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Noir by Christopher Moore

noirI’ll be upfront: I am a Christopher Moore fan. His book Lamb is one of the funniest and most inventive books I’ve ever read. When I saw that he had a new book out, I did a happy dance.

This is almost two books in one. One expects a bit of crazy and bizzaro from Mr. Moore’s books. The first half is (more or less) straight exposition. The story starts out with Sammy ‘Two Toes’ Tiffin tending bar at a run down gin joint in San Francisco. It’s just after the war. And as these stories tend to do, a dame walks in the bar, her name is Stilton (but Sammy calls her ‘the Cheese’).

The first part of the book is about the reader getting to know the main characters. I will say, there are many laugh out loud parts (at least for me). Just when you think this is going to be a (somewhat) traditional story…BAM. The Christopher Moore factor kicks in.

I don’t want to reveal too much – since the surprise is one of the factors of the story. I will say this, the second part of the book did not disappoint. Very funny.

The book definitely lives up to the title. It has a very noir feel to it – from the language to the scenery to the characters. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke and feel the clammy dampness of the fog rolling in.

I enjoyed this book a lot. If you are a Christopher Moore fan, or you like your fiction a bit on the absurd side, this is a book for you.

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from Edelweiss for a fair and honest review. (Thanks Edelweiss!)

 

 

Go Ask Fannie by Elisabeth Hyde

Go Ask FannieThis is a story about the Blaire family. Murray Blaire invites his three grown children – Lizzie, Ruth and George – home for a visit. Each one of them have a reason for wanting to be there, or not to be there.

The story flips back and forth between present day and the past. Sometimes I find this annoying, but in this context it totally works.

Initially I found the siblings extremely annoying to the point of irritation. However, as the story progresses and I learned about their past their actions and attitudes made total sense.

I don’t want to go too much into the story because it would all be spoilers.

This book is about family and about secrets. The question becomes – who do you save by keeping a family secret and who will get hurt.

The matriarch of the family dies when the children are young. Part of the book is about the story is about the siblings putting together their mother’s past. The catalyst is a Fannie Farmer cookbook that she used to write notes in (that gets destroyed).

Once I got over the initial annoyance of the siblings, I got very engaged in the story and the characters. I could feel their heartbreak and sadness.

This is a great story about family and why it is important. If you want an entertaining and engaging read, this is for you!

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from First to Read for a fair and honest review. Thanks to First to Read and Penguin Random House!

Another thing I thought I didn’t like

TPR_podcast_Hadada_whiteline1I’ve probably taken the opportunity to write here on this very blog that I don’t want to hear readings when I listen to a podcast.  I don’t know why I said that.  I’ve listened to audiobooks and enjoyed it on occasion.  So I don’t know why I didn’t want readings.  One thing is that I find it hard to listen to literary fiction in the car.  My audiobook tastes tended more toward John Sandford (who I met once and he made fun of my name) or biographies. With literary fiction, if you miss one sentence while you are working the turn signal you can miss the whole story.

Anyway, I was out and about this week and was listening to the Paris Review podcast.  And they promised a reading of Bangkok by James Salter.

This was of interest to me.  During my Valentine’s Day post I wrote about James Salter and A Sport and a Pastime, a filthy sexy literary book.  So this had potential.

Add to it that Dick Cavett was reading the story–a professional reader.  I was talking about this to Barb and she noted that readings can be good when they are done by readers, but they suck when done by authors.

So, I listened.  It was so good.  Cavett–along with some very judiciously used sound nighthawk_man_and_woman-300x172effects and background music–gave the whole thing a noir feel.  Honestly, both of the characters felt like they had stepped off an Edward Hopper painting.

The story is so good.  Salter was just the best.  His has the power of juxtaposition, to put two sentences next to each other in a way that makes 25 words turn into a million, an infinite set of feelings and understanding.

She had been coming out of a restaurant one time, down some steps long after lunch in a silk dress that clung around the hips and the wind pulled against her legs. The afternoons, he thought for a moment.

And how’s this for a “show don’t tell” plot advancement with a featherweight touch.

He was leaning back in the chair. For the first time she had the impression he might have been drinking a little more than usual these days.

You can’t do much better than that.  Just to let you know, the filthy quotient doesn’t get short-changed here either. (This is dialogue, FYI, without punctuation).

We’re going to stay in Bangkok for a couple of months, perhaps come back through Europe, Carol said. Molly has a lot of style. She was a dancer. What was Pam, wasn’t she a teacher or something? Well, you love Pam, you’d love Molly.

You don’t know her, but you would. She paused. Why don’t you come with us? she said.

Hollis smiled slightly.

Shareable, is she? he said.

You wouldn’t have to share.

It was meant to torment him, he knew.

Eeeesh.  Anyway, I’d recommend Salter and this story.  It is in the Paris Review archive, free to subscribers (yes, the whole thing).  It may be available elsewhere in a collection.  It is worth reading.  Or you could download the podcast and listen to Dick Cavett read it.  That’s free.

Sophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen

sophiaTruthfully, I picked this one because of the cover. I know, I know. You shouldn’t do that. I mean, c’mon – Starbuck’s cup, teal background and Silicon Valley. And as usual, I didn’t really read the book summary.

The story is about Sophia (duh!) and her career in Silicon Valley. She ends up working at “Treehouse” for Scott Kraft as his right hand woman. (It is interesting to note that the author worked at Pixar and with Steve Jobs.)

Sophia struggles with her traditional Chinese upbringing, and more specifically her mother.

This feels like an insider look into how Silicon Valley works, and a view into the mind and behaviour of Scott Kraft. (See note, above.)

This also asks the questions about family, marriage vs. career and how a woman fits all of that in to her life.

I really enjoyed this book. There were laugh out loud moments. (Sophia is clumsy, I can relate.)

If you want a funny and fast-paced read, this is for you. If you are at all curious about how Silicon valley operates and what happens there, this is also for you.

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from Edelweiss for a fair and honest review. (Thanks Edelweiss!)

 

Eventide by Therese Bohman

eventideThis story focuses on Karolina Andersson. She is a (recently) single woman in her forties. She is an art history professor at Stockholm University.

I got sucked into the story early on. It is almost like you are a voyeur on Karolina’s life. The author does a great job at keeping it on simmer in terms of the reader not being sure what exactly is going to happen next. There is a feeling of tension, in a good way, in the writing.

The book is about art and life. But mostly I think it’s about examining how a 40’s career woman with no children fits in to society. Karolina struggles with this in the book. There are a lot of should have/would have thoughts rolling around in her head. Would she have been happier as a housewife and mother living in her childhood town? What is going to fulfill her in a relationship? I think these are answered (“answered”) in a realistic way. I won’t spoil it and tell you how.

The other thing that the author does well is captures the mundane-ness of every day life. Go to work. Come home. Make dinner. Sleep. Repeat. That for me is what helps make Karolina’s existential crisis more real.

I want to say that if you like psychological drama then you will like this, but that’s not quite the right description of this book. If you are looking for something that is well written, asks interesting and important questions, then this is your read. Also, as a bonus you get to learn a lot about Stockholm.

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from NetGalley for a fair and honest review. (Thanks NetGalley!)

 

Review: The Soul of Basketball

soul of basketballThere are clearly seasons in the life of a sports fan.  You have football season, college basketball, March Madness…and then baseball kicks in along with the NBA and NHL playoffs.  (Yes, I am a book nerd and I love sports.)

So, I requested to do a preview of this book, The Soul of Basketball, which I thought would be a good way to get myself in the mood for the NBA playoffs, which also open next week.

I enjoy basketball a lot and have followed the NBA for my entire life.  When I was 10 to 12 years old, I followed the Cleveland Cavaliers VERY closely.  We didn’t get the games on TV and I spent my evenings listening to Joe Tait (normally when I was supposed to be in bed) call the Cavs during the Miracle at Richfield season.  (The Cavs had a Bowling Green (Ohio) connection, both through their owner Nick Mileti and their backup center Nate Thurmond…and their Coach Bill Fitch).

The Soul of Basketball is about the 2010-11 season, which is the first year after The Decision.  It is an excellent book and anyone who is interested in the NBA would find it a great read.  In fact, it’s a great character study of people responding to the highest level of competitive pressure and would be interesting as a study to anyone interested in that slice of life.

The book is written by Ian Thomsen, who is a writer for Sports Illustrated.  SI was known is the highest level of sports magazine writing.  What appeared on those pages was of the highest literary quality.  My high school teachers encouraged us to read SI when we were learning to write.

This is what I would consider classic SI writing.  First, there’s incredible access…long interviews with important people in this story, including Pat Reilly, Doc Rivers, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant…the list goes on.

Next, there’s a commitment to telling a story about people, not sports.  What the reader leaves with is an essential understanding of the humanity of the people involved.  Their upbringing, their fears, their motivations, their biases, their strength.  And Thomsen shows us the humanity of players (stars and subs), yes, but also of coaches, referees, owners, scouts…everyone involved in the making of the 2010-11 edition of the annual NBA drama.

There’s also an angle to the book that places all of what is happening in a historical context.  The NBA was trying to find its way in the post-Jordan era and LeBron was supposed to be that guy, but he had just botched The Decision.  You also have the influx of AAU-influenced players and a lot of questions about how the league is going to succeed. (For more on what the AAU is and what’s wrong with it, check here or here.)

There were a couple parts that really stood out to me.  I found the Gregg Popovich sections especially interesting.  He’s a guy I admire and I admire how his teams play.  Turns out, he built the concept by focusing on foreign players who had not been infected by AAU mentality.

I also really enjoyed the stuff with Kobe Bryant and didn’t expect to.  I have often heard people say that a certain team doesn’t “know what it takes to win.”  I always kind of scoffed at that, but the way NBA basketball is played, a star player has to be able to shoulder the burden in key moments and the team has to be really tough to win a title, not just good.

Anyway, this is an outstanding book.  It is not great sportswriting, it is great writing and will make a great companion for the NBA playoffs, when the league really puts on its best show.

Full disclosure: I received this book from NetGalley for a fair and honest review. (Thanks NetGalley!)

Happy birthday Maya Angelou!

unnamed-1I am trying to remember how I got interested in Maya Angelou – I am guessing that it was Oprah. I think Oprah was interviewing Ms Angelou and they were talking about her book ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Being curious about literature and wanting to read new (as in new to me) things I got the book.

I remember being shook after reading it. It was hard for me to fathom that this was someone’s life since it was so far from my own. It opened my eyes to a lot of different issues: race, poverty, rape. And that’s what good books do, right? It’s also an uplifting story in a sense that the main character finds a way out through writing and love of literature.

And not for nothing, it’s one of the few books I’ve read multiple times.

Then there is ‘Phenomenal Woman’ – I mean, that poem blew me away. Poetry is something that felt foreign to me in terms of understanding it. This was one of the first poems that I read and went – wait, this is for me. I can see myself here:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies,
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I mean, seriously. For a young woman (me) who was trying to find her way in the world, and felt on the outside of being traditionally beautiful – this poem hit me at the right time and in the right place. I could be strong and powerful and not be a size 2. Who knew? Maya Angelou did. She was one wise lady.

That is my Maya Angelou story. I know that she had a huge impact on many, many others by telling her story – I think she was a very brave, and wise woman.

Also, if you have a spare moment, stop on the google doodle today – your soul will thank me.