10 September 2014

TLC Book Tour: Early Decision by Lacy Crawford

Welcome to the TLC Book Tour stop for Early Decision by Lacy Crawford!

Click on the image to purchase the book from my Powell's partner account
Early Decision tells the story of an independent college counselor, Anne, as she advises her group of students through the most difficult time of year for college admissions, and also the most difficult period of her life so far.  Not only does she have to help her wealthy students and their entitled parents navigate the obstacle course of college application season, she also has to deal with her flaky actor boyfriend, her dissatisfied parents, and her own decisions about her future.  Anne's students are vibrant characters: Sadie, the daughter of a guru and a high-powered lawyer, Hunter, the good-natured, but mediocre-student suburban son, and William, the son of a staunch conservative set on preventing him from living his dream of studying theater at Vassar. 

There was a lot about Anne that I could relate to, since I also work with students learning to express themselves in writing.  I found Crawford's portrayal of the world of academia to be incredibly bleak in places, but the heart of the book is really in the obvious care that Anne (and I assume, by proxy, Crawford) has for young people.  And young people, no matter their background, who are just learning to find their voice and their place in the world, are an exciting bunch.  I felt, as a reader of this book, invested in the future of each of the characters.  I was exhausted and angered by the way the adults in these young people's lives, including Anne's, try to control their paths and live their lives for them.  Reading the interview at the end of the book with the author, I realized just how sharp and articulate Lacy Crawford is, and how insightful she is about the often difficult world of college admissions.  Although I wasn't sure about the book at the beginning, thinking it may be overly sensationalist and unconscious of the privilege inherent in the world it presents, by the end I was won over and ripping through the final pages.  This a fun read, but one with both head and heart.

Title:Early Decision
Author: Lacy Crawford
Publisher: William Morrow
Date: 2013
Genre:General Fiction

294 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher and TLC Book Tours

08 September 2014

August in Review

Oh, August!  What a sad reading month you were!

*These images link to my Powell's partner account.  Click them to purchase books and support this blog.
See, I only read/listened to two books this month. There were a lot of other stops and starts, but these are the only two I came through on.

1. Laline Paull, The Bees: This was a "buzzy" book (ha, see what I did there?), which I kept reading about around the interwebs.  I got it from the library and gobbled it up.  It has a lesser- Handmaid's Tale vibe, but with bees.  It was a great late summer read, but wasn't memorable.  When I was getting ready to write this post, I couldn't remember what the one book that I read this month even was.  Take it to the beach, but don't expect it to come with you into back home.

 2014/ Ecco/ 352 pages/ Public Library

2. Jesse Bering, Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us (audiobook): This is exactly the kind of audiobook I love to listen to: full of fun factoids with a sense of humor and some decent socio/psychological investigation.  Bering investigates societal attitudes to a variety of so-called sexual perversions and their historical contexts.  This is a great listen for fans of Mary Roach.

2013/ Macmillan Audio/ 6 hours 56 minutes/ Audible

So, that's it for this month.  Here's to a better September.

05 August 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: YA/Middle Grade Recommendations

The topic this week for Top Ten Tuesday is Top Ten Books you would recommend to readers who haven't tried __________.  I chose YA/Middle Grade (I don't read enough of either one individually to make the whole list), not because I am an expert, but because I am a novice.  And, if you are also a novice, you might  like these books as well.  And if you are a YA aficionado and would like to make some more recommendations for me in the comments, I can't wait to read them!

10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins *:  My YA gateway drug.  I mean, I'm pretty sure that everyone has read it, but maybe not?
9. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys:  This is not to be confused with 50 Shades of Grey... a Lithuanian teenager is sent with her family to Siberian work campus during WWII.
8. When You Reach Me by Rebeccca Stead:  Lovely middle grade about time travel and other awesomeness.
7. Girl Goddess #9  by Francesca Lia Block:  I actually can't vouch at all for how this holds up, but I can tell you that when I was an actual teenager, I had a big, fat girl crush on FLB.

6. Butter by Erin Jade Lange: A unique bullying story.  Well-written and unexpected.
5.  Ask the Passengers by A.S. King:  A novel about sexuality that doesn't resort to stereotypes.  A.S. King is a little bit magical.
4. Eleanor and Park  by Rainbow Rowell:  RR rocks.  I have a big, fat girl crush on her now.

3. Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol: Because there are great YA graphic novels, too.
2. Wonder  by R. J. Palacio:  I'm happy that people are writing books like this, and even happier that people are reading them.
1. Will Grayson Will Graysoby John Green and David Levithan:  This is the ultimate YA book for me.  I really love it.  The characters' quirky personalities continue to stick with me.  It rocks.

Writing this list put me in the mood to read some YA or middle grade.  What should I pick up next?

*The links are to my reviews when available.
** The images in this post link to my Powell's partner account.  Click on them to purchase the books and support my blog. 

03 August 2014

July in Review

 *The images in this post link to my Powell's Partner account. If you purchase books through these links, I receive a small percentage of the proceeds to help support my reading habit.

I read/listened to four books this month.  One, This is the Water, I reviewed in a separate post, so check it out here

1. Saga: Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: This is a compilation of the first five issues of Saga, a comic about a couple from two different factions in an interplanetary war, who have a child, and must run to keep their family intact.  It is told from the future point of view of their daughter as they travel across planets and meet many different types of creatures, friends and foes.  I don't usually get into fantasy, but something about the grittiness and humor of this comic really appealed to me.  I buzzed right through the first volume, and was definitely disappointed to find that my library didn't have volume two.  I guess I'll have to buy it.

2012/ Image Comics/160 pages/Public Library

2. The Fever by Megan Abbott: I started this one on my phone as a galley, and it expired before I finished.  So, since it is a mystery, and I was about 40 pages from the end, I had to go to my local book store and read the end.  I mean, I couldn't wait to get it from the library.  And that is a testament to the story, since I really didn't know - at least not 100% - what was going to happen.  The book is based on a true story of a group of high school girls who broke out in a bout of hysterical illness, and the parents who attributed the illness to all sorts of environmental factors (dirty water, vaccines- the usual suspects). The girls in this book are a group of friends, one of whom is the narrator of the story, and the other two who are the first to break out in some sort of illness that causes a series of frightening seizures and tics, and which soon spreads across the female population at the school.  However, unlike the real story on which the incident is based, at least one of these girls' sickness is caused by something outside her own mind.  Abbott is a master of writing about the dark side of teenage girls in a way that feels genuine and not based on stereotype (well, not entirely).  I always enjoy her style of noir.

2014/Little, Brown/ 320 pages/ eGalley via the publisher and NetGalley

3. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (audiobook):  This is the audiobook that I listened to while watering our huge yard each day before the start of the monsoon rains.  This is a task that I hate, so I was happy to have David Sedaris' familiar voice there to make me laugh.  I don't even like to read Sedaris books, because they are so much better read by the author on audio.  If you haven't tried many audiobooks, this would be a great place to start.  I love the essays in the collection about travel and family, and I don't so much love the fictional pieces at the end.  Sedaris is really at his best when he writes from experience.  I can't wait for the next collection.

2013/Hachette Audio/ 6 hours 25 minutes/ Audible subscription

So, that's it for me.  What books kept you company through the hot summer days?

29 July 2014

TLC Book Tour: Yannick Murphy, This is the Water

Click on the image to purchase the book from my Powell's partner account
This is the book.  This is the book that you will read about swim moms, and small towns, and secrets.  This is the book with the mystery killer.  This killer will kill one of the girls on the swim team.  You will wonder through the book who is next.  This isn't the only mystery in the book.  This isn't the only mystery, because there are relationships in this book.  These relationships are complicated and sometimes scandalous, and these relationships will keep you turning the pages.

This is the style of the book.  This is an approximation of the style of the book in this review. *  At first, this style may drive you crazy.  This style may drive you crazy especially if you are an English teacher who is, perhaps unfairly, predisposed to dislike "you" and sentences that begin with "this is."  You may think that you don't like the book, because this style is driving you crazy.  But then, this style just might begin to grow on you.  And you might realize, this style is propulsive, and it is clever.  This style is clever because it mimics the strokes of a swimmer, and it works because it keeps pace perfectly.  This is a book whose story doesn't work without the style.

In the end, this is a book worth reading.  This is a book unlike other books.  This is the end of the review.  This is a TLC Book Tour, and this is a link to see other reviews.

Title:This is the Water
Author: Yannick Murphy
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date: 2014
 Genre:Literary Mystery/Fiction

380 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher and TLC Book Tours

*I say this humbly.  The style of the book is much more effective and sophisticated than the style of this review. 

06 July 2014

June in Review

 * The images above link to my Powell's partner account.  Purchase books here to support my blog.

I read/listened to three books in June.  Here are my thoughts:

1.  MFA Vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction edited by Chad Harbach: I have been toying with the idea of getting an MFA for years.  I have an MA in Literature, and once upon a time had planned on a PhD, but then found full time employment, which is awesome, so now continuing my education is something that is still on the table but without a direct path.  I've also always wanted to be a writer.  Back to the book....I really enjoyed it.  Chad Harbach, editor of n + 1 magazine, has collected essay by young writers and critics discussing the (invented) dichotomy for writers of pursuing an MFA vs. moving to NY to work on their art.  There is a section on the MFA and another on NYC, but also one on teaching and some more theoretical viewpoints on the topic.  I really enjoyed the breadth of the essays, but my favorites were the more personal, and I especially enjoyed Alexander Chee's essay in the MFA section and Emily Gould's in the NYC section.  I think that I will soon be picking up their books, so this collection served as a good introduction to some new writers as well as a primer on America's writing culture.

2014/ n+1/Faber and Faber/ 308 pages/ Bought

2. Jennifer, Gwenyth and Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time by Rachel Bertsche: After reading Bertshe's first book (MWF Seeking BFF), I felt like I had found a kindred writer-spirit.  Reading this book made me feel the same way.  Rachel's first book was about the difficulty of making new friends, in a new place, in your late 20s, as a married person.  When I read it, I was recently married, living in a new place, having difficulty making friends.  This book is ostensibly about the writer trying to feel better in her skin (and her marriage, and her home) by trying to emulate the best parts of various celebrity lives.  However, it is also about her journey starting her family, a journey with many bumps.  Reading Bertsche feels like hanging out with a smart, down-to-earth friend who knows exactly what I am going through.  So, whatever she writes next, I will be reading.

2014/ Ballantine Books/ 258/ eGalley from the publisher and Edelweiss

3. Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss (audiobook):  I don't have a ton to say about this.  I prefer another food writer named Michael (Pollan).  There was a lot of food history in this book, which might really appeal to some readers, just not this one.  I enjoyed the beginning chapter in each section which discussed the appeal of salt, sugar and fat to the human palate.  Those chapters had more of a Mary Roach vibe.  But then, Moss discusses the detailed history of how three major food giants precipitated our addictions to salt, sugar and fat, which are interesting stories, but were rendered in just a little too much detail. I also have done a bit of reading in this area, so I wasn't surprised by the manipulative tactics of the food industry in pursuit of a bigger paycheck.  One fact that did stand out was that very few of the CEOs or COOs from these companies ate the food that they produced, and they weren't afraid to admit it.  Pick this up if you are new to the genre of food expose. 

2013/ Random House Audio/ 14 hours and 34 minutes/ Audible Subscription

I also read the May 2014 issue of Poetry magazine this month.  I really enjoyed the work of Jessica Greenbaum and Bob Hicok, among others.

17 June 2014

TTT: Summer TBR

It has been awhile since I participated in a Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR:

Click to purchase*
10. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald:  This is my current read and my selection for my book club.

9. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I loooooove The Secret History and I want to see what the fuss is about with this one.

8. Untamed State by Roxanne Gay:  I started reading this one as a galley, but didn't finish, so I bought a copy.

7.  Save the Date by Jen Doll: Because, fun.

6. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: Another sprawling summer read.

Click to purchase*
5. Various Mexico City guidebooks:  The husband and I are considering a trip this December, so I'm having lots of fun browsing.

4. Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me by Rachel Bertsche: This is my current Iphone read.  I loved Bertsche's MWF Seeking BFF, so I'm on board with this one.

3. The Norton Anthology of Literature: Because, work.

2. Salt, Sugar Fat  by Michael Moss:  This is my current Audible listen, and I'm about halfway done.  I'm cheating and putting it on my list to improve my completion rate.

1. Something that strikes me spontaneously in the moment and which I devour in one sitting. 

How about you?  Do you plan your summer reading, or just let your mood guide you?

*The images in this post are affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of profit from purchases made through them.

11 June 2014

May In Review

May was a pretty decent reading month for me, so I seem to be getting back in the swing of things.  I'm just not really sure what to do with my blog.  I like blogging, but I think that I want to make a few changes.  Starting with, doing monthly review round ups instead of individual book reviews, so, here is the first!

 I read three print books last month:

1. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
2014/Simon and Schuster/Essays and Stories/208 pages/ Bought

This book is a collection of essays and short stories posthumously collected after Yale graduate Marina Keegan died in a car crash soon after her college graduation.  Marina was a talented young writer with a job lined up at the New Yorker, so her teacher, Anne Fadiman, collected and published her work.  The children's librarian at the public library where I volunteer recommended this to me, because I work with college aged writers, and I am glad that she did.  This book was so moving and compelling, and it reminded me why working with young people can be so inspiring.  Marina's words are so hope-filled and optimistic and joyous that it makes her loss all the more tragic.  However, the book isn't about manipulating the emotions of the reader, it is about celebrating a true talent that  didn't have the chance to fully bloom.

2. The Noble Hustle  by Colson Whitehead
2014/Doubleday/ Nonfiction/ 234 pages/ Bought

In this novella length nonfiction piece, Colson Whitehead details his preparation for and participation in the world series of poker.  This book began as a long form piece for Grantland, which I read and loved, so I couldn't wait to pick up this book.  I was a little disappointed, although not by Whitehead's voice.  I think that the book was better as a shorter piece, and there is some detail here that didn't add to the vivid picture that Colson paints of his travels. There were great moments though; in particular, a description of a post-college road trip that Whitehead takes with Darren Aronofsky to Las Vegas.

3. The Martian by Andy Weir
2014/Crown/ Fiction/ 369 pages/Bought

THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD!  I credit it for ending my reading slump, and I feel so lucky to be able to pass it onto a friend to read.  If you haven't heard about it, the book is about a guy who is stuck on Mars, and  also about Nasa's plan to rescue him.  The book has tons of scientific detail which adds to the realism and never once detracts from the excitement of the narrative.  I mean, I don't really have much to say, but READ IT!  It is a delicious beach read, but you will also feel like you know a lot more about space when you finish.

I also listened to two books on Audible:

1. Gulp by Mary Roach
2013/Tantor Audio/ Nonfiction/ 8 hours 21 minutes/ Audible

I love Mary Roach.  Like a lot. Stiff  is my favorite of her books, and this one didn't have what it takes to dethrone it.  This is not to say that I didn't like Gulp.  It made my treadmill running and dish doing filled with interesting facts about things like Elvis's colon and fistulas.  This book, honestly, is a little too gross for me in parts, and my interesting/gross meter was a little off balance.  But, I still dug it.

2. I Can Barely Take Care of Myself by Jen Kirkman
 2013/Tantor Audio/ Memoir/ 6 hours 20 minutes/ Audible

Jen Kirkman is a comedian, and this is basically her memoir, which is loosely organized around a discussion of why she doesn't want to have kids.  I am always interested in books about women's decisions to either remain childless or to start a family, which is why I picked this one up.  Kirkman is funny, and some of her anecdotes about her romantic history made me chuckle aloud, but this didn't completely satisfy my desire to read a thoughtful meditation on a decision not to have children.  I can totally understand her annoyance with people who insist that she must want kids somewhere deep down, but her telling of her story is a little one (albeit funny) note.

So that's it!  What did you all read last month?  Any audiobook recs?

P.S. All the images in this post are Powell's Affiliate links.  Click on the picture to buy the book and support The Scarlet Letter. 

09 June 2014

TLC Book Tour: Neil Gaiman's, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Click on the image to buy the book from Powell's
I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.
I don't really think that this book needs my endorsement.  I mean, people love this thing.  And Neil Gaiman is super famous (he thanks Stephen King for, like, hanging out with him on his acknowledgments page).  This is my first time that I have read a prose book by Gaiman.  I read the first few Sandman comics when I was in college, and I loved their twisty-ness, but I was just pretty sure that I wouldn't like the books.  I mean, I really wanted to, because people were sort of like this about them:

But, for me, I'm just not that into magic (magical realism, fantasy worlds, even ghosts, pretty much).  Now, this is only true in books, because I happen to love magic in movies.

In the first forty pages or so of this book, I was still feeling pretty skeptical, because there was definitely some magic.  The style of the book is lovely, and there are great descriptions of quaint and delicious sounding meals that I would love to eat, basically right now.  However, there were also some moments that I just couldn't quite get on board with, not because they didn't work in the narrative, but because they didn't work for the kind of reader that I am.

Then, as I got more into the story, and starting wondering, "Okay, what next?"  I started to like the book.  I didn't love it, but I liked it.  I appreciate Gaiman's imagination, and his sense of what it is like to be a child, and how that is different from what it is like to be an adult.  And, in this book, what he is able to do, is inspire the childlike in the adult reader.  And it is kind of awesomely dark, and although I don't like magic, I do like dark...

And the quote above sort of sums up that delicious darkness that I so loved in movies like The Dark Crystal when I was a kid.  And this book, as well as being about a man who revisits a very strange episode in his childhood, is just about what it is to be a child and to court the darkness that we grow even more afraid of as we grow up.  Even though it isn't exactly my cup of tea, I can appreciate Neil Gaiman's talents, a I will most likely revisit his strange worlds again.

Title:The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher:William Morrow
Date: 2013
Genre:Literary Fiction

178 pages.
Where I got it: the awesome TLC Book Tours - click the link to visit the other blogs on the tour

04 May 2014

The Dissapointment of Endings: Why I Won't Soon Forget Hanya Yanagihara's The People in the Trees

Click on the image to purchase the book from Powell's.
Oh god, I thought, can nothing in this jungle behave as it ought? Must fruits move and trees breathe and freshwater rivers taste of the ocean? Why must nothing obey the laws of nature? Why must everything point so heavily toward the existence of enchantment?
This is the best book that I have read this year.  It is the kind of book that made me wish that I was the author, that I could craft the carefully worded sentences, that I could bring a jungle to life with colorful images.  I wanted to live in her sentences, to eat them, to breathe them.  This is, by the way, the same way that I feel about Nabokov's Lolita, a book that is close kin with this one.  If Yanagihara wasn't such a seductress with her language, it would be impossible to spend nearly 400 pages with her narrator, Dr. Norton Perina.

Yanagihara is a travel writer, which isn't a surprise,  since she so effortlessly transports her readers to the fictional island nation of U'ivu.  Her book within a book, is a fictional memoir of Norton Perina, M.D., and his travels on an anthropological expedition to the uncharted island of Ivu Ivu, somewhere in the Pacific.  Perina is a young doctor, with little experience, who goes to the island with no inkling that he will make one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time:  a turtle that, when eaten, prolongs life indefinitely (although not without consequences).   There are several documents near the beginning of the book that let the reader know that this is not just an scientific adventure story.  We know from page one, and from Ron Kubodera (fictional editor and confidant to Perina) that our hero, our great adventurer, is behind bars for child sexual abuse, inflicted on one or more of the many children that he adopted while exploring the islands. 

And so Norton is, in the style of Humbert Humbert, a classically unreliable narrator.  And although the narrative is structured with the discovery of the Opa'ivu'eke (the magical turtle),at its center, the real heart of darkness in the book, the mystery of Norton's crime, is not revealed until the very end.  This harkens to my title for this post, because what we find at the end (which I won't spoil, if that is the appropriate term here) is what the careful reader always already knows, but perhaps wishes to disavow.  Because of Yanagihara's incredible talent,  her world, which is rotten at its core with tragedy ever lurking, comes alive and sparkles with beauty; the looking glass of Norton's distorted perspective did make believe in the "existence of enchantment." I can't wait to see what this incredible talent does next.

Title:The People in the Trees
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Date: 2013
Genre:Literary Fiction

366 pages.
Where I got it: the library

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