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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Bookish Distractions: What's New On the Shelf

Well it's time for a new edition of "What's New on the Shelf." This month I've added a cookbook, two novels and a memoir.

2084 is the latest from Boualem Sansal, of Harraga and The German Mujahid fame. It's an homage to 1984 and a dystopia set in a country called Abistan. I'm looking forward to reading it soon. I'm a big fan of Sansal's and always love to see what he's up to.

The Asian Slow Cooker, by Kelly Kwok, is a cookbook that does more or less what it says- Asian food in your slow cooker. The recipes are sweet but more or less healthy versions of takeout staples and homecooked fare. I've made a couple of things from it already and enjoyed them. And I look forward to trying more!

The Girl from the Metropol Hotel is the short memoir of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Russian short-story writer extraordinaire and author of volumes in English such as There Once Was a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In, and There Once Was a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby. Her stories are tough and magnificent; I'm looking forward to this and plan to read it the next time I finish a bedside book.

Visitation, by Jenny Erpenbeck, is a book a customer at work sold to me, about the history of a German house and its inhabitants over the course of the 20th century. Looks great. I love it when customers sell me on a book!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review: A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON, by Luke Harding

A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvenenko and Putin's War with the West, by Luke Harding. Published 2017 by Vintage. Nonfiction.

If you want to read something that will keep you up at night, A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvenenko and Putin's War with the West is as good as any thriller out there- with the additional zing that this is a very true story about an inept but ultimately successful plot to kill a journalist and the investigation that went all the way to the top of the Russian government.

Alexander Litvenenko was a journalist who became an enemy of the Putin government when he threatened to expose its role in scandals that shook Russia, in particular an apartment bombing that killed several hundred Russians and may have been orchestrated by the Kremlin to promote public support for the war in Chechnya. Litvenenko ended up fleeing Russia with the help of oil oligarch Boris Berezovsky, himself an enemy of the state, and lived for a time in London with his wife and son until two bungling henchmen poisoned him with polonium, a radioactive element that is only produced at a couple of labs within Russia. So while from an official point of view no charges have been pursued against Putin, from another point of view there's really no question who's responsible.

Journalist Luke Harding tells this harrowing and tragic story with verve and enough detail that the reader will feel fully immersed in the details of the killing, the investigative aftermath and the bureaucracy and corruption surrounding the whole affair. It's also incredibly frightening on any number of levels. Litvenenko's is not the only dead body in the story and though I will say it loses some momentum about 2/3 of the way through it picks up again right towards the very end.

I really couldn't put the book down. It probably took me about a week to read it and I wanted to be reading it every waking minute of that time. Last year I read Masha Gessen's scary The Man Without a Face, her story of Vladimir Putin's rise, and the Litvenenko murder was part of that story; this book fleshes it out and gives us a level of detail Gessen could not, but you don't need to have read her book for this one to chill you to the bone. If you're interested in the current head of the government who is so admired by the head of our own, A Very Expensive Poison will make it hard to sleep at night, one way or the other.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: DINNER, by César Aira

Dinner, by César Aira. Published 2015 by New Directions. Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. Literary Fiction.

So, as regular readers of this blog may know, César Aira is one of my favorite contemporary writers, but he's definitely not for everyone. One way or another, reading him will change your life; if you love his books, he will change your life for the better. Either way, buckle up.

Dinner is going to go down as one of my favorites of his, and certainly one of my favorite reads of 2017. It's short, as per usual- short and sweet. It's about zombies.

Specifically, it's about a zombie invasion of Pringles, Argentina, where all (?) of Aira's novels takes place. The narrator, who is not explicitly named, has dinner with his mother and then after dinner turns on the television to see the zombie invasion take place. Then he has a conversation with a friend about it. That's it.

Dinner is certainly one of Aira's more plot-centric books; after an opening digression on the importance of names to creating a community, he launches into a virtual blow-by-blow of the zombie invasion, from the moment the dead of Pringles rise from their graves to the moment they go back. It's very suspenseful; Aira does a masterful job building tension and leaving you wondering how it will be resolved.

Ultimately the solution is silly, sweet and makes perfect sense. But then there is a wrinkle at the very end which may keep you up at night after all.

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I read two short books this week- Dinner, by Cesar Aira, which I can already tell you will be on my list of this year's best reads, and The Gun, by Fuminori Nakamura, which will be on some kind of list but I'm not sure what. And I finished A Fifty Year Silence, which is a perfectly solid memoir.

So I'm starting two new books this week.

Eva Sleeps, by Francesca Melandri, came out last year from Europa Editions. I can't tell you that much about it right now; I just read the first chapter. But I like it. More next week.

Food City continues to be interesting and educational, about the rise and fall of different food industries in New York City. It's fascinating to learn about all the brands that started here, and how the industries have changed. I'm reading about a city that isn't much like the city I know.

I haven't picked a new gym read but I'll let you know what it is next week! Hope you're having a great week in books and in life!

Friday, February 3, 2017


Hidden Figures (2016). Dir: Theodore Melfi. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe. PG.

When I sat down to see Hidden Figures, the previews included a movie about a little girl math prodigy whose parents are split over how to bring her up. It's fiction and you can tell it's going to be heart-wrenching, a pretty little blonde girl torn between dreamy Chris Evans and tight-lipped Lindsay Duncan. As much as I love Chris Evans and want to marry him,  you know this is a crap premise because if you have a smart little girl you educate her, period.

Which is the ultimate lesson behind Hidden Figures, the true story of some of the African-American women who worked behind the scenes on NASA's space program. It's not 100% accurate historically but it tells an inspiring story in Hollywood fashion.

Taraji P. Henson lights up the screen as Katherine Goble Johnson, a math prodigy who works as a "computer," literally one who computes, part of a group of African-American women working in an isolated calculation pool (like a typing pool but with math?) on the backlot of NASA, a full mile and change away from where the white guys do the work that makes the headlines. She's chosen to join the white guys and the story follows her and two other women, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, as they try to rise through the ranks and be recognized and valued for their contributions.

It's a great movie and you will be cheering for these women as they push through all kinds of undignified garbage to be simply treated like human beings. Kirsten Dunst and Kevin Costner play characters who are either helpful or not, Dunst being a particularly galling antagonist and Costner portraying a cloistered, powerful egghead who is nonetheless capable of changing his ways.

But it's the three stars that make this movie shine. Why in the world Henson was not nominated for an Oscar I will never understand. I have been a huge fan of hers since "Empire" started three years ago. Maybe that's not long but she is always wonderful to watch. Octavia Spencer is moving and charismatic as Dorothy Vaughan, who taught herself computer languages so she could keep up with a fast-changing workplace so that she and her team could stay relevant and employed. Janelle Monáe rounds out the trio as tough Mary Jackson, NASA's first African-American female engineer. All three women have a passion for science and learning that makes me sorry I didn't try harder at math.

So you should see Hidden Figures because it tells a great story that we need to know about what all Americans have to offer and the importance of treating every human being like a human being. It will leave you tearing up and cheering for them and everyone who's struggled to prove their worth.

And while you're at it, read the book with the same title and get more of the story.

Rating: RUSH