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Our first brunch/book club adventure. Clever & witty name tk.

Two of my favorite past times/hobbies/activities/passions are books and brunch.  Put them together and ta-da – what a fabulous day!  I met the lovely ladies Nicole (@nicolebo) of Linus’s Blanket and Erica (@EricaBrooke) of Harper Perennial fame  at V Bar in the East Village for mimosas, breakfast, and to talk about our first book:

STRANGERS AT THE FEAST by Jennifer Vanderbes

Yes, we all agreed the jacket was unattractive at best.  And if you can explain the tear, I’d love to hear it.

Since I just had 2.5 magnolia cupcakes, I’m on a sugar-high and can hopefully publish this post (that’s been sitting in draft since Monday) before the crash comes!  This is my first real book club gathering in two years, and I must say it was charming that all three of us were racing to finish the novel right before meeting.  I was ready to pack my Kindle away and walk to brunch and planned to finish the remaining 12% while sitting on a sunny bench and waiting for the ladies to arrive, when the action that had been foreshadowed the entire other 300 or so pages FINALLY happened. Needless to say I couldn’t put it down then, sped to the end before speed walking to the V.

STRANGERS AT THE FEAST was the first book I’ve read by Vanderbes (first I’d ever heard of her).  I think all of us felt the same way – we expected to like it more than we did.

There is typically something universally relateable and compulsively readable about a family in crisis.  Nicole pointed out that the pacing felt off – the book was quite slow, foreshadowing this massive event that was to take place and when it (don’t want to give anything away!) FINALLY happened, it wrapped up so quickly and none of us were satisfied with the conclusion.

Also, as Erica so eloquently notes in her GoodReads review: there is a bit about an adult brother and sister who “fiercely hug” every night before bed that freaked us all out. Unintentional incest overtones alert!

 

Book Club at our initial Dos Cominos inception brunch

Our April pick (when hopefully we’ll have the whole “club” present, including Colleen @booksnyc, Jenny @jennysbooks, Miriam @MiriamParker, and Neha) is YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE by Siobhan Fallon.

 

Addition to post: on the topic of blurbs – even though Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE was hugely, wildly popular, I never would have thought a quote from him of vampire fame would be relevant to this book, though it appears on the cover.

Well I guess it’s not technically a genre, and I’m on the tailend of this book buzz, but I’ve only recently read ROOM and STILL MISSING and am all kidnapped-out.

Getting kidnapped has always been an irrational fear of mine – I shudder at the sight of vans without windows (STILL MISSING really reminded me of this issue) and I used to practice lying very still in my childhood bed, hoping the burglar creeping through my window wouldn’t notice my form.  Obviously my fears haven’t happened yet (knocked on wood) though these two novels brought them back to the surface!

Both books were told from unique perspectives:  As I’m sure you’ve gleaned from the many reviews of ROOM, the entire book is told from the perspective of one very intelligent but very sheltered five-year old boy, who has spent his whole life trapped in a single room with his abducted mother.  It really is a story pulled from the headlines – and the fact that it’s fiction doesn’t make it less traumatizing. This was a book I hesitate to say I enjoyed reading because Emma Donoghue is such a talented writer that you actually were inside the head of Jack yet still aware of Ma’s world and knowledge and experience, and it was a tough place to be.  But this was an impactful read that I will definitely continue to recommend.  In fact, I read this on my Kindle and really missed the physical book when all I wanted to do was send it to a friend for a mini-bookclub discussion.

STILL MISSING was the much-buzzed about debut this spring that I found languishing on my boyfriend’s bookshelf where I had left it.  The unique point of view in this story was how it was told mainly through the victim’s (Annie) meeting with her therapist.  I really wanted to like this book, and didn’t hate it… but can’t say I would recommend it.  The language and violence and character’s turned me off, and I found the twist at the end appalling and rather unbelievable. I like flawed characters, but this was a little too much.  I don’t want to spoil it, but I did call my mom just to hear her exclaim “I can’t believe she did that! That’s terrible! This wasn’t a true story right?” which made it all right in the world.   Though I do commend this young author – she made the NYT bestseller list and I’m proud of her even if this effort wasn’t my favorite – I’ll pick up her next and hope the people are nicer!

 Now that I’ve shared my abduction genre I can fully head back to the deep South for my Southern Reading fun! All your suggestions were great and my pile is as long as the kudzu.

Wiki says: A southern belle (derived from the French word belle, ‘beautiful’) is an archetype for a young woman of the AmericanOld South’s upper class.

RoadTrip Success!

Well maybe the definition of a Southern Belle is a little archaic and superficial, but I plan to become more intimately acquainted with those states who once made up a Confederacy.

For better or worse, Michigan has always been my home.  Although I often detested and felt limited by the small town I was raised in, heading back to MI from college, Chicago, and then NYC was always a trip that I looked forward to.  There’s a feeling of calm when you’re heading back to a world so recognizable – knowing every street, where the creaky floor board is, how to sneakily turn up the heat on the pool just enough that your dad won’t notice, and being able to walk to the bathroom in the dark without tripping and no fumbling for lightswitches, since hell, you’ve been in the same house you entire life (well, except for the first eight months but who’s counting).

Well as of last week, the life I knew has changed by… 692.77 miles and an 11 hour drive (Mapquest).

That’s right, folks, my parents, Northerner’s born and bred, have relocated to Tunica, Mississippi!  You may be familiar with the city (no judgments here) because it is the third most popular gambling destination in the United States, behind Vegas and Atlantic City!  My Dad is not a professional poker player and I doubt my mom will ever wear the costume of a cocktail waitress, but they will live a mere ten minutes from the lights of the casinos.

My mom and I road-tripped down to Tunica last week for the final move – the two of us, Skippy the dog, and a load of my mom’s favorite plants (the “greenhouse” had much more room than poor Skippy and I who had to share the front seat!).  Tunica is a very cute little town overflowing with nice, friendly southerners.  I got my hair done (note to self: always get hair done in South; much better pricing than NYC extravagance!) and in that two hours, was given a brief lesson in Southern etiquette and history.

Dad in front of the Tunica Times newspaper

But I need to know more.  The South truly is a different world. Not only do people have accents  (which is #1 on my Southern Belle list – I hope to pick mine up over the Christmas holidays) but a different history than what I grew up with.  So while I’m searching for all the light switches in our new house next time I visit (when I left after my stay, there were outdoor lights on that we had no idea how they came on, or how to turn off!), I plan to be educating myself on the life from my perch in NYC.

My Southern Book List:

Mom & Skippy in the MS living room pre-moving truck arrival

I wouldn’t even know where to begin to make this a Southern Belle Challenge, but I would love to hear if anyone wanted to dive in to the deep south with me!  Also, I’m sure I’m missing valuable southern literature so please y’all, feel free to make suggestions.

I’m sneaking this post in just in time! It’s my last day at work before a four-day long Labor Day weekend, and I’ve been wearing white clothes all week.  I hate when it’s time to relegate my white pants and dresses to the back of my closet (er, shoved under my bed since closet too small), not only because it indicates the dismissal of summer, but I just love happy, bright colors.

But, if I wanted to  bring back the memories of summer – the sunshine, swimming pools, green grass, wine, cocktails enjoyed while watching sunsets from the patio <swoon>, all I would need to do is re-read Danielle Ganek’s latest novel, THE SUMMER WE READ GATSBY.

I read the iconic GREAT GATSBY post college, when I was in a selfish haze enjoying my first summer as an “adult” in Chicago.  I enjoyed the story and the fanciful clothing and setting, but think I missed some of the finer points of this “Great American Novel.”  Reading the importance (er, “influence on the character) of the novel in Ganek’s latest made me want to rush out and find a copy to read again (also, to discover that elusive first edition with dust jacket supposedly worth more than $100k!).

This is a fun read, starting off with highlighting the differences between two half- sisters, thrown together for a month in Southampton in the home of a now-deceased beloved aunt.  Pecksland (yes, that’s her name), better known as “Peck” is a 32 year old NYC society gal who’s a wannabe actress (I think we all know a few of these), while Stella Blue Cassandra Olivia Moriarty (who goes by Stella or Cassie) is a shy 28-year old brought up in with conservative European ways, with no living relatives other than the eccentric Peck.

The two sisters are both adrift in their lives, as Peck’s dreams have yet to be realized, while Stella recently went through a divorce and is still reeling from the death of her aunt.  The ramshackle bungalow in Southampton brings these two characters, along with a couple other “Fools” (their aunt was very supportive of struggling artists and allowed non-paying “fools” to live in the garage) and takes a fun romp through the bustling community that’s the Hamptons in the summer.  Obviously, their sharp edges towards each other become more like sea glass (how’s that analogy?!) as they warm up and end up actually liking each other.

Now I feel all nostalgia for my summer that’s over.  Ganek does a great job showing the dichotomy and place of the Hamptons – new money vs. old, and the huge new mansions though large in size may be small in taste.  There were fewer pool parties and wine tours than I would have expected – since really, what were these people doing all day!? But she did share friendships, love interests, family drama and a little bit of mystery.  This is truly a summer read (or a firelight read when you’re trying to bring back summer thoughts), best enjoyed on the Long Island Railroad, when you have a patio, pool and beach bonfire in your imminent future.

Oh yes, and the aunt’s name is Lydia so I think I see a Southampton bungalow in my future (dad, you reading this? It’d be a great 26th b-day gift/investment!).  I’ve already had quite the Southampton summer, thanks to my bf’s share house as well as Ganek’s sumptuous novel.

Good-Bye Hamptons, hello September.

There is endless entertainment to be found in the incorrectly, humorously translated signs featured in the “Strange Signs from Abroad” article on the NYT:

I found myself laughing in the obvious, and for the most part harmless, confusion on display as language barriers turn toilets into fishing ponds and the occasional crude translation.

But it also makes me think to my own confusion (and I admit, occasional irritation) as I try to order take out from the delicious Thailand Cafe (for you NYC’ers, make note they open their front windows and have $5 pineapple lychee mojito specials) down Second Ave, and I look at my iPhone in confusion, wondering is my voice breaking up? It says I have full service so why are they not understanding that I want pad thai and cashew chicken with brown rice?  So I speak louder, thinking if only I can enunciate enough it will be understood, and my order won’t incorrectly be beef chow-mein or spicy noodles.

Obviously, the problem isn’t my phone (though seriously, AT&T if you’re reading this, do something about my dropped calls pleasssssssssssssse) but the language barrier between my English and the order-taker’s non.  I’m not ignorant though – I only speak one language (and I think to think I speak it well, but still – single language speaker here) as opposed to these people crossing oceans and coming not understanding a single word spoken and somehow picking it up… which is just incredible.

My thoughts seem to be all over the place, but really my point is to suggest that you read GIRL IN TRANSLATION, the amazing debut novel from Jean Kwok.  A Riverhead title, I first read this book in manuscript form on my patio last year and was instantly hooked.  I could feel the pain of protagonist Kimberly Chang as she and her mother immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn and lost everything along the way.  History, tradition, language… everything was gone, and replaced with poverty and sweatshops and a freezing cold apartment during NYC winters.

What really struck me about this novel is how Kwok was able to capture the confusion of languages.  She explains how Chinese sounds to outsiders, and her mother’s struggle at understand the English language.  And in this situation, when it really is life, it’s not funny like the signs shown above.  Also incredible is how Kimberly measures cost by how many skirts she and her mother would have to clean at the sweat shop:  “…the jackets cost at least 20,000 skirts each.” – it gives a whole new value to the dollar.

So my point to  you (and a reminder to myself) is to have tolerance and patience.  My intention is not to make this book sound like a downer – it’s a lovely summer read and definitely one you can share with your mom, sister, and any YA reader in you life.  In fact, I suggest you do share it with them; it will give you lots of discussion and things for which to be thankful!

News!

I have a Kindle!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My pleading and begging finally worked, and I now have a new little electronic buddy whom I happily run home to every evening.  Or maybe not every evening, but you know what I mean.  She’s beautiful (this iPhone photo doesn’t do her justice) – I’ll definitely have to update with a new picture once her sophisticated hot pink leather case arrives.  I’m extra-excited for my rendezvous in Chicago this weekend as plane time = Kindle time!  No longer will I have to lug multiple ARCs with me to leave in the airport as I finish; all manuscripts are secure in my little 10oz device!

Now I am still, and like to think always will be, a faithful reader of the physical book.  I plan to use my Kindle primarily as a single-handed attempt to save forests, since I’ll no longer be printing out 400+ page manuscripts that kill my shoulder on the trek home.  It will also be my travel companion and gives me motivation to start saving for a trip to Europe!  I haven’t bought my first ebook  yet, though I did download the free sample of CHELSEA CHELSEA BANG BANG (you all know about my girl crush on Chelsea Handler) and am sorely tempted.

Happy almost weekend, everyone! I don’t know about you, but this week has flown by for me, and I see a necessary slumber into late morning tomorrow… followed by mimosas.

In case you all need an excuse/reason/want to smile, I highly recommend indulging in the following book trailer for our recent release, THE BOOK OF AWESOME.

And the crazy/cool thing is, a fan created that video!  Someday, I hope to have evangelical fans like that… but since I don’t do anything as cool as 1000 Awesome Things, it may be rather creepy.

I was inspired to think of some simply awesome things that I don’t appreciate enough, and came up with the following:

  • When my roommate changes the hair catcher in our shower – sorry, maybe TMI, but with one shower and two girls with lots of hair, it’s a necessary plastic piece that keeps our landlord from kicking us out due to constant shower blockage.  Not to say she’s usually lazy, but this task typically falls to me.  Luckily we both have light colored hair, so it’s not the really gross long, dark strands (I love dark hair, but on one’s head…).
  • Recognizing the bug I discovered in my bedroom was of the simple flying insect type that came in through my patio door, and not a bedbug.  This is a really AWESOME thing.  Though I had nightmares for two days after my extensive google image searching to make sure…
  • Realizing yesterday when texting with my friend out in LA that really, there is no better place to be living and working at this point in my life than NYC!

A snippet of my little pieces of happy have been shared – I’d love for you to share your awesome things!

…yet again.  I thank all my visitors who still come back every day (I don’t know who you are, but I appreciate it) and make me consistently add “blog” to my to-do list (which I conveniently misplace when it gets too long).

I’ve still been reading and imbibing, but also have branched out and taken a pilates class (my abs were sore for days), saw my first off-broadway play (fabulous), gone to brunch and NOT had a mimosa (painful) and had a huge spring cleaning session with the roomie (worthwhile – we celebrated with our first patio party!).

Instead of me attempting to write reviews of the books I’ve read lately, I’ve decided to highlight a few special reviews that really jumped out at me from fellow book bloggers, often who express my thoughts more eloquently:

THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW by Peter Bognanni

This book was a hugely pleasant surprise for me.  Now that I am far too old for 16 year old boys (that would be illegal), I hadn’t anticipated to feel the connection with the teenagers in this debut novel.  I was wrong. Their voices came through clear, though their feelings and emotions were muddled.  Jen at Devourer of Books says it so well in her review:

This book is made of awesome…Bognanni used punk rock skillfully to explore the alienation of teen years, without creating obnoxiously alienated teens.

PRETTY IN PLAID by Jen Lancaster

Ever since I discovered Jen in BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG ASS I’ve had a girl crush (similar to the one I have on Chelsea Handler – these ladies are funny!).  Jen’s one of those authors for whom I have a hard time reviewing, because there are so many facets: her Chicago details which cause me fits of nostalgia, her pet antics, her husband and her modesty all make the pages fly by.  Another blogger whom I really enjoy reviewed this book last year and I was so happy to discover Nat’s wonderful thoughts – take a look at this excerpt from her review on the wonderful blog, Book, Line & Sinker.

Lancaster takes the mundane and spins it into a giant, literary confection of equal parts humor, hubris, and habiliment.  This book should come with a Surgeon General’s Warning printed on it–Reading this book should be done only in private and may induce:

  • laughing until your mascara runs down your face in twin, black rivers
  • laughing until you snort (Swine flu be damned!)
  • laughing yourself into a wheezy, cartoonish fit
  • laughing yourself into hyperventilation (as your husband frantically dials 9-1-1 for help)

THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake

Another book, which I’ve mentioned in the past but never really reviewed, is THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake.  My new friend Rebecca over at Book Lady’s Blog did a wonderful job of, eh, attempting to review this title:

Don’t let the pretty cover and the nice purple rose fool you, people. Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress is no fluffy romance novel… Because I’ve been trying to write this review for more than two weeks but have continued to find myself reduced to gushing (a good problem to have, but not exactly one that contributes to an articulate review)

–I know this isn’t the best excerpt from her review, but you really should go visit her site to get the full impact of her thoughts.  Also nice to note, she and I have similar tastes in liking books on weird religions!

ANGELOLOGY by Danielle Trussoni

Now this is partially cheating, since I’m not totally done with this book yet (half way at best)… But what I’ve read I love, and the reason I even made a point to get this bestselling new release is due to Swapna’s review.  So I wanted to make sure you all read it her thoughts as well, in hopes that you’re driven to immediately acquire it yourself:

Angelology was one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory…Trussoni has crafted an intricate and impeccably researched history for the reader in this book.  She creates an entire world simply through her words.  The details are vivid and her prose is descriptive, such that the reader can picture events in the novel clearly in their head.  She is thorough, yet strikes a balance between not enough information and overwhelming the reader with details.  It’s a beautiful construction, and one that I can’t praise highly enough.

I hope you all enjoyed these snippets from well written reviews as much as I did! Please visit the blogs listed above, as they’re wonderful and I am consistently impressed with how much these ladies read, then review, and have lives – my juggling skills are not yet at their level!

FTC disclosure: Many of the books listed above (the Penguin ones) I read due to having the best job in the world so received them from my desk. Others were bought or borrowed. Thanks for caring.

My Vegas flush (excuse the 5am pic circa 2006)

I like to think I’m lucky.

Take me to Vegas, and it’s probably I’ll win you money (really, a Jack and a two is a winning hand for me in Texas Hold ‘Em).  I enjoy the thrill of betting, though get just as excited over penny slots as hundred dollar bets (well, maybe that’s a stretch, but not having lots of extra $$ I’d have a heart attack before winning if lots was at stake).

I also love brackets.  Wayyyy more than basketball.  But year after year, I tend to perform well in brackets knowing nothing about the sport (see above: I’m lucky).

Luckily, in this month o’ brackets, I have more options from which to choose, and on a subject I’m knowledgeable: Books!

The Morning News is at it again with their new Tournament of Books (#ToB for your Tweeters).  I’m engaged: THE HELP has already beat LOWBOY, and LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN has overtaken Nami Munn’s lovely debut, MILES FROM NOWHERE (which I read when it first came out in hardcover and found it to be amazing).

Not only are books just as exciting as basketball (or more-so, in some cases), these “competitions” are judged by well-written experts.  After reading Rosecran Baldwin’s review of why he chose McCann instead of Munn, I’ve already ordered LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN and am eagerly anticipating its arrival.

On a side note, Baldwin happens to be the author of an upcoming Riverhead title, YOU LOST ME THERE (August 12), which has officially climbed up on my TBR stack after having read, and loved, his thoughts and style.

Now that you’re hooked on the ToB, who do you think will win?

Onto Bracket #2!  The fabulous Jen Forbus over at Jen’s Book Thoughts, is hosting a bracket for the “World’s Favorite Detective” tournament!

I tried to revisit the bracket to give you a better rundown, but her techie site seems to think I’m trying to stack the vote (which I may have considered) and won’t let me back in.  No worries, as I can about guarantee your favorite detective is included!

From classics like Agatha Christie’s Hercules, to the contemporary and swoon-worthy Elvis Cole, this bracket reads like the “who’s who of crime fiction.”  Voting in Round One is occasionally like “Sophie’s Choice” – how can you reasonably choose between Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton) and V.I. Warshawski (Sara Paretsky).


But, as you’ve probably noticed, after touting my “lucky” status, I’m not about to jinx myself and share my predictions on the book brackets!  I’ll be sure to let you know how my predictions (jotted down in a post-it somewhere) turn out…

The Radiance Tea House & Books -and- The Great Jones Spa

The title should actually be “oases,” since I have plural to share, but let’s just admit the correct form looks funny and doesn’t carry the same impact as the palm-tree, sunshine and calm that “oasis” does.

This was a much anticipated weekend for me, since not only was it extended (thank you, President’s Day), but one of my best friends and much-missed roommate from Chicago was visiting for the first time.

Radiance Tea Room NYC experiences

Beyond the hugs and laughter, booze and bars, shopping and strolling, was an overall fantastic NYC experience (I like to think phase one of her eventual move here).  One of the places we visited (in addition to the New York Public Library – which was gorgeous and inspiring) was the Radiance Tea House & Books.

You all know I fear disappointment, and having been here once before with my Mom and Sister for a tea tasting that was absolutely fabulous, I was nervous that my second experience wouldn’t live up to my very high expectations.

Luckily I was wrong (and I don’t say that often).

The ambiance is tranquil, with moving water, soft scents, colorful accents and tea sets for sale and a book collection – all with Asian overtones.  Charlotte and I shared a pot of tea for two and the best soup I’ve ever tasted. Not being one for extremely healthy bittles, I was skeptical of the all natural, gogi berry, fig, chicken, broth concoction, but my new age-y side came out and I tried it – to find it absolutely delightful and rival the dumplings for my favor.

Now, for the books that compare to this delightful experience are as follows:

  • SHANGHAI GIRLS by Lisa See: Though this book is far from tranquil as it follows the struggles between sisters as they escape China and have to carve out new lives in the different world and culture of LA in the 1930s, it’s an obvious choice due to its Asian focus and the detailed description of culture and color, which immediately bring my rich Tea House experience.
  • LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH by Emily Giffin: The obvious is that much of this chic-lit novel takes place in NYC.  But there’s also the deeper, underlying questioning we women tend to do upon making any big decision, and there’s no better solution than to talk things over with your best friends – hence this choice.
  • I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE by Sloane Crosley: Another NYC setting, but this one depicts the city in all its reality, told in a fresh and real voice.  Crosley’s essays are relevant, hilarious, often too relatable and she has that enviable skill to be an incredibly talented writer that at the same times makes you feel as if your own stories are worth sharing.

After Charlotte leaves early Monday morning, I lie in bed, drained from our activity and other debauchery.  Luckily, I happened to be swept away on a wonderful date to the rejuvenating oasis of Great Jones Spa.

Armed with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, a bikini and very pale skin (though luckily, Char and I had indulged in a nail session, so my fingers and toes were appropriately glowing) – we arrived at the “Water Lounge” around 3pm.

Needless to say, it was a decadent experience.  Traipsing between the “River Rock Sauna, Chakra Light Steam Room, Thermal Hot Tub, and Cold Plunge” then relaxing in a chaise reading while wrapped in a fluffy robe it was the perfect way to spend a snowy day off work.

I plan to make this a yearly President’s Day thing – I have no doubt the company may change, but I’m hoping the experience remains the same!

Corresponding reading material:

  • PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen: Though the Bennett sisters lacked the accommodations of the spa, there was plenty of innocent flirting taking place throughout the watery haven.  There’s no better place to read about Jane & her Mr. Darcy than drinking tea under the lights of a fake palm tree.
  • OLIVIA JOULES AND THE OVERACTIVE IMAGINATION by Helen Fielding: Why? Well because it’s fun, frothy and an escape from reality.  Though Fielding does a nice job integrating bigger issues (9/11) into this frolicking tale.  It’s an experience akin to reading The Economist (not kidding, my man friend did) at the spa.
  • ROUGH COUNTRY by John Sandford: Though Virgil Flowers may not be an obvious choice, this hilarious mystery does take part near a women’s spa/camp in Minn.  And Flowers is known for enjoying a relaxing time in his fishing boat, so I don’t doubt he would enjoy the sound of running water here.

Great Jones Spa

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