Monday, October 10, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished Her Every Fear, by Peter Swanson; it was a fun, solid commercial thriller that I think dark-suspense readers will enjoy when it comes out in January. I'd recommend it for Halloween because it scared me but you will have to wait.

This week I have too many books going. Now that I'm really up and running at my new job I'm taking home galleys and buying books again and right now I'm a little overwhelmed- again.

I started reading Caitriona Lally's Eggshells, a galley I received from Melville House. It's a story about an Irish woman who believes she was left by fairies and is looking for a way back. She's trying to make friends and find her way in what she thinks isn't her own world. So far I would say it's voice-driven and enjoyable.
I also started Paula Hawkins of-the-moment The Girl on the Train, which is a big movie right now and was a big book when it came out, that season's answer to Gone Girl and I can see why. Since then, and since its paperback release, it's become a big book-club book too. I plan to see the movie once I'm finished with the book, which I anticipate easily polishing off this week.

Finally I took the store's galley of The Nix, by Nathan Hill, a chunkster out now and a book I don't know anything about. I read the opening chapter, a self-contained short story about how a boy's mother abandons the family bit by bit, and I'm intrigued enough to continue. Have you read this book? What did you think?

That's it for me. What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Review: THE CROSSROADS, by Niccolò Ammaniti

The Crossroads, by Niccolò Ammaniti. Published 2010 by Canongate Books. Translated by Jonathan Hunt. Literary Fiction.

Also published in English as As God Commands and winner of the 2007 Strega Prize, Niccolò Ammaniti's The Crossroads is a heartbreaking and breathtakingly suspenseful coming of age story set far from tourist Italy in a working-class community impacted by drugs, immigration and economic collapse.

Cristiano Zena is thirteen and living with his father Rino in a dilapidated house cluttered with garbage and resentment. Cristiano's mother is gone and the boy idolizes his narcissistic father, on whom he depends and feels he must protect. At the outset Rino orders his son to kill a dog that's making too much noise and even this episode is laced with suspense. Will Cristiano do it?

Of course he does, and when Rino and his buddies Danilo and Corrado aka Quattro Formaggi plan a get-rich-quick robbery scheme, Cristiano doesn't question it. Meanwhile he's navigating his hardscrabble adolescence in the only ways he knows how- through violence and confusion. He has a run-in with a local bully that ends badly, and gets teased by two girls in his class, Fabiana and Esmeralda. Then the night of the robbery comes, and things take place that no one could have planned.

This sequence, "The Night," is a novel in and of itself, a heart-pounding, cinematic sequence that interleaves the perspectives of Rino, Danilo, Quattro Formaggi, Cristiano and Fabiana. By the end of "The Night" all of them will have passed a point of no return. The book is a little slow to start but once you get here you won't be able to stop until the heartbreaking end.

I really loved this book but it was a difficult read at times. Rino is a bitter man whose rancor is passed on to his son even as he says he wants something better for the boy. Cristiano can't see the difference between his father and himself, while Rino's friends drown in their delusions. But it's Fabiana who pays the ultimate price.

Like I said, it's a tough read but I can't recommend it enough if you think you're up to the task. I'm glad I gave it a shot. Uncompromising and impossible to forget, The Crossroads will leave an indelible mark on your heart.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, October 3, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished The Long Room, by Francesca Kay, and I have some thoughts on it I'll share with you soon. It comes out in November.
Now I'm reading, and almost done with, Peter Swanson's Her Every Fear, a murder mystery thriller coming out in January. I'll tell you more when I'm finished but I think this is one that crime readers will want to check out as soon as it hits the shelves in the new year. He had a big book a few years ago with The Girl With A Clock For A Heart, which I haven't read but I'm thinking now I need to check that one out too. This one is genuinely creepy and frightening. The next galley on deck is Catriona Lally's Eggshells.

Today I'm starting Boualem Sansal's latest Harraga. He's an essential modern writer.  I'm reading it because the last book of his I read, The German Mujahid, was such a stunner. I'll have more to say once I actually start.
And I'm struggling through the final chapters of The Barbary Coast. I want to finish it but it's just going to take some time.

What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: LET THE GAMES BEGIN, by Niccolò Ammaniti

Let the Games Begin, by Niccolò Ammaniti. Published 2009 by Black Cat/Grove Atlantic. Translated from the Italian by Kylee Doust. Literary Fiction.

In Ammaniti's 2009 satire on celebrity culture, a washed-up writer and a group of half-assed Satanists attend an over-the-top bacchanalia thrown by a mafioso. Toss in a pop singer with a heart of gold, a group of feral Russian Olympians and a zoo's worth of wild animals and buckle up.

Fabrizio Ciba is a one-time literary success now resting on his aging laurels but yearning for real literary respectability. Saviero Moneta, aka Mantos, is the leader of a Satanist society called the Wild Beasts of Abbadon, frustrated with his life and yearning for another kind of "I'll show them" notoriety. Ciba gets an invitation to an elaborate soiree and decides it's just the thing to help him relaunch himself; Moneta sees the opportunity of a lifetime too, for mayhem and fame, and he targets a pop singer for assassination.

Pretty much all of the characters in this black comedy are unlikable jerks; you need to know going in that you are not going to like anyone here, except maybe the sweet singer Larita. But Ammaniti's most recent book to be translated into English is still a really good time. Raucous. A little raunchy. Definitely politically incorrect. And not everyone gets the ending they deserve.

I couldn't put this book down once it got going. There are parts of it that are sort of ridiculous. Especially towards the end. But it's really fun, if you can suspend your moral center for a little while, and overlook the horror of what goes on at times. The suspense towards the end is actually pretty suffocating. It is definitely not as serious as Ammaniti's other books and probably not as serious as most things I read. There was a little sadness at the end, but I laughed a lot. You might too.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, September 26, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished Niccolo Ammaniti's devastating The Crossroads (also published as As God Commands) and I'm going to have to write a full review soon because it's an amazing book. But for now I'll just say he's quickly become one of my favorite authors in any language.

Then I picked up another book to read until I realized I'd actually read it about two years ago and forgotten everything about it. Oops!
So now I'm on to The Long Room, a galley I received as part of a Tin House Books program to promote its books to reviewers through ARCs. It's about an intelligence officer who falls for the subject of his surveillance activities. I'm enjoying it quite a bit. It comes out in November.

In non-fiction land I'm still on The Barbary Coast and probably have at least another week and change. I've been busy and sick and all kinds of things, so I haven't been to the gym much but I am still reading The Most Dangerous Book when I do get on a cross-trainer. And that's still a great book!

What are you reading today?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Charlotte Brontë at the Morgan Library

One of Brontë's day dresses
Now through January 2, book lovers have a rare opportunity to view the personal artifacts and early editions of Charlotte Brontë at the Morgan Library in New York City.

The exhibit, called "Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will," showcases her writing from childhood on, including the tiny notebooks she created with her siblings, her artwork, her early published works including her handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre, visiting the U.S. for the first time, and personal effects like her writing desk and a day dress. It's an amazing treat.

Brontë's portable writing desk
I went to the show on a busy Saturday afternoon and jostled with fellow Brontë fans for up-close views. Beginning with a portrait of her father Patrick, the exhibit showcases her work in non-chronological order and features several items she collaborated on with her siblings Anne, Emily and Branwell. Visitors can also view several of Brontë's drawings and paintings; like many girls of her social class she was raised to be a competent visual artist. The exhibit ends with the Jane Eyre manuscript, open to one of the most moving and important scenes in the book- Rochester's proposal to Jane. Seeing that scene in Brontë's own hand was a truly emotional experience.

Visitors are allowed to photograph everything but the manuscript. Visitors can also download an app that accompanies the exhibit for transcriptions of some of the handwritten items on display- letters, stories and manuscripts. You'll need those transcriptions- Charlotte and her siblings filled notebooks with handwriting so tiny it's difficult to believe. And the Morgan gift shop offers various Brontë-related souvenirs.
A tiny book Brontë wrote and illustrated
This exhibit comes on the heels of the release of Claire Harman's excellent biography, Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, and I recommend reading that book whether or not you see the show. The book offers a pretty detailed understanding of the family and having read it enhanced my appreciation of the show, which offers sufficient information to understand what's on the display but can't reach the book's depth.

Overall it was a fascinating, wonderful exhibit and a rare chance to see Brontë's own things, her own writing in her own hand, and gain an insight into one of the most influential writers in English literature. I urge anyone who's going to be in the NYC area between now and the end of the year to check it out!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: BABA DUNJA'S LAST LOVE, by Alina Bronsky

Baba Dunja's Last Love, by Alina Bronsky. Published 2016 by Europa Editions. Translated from the German by Tim Mohr. Literary Fiction.

Alina Bronsky is one of my favorite contemporary writers; she's had four books translated into English and I've enjoyed them all, starting with the searing Broken Glass Park and continuing through her bittersweet and sad latest, Baba Dunja's Last Love. Set in modern day Eastern Europe in an area damaged by the Chernobyl disaster, she's part of a community of people who try to eke out a life despite the radiation and ongoing danger. Into this world come a father and daughter; Baba Dunja takes a liking to the little girl, for whom she fears, but soon something happens to the father and it's the fallout from that which determines the fate of the town and Baba Dunja herself.

Baba Dunja meanwhile is mother to two children who've left to make lives for themselves elsewhere; her daughter is in Germany and her son in America. She's fairly close to her daughter, who sends packages of food and other necessities. But it's news of her granddaughter Laura that keeps Baba Dunja afloat, and lately there hasn't been much of that. Baba Dunja does have a single letter from Laura, which she is unable to read and the search for a translator is always on her mind.

Baba Dunja's Last Love is a short book that will leave a deep mark on your heart. She's not really a crotchety-loner-with-a-heart-of-gold like Ove or Major Pettigrew; she's pretty golden right on the surface, suffused with love for her family and community even as they hurt her or drive her a little bit crazy. And she sticks up for them when it counts.

This is probably my favorite book of Bronsky's since Broken Glass Park and I urge readers to check out this moving and ultimately very sweet story about family and learning when to step up and when to step aside. I love this book a little more every time I think about it.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, September 19, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished Let the Games Begin, by Niccolo Ammaniti, which was very good. It's definitely a satire though, filled with some pretty awful characters, but it actually works out well in the end.

I decided to read another Ammaniti, The Crossroads, which is better known by the title As God Commands but I have an international edition with the alternate title. It won the Strega Prize, Italy's most prestigious literary award, and it is about a 14 year old growing up in a fractured family whose father asks him to do something life-changing. It's a difficult but so far rewarding read.

Still on The Barbary Coast and I will be for a while. It's slow but fun.

I actually have some posts to share this week- one review and a post about a NYC exhibit which I think will interest a lot of you. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

September Jewish Book Carnival

Welcome to another edition of the Jewish Book Carnival, started by Heidi Estrin and the Association of Jewish Libraries to help Jewish interest bloggers connect and share posts and information. Here is this month's collection of links.

Writer and editor Deborah Kalb interviews a wide variety of authors on her website, Please take a look at her Q&A with Lyla Blake Ward about Ward's memoir, Broadway, Schrafft's and Seeded Rye: Growing Up Slightly Jewish on the Upper West Side

Author Laura Amy Schlitz appears on The Book of Life Podcast, talking about her triple-award-winning diary format teen novel, The Hired Girl.

At HUC-JIR’s Needle in the Bookstacks (, we are featuring an interview with one of our faculty, Dr. Bruce Phillips. A long time ethnographer and demographer, Dr. Phillips was recently awarded the Marshal Sklare Award from the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry. 

Barbara Krasner from The Whole Megillah | The Writer's Resource for Jewish Story interviews author Rich Michelson about his new acclaimed picture book, Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy.
Author’s Notebook | Richard Michelson, Author of Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy

The Fig Tree Books blog continues its series of features on books that have won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award. Up this month: Eileen Pollack's In the Mouth: Stories and Novellas.

Over on My Machberet, Erika Dreifus introduces Twenty Girls to Envy Me, selected poetry by Orit Gidali, translated from the Hebrew by Marcela Sulak.

Returning: Reflections & Resources on Teshuvah.
A free discussion guide for the month of Elul examines some of the difficulties and dilemmas facing those who seek to heal the wounds of their own souls—especially self-inflicted wounds. These topics are explored through a series of dialogues between a former member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando and a rabbi. Foreword by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo.

Lorri M.'s Writings contributed the following:

From Chava Pinchuck at Life Is Like a Library, the annual Elul reading list includes books about "Blessings and Gifts."

Samuel Griswold contributes an article entitled "Historical Fiction as Midrash."

From Deb Miller and BooksandBlintzes

If you're interested in participating and didn't this time, or would like to get updates about future Carnivals, you can email this address!

Monday, September 12, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Last week was a busy reading week for me. I finished Apocalypse Baby in holding on a sitcom set; it was really good for a sort of trashy summer read. It had a literally explosive ending that I found truly shocking though.
After finishing Apocalypse Baby I started Niccolo Ammaniti's Let the Games Begin, a satire about consumerism and modern life, about an outlandish party and a plot to murder a pop singer. I'm kind of loving it. Ammaniti is a terrific writer; I read his Me and You a couple of years ago; it was beautiful and bittersweet and while Let the Games is really different, it's very strong.

I'm still reading The Barbary Coast and it's a fun read about miscreants and shenanigans in early San Francisco.

What are you reading this week?