Monday, September 26, 2016

read | Dear Mr. M

If there's one thing Herman Koch's books have in common, it's that they're about terrible people doing horrible things. Dear Mr. M is no exception. It starts out from a stalker's perspective, which reminds me of You by Caroline Kepnes (and if you liked that you'll like this and vice versa). As more bits and pieces of the story are revealed, you learn that the target of the narrator's attention is an author who wrote a fictionalized version of a crime in which the narrator was allegedly involved. The story jumps back and forth between perspectives and has some meta elements, referencing some authors' tendencies to build up to a suspenseful moment only to abruptly change the scene. And then he abruptly changes scene. This novel is full of cynical (and accurate) observations of society. I've also read The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool by this author, and I have to say Dear Mr. M is definitely my favorite. It has a bit of a Secret History (Donna Tartt) / Fates and Furies (Lauren Groff) vibe. Not that those two are really related, but my impressions while reading them were pretty similar to Dear Mr M. It may have something to do with the gradual reveal of information, but whatever it is I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars

I received this book through Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

play | Punderdome

Punderdome isn't a book, though as I type this I realize that would be awesome. Anyway, Punderdome is a game for anyone who likes terrible jokes (or who pretends to hate them but secretly loves them anyway). The basic idea of the game is pretty much what it sounds like - you make terrible puns. There are two decks of cards, so you draw a card from each and try to make the best pun that involves those two things. Technically there's supposed to be a judge who decides which pun wins, but can anyone really lose? There are also pun-based jokes on the backs of all the cards. Or the fronts, since the rules call for the judge to read the setup and the contestants to come up with an answer to stat of each round. The first team to shout out a pun gets bonus time in the actual game. But if you're like me and don't always want to adhere to an hourglass or a phone timer, you can just use it as a warm-up. We never used the time limit for the real rounds, either. I think the official timekeeping centered on "is the judge sick of waiting for you to be done."

This game is nice and portable in a relatively small box, so it's great if you want to take it on vacation or to a party. Whether you follow the rules to a tee or make up your own game altogether, Punderdome is a fun and unique game.

4 out of 5 stars

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.

Monday, August 1, 2016

read | Women in Science

Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky is a great introduction to learning about, wait for it, women in science. The book is beautifully illustrated, with a two-page spread for each scientist. The pictures are studded with fun facts and key phrases about each woman. This book reminds me of Headstrong by Rachel Swaby, which I've also reviewed on this blog. This is the gateway book to Headstrong. I also think if you have to pick one, go with Women in Science. Headstrong had enough information about each scientist to leave you wanting more, but I prefer the more general information in Women Science, even if it isn't quite as thorough. Plus, it has pictures. This book is a gorgeous and digestible read, and it'd be great for anyone with a passing interest in science. Or no interest. Seriously, this book is so cool.

4 out of 5 stars

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

read | Jefferson's America

Jefferson's AmericaThe Hamilton bug recently got to me, so I was in the mood to read some American history. Jefferson’s America by Julie M. Fenster seemed like a good surrogate. A founding father is a founding father, right? And the cover didn’t hurt, either. I love the hand-drawn map effect, and it’s not your typical cover that’s just a portrait of the person the book is about, the reason for which soon became clear. I guess I should have seen this coming since the subject of the title is technically America, but my Hamilton-addled brain only saw the Jefferson part. I thought it would be a book about Jefferson’s presidency. It’s actually much more about the different expeditions that Jefferson sent to find and set borders for the United States. The book goes into the relationships between the travelers and the people they encounter. It’s interesting to see the interactions with Native Americans, the French, and the Spanish, because the groups all want the same land but are also happy to get along if possible. Kind of. It definitely feels like we see the travels in terms of people rather than through dry descriptions of geography and surveying.

This book covers several exploration quests, and it could feel repetitive after a while but the author sprinkles in enough loony stories to keep things interesting. Seriously, some bizarre stuff happens on these adventures. It took me about a month to read the 368-page book, though I’ll attribute that to (a) a bit of a reading slump I’ve been in lately and (b) nonfiction being more of an aspirational genre for me. If you are trying to start reading more nonfiction, you might want to pick a more thrilling topic. However, if you’re interested in the time period (the beginning of the 19th century) or the topic, Jefferson’s America is a good one to check out.

3 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Friday, May 13, 2016

read | Spritz

SpritzSpritz by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau is a lovely book even if you just want something for your coffee table. Or, maybe more appropriately, your bar cart. The book is about the history of the spritz, an Italian drink, and how it ties in with Italian culture. Spritz also includes several recipes for variations on the cocktail. But the real selling point for me is the imagery. The cover has a cool retro vibe that carries through on the title page for each section. The book also features vibrant photography, including pictures of some of the drink and snack recipes.
The format of this book starts with a narrative of how the spritz originated and evolved. The conversational style of writing carries through to the recipe sections, where many of the drinks are paired with entertaining descriptions of their origins. I think this book has value as a read-through and as a reference book. It does provide recipes, but it also gives you the bones of a spritz so you can come up with your own variations on the drink while making sure they're in keeping with the spirit (pun intended) of the cocktail. I don't even have much of an interest in the drink, but I found this book entertaining and informative. It's currently on display in my kitchen, so it's great for decorating, too. Whether you enjoy a cocktail or a peek into another culture, this book is a great one to pick up.

5 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

read | The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris BookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is the story of a man, Jean Perdu, coming to terms with the end of a past relationship. It says this on the back so I don’t think it’s too spoilery, but he finally reads a letter his lost love sent him twenty years before in which she tells him she’s dying (and therefore long dead by the present day). Upon learning this, the shop (well, boat, really) owner heads down the Seine in pursuit of closure. This book is pleasant enough, and the characters are pretty likable. Nothing about this book really stands out to me. The cover is a hazy pink, and that sums up my feelings about the story. It’s an easy, simple read that doesn’t require much of the reader. I found it hard to connect to the past romance, told through Perdu’s recollections and some journal entries by the woman. Perdu is still grieving, and a loss so deep it took him twenty years to get past should have some emotional impact for the reader. The story would move on to some character development or minor plot point and then suddenly jump back into Perdu’s pain, which I didn’t care about. I do see why these moments keep popping up, since grief can reappear when you least expect it, but they always threw me out of the current story. While this book won’t be making any favorites shelves for me, it has enjoyable characters and moments of great writing (though I might be biased because I’m a sucker for pretty much any description of the water). This is a nice read perfect for the upcoming summer.
3 out of 5 stars
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

read | The Never-Open Desert Diner

I have pretty much no interest in trucking, and now I've read two books this year on the subject. First was The Quality of Silence, and now I'm reviewing The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson. The books have a similar vibe and element of suspense, though QoS is in Alaska while NODD is in the desert of Utah. This book is about Ben Jones, who delivers goods to people along an isolated highway. It shows his relationships with each of his weird customers, and he eventually stumbles on to a woman hiding from her husband. The plot unfolds from there. The story is fine. My main issue is with the main character. He comes across as a bit of a stalker early in the book. He's also adored by everyone, and since the book is in first person, it comes across as arrogance. His superior emotional capacity or whatever is summed up in a line - "There aren't many men who would take the risk you did in telling me how you felt." Ew. Can you feel the admiration? I do love the cover of this book, though some of the pages were randomly speckled and splotchy. Everything was legible, but there's still a quality control issue.
OK, now I'm about to enter spoiler territory. You've been warned. NODD is a decent story, though I don't think Ben's relationship with Claire is developed enough. Ben does say they have a special bond that makes them close, but that doesn't count. I don't really buy the whole cello plotline, but if you suspend your disbelief it's tolerable.

2 out of 5 stars

I received this boom from Blogging for Booms for this review.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

read | Wreck and Order

Wreck and Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore is a story about a woman who tries to find herself through different people and places. It wasn't what I expected, though when I reread the cover copy after I finished the book I realized it's actually a very accurate description. I really enjoyed the tone and writing style of this book. It's pretty bleak, but in a way that keeps you turning pages. And the writing is the perfect mix of straightforward and elaborate. There are some really great lines and descriptions in the book, but not so many that it's beating you over the head with them.

A good bit of this book takes place in Sri Lanka, which was a new experience for me since I'd never read anything in that setting before. I would say this novel seems like a dark version of Eat, Pray, Love. I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love, so this might be totally untrue, but it's the vibe I was getting.

The cover of this book is gorgeous. The fern pattern combined with the contrast in the title makes me think the publishers are trying to play off of the success of Fates and Furies, and while the books aren't too similar, I definitely think fans of one would like the other. I really enjoyed this read and look forward to more work by this author.

3.5 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

read | Shylock Is My Name

I'm giving Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson two stars, but I want to be clear: I don't think this is a bad book. It's just absolutely not for me. I found it amazingly boring. Here's a plot summary: nothing happens. Okay, that's not strictly true, but this book is very slow.   Basically, a Jewish man is a) obsessed with how much he thinks everyone hates his race and b) profoundly against practicing his religion. But his daughter has to marry Jewish to keep the line going. The end. The last few pages were slightly redeeming, but not enough to affect my rating. I didn’t care about the plot. Or the characters. Or the writing style, which gets the job done but doesn’t make me want to run to the bookstore to find more by this author.

When I read The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson, the first installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, I didn't think the summary of the source material at the beginning was necessary. But having read this adaptation, I've changed my mind. I've never read The Merchant of Venice, but while reading this book I was definitely curious to know how much was original and how much it drew from the play. I skimmed the Wikipedia entry for the play afterward, andShylock Is My Name is a much less literal adaptation than The Gap of Time. And for that reason, and that reason only, this book is two stars instead of one.

The one thing going for the book is its physical appearance. I'm loving how they're doing this series, with a smaller than average book size and covers that clash nicely. I’m not sure how many of these books I’ll come to own, given that the first two have been disappointments, but I do want to read the adaptations of Hamlet(because of Gillian Flynn) and Othello (because it’s my favorite). So if you love The Merchant of Venice or Shakespeare or Howard Jacobson or mind-numbing boredom (just kidding) (kind of), take this review with a shaker of salt. I think there’s an audience for it, but that group doesn’t include me.

2 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

read | The Quality of Silence

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton is about a woman who, when her husband is presumed dead in remote Alaska, takes her ten-year-old daughter (who's deaf, by the way) in an eighteen-wheeler on a perilous road trip to find him. I liked reading about such an unusual situation - I can say with confidence that this is the only book involving the Alaskan trucker scene I've ever read. The main story is a thriller/mystery, and it was more effective than I expected. I read the book in one day (not impossible since the book is under 300 pages) and it definitely kept me captivated the whole time.  

The main voices of this story are Yasmin in third person and her daughter Ruby in first person, which I appreciated because it made it very clear when there was a perspective change.We learn about the man they're trying to rescue, if he's even alive, through their memories of him. I liked this approach as a way to give a very contained story some variety, but I don't think the characters were completely developed. I feel like I have about eighty percent of a book. I need a little more time with the characters.

The ending really picks up, but the pacing feels inconsistent with the rest of the book. As you would imagine, Yasmin and Ruby spend a lot of time in the truck. They have ample opportunity to reflect on their lives, which they do, and in comparison the ending felt rushed.  It was interesting to have a deaf character, but I would have liked to see more of Ruby dealing with people other than her mother. I also don't think we learn enough about Yasmin to understand why in earth she would take a primary schooler on a life-threatening mission. We're told Ruby wouldn't want to stay with anyone else, but this still seems like a massively irresponsible decision on Yasmin's part. This is compounded by some subsequent moves, but they're kind of spoilery so I'll leave them out. 

What really surprises me is the quality of this book. My copy, at least, has a slipcover that's too big. I know that's not a huge deal, but for a list price of $26.00 I think it's strange. I'm really only talking about the things that bothered me, but overall I did enjoy the book, and if you can suspend your disbelief in a few instances it's worth a read.

3 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

read | When Lions Roar

When Lions Roar by Thomas Maier is definitely the most daunting nonfiction book I’ve ever read. It’s also one of my favorites. At 750 pages (640 once you account for the notes and other supplements at the end), this book will take more than a few sittings to get through. I read it in bits and pieces over the course of about two months, and that’s how I’d recommend reading this book. It’s not a page-turner in the sense that a thriller would be, but I constantly found myself deciding to read to the end of a section and then reading several sections past that before I put the book down.

The book tells of the political lives of the Churchills and the Kennedys, as well as their overlapping social circles, from just before World War II to 1970. The “main characters” are Winston Churchill and son Randolph, as well as Joe Kennedy and his son John. It was interesting to see how much the same people kept popping up in relation to the main characters. This book does an excellent job of building the relationships between the four men, using their interactions with each other and with their similar social circles to illustrate each politician. My favorite part of this book was the beginning, as WWII is looming, when the book is mainly about Winston Churchill and Joe Kennedy. I’d never felt a burning desire to learn much more about these figures, but now I’d love to read something more in-depth about each of them, especially Churchill’s role in politics before WWII.

My only point of contention with this book is that it does the occasional time jump, or it’ll talk about 5 years of Churchills and then go back to the same starting point for the Kennedys, and I lost track a few times. Also, just a tip, don’t look at the photos in the middle until you’re done with the book. Or at least don’t read the captions. I “spoiled” some events (though if you’re familiar with the history then you’d probably already know what’s to come) and I wish I hadn’t. Similarly, don’t Google people to see what they look like without being prepared to shield your eyes from any death dates or new spouses. I did appreciate having photos in the book, though, since the descriptions of people made me curious about their actual appearances.

I recommend this book to anyone with time on their hands – not necessarily all at once, just twenty minutes a day or so (but don’t blame me if you find it hard to put the book down)- or an interest in the Churchills or the Kennedys. I really enjoyed the experience and thought it was well worth the hours I spent reading.

5 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.