Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I've Moved -- Blog Houses!

Okay, it's official. The shelves trekked across town to Wordpress and a cleaner url.

Please come visit me at http://myoverstuffedshelves.com

Things are still a bit chaotic, just like the aftermath of a real house move, but in general I think the digs are a step up. There may be more changes as I redecorate a bit, but in the meantime, I'm welcoming anyone who visits and who can offer suggestions on how to improve the ambience over there.

Bloglovin should update the link in the next few days.

I hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Top Ten Reads on My Summer Reading List

A couple of weeks ago the hosts of Top Ten Tuesday, The Broke and The Bookish, asked book bloggers to share their beach read suggestions. I took that to mean, what are the books I've read I think others might like whether they are on the beach, in the woods, or at home this summer. Today the question has been rephrased slightly to be "Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List."

I have to admit that there are still a number of books from my Spring TBR list that I haven't gotten too, but since Spring is the official season for another four days, I've got my fingers crossed I can still get a couple more of those books into the "read" pile before the solstice!

For summer, my list as of today consists of the following titles, all of which are not yet released, but which are all going to be available before the autumnal equinox:

Life Drawing by Robin Black (July 15)

This is one I from my Spring list that I am sorry I didn't get to sooner, but I kept delaying it in an attempt to tackle titles with earlier release dates. Well, I can delay no longer, it's hitting the shelves on July 15 and has already been garnering some rave reviews. Must read this now.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (September 16)

One of my Book Expo America (BEA) must have titles. It is currently waiting for me in Maine where I will be in a bit more than a week. Time to travel back to the 1920s.

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters (July 15)

I've loved the first two installments in this award winning mystery series with speculative fiction elements. How does a decent person do the right thing in a world that is about to end? I cannot wait to find out, though I will be very sorry to have no more of Detective Hank Palace's story to look forward to each summer.

Lock In by John Scalzi (August 26)

I am a relatively recent convert to Scalzi fandom, but based on reading several of his books now, I know this will be smart, thoughtful and, even as it verges towards dark possibilities, funny. I have the prequel novella to keep me occupied until I reunite with my copy of the book -- it is also sitting in Maine.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt (September 9)

This was a BEA buzz book and while I'm not sure I would have picked it up on my own, Laird's editor made it sound so compelling, mysterious and literate that I have to read it.

The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Friedman (July 29)

Jewish folklore, family heritage and mysterious books -- clearly this book is meant for me. Stephanie is also based in suburban Philadelphia, her book is coming out on my birthday, and Main Point Books is hosting the launch party which, 'sob', I will miss.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (September 9)

The second of the three BEA Adult Buzz books on this list. I have been meaning to read some of Emily's work and while I have The Lola Quartet in a pile somewhere in my office, I think I will start with this new one. Her editor did an astonishing job of making it sound elegiacal, thoughtful and mysterious.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (September 2)

This was a not-to-be-missed galley for me, and many others at BEA. The book sounds deliciously complicated and globe spanning and smart. Everything a David Mitchell novel should be. I had a start seeing his visage blown up to ginormous size on The Bone Clocks banner at the Javits center. It portrayed him as the epitome of  "The Serious Novelist" -- when I saw him at the Free Library of Philadelphia in 2012, he was funny and irreverent. I couldn't get over the contrast.

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok (June 24)

I just picked up Jean's first book "Girl in Translation" that I've been eyeing for some time. This new book looks like a wonderful exploration of a defining experience for so many Americans -- how to navigate two cultures and arrive at a sense of self and feeling of belonging.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (August 19)

The über buzz book. I say that because not only was it a BEA buzz book, but I had already received an ARC as a part of a Powell's Indiespensable package. So, we'll see if it stands up to the hype -- certainly his editor gave a great pitch for why we should all tackle this 600+ page novel. Also, it's been some time since I read anything that covers the mid-century Bronx which is where my father spent his youth.

I could go on and list another ten or more books I really want to read this summer, but I'll stop here for today!

What is on your summer TBR pile?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mass Hysteria, Truths Withheld: The Fever by Megan Abbott

In the opening sentences of her new novel, The Fever, Megan Abbott once again demonstrates that she is a master at mining the double meanings of language and emotions. A group of girls are talking with fraught intensity, surely about sex, but a few sentences later, the discussion resolves into greater focus and you realize, that despite the references to 'first time', 'hurt', and 'by the third time', they are not passing along lore about losing their virginity.  No, their tense whispers refer to the HPV vaccinations that they are awaiting at school. This clever and tense ironic duality sets the stage for the rest of this haunting and electric novel.

As in Dare Me, Abbott once again builds her tale against the backdrop of the overheated and claustrophobic world of small city teenage girls -- obsessed with boys, sex and the secrets they tell each other, not to mention the ones they keep to themselves. But, where Dare Me's noir-infused tale focused on a triangle between Beth, Addy and Coach Colette, The Fever casts a broader net. Confusion and anxiety is no longer just the province of female adolescence, but instead colonizes an entire school and then the town of Dryden, a decaying post-industrial burgh that seems to be in the landlocked center of the country, though exactly where is never specified. It’s a dreary and depressing sort of place that one character describes as "like living at the bottom of an old man's shoe."

On the surface life in Dryden is predictable, plodding on despite the pollution of an industrial past that created a festering algae bloom in the lake at its center. Against this backdrop we meet sixteen year-old Deenie Nash who lives with her father Tom, a high school chemistry teacher, and her older brother, the hockey obsessed Eli who attracts girls without trying. Her mother left the family two years earlier after a self-destructive affair, driven to distraction by the oppressive nature of life in Dryden. Tom and Eli aren’t ready for Deenie to grow up, and in some ways, neither is she, but the complexities of relationships with her friends Lise, Gabby and Gabby’s newest acolyte, Skye are forcing her towards adulthood with a desperate inevitability.

The unstable dynamics of this circle of friends becomes even more treacherous when first Lise, and then Gabby, are struck by convulsions at school. Soon girls outside of Deenie’s immediate circle are being hospitalized with strange symptoms. As the number of victims of this strange malady grows, the school is paralyzed with wondering who’s next and speculation about what’s causing the girls to fall sick. Parents panic, media rushes in and the police might even be involved.

Abbott dances a fine line here, for while she doesn’t give credence to the most absurd theories about what is really happening, she also conveys the rising levels of hysteria so as to make you question whether even the most ridiculous assumptions might have kernels of truth. In many ways this is a bigger and more surprising novel than Dare Me as it probes familial dynamics, the cost of industrial pollution while also telling a well crafted tale about secrets, misunderstandings and unconsidered actions.

I’d say more, but that would spoil the fun, if you can call the reading of this shiver inducing book, fun.

Highly recommended for readers who liked Abbott’s earlier work, fans of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels and anyone looking for something similar, yet different, after finishing all of Gillian Flynn’s backlist.

ARC provided by the publisher via Net Galley
The Fever by Megan Abbott
Harcover, 320 pages
Little, Brown and Company
Published: June 17, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Celebrate Bloomsday: The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang

Today is a holiday, one you may not be familiar with, but it is perhaps the best known literary holiday, Bloomsday. Today is the 110th anniversary of Bloomsday, June 16th, 1904, the day on which Leopold Bloom wandered the streets of Dublin in James Joyce’s Ulysses. For those in the know, celebrations take the form of readings and parties in just about every major city around the globe that has an Irish population or a critical mass of readers who revere Joyce’s monumental book. If you are unfamiliar with Bloomsday, The Paris Review just posted an overview of this iconic literary celebration that has built steadily, despite the impenetrability of Joyce’s novel.

Let me be clear, I have never read Ulysses and I am both oddly proud, and deeply ashamed of this fact. Always an aspirational reader, I did buy myself a new* copy of Joyce’s tome last year as I laid out a now abandoned reading project intended to force me to address the gaping holes in my literary education, many of which are even more glaring than the omission of an encounter with Joyce’s second least read book. His most unread book, Finnegan’s Wake, I didn’t even consider adding to the pile.

All of this is to say that I am both supremely qualified, and just as supremely unqualified, to review Maya Lang’s debut novel, The Sixteenth of June. Qualified, because I can say the book succeeds as a work of fiction, regardless of its literary heritage. Unqualified, because I cannot judge if The Sixteenth of June works as an homage to, and reflection of, Joyce. Others will need to weigh in on the book’s success or failure in that regard. But, for those of you like me, and thank goodness that’s most everyone, Maya has provided a quick overview of her references to and quotes from Joyce’s book. As brief as this set of literary crib sheet is, it does provide flowchart that orients interested readers to the chain of influence from Homer to Joyce to Lang.

Even if you do not catch the full set of allusions, there are a host of pleasures in reading this short book. Set on the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday in 2004, the novel follows three twenty-something Philadelphians, Nora, her fiancé, Leo Portman and her best friend, and Leo’s older brother, Stephen over the course of that day. The supreme inside joke of the book is that Stephen and Leopold are burdened by their names, chosen from Joyce's cast by their parents who may, or may not have actually finished the book, while Nora is named after Joyce’s wife. I am going to go out on a limb here and state that, from what I have gleaned from rumor and the cultural zeitgeist, their characters and dilemmas parallel their literary predecessors. Through a day that takes them from the funeral of Stephen and Leo’s grandmother, to their parents’ annual Bloomsday fete, each of them considers how they arrived at this point in their lives and where they want to head in the future.

It is a familiar moment of reconciling the dreams of post-college life with a reality that demands compromises and readjustments. Early on, Stephen dreads showing up at his parents party without a date thinking that dating has changed from a "casual game of musical chairs. If you sat down for a moment, it was only to get up again. But then the pace had quickened, his friends scurrying to grab their seats. And then not budging." When he peruses his Yale alumni bulletin all he finds is confirmation that times are changing, "if there was any mention of quirky adventuring, it was alluded to in the past tense: 'After a brief stint running a microbrewery in Portland, Paul Yu is in his first year of medical school at Columbia.' People, the class notes informed you, were growing up."

Through chapters alternating perspectives between the three central figures, we see how Nora’s  mother’s her extended illness and eventual death derailed her promising career as an opera singer. Directionless, she has stayed with Leo, drifted into their engagement, and feels trapped in the relationship. We also feel for Stephen, who blazed through Yale and into graduate school as he grapples with writing his thesis proposal, much less the thesis. The only member of his family to become a practicing Jew, he has been visiting his grandmother at her retirement home and feels the family is glossing over her death. And then there is Leo, who has always felt like an afterthought in the elitist Portman family, ignored in favor of the golden boy older brother. Leo just wants to settle down with Nora, live in the suburbs, watch sports, raise a passel of children and simply be happy. He’s waiting for her to move past her mother’s death, but is beginning to doubt that she will want the future he sees for them. All three are paralyzed and over the course of the day search for the emotional strength and will to break free of internalized expectations.

By hewing tightly to the perspectives of her protagonists, Lang generates empathy for all three, while also using the limitations of their perspectives to create moments of irony for the reader who can discern the humor, and the tragedy, in the myriad of misunderstandings and all that is unsaid between them. It is especially satisfying to see the portrait of the Portman parents grow and change as the day progresses. Michael a successful businessman and lapsed Jew from an immigrant family seems to want to forget about mourning his mother, callously holding the family’s Bloomsday shindig on the day of her funeral. June is a WASP socialite intent on protecting her status with competitive renovations and never missing a chance to subvert her friends. The central trio sees the couple as insular, shallow, elitist, heartless, intimidating and superficial. Yet, by the end of the novel, it is clear that, as imperfect as they are, there is more to June and Michael than Stephen, Leo or Nora has the capacity to understand at this point in their lives. It is also apparent that as critical as they are of their parents, Stephen and Leo, are in many ways just as blinded by privilege as their parents. It is to Maya Lang’s credit that we can sneer at her characters, while in the next sentence feel pity and, in the next be rooting for them.

By the end of day, Stephen, Leo and Nora travel towards greater understanding and perspective on their futures. There are even, dare I say it for those of you who remember reading Dubliners with horror in high school, moments of epiphany. Don’t worry, as insightful and moving as much of this book is, it is also funny, sharp and honest in its depiction of less than perfect people just trying to put one foot in front of another.

Read it for the characters and the writing. Read it even if you’ve never even heard of James Joyce. Once you’re done, you may even, like me, be that much closer to tackling Ulysses. Certainly, picking up a copy of The Sixteenth of June and spending the evening reading it will be a satisfying way to celebrate Bloomsday 2014.

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang
Harcover, 237 pages
Publsihed: June 3, 2014

I read an ARC from the publisher, but have since bought my own copy.  I plan to have Maya sign it this Wednesday, June 18 @ The Free Library of Philadelphia where she will be appearing with Kevin Birmingham, author of The Most Dangerous Book, a look at the battle to publish Ulysses and what it meant for modernism to defeat censorship. 7:30 pm and it's free!

*The copy that say on my shelf through college and into my thirties had yellowed and moldered to the point that reading it would have provoked an allergy attack that would have only rendered the book even more inaccessible.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Top Ten YA And Middle Grade Reads of 2014 (So Far)

This week's Top Ten on Tuesday prompt from The Broke and The Bookish is "Top Ten I've Read So Far This Year" which puts me into a bit of a quandary.  My Beach Reading list of last week covered a lot of the books I read and thought were wonderful, though it's by no means exhaustive. Plus, I am planning a big first half round up post in a few more weeks. Rather than harping on the same set of books, as wonderful as they are, I'm taking a slightly different tack and opting for a list of the YA and Middle Grade books I've read and enjoyed the most in 2014. Yes, I do realize the title of the post says 'Ten' and I've only included nine books on the list. I owe you one.

Middle Grade Great Reads of 2014 (So Far)

As I consider writing about each of these great Middle Grade books, I realize that I love them because they tell entertaining stories, foster a love of literature or the visual arts, encourage respect for others, and advocate openness to experiencing the world. Appropriately for this age range, these are more directive than the YA novels below, but they are never preachy. They are a bit sappy for most adult tastes, but that may just me trying to excuse the fact that I cried at some point while reading them. Buy them for youngsters in your circle of family and friends, or, just because it's so much fun to revisit the joy you felt at discovering a book that spoke to you when you were 10 or 11.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

This was as close as I can imagine to recreating the excitement I felt when I first read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as an eight year old. Like that most wonderful of books, this one is built around a quest to understand a mysterious work of art. Impressively, this debut author also introduces 8-12 year olds to Nazi plundering of art and a little known piece of concentration camp history in ways that are age appropriate and integral to the story. The ending is a bit convenient for my taste, but I'm a grown-up and I don't think my vote counts in that regard.

Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

Time travel, labor history, Quaker principles and the power of empathy all come together in this tale in which13-year old Margaret risks traveling back to 1937 to save her father who has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The voices of the young teens are smart, but not smart-alecky. The plotting can be a bit melodramatic, but the emphasis is always on character. It turns out friendship and understanding are more potent than semi-magical super-powers. A lovely book, enhanced by a spectacular cover.

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

Three fourteen year olds engage in a bit of literary terrorism to get others in town excited to read Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird over the summer before they enter 8th grade. Using social media the campaign takes off and builds into a national phenomena. Woven into this appealing and funny novel is a deep love for books, bookstores, libraries and the power of reading -- think The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry for a younger audience. If I taught 5th or 6th grade, I think this would be perfect to get kids ready and excited to read Lee's wonderful book.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Another fabulous Middle Grade novel that combines a deep love of books (in this case centered on Madeline L'Engle's 1962 classic A Wrinkle in Time) with a reverence for the joys, and understanding of the difficulties, of friendship on the verge of middle school. I loved that it is set in my childhood neighborhood, at my elementary school in 1978-79, the year I graduated from high school. I may be biased, but I promise you needn't be familiar with either the time or the place to love it since I can't believe the committee that awarded this the Newberry Medal in 2010 are all Upper West Siders of a certain age.

Great Young Adult Reads of 2014 (So Far)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Yes, this was on last week's list too, but it's a great read and deserves to be touted repeatedly.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Weird, idiosyncratic and marvelous. Not for everyone, but I relished Austin's confusion, history obsession and the marvelous 50s sci-fi campiness of this book.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

A high fantasy quest in a world built upon a magic system that is infused with Russian folkloric elements. Siege and Storm, the second book in the trilogy is waiting on my iPad and the conclusion to the trilogy, Ruin and Rising, comes out next week, so I'd better get reading.

The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

What if your father wasn't really the good man you loved, but a dictator leading a repressive regime? How would you cope with leaving the sheltered world of your home country and craft a new identity in an American High School? What if the political machinations of your past seep into your new life? I very much appreciated the depth of thought, moral questioning and solid spy thriller plotting of this debut.

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

This powerful book about trauma, grief and healing through the power of poetry has gotten very mixed reactions from readers. It is a quiet book and breaks with the current predilection for first person teen narrators, which many find off-putting. I, however, am solidly in the group that found it moving and effective. I am interested to see how it compares to Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar when it is published in September.

What are some of your 2014 favorites in YA or Children's literature?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Vacation Reading: Top Ten Tuesday on Thursday

Vacation season is here and whether you're taking your book bag to the beach, the woods or someplace more exotic, here are some suggestions of how to keep it filled.

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang

Over the course of a single day, the centenary of the June day immortalized in James Joyce's Ulysses, three Philadelphia twenty-somethings, Stephen and Leo Portman, and Nora, Leo's fiancé, travel vast emotional distances as they move from a morning funeral to the Portman family's annual Bloomsday fete in the evening. A deeply interior novel, we come to know the emotional cores that define these three young protagonists and feel for them as they each navigate critical moments in the passage from life after college towards the next phase of adulthood. The ties to Joyce's book are both heartfelt and at times appropriately ironic, but never fear, this Lang's novel is accessible, contemporary, moving and tightly constructed.

Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

In many ways I think this book makes a great pairing with The Sixteenth of June. The members of the playgroup who decamp from Brooklyn to Long Island for a funny, tense and disastrous weekend are half a decade older than the trio in The Sixteenth of June, but in many ways they are still confronting many of the same demons and decisions, only now they have children to consider as well. Julia Fierro's debut is wry and funny, but also sharply observant about relationships, class and the struggle to balance the pulls of parenting with our cultural impetus towards autonomy and material success. A hoot to read, but its serious undercurrents will linger if you let them.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Tragic and poetic, this YA novel about a young girl suffering from trauma induced memory loss is a scathing indictment of the corrupting influence of privilege and prejudice. Seeped in fairy-tales, Shakespeare, E.B. White, Fitzgerald, this tale of a family and an ethos is harrowing, surprising and one of the few books I've read that deserves every iota of hype it has received.

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott once again proves that she is a master of all that is 'dark and twisty' in the lives of teen girls. This time though she explores how families and even an entire town can be drawn into the maelstrom created by competition and secrets. A modern retelling of the Salem witch hunts that is cautionary and thrilling. Read it if you are entering your second year of Gone Girl withdrawal, it's different but I think just as discomfiting, in a good way. Check back here on June 17 for a full review and then go buy a copy from your favorite independent bookseller since this title is one of so many caught in Amazon's bullying of Hachette.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Read this brief, almost aphoristic look at a modern woman's life in a single afternoon. Then re-read it the next day just for the sheer pleasure of the sentences and the insight into the narrator's struggles to manage art, marriage, childrearing, infidelity and more over the years. Its funny and touching and if you don't find some portion that pertains to your life, well, I'm sorry, I think this is a wonderful book. It's not often I read a book from the library and rush out to purchase it in hardback, but in this case, that's exactly what I did.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

This is THE science fiction novel of the year. It's already won the Nebula for Best Novel, top honors from the British Science Fiction Writer's Association, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and it seems poised (fingers crossed) to garner a Hugo Award award as well. Yes, it is a space saga and the main character is the artificial intelligence of a ship and all her soldiers that as the consequence of political betrayal is now trapped in a single human body. Her search for justice and the truth behind the death
of a human comrade and destruction of her other physical manifestations is engrossing, but more importantly it is a novel that asks the reader think hard about colonialism, gender, and how to define being human. Warning, the complexity of the book's narrative it is a bit confusing until several chapters in, but well worth plowing through. This is science fiction that deserves to be treated with the same consideration as more conventionally literary novels that have much the same themes.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is a sweeping read filled with elegant musings about the natural world and the magic, and the terror and beauty of technology. A World War II novel (and I'll admit I have a weakness for books that use that horrible era as a backdrop) it is overly reliant on plot cliches, but soars in its non-linear construction and reverence for the natural world. The best immersive 'read-read' I've had this year. Plus, the short chapters are perfect for reading in the sun -- consume a few pages, close your eyes or stare at the horizon to contemplate the images, when you return to the book, minutes or hours later, you will relish the pleasure of the meditations and still be able to reenter the story with ease. Glorious.

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin

This novel in multiple narratives thrums with ambiguity -- are the ghosts of the titles the memories that haunt the living, or as some of the characters believe, spectres of the dead that attempt to communicate with those left behind? The sea is a character here, filled with the lives it claims even as it lures new victims with promises of wealth, security and reunion with lost loved ones. Martin's novel, the first I've read by this talented author with a long track record, is haunting not for the ghosts it hints at, but for its sensitive depictions of the living. This quiet book is in its way, a tour de force of narrative control and elegance. Read it and marvel at Martin's ability to subtly change voice between narrators and control what we know and feel. A book to read at the sea shore when you are in the mood to remember how mysterious and powerful oceans were just a century ago.

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

Like her former professor, Valerie Martin, Violet writes of ghosts, but hers are tied to traditional Vietnamese folktales. While this well balanced and unified set of short stories is often genuinely frightening, it is also evocative of the disruptions that colonial rule, civil war, and emigration have left in their wake. Remarkably sensuous and violent, Kupersmith's stories are unexpected and even funny when they need to be. At just twenty-four it is impressive Violet Kupersmith understands that small moments can create large emotional impacts for the reader, that discomfiting ambiguities are better than tidy resolutions. A debut of a storyteller to watch and a heck of a lot of fun to read. Just don't share these around a campfire.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A wonderous, romantic, funny and thought provoking book. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel is a sprawling love story that begins in and ends in Nigeria with stops along the way in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Brooklyn, New Haven, Princeton and London. We meet Ifemelu just as she is preparing to return to Nigeria after many years living in the United States where she has become an influential blogger and Princeton fellow. As we learn her history and a bit of her first love's, Obinze, as well, we feel for them as they confront sexism, racism, class divides and what it means to be in control of your own destiny. Funny and smart, Americanah contains a wealth of rich themes, smart accessible writing and a goodly bit of humor. Don’t be intimidated by it’s length or it’s long list of awards, reading this book is a great experience. If it makes you uncomfortable at times don’t worry, it will also make you laugh.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Philly Area Book Events this Week: June 2 - June 8

Last week I was at Book Expo America in New York for three days that included sessions about blogging, meeting representatives from publishing houses, authors, and friends. It's exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure. Not only did I get a great overview of a lot upcoming books, I also picked up some ideas on how to make this blog better for readers. I hope to have some announcements about upcoming changes to share very soon.

For the moment, it's back to regular programming which includes this weekly listing of upcoming author events!

Monday, June 2

Ana Castillo | Give it to Me with Ruth Reichl | Delicious!
Philadelphia Free Library, Central Library
7:30 pm

Tuesday, June 3

John Feinstein | Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life In the Minor Leagues of Baseball
Philadelphia Free Library, Central Library
7:30 pm

Wednesday, June 4

Kayta Curzie Gajdos, Ph.D. | Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times:
The Rise of the Wounded Feminine  
Chester County Book Company, 967 Paoli Pike, West Goshen Center, West Chester, PA
7:00 pm

Jennifer Hansen Rolli | Just One More
Newtown Bookshop, Village East Shopping Center, Newtown, PA
7:00 pm

Indispensable Poetry Presents Joan Larkin and Anne Marie Macari
Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia
7:00 pm

Thursday, June 5

Gay Pride Month Celebration with writers from BLOOM Literary Journal
Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia
7:00 pm

Tom Rob Smith | The Farm with Michael Koryta | Those Who Wish Me Dead 
Philadelphia Free Library, Central Library
7:30 pm

Friday, June 6

Bill Geist and Willie Geist | Good Talk, Dad: The Birds and the Bees...and Other Conversations We Forgot to Have
Philadelphia Free Library, Central Library
7:30 pm

Saturday, June 7

Jennifer Hansen Rolli | Just One More
Farley's Bookshop, 44 South Main Street, New Hope, PA
1:00 - 4:00 pm

Maleka Presents: 3 Word Smythes
Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia
7:00 pm

Sunday, June 8

Zoe Cohen and Rabbi Jill Hammer | The Garden of Time
Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia
1:00 pm

P.S. If you know of events or venues with regularly scheduled events that I've missed, please let me know in the comments or via email at abudner (at) comcast (dot) net.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Top Ten on Tuesday: Ten Best Books about Friendship

This evening I'm having dinner with a set of friends that I don't see nearly often enough. I think it's been four or five years since we got together. That's just too damn long!

In honor of getting together again (and because it is the theme for this week's Top Ten on Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish) here are some books with friendships that stand endure, even through time apart, across species, through war, and even death.

Death and the Penguin by Andrey Karkov -- who says a penguin can't be a friend?

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik -- Temeraire is as faithful, thoughtful and warm a friend as anyone could ever want. Smarter and wiser than most people, the only issue in having a friend like Temeraire is finding the space and food supply to support a 20+ ton dragon.

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch -- there are lots of good reasons to read this fictional recounting of the disaster of the whaleship Essex, not least of which is the complex friendship between Jaffy and Tim that travels across the world.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon -- Joe and Sammy are thrown together and then tear themselves apart, only to come back to save each other in the end. That's how I remember it, but given how uncertain I am of the plot, it must mean it's time to reread this great book.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt -- Boris!! Hobie!! Theo's relationships to his friends, for good and for ill, drive this novel. Glorious.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline -- Can you be friends with people you only meet within the confines of cyberspace? This book answers that question with a 'YES'. It's a treasure hunt, but it is also a story of a band of unlikely heroes that come together to best an evil corporation for control of the world.

City of Thieves by David Benioff -- Like Jamrach's Menagerie and Ready Player One this is a quest tale. Lev and Kolya meet in a jail cell during the siege of Leningrad and are given a chance to save themselves. The quest is an impossible one in a starving city: a dozen eggs. Their tale is filled with horrors and hardships, but is also rich with humor and unlikely camaraderie.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein -- Female spies and pilots during the second world war. This is on a lot of bloggers' lists today and for good reason. Well on its way to being a classic of YA literature, as it should. If you haven't read it, please do.

Dare Me by Megan Abbott -- Megan Abbott is brilliant at mining the dark intricacies of female friendships. Competition, love, and power are mingled together in Addy and Beth's relationship which is at the center of this mystery. The book is disturbing and haunting while at the same time delving into the strength girls derive from one another.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brien -- I admit it, I haven't read this one (I am part way through listening to Simon Vance's audio narration from Audible and it is wonderful). I did see the movie, and I know many non-sailing folks who adore these books precisely because they provide a sweeping look at the long friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin.  If you like Novik's Temeraire novels (see above), this magnificent series is a logical next step.

What are your favorite books about friends?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bout of Books 10: The Finale

So the week of reading intensely turned out to be...pretty much like any other week of reading for me.

I had all sorts of grand aspirations which was fun to fantasize about, but in the end I meandered around reading this and that, finishing some books, starting some others and never getting near most of the books I listed.

I'm not saying it was a failure or that I failed, because that's not how I see it. Because the Bout of Books is about fun and I had lots of fun.

First off, I finished four books:

  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
  • I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora
  • Mothership by Maritn Leicht and Isla Neal (and led a book group discussion with the authors taking part. They were charming and funny and smart and ate the cakes that my daughter made using the recipes in Isla's (aka Lisa Graff's excellent middle grade book from last year, A Tangle of Knots).

Plus, I made a good bit of progress with a four others:

  • Equilateral by Ken Kalfus
  • The Fever by Megan Abbott
  • Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Over the course of the week, I read 1,337 pages which seems like a lot more pages than it did while I was reading.

Other Bout of Book activities:

A big highlight of the week was hosting a challenge here that asked participants if to propose a pairing with a book and anything that they felt went with the book: a drink, a food, a film and even another book. Thanks so much to everyone who stopped by and put thought and creativity to come up with some great pairings. I had a great time reading and commenting on the 90+ entries.

I learned a lot about running a good challenge contest from checking in on, and participating in (Cover Treasure Hunt, Rename Your Current Read, If You Like X, Try Y), the great challenges that other bloggers ran during the week. I very much hope to be able do it again in a future Bout of Books round.

The great random number generator (aka Excel) has spoken and the winner was Mandy Zani of My Reader Life! Mandy, the gift card is on its way to you!

Now it's back to the regularly scheduled reading and reviewing, until Bout of Books 11.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bout of Books 10: 'This' Made Me Think of 'That'

So, it's the Bout of Books this week. If you are one of the 1,200 intrepid participants, it means you'll have room on your shelves for some new books next week. Okay, here's a chance to replenish your TBR pile before the covers are even cold on the books you finish this week.

Just think about the book you are reading now, or one you've read before, and tell me something you think goes with it and why.

The something can be another book, a movie, a song, a ballet, a drink, a special food or meal...no need to get Proustian about it, but if madelines are involved, it's okay.

If you're like me, books always make you think of other experiences, real or fictional. For example, over the past two days I've been finishing up Andy Weir's debut novel The Martian, and as I've read it's become closely tied to my memories of Ron Howard's 1995 film, Apollo 13. The two not only share a focus on a space mission gone wrong, one fictional and one real, but also a love for engineering geekery and problem solving. It's not the most original pairing -- it's in the Goodreads blurb and other marketing material -- but it's a powerful one nonetheless. If you've seen the film, I guarantee it will come to mind as you read The Martian!

I'm quite sure the rest of you will be more original.

Take a break, free associate and let the world know what your bookish loves bring to mind.

The Rules

1. Choose a book and something to pair with it.
2. Share your combination and why you think the two go together on your blog, Facebook, twitter, or Goodreads.
3. Link to your posting in the comments, with your BOB 10 participant number so I can verify your registration.
4. If you tweet about this challenge (and I hope you do) make sure to mention me, @KnittingGromit, and use the hashtag #boutofbooks.

That's it. I'll be using a random number generator to pick a winner.

Prize? Right, the prize. A $30 gift certificate to my local indie bookstore, Main Point Books, in Bryn Mawr, PA. They can get just about anything and ship it anywhere.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Children's Book Week: May 12 - May 18

There's so much happening in the Philly area for Children's Book Week that it doesn't make sense to list everyday's literary events day-by-day, the list would just be too long. Instead here are the links to local stores, library's, etc. that will be sponsoring special events this week. Where possible, the link will take you to the listings for Children's Book Week Events.

Children's Book World, 17 Haverford Station Rd. Haverford, PA

Big Blue Marble, 551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia, PA

The Doylestown Bookshop, 16 S Main St., Doylestown, PA

Booktender's Secret Garden, 42 E State Street Rear, Doylestown, PA

Free Library of Philadelphia, Central Library, Philadelphia, PA

Towne Book Center & Cafe, 220 Plaza Drive, Suite B-3, Collegeville, PA 19426

In addition, Indie Bound the organization that works to bring together Independent Bookstores is sponsoring its first annual Story Time festival on May 17th. Authors from around the country will be volunteering to read from their books to showcase the vibrant role independent bookstores fill in communities around the country. A bunch of Pennsylvania stores are joining in the fun. Check the listings here to find out who's participating.

If you are looking for events for adults, there are some of those coming up too!

As always, please feel free to let me know of events I may have missed -- I know I don't catch every listing or every venue. Today especially, lack of sleep has left me heavy-lidded and sure that I'm overlooking something...

Tuesday, May 13

Sandra Tsing Loh | The Madwoman in the Volvo
Free Library, Central Library
7:30 PM

Wednesday, May 14

Marie Bostwick | Apart at the Seams 
Chester County Book Company, 967 Paoli Pike, West Chester, PA
7:00 PM

Thursday, May 15

Christopher Buckley | But Enough About You
Free Library, Central Library
7:30 PM

Sunday, May 18

Adam Pelzman | Troika
Wellington Square Bookshop, 549 Wellington Square, Exton, PA
11:30 AM - 1:00 PM

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bout of Books 10 Goals, Aspirations or What Have You

My first bout of books is around the corner and while I read all the time, I'm hoping I can be a bit more focused next week. Even an extra few books will help make a dent in the paper and electronic books piles that seem to keep expanding rather than shrinking.

Thus far in 2014 I'm averaging just under three books a week, which sounds pretty good until you realize I buy more than that each week! For Bout of Books I'm hoping to spend more time reading and less time checking Twitter and Facebook, as fascinating and educational the links I find in both places end up being.

My goal is to read ten books from May 12 - May 18.

It's not as much of a stretch as it might seem since I plan on including several middle grade books in the mix. I'm also planning on using this concerted push to be a better NetGalley user by finishing and providing feedback to five titles publishers have granted me access to -- I want to build my credibility.

Here's the list (though I retain the right to change it as my mood strikes me):

Life Drawing by Robin Black
The Fever by Megan Abbott (I've started this and want to get back to it)
The Chronicle of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Domingue
One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva
The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang
West of the Moon by Margi Preus
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal (this is a re-read for a book group)
Equilateral by Ken Kalfus (again, for a book group, but Ken is the guest of honor so I want to make sure I read this one twice before the meeting).

Plus, I plan on being here on Wednesday to answer questions and comments on the Bout of Books challenge I'm hosting that day!

I'm looking forward to seeing how this week unfolds.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Parenting is Painfully Funny: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro
St. Martin's Press
Hardcover: 336 Pages
Publication Date: May 13, 2014

Everyone warned me when I was pregnant – your life will never be the same, your life is about to change forever, etc.  Did I believe them? Really believe them?

No. Of course I didn’t. Does any first time parent not use denial as psychological armor to lessen the trauma of transforming from a self-centered narcissist to a self-abnegating caregiver? I survived the transition, as most everyone does, though there were some close calls – it was not a graceful passage.

At the time I was still trying to climb the corporate ladder but was consumed by jealousy for everyone who was able to find a way to leave the paid workforce to become a primary caregiver. The years since I’ve come to realize that as difficult as juggling work and parenting are, becoming a stay-at-home parent has tradeoffs and sacrifices I never fully understood.

It’s not just the constant focus on the care and feeding of a helpless being, it’s not just the sleepless nights and new worries that every bang and scrap and virus will wreak serious havoc. There’s the grappling with how to explain your life to everyone who knew you based on your career choice or avocations, choices they shared or respected, and by which they still define their lives. There’s also grappling with the uneasy work of renegotiating the terms of your relationship with your partner, which is never smooth sailing, even if both of you fully support the change in roles. Becoming a stay-at home parent may seem like a luxury, but while it can be rewarding and fulfilling, it is also complicated and oftentimes isolating.

Because face it, going from talking about the complexities of law, finance, literature, marketing, etc. to coaxing a small person to eat another bite of broccoli and negotiating screen time is a shock. What can you do to avoid having entire days where your only conversation with another adult is in the supermarket checkout line?

You join a playgroup.  You bond with the other parents in the group because they are experiencing many of the same emotions, concerns, and experiences that define your day-to-day existence. But, guess what? Playgroup relationships are just as complicated and political as a life in the diplomatic corps.

Julia Fierro’s fierce and funny new novel, Cutting Teeth, exposes the delicate lattice of assumptions and negotiated allowances that bind together a seemingly idyllic Brooklyn based group of parents and children. On the surface the families are poster children for the new hipster/yuppie urban cultural juggernaut that Brooklyn has become. There’s Nicole, a novelist; Rip a stay-at-home father with a successful banker wife; Susannah a lesbian who has just married her long-term partner, Allie; aristocratic Leigh; and Tiffany, the high maintenance group member who runs toddler music classes.

As Cutting Teeth opens, it’s Labor Day weekend and Nicole is preparing to host the group at her parents’ ramshackle house on Long Island. That’s if Nicole’s extreme anxiety, only partially controlled by a daily dose of marijuana, doesn’t lead her to cancel the whole thing.

The recipe is classic: take a group of loosely tied people with hidden agendas, insecurities, secrets and longings, place them in an enclosed hotbed environment, shake and wait for the explosion. The results can be either farce or tragedy, but in the stage and film variations that Fierro’s novel brought to mind – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Big Chill, even The Breakfast Club – the interior thoughts and longings are not be mined as effectively as she manages here.

The weekend’s events unfold in a series of brief chapters told from the alternating perspectives of the playgroup members, as well as Tenzin, a Tibetan nanny who has left her own children behind in exile in India to care for other people’s children, and Susannah’s wife Allie. All of them have secrets and vulnerabilities that they hide from one another with varying degrees of success.

Nicole fuels her obsessions by trolling online parenting boards and attempts to get her writing back on track by stopping her medications.

Leigh tries to cope with a son who suffers from a sensory input disorder while nurturing her infant daughter whose longed-for birth was only possible via IVF, the cost of which was prohibitive given the impact of the financial crisis of 2008 on her family’s circumstances.

Rip, who has only felt successful in his role as a parent wants another baby, but his wife doesn’t.

Susannah pregnant for the second time, as a surrogate carrying Allie’s fertilized egg, wants to move out of the city to raise their family in the suburbs while Allie, who is ambivalent about motherhood, is entrenched in the New York art scene and doesn’t want to move, ever.

Tiffany has scrambled to remake herself in light of a past that the other members can sense, but cannot understand, is hoping to get her daughter into an elite private school and wrest Tenzin away from Leigh to give her more time to build her business.

Tenzin, meanwhile watches the swirling mess of rivalries and shifting affections among the group, loves the children without reserve, and hopes to maintain her own peace of mind and find a way to bring her family to the United States.

As deeply flawed as these characters are, and despite their selfish and self-destructive ways, they are easy to relate to and root for. I cringed at their missteps and cheered when they achieved greater insights and took baby-steps towards maturity. This playgroup may be filled with Brooklyn hipsters, but they are also emblematic of any group of middle-class parents struggling to define themselves while navigating the unstable shoals of adulthood.

The action builds, as you might expect, to an alcohol fueled climactic party scene that will change the group forever in some ways I could foresee and in others I didn’t expect. There are no simple resolutions and as the weekend ends little is fully resolved, but a tidier conclusion would feel overly contrived and veer what is a sharp and affecting book into the realm of the cute. I do admit that I was confused by the epilogue as it is written, or perhaps its ambiguity is intentional. The fault may be mine and my confusion may be swept away upon re-reading, which, given how much I enjoyed this novel, I plan on doing soon.

This is the perfect book to throw into your bag as you head off for a relaxing Memorial Day weekend, unless you are planning a getaway with your playgroup. In that case, you’ll want to wait until you get back.

P.S. Check out the Tumblr Julia’s novel begat: http://parentingconfessional.tumblr.com. It’s the perfect spot to vent if you can’t spill the beans to your playgroup!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Top Ten on Tuesday: Book Covers Worth Framing

Many thanks to The Broke and the Bookish for these prompts and coordinating this meme! Go check out what other bloggers have posted -- it's a great way to find new reads and new blog writers to follow.

This week is devoted to celebrating the art of book covers. Who says you can't judge a book by its cover? I know I have and while sometimes it hasn't worked out, the practice has also led me to some of my all time favorite books. So here are ten books that have covers that are spectacular and content to match. There's a broad spectrum of literary styles and genres represented here, some of which are well known and others that deserve to be more widely read, but all are gorgeous to look at.

Leaving the Sea: Stories by Ben Marcus
The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

Amphigorey by Edward Gorey (for that matter, this list should include any book cover for his own work or others that he designed)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (This cover is here to represent all of the magnificent Penguin Hardback Classic editions created by Coralie Bickford-Smith -- collecting them will yield a wonderful library of timeless books and they look amazing together)
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

What covers do you love? Are there covers you love for books that you don't?