September 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

Hello! So, you may have noticed that I’m a lot more, shall we say, “relaxed” about posting in the summer. (“Lazy” is another way to put it.) It’s just so tough to come home and sit in front of a computer when it’s still light outside. But I’m back now!

Book cover magnets, $3.50 each or $10 for threeOf course, I can’t guarantee that I will post as much as I’d like to this fall. My latest writing class, a fiction workshop, begins tomorrow night. But hopefully I’ll have a little time to share what I’m reading.

Although I wasn’t updating the blog much, I was still reading over the summer. And I’ve stayed plenty busy! I’ve begun creating miniature books–jewelry, magnets, ornaments, and other accessories–and I’ll be listing several other literary items in the next few weeks. Check out my new “Shop” page!

And, while I was in web design mode, I changed the look of this site a bit. What do you think?

OK, back to the books…

Books read in June:

  • Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard
  • Green Girl by Kate Zambreno

Books read in July:

  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
  • Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
  • Losing It by Cora Carmack

Books read in August:

  • Faking It by Cora Carmack
  • Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

Halfway Through

  • Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman
  • When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone

What I’m Reading Now:

Love in the Driest SeasonLove in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker
I actually finished this early last week, but it’s still with me. I loved this book, a literary memoir that explores love, trauma, family, conflict, passion, and much more. I recommend for those interested in journalism, international adoptions, and life in Zimbabwe–plus anyone who loves a good memoir. (And the author is local!) I’ll be discussing this at the next One More Page book club–please join me!

9780670016587The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker
Now that I’ve read Tucker’s memoir, I want to check out his first novel! A murder mystery set in D.C., The Ways of the Dead sounds utterly thrilling. I want to finish it before book club with the author!

9780804178327Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Longtime readers should know how much I love Joe Abercrombie, and I can’t wait to read his latest book. This is his first assay into Young Adult, and Publisher’s Weekly called it one of their top 10 best books of summer. I could have told you that if you’d asked, PW. I’ve got nothing but love for Joe.

The New JIm CrowThe New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
I’ve been interested in the judicial system and prison reform for a while now, and discussing Orange Is the New Black at the last book club made me want to read about these topics even more. From what I’ve heard, The New Jim Crow is one of the best books on the prison industrial complex. I hope it’s good (and readable)!

Bad FeministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
There are no words to describe how much I love Roxane Gay. I am a total, unabashed fangirl. Roxane 2016!

If I have time, I’d also like to start The Fever by Megan Abbott and Save the Date by Jen Doll. We’ll see!

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

“(T)here: Writings on Returnings” edited by Brandi Dawn Henderson

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 8.42.29 PMTitle: (T)here: Writings on Returnings
Editor: Brandi Dawn Henderson
ISBN: 9780615970554
Pages: 258
Release date: February 23, 2014
Publisher: Martlet & Mare Books
Genre: Nonfiction anthology
Format: ARC
Source: Review copy
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I always thought I would live abroad. Instead I travel only in short bursts, two or three weeks, hardly long enough to get used to a new place before I’m back home. Culture shock for me is a feeling that comes in small moments: forgetting which direction to check for traffic before crossing the street, or telling time on a 12-hour clock again. It’s difficult for me to place the much larger issues that I bump up against on my brief trips in the context of a real life, and so I find myself focusing upon the minutiae.

I had thought that the “large moments” of life—wondering where my true home was, feeling as though I belonged everywhere and nowhere, fitting what I see in other parts of the world into my life back home—wouldn’t belong to me. I had not earned them, whether through distance traveled or time spent or special occasion missed. But this book quickly corrected me. Culture shock—and reverse culture shock—can happen to anyone, anywhere, and with anyone else.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the extent to which my personality has been shaped by culture shock and its reverse. I adjusted quickly to life in a big city after growing up in a rural area; I learned how to survive at a respected university after a childhood spent homeschooling; I thrived in new, challenging jobs. And I learned the reverse of those experiences: I moved back to the small town where my family lived; I graduated from school; I took on new jobs and more challenging interests. Each time I traveled back and forth between one life and another, I felt pieces of who I thought I was slipping away, and I discovered other facets of myself—both good and bad—that I had little clue existed.

That’s the value of a collection like this: It shows so perfectly the extent to which we are all products of culture shock. You don’t have to leave everything you know and love behind; those “large moments” for which I’ve yearned may be achieved in the smallest gestures. From new careers to new homes, from mania and depression to illness and recovery, we navigate new worlds every day.

The voices in (T)here: Writings on Returnings are delightfully diverse, but they all point to one truth: The home you return to is rarely the same home you left. Even the shortest journeys—across countries and careers, states and states of mind—bring about lasting transformations.

Of course, in every essay collection, there is unevenness. I liked certain chapters much more than others, but the good passages made it all worthwhile. Colleen Wells’ “Other Lives” spoke to me more than any other essay in recent memory. Here are a few more passage that resonated with me:

I realize two months is probably a blink of the eye for more seasoned travelers, but I am a novice at the nomadic life. I am too quick at rooting myself, and so, I am not a leaver… I have always been a heavy traveler, bringing my entire world with me wherever I go. Upon my return, I seem to have brought Thimphu back with me, under my skin, and it is unbalancing me.
-Ujwalla Bhandari, “Alight, Heavy Traveler”

Tree branches snapped like gunshots as smoke hesitated sideways from a neighbor’s chimney.
-Donna Girouard, “Going Home”

It will break you, and it will put you back together, if you let it―that country.
-Carol Smallwood, “A Returning”

Nothing seemed quite as important, as terrible, or as beautiful as the country I had just left behind.
-Eva KL Miller, “Home is a Foreign Country”

God, sometimes normal is too damned dark a ride for some people…. That’s when I feel as though the lights should go on for everyone, the choirs should start singing – maybe Dad’s favorite prison song, If I had the wings of an angel, and far from these walls I could fly -; that’s when I feel as though we should all get it, deal with it, let it go, and understand when somebody says that they can’t go out to the store that day; maybe they never had to go to the store before, and if they did, maybe that time seems so, so far away, irretrievable.
-Rhonda Poynter, “The Wings of an Angel”

You can’t use words that you don’t know how to say.
-Ren Diller, “With Love to My (S)motherland”

Interested? (T)here: Writings on Returnings is available on Amazon in paperback. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

“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.