Author Archives: Melody Wilson Schreiber

“Green Girl” by Kate Zambreno

I’m very pleased to publish this review with The Washington Post!

Green GirlIn Kate Zambreno’s ‘Green Girl,’ a young American wanders through London

Long before Lena Dunham and her “Girls,” writers have wrestled with youth’s peculiar blend of narcissism and self-hatred: the sense that success is just around the corner and that one’s best days are long gone. Early in “Hamlet,” Polonius tells his daughter, “You speak like a green girl, unsifted in such perilous circumstance.”

The rest has not been silence. With “Green Girl,” first-time novelist Kate Zambreno joins this long-running conversation. Keep reading…

“The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend” by Annabelle Costa

Time Traveler's BoyfriendTitle: The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend
Author: Annabelle Costa
ISBN: 9780985826352
Pages: 330
Release date: February 2014
Publisher: Dev Love Press
Genre: Chick lit sci-fi
Format: Ebook
Source: Review copy (TLC Book Tours/Netgalley)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

“Why is there a white rabbit with a clock around its neck outside my mad scientist boyfriend’s house?” Claudia finds herself wondering at the beginning of Annabelle Costa’s novel, The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend. Claudia runs through several scenarios (“Adam tossed the rabbit out the window to see if time flies”) before shrugging off the question, at least for the time being. She’s got bigger problems on her mind.

Such as: why has her funny, smart, super-loving boyfriend not proposed yet?

They’ve been together a few years, but they know each other so well, it seems longer. Plus, Claudia’s in her late thirties; she’s not getting any younger. Yet Adam keeps dodging her marital inquiries. It’s almost as if he’s waiting for something.

When Adam finally proposes, it’s not the plan she was expecting. Of course, she didn’t expect him to get down on one knee—he’s wheelchair-bound—but she didn’t expect him to whip out a time machine instead of a diamond ring. His proposal is quite different than the one she would prefer: He wants her to go back in time and prevent the accident that left him paralyzed.

But what happens to your future when you change the past?

The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend is a fun, if predictable, romp. Claudia is a snarky yet self-aware narrator. I loved the hilarious pie graphs and flow charts about time travel, such as a decision matrix for what to do if you’re sent back to prehistoric times (avoid T-Rexes!).

I usually avoid calling a book a “guilty pleasure,” especially when it comes to women’s fiction. But this story was light and fun, and finished it in a day or two. It’s like, well, The Time Traveler’s Wife as chick lit.

It veers into Wisconsin’s finest cheddar territory once in a while and doesn’t do a ton of favors to the role of women in science (“Sheesh. Time travel is complicated,” Claudia reflects at one point), but it’s not trying to take itself or anyone else too seriously. The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend is an entertaining and light-hearted romance.

In the words of Captain Hammer: “Not my usual, but nice.”

Quote of Note:

“Now don’t move,” he warns me. I stare at him. “What happens if I move?” He shrugs. “I don’t know. Something bad, maybe.” Something bad, maybe? Are you freaking kidding me? It’s not too late to change my mind. I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to be the first human subject for my boyfriend’s crazy invention. But when I look at his face, I know that I kind of do. He needs me to do this for him.

TLC Book ToursDon’t just take my word for it! Check out what other people on the tour have to say:

Book Marks the Spot
Bound by Words
Luxury Reading
Reading Reality
Time 2 Read
A Chick Who Reads
The Written World
The Reader’s Hollow
Cupcake’s Book Cupboard
Bibliotica
Stuck in Books
Chick Lit Central
Mom in Love with Fiction
Patricia’s Wisdom
Bewitched Bookworms
Simply Stacie
Peeking Between the Pages

Or buy The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

June 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

Whew, what a busy few months! I actually drafted this post last month, but I didn’t even have time to publish it!

In April, I spent nearly three weeks in Brazil, so, as predicted, I didn’t get much reading done. (Pictures from Brazil coming soon, though!) I ended up finishing two books and almost finishing two more in April.

Then, in May, I got married.

!!!!!!

We had an absolutely fantastic time, both at the wedding and during the two-week honeymoon to Belize. I got a good bit of reading done, too–it wouldn’t have been a vacation otherwise!

With all of these trips and all the planning that goes into a wedding, I’ve been crazy busy. I apologize to the authors who were expecting reviews this month or last. I promise I’ve read your book and drafted the review–I just haven’t had time to post it yet.

June proves to be another busy month. But I’ve got some great options when I’m ready to kick back and get my read on! And hopefully soon I’ll have a spare minute to post some reviews of these excellent titles.

Books read in April:

  • We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
  • The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

Books read in May:

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

What I’m Reading Now:

Gaining GroundGaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard
We’ll be meeting at One More Page Books & More on June 9 to discuss this book, which explores sustainable agriculture, from the decision to become organic to the crucial rise of farmers’ markets. Pritchard is a fixture in Northern Virginia’s locavore movement, and I’m really looking forward to reading about his experiences on the family farm.

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
I’m headed to Ethiopia in a few days, and this is the book that keeps surfacing when I look for fine Ethiopian literature. As I stood in line at the bookstore to buy it, another customer ran up to me and said, “That book is so good, you’re going to love it!” I hope I do. I know I love word-of-mouth book recommendations!

Thirty GirlsThirty Girls by Susan Minot
The premise of this book already sounded astounding. But with the recent abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, it’s almost eerily relevant. I think it will be a difficult but rewarding read.

We Need New NamesWe Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
In looking at my reading list, I’m noticing a theme: books by female authors focusing on Africa and the diaspora. It’s not surprising, given both my affinity for lady writers and my recent/upcoming travel to several countries in Africa. I’ve heard great things about this book, so I’m eager to dive in!

If I have time, I’d also like to start The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. We’ll see!

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

April 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

So far in March, I’ve finished a whopping NINE books, and made progress on two more. I think this is a new record for me! All the snow we had this month made for lots of quality reading time. Over the next few months, I have a somewhat hectic travel schedule, so I’m not sure how many new titles I’ll be able to get to. But I’ll have a ton of options!

Books read:

  • The Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons
  • Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
  • Answers I’ll Accept, edited by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  • The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
  • Highs in the Low Fifties by Marion Winik
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
  • The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend by Annabelle Costa
  • Gulp by Mary Roach

Halfway through:

  • Brazil on the Rise by Larry Rohter
  • The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

To read:

We Learn NothingWe Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
Kreider will be visiting my memoir/essay writing class while I’m in Brazil, and I’m bummed to miss him. But I’ve met him before, and he is very funny and entertaining. I’m really looking forward to this collections of his essays–including the infamous, much-emailed “Busy Trap.”

Coming of Age on ZoloftComing of Age on Zoloft: How Antidepressants Cheered Us Up, Let Us Down, and Changed Who We Are by Katherine Sharpe
This is the next One More Page nonfiction book club pick. After discussing Hyperbole and a Half last month, I’m eager to examine depression, especially among adolescents, even more closely. We’ll talk about the book on Monday, April 21; I hope to see you there!

The PromiseThe Promise by Ann Weisgarber
I loved Weisgarber’s first book, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree (my review here) so much, I named it a top 10 book in 2011. I’m very excited to read more from this author! Also, she told me on Twitter that she kept a red-eared turtle for years. This woman knows the way to my icy little heart!

Miss PeregrineMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My fiction book club chose this as our next book. I might miss the meeting, since I’ll be out of town so much, but I still want to read along. I’ve heard a LOT about this book, and I think it will be a very enjoyable read on my travels! I’m particularly intrigued by the author’s use of photographs.

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

Trailer for Emma Donoghue’s “Frog Music”

Sunday Salon

I’m not usually one to post book trailers, but I’m very intrigued by Emma Donoghue’s next book, Frog Music. As faithful blog readers (there has to be one or two of you, right? Guys??) will know, I’m Donoghue’s biggest fangirl. Hearing her read an excerpt from Room (my review here) at Politics & Prose was a highlight of my literary life. I know. Sometimes my nerdiness disturbs even me.

Anyway, the trailer:

More about the book:
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice–if he doesn’t track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, Frog Music digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue’s lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.

“The Frangipani Hotel” by Violet Kupersmith

Frangipani HotelTitle: The Frangipani Hotel
Author: Violet Kupersmith
ISBN: 9780812993318
Pages: 256
Release date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Short story collection
Format: Ebook
Source: Review copy (TLC Book Tours/Netgalley)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Gabriel Garcia Marquez annoys me. There, I said it. His is the most prominent name in magical realism, and his work had me convinced that I was not a fan of the genre. I inevitably grew weary of what seems like cutesy or convenient inventions put it place to further the narrative or tickle the reader. I want to know if a story is based in the world that I know or if it is fantastical. Go big or go home; don’t settle for ambiguous magical realism, I always thought.

Thankfully, Violet Kupersmith, an impossibly young debut writer, changed all of that.

In a series of long short stories—about half a dozen in all—Kupersmith composes a collage of Vietnamese identities, fragmented by perspective and background and distance. There’s the sixteen-year-old girl questioning her grandmother about her escape to the U.S. in “Boat Story”; Phi, who works at the eponymous Frangipani Hotel in “Reception”; Sister Emmanuel, whose story in “The Red Veil” pushes a questioning novice even further from God; and several others. Each story touches upon magical or mythical elements in large and small ways.

Although I am not familiar with Vietnamese mythology, I would guess that Kupersmith is immersed in it. The collection is steeped in folklore and mythology, whether real or imagined. The magic in these stories never felt like a convenient way to end a tale, a mythological deux es machina. Quite the contrary, each invocation of magic, if you want to call it that, felt inevitable in a strange and thrilling way. Of course a dying man would try to steal his driver’s life force! Who wouldn’t? And you should never trust the girl who mysteriously washed up in a hotel room. Each twist is utterly natural.

Kupersmith is inventive to the right degree; it never seems as though she is straining to shock or thrill. No bells and whistles—just solid, compelling storytelling.

Her prose is clear and confident, with an assured voice that made me enviously check and re-check to make sure she was really a first-time author. All of the stories center around Vietnam, but each character has a strong voice of their own and unique identities.

So, yeah, in case you weren’t sure: I loved every second of this story collection.

The entire book was full of fantastic quotes and observations, but here are some of my favorites:

“Why can’t you tell me how you escaped?”
“It’s simple, child: Did we ever really escape?”

“The first rule of the country we come from is that it always gives you what you ask for, but never exactly what you want.”

“All I have is a story. I’ve never told it to anyone before and I think it’s time. You may take what you like from it; look for a moral if you can. Perhaps the story will give you something, though you must be careful lest you give yourself to it instead.”

TLC Book ToursDon’t just take my word for it! Check out what other people on the tour have to say:

Monday, March 3rd:  Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, March 4th:  The Things You Can Read
Wednesday, March 5th:  Savvy Verse and Wit
Tuesday, March 11th:  The Written World
Tuesday, March 11th:  Books a la Mode + author guest post
Wednesday, March 12th:  River City Reading
Thursday, March 13th:  Under My Apple Tree
Monday, March 17th:  1330 V
Thursday, March 20th:  The Relentless Reader
Monday, March 24th:  A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, March 25th:  Suko’s Notebook
Wednesday, March 26th:  Lit and Life
Thursday, March 27th:  Too Fond 
Monday, March 31st:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, April 1st:  Mandy Boles: Life Between Books
Wednesday, April 2nd:  Guiltless Reading
Thursday, April 3rd:  Books and Movies
Monday, April 7th:  The Lost Entwife
Tuesday, April 8th:  Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, April 9th:  girlichef
TBD:  50 Books Project

Or buy The Frangipani Hotel for yourself from an independent bookstore or Amazon (a Kindle version is also available). Each sale from these links helps support Melody & Words.

“The Sense of Touch” by Ron Parsons

The Sense of TouchTitle: The Sense of Touch
Author: Ron Parsons
ISBN: 9780988383777
Pages: 252
Release date: April 2013
Publisher: Aqueous
Genre: Short story collection
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy (TLC Book Tours)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Sense of Touch, a collection of short stories by Ron Parsons, examines the lives of Midwesterners—the struggles and compromises, the joy and grief—set against larger-than-life landscapes.

A college student struggles to renew a relationship with a smart but strange friend from childhood. A wife returns, however briefly, to her husband’s farm and bed. A grief-stricken man reunites with a friend who sees much more than his damaged eyes let on. A twin contemplates the violence of baseball and grief.

It’s difficult to judge story collections, particularly when some resonate more than others. However, it can be illuminating to read an author’s collection of short stories; the strengths (and weaknesses) of his or her writing are on display.

Parsons’s greatest strengths lie in the strong sense of place permeating each story. The Midwest is vast, and Parsons moves from state to state in the stories. Yet the role of environment on relationships is a constant throughout the collection.

I talk a lot about place as a character in a story. Look, for example, to some of the best writing in television: Baltimore and Louisiana are as much characters in “The Wire” and “True Detective” as the people are.

Yet in this collection, place acts more as exposition. The vagaries of nature move the story forward even when the characters are frozen with indecision, fear, regret. In the title story, the main character realizes:

I wanted a sturdy, honest, decisive winter, where the air feels like a sharpened weapon… Every now and then, we can all use the feeling of a long deadening freeze. It makes you appreciate the mercy of a thaw.

And, later, as he’s driving from school in Minneapolis down home to Texas:

Layers seem to lift and wash away. And I remember things differently. History becomes reversible.

His life story seems as affected by his surroundings as it is by his own decisions.

While, as I’ve noted, not all of the stories connected with me, I still admired Parsons’s understated writing style.

“People change,” one stoic, nearly voiceless character reflects, “and they forget to let the other people know.” Another posits heartbreakingly: “There isn’t a grief that exists that refuses to soften and crack with time, but oh, what a long, sad cloud that was.”

I enjoyed Parsons’s way with words and the way he blends place with exposition, even when some of the stories themselves seemed to fall flat. I’d love to see more from him.

TLC Book ToursDon’t just take my word for it! Check out what other people on the tour have to say:

February 3: Lavish Bookshelf
February 4: Books on the Table
February 6: Booksie’s Blog
February 7: Every Free Chance Book Reviews
February 10: Chronicles of a Country Girl
February 11: West Metro Mommy
February 17: A Book Geek
February 24: Patricia’s Wisdom
February 25: Great Imaginations
February 26: Ms. Nose in a Book
February 27: Books and Things
March 4: Priscilla and Her Books
March 5: The Road to Here
TBD: The Mookse and the Gripes

Or buy The Sense of Touch for yourself from an independent bookstore or Amazon (a Kindle version is also available). Each sale from these links helps support Melody & Words.

On the “R” Word and Insults in Books

I was reading a good book recently. It was funny and well-written, with a voice that was clear as a bell. But after three uses of the R word (as in, someone who faces developmental challenges), I had to put it down.

Interested in linguistics? John McWhorter's books are an excellent place to start!

Interested in linguistics? John McWhorter’s books are an excellent place to start!

I’m trained as a linguist. So on one level, I believe words are a social construct whose meaning can depend entirely upon the users. Words are vessels for sound and meaning. Words are wonderful, because with just one or two little sounds, we can convey a universe. We have created this system whereby these little sounds summon nearly anything, and everyone who speaks your language can understand you.

Language is flexible and fun, and normally I’m the last person to tell you how to use it. I drop the F-bomb like it’s my job, because there’s nothing inherently offensive about it. (Unless, I suppose, you’re anti-sex, in which case I’m anti-you.)

But insults are an entirely different beast. These are words used to destroy people.

“But hold on,” the author might say, if he or she read this little blog. “It’s just a joke. I didn’t mean any of that.”

I get it. Everyone loves jokes, and no one wants to analyze every single word they utter. But there’s nothing funny about using a word that has and continues to hurt so many.

This is the other edge of the sword that is language. When you choose to speak, you are entering into a contract of sorts. You are acknowledging that the words you speak carry greater meaning beyond their composite sounds. Most of the time, we benefit from this, in that we can make ourselves understood to strangers. But we must also acknowledge that there is a history of oppression and fear lingering behind certain combinations of sound.

There are those who have been on the receiving end of insults who seek to reclaim them, who want to imbue oppressive words with positivity. Let them. That’s the great part of language–how it changes with us. But if you keep using these words in their traditional context of insult, you are only prolonging the negativity.

Words are our right and our responsibility. Use them carefully.

Note: The book pictured above is not the book I’m talking about. I didn’t want to name and shame that author. But if you are interested in some of the linguistic concepts I’ve so clumsily explained, check out McWhorter’s careful work in the field. He’s one of the best.

March 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

February was a short month! But I was still able to read four titles and make progress on four more. I hope to finish reading several books in March, before my travel schedule gets really hectic!

Books read:

  • Cairo in White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  • Be With Me by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • (T)here: Writings on Returnings edited by Brandi Dawn Henderson

Halfway through:

  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
  • The Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons
  • Highs in the Low Fifties by Marion Winik
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

To read:

GulpGulp by Mary Roach
This is the selection for both of my book clubs–the one with my friends, and the one held at One More Page. (We’ll discuss it at OMP in May.) I really enjoyed Roach’s Packing for Mars, so this should be a lot of fun!

Frangipani HotelThe Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
This book sounds fantastic–it has garnered praise from the likes of Téa Obreht, as well as starred reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. I haven’t read many books set in Vietnam, but the last one–The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli–made me fall in love with the country.

Brazil on the RiseBrazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed by Larry Rohter
I’m traveling to Brazil next month, and this seems to be the must-read book on understanding Brazil’s present state and future promise. Rohter, a reporter for The New York Times, goes beyond the stereotypes of Brazil–Carnival, beaches, supermodels–to dive into its rapid growth and status among other emerging markets.

River of DoubtThe River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
Did you know that, after being defeated in 1912, Roosevelt mapped a dangerous tributary of the Amazon? Yeah, me neither. While I won’t spend much time around this famous river (at least, not on this trip), this book sounded like an unusual glimpse into the country and a fun, if harrowing, story.

In March, I’ll also read Hyperbole and a Half, the next One More Page book club pick–I can’t wait to discuss it!

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

“Be With Me” by J. Lynn

Be With MeTitle: Be With Me
Series: Wait for You, #2
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout (J. Lynn)
ISBN: 9780062294784
Pages: 376
Release date: February 2014
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: New Adult
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy (TLC Book Tours)
Rating: 4 out of 5

The past few months haven’t been easy for Teresa Hamilton. After she tore her ACL, she had to put her ballet career on hold. She enrolls in the same college where her older brother and his girlfriend attend. But Cam and Avery are not the only ones she knows on campus; there’s also Jase, Cam’s best friend. She hasn’t talked to Jase since last year–when she finally summoned up the courage to kiss him. And he seemed very, very into that.

But now Jase doesn’t seem to want anything to do with her. Whenever they’re alone, their attraction to each other is undeniable, yet he seems bent on ignoring it. Can Jase put the past behind him and trust Teresa with his heart?

Meanwhile, personal tragedies rock Teresa’s life. But sometimes even the worst situations can change your life for the better.

I really enjoyed Wait for You, the first book in this series. It was incredibly sexy, and it explored serious issues relating to sexual assault and identity. While this book didn’t quite have the same effect on me, I still enjoyed it.

I wasn’t quite as pulled in by the relationship between Teresa and Jase. I loved the constant tension between Avery and Cam in the first book, but the volume seemed turned way down in the second installment.

However, Teresa is a very compelling character–a real fighter. When Jase seems unwilling to risk a relationship with her, she calls him out on it. When her roommate shows signs of partner abuse, she helps her confront him. Teresa is not one to let a man walk all over her–not after her first boyfriend turned violent and threatened to ruin her life a few years ago.

Domestic violence is a recurring issue throughout this book. I applaud Armentrout for addressing an issue that is prevalent, even among young couples, but so often overlooked. Armentrout finds an excellent balance between telling a fun, sexy story and addressing important issues in this series.

Her writing isn’t exactly literary (at one point, she describes Jase as appearing to be “drowning while being nom nom’d on by cookie cutter sharks”), which often held me back from truly getting into the story.

But I loved Teresa’s pugnacious spirit, and her humor–as with the first time she tells Jase she loves him:

“Please God, let him think I said something else–anything else. Like maybe I dove you. That was better.”

Despite my qualms about Armentrout’s writing style, I appreciate how well she tells stories about serious issues without coming across as preachy. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Quote of Note:

“I stroked the flame until it turned into an orb of anger–anger was better than hurt.”

TLC Book ToursDon’t just take my word for it! Check out what other people on the tour have to say:

Tuesday, February 4th: In Bed with Books
Wednesday, February 5th: Nightly Reading
Thursday, February 6th: Ladybug Literature
Monday, February 10th: Oh! Paper Pages
Tuesday, February 11th: Books à la Mode
Wednesday, February 12th: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Monday, February 17th: Why Girls Are Weird
Tuesday, February 18th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Thursday, February 20th: Luxury Reading
Monday, February 24th: cupcake’s book cupboard
Tuesday, February 25th: Curling Up With a Good Book
Wednesday, February 26th: Dear Brighton
Thursday, February 27th: Book Marks the Spot
TBD: Schmexy Girl Book Blog
TBD: Tina’s Book Reviews

Or buy Be With Me for yourself from an independent bookstore or Amazon (Kindle and Audible versions are also available). Each sale from these links helps support Melody & Words.