becomes the rock of their family. Over the course of decades children grow up, relationships fall apart, and time marches on. The house sees it all. As Alice, the matriarch, prepares the house to live on without her, one last summer sees a family struggle with age, with love, and with striving for acceptance.

I was intrigued with this book from the moment I began reading, and the sensation I felt at the end was the same I feel when I hear a song that I think I will like. I listen to it, intrigued, and then I play it again. Then again and again and again, each time noticing something different I like about it. I may walk away but I find myself humming it, thinking about it, and wanting to hear it again until I finally break down, bust out my iPod and play it on repeat. That is exactly how I felt about this book.

It caught me in the beginning and as I continued reading I found that I didn't want to put it down. I loved these characters as much as I sometimes despised them for their lack of love and understanding. Family can be this way, as every one of us knows well. I wanted to stay with them a while, to love them and to support them as best as I can. I wanted to whack them over the head and I wanted to tell them it will all work out fine, just hold on a few months. I really cared about these fictional people and I found myself telling all of my friends about the book. That's the sign of something great.

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Math City

The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my most favoritest books ever, so when I was contacted about Ahmad Amani's Math City  I was intrigued since it sounded similar in nature.

Once upon a time there was the Lying Line, who we now know as a minus sign. He is being taken to task for cutting down large, fat numbers by the Upward Lying Line, known to us as a plus sign. This leads to a long, hard war among the disparate classes of citizens in Math City.

This novelette is a short and sweet parable on how humans treat one another in times of conflict. I appreciated the brevity of this story and it was a great read for my commute this week. I was able to read it in one sitting and I found the characters to be amusing (I love anthropomorphous characters in a story), particularly how Amani turned numbers into the good and the evil  entities of the parable.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Red Book

I love a good reunion tale. I was so excited about Deborah Copaken Kogan's The Red Book that when the library notified me that it was available I ran there.  Well, maybe I didn't run per se because I didn't want to be one of those people I make fun of for running in the city.  Moving on...

Every five years, just prior to the reunion, Harvard releases their alumni book known to all as simply the red book.  It contains contact information, spousal and occupation information, and three to five paragraphs of biographical information written by the alumna.  Just prior to their 20th reunion, four friends submit their entries.  When they come together for the reunion their truths are slowly revealed: unraveling relationships, grief of epic proportions, financial problems, children growing up and running amok.  As they wind their way through the weekend, these ladies will make choices that will irrevocably alter their lives.

This was a fantastic read for my week.  I needed something that had nothing to do with education or psychology (although, arguably, this book is all about the psychology of Jane, Clover, Addison, and Mia).  I loved the intricacy that Kogan lent to these ladies' lives.  It was hard to not envision myself with them at the reunion as one of their group or even as just a fly on the wall.  Kogan has written with such pathos and care for her characters and I loved every second of reading this book.  It was so lovely to get lost in the lives of these woman who are still so young yet are twenty years away from youth.

I had read good things about this book, but I am so thankful that I picked it up myself.  I was able to live for just a little while in Hollywood privilege with Mia, in arrested development with Addison, in desperation with Clover, and in heartache with Jane.

It was a great ride.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays: Four Decades of Feminist Writing

I am a big fan of Open Road Media and their work to re-release work of renowned writers in electronic format as well as compilations.  I was so excited to be handed off Alix Kates Shulman's A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays: Four Decades of Feminist Writing.

The title essay is the famous agreement she made with her husband.  This is followed by "A Marriage Disagreement" in which Shulman expands on the life and times that surrounded the original agreement with her then-husband.  Other essays are divided among such topics as Marriage and Men; Sex; Writing; and Late Life.  Every essay is steeped in a feminist framework and many reference Shulman's novels.

It was incredibly interesting to dive into feminist writing--I must admit that my experience with this genre is incredibly limited.  Shulman is borderline militaristic in her approach to feminism but I view that as a sign of the times in which she fell in with the movement; it was the late 1960's when she joined in with the Redstockings in New York City.  I was most indulged in the duo essays "A Marriage Agreement" followed by "A Marriage Disagreement" due to Shulman's reveal of the goings on when she wrote the latter.  Her marriage was falling apart due to her husband's dalliances with a woman 20 years his junior and she herself had taken a lover, yet she went to great lengths to ensure no one found this out. 

I am very happy that I had a chance to pick this up and dive into it over the weekend.  It's a quick read at only 180-odd pages.  It is well worth a read to understand feminist history and non-fiction writing.  I was affected by her 1972 essay, "The War in the Backseat," about young women and their sexual reputations through the 1940's and '50's and the lengths women had to go to in order to find a proper husband.  These essays are diverse in their topics but are intriguing nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fortune in My Eyes: A Memoir of Broadway Glamour, Social Justice, and Political Passion

Just the title of David Rothenberg's memoir, Fortune in My Eyes: A Memoir of Broadway Glamour, Social Justice, and Political Passion had me hooked. It's everything I love wrapped into one book of goodness!

David Rothenberg grew up in New Jersey, got involved in the Civil Rights movement in college, became a successful Broadway press rep and Off-Broadway producer in his 20's, and came out of the closet in his 40's. After producing the 13-month run of Fortune and Men's Eyes, Rothenberg became determined to make a difference in the lives of men recently released from prison and to have an impact on prison reform. His story is arguably a sweeping epic of a life well-lived and a man well-loved.

This memoir was a great read. Rothenberg writes the way he would talk to me if we were sitting at a local bar and he was telling me his story. I was absolutely fascinated by his move to create the Fortune Society and I found his call to fight for social justice to be quite moving. In my experience, few people would take the leap from the glitz and glamour of his theatre life (he worked intimately with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during the run of Hamlet on Broadway) to working for pennies, believing whole-heartedly in the difference he was making for hundreds of men and women just out of prison with nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep, and no money for food.

I have so much respect for this man who took a leap of faith and became an outspoken critic of our penal system while also serving others hands-on. He believes in the goodness of people and he practices what he preaches. His story integrates accepting others and learning to accept himself. This book was eye-opening as well as emotionally satisfying, and I am glad I took the time to pick it up.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Gone Girl

Last week I read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.

Truthfully, I could end the post right there because this book blew my mind so hard that I actually couldn't put it down. I slept with this book in my bed next to me. Rarely do I ever start writing down my thoughts on a book before I finish, but I started jotting down feelings a quarter of the way through.


On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Her living room is upended and blood has been cleaned from the kitchen floor. Her husband, Nick, is super suspicious. As the story unfolds, nothing will be as it seems.

I thoroughly enjoyed Flynn's Dark Places and Sharp Objects, so of course I mentally flagged Gone Girl when I heard it was coming out. Unfortunately I didn't immediately jump in the library queue and then suddenly over 1,000 requests were in for this sucker. So I patiently sat on my hands while I waited for this book to be ready for a visit to my home while everyone else and their brother and their mother read it and made me feel out of the loop. Then it came to me and all was right with the world and I slept with it.

This book is split into three sections, with chapters alternating between real-time Nick and Amy's diary. I couldn't put it down. 2 AM came and I still couldn't stop. My eyes were closing and my mind asked me to sleep and I said, "No, mind, not now. I'm busy." And when I finished the book, I was finally able to breathe. I have so much I want to say about how I feel about the characters but I just can't here, because that wouldn't be fair to those who have not yet had the pleasure of picking this book up. To give away anything--plot details, character details, feelings toward these two things--would be criminal. And I always (mostly) follow the law.

If you could go ahead and read it this weekend and call me so we can talk about it I would be super grateful. Don't wait in the library queue. Just buy it already.

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

May We Be Forgiven

Holy hell, what an amazing piece of work. I was hooked on A.M. Homes' May We Be Forgiven before I even finished the first chapter. Let's not waste time and get right to it.

Harold Silver finds himself in quite a pickle when his better looking and more successful brother George loses his mind, plows through a red light, and kills a family. Harold finds himself with custody of George's two teenage children, and while they are away at boarding school Harold comes undone between discovering anonymous sex through internet chat rooms, aging relatives who need more emotional care than physical, and this sudden new family that he must take on while his brother is in the loony bin. It's a sweeping modern epic for sure.

I rarely curse on this blog because it needs to be reserved for times when a bad word packs a punch and clearly describes something. This is that time. This book was a mindf#*&.

Part of this is Homes' story and part of this is her style of writing. She writes in winding sentences that melt into paragraphs that are unusual and addicting. It's as if you are watching a television show that is actually a train wreck that you can see coming a mile away but you can't take your eyes off the screen. Harold is a sympathetic character, even as he makes horrible life decisions that cause great anguish in those he loves.

Homes writes in color and she writes with a loose conviction that pulled me back even when I wanted to put the book down. At times I felt as though I were on a date where I knew the guy was putting me on but I couldn't stop listening to him weave his tale.

It was good. Very good.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Happy Banned Books Week!

Hey hey hey readers! I just want to take a moment today to wish you a happy Banned Books Week. Thank goodness for banned books: I feel that without a little controversy life is just boring. Visit the links below and pick yourself up some banned books. Some of them are quite wonderful. The official website is here.

You can also read more about the week here on the American Library Association's website, and I have some other links below to check out. Be sure to also scan through the list of often challenged books on their page and see my favorite page, the top ten banned books by year. Yummy!

Better Book Titles' banned book list. I love this website so hard. Become a fan. Run, don't walk. 

The Atlantic also has an article out today: "Kurt Vonnegut, Harper Lee, and Other Literary Greats on Censorship."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tell Everyone I Said Hi

Tell Everyone I Said Hi is a short story collection by Chad Simpson that I polished off this weekend. It is full of characters whom you might never hear of again, but who certainly have something to say.

Simpson's stories take place in the heart of people's worlds--these are small town people who just live their everyday lives. They live their lives, they go to work, they travel, and they end relationships.

I had two favorite stories in this book. The first was "Peloma," told in first person by a father dealing with the grief of his wife and the adolescent agony of his overweight daughter. As she attempts suicide, he also deals with a promotion at work gone wrong. It's a beautiful tale of love and understanding that ground into my heart.

My other favorite was the title story, "Tell Everyone I Said Hi." Who hasn't dealt with heartbreak and regret? If you haven't then I would argue that you are missing a vital part of life. That exact love and regret and frustration at what you didn't do comes across like a brilliant white, crisp shirt in this story. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

Simpson never quite leaves you satisfied with his stories, and that's what I appreciated most about this book. Nothing is tied up and with a neat little bow; you leave each of his narratives hoping that all will be fine eventually. But you aren't handed a happy ending on a silver platter. You must look for it in your own mind and your own being.