Monday, April 3, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

So it's been a while. I've been busy with work and more work, and I've been having a hard time concentrating on reading, much less on blogging. I did finish Véra, by Stacy Schiff, her biography of Véra Nabokov, and it was enjoyable and immersive. It's not a page-turner, but a detailed and interesting portrait of a woman and a marriage. It's great for Nabokov fans.

I also finished Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, very of-the-moment and moving. And I treated myself to The Literary Conference, by César Aira, probably my favorite living writer at this point.

This week I'm reading Sarah Dunant's new Borgia book, In the Name of the Family, which is melodramatic, detailed and fun, a portrait of political machinations and court life during the early Italian Renaissance.  It's a worthy followup to 2013's Blood and Beauty and I'd recommend it to fans of her work and historical fiction generally.

I'm still reading and will probably finish this week Oksana Marafioti's charismatic and enjoyable American Gypsy, about a Russian Roma teen growing up in 80s Los Angeles. It's colorful, funny, sad, moving and bittersweet all at once.
Finally, I started Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's wonderful memoir, The Girl from the Metropol Hotel, about growing up in Communist Russia. I love the picture of her on the cover. This is not a girl you mess with! And she grew up to be a searing and challenging writer of womens' lives.

Monday, March 13, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, I finished a book- I DNF'd two but I managed to finish one, Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, which I enjoyed and admire but I can't really say it's "all that" the way that some of my friends are. But it is a moving and thought-provoking story about global migration, very of-the-moment and also timeless.

Next up for me is Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, a novel about what happens when a government starts to ban letters. It's not supposed to be dark and depressing like it might sound from that short summary. My husband gave it to me to read because I told him I needed something light.

I'm still working through Véra, by Stacy Schiff; I have about 150 pages to go and at my current pace I'd say that's two more weeks of reading time. I am enjoying it but it's dense and after about 10-15 pages I get sleepy. But I always come back for more.

Finally, at the gym I'm reading American Gypsy: A Memoir, by Oksana Marafioti, and I'm really enjoying it. Marafioti came to the U.S. with her family in the 1980s as a young teen after growing up in Russia with her Armenian-Roma family and the book covers life before and after the big move. It's light and really fun, but it has its moments of sadness too. It's a real pleasure to read and it's motivating me to go to the gym. Awhile back I read Isabel Fonseca's Bury Me Standing, a history and memoir about the Roma and this book is a good follow-up.

That's it for me for this week. I hope you're reading some good stuff. I'm off Twitter for Lent but we can chat about your reading after Easter. Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My 2,000th Book

So I realized that I recently added my 2,000th book to my account! I know some of you have more books than that but this is a big milestone for me. This number includes books that I no longer own as well as library books, audiobooks and e-books, so it's not like I have 2006 books (the total) hanging around in my 1,060sqft apartment. Hardly. Although my number doesn't include my husband's books. Huh.

Anyway so the award goes to The Revolution of the Moon, by Andrea Camilleri, an Italian best known for his Inspector Montalbano procedural crime novels. This book is a departure for him, historical fiction about Eleanora de Mourra, who ruled Sicily for just 27 days before the Catholic Church brought her down.

Like many if not all of Camilleri's books it's set in Sicily but not the present-day Sicily of his crime series; this book is set in 1677 and includes all kinds of intrigue and shenanigans. Sounds like fun! It comes out from Europa Editions in April.

Monday, March 6, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

As expected I finished A Separation, by Katie Kitamura, and it's been selling well at work. I think it could make an excellent book club choice with its meditative tone and emphasis on character and motivation.

The Houses of Belgrade (Writings from an…After I did that post on my top ten oldest unread books I was motivated to actually read one of them. So last week and this week I'm reading Borislav Pekic's The Houses of Belgrade, which was also released last year from NYRB Classics as simply Houses. My edition is older and it's from the Writings from an Unbound Europe series, which was put out by Northwestern University Press from 1991-2012. Nice to see NYRB taking up at least one of their titles.

It's an interesting read but slow and again character-driven. Arsenie Negovan is a retired architect and landlord who has been housebound for some time; as he ventures out in 1968 Belgrade to see what remains of one of his beloved houses, he is engulfed by memories and hallucinations from the past. He is a benignly unhinged unreliable narrator and there is much black humor to be had in his ramblings. Tragedy too.

And I'm working my way through Véra, by Stacy Schiff, Schiff's biography of Véra Nabokov. It's very good and very dense; I can read about 10-15 pages per night and I expect to be reading it for several more weeks. I'm about halfway through page-wise. I would highly recommend it to someone interested in either the Mrs. or her husband or just as social history.

That's it for me. I have comments limited to "members of the blog," of which there are none, but if you'd like to comment drop me a line and I'll see about giving you permission. Which I reserve the right to rescind if comments start getting spammy again. But I miss you!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Spring to Early Summer 2017 in Books


In the Name of the Family is the highly-awaited sequel to Sarah Dunant's Blood &Beauty, the first in her series about the Borgias. I really enjoyed Blood & Beauty and can't wait to read more about Lucrezia, Cesare and Pope Alexander and their further intrigues. I think historical fiction readers will want to save a space on their bookshelves for sure. Random House.

The Impossible Fairy Tale, by Han Yujoo, is an intriguing short novel about two children- one blessed and one cursed- and what happens when one of them starts leaving notes in her classmates' notebooks. Graywolf.

The inimitable Camille Paglia is back on the scene with a new book of potentially incendiary essays, Free Women Free Men: Sex Gender Feminism. I've started paging through and let me tell you- it's hot. Pantheon.

Lola, by Melissa Scrivner Love is a book everyone is going to be talking about, a crime novel about gang violence and street life in L.A. starring a tough lady with secrets. Buckle up. Crown.


If you're a crime reader you're going to want to get ready for the next entry in Jassy Mackenzie's Jade de Jong series, Bad Seeds. And if you don't know this series, you're missing out- Mackenzie is an incredibly talented voice and her South African setting and gritty heroine bring the procedural to some great places. Recommended for Ian Rankin and Gene Kerrigan fans. Soho.

Spoils, by Brian van Reet, is a war novel set in Iraq that already has bookstores and libraries buzzing.
Little, Brown.

The Revolution of the Moon, by Andrea Camilleri. This is going to be so fun. Mystery author
Camilleri changes tack and writes historical fiction about Eleanora di Mora, politician and powerful woman extraordinaire, whose rule in 1677 Sicily lasted a mere 27 days. Europa Editions.


So many great books are coming in May!

The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country and is about a totalitarian state and what happens when a long line forms outside the Gate, through which all must have permission to pass. Melville House.

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly is a book-by-book
analysis of Jane Austen's social and political views. It's going to be a lot of fun and very popular among Austen fans. Knopf.

Salt Houses, by Hala Alyan is a hotly-anticipated release about a Palestinian family upended by the 1967 Six Day War. Early reviewers call it "dazzling." Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The End of Eddy, by Édouard Louis, is a French novel about boyhood and sexual awakening in a French factory town. People are comparing it to Karl Knausgaard and Marguerite Duras. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


In June, I'm really excited about The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry. It's set in England of the 1890s, where a sea serpent may be terrorizing a fictional town. It's been out for awhile in England and I think it will do really well when it comes out from Custom House.

Then there's The Windfall, by Diksha Basu, about the trials of being nouveau riche in modern day India. It looks like fun. Crown.


I can't wait to read Andrew Sean Greer's Less, which I think will be the brainy beach book of 2017. It's about a man traveling the world to avoid his ex and finding himself and true love at the same time.

At the same time new galleys are always coming in, and I'm sure I'll have more books for you to add to your own burgeoning TBR piles before long. I know mine never get any smaller!

Monday, February 27, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished Eva Sleeps, which was a very good read. I'll have a review soon.

This week I'm deep into Katie Kitamura's A Separation, about a woman looking for her soon-to-be ex-husband in Greece. It's very low key and suspenseful. While she's ruminating over their relationship you can feel the clock ticking in the background. I expect to finish in a day or two.

Stacy Schiff's Véra is keeping me up at night, too. It's quite immersive and interesting. I didn't realize Mrs. Nabokov was Jewish, and the impact that had on their lives.

At the gym I've decided to stick with magazines for a while and keep it light. Plus I don't have any nonfiction galleys I want to trash on the cross-trainer right now. :)

Last week I attended a "spring media lunch" given by Little, Brown, and learned about some interesting upcoming titles. I'm going to do another galley post soon and tell you about some of them.

I hope you're having a great week in books!

Movie Review: JULIETA (2016)

Julieta (2016). Dir: Pedro Almodovar. Starring Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta and Darío Grandinetti. R. Spanish with English subtitles.

Julieta is a middle-aged woman planning to move from Madrid with her boyfriend, a writer named Lorenzo; they live an affluent, sophisticated life full of books and art. But on the day of the move Julieta encounters a ghost from her past, a young woman named Bea who was once the best friend of Julieta's daughter Antía. It quickly becomes clear that Antía and Julieta are estranged; Julieta doesn't even know where her daughter lives, or that she has had three children. Running into Bea sends Julieta into a tailspin and her new life unravels as she attempts to reconnect to her past.

Julieta is gorgeous to look at. This is my first Pedro Almodovar film and I fell in love with the lush colors, the settings and costumes just this side of outlandish. The color red appears in almost every shot like a subliminal message; art and nature define and direct the characters' lives. Young Julieta is dressed like an 80s paradigm from her spiky hair to her shoulder pads and booties. Older Julieta is a sleeker sophisticate and played by a different actress as drawn and secretive and missing a piece of herself. Lorenzo assists in putting the two Julietas back together, but only maturity, empathy and love can do the job in the end.

Julieta is based on three short stories by Alice Munro from her 2004 book Runaway, "Chance," "Soon," and "Silence," and the characters and story have her trademark depth and authenticity but it's the two actresses, Emma Suárez as the older Julieta and Adriana Ugarte as the younger, who bring her to life. Julieta's crushing guilt at the fate of Antía's father is almost unbearable and both Suárez and Ugarte wear it like their own skin.

I really loved Julieta and would strongly recommend it as a film that shows the heart of a woman laid bare.

Rating: RUSH

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review: THE GUN, by Fuminori Nakamura

The Gun, by Fuminori Nakamura. Published 2016 by Soho Crime. Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell.

The Gun is definitely not your usual crime novel. It's not a whodunit; it's barely a procedural, and the murder doesn't occur until the book is almost over. It reads more like an after-the-fact confession; the narrator, who is not named, recounts the slow burn of circumstance that leads to the killing. Out for a walk one night he finds a gun next to a body; he takes the gun and becomes obsessed with it. He's a student and when we meet him he's juggling two women, but nothing else in his life compares to the feelings he has for his new best friend.

Over time he begins to feel that he must fire the gun. Then he starts to plan a murder.

The Gun is Nakamura's first novel and the latest to be translated into English; first to come stateside was The Thief, which Soho published in 2002. Nakamura has a won several prizes for his writing including the 2002 Shincho Prize for New Writers for The Gun and the 2012 David Goodis Award, an American crime writing prize.

I can see why. Nakamura keeps the tone so even and so low-key even as the narrator descends more and more into madness and obsession. Even as he commits his crime, which comes and goes by so quickly I had to re-read the passage.

You have to be up for something a little different to get into The Gun, but I strongly recommend it for crime readers up for an adventure. I'll be reading more Nakamura sooner rather than later. (In fact I just entered a galley giveaway for his latest, The Boy in the Earth. I hope to win!)


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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Top Ten Oldest TBRs

So like a lot of you I'm constantly adding books to my collection. Some I read right away; some I get around to later rather than sooner, and some just sit there. For ever.  These are the top 10 oldest books in my TBR pile, as determined by where they sit in my LibraryThing catalog.

I've been a LibraryThing member since May of 2007; all of these books were entered in my catalog during that month, so all of them have been hanging out for almost ten years!

1. Palestine, by Joe Sacco. I love Joe Sacco's work and have read a couple of his books, but this one, about the time he spent in Palestine, I have not gotten to yet. I know it's controversial and I think that's kept me away. But I'm still hoping one of these days I'll get there.

2. Libraries in the Ancient World, by Lionel Casson. This book was a gift from my husband, who is a classics buff, given to me when I was still in library school.

3. The Houses of Belgrade, by Borislav Pekic, and 4., The Fortress, by Mesa
Semilovic, are books I bought at the same time, novels from the Writings from an Unbound Europe series which features novels from Eastern Europe. Both of these are from the former Yugoslavia, at one time a subject I read a lot about. I haven't gotten to these but I have hesitated to weed them because books from the series are hard to get a hold of if ever I wanted to find them again.

5. Babel Tower, by A.S. Byatt. Byatt is one of my favorite authors and I really have no good excuse for my I not having read it. I really should!

6. Librarians of Alexandria: A Tale of Two Sisters, by Alessandra Lavignino. Another book someone gave me while I was in library school.

7. Enemies, A Love Story, by
Isaac Bashevis Singer. I read his book The Slave and really loved it, so I picked up Enemies, which I have not read.

8. Tito: Moscow's Trojan Horse, by Slobodan M. Draskovich is a history book with an amusing title that I picked up while I was reading a lot about the Balkans. I haven't read it, but I can't bring myself to part with it.

9. The Fairy Gunmother, by Daniel Pennac, is a French crime novel with an amusing title. One of these days!

10. The Known World, by Edward P. Jones, is a literary novel I found at a library book sale and keep swearing I'll read soon. Anything's possible!

And these are just my ten oldest. There so, so very many books in my collection that I haven't read- definitely more than I have. And I never seem to stop accumulating them!

Monday, February 20, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished The Maids by Junichiro Tanizaki, which took just a couple of days to read. And I decided to DNF the nonfiction read I had going at the gym- an upcoming collection of essays that just wasn't doing it for me at all. I haven't picked a new gym book yet but I will soon.

In the mean time,
I'm still on Eva Sleeps, by Francesca Melandri, which I expect to finish this week. I'm enjoying it more and more as we go.
My bedside book is Véra, by Stacy Schiff, her biography of Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov. I'm enjoying it so far. It's dense but interesting and I'm looking forward to continuing.

So I'll have to pick two new books to read soon!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: SELECTION DAY, by Aravind Adiga

Selection Day, by Aravind Adiga. Published 2017 by Scribner. Literary Fiction.

As a big fan of Aravind Adiga's 2008 Booker Prize winning novel The White Tiger, I was really excited to get a hold of an early copy of his latest, Selection Day, and I didn't hesitate to read it. While I didn't think Selection Day has the same bite as Tiger, it's a worthy entry and well worth the time to read.

Set in contemporary India in the world, which I don't understand at all, of cricket, the book concerns two brothers and their ambitious father. Radha Kumar is the older brother, passionate for cricket and supremely gifted; Manju, the younger brother, is an up-and-comer who is good but not quite as good. And he idolizes his brother. Their father pushes them hard to become cricket stars and both boys resent him. Then Javed Ansari arrives on the scene- talented, Muslim, and handsome, he shakes Manju in ways he never expects and forces him to figure out who he wants to be, and who he is. As "selection day" nears, it becomes clear that only one brother will have the shot at stardom they are both told to want. The fallout from selection day will change the lives of not just the boys and their father, but the scouts, investors and friends who surround them.

I don't really know the first thing about cricket and I'm sure I missed a lot of fine points but I got the general gist of a sports-obsessed parent pushing his children, and ultimately pushing them away. For me certain swathes of the book moved slowly and while I'm glad I stuck with it, I almost didn't. That said, the book picks up momentum about 2/3 of the way through and from there until the end it doesn't let up. The action is all in the relationships between the three cricket players and how each one chooses a path.

Like I said for me it didn't have the kick of The White Tiger but I think Selection Day is a very strong novel, very well-written with great characters and a vivid setting which is immersive even if I didn't get every detail. I'd definitely recommend it to literary fiction readers and I think its emphasis on character growth would make it a great brainy book club pick. Check it out.


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