Posts Tagged ‘4.5 out of 5’

1st May
2012
written by Steph

The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

[Note: this review is also posted at travel blog, Twenty Years Hence. Sorry for the cross-post for those of you who are subscribed to both (but thanks for supporting all our endeavors!).]
For me, the very best books, regardless of genre, are the ones that whisk me away from my own life and allow me to see and understand the world in a way I hadn’t before. If there’s one type of book with an innate affinity to do this very thing, surely it is the travel memoir! The very best of their kind aren’t just about traveling around in strange lands, encountering odd social customs and nibbling on questionable foods—though those anecdotes are fascinating in their own ways)—but are about the personal transformation that occurs when we venture out of our homes and leave the safety and security of the familiar behind.
As my own big trip looms larger with each passing day, it’s no surprise that I’ve been increasingly drawn to travel writing these past few months. Maybe I’m hoping to pick up tips and tricks along the way to ensure my trip is more successful, or maybe I’m hoping for inspiration… deep down, I think I just want reassurance that Tony and I aren’t alone in this dream and that leaving our current life to travel will turn out ok. I know that even in the pages of books, happy endings aren’t guaranteed, but I still can’t help but search for them nevertheless. To this end, I’ve been really gratified to find that the Nashville Public Library system has an awesome digitial travel collection, the irony being that now I can travel the world without even leaving the comfort of my home, not even to get a book! If that’s not the best of both worlds, then I don’t know what is. Anyway, NPL has a pretty bitchin’ selection of titles, ranging from actual travel guides to help you plan your stay, to memoirs and pieces of writing to inspire you to get off your lazy butt and actually go somewhere. This is how I stumbled across The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost (known as TGGG henceforth). (more…)
19th October
2011
written by Steph

Quick question for you: are you one of those drivers who loves to rubberneck? You know the kind of driver I mean – the one who slows to a crawl whenever a traffic accident occurs, rolling by at 15 mph so that you can get a good look at the crash in all its faded glory. Don’t even bother denying that you don’t do it, because I’ve been stuck in enough traffic due to people needing to gawk at fender benders to know that the human tendency to stop and stare at tragedy is hard to resist. If you’re worried this is about to escalate into a judgmental diatribe about bad drivers, fear not! Rather, all this talk of ogling wrecks is merely a prelude to discussing Lauren Grodstein’s A Friend of the Family, which is kind of like literary ode to the trainwrecks of life. Note, that there aren’t any actual trains or vehicular accidents that occur in this novel, but so much shit goes down in it that it is certainly the metaphorical equivalent! The back cover of A Friend of the Family is rather opaque but alluring in its description of the novel, and I do think this is one of those novels where its best to let Grodstein do the storytelling rather than me sharing it secondhand. All I really knew going into this book was that it involves two families (the Dizinoffs and the Sterns) who used to be quite close but ultimately grew apart when a scandal involving the Stern’s eldest daughter takes place. Flashforward a decade or so and the Dizinoffs are struggling with their own set of problems… problems that come to a head when fallen daughter, Laura Stern, reemerges and reenters the picture, not at all afraid to cause some problems and with her sights set on the Dizinoff’s only son. (more…)
13th June
2011
written by Steph

Maggie O’Farrell is one of those authors who I feel is sadly overlooked by readers and bloggers alike. I guess I can’t fully fault those of you who have yet to discover her since I myself am rather late to the party, only having discovered O’Farrell last year when I had the great fortune to review The Hand That First Held Mine for BookPage. I completely admit that I picked the ARC in part because the cover was SO pretty, and when I started to read it, well, it turned out the writing was ALSO pretty. Win, win, win! One thing I feel like a lot of authors seem to do nowadays is play with interleaved narratives and storylines, taking seemingly disparate characters only to ultimately have their stories/lives intersect in some way. Another popular device of late has been the nonlinear storyline, in which readers are thrust back and forth in time, which has the great risk of being befuddling and confusing if not well done. I enjoy both of these devices, but I’ve seen enough of each to know that neither is a guarantee for a novel’s success as both can be employed rather shabbily. Of course, a novel that manages to incorporate both devices effectively has the high probability of lying in my literary sweet spot and being something I will love vociferously. I like books that some might term “head-scratchers”, and so I tend to enjoy books that make the gears of my mind turn as I read and attempt to piece everything together. The Hand That First Held Mine was a great example of the non-linear and dual narrative joining to produce literary bliss, so I immediately flagged O’Farrell as an author whose back catalogue I should read in its entirety. (more…)
26th May
2011
written by Steph

Many moons ago, I wrote something that prompted myriads of book bloggers to recommend that I read Notes on a Scandal by Zöe Heller. It may have been when I wrote my review of her most recent novel, The Believers, but I think the recommendations stemmed from even earlier. What’s really important here, however, is that tons of people told me that I should read this book because it was awesome and I would love it, and after I read and enjoyed The Believers, I completely believed that was the truth. If you were one of those people who told me to read this book, then consider this a big thank-you because you were indeed right. I have now read Notes on a Scandal and it was everything I hoped it would be (and more!). From the very beginning, NoaS starts of with a bang. Through the diary of Barbara Covett, an elderly teacher at a local comprehensive school, we learn that her colleague and good friend Sheba has been charged with having a sexual affair with one of her students, a 15-year-old boy named Steven Connolly. Barbara shares with us how her relationship with Sheba evolved as well as how she gained knowledge of the affair and how she and Sheba have been dealing with the fallout following its revelation. The topic of a teacher-student relationship is salacious enough that many readers would probably be drawn to the novel for that reason alone, but for those who find such subject matter distasteful or vulgar, I must assure you that there are plenty of other wonderful reasons to read this book. (more…)
16th May
2011
written by Steph

It is official: I have a new girl crush. Most of the objects of my Sapphic affection tend to be these really brilliant brainy ladies (who have kick-ass senses of humor), so it should come as no surprise that I am now inducting Scarlett Thomas into my club of “Women I Would Go Gay For”. She is just so very smart! What can I say? Most men tend to appreciate either boobs or legs, but me, I’m all about your cerebral cortex. I read my first Scarlett Thomas book, Our Tragic Universe, last year, and found it immensely provocative. I didn’t think it was a perfect novel, but so few are, and I found the ideas that Thomas explored there so irresistible and vital that I knew I would need to read more things by her. Since her books are thinking novels, I found that my appreciation for OTU grew as my distance to it increased; I found I couldn’t stop thinking about the quandaries Thomas had posed and I had increasingly strong desires to reread it. So when I saw a copy of The End of Mr. Y on my friend Trisha’s bookshelf, I immediately asked to borrow it so I could continue my exploration of Thomas’s oeuvre and all the wacky ideas she poses. (more…)
3rd May
2011
written by Steph

Sorry for the recent spate of blog neglect, faithful readers. Real life has been rather hectic as I spent much of April preparing to present a proposal for a series of studies I intend to carry out in pursuit of my doctoral degree to my committee, a task I completed (successfully!) yesterday. It turns out that graduate school is a rather time-consuming and mentally exhausting endeavor at time, so I apologize for using my spare time for little more than movie watching and video game playing. Now that writing a 60 page document is out of the way, I hope that I'll find the vim and vigor to resume my duties here at S&TI! To kick things off this month, I reviewed Siri Hustvedt's newest novel, The Summer Without Men, over at BookPage. This was my first Hustvedt novel, but I can assure you, it shan't be my last. I was blown away by the intellectual depth that is present in her writing, and I loved the complex female dynamics and innerworkings that she explored in this novel. I tore through it due to my looming review deadline, but truly this is a book meant to be read slowly and thought about deeply. I will very much need to read it again, in part because Hustvedt's prose is so deceptively simple that it's all too easy to chug it down when you really should be sipping. If you're at all interested in fiction that features women so real it's like looking in a mirror, then get yourself a copy of this book posthaste! For more details, you can read my full review here.
9th February
2011
written by Steph

Way back in 2010, I read a rave review of Orion You Came And You Took All My Marbles over at Hungry Like the Woolf. Better yet, Kerry was hosting a giveaway and I was lucky enough to win! Don’t you just love it when that happens? From Kerry’s review, I knew I was in for a wild and crazy ride, but this is the kind of book that defies description. The only way to understand what it is is to get up close and personal your very self. It’s the only way you have half a chance of appreciating the absurd, befuddling world that first-time author Kira Henehan has created. With books this good, simply hearing from someone else how good they are is a bit like having salt rubbed in a wound. I mean, I’d hate to steal all the fun of it from you. Talking to you about this book is almost like taking a picture of something amazing, like the Eiffel Tower, and expecting you to feel like you were standing at its base. Or perhaps even worse, it might be more like taking a picture of a picture of the Eiffel Tower, diluting its power even further. (more…)
31st January
2011
written by Steph

"Oh my God!"

If The Catcher in the Rye is considered required reading for teens in high school, then I definitely think that A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole should be required reading for those at college and university. It’s not that Dunces’ central character (and some (where some = me) might argue, the titular character as well) is what Holden Caulfield would be at age 30, because truthfully there is only one Ignatius J. Reilly (and that’s a good thing)! But as I read through Dunces, I kept thinking that for all of its absurd twists and outlandish moments, there is a part of it that very much deals with being out in the real world and figuring out what to do with your time and yourself, and just making it through all of the bizarre curve balls life (or, as Ignatius would claim, Fortuna) has a way of throwing at you. (more…)
8th December
2010
written by Steph

Why oh why don’t more people read Kate Atkinson? That is what I found myself wondering as I put down my most recent Atkinson novel, Emotionally Weird, a novel I can really only describe as a triumph of literary imagination. I know that some people get all in a tizzy over Atkinson’s detective fiction starring Jackson Brodie, but I admit that this always makes me grumpy, mostly because I think Atkinson’s non-mystery fiction is so superior. And I’m not just trampling on her whodunnits for the sake of being crabby; I legitimately think Atkinson writes whip-smart novels that make me giddy and make me marvel but I think she does her best work when she’s writing whatever this kind of novel is and not when she’s writing about smoking guns and missing persons and whathaveyou. She’s one of those authors who uses her books to truly create something that’s just slightly larger than life, which means her writing is always a real treat to escape into. (more…)
13th September
2010
written by Steph

Moon Tiger won the 1987 Man Booker prize, and yet I feel like it’s a book that few people know about or think to read. That’s a real shame, because there’s a lot to like about this powerful and thoughtful novel. Provided you aren’t one who is put off by narratives that are largely reflective in nature and spend a good deal of time musing about society, history, the general nature of life (and one’s position in it), love, family, and evolution within one’s lifetime. It’s a novel of ideas and one I found very provocative and also rather mesmerizing… but those looking for lots of action and linear plot structures should certainly look elsewhere. Moon Tiger is a novel based around a dying woman’s recollections of her life. As Claudia Hampton lays dying in a hospital bed in London, she drifts in and out of consciousness and memory, dwelling on her past and how it has informed her present, determined to write a history of the world in which she is the central character. Having spent much of her life as a “popular historian” of sorts, this final endeavor is second-nature to Claudia, and as she attempts to frame the events of her own life, we are given a vivid peek into the life of a brash and determined woman as she struggles with the ever-shifting sands of the world. (more…)
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