It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (9/26/16)

September 26, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 17

Hosted by The Book Date.

Things have been crazy at my house since school started (see this absolutely perfect article), but my son finally started full days last week, so we’re finally settling into the permanent routine. I’m taking a break from racing this Fall after feeling tired and burned out after my last triathlon, Instead, I picked up tennis for the first time in years. I played in high school, but haven’t really since and it feels good to get back out there…even if the pro laughed at my racquet the first day and is re-building all my strokes since the game is played totally differently now!

On the reading front, I’m getting back into buzzy Fall fiction (albeit not with very good results so far) and have joined Litsy (an app that’s like Instagram crossed with Goodreads)! I was hesitant to keep up with another social media app and worried I wouldn’t be able to use Litsy to its fullest potential since I read electronically (resulting in a lack of pretty book pictures). But, I’m enjoying it more than I expected and think I can find some creative ways to post images related to what I’m reading…even if they aren’t actual book covers. Follow me on Litsy at sarahsbookshelves!

I finished reading…

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. Vance


Hillbilly Elegy
 by J.D. Vance (June 28, 2016)
This is a first. I read two 5 star nonfiction books in a row! And, this is the second one. Mini review coming.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Cruel Beautiful World, Caroline Leavitt


Cruel Beautiful World
 by Caroline Leavitt (October 4, 2016)
At the halfway point, this story about two sisters in the late 1960’s is decent, but not great. I think it probably won’t end up being especially memorable, but we shall see…

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

Wangs vs. the world, Jade Chang


The Wangs vs. the World
 by Jade Chang (October 4, 2016)
I have a feeling I could be in the minority here, but I was just annoyed with all these characters, annoyed with their conversation, and didn’t much care what happened to them. I made it to 24%.

Upcoming reading plans…

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett


Commonwealth
 by Ann Patchett (September 13, 2016)
I’m finally going to start the latest novel by the author of State of Wonder (which I loved). Family drama, secrets, and good feedback from people I trust…yippee!

How was your reading week?

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#30Authors: Jung Yun on Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

September 22, 2016 Blogger Events 12

30Authors, #30authors
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in #30Authors again this year! Jung Yun’s debut novel, Shelter, is one of my favorite books of 2016 so far (if you haven’t read it yet, get to it now!), so I’m a bit starstruck to have her words here on my blog!

#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh.

To see this year’s full line-up,visit www.thebookwheelblog.com/30authors or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.

Jung Yun on Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing, Yaa GyasiYaa Gyasi’s debut novel, HOMEGOING, spans two continents and nearly three hundred years in an ambitious exploration of how the past can powerfully influence the present. The novel begins in 19th-century Africa with two young women, half-sisters born to the same mother but raised separately. Effia, nicknamed “the beauty,” leaves her Fante village on the Gold Coast to marry an English officer and lead a life of relative privilege in the Cape Coast Castle. Esi, meanwhile, flees her Asante village during an attack and ends up imprisoned with hundreds of other slaves in the castle’s squalid dungeons, several stories below her half-sister’s living quarters. Neither woman is aware of the other’s proximity, a flesh and blood sibling being just one of many losses to come.

Each chapter of HOMEGOING is devoted to one of Effia or Esi’s descendants as slavery and its aftereffects split the family lines further and further apart. Effia and most of her descendants remain on the Gold Coast, later to be renamed Ghana. The early generations are privileged by money, English blood, and/or high Fante rank, but their fortunes begin to decline precipitously after James, Effia’s grandson, chooses love and “a small life” over continued complicity in the slave trade that has made his family rich. Esi leaves the dungeons of the Cape Coast Castle through its infamous “door of no return” and boards a ship bound for America, where her descendants endure unimaginable suffering as slaves and then later as “free” men and women in a society where true freedom still proves elusive, even as the chapters bring us closer and closer to contemporary times.

HOMEGOING pulls no punches to spare the reader. Gyasi’s depictions of brutality are unflinching; the emotions her writing incites are both earned and deeply felt. The early chapters—arguably the novel’s strongest—are a study in extremes, contrasting the depths of love that some characters feel toward each other with the abject pain of enslavement and its associated injustices. At times, it is difficult to fathom how such emotional extremes can coexist in the same world, and yet Gyasi’s self-assured hand makes it possible. Her ability to frame a narrative within a larger historical context, combined with her obvious gifts as a storyteller, have rightfully earned her comparisons to Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The result is a literary work of art that is breathtakingly vibrant, necessary, and new.

About Jung Yun

Jung YunJung Yun is the author of SHELTER, published by Picador in March of 2016. Her work has appeared in Tin House (the “Emerging Voices” issue); The Best of Tin House: Stories, edited by Dorothy Allison; The Massachusetts Review; and The Atlantic Monthly. She is the recipient of two Artist Fellowships in fiction from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and an honorable mention for the Pushcart Prize. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of English at the George Washington University.

Learn more about Jung on her Author WebsiteTwitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.

You can purchase Jung’s debut novel, Shelter, from Amazon (affiliate link) and Barnes & Noble.

About Yaa Gyasi

Yaa GyasiFrom Goodreads

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Her short stories have appeared in African American Review and Callaloo. Her debut novel is Homegoing (Knopf, June 2016).

Learn more about Yaa on her Author WebsiteFacebook, and Goodreads.

You can purchase Yaa’s debut novel, Homegoing, from Amazon (affiliate link) and Barnes & Noble.

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Ten Authors Who Should Host A Podcast

September 20, 2016 Top Ten Tuesday 17

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 All About Audio Freebie. I snagged the Authors Who Should Host A Podcast spin on this topic from a Book Riot podcast (thank you!). When creating this list, I thought about authors who are interesting on Twitter and/or have a gift for spot-on social commentary. And, authors of nonfiction lend themselves quite well to the podcast format!

Two giants missing from this list are Cheryl Strayed (author of Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild) and Susan Cain (author of Quiet). In putting this list together, I discovered both of them already have their own podcasts! Strayed hosts Dear Sugar Radio with Steve Almond and Susan Cain hosts Quiet Podcast based on her bestselling book of the same name. 

authors who should host a podcast


Rick Bragg (My Southern Journey)
Podcast Topic:
hilarious and insightful commentary on Southern culture.

Roxanne Gay (Bad Feminist, An Untamed State)
Podcast Topic: 
Ranty commentary on pop culture, race, feminism, reading and writing, and the competitive Scrabble circuit.

Herman Koch (The Dinner, Dear Mr. M, etc)
Podcast Topic: 
Social commentary that gets to the “nasty little heart of things” (thanks to Catherine of Gilmore Guide to Books for that perfect summation).

Jon Krakauer (Missoula, Under the Banner of Heaven, etc)
Podcast Topic: 
Investigative pieces covering just about anything.

Michael Lewis (The Big Short, etc)
Podcast Topic: 
Ditto Krakauer…and commentary on finance that’s actually interesting.

Mary Roach (Stiff, Grunt, etc)
Podcast Topic: 
Her signature oddball take on weird science-y stuff.

David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day, etc)
Podcast Topic: 
A weekly recap of his daily life…told in his signature hilarious style.

Adelle Waldman (The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.)
Podcast Topic: 
Commentary on yuppie dating.

Jennifer Weiner (In Her Shoes, etc)
Podcast Topic: 
Bachelor franchise analysis.

Andy Weir (The Martian)
Podcast Topic: 
Scientific concepts for non-scientists.

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (9/19/16)

September 19, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 30

Hosted by The Book Date.

I had grand plans to read big September releases last week and I somehow found myself reading nonfiction from earlier this year instead. I blame mood reading and some library holds coming in!

I finished reading…

A Gentleman in Moscow, When Breath Becomes Air


A Gentleman in Moscow
 by Amor Towles (September 6, 2016)

I’m not as enamored with this one as others are…review coming soon.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (January 12, 2016)
I was looking for something to hit me emotionally when this library hold came in. It’s about death, but more about humanity. And, I’m glad I was alone when I got to the final chapter because I was sobbing! I won’t review it since I’m so late to this train, but it’s definitely one of my favorite nonfictions of the year so far.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. Vance


Hillbilly Elegy
 by J.D. Vance (June 28, 2016)
I’m about halfway through this memoir and am absolutely loving the combination of crazy family stories and social analysis of the “white working class” in Appalachia.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

Wangs vs. the world, Jade Chang


The Wangs vs. the World
 by Jade Chang (October 4, 2016)
This debut novel about a Chinese immigrant family that takes a road trip across the United States after losing their fortune has been getting a lot of buzz.

How was your reading week?

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It’s Complicated: Loner and The Trouble With Goats and Sheep

September 15, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 16

I had mixed feelings about both of these books…and had trouble deciding whether or not to recommend them. 

Loner, Teddy WayneLoner by Teddy Wayne
Fiction (Released September 13, 2016)
224 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it…I think.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Simon & Schuster) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: High school geek David Federman hopes to change his social fortunes at Harvard University, becoming obsessed with gorgeous dorm-mate Veronica Morgan Wells on the first day of school.

My Thoughts: I’m a sucker for campus novels, so I was willing to give Teddy Wayne’s latest a shot despite not being enamored with his previous novel, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. It took me awhile to get into Loner, but the farther I read, the more I was dying to find out how the entanglement between David, Veronica, and David’s girlfriend (Sara, Veronica’s roommate) would resolve itself. David reminded me of Can’t Buy Me Love‘s Ronald Miller, a geek who acquired some measure of social status through questionable associations with a popular girl before flying too close to the sun…and his downward trajectory reminded me a bit of the desperate spiral in Belinda McKeon’s Tender (but, please don’t take this as a comparison to Tender as an overall book!).

When all was said and done, I’m not sure I bought David’s personality evolution or the ending of the book. His motivation for his actions at the end was completely unclear. Did he want another level of attention? Was it out of anger or vengeance or a thirst for power? I also wondered if Loner was intended to address a social issue. If it was, it merely dipped a toe in that pool rather than doing a cannonball into the deep end. Finally, the writing was a bit uneven…brilliantly capturing what it might be like to be an outsider at Harvard at times and resorting to over-the-top pretension at others. As you can see, I’m a bit conflicted about Loner overall.

Trouble with Goats and Sheep, Joanna CannonThe Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Fiction (Released July 12, 2016)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it…I think.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Scribner)

Plot Summary: During the sweltering summer of 1976 in England, the disappearance of their adult neighbor (Margaret Creasy) ignites two ten year old girls’ (Grace and Tilly) curiosity about community, God, and neighborhood secrets.

My Thoughts: The Trouble With Goats and Sheep was an up and down book for me, sporting high highs and low lows. It has two characteristics I generally love in my reading: releasing background information about characters in drips and drabs (like Did You Ever Have A Family) and melding a coming of age story with a crime or mystery (like My Sunshine Away and Only Love Can Break Your Heart). I was immediately captivated by ten year-old Grace’s voice, which manages to be childlike without being childish. She sounds clever and unique, yet still maintains her innocence.

I had never met anyone who had nearly died, and in the beginning the subject was attacked with violent curiosity. Then it became more than fascination. I needed to know everything, so that all the details might be stitched together for protection. As if hearing the truth would somehow save us from it.

And Cannon’s writing, in general, blew me away…at first. She showed a propensity for writing about emotions like they are physical things and, on the flip side, giving inanimate objects emotion. Worrying was “packed away” and “made silent.” A room looked “tired and unhappy.” This writing trick piqued my interest early on, but it appeared so often that it felt gimmicky by the end. Every time I spotted another example, I’d roll my eyes and think “here we go again.” The story also took far too long to advance through the middle…I felt like we weren’t much farther at 75% than we were at 25%. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Cannon’s style during the first 25% and some of the surprises towards the end.

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The Best of the Brain Candy: Books That Are Light AND Smart

September 13, 2016 Book Lists 27

Books that are light and smart


In the past, I’ve been the type of reader that gravitates mostly to literary fiction, but enjoys something lighter every now and then. But, things changed this year when lighter fiction has, on the whole, worked better for me than more serious literary fiction. And, as I discussed a few weeks ago, I’ve struggled to adjust to this new normal. I’ve been sub-consciously short-changing some of my favorite lighter books in the ratings department, so I wanted to give them their very own showcase.

I want my light fiction to be more than straight-up fluff…I appreciate smart writing, biting social commentary, wit, and an engrossing plot. And, the books on this list have all those qualities. They’re also books I’ve recommended over and over to other people. As with all my recommendation lists, I’ll continue adding books as I find them.

The List

A Hundred Summers, Beatriz Williams, fiction, beach reads, Rhode Island 1938 hurricaneA Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
Fiction (Released May, 2013)
357 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: In the summer of 1938, Lily plans to relax at her family’s vacation home in Seaview, Rhode Island (a blue blood beach enclave), but her childhood best friend and former fiancé’s appearance throws a wrench in her plans.

My Thoughts: A Hundred Summers is a light, fun book that would make a great beach read. However, it does have some depth to it, which is why I enjoyed it so much. Continue Reading…

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-WhittemoreBittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, fiction
Fiction (Released May, 2014)
385 Pages

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
When the beautiful and wealthy Genevra (Ev) Winslow invites her very average roommate, Mabel Dagmar, to spend the summer at her family’s summer retreat, Mabel enters a world of secrets, lies, threats, and betrayal.
My Thoughts: 
Bittersweet was my favorite book of the summer of 2014! It joined We Were Liars in the category of summer books about “extremely wealthy families behaving badly in private vacation compounds” (yes, that seems to be a budding category these days…and an exciting one!). Continue Reading…

Siracusa, Delia EphronSiracusa by Delia Ephron
Fiction (Released July 12, 2016)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
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. Continue Reading…

Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead, fiction, weddingsSeating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Fiction (Released June 12, 2012)
302 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Family and friends gather on a small island in New England for the wedding of Daphne Van Meter, who is seven months pregnant, and Greyson Duff.

My Thoughts: The Van Meters (Winn and Biddy are the parents – I mean, get a load of those names!) and Duffs are snobby, New England families that don’t talk about anything unpleasant and fear “inappropriateness” and “social embarrassment” above all else. Obviously, a wedding where the bride is knocked up has the potential for many moments that would send these people into a tailspin. Continue Reading…

Summerlong, Dean BakopoulosSummerlong by Dean Bakopoulos
Fiction (Released June 16, 2015)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: During one particularly hot summer in Grinnell, Iowa, Don and Claire Lowry find that their marriage isn’t as strong as they thought; their discontent and the heat driving them to act uncharacteristically.

My Thoughts: Summerlong was a surprise hit for me…it’s darker and edgier than the cover would lead you to believe. You can really feel this book…the simmering suburban discontent, everyone having an itch that’s just waiting to be scratched, the restlessness that comes with sweltering summer days. It’s like a sea of smoldering embers threatening to ignite at the slightest catalyst. Continue Reading…

The Expatriates, Janice Y.K. LeeThe Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
Fiction (Released January 12, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
A story about life as an American expat in Hong Kong told through the eyes of three women: Margaret (a married mother of three recovering from a tragedy), Mercy (a twenty-something Korean American Columbia grad trying to get her life on track), and Hilary (a housewife struggling with fertility).

My Thoughts: The Expatriates hit a couple of my “what makes a book work for me” buttons: a good balance between plot and style, dark undertones, and social commentary. I was expecting a light novel about wealthy, successful expats living it up in Hong Kong and I was delighted to find the story also had surprising depth. Yes, many of the characters’ lives sparkle on the surface, but darkness lurks just underneath as it becomes apparent that reality is quite different from appearances. Continue Reading…

The Fever, Megan Abbott, FictionThe Fever by Megan Abbott
Fiction (Released June, 2014)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
When Deenie’s best friend, Lise, is struck by an unexplained fainting spell/seizure in the middle of class, Deenie’s family and entire high school community are thrown into the middle of the fear and hysteria associated with a strange and quickly spreading epidemic.

My Thoughts: The Fever was the only novel that I chose to read off the New York Times Summer Reading List and was also an Amazon Best Book of the Month for June. Stacey from The Novel Life best described it as “unputdownable” and I can’t come up with a better one word description. This was a book that kept me up late at night…I plowed through 3/4 of the book without taking a single note! Continue Reading…

The Royal We, Heather Cocks and Jessica MorganThe Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Fiction (Released April 7, 2015)
465 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
Inspired by the real life courtship of Prince William and Kate Middleton, American Rebecca “Bex” Porter embarks on a relationship with Prince Nicholas after meeting at Oxford.
My Thoughts:
The Royal We is fun, cheeky, and romantic (but not overly cheesy)! It pokes fun at the idiosyncrasies of the British monarchy (I love any book that refers to the fictional Prince Charles as a “douchelord”…who knew he had so much in common with Scott Disick?!), but it’s equally heartfelt about the emotions that go along with existing in a gilded royal cage. Continue Reading…

Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie BenjaminThe Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Historical Fiction (Released: January 26, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
A novel (wink, wink) based on the friendship between author Truman Capote and his New York City socialite “swans” (i.e. Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness, etc) and his eventual betrayal of them via the short story, “La Cote Basque, 1965”.
My Thoughts:
The Swans of Fifth Avenue is one of those deliciously scandalous guilty pleasures…wealthy people behaving badly at its best…with the added bonuses of the right amount of depth and writing that strikes the perfect tone. While this book is technically fiction, the major events and timelines are real with dialogue, emotions, and details imagined by the author. Continue Reading…

Where'd you go, Bernadette?Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Fiction (Released August 14, 2012)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Bernadette Fox disappears following a series of embarrassing incidents at home and issues with anxiety, sending her eighth grade daughter (Bee) on a quest to find her.

My Thoughts: This book is surprising, quirky, heartwarming, and suspenseful. At first, I thought it was going to be a flighty read about neurotic mothers in the carpool line. But, about a quarter into the book, you learn more about Bernadette…she’s a complex character and I was hooked on her after reading the ArtForum article profiling her former architecture career. Continue Reading…

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (9/12/16)

September 12, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 33

Hosted by The Book Date.

School started this week for my son. He’s in Kindergarten and so far is taking to school quite well! I love being able to walk him to and from school (and listening to an audiobook on the way to pick him up)! The downside is that there are an ungodly number of back to school meetings, coffees, conferences, etc. Is all this really necessary?! So, I’ve been completely distracted and have had trouble focusing on any reading. I have one more week of chaos (with my daughter starting preschool and my son still only doing half days) before things settle down.

I finished reading…

Long Shadow of Small Ghosts


The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts
 by Laura Tillman (April 5, 2016)
This true story of a horrific 2003 murder in Brownsville, TX is part true crime, part reporter’s memoir, part rumination on the death penalty and poverty, and part story of a community. But, all these elements combined for a muddled whole that just didn’t hang together for me.

I’m currently reading…

A Gentleman in Moscow


A Gentleman in Moscow
 by Amor Towles (September 6, 2016)
Several bloggers I trust have raved about the latest novel by the author of Rules of Civility (which I loved). I’m almost halfway through and, while I can see what’s causing all the raving, it’s not hitting me emotionally. This is a book meant to be curled up with in peace and my life is back-to-school chaos right now, so I’m having trouble finding enough focus to appreciate the many beautiful passages. 

Upcoming reading plans…

I’m going to try one of these…

Generation Chef, Hillbilly Elegy


Generation Chef
by Karen Stabiner (September 13, 2016)
This true story of a young chef starting his first restaurant might be more the speed I need during the back-to-school chaos.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (June 28, 2016)
This memoir about the author’s experience growing up in a poverty in Appalachia has been described as “part memoir, part historical and social analysis” (Goodreads). And, of course, my library hold came in right when all the September releases are coming out!

How was your reading week?

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#30Authors: Richard Alley on City of Secrets by Stewart O’Nan

September 9, 2016 Blogger Events 8

30Authors, #30authors
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in #30Authors again this year! And I couldn’t be happier to be paired with Richard Alley, author of 2015’s Five Night Stand.

#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. 

To see this year’s full line-up,visit www.thebookwheelblog.com/30authors or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.

Richard Alley on City of Secrets by Stewart O’Nan

City of Secrets, Stewart O'NanI’ve only recently become acquainted with Stewart O’Nan and that’s a delicious prospect for an avid reader as he’s the author of 16 novels and four works of nonfiction, including Faithful, co-written with Stephen King and chronicling the Boston Red Sox’s championship 2014 season. There is much to look forward to with such an oeuvre.

O’Nan’s latest, City of Secrets, is a novel full of noir-ish characters and intrigue. The location is Jerusalem, the time is post-World War II, and our protagonist, Jossi Brand (an alias), has survived the concentration camps where his Jewish family perished. He’s made his way to his new home by sea freighter and joined a de-facto family of rebels working within the Haganah resistance to foil the occupying British Mandate forces.

Brand lives in a state of paranoia, not about the British who might burst into his sparely furnished room to arrest him on any night, but of the cell he works within and whether he’s an integral member or an expendable patsy. And he’s in love with Eva — The Widow, as she’s known — a one-time actress, physically scarred now, who works with the rebels to extract information from the enemy through amorous means.

Brand drives a taxi by trade, one provided by the Haganah to transport people and weapons as needed, and to deliver Eva to her rendezvouses. The unspoken details of what happens behind closed doors in the King David hotel, and of what the rebellion’s leader might be planning, eats at him daily as he drives through the city’s various ethnic centers picking up fares to keep up appearances. Along for the ride are victims of the Nazis — Brand’s sister and a lover named Katya, whose memory he clings to dearly even as he waits for Eva to conduct her business.

O’Nan’s novels are each distinctly individual. In recent months I’ve read stories taking place in 1920s Hollywood (West of Sunset) and present-day Niagara Falls (The Odds). Much like the innate fear in our man Brand, you never know just what might be around the next corner of an O’Nan book. And, just like the intrigue in City of Secrets, it’s what will keep you reading this author again and again.

About Richard Alley

Richard Alley

Richard J. Alley, author of FIVE NIGHT STAND, is an award-winning reporter, columnist, and editor from Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children.

His short story, “The Panama Limited,” appears in the anthology MEMPHIS NOIR (Akashic Books).

Learn more about Richard on his Author WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

You can purchase Richard’s latest novel, Five Night Stand, from Amazon (affiliate link) and Barnes & Noble.

About Stewart O’Nan

Stewart O'NanFrom Author’s Website

Stewart O’Nan’s award-winning fiction includes Snow Angels, A Prayer for the Dying, Last Night at the Lobster, and Emily, Alone. Granta named him one of America’s Best Young Novelists. He lives in Pittsburgh.

Learn more about Stewart on his Author WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

You can purchase Stewart’s latest novel, City of Secrets, from Amazon (affiliate link) and Barnes & Noble.

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Koch’s Distinct Style Makes Dear Mr. M A Winner, Despite Plot Inconsistencies

September 6, 2016 Fiction 18

Dear Mr. M, Herman KochFiction
Released September 6, 2016
416 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Hogarth) via NetGalley

Headline

While Dear Mr. M‘s politically incorrect social commentary, dislikable characters, and somewhat meandering nature mean it’s not for everyone, Koch’s distinctive writing style make it a winner for me despite some plot inconsistencies. And, its divisive nature would make it a fantastic book club selection.

Plot Summary

M, an aging writer riding on the long-ago success of his bestselling novel based on the true story of a teacher’s murder involving two of his students (Payback) piques the stalker-ish interest of his neighbor, leading to a revisit of the crime at the center of M’s novel.

Why I Read It

I loved Koch’s breakthrough novel, The Dinner. While I didn’t love his follow-up (Summer House With Swimming Pool) nearly as much, Koch is an author whose distinct writing style will make me at least try every book he writes.

What I Liked

  • While I didn’t love Dear Mr. M quite as much as The Dinner, it came dang close. And I thought it ran circles around Summer House With Swimming Pool.
  • Dear Mr. M employs one of my favorite literary devices: the mystery or crime that provides suspense, but is not at the center of the story. The prospect of finding out what happened to the teacher at the center of Payback certainly kept me turning the pages, but it’s more of a catalyst to explore human behavior and emotions.
  • Dear Mr. M is a style book…and Koch’s style is odd and often uncomfortable, but it is incredibly distinct. I adore his writing (and particularly his social commentary), but he’s certainly not for everyone. He’s a master at putting uncomfortable thoughts that the average reader would likely keep hidden front and center.

When someone has been ill for a long time, there’s always a sense of relief when it’s over. Relief on behalf of the sick person who no longer has to suffer, but above all on your own behalf. It’s difficult to admit, especially at the age I was then, but I felt an enormous relief because everything could finally be cleared out of the house. The curtains could be opened again to let in the light. This is where my life begins, I thought to myself. My new life. My life free of sickbeds.

  • Sometimes that commentary is tinged with political incorrectness (i.e. sexism and ageism make appearances in Dear Mr. M). But, it’s refreshing that Koch isn’t afraid to allow his characters to be politically incorrect on the page, even if I don’t agree with the specific viewpoints. 

A writer doesn’t have to do anything, of course. All a writer has to do is write books. But a lovely, young wife can help him do that. Especially when that wife is completely self-effacing; the kind who spreads her wings over his talent like a mother hen and chases away anyone who comes too close to the nest; who tiptoes around the house when he’s working in his study and only slides a cup of tea or a plate of chocolates through a crack in the doorway at fixed times; […] because his mind, after all, is brimming over with things that she, with her limited body of thought – her limited feminine body of thought – could never fathom anyway.

  • The story is told through multiple perspectives and shifting timelines. You see flashbacks to the long-ago lives of the two students involved in the teacher’s murder and their friends, which some reviewers thought distracted from the real story. I liked these sections as they painted vivid pictures of the personalities and dynamics of the group, which better enabled me to understand how the crime ends up playing out. Plus, these sections reminded me a bit of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings!

What I Didn’t Like

  • Parts of the book meander a bit and it takes awhile for the story to find its direction…it could’ve been shorter and tighter.
  • I’m still scratching my head over why exactly M’s neighbor felt compelled to stalk M. There is lots of ambiguity here, as the most logical explanations can be eliminated based on details provided in the book or just seem too farfetched.

Good for People Who Like…

Social commentary, dislikable characters, writer’s life, crime that’s not the center of the story, gorgeous writing, dark stories, creepiness

Other Books You May Like

Contains a mystery or crime, which is not the center of the story:
Shelter by Jung Yun

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

Uncomfortable Social Commentary:
The Dinner by Herman Koch

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August 2016 Monthly Round-Up

September 1, 2016 Monthly Round-Ups 14

August 2016 Monthly Round-Up

August Reading / Life

  • Overall, my August reading wasn’t quite as high quality as July. But I read nine books, which I’m kind of shocked about since the Olympics were completely taking over my brain!
  • The blog briefly morphed from book-focused to all things Olympics with my Best of 2016 Olympic Swimming recap, Olympic Figures That Would Make Intriguing Book Characters, and 8 Books About the Olympics posts. Thanks to all you non-Olympics obsessed bookworms for tolerating my side passion!
  • And, the Olympics of course inspired some of my August book/audio choices: Off Balance by 1996 Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu (audiobook) and You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg, both solid sports books.
  • Reading highlights from this month were Dear Mr. M, which kicked off my September releases with a bang, The Hopefuls, which was one of my top summer 2016 reads, and American Heiress, which hit home just how crazy the Patty Hearst kidnapping story actually was.
  • My only real disappointment was How I Became A North Korean.

Best Book of the Month

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch (September 6, 2016)
Fiction, 416 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

September Releases I’m Excited About

A Gentleman in Moscow, Commonwealth, Lesser Bohemians


A Gentleman in Moscow
 by Amor Towles (September 6)
Commonwealth
 by Ann Patchett (September 6)

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (September 20)

Top Backlist Books on my “To Be Read” List

Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo
The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Most Popular August Posts

My Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2016
Ten Quintessential, Contemporary New York City Novels
Ten Books from My Pre-Blogging TBR That I Still Haven’t Read

Favorite Posts by Fellow Bloggers

 
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