Posts tagged with ‘kindle’

What I’ve Read:
The Vacationers by Emma Straub - If you’re looking for a book to take to the beach or read by the pool, this is the one you should be buying. It has a bit of romance, conflict, family drama and food porn—in other words, a lot of things that make for a good escapist book. It’s about the Post family—mom, dad, younger sister, older brother, older brother’s older girlfriend, mom’s best friend and his husband. The momentum in the story centers around Mom and Dad and their somewhat secret reason for organizing the vacation in the first place. It’s not a bonding trip so much as it is a last hurrah. Can the family stand the test and emerge intact? (I don’t think large family vacations are a great means for determining if you really like your family, but this is fiction so…HAVE AT IT POST FAMILY.) It’s predictable and a little underdeveloped/rushed through the last half and will probably be forgotten in a few months, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better beach book to read with a glass or two of wine. 
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes - THIS BOOK. Holy shit. I read it for about 8 hours yesterday. I read it while I ate. I read it while Isobel napped. I stayed up way too late finishing it last night. It’s a spy thriller and a murder mystery in one and be forewarned—it’s a long book. That doesn’t mean it’s slow. It’s fast-paced from the start and rarely lets up. The book unfolds in parallel stories. It focuses on the real-time events featuring our protagonist (Pilgrim) but then rewinds to tell the backstory of the man Pilgrim is hunting. When we first meet Pilgrim, he’s a former spy living a quiet, Parisian retirement when a New York City cop reads Pilgrim’s pseudonymous book about investigative techniques and the steps one could take to commit the perfect crime. The cop doesn’t think the pseudonym fits the book content and starts to try and find the real author. Meanwhile, the backstory—that starts with a teenage boy living in Saudi Arabia—starts to unfold. This boy eventually becomes the man Pilgrim is hunting (we’re told that from the beginning) but this backstory section is where the book really shines. Hayes created a fleshed-out villain that’s difficult to peg as purely Bad Guy. He’s smart, he has his reasons for doing what he does and Hayes makes sure we feel invested in his actions even if we know what he’s doing is wrong. The problem with most thrillers are two-dimensional characters and stereotypical *EVIL PLOTS* and villains. Hayes has managed to turn that been-there-done-that James Bond plot—A SPY! TERRORISM!—into a book that’s fast-paced without being trite and feels epic but not unrealistic. It’s the kind of book that could have been confusing to read in lesser hands, but Hayes (a longtime screenwriter) knows how to lay out a story. The only downside to this is that he’s fond of using writing devices (like foreshadowing) that translate better on-screen than on the page. There were a few times I wished he’d kept his cards a little closer to the chest. Movies or TV have to make things more obvious (“JOFFREY HAD TO DIE, REMEMBER THE NECKLACE” WINK WINK), but there were two major twists in this book that I figured out before they were properly revealed because Hayes couldn’t help dropping little foreshadowing hints here and there. Other than that, holy shit! This book was crazy. And I loved it. 
Read either of these?

What I’ve Read:

  • The Vacationers by Emma Straub - If you’re looking for a book to take to the beach or read by the pool, this is the one you should be buying. It has a bit of romance, conflict, family drama and food porn—in other words, a lot of things that make for a good escapist book. It’s about the Post family—mom, dad, younger sister, older brother, older brother’s older girlfriend, mom’s best friend and his husband. The momentum in the story centers around Mom and Dad and their somewhat secret reason for organizing the vacation in the first place. It’s not a bonding trip so much as it is a last hurrah. Can the family stand the test and emerge intact? (I don’t think large family vacations are a great means for determining if you really like your family, but this is fiction so…HAVE AT IT POST FAMILY.) It’s predictable and a little underdeveloped/rushed through the last half and will probably be forgotten in a few months, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better beach book to read with a glass or two of wine. 
  • I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes - THIS BOOK. Holy shit. I read it for about 8 hours yesterday. I read it while I ate. I read it while Isobel napped. I stayed up way too late finishing it last night. It’s a spy thriller and a murder mystery in one and be forewarned—it’s a long book. That doesn’t mean it’s slow. It’s fast-paced from the start and rarely lets up. The book unfolds in parallel stories. It focuses on the real-time events featuring our protagonist (Pilgrim) but then rewinds to tell the backstory of the man Pilgrim is hunting. When we first meet Pilgrim, he’s a former spy living a quiet, Parisian retirement when a New York City cop reads Pilgrim’s pseudonymous book about investigative techniques and the steps one could take to commit the perfect crime. The cop doesn’t think the pseudonym fits the book content and starts to try and find the real author. Meanwhile, the backstory—that starts with a teenage boy living in Saudi Arabia—starts to unfold. This boy eventually becomes the man Pilgrim is hunting (we’re told that from the beginning) but this backstory section is where the book really shines. Hayes created a fleshed-out villain that’s difficult to peg as purely Bad Guy. He’s smart, he has his reasons for doing what he does and Hayes makes sure we feel invested in his actions even if we know what he’s doing is wrong. The problem with most thrillers are two-dimensional characters and stereotypical *EVIL PLOTS* and villains. Hayes has managed to turn that been-there-done-that James Bond plot—A SPY! TERRORISM!—into a book that’s fast-paced without being trite and feels epic but not unrealistic. It’s the kind of book that could have been confusing to read in lesser hands, but Hayes (a longtime screenwriter) knows how to lay out a story. The only downside to this is that he’s fond of using writing devices (like foreshadowing) that translate better on-screen than on the page. There were a few times I wished he’d kept his cards a little closer to the chest. Movies or TV have to make things more obvious (“JOFFREY HAD TO DIE, REMEMBER THE NECKLACE” WINK WINK), but there were two major twists in this book that I figured out before they were properly revealed because Hayes couldn’t help dropping little foreshadowing hints here and there. Other than that, holy shit! This book was crazy. And I loved it. 

Read either of these?

What I’ve Read:
Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link - This was one of those books I randomly decided to read because it sounded vaguely entertaining and I’m a sucker for fun cover art. Memoirs of rural living/adventure set alongside some sort of personal or professional hardship OR displayed as a brave and courageous departure from the monotony of a 9-5 life are littered on bookshelves. Maybe Wild started it, maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did it first, but whatever the case, they are now A Thing. And I’m okay with that. I enjoy them a lot. You wrote an entire book about raising chickens? Sign me up. How about that one where you bought a farm and you have no idea what you’re doing? Yes, please. These books are usually a predictable combination of heart-warming anecdotes and humorous stories and sometimes that sounds just about right. (The Dirty Life by Kim Kimball is still one of my favorites of the genre.) Anyway, Bootstrapper is most definitely one of these types of books, but it’s also better. Better because Link IS badass and I was rooting for her the whole goddamn book. She and her husband divorce and suddenly she’s raising 3 boys at an income level that registers at or below the poverty line. She is resourceful, though, and has the kind of mental and emotional fortitude that makes her seem bigger than life. She’s inspirational but it doesn’t come off like she’s actually trying to be. She’s just telling about her life—like when she and her sons entered a zucchini-growing contest at their local bakery to win free bread so she could make her sons enough sandwiches that they wouldn’t go hungry for lunch. It was a quick, good book, but a few things confused or annoyed me. First, it seems like she ran out of stories once things began improving and at that point she realized she’d better wrap it up quick. Nothing else to write about, folks! I’m good now! Second, there are several details that she glosses over or pretends we won’t notice. Details of the divorce, for example, are no where to be found, though it’s a pivotal and reoccurring theme in her book. Third: A good memoir often makes you feel like you know someone intimately and it takes a lot of honest dumping all over the page to get that sense of familiarity well-established. Wild is a good example of this. Cheryl Strayed is really fearless talking about the not-so-book-ready parts of her story and that made me feel invested. Link, on the other hand, seems to have written this very much with impressions in mind (I don’t blame her, she has older kids after all), but I always got the sense she was writing the story she WISHED to tell rather than the one that actually happened. This probably directly relates to my first issue with the book (the rushed conclusion). I think she framed the story, told what she liked and when she couldn’t novelize it anymore? THE END. Anyway—this review has gotten much too long—I still really liked it and would recommend it to you if you need a quick read. 
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Lately I’ve been having a hard time writing reviews longer than three sentences about books I really love. I think I’m afraid that my writing about them will cheapen the experience I had reading them. Long review short: This is the best book I’ve read yet this year. It will be short listed as one of my favorites for 2014. It’s only June, but I’m completely confident about that. I don’t want to give any of the plot away. Just start reading it. It’s intricate, haunting, moving. The writing is so good it made me want to cry. Reading this was a spiritual experience.
You guys reading anything good?

What I’ve Read:

  • Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link - This was one of those books I randomly decided to read because it sounded vaguely entertaining and I’m a sucker for fun cover art. Memoirs of rural living/adventure set alongside some sort of personal or professional hardship OR displayed as a brave and courageous departure from the monotony of a 9-5 life are littered on bookshelves. Maybe Wild started it, maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did it first, but whatever the case, they are now A Thing. And I’m okay with that. I enjoy them a lot. You wrote an entire book about raising chickens? Sign me up. How about that one where you bought a farm and you have no idea what you’re doing? Yes, please. These books are usually a predictable combination of heart-warming anecdotes and humorous stories and sometimes that sounds just about right. (The Dirty Life by Kim Kimball is still one of my favorites of the genre.) Anyway, Bootstrapper is most definitely one of these types of books, but it’s also better. Better because Link IS badass and I was rooting for her the whole goddamn book. She and her husband divorce and suddenly she’s raising 3 boys at an income level that registers at or below the poverty line. She is resourceful, though, and has the kind of mental and emotional fortitude that makes her seem bigger than life. She’s inspirational but it doesn’t come off like she’s actually trying to be. She’s just telling about her life—like when she and her sons entered a zucchini-growing contest at their local bakery to win free bread so she could make her sons enough sandwiches that they wouldn’t go hungry for lunch. It was a quick, good book, but a few things confused or annoyed me. First, it seems like she ran out of stories once things began improving and at that point she realized she’d better wrap it up quick. Nothing else to write about, folks! I’m good now! Second, there are several details that she glosses over or pretends we won’t notice. Details of the divorce, for example, are no where to be found, though it’s a pivotal and reoccurring theme in her book. Third: A good memoir often makes you feel like you know someone intimately and it takes a lot of honest dumping all over the page to get that sense of familiarity well-established. Wild is a good example of this. Cheryl Strayed is really fearless talking about the not-so-book-ready parts of her story and that made me feel invested. Link, on the other hand, seems to have written this very much with impressions in mind (I don’t blame her, she has older kids after all), but I always got the sense she was writing the story she WISHED to tell rather than the one that actually happened. This probably directly relates to my first issue with the book (the rushed conclusion). I think she framed the story, told what she liked and when she couldn’t novelize it anymore? THE END. Anyway—this review has gotten much too long—I still really liked it and would recommend it to you if you need a quick read. 
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Lately I’ve been having a hard time writing reviews longer than three sentences about books I really love. I think I’m afraid that my writing about them will cheapen the experience I had reading them. Long review short: This is the best book I’ve read yet this year. It will be short listed as one of my favorites for 2014. It’s only June, but I’m completely confident about that. I don’t want to give any of the plot away. Just start reading it. It’s intricate, haunting, moving. The writing is so good it made me want to cry. Reading this was a spiritual experience.

You guys reading anything good?

Lots of catching up to do.
Orfeo by Richard Powers - Orfeo is intense. It’s not a fast read, not an easy read, not even a particularly pleasurable read in the general sense that reading should be relaxing and engaging. This book is not relaxing. Every page felt like an electric shock. If you aren’t familiar with it, the book is about an aging, brilliant composer/professor Peter Els who decides to put his college microbiology studies to good use. In an unfortunate moment, he accidentally attracts the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. The book flits in time between the past and present; from his musical beginnings and discoveries to events in his personal and professional life. The story and characters are phenomenally well-constructed, but the music. THE MUSIC. It’s hard to write about music well but it’s even harder to write about the way it’s making you feel while you listen to it. How strange, then, for me to be reading about music I am familiar with and hear it start to play in my head. I recognize this, I’d think. Or, yes, that’s exactly what that part feels like! This book is incomparable. If you’ve ever played a major classical work, there is sometimes a moment where time almost stops, where the sound blends, where you feel you are part of a large machine pushing toward a conclusion, where your heart races and you forget everything except the next note on the page. Reading this book feels like that. It’s really astonishing.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P -  This book is so well-known that I don’t think I have much to add. Anyway, I sped my way through it. Not because it was bad—I actually found it amusing. Nate is really quite the douchebag, but the amusing part is that he suspects he is too. But then he sits down to eat his Raisin Bran and plan the next Great American Novel.
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann - There’s a moment in TransAtlantic when all the story lines begin to start intertwining, when the lightbulb finally goes off and you realize the intricate planning and pacing involved. It is completely stunning. Just unbelievably emotional and beautiful. 
Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt - Brandon and I were bored one night and we were looking through HBO documentaries and started watching the first Paradise Lost. We watched the two sequels over the next couple of days. Somewhere in there I downloaded this book on my Kindle and read it in a few hours. I remember hearing about this case and I definitely remember hearing about the release of the West Memphis Three (pictured on the book cover), but I was pretty young when the murders themselves actually happened. It was interesting to read this alongside viewing the documentaries for the first time. (The documentaries, by the way, are very graphic and disturbing so be forewarned.) If you like true crime and haven’t read this, add it to your list. 
What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell - Selena recommended this to me and I really liked it. It was darker and more sad that I anticipated and the portions of the book in and around the Jersey shore hometown of the protagonist are the best. It’s probably the most beachy book I’ve read, even if it’s not exactly what you’d choose for a “beach read.” (Like I said, the book is somber and becomes more so the further you get into it.) Still, the scenes of the beach, the feeling of being a teenager and scampering over the boardwalk with your friends—that stuff evoked strong memories for me. Cornwell has a really beautiful, descriptive writing style that allows you to see the things she’s writing about in an almost movie-like way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is made into a movie. It would probably be a good one. 
What are you all reading right now?

Lots of catching up to do.

  • Orfeo by Richard Powers - Orfeo is intense. It’s not a fast read, not an easy read, not even a particularly pleasurable read in the general sense that reading should be relaxing and engaging. This book is not relaxing. Every page felt like an electric shock. If you aren’t familiar with it, the book is about an aging, brilliant composer/professor Peter Els who decides to put his college microbiology studies to good use. In an unfortunate moment, he accidentally attracts the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. The book flits in time between the past and present; from his musical beginnings and discoveries to events in his personal and professional life. The story and characters are phenomenally well-constructed, but the music. THE MUSIC. It’s hard to write about music well but it’s even harder to write about the way it’s making you feel while you listen to it. How strange, then, for me to be reading about music I am familiar with and hear it start to play in my head. I recognize this, I’d think. Or, yes, that’s exactly what that part feels like! This book is incomparable. If you’ve ever played a major classical work, there is sometimes a moment where time almost stops, where the sound blends, where you feel you are part of a large machine pushing toward a conclusion, where your heart races and you forget everything except the next note on the page. Reading this book feels like that. It’s really astonishing.
  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P -  This book is so well-known that I don’t think I have much to add. Anyway, I sped my way through it. Not because it was bad—I actually found it amusing. Nate is really quite the douchebag, but the amusing part is that he suspects he is too. But then he sits down to eat his Raisin Bran and plan the next Great American Novel.
  • TransAtlantic by Colum McCann - There’s a moment in TransAtlantic when all the story lines begin to start intertwining, when the lightbulb finally goes off and you realize the intricate planning and pacing involved. It is completely stunning. Just unbelievably emotional and beautiful. 
  • Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt - Brandon and I were bored one night and we were looking through HBO documentaries and started watching the first Paradise Lost. We watched the two sequels over the next couple of days. Somewhere in there I downloaded this book on my Kindle and read it in a few hours. I remember hearing about this case and I definitely remember hearing about the release of the West Memphis Three (pictured on the book cover), but I was pretty young when the murders themselves actually happened. It was interesting to read this alongside viewing the documentaries for the first time. (The documentaries, by the way, are very graphic and disturbing so be forewarned.) If you like true crime and haven’t read this, add it to your list. 
  • What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell - Selena recommended this to me and I really liked it. It was darker and more sad that I anticipated and the portions of the book in and around the Jersey shore hometown of the protagonist are the best. It’s probably the most beachy book I’ve read, even if it’s not exactly what you’d choose for a “beach read.” (Like I said, the book is somber and becomes more so the further you get into it.) Still, the scenes of the beach, the feeling of being a teenager and scampering over the boardwalk with your friends—that stuff evoked strong memories for me. Cornwell has a really beautiful, descriptive writing style that allows you to see the things she’s writing about in an almost movie-like way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is made into a movie. It would probably be a good one. 

What are you all reading right now?

sunlightspotlight asked: Hi Jaclyn! Do you use an e-reader? If so, what kind? Love your blog! :)

Thank you! 

I do use an e-reader, though I split my time reading pretty equally between the Kindle Paperwhite ($119 with special offers) and books I check out from my local library. 

I started out with the second generation (I think) Kindle—the one with the keyboard. I loved it, but then it stopped charging. I upgraded to the Paperwhite shortly after it first came out and I am obsessed. Before I used an e-reader, I said I never would—that I loved the tactile, SENSORY things about reading just as much as reading itself. I discovered that wasn’t exactly true. The Paperwhite, with the handy backlighting, makes for an incredibly pleasurable reading experience. I love that I can read in the dark in bed if Brandon is sleeping and I don’t want to turn on a light. I love that it doesn’t strain my eyes the way reading on my iPhone or iPad can. I really love that I can stumble onto a book that looks interesting and start to read it within a few seconds. 

The only thing I miss about my original Kindle are the page-turning buttons that were on each side of the casing. The Paperwhite uses a touch screen on each side of the text to turn forward or backward and this is okay once you get the hang of it, but it’s not QUITE perfect for holding one-handed. I could lay on my side with my old Kindle and hold it in one hand and turn the pages with a quick press of my thumb on the appropriate button. I’ve gotten the knack of the one-handed read with the Paperwhite, but sometimes I don’t EXACTLY hit the touch screen in the right spot (the page won’t turn) or I hit it too high (and the menu screen slides down). I just don’t find it as comfortable.

Anyway, it’s still my favorite gadget. I’m a huge fan. 

P.S. Unless you do a lot of traveling, it’s probably not necessary to buy the more expensive Paperwhite 3G. My old Kindle was a 3G version but I was never far enough away from some Wifi source (coffee shops, whatever) to consider it a must-have feature. 

What I’ve Read:
Breathless: An American Girl in Paris by Nancy K. Miller - This memoir about Miller’s time in Paris during the 1960’s is a quick, delightful, melancholy read. She writes about trying to reconcile her glamorous ideas of Paris with the less-than-glamorous reality and much of the book contains her painfully honest accounts about her various romantic liaisons. Miller doesn’t gloss over her life or her relationships and it makes for a fascinating memoir that reads almost like a novel. 
Dear Life by Alice Munro - I haven’t read Alice Munro in a long time and I was in the mood for short stories. Then, once I started reading this, I realize why I rarely read them: Such a tease. The perfect length for me to read through before falling asleep at night, but Munro’s writing is so amazing and the stories so engrossing, that I was disappointed each time they ended. The autobiographical stories in this collection are the best parts of the book, though there are several others that are sticking with me (To Reach Japan and Gravel, which you can read here, among them). Each of the stories is arranged around a potentially life-changing event that sends the main character in a direction that is mostly open to interpretation by the reader. So—the imagination runs wild. This is a beautiful book. 
Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte - This book finally puts into words everything I feel on a daily basis. Schulte describes her rapid, scattered, multi-tasking-filled days as “time confetti.” Frustrated by it, she sets out to research why modern adults—and especially women and especially mothers—feel like there is never enough time in the day. Like most books of this ilk, she eventually drills down on the potential, pie-in-the-sky solutions that everyone seems to agree on but no one can implement globally: flexible work (in terms of everyone) and reliable childcare (in terms of parents in the workforce). This isn’t a book just for parents, though she does spend a lot of time on parenting-specific issues. It’s more of a modern, working adult book that also talks about how kids fit in or don’t fit in. Basically, everyone says they’re “busy.” Schulte wants to find out just how busy and why. Why don’t we take more time for ourselves? Why can’t we? Why is the workforce less productive but spending more time than ever at work? This is a great read and one of the best books I’ve read on this impossibly broad, nuanced topic. 
The Why of Things by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop - This book is a quiet gut punch I wasn’t expecting. It’s a novel about a family—father, mother, two daughters—going back to their summer house in Massachusetts to try and put their lives back to normal. Their oldest daughter died tragically about a year prior and the family is still uncertain about how to move forward and interact with one another. The book follows each family member in different ways, but it mostly shows each of them reacting to the death of a man in the quarry behind their summer house just after they arrive for the summer. After spotting tire tracks leading into the quarry, they call the authorities and a truck—and the dead driver, James Favazza—are pulled from the water. Each family member uses this event as a catalyst for examining their own feelings about their personal family tragedy. There are a few moments that were really raw and beautiful—the writing is fantastic. One part made me cry. If you read it, we’ll compare notes. 
What are you reading?

What I’ve Read:

  • Breathless: An American Girl in Paris by Nancy K. Miller - This memoir about Miller’s time in Paris during the 1960’s is a quick, delightful, melancholy read. She writes about trying to reconcile her glamorous ideas of Paris with the less-than-glamorous reality and much of the book contains her painfully honest accounts about her various romantic liaisons. Miller doesn’t gloss over her life or her relationships and it makes for a fascinating memoir that reads almost like a novel. 
  • Dear Life by Alice Munro - I haven’t read Alice Munro in a long time and I was in the mood for short stories. Then, once I started reading this, I realize why I rarely read them: Such a tease. The perfect length for me to read through before falling asleep at night, but Munro’s writing is so amazing and the stories so engrossing, that I was disappointed each time they ended. The autobiographical stories in this collection are the best parts of the book, though there are several others that are sticking with me (To Reach Japan and Gravel, which you can read here, among them). Each of the stories is arranged around a potentially life-changing event that sends the main character in a direction that is mostly open to interpretation by the reader. So—the imagination runs wild. This is a beautiful book. 
  • Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte - This book finally puts into words everything I feel on a daily basis. Schulte describes her rapid, scattered, multi-tasking-filled days as “time confetti.” Frustrated by it, she sets out to research why modern adults—and especially women and especially mothers—feel like there is never enough time in the day. Like most books of this ilk, she eventually drills down on the potential, pie-in-the-sky solutions that everyone seems to agree on but no one can implement globally: flexible work (in terms of everyone) and reliable childcare (in terms of parents in the workforce). This isn’t a book just for parents, though she does spend a lot of time on parenting-specific issues. It’s more of a modern, working adult book that also talks about how kids fit in or don’t fit in. Basically, everyone says they’re “busy.” Schulte wants to find out just how busy and why. Why don’t we take more time for ourselves? Why can’t we? Why is the workforce less productive but spending more time than ever at work? This is a great read and one of the best books I’ve read on this impossibly broad, nuanced topic. 
  • The Why of Things by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop - This book is a quiet gut punch I wasn’t expecting. It’s a novel about a family—father, mother, two daughters—going back to their summer house in Massachusetts to try and put their lives back to normal. Their oldest daughter died tragically about a year prior and the family is still uncertain about how to move forward and interact with one another. The book follows each family member in different ways, but it mostly shows each of them reacting to the death of a man in the quarry behind their summer house just after they arrive for the summer. After spotting tire tracks leading into the quarry, they call the authorities and a truck—and the dead driver, James Favazza—are pulled from the water. Each family member uses this event as a catalyst for examining their own feelings about their personal family tragedy. There are a few moments that were really raw and beautiful—the writing is fantastic. One part made me cry. If you read it, we’ll compare notes. 

What are you reading?

What I’ve Read:
Submergence by J. M. Ledgard - Both books I’m reviewing in this post are sensory treats, but this is the darker of the two. Submergence is about James More, an English spy who is captured by Somalia-based jihadists in the opening of the book. The rest of the tale—mainly about his love affair with an oceanographer he meets a hotel just before the Somalia trip—is explored in flashbacks, while their present stories are told in parallel through the end of the book. Danielle, the oceanographer, is unaware that James has been kidnapped, and is simply working and preparing for a research expedition to study deep-sea vents. (“Into the abyss” is a heavy-handed metaphor, but it works here.) The book goes back and forth between mostly straightforward prose (describing characters, conversations, happenings) and almost poetic philosophical “shorts” that become the thread tying all of it together. It was a beautiful, sad, thought-provoking book to read. Not a light read, but I’ve had enough of those lately. 
Alena by Rachel Pastan - I heard about this book and another (reviewed here) in an NPR interview and I’m so glad I read it. It’s a modern retelling of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and manages to capture some of the original intrigue from that book while re-imagining the setting and characters in exciting, new ways. We never learn the name of our protagonist, but we do know she met the owner of a Cape Cod-based art museum in Venice while attending an art festival and after spending some time with him there, accepted his offer to become the new curator of his museum. The former curator—Alena—disappeared mysteriously, but is assumed to have been swept out to sea during one of her regular nighttime ocean swims. Relatively inexperienced, the protagonist stumbles into the prestigious job with insecurities about her creative vision, made worse by the fact that the ghost of Alena haunts her incessantly. Alena’s office. Alena’s brilliance. Her beauty, confidence, worldliness. Everything about the museum is Alena and she struggles to find her place, while also navigating the relationship with her strangely distant new boss, the friendly town sheriff and the Alena-obsessed museum employees she now manages. The descriptions of contemporary art are reason enough to read this. The artwork is brought to life so realistically that it seemed I was actually looking at them. The Cape Cod setting is another highlight. The ocean plays a huge role in the book and the stormy, windy, unpredictable shoreline could almost be a separate character. There is a major difference between Alena and Rebecca (that I won’t spoil for you) and it recast the story and the relationships between the characters differently, but not in an unsatisfying way. I liked the modern spin, really enjoyed the book and found the last few pages especially good. 
I’m reading Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston now but am prowling for a new book for when I’m done with it. Any suggestions?

What I’ve Read:

  • Submergence by J. M. Ledgard - Both books I’m reviewing in this post are sensory treats, but this is the darker of the two. Submergence is about James More, an English spy who is captured by Somalia-based jihadists in the opening of the book. The rest of the tale—mainly about his love affair with an oceanographer he meets a hotel just before the Somalia trip—is explored in flashbacks, while their present stories are told in parallel through the end of the book. Danielle, the oceanographer, is unaware that James has been kidnapped, and is simply working and preparing for a research expedition to study deep-sea vents. (“Into the abyss” is a heavy-handed metaphor, but it works here.) The book goes back and forth between mostly straightforward prose (describing characters, conversations, happenings) and almost poetic philosophical “shorts” that become the thread tying all of it together. It was a beautiful, sad, thought-provoking book to read. Not a light read, but I’ve had enough of those lately. 
  • Alena by Rachel Pastan - I heard about this book and another (reviewed here) in an NPR interview and I’m so glad I read it. It’s a modern retelling of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and manages to capture some of the original intrigue from that book while re-imagining the setting and characters in exciting, new ways. We never learn the name of our protagonist, but we do know she met the owner of a Cape Cod-based art museum in Venice while attending an art festival and after spending some time with him there, accepted his offer to become the new curator of his museum. The former curator—Alena—disappeared mysteriously, but is assumed to have been swept out to sea during one of her regular nighttime ocean swims. Relatively inexperienced, the protagonist stumbles into the prestigious job with insecurities about her creative vision, made worse by the fact that the ghost of Alena haunts her incessantly. Alena’s office. Alena’s brilliance. Her beauty, confidence, worldliness. Everything about the museum is Alena and she struggles to find her place, while also navigating the relationship with her strangely distant new boss, the friendly town sheriff and the Alena-obsessed museum employees she now manages. The descriptions of contemporary art are reason enough to read this. The artwork is brought to life so realistically that it seemed I was actually looking at them. The Cape Cod setting is another highlight. The ocean plays a huge role in the book and the stormy, windy, unpredictable shoreline could almost be a separate character. There is a major difference between Alena and Rebecca (that I won’t spoil for you) and it recast the story and the relationships between the characters differently, but not in an unsatisfying way. I liked the modern spin, really enjoyed the book and found the last few pages especially good. 

I’m reading Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston now but am prowling for a new book for when I’m done with it. Any suggestions?

What I’ve Read: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol 
I heard the most charming review of this book (and another that I’m reading right now: Alena by Rachel Pastan) on NPR. I bought it as soon as I got my hands on my Kindle.
I wasn’t as charmed by the book as I was by the review, but it turned out to be the kind of light, palette-cleansing book that was exactly what I needed this week. 
The book was written in French and translated to English by two people and that (in hindsight) makes a lot of sense. The book can feel abruptly disjointed. Almost like two separate people translated it! -_____- Anyway, sometimes the prose flows well and other times it’s painfully obvious that French colloquialisms have been awkwardly transformed into English ones. Luckily I found this more of an annoyance than an actual distraction from the engaging story and characters. 
The book is about Josephine, a suburban Paris mom whose unemployed husband runs off to Kenya with his mistress to start a crocodile farm. To make matters worse, Josephine’s job as a researcher of 12th century France isn’t quite enough to pay the bills after her ex-husband takes out a loan in her name to get the crocodile farm underway. Left in financial straits (with a teenage and pre-teen daughter begging for new clothes and computers), she agrees to her wealthy/bored sister’s plan to ghostwrite a 12th century chick lit novel while her sister pretends to be the author and handles the promotion and interviews. Affairs, secrets and general mayhem ensues. (Of course.) 
Long story short? The book wasn’t perfect but it was fun. And fun is just right sometimes. 

What I’ve Read: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol 

I heard the most charming review of this book (and another that I’m reading right now: Alena by Rachel Pastan) on NPR. I bought it as soon as I got my hands on my Kindle.

I wasn’t as charmed by the book as I was by the review, but it turned out to be the kind of light, palette-cleansing book that was exactly what I needed this week. 

The book was written in French and translated to English by two people and that (in hindsight) makes a lot of sense. The book can feel abruptly disjointed. Almost like two separate people translated it! -_____- Anyway, sometimes the prose flows well and other times it’s painfully obvious that French colloquialisms have been awkwardly transformed into English ones. Luckily I found this more of an annoyance than an actual distraction from the engaging story and characters. 

The book is about Josephine, a suburban Paris mom whose unemployed husband runs off to Kenya with his mistress to start a crocodile farm. To make matters worse, Josephine’s job as a researcher of 12th century France isn’t quite enough to pay the bills after her ex-husband takes out a loan in her name to get the crocodile farm underway. Left in financial straits (with a teenage and pre-teen daughter begging for new clothes and computers), she agrees to her wealthy/bored sister’s plan to ghostwrite a 12th century chick lit novel while her sister pretends to be the author and handles the promotion and interviews. Affairs, secrets and general mayhem ensues. (Of course.) 

Long story short? The book wasn’t perfect but it was fun. And fun is just right sometimes. 

What I’ve Read
I’m way behind on reviews and couldn’t wait to share a few of these. 
The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg - I’ve given her books mediocre reviews before but this one—a continuation in her series about detective Patrik Hedstrom—is her best I’ve read yet. It was nuanced, thrilling and even though I figured out the BIG TWIST before the book revealed it, it didn’t feel like a letdown. 
Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson - I’ve had this on my Kindle forever but finally got around to reading it after we saw the movie. (I know, I know.) Regarding the book itself, I was pleased that Robinson made a genuine effort to capture Luttrell’s unique voice. Instead of organizing the story into more of a standard ghost-written “clean” form, it’s obvious that Luttrell’s telling of the story was conveyed pretty accurately onto the page. The content of book is, of course, immensely sad and powerful. The first part of the book is fascinating too—detailing Luttrell’s military background and SEAL training. 
Eat and Run by Scott Jurek - Ultramarathons. What fresh fuckery are these? I used to run (no longer!) but never at very long distances and it made me tired just reading about this guy running 150 miles and WINNING. His accomplishments seem almost super-human, but the book is incredibly down-to-earth and even includes his favorite recipes and various running/cross-training tips. I sometimes think about this book at the gym because no matter how much I’m sweating, at least I’m not voluntarily running a 150 mile race in Death Valley. 
The Best American Crime Reporting (2008) compiled by Jonathan Kellerman - I bought this on the Kindle during a daily deal promotion or something and I’m going to read the other collections as soon as possible. I don’t know how I haven’t gotten my paws on these before (RIGHT IN MY WHEELHOUSE), but the shorter articles included are perfect for fitting in right before I pass out asleep at night. The content is varied and it’s all interesting, but I liked two articles especially. One was about Charles Cullen (the subject of this book I reviewed last year) and the other was about Chinese military murdering Tibetan refugees in sight of climbers at the base of Cho Oyu. Pretty haunting. 
Remote by Jason Fried and David Hansson - If you work remotely or want to work remotely, this book is a must-read. It’s short, concise and fascinating. I expected it to include more strategy about the implementation or mechanics of remote working, but it focuses more deeply on why remote employees make sense and why employers need to take a closer look at the advantages of remote work. I wish there had been more of the former, but it was still worth the read. This is a subject that I think will see a lot more attention paid to it over the next 5-10 years and I enjoyed this as an opening act to what will likely become a pretty heated, ongoing conversation in the nonfiction book world about work flexibility and remote employees. As a side note, it’s written by the two founders of 37signals—I use their products for my work—and I liked hearing their philosophies in the context of how Basecamp, etc., make my job so much easier. 
Rustication by Charles Palliser - This is a contender for one of my top books of the year already but we’ve got a long way to go. Rustication really confounded me. I loved it, then hated it, then REALLY LOVED HATING IT then just plain loved it when it completely fooled me in the end. Rustication refers to the archaic term for being suspended from school for doing something naughty. In this case, our quite unlikable little protagonist Richard Shenstone is sent home from his school for reasons not quite explained but may have something to do with his opium addiction. He arrives at his family’s large but shabby and creepy home to find things looking a little suspicious—then VERY suspicious. He doesn’t know who he can trust and rumors and bloody happenings in his small town up the spook factor with each page. It’s the anti-Downton Abbey mixed with a little bit of the recent movie The Woman in Black and it pulled me ALL the way in. One more thing: The plot twists are pretty insane and I admit that they caught me completely by surprise. I love that. 
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed - What can I say about this that hasn’t already been said? Not much, probably. I bought this book a long time ago and didn’t touch it. I wasn’t ready to read it because, by all accounts, it would turn me into a quivering emotional mess and yes, that is accurate. It did. But it’s worth the emotional breakdown because in the end, I did feel like I was seeing things with a new compassionate clarity that was missing almost entirely before. If you’re looking for something to do tonight, I can think of no better book to start on Valentine’s Day than this. Not because it’s romantic or sweet or any of those treacly Valentine’s Day things. No—you should read it because it’s about loving yourself, choosing your truth and discovering that even the most unthinkable things or the most grievous mistakes don’t have to just be an ending. They can be a beginning too. 
What are you guys reading these days?

What I’ve Read

I’m way behind on reviews and couldn’t wait to share a few of these. 

  • The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg - I’ve given her books mediocre reviews before but this one—a continuation in her series about detective Patrik Hedstrom—is her best I’ve read yet. It was nuanced, thrilling and even though I figured out the BIG TWIST before the book revealed it, it didn’t feel like a letdown. 
  • Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson - I’ve had this on my Kindle forever but finally got around to reading it after we saw the movie. (I know, I know.) Regarding the book itself, I was pleased that Robinson made a genuine effort to capture Luttrell’s unique voice. Instead of organizing the story into more of a standard ghost-written “clean” form, it’s obvious that Luttrell’s telling of the story was conveyed pretty accurately onto the page. The content of book is, of course, immensely sad and powerful. The first part of the book is fascinating too—detailing Luttrell’s military background and SEAL training. 
  • Eat and Run by Scott Jurek - Ultramarathons. What fresh fuckery are these? I used to run (no longer!) but never at very long distances and it made me tired just reading about this guy running 150 miles and WINNING. His accomplishments seem almost super-human, but the book is incredibly down-to-earth and even includes his favorite recipes and various running/cross-training tips. I sometimes think about this book at the gym because no matter how much I’m sweating, at least I’m not voluntarily running a 150 mile race in Death Valley. 
  • The Best American Crime Reporting (2008) compiled by Jonathan Kellerman - I bought this on the Kindle during a daily deal promotion or something and I’m going to read the other collections as soon as possible. I don’t know how I haven’t gotten my paws on these before (RIGHT IN MY WHEELHOUSE), but the shorter articles included are perfect for fitting in right before I pass out asleep at night. The content is varied and it’s all interesting, but I liked two articles especially. One was about Charles Cullen (the subject of this book I reviewed last year) and the other was about Chinese military murdering Tibetan refugees in sight of climbers at the base of Cho Oyu. Pretty haunting. 
  • Remote by Jason Fried and David Hansson - If you work remotely or want to work remotely, this book is a must-read. It’s short, concise and fascinating. I expected it to include more strategy about the implementation or mechanics of remote working, but it focuses more deeply on why remote employees make sense and why employers need to take a closer look at the advantages of remote work. I wish there had been more of the former, but it was still worth the read. This is a subject that I think will see a lot more attention paid to it over the next 5-10 years and I enjoyed this as an opening act to what will likely become a pretty heated, ongoing conversation in the nonfiction book world about work flexibility and remote employees. As a side note, it’s written by the two founders of 37signals—I use their products for my work—and I liked hearing their philosophies in the context of how Basecamp, etc., make my job so much easier. 
  • Rustication by Charles Palliser - This is a contender for one of my top books of the year already but we’ve got a long way to go. Rustication really confounded me. I loved it, then hated it, then REALLY LOVED HATING IT then just plain loved it when it completely fooled me in the end. Rustication refers to the archaic term for being suspended from school for doing something naughty. In this case, our quite unlikable little protagonist Richard Shenstone is sent home from his school for reasons not quite explained but may have something to do with his opium addiction. He arrives at his family’s large but shabby and creepy home to find things looking a little suspicious—then VERY suspicious. He doesn’t know who he can trust and rumors and bloody happenings in his small town up the spook factor with each page. It’s the anti-Downton Abbey mixed with a little bit of the recent movie The Woman in Black and it pulled me ALL the way in. One more thing: The plot twists are pretty insane and I admit that they caught me completely by surprise. I love that. 
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed - What can I say about this that hasn’t already been said? Not much, probably. I bought this book a long time ago and didn’t touch it. I wasn’t ready to read it because, by all accounts, it would turn me into a quivering emotional mess and yes, that is accurate. It did. But it’s worth the emotional breakdown because in the end, I did feel like I was seeing things with a new compassionate clarity that was missing almost entirely before. If you’re looking for something to do tonight, I can think of no better book to start on Valentine’s Day than this. Not because it’s romantic or sweet or any of those treacly Valentine’s Day things. No—you should read it because it’s about loving yourself, choosing your truth and discovering that even the most unthinkable things or the most grievous mistakes don’t have to just be an ending. They can be a beginning too. 

What are you guys reading these days?

takenbythesky asked: I'm embarrassed to admit I have never read any Stephen King. Which book do you think is best to start with?

I love this question! 

My first Stephen King was The Stand so I’m partial to it as a starting point. It’s amazing and suspenseful enough to really get you hooked on his writing. Beware though: It’s really long. (A lot of his books are really long. Settle in!) 

A lot of purists believe in reading his books by publication date, but that’s a hell of a lot of books and a really daunting list. The reasons for doing so are valid though: There are a lot of overlapping locations, characters and easter eggs you’ll start to pick up on if you do it this way. Of course, some books are overtly connected (The Dark Tower series or books with sequels). 

Anyway, once you’ve read The Stand, read Carrie. Normally I’d recommend The Shining after Carrie, but hold off for a little bit. Instead read The Dead Zone. (The Dead Zone is another one of my favorites.) Salem’s Lot would be another good one to read here. Then Cujo. Pet Sematary after Cujo. 

And now you’re ready for It. (Although I don’t think anyone is ever fully ready for It.) 

Once you’ve recovered, you’ll need a palette cleanser. Time for The Green Mile

If you like dystopian-type stuff, The Long Walk and The Running Man are shorter, intense reads that would be good to sneak in at this point. 

Okay—now haul out The Shining. Once you’re done that, read Doctor Sleep

At this point, you’ll have read enough of his books to really appreciate the genius detail, plotting and characterization of 11/22/63, the book that I will name as my favorite King if I’m pushed to choose only one. 

I have to mention the Dark Tower series before I go because it is a vitally important part of his body of work, but you may want to hold off on reading them until you have finished many of his other books. It’s King at his most dense and metaphorical—best enjoyed once you have some of his other stories under your belt. 

Do you have any suggestions?

Best and Worst Books I Read in 2013

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I didn’t expect to read many books this year. There was no particular reason for this outlook—just a general feeling I had last January. I was a little pessimistic. I set a goal of 50. And then I surprised myself! I read over 70. Some were Kindle Singles (is that cheating?), but I included them anyway. 

This turned out to be a good year for reading. I had multiple moments where I thought I would never be able to top my last read and then the next book would blow me away. There are a few books that I know will go down as all-time, life-changing favorites for me.

2013 as a whole was not my favorite year, but I will look back fondly on the very excellent books  that came into my life in the past twelve months. 

The Best Books:

Best Fiction: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Best Nonfiction: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

Best Memoir: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

Best Parenting Book: Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Best Short Read: Murder in the Yoga Store by Peter Ross Range

And here are the rest:

Read Today

Read Later

Don’t Bother

To read my reviews of these books, follow me on Goodreads or click here. See the list for 2012 here and 2011 here

What are your best and worst books of the year?