Two New York City Novels Set During the 2008 Financial Crisis: Bright, Precious Days and Behold the Dreamers

August 25, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 1

I recently shared these two books in my recent post about Quintessential, Contemporary New York City books. Though these books are very different, they share a setting and a time period. 

Bright Precious Days, Jay McInerneyBright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney
Fiction (Released August 2, 2016)
416 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: McInerney’s third novel about New York City golden couple, Russell and Corinne Calloway…this time set during the 2008 financial crisis.

My Thoughts: I remember loving McInerney’s first two novels about the Calloways, Brightness Falls (set in the early 1990’s) and The Good Life (set immediately following 9/11), when I read them years ago and it was immediately apparent that Bright, Precious Days was more vintage McInerney. Yet, I noticed things about this series that had never occurred to me before, leaving me with a somewhat complicated relationship with Bright, Precious Days.

McInerney’s writing style is pretentious, yet it (mostly) worked for me in this case. Furthermore, this entire story is pretentious…with a distinctly obnoxious “Manhattan (and the Hamptons by extension) is the only place in the world that matters” kind of vibe. Yet, I found myself seduced by the Calloway’s literary/publishing world, if not a bit turned off by their hoity-toity social life. While the story was easy to read and mildly entertaining, I kept wondering if it would become anything other than a rundown of life in the upper echelons of New York society during a different time period than his last book. It didn’t. Despite all this, I enjoyed reading it, leading me to my “read it” recommendation…especially if you enjoyed his previous two novels.

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo MbueBehold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Fiction (Released August 23, 2016)
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: After landing a job as the driver for a top Lehman Brothers executive, Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga and his family’s world is shattered when the 2008 financial crisis hits.

My Thoughts: This debut novel highlighting the immigrant experience is one of the most anticipated debuts of the year (and was acquired by Random House in one of the “big debut deals” that has made news lately). I was easily drawn into this story mainly because of the Jongas. They have an optimistic (and probably idealistic) view of their opportunity in America and an earnestness about ensuring they take advantage it that immediately endeared them to me. I was rooting for them. And, I appreciated the larger points Mbue makes about the difficulty of legally immigrating to America, the appeal of America to immigrants, the ripple effects of the 2008 financial crisis, and how people’s lives can be tossed into chaos even when they’re doing everything right. I also appreciated her focus on the entrenchment of social status as a pre-requisite for success and how little opportunity women have to choose their own paths in countries like Cameroon.

The publisher’s blurb describes Behold the Dreamers as “compulsively readable” and I agree that it was easy to read, but I wanted more out of the writing. Had the social commentary on an immigrant’s view of America, the immigration process, and the Jongas’ wealthy employers been a bit more unique and dazzling, it would have pushed this book to the next level for me.

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Ten Books From My Pre-Blogging TBR That I Still Haven’t Read

August 23, 2016 Top Ten Tuesday 22

Top Ten Tuesday
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish that asks bloggers to create Top Ten lists on a variety of bookish topics. This week’s topic is Ten Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging That You STILL Haven’t Read Yet.

It’s been three and a half years since I started Sarah’s Book Shelves…and many more years since I started tracking my reading and TBR list in a massive spreadsheet. For years, I never removed books from my TBR list until I’d read them, but that changed this year. A few months ago, I slashed tons of books from my TBR list that I was no longer interested in reading. So, the books that made today’s post deserve special attention for surviving the recent TBR slash!

Ten Books From My Pre-Blogging TBR That I Haven't Read Yet


Barbarians at the Gate
 by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar
I consider myself decently well-read in the business books category, but I still haven’t read what might be considered the granddaddy of them all about the takeover of RJR Nabisco.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
I think I added this one to my TBR solely because it won the Pulitzer…without knowing anything else about it. I’ve since learned Russo specializes in stories about small-town, blue-collar people, which appeals to me. And, the recent publication of his latest novel (Everybody’s Fool) got me interested in reading its prequel, Nobody’s Fool.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
I love fiction based on real people, so I was attracted to this “fictional” story of the real-life married Mamah Borthwick Cheney’s affair with architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was hired to design Cheney and her husband’s home.

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
This is the only Pat Conroy book I haven’t read and his passing earlier this year moved it to the top of my TBR for Nonfiction November.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
I’m pretty sure I added this book to my TBR without knowing a thing about it or its author. Since then, I read and loved her latest novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, and have heard countless great things about Olive Kitteridge.

Skeletons on the Zahara by Dean King
This book made it onto my TBR because the author is a 2nd or 3rd cousin of mine. My brother has since told me it’s an enthralling and completely disturbing book.

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
I was super excited when another book by John Berendt finally came out over a decade after Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil…somehow I just never got around to actually reading it.

The Imaginary Girlfriend by John Irving
Irving is one of my all-time favorite authors and I’ve read many of his novels. I need to make time for his memoir focusing on the connections between wrestling (he was a competitive wrestler from age 14) and writing.

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith
A documentary on the West Coast serial killer who referred to himself as the Zodiac in his taunts to police got me fascinated with this story.

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (8/22/16)

August 22, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 18

Hosted by The Book Date.

Last week was much calmer than the week before. I still watched a fair amount of the Olympics, but much less obsessively than two weeks ago. Once the swimming and gymnastics are over after the first week, I relax a bit with wanting to keep up with it all. And, I managed to catch up on all the Bachelor in Paradise I missed while watching the Olympics. The winding down of the Olympics means I’ll actually go back to talking about books on my book blog, which kind of became an Olympics blog for awhile there!

I finished reading…

Natural Way of Things, You Are An Ironman


The Natural Way of Things
 by Charlotte Wood (June 28, 2016)
This book about a group of girls being held captive (and forced to do manual labor) on a remote Australian farm has gotten raves within the book world. Aside from a delicious “WTF is going on here?” feeling similar to the one I got from The Beautiful Bureaucrat, I have to admit I didn’t quite get what all the hype was about through the first half. But, things picked up in the second half and I ended up thinking the turnaround was quite brilliant. It left me with many questions…some I wish had been answered and some I was fine with leaving open-ended.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg (September 15, 2011)
I received this book as a gift from someone I’d told I was training for a triathlon and it ended up being a total surprise for me! It was incredibly inspiring, I teared up in the first 50 pages and full-on cried a couple of times near the end. I recommend it for regular people who are taking up any kind of competitive racing (not just triathlons) as adults.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Dear Mr. M, Herman Koch


Dear Mr. M
 by Herman Koch (September 6, 2016)
I’m almost halfway through the latest novel from Herman Koch (author of The Dinner) and it’s exactly what you’d expect from him. A little creepiness, dislikable characters, and lots of sharing things most regular people don’t say. And, I realized how much I missed Mr. Koch!

Upcoming reading plans…

Probably one of these before starting in on more September releases…

American Heiress, The Inseparables


American Heiress
 by Jeffrey Toobin (August 2, 2016)
Nonfiction about the Patty Hearst kidnapping and subsequent trial.

The Inseparables by Stuart Nadler (July 19, 2016)
I heard about this novel on the All the Books podcast and remembered that I loved Nadler’s 2013 novel, Wise Men.

How was your reading week?

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My Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2016

August 18, 2016 Book Lists 28

My Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2016


These quarterly Most Anticipated Books lists are one of my favorite types of posts to put together because they get me excited about all the shiny, new books coming up (and, especially Fall, because that’s when a lot of the really “big” books are generally published)! But, when I look back at my Spring and Summer posts from this year, I noticed I’m really not fantastic at picking winners in advance (I ended up loving one book from my Summer preview and big, fat zero from my Spring preview)! But, this round has a good chance of breaking the pattern since it’s filled with a lot of authors I’ve loved in the past.

September

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (September 6, Viking)
I loved Towles’ debut, Rules of Civility, years ago and am interested in his sophomore effort that sounds completely different from Rules of Civility.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch (September 6, Crown)
I absolutely loved the biting social commentary in Koch’s The Dinner.

From various perspectives, Herman Koch tells the dark tale of a writer in decline, a teenage couple in love, a missing teacher, and a single book that entwines all of their fates. Thanks to M’s novel, supposedly a work of fiction, everyone seems to be linked forever, until something unexpected spins the “story” off its rails.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (September 13, Harper)
And the third book in the “I absolutely loved X’s previous book” sweepstakes (State of Wonder, in this case) !

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimeer McBride (September 20, Hogarth)
I heard good things about this book on one of the Book Riot podcasts.

A redemptive, captivating story of passion and innocence set across the bedsits of mid-1990s London, McBride holds new love under her fierce gaze, giving us all a chance to remember what it’s like to fall hard for another.

October

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt (October 4, Algonquin Books)
Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books had good things to say about this new-to-me author!

Set in the early 1970s against the specter of the Manson girls, when the peace and love movement begins to turn ugly, this is the story of a runaway teenager’s disappearance and her sister’s quest to discover the truth.

The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang (October 4, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
This debut novel is getting some good buzz…

A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent—and about the road trip they take across America that binds them back together.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (October 4, Little Brown)
Author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Yes, please!

A genius novel from the author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette, about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, forced to abandon her small ambitions when she awakes to a strange, new future unfolding.

Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner (October 11, Atria Books)
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve read Jennifer Weiner’s fiction, but I follow her on Twitter and adore her commentary on life and pop culture (particular The Bachelor franchise)…so, I’m intrigued her this collection of nonfiction essays.

Jennifer Weiner is many things: a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a Twitter phenomenon, and “an unlikely feminist enforcer” (The New Yorker). She’s also a mom, a daughter, and a sister; a former rower and current cyclist; a best friend and a reality TV junkie. In her first foray into nonfiction, she takes the raw stuff of her personal life and spins into a collection of essays on modern womanhood as uproariously funny and moving as the best of Tina Fey, Fran Lebowitz, and Nora Ephron.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (October 11, Riverhead Books)
Another debut that’s getting a lot of buzz…

Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.

December

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis (December 6, W.W. Norton)
My all-time favorite nonfiction writer takes on the decision-making process. For the most part, Lewis could make any topic fascinating for me.

Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process. Their papers showed the ways in which the human mind erred, systematically, when forced to make judgments about uncertain situations.

*All book summaries (in block quotes) are from Goodreads.

What Fall books are you looking forward to?

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Ten Quintessential, Contemporary New York City Novels

August 16, 2016 Top Ten Tuesday 32

Top Ten Tuesday
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish that asks bloggers to create Top Ten lists on a variety of bookish topics. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books With X Setting.

When I think of quintessential New York books, Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities is the first thing that comes to mind. But, I hear less talk about recent releases that are “quintessential NYC books”, so I wanted to focus on them here. This list started as “Ten Contemporary New York City Books”, which then became “Ten Contemporary New York City Novels” because there were just so many to choose from. I culled that down further to just those released in the past three years (2013-2016). 

Ten Quintessential, Contemporary New York City Books

 

2016

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (out on August 23)
An immigrant family working for a top Lehman Brothers executive during the 2008 financial crisis.

Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney
The hoity-toity literary and social sets.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Truman Capote and the 1950’s Upper East Side social scene.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Behind-the-scenes of the world of NYC fine dining restaurants.

2015

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
Four college friends hitting the worlds of art, law, acting, and architecture…and SO much more.

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
The Lower East Side during the Jazz Age, Prohibition, and the Great Depression.

2014

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
An aging writer with a typical New York personality.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
Late 1990’s New York publishing world.

2013

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Friendships evolving in New York.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
The dating scene in contemporary New York, specifically the Brooklyn literary scene.

What are your favorite contemporary books about New York City?

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The “Best of” 2016 Olympic Swimming (plus a short reading update & triathlon race recap)

August 15, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 20

I spent most of last week watching the Olympics instead of reading, so I figured it was appropriate to shift the focus of this week’s It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? post. I did finish Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney, which wasn’t too mentally taxing (and was exactly what I needed last week). And, because I’m getting swept up in all things Olympics, I started listening to 1996 Olympic gold medal gymnast Dominique Moceanu’s memoir, Off Balance. Finally, a friend gave me a copy of You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg, which got me to tear up in the first fifty pages. I’ll be reading this one in bits and pieces over the next week or so.

West Point Triathlon Race Recap:
I competed in the West Point Sprint Triathlon (1/2 mile swim, 13.9 mile bike, 5K run) on Sunday and it was a brutal day for racing! High of 95 and 95% humidity, plus an 8:40 AM start time (relatively late). Prior to seeing the weather forecast, my goals were to beat my time from this race last year (1:34:46) and to finish in the top 3 in my age group (vs. 4th last year). The swim went well, the bike went OK (but was a little slower than last year) and the run was horrifically painful and terrible. I walked four times during the run (basically every time I felt like I was going to throw up) and finished with a 5K split of 29:31 (2:15 slower than last year). So, you can imagine my surprise when I saw my overall results and realized I’d done a best time of 1:33:35 (4th in my age group)! Turns out I’d shaved 4 minutes off my swim, which saved my overall race. I didn’t finish in the top 3 as I’d hoped, but I’m thrilled with a PR in those steamy conditions!

Best of 2016 Olympic Swimming


Now, on to what I really spent my time doing last week. Overall, the US Swim Team far surpassed expectations going into Rio. The team was fairly young and many swimmers were first-time Olympians. And, it was these rookies that really stole the show (well, as much as it’s possible to steal the show from Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps). Also, Australian swimmers didn’t perform as well as expected, particularly favorites Emily Seebohm, the Campbell sisters, and Mitch Larkin. This recap is fairly US centric for a few reasons: A) US swimmers kind of dominated (33 medals vs. 2nd place Australia’s 10 medals) B) I know the most about US swimmers and C) NBC’s coverage and interviews are extremely US centric.

The “Best of” 2016 Olympic Swimming

The Performances

Biggest Upset
Women Winner:
Simone Manuel (USA) upsetting the heavily favored Campbell sisters (AUS) to tie Penny Oleksiak (CAN) for gold in the women’s 100 freestyle, in the process becoming the first African American to win an individual Olympic swimming medal. Prior to the Rio Games, Manual was ranked 9th in the world in this event.

Women Honorable Mention: Maya Dirado (USA) upsetting “Iron Lady” Katinka Hosszu (HUN) in the women’s 200 backstroke. Prior to the Olympics, Dirado was ranked 4th in the world in this event.
Men: Joseph Schooling (SIN) winning gold in the men’s 100 butterfly over Michael Phelps (USA) and Laszlo Cseh (HUN). Prior to the Olympics, Schooling was ranked only 13th in the world in this event.

Breakthrough Performance
Women:
Kathleen Baker (USA) wins silver in the women’s 100 backstroke after being ranked 8th in the world pre-Olympics.

Men: Ryan Murphy (USA) wins gold in the 100 and 200 backstroke in his first Olympics. He also broke the 100 backstroke world record in his lead-off leg of the gold medal winning men’s 4×100 medley relay.

Most Awe-Inspiring Performance
Dana Vollmer’s (USA)
bronze medal in the women’s 100 butterfly (plus a relay silver and gold) just 18 months after having a baby.

Most Dominant Swimmer
Katie Ledecky (USA):
I mean, no one is even close. She might even be the most dominant athlete at these Games in any sport, male or female!

Best Race
Women:
Katie Ledecky (USA) vs. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) in the women’s 200 freestyle.

Men: Michael Phelps vs. Masato Sakai (JPN) vs. Tamás Kenderesi (HUN) in the men’s 200 butterfly. Only 0.26 seconds separated Phelps with the gold from Kenderesi with the bronze.

The “Who?” Winner
Dmitriy Balandin (Kazakhstan): Gold Medalist in the men’s 200 breaststroke out of Lane 8, to which NBC Commentator Rowdy Gaines stated “I’ve never circled that lane before!”

Biggest Heartbreaker
Missy Franklin (USA)
failing to make the finals in both her individual events (women’s 200 freestyle and backstroke).

The Dara Torres “Age Is Just A Number” Performance Award
Anthony Ervin (USA):
Won his second gold in the men’s 50 freestyle sixteen years after winning his first at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The Reactions

Best Reaction
Women:
 Simone Manuel (USA) after tying for gold in the women’s 100 freestyle and becoming the first African American woman to win an individual Olympic swimming medal.

Men: First-time Olympian Cody Miller (USA) after winning bronze in the men’s 100 breaststroke.

Most Obnoxious Reaction
Katinka Hosszu (HUN)
 pointing at herself while sitting on the lane line after her world record setting performance in the women’s 400 I.M. (and her husband simultaneously pounding his chest on the pool deck).

Best Show of Tears
Ryan Held (USA):
the First-time Olympian sobbed on the medal stand after winning gold in the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay.

Best Interview
Lilly King (USA)
calls out Yulia Efimova (RUS) for doping violations, causing the IOC to essentially ask athletes not to comment on the doping scandal. Thankfully, King and NBC Commentator Rowdy Gaines chose not to keep quiet.

“If you’re shaking your finger number one and you’ve been caught for drug cheating, I’m just not a fan.” – Lilly King

The Drama

Best Rivalry
Michael Phelps (defending Olympic gold medalist) and Ryan Lochte (world record holder) in the men’s 200 IM:
These two combine for the 15 fastest times in history in this event, so this is a nod to the longevity of this rivalry.

Most Hyped Rivalry That Wasn’t A Rivalry
Michael Phelps vs. Chad Le Clos in the men’s 200 butterfly:
After Le Clos out-touched Phelps for gold in London and talked trash in the media over the past four years, Phelps wins gold while Le Clos fails to medal.

Biggest Choke
Emily Seebohm (AUS):
Coming into Rio with the fastest time in the world this year in the women’s 100 backstroke, she finished a disappointing 7th place.

*You may be wondering why Missy Franklin doesn’t occupy this spot…and it’s because she hasn’t looked like her old self for the past two years and barely made the U.S. team at Trials. Conversely, Seebohm has looked fantastic all year until these Games.

Best Recovery from a Choke
Katinka Hosszu (HUN):
After failing to medal in a single event at the London 2012 Games, she wins three golds (200 and 400 IM, 100 backstroke) and a silver (200 backstroke) in Rio.

Most Intriguing Scandal
Katinka Hosszu’s marriage/coaching relationship:
 NBC Commentator Dan Hicks brought this issue to the forefront with his comment crediting Shane Tulup (Hosszu’s husband) with being “responsible” for her turnaround following the London Olympics. There is more to this story. Former friends of Hosszu’s have spoken out about the unhealthy nature of her marriage and coaching relationship with Tulup (you can read more about this here and here). I don’t think this one is over and will be interested to see where she is four years from now.

The Superficial

Hottest
Male:
Camille Lacourt (FRA)

Female: Pernille Blume (DEN), gold medalist in women’s 50 freestyle

Prenille Blume, Camille Lacourt


Best Nail Color

Missy Franklin
(the top hand below)

Missy Franklin nails


Cutest Personality

Adam Peaty (GBR):
After winning gold and breaking his own world record in the men’s 100 breaststroke, Peaty gave an adorable and humble interview to NBC poolside commentator Michele Tafoya.

Weirdest Ready Room Routine
Chad Le Clos
 (RSA) shadow boxing and weirdly vibrating his shoulders.

Most Intimidating Face
Michael Phelps’
reaction to Chad Le Clos’s weird ready room routine, which has since inspired countless internet memes.

Michael Phelps, Phelpsface
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Three Favorite 2016 Summer Reads: Siracusa, The Hopefuls, and You Will Know Me

August 11, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 20

In July, I had a reading streak of absolutely perfect light reads that would be great for vacation. All these books will be going on my 2016 Summer Reading Guide.

Siracusa, Delia EphronSiracusa by Delia Ephron
Fiction (Released July 12, 2016)
304 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Blue Rider Press) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Relationships are put to the test when two couples (and one couple’s somewhat odd daughter) vacation together in Italy.

My Thoughts: Siracusa might be my favorite vacation-type read so far this year! It’s light and fast-moving, but also smartly written. The story is told from each of the four adults’ perspectives and the writing style shifts with each voice. Going into the trip, both marriages had their own issues, with each spouse frequently mocking his/her partner. As the trip takes on a somewhat surreal quality, everyone starts acting out…refusing to hide their pent-up resentments any longer. Ephron generates suspense by dropping little hints about innocuous moments that later take on greater meaning…contributing to the feeling that things are eventually going to combust.

Beyond the story itself, the characters’ musings on everything from marriage and cheating to travel and the writer’s life allowed Ephron’s writing to shine and kicked this book a notch above other vacation reads for me.

I must have understood more than I realized, how fragile things between us were. Now I do nothing but look at things other ways, flipping them up and around, examining them, trying to understand at the very least my own obtuseness. I think, I really do torture myself with this: Surprises don’t come from people we know well, certainly not people we love. We call them surprises but they are inevitabilities. I must have been playing a role, a starring role, in an inevitability.

Siracusa is a fantastic choice if you’re heading on vacation (particularly to Italy).

The Hopefuls, Jennifer CloseThe Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Fiction (Released July 19, 2016)
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: When young couple Matt and Beth Kelly move from New York City to Washington, D.C. for Matt’s job, they must navigate marriage and friendship in the political world.

My Thoughts: While The Hopefuls is set in the political world, it’s not a book about politics. Rather, it’s a book about marriage and friendship set against the backdrop of politics. Beth finds D.C. an odd and unwelcoming place until she and Matt meet the Dillons, another couple who will become their best friends. Beth is an accessible and relatable narrator and her witty commentary about the douche-y D.C. politicos had me chuckling. Maybe it was her pop culture references (including one about Friday Night Lights!) or her propensity to point out D.C. traits I would also find annoying or the fact that she and Matt’s time in NYC coincided with mine, but I felt like she was speaking my language. The Hopefuls also tackles themes that resonated with me: making new friends as adults (and navigating the boundaries of said friendships), the nosiness of small towns, and trying to find your footing in a new place.

Here’s what I still hate about DC: the way that nothing is permanent, the feeling that everything and everyone you know, could (and does) wash away every four or eight years. All of these important people, so ingrained in the city—you can’t imagine that this place could exist without them. But one day they’re gone and everything keeps moving just the same. Who can get their footing in a place like this? It feels like quicksand to me.

My only complaint was that the ending wrapped things up a little too nicely, yet didn’t. The question of where the characters end up was answered, but some large issues that figured prominently in the storyline and certainly should have impacted the outcome of the book were left unexplored. Despite the unsatisfying ending, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride (which, as I discussed here, is generally more important to me anyway) and highly recommend The Hopefuls as a light, relatable summer read.

You Will Know Me, Megan AbbottYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Fiction (Released July 26, 2016)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: A tragic accident throws fifteen year-old gymnastics prodigy Devon Knox and her family’s carefully constructed training plans into chaos. 

My Thoughts: If you’re looking for a book that you can fly through, this is it. Megan Abbott writes young girls in the most deliciously demented way (see The Fever and Dare Me) and what better world for characters like that to inhabit than elite gymnastics. Only this time Abbott throws in a pack of overly zealous parents to deepen the appeal. She choreographs a meticulously drawn world of tiny powerhouse girls, parents who push all else aside to “help” their daughters achieve “their” dreams, and families whose literal (mountains of credit card debt, multiple mortgages) and figurative fortunes ride on their daughters’ young shoulders. 

A few months later, after placing sixth on beam and bars in the Level 10 Junior Nationals in sunstruck Orlando, she was ranked first among all Level 10s in their home state. “The greatest day of our life,” Devon said, and everyone laughed at the our, except it was true, wasn’t it?

Though the central plot points weren’t entirely unexpected, Abbott’s writing style had me on the edge of my seat, frantically turning pages, even though I was fairly confident I knew how this would end. The paragraphs are short…with an almost breathless quality and I could feel the tension crackling. If you’re not getting a big enough gymnastics fix during this week’s Olympics competition or just want a page-turning beach read, You Will Know Me is your ticket.

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Olympic Figures That Would Make Intriguing Book Characters

August 9, 2016 Bookish Posts 16

Olympic Figures That Would Make Intriguing Book Characters


One of my favorite parts about the Olympics are the stories behind the many colorful characters involved in the Games. Some are heartwarming, some are heartbreaking, some are inspiring, some are scandalous, and many encompass all of these qualities. It dawned on me that similar qualities can make fiction incredibly compelling…leading me to think about what Olympic figures would make intriguing book characters (if many of them didn’t already star in their own memoirs!). Let’s get to it…

Olympic Figures That Would Make Intriguing Book Characters

Tonya Harding

You’re probably familiar with the Nancy Kerrigan saga, which is one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” stories. What you may not know is that Harding was the first American woman to land the difficult triple axel in competition. After retirement from figure skating, she and her husband sold a sex tape to Penthouse and she fought Paula Jones (of Bill Clinton fame) in a Celebrity Boxing bout, going on to somewhat of a boxing career.

Memoir: The Tanya Tapes (which doesn’t seem to be listed on Goodreads or Amazon)

Caitlyn Jenner

I’m pretty sure this one needs no explanation unless you’ve been living under a rock.

Memoir: In progress.

Bela Karolyi

Coached both Romanian and U.S. gymnastics teams to Olympic gold. Responsible for some of the most successful female gymnasts in history (Nadia Comăneci, Mary Lou Retton, Dominique Moceanu). Criticized for his brutal training methods. Defected to the U.S. in 1981. Colorful personality. And, this from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics…”YOU CAN DO IT, KERRI!”

Greg Louganis

The first male in history to win back to back double gold medals in Olympic diving events (1984 and 1988). What you probably remember is him hitting his head on the 3M springboard at the 1988 Olympics…then going on to win gold anyway. He subsequently announced that he is gay, HIV positive and was infected during the 1988 Olympic board-hitting incident. What you may not know is he struggled with substance abuse and depression following his retirement from competitive diving and was in an abusive relationship. He is now recovered, happily married, and is a LGBT rights activist. He was also in the first inductee class of the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.

Memoir: Breaking the Surface

Dominique Moceanu

Hyped as the would-be star gymnast of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics at age 14, she competed with a stress fracture in her leg and didn’t perform up to expectations. She won emancipation from her parents at age 17 after they squandered much of her professional gymnastics earnings. She went on to write a memoir revealing a long lost sister that her parents had given up for adoption and skewering her long-time coach, Bela Karolyi’s, training methods and her father’s overbearing and threatening behavior (including threatening to hire a hitman to “take out” one of Moceanu’s former coaches).

Memoir: Off Balance

Jesse Owens

Four-time track and field gold medalist at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As an African-American, he served as a powerful symbol juxtaposing the Nazi belief in Aryan supremacy on display in Berlin…and his success apparently annoyed Hitler.

Oscar Pistorius (aka “The Blade Runner”)

His legs were amputated as a baby and, after resounding success in the Paralympic Games, he successfully petitioned to compete in the non-disabled competition at the 2012 London Olympics. Much controversy about whether his artificial legs gave him a competitive advantage ensued. Heart-warming story until this point, no? Then, he was convicted of murdering his girlfriend.

Memoir: Blade Runner: My Story

Wilma Rudolph

After contracting polio as a child and wearing a brace on her leg until age nine, Rudolph became a two-time Olympian, becoming the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in a single Olympics at the 1960 Rome Games.

Dara Torres

Five-time Olympic swimmer who returned to competition after two separate eight year retirements (and the birth of her daughter) to win three silver medals in Beijing in 2008 at the age of 41. She attempted to qualify for the 2012 London Games at the age of 45, finishing a heart-breaking 3rd place at the U.S. Olympic Trials and missing her 6th Olympic Team by 0.03 seconds. To put all this in perspective, Torres was the oldest member of the 2000 Olympic swimming team at the age of 33, eight years before her 2008 Beijing performance.

Memoir: Age Is Just A Number

Katarina Witt

Two-time Olympic figure skating gold medalist (1984 and 1988) from East Germany. Used as a propaganda figure by the East German government during the Cold War. Was closely surveilled by her own government while being lavished with gifts such as cars, accommodations, etc. After retiring from skating, did a bit of acting and posed for Playboy.

Memoir: Only With Passion

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (8/8/16)

August 8, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 28

Hosted by The Book Date.

I got extra strategic about my reading last week to prepare for this week’s Olympics! I’d planned to read Bright, Precious Days, but realized I should probably read a more serious book and save the “lighter” book for this week since my brain will be consumed by Olympics. So, I pushed Bright, Precious Days off and picked up How I Became A North Korean instead. And, I should probably say that I don’t expect to get much reading done this week with Olympics mania swirling around my brain!

Triathlon Training: My race is this coming Sunday! After a couple hard workouts early last week, I started to ease up just a bit to rest up for race day. And, this week will be very, very light. The weather forecast for Sunday is a 60% chance of rain and thunderstorms, so I’m crossing my fingers that things improve before then! I’ve never done a triathlon in the rain, so will have to figure out those logistics.

I finished reading…

The Hopefuls, How I Became A North Korean


The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close (July 19, 2016)
Fantastic, smartly written light read and one of my favorite summer 2016 books! My only complaint was the ending. Mini review to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

How I Became a North Korean by Krys Lee (August 2, 2016)
I’m glad I read this book about three escapees to the area of China bordering North Korea and their journey to try to make it to a “safe” country, but I felt a weird distance from it the whole time I was reading. I appreciate learning what it’s like for those that try to escape North Korea, but I wish there had been more of a focus on life in North Korea.

I’m currently reading…

Bright Precious Days, Jay McInerney


Bright, Precious Days
 by Jay McInerney (August 2, 2016)
I’m only about 30% into the third book about Russell and Corrine Calloway, but I enjoy McInerney’s writing style (even if it is a bit pretentious). Now I’m just waiting to see where this story will go and what will differentiate it from the first two Calloway books.

Upcoming reading plans…

I really have no idea…any suggestions? Or, possibly one of these…

American Heiress, The Insepararables, Natural Way of Things


American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin (August 2, 2016)
Nonfiction about the Patty Hearst kidnapping and subsequent trial.

The Inseparables by Stuart Nadler (July 19, 2016)
I heard about this novel on the All the Books podcast and remembered that I loved Nadler’s 2013 novel, Wise Men.

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (June 28, 2016)
Shannon at River City Reading loved this somewhat dystopian Australian novel.

How was your reading week?

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8 Books About the Olympics

August 4, 2016 Book Lists 17

8 Books About the Olympics


As I first talked about a few months ago, the Olympics (and particularly the Summer Olympics) is my all-time favorite sports event. So, when the Summer Olympics rolls around every four years, I turn into quite the fanatic…in my TV viewing and my reading! 

8 Books About the Olympics

In the Water They Can’t See You Cry: A Memoir by Amanda Beard
Seven-time Olympic swimming medalist Amanda Beard candidly talks about what it was like to be in the spotlight at such a young age, her struggle with depression and cutting, her experimentation with drugs, and her return to swimming after having a baby.

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters by Joan Ryan
An investigation of the grueling training practices in elite gymnastics and figure skating…and the physical impact on young girls.

One Day in September by Simon Reeve
The story of the 1972 terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics and Israel’s operation (“Wrath of God”) to hunt down every one of the surviving terrorist. There was also an award-winning documentary of the same name that was released in conjunction with the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World by David Maraniss
I’m listening to the audio of this book right now. I’m about halfway through and am learning a lot about the first Olympics that contained a doping scandal, the beginnings of sponsorship deals for athletes, and a teenage Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (review)
This book has been everywhere…but it really is one of my favorite books about the Olympics. I got wrapped up in the excitement of Joe Rantz and the University of Washington rowers’ quest to win gold and loved the historical background of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which was used as a propaganda instrument by the Nazis.

The Secret Olympian: The Inside Story of the Olympic Experience by Anonymous
A member of the 2004 Great Britain Olympic team gives an honest and juicy behind the scenes account of the Olympic experience – his own and that of fellow Olympians. This is the Olympics “gossip” book!

The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway (review)
The true story of a Hawaiian sugar plantation elementary school teacher (Soichi Sakamoto) who trained (starting in an irrigation ditch!) a group of mostly Japanese-American children to swim for the Olympics in the late 1930’s/40’s. With all the history about training methods, this is truly a swimming nerd’s book!

You Will Know Me: A Novel by Megan Abbott
A dark, twisty novel set in the world of elite competitive gymnastics. I just read this one and I couldn’t put it down. It’s going on my 2016 Summer Reading Guide and my Sports Books list.

And a bonus documentary…

The Last Gold: The Greatest Untold Story in Olympic Swimming History
This documentary about the U.S. women’s quest to beat the steroid-riddled East Germans to win just one swimming gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics premiered at the L.A. Film Festival this summer. I’m still trying to find out how to watch it at home. It appears to only be available through in person showings at this point.

Stay tuned for a few more Olympics-themed posts over the next few weeks.

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