As soon as I found out that Maria Semple — author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and writer for TV shows including Arrested Development — had a new book coming out, I was overcome with a need to read it as soon as possible. It might have edged its way into obsession territory. Edelweiss to the rescue! As soon as my copy came through, I dove right in.

And Today Will Be Different did not disappoint. Semple’s clear eye for detail and sharp wit carry through this book delightfully. There are some similarities to Where’d You Go, Bernadette in that it’s another great observational critique of this one kind of community, but in many ways this is a horse of another color. Today Will Be Different is not as charming as Where’d You Go Bernadette. Eleanor Flood, our protagonist, is frustrating, if funny, and she is quirky, but not always as endearing. In some ways I think this book is more relatable. The (seemingly) promises one makes to oneself — I will shower and get dressed, I will make an effort with people, I will try — ring very true to my ears.

The struggles Eleanor face bring extra depth and dimension to a refreshing and funny read. There is history and feeling and art and connection in this book and I really enjoyed it.

Today Will Be Different comes out October 4 and you should read it if you like fun, funny books full of heart and hilarity.

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Wonder Women!!!

September 26, 2016

(If you didn’t read the title in the in the 70s TV show intro voice, I don’t know what to do with you)

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History. The title says it all. In this deceptively slim book, Sam Maggs introduces us to a bunch (there are actually more than 25) of badass women who fought against sexism, racism, imperialism (really, just all of the isms), etc. to do amazing things in any number of fields.

The book is kind of STEM (Science, Engineering, and Mathematics) -heavy, but since women are particularly underrepresented in these areas (despite making a lot of really important contributions — oh hey, Ada Lovelace, et. al!), it’s nice to see these women receive their (over) due. Maggs doest skimp though, she also includes stories of other inventors, spies, journalists, aviatrices (yes, tat’s the plural of aviatrix!), and globetrotters. I really enjoyed reading these mini-biographies because I love learning about women who kick ass and  take names while defying all norms and expectations.

Each profile is pretty short, yet packed with information. There’s just enough to give you the background to cite in a conversation, but it leaves you wanting more (my galley didn’t have the completed bibliography, so I need to do my own research). In addition to being super smart and informative, Wonder Women is also extremely fun and funny.

In addition to the profiles on historically kick-ass women, each section concludes with a short interview with a women who is currently doing the thing and furthering the cause. I loved these interviews mixed with the stories of women from history (it was also sort of encouraging to see how many women these days have more support…. and also discouraging how many barriers they still face). I kind of wish there was some sort of overarching conclusion to tie it all together, but I’m just picky like that.

My only concern comes from something that I also think might be one of its strengths: the language of the book is very familiar and kind of trendy. It uses a lot of slang that is popular right this second. I just worry that it will make the book feel like a cheesy relic a few years from now, even though the information will still be fantastic and inspiring for many years to come.

Overall though, I loved this. It was fun and informative and inspiring and I think everyone should read it. Read it yourself so you can learn about awesome intelligent ladies, then give it to your younger sister or niece or friend or whatever so she knows she can do whatever she sets her mind to.

Wonder Women is out from Quirk Books on October 4. Mark your calendars!

I’ve been meaning to write about Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night for a while, but I kept getting distracted. If the title sounds familiar, it’s possible that you’re a Book Riot fan and heard Liberty proclaim that she would eat James Patterson if this book doesn’t do well.

Well, I’m a lucky duck with *connections* and I managed to get my hands on an advance copy.

Guys, I think James Patterson is safe.

The Queen of the Night is so good. So. Good.

I love historical fiction and I love sort of epic, sprawling tales that follow characters through radically different stages in life. This book scratches all of those itches for me. I love how the protagonist is able to shift and adapt to new situations — she’s a strong, if somewhat selfish character. She is complicated and intense and I really liked seeing her story unfold. I also enjoyed how opera plays an ongoing role in the book. It added an extra sense of depth to the story. That being said, I don’t think that an interest in/knowledge of opera is necessary to enjoy The Queen of the Night.

I don’t want to say any more about it at this point (other than it’s fantastic and you should read it) because I want you to really be able to take it all in fresh when you read it.

It comes out in February 2016. Plan accordingly. Once you start reading it, you might not want to stop and it’s a hefty-ish book. But yeah, read it. Make sure James Patterson is safe.

Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist was mesmerizing and unexpected and exactly what I wanted without my even realizing it.

I’m a big fan of historical fiction and I really enjoy books set in less common time periods and locales. The Miniaturist takes place in seventeenth century Amsterdam, beginning when 18-year old Nella arrives in the city to join her husband Johannes and his unusual household.

Nella is excited by the prospect of her new life, but it isn’t what she expected. Soon after her arrival, Nella’s husband presents her with a gift: a luxurious cabinet-sized replica of the house. Nella contacts a miniaturist in order to furnish her cabinet and with that falls headlong into the web of secrecy and wonder surrounding the household, her new family members, and the city at large.

The Miniaturist is by turns spooky, beautiful, and heartbreaking. There is so much packed into this book and it’s just lovely. I’m so glad that I got a copy of it back a BEA 2014 and I highly recommend it.

Apropos of the season, I just finished Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör. I saw this book on display at BEA14 and was lucky enough to snag a review copy from the lovely people at Quirk once it the review date loomed.

Horror as a genre isn’t typically my thing because I’m am the biggest wimp that ever wimped. But there is no resisting this book. It screams “pick me up and never put me down.”

Welcome to Orsk, the European box-store to which American suburbanites flock en masse for affordable some-assembly-required furniture and home goods. Start off on the showroom floor, following the Bright And Shining Path, which will usher you through your shopping experience onto the market floor where you will mindlessly fork over all your money ever. The store environment is expertly designed to subtly disorient and keep shoppers moving and spending, but what if something more sinister is at work?

Every morning shop partners at the Cuyahoga Orsk open the store to find broken furniture, graffiti, and smelly, unidentified substances smeared on displays. Before a corporate review, some employees will take an overnight shift to get to the bottom of these midnight mysteries, but what they discover is more baffling — and horrifying — than they could ever imagine.

Who among us hasn’t had the momentary fear of being lost in an Ikea forever? Horrorstör takes that fear, along with about every other fear you’ve ever had, and twists it into one masterful work.

Bonus points go to this book for the packaging. At first glance it looks like an Ikea catalog, with a glossy cover and illustrations of various furniture pieces with vaguely European and/or Scandinavian-sounding names. As the story progresses, the furniture begins to look more and more like torture devices, which is just a spectacular touch.

Horrorstör is at turns hilarious and terrifying, but always riveting. I definitely recommend it. And what better time to read a creepy book than on Halloween?

John Niven’s Straight White Male is another one of the books that I picked up at BEA 2014.

The titular straight white male is Kennedy Marr, an Irish novelist of the high-functioning alcoholic, womanizing, roguish asshole variety. He has a number of Hollywood script projects that are delinquent and he’s in the midst of a terrible bout of writer’s block, not to mention all the back taxes that he owes to the IRS. Then Marr is unexpectedly awarded the W. F. Bingham Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Modern Literature — a prize that could fix all his problems, but comes with a catch: the honoree must teach English for a year at the awarding university. And guess where his ex-wife works.

Straight White Male is kind of just about Kennedy boozing and womanizing and, maybe occasionally trying to be a slightly better person while dealing with growing older, but definitely not wanting to grow up.

Not a whole lot happens in terms of character development, or even plot really, but it’s an entertaining enough read if you enjoy this sort of character. Marr is someone who I would be inclined to punch if I ever actually met him in person, and while he is often insufferable in text, it is somewhat interesting getting into the head of such a character.

The Returned — Review

July 24, 2014

Jason Mott’s The Returned was a huge (and I mean huge) buzz book at BEA13. I was intrigued enough to pick it up, but there were books that were higher up on my list (books that I still haven’t read. I have issues, let’s not venture down that particular rabbit hole). In any case, after a conversation about a television show (which I haven’t seen and now can’t remember the name of — sorry), I remembered this book and decided it was time to give it a shot.

The basic idea of this book is quite compelling — what would happen if those who died returned (not in a creepy zombie way, just in a picking up where they left off kind of way)? Would these returned individuals be the same as they were before? Are they human? Could they tell us about death? The afterlife?

Mott forces his characters and his readers to ask these questions and as things progress the water only gets murkier. And there are additional mysteries and peculiarities that go unexplained.

The Returned is clearly one of those books that is more about the journey than the destination because while the setting at the beginning and end of the book might be markedly different in certain ways, the world as a whole isn’t really. There is very little resolution and most questions remain unanswered.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is to just ask the question and think about it and move on with your life. If you’re like me and you like getting answers (it enables me to be an insufferable know-it-all. Thankfully, some do suffer it), this book is going to frustrate you.

It’s still good though, and I do recommend it.

BEA14 Recap

June 3, 2014

Let us rejoice, fair readers, for I have returned triumphant. Book Expo America — the one day of it that I could attend — was a success!

I arrived in New York Friday night after quite a few wrong turns and extra bridges (my GPS and I had a disagreement — she really wanted me to go to Staten Island) to my friend’s lovely and welcoming apartment. After some food and conversation it was off to bed and a few hours later we were up, grabbing bagels (oh, how I miss NY bagels) and heading to the Javits Center.

I checked in and got my badge and we waited in line until the exhibition floor opened at 9. Then it was GoGoGo until the show closed in the afternoon.

Unlike in previous years, the Power Readers (or Book Con-ers, this year) were segregated to one section of the floor. While this made certain parts blissfully open, the other section, where much of the action was happening, was horrifically crowded and claustrophobic.

Even with all the extra people, I got tons of books.

I’d like to think I was more discerning this year, and perhaps I was, but all the same, I am already out of bookshelf space. There are just so many books and they all look so good! So yeah, this should prove interesting.

Now, I know you actually care very little about my experience at the expo. You just want to know what books I got. So, without further ado, I present my BEA14 Book Haul:

The BEA14 Book Haul Pile

The BEA14 Book Haul Pile

The Tastemakers: Why we’re for cupcakes but fed up with fondue by David Sax
The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev
How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor
Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Jessica Moore
Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts
The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett
On Immunity: An inoculation by Eula Biss
Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen
The Black Butterfly by Shirley Reva Vernick
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A writer’s life by Pamela Smith Hill
Pioneer Girl edited by Pamela Smith Hill
Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini
My Real Children by Jo Walton
All Roads Lead to Jerusalem by Jenny Jones
City of Lies: Love, sex, death, and the search for truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
The Dogs Were Rescued (and So Was I) by Teresa J. Rhyne
Empire’s Crossroads: A history of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson
Alice + Freda Forever: A murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe
Madame Picasso by Anne Girard
Straight White Male by John Niven
Let’s Get Lost [excerpt] by Adi Alsaid
Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf
Misdiagnosed: One woman’s tour of and escape from healthcareland  by Jody Berger
Good Chinese Wife by Susan Blumberg-Kason
The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
Stars of the World Cup
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Fridays at Enrico’s by Don Carpenter, finished by Jonathan Lethem
Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican
Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s first bohemians by Justin Martin
If Only You People Could Follow Directions by Jessica Hendry Nelson
The Girl Who Never Was by Skylar Dorset
Turkish Coffee Culture
A Millennium of Turkish Literature
The Aegean Mythology
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow
Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Drawing Amanda by Stephanie Feuer
Turkish Coffee by M. Sabri Koz and Kemalettin Kuzucu
The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith
Jackaby by William Ritter
The Black Hour by Lori Radder-Day
Neverhome by Laird Hunt
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Liberty’s Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell
Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis
The Jewel by Amy Ewing
10:04 by Ben Lerner
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
The American Plate: A history of the United States in 100 bites by Libby H. O’Connell

I received a review copy of Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History — Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie from Quirk Books.

Honestly, I feel like I shouldn’t even have to write a review for this one. Doesn’t the title sell it enough? What’s not to like?

In all seriousness though, this book was great. I found myself rationing stories so that it would last just that little bit longer. It was well-researched and informative, but McRobbie’s telling adds a sassy voice to the tales that’s often missing from other representations of historical royal figures.

The princesses in Princesses Behaving Badly aren’t necessarily the Disney role models á la Mulan or Brave, but they’re still great examples of female strength and leadership.

Just go read it. It’s fun and funny and informative (and it has a kickass title).

I recently finished reading an e-galley of This Is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky.

This was a really interesting book. Sophie is in high school. She does well in her classes (especially art) and goes straight home everyday, checks in on her mom in her studio space where she paints all day, and continues upstairs to their apartment to start dinner. Expect on the fourth day of junior year. On that day, Sophie’s mother attempts suicide and Sophie is suddenly plunged into new waters.

As her mother recovers and Sophie is, for the first time in five years, not responsible for anyone but herself. Finally getting to be her age is different and scary and she knows it can’t last.

There’s a lot going on in this book and you’re really with Sophie every step of the way. She feels responsible for everything, but knows that isn’t fair and you really feel for her. There are also family secrets bubbling under the surface, waiting to be exposed.

This Is How I Find Her takes a different look at mental illness and family dynamics and I definitely recommend it.