Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Stars Above" by Marissa Meyer

I was so happy to get back to the Lunar Chronicles world with this collection of short stories. As I discussed in my review of "Fairest," Meyer has a gift for unveiling backstory in a way that stays true to the characters in the main series. This collection of stories follows in that vein, showing how the characters we know from the Lunar Chronicles came to their lives at the start of the series, or what happened to them after.

The standout story for me was "The Little Android," a retelling of "The Little Mermaid." In the vein of the Lunar Chronicles, though, our mermaid is an android working on rebuilding and renovating star ships, who falls in love with the human in charge of her projects. It stays true to the Hans Christian Anderson version, so don't expect the happily ever after from Disney. Mech6.0 will remind readers of Iko, and invoke questions of sentience and personality that were touched on in the main series as well.

"The Keeper" and "Something Old, Something New" will delight fans of the series, as they take place before and after (respectively) the action of the main series, giving new glimpses into characters we know and love. "The Mechanic" was particularly disappointing, as it's just Cinder and Kai's meeting from Kai's point of view - with virtually no new information or insight from the perspective flip. Rebecca Soler returns for her stellar audio narration, and overall this is a worthwhile story collection for Lunar Chronicles fans.

Verdict: Affirmed for fans of the series. Some of the stories have been published previously, but the collection was a nicely rounded set of stories for those looking to revisit this world.

"Stars Above" by Marissa Meyer, published February 2nd, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends. Audio narration by Rebecca Soler, published February 2nd, 2016 by Macmillan Audio.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"The Swans of Fifth Avenue" by Melanie Benjamin

FTC Disclosure: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I checked out the audiobook from my library through Overdrive.

In my junior year of high school, we studied Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." I was wowed by Capote's masterful use of language and his ability to wrap me up in a story I wouldn't otherwise have picked up. We also watched the film "Capote" to get a sense, though fictionalized, of the man behind the book and how involved he became in the case. I have been intrigued by Capote himself ever since.

Enter "The Swans of Fifth Avenue," and the opportunity to get another glimpse, again fictionalized, into a different chapter of Capote's life. During and after the publication of "In Cold Blood," Capote was a high society darling, a fixture on the New York City social scene. He befriended the most beautiful, powerful women, gaining their confidences and attending their parties and vacations. He later betrayed them by revealing their secrets in a short story published in Esquire. This novel tells the story of his intimate friendships with these women and the falling out over the story. 

Benjamin crafts her novel out of the truth, building lives and personalities out of the public records left behind by these women. She also helpfully includes specifications on what she fictionalized and what is documented truth at the conclusion of the novel. Shining above all is the relationship she portrays between Babe Paley and Truman, providing glimpses into both of their innermost thoughts about the other so the reader can see how these very different people formed the perfect odd couple. 

Cassandra Campbell and Paul Boehmer do the narration on the audiobook, though as the novel features a close third-person narrator, I found the dual audio to be a bit confusing. Campbell's portrayal of Capote's nasaly drawl was a bit grating at times, but otherwise the audiobook was an enjoyable format for this novel.

Verdict: Affirmed - for readers looking for a gossipy summer read complete with scandal and betrayal, or a glimpse into NYC's elite in the late 1960's to mid 1970's.

"The Swans of Fifth Avenue" by Melanie Benjamin, published January 26, 2016 by Delacorte Press. Audio narration by Cassandra Campbell and Paul Boehmer, published January 26, 2016 by Random House Audio.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the published in exchange for my honest review.

If you have kids, you may know Amy Krouse Rosenthal for her children's books. You may not know she also writes charming memoir-ish non-fiction for adults. Her newest, "Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal" came out last week & was a delight and ponder this morning in my favorite coffeeshop.

Krouse Rosenthal's first memoir-ish book, "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" collected witty, endearing observations about the author's typical, everyday life. She emphasizes that she has not had anything extraordinary occur in her life that would typically result in a memoir. Instead, she chronicles the quotidian thoughts and experiences to which much of middle class America can relate. That was back in 2005.

Now, over ten years later, Krouse Rosenthal has returned with a similar sentiment in a new format. Her first book was alphabetized entries; her new book is organized, textbook-style, around thematic subjects you'd find in school. Textbook here has a double meaning: the book takes author-reader interaction to a new level, inviting readers to text certain messages to a specified number while they're reading for accompanying sounds, to participate in a poll, or to share an experience or suggestion with Krouse Rosenthal and other readers. The book's website houses readers' submissions and the text responses in case you're not able to text from your own phone. If I'm being honest, I vacillated between thinking the texting was gimmicky and enjoying it. But the music composed for the end notes was beautiful and quite fitting, so it left me thinking of the text participation on a good note.

Above all, Krouse Rosenthal excels at capturing the random thoughts and feelings we all have as we go about our daily lives, and in celebrating the quirk and whimsy and serendipity that surround all of us. Reading her books reminds me to enjoy the tiny, happy moments in life, and "Textbook" encourages you to celebrate some of them with her and others.

Verdict: Affirmed. This and "Encyclopedia," are fast, enjoyable reads for someone looking for a break from deeper, depressing works & for something that may encourage a new spring in their step.

"Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, published August 9, 2016 by Dutton Books.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"Spinster" by Kate Bolick

FTC disclosure: I received a copy of this book through Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. I checked out the audiobook from my library through Overdrive.

Back in July I read & loved Rebecca Traister's "All the Single Ladies." Craving more reflective, feminist non-fiction, I decided it was finally time to get back to "Spinster," a book I had requested from Blogging for Books when it originally came out. I unfortunately got waylaid at the time with school and work and such, and then stupidly left the book in DC when I went back to NYC. Luckily, my hold came in on the audiobook just as I found the print copy, and good reading times were had by all.

Kate Bolick reflects on her own life and her great literary influencers in "Spinster." The novel is mostly memoir with some literary criticism thrown in. She structures her reflections on her life around discussions of the great literary women who have shaped her personal development - Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton. If you're only a little familiar with these ladies, or maybe even haven't heard of them, don't be scared off. Bolick does a great job contextualizing them in both their own time and her own life, quoting from their work, sharing their biographies, and basically making sure readers understand why and how they impacted her.

At the heart of the book, though, is Bolick's gradual decision to reclaim spinsterhood, and revel in being an unmarried woman. Along the way she gives readers an intimately personal look all aspects of her life - personal and professional, and how various encounters and milestones shaped her outlook. Skimming the reviews on Goodreads, it seems the people who were disappointed with this book expected it to be something that it's not. Bolick's book is deeply personal, reflective, with a literary frame. If you're looking for broader cultural discussions, turn to "All the Single Ladies." If you'd like a more introspective examination of one woman's decision on how to live her own life, this is an excellent memoir.

Verdict: Jury's out - Just make sure you know what you're getting into. If you're not interested in learning about historical literary ladies alongside deep introspection, this isn't going to be a book for you. If that sounds like your feminist cup of tea, though, this is an excellent book.

"Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own" by Kate Bolick, published April 21, 2015 by Crown. Audio narration by Kate Bolick, published April 21, 2015 by Random House Audio.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Listening Lately: 8/4/2016

In the lead-up to the bar exam, I was cramming all day and breaking only to walk the dog. This made for some great audiobook listening time. I read through these three titles in the week before the bar & would recommend all three as good summer reads. Bonus points for all because they'd make great book club picks as well.

"The Girl from the Garden" by Parnaz Foroutan
I studied Persian in college & am always on the lookout for novels set in/around Iran. Here, Foroutan tells the story of a Jewish family living in Iran in the early 1900's, as remembered by its sole descendant who now lives in Los Angeles. The framing device was a bit clunky at times, but the story told in flashbacks was beautiful and heartbreaking. Rakhel and Khorsheed are two sisters-in-law trying to make their place in their husbands' family. Rakhel has been unable to conceive, and thus give her husband his long-desired heir. Khorsheed is able to get pregnant, and their close friendship while living in such close proximity makes Rakhel's burden that much harder to bear, pushing their family to drastic measures to find a way forward.

"A Bollywood Affair" and "The Bollywood Bride" by Sonali Dev
I had read such great things about this romance-literary fiction crossover that I was excited when I saw my library had its audiobook in stock just before the bar. Dev excels at telling the stories of Indian families straddling life in India - both traditional and modern elements, with life in the US. She brings out the points where the cultures clash and how Indian expats make their own community and bring their own traditions to the US. "A Bollywood Affair" is the story of a woman, married at 4 to a husband she doesn't remember, who is in the US to get an education and earn her husband's respect. Her brother-in-law travels to the US to find her and secure a divorce for his brother before his new wife, who he married at an appropriate age, gives birth to their child. "The Bollywood Bride" tells the story of a famous Bollywood actress who travels back to the US for the wedding of her dear childhood friend, even though it means confronting people she has not seen in decades due to family secrets she wants to keep hidden. Both novels have a romance at their center, but delve far more deeply than a traditional romance novel into the familial and cultural issues that drive the plots. These would be great bridge books if you're interested in trying out romance, if you want to have your book club dip a toe into the romance waters, or if you're looking for literary fiction with strong love stories at the core.