Jan 302013
 
Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

…America had picked up the globe by the heels and shaken the change from its pockets….So all of us were drunk to some degree. We launched ourselves into the evening like satellites and orbited the city two miles above the Earth, powered by failing foreign currencies and finely filtered spirits. We shouted over the dinner tables and slipped away into empty rooms with each other’s spouses, carousing with all the enthusiasm and indiscretion of Greek gods. And in the morning, we woke at 6:30 on the dot, clearheaded and optimistic, ready to resume our places behind the stainless steel desks at the helm of the world.

Though this quote opens the novel in the 1960s, it’s apt for just about any generation, and it’s so lovely, so absolutely sad and lovely, that I had to include it, though it’s a bit long.

At a Walker Evans photography show in the 60s, Katey Kontent sees two photographs of Tinker Grey, one where he’s gaunt and very obviously broke and another where he’s dressed to the nines, handsome and smiling. Katey tells her husband she once knew him, and he points out that Tinker must have done well for himself when Katey corrects him and tells him the latter picture was in 1938, the former in 1939.

Katey then recalls the fateful night she met Tinker Grey in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, New Year’s Eve, 1937. One night of fun and champagne, and both Katey and her best friend Eve are smitten with Tinker’s charm and his obvious affluence. There is a desperation, particularly in Eve, that makes each scene with her feel electrified. When the three are together in a horrible accident, they are separated, unable to relate to one another, Eve’s electricity pitch high. On her own and a bit in love with Tinker, Katey thrives without Eve, meeting new people and slowly coming into her own.

This is the kind of New York City tale I love. Poor girl tries hard, and with a bit of grit, gains a whole lot of glamour. The descriptions of the girls and their rooms reminded me of the 1937 RKO film Stage Door, in which Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Lucille Ball all make appearances as aspiring actresses. Here, as in that film, Katey and Eve are young and flippant, full of sharp dialogue and sharper dreams.

And if you couldn’t already tell, I adored this book.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Jun 182012
 

Ahh, New York. I was still in recover mode last week, thus the smallish number of posts. But today! Today I give you a gratuitous number of photos to share my time in New York, so even though it’s Monday, you can escape for a bit. Wednesday I’ll be back with the books I picked up and will even share! Mark your calendars.

My brother lives in this wondrous land called Long Island City, or the LIC. Don’t tell, but it’s a fantastic secret neighborhood. Ok, not really, but it feels like it. One short stop from the city, and it’s right by the water and has a fantastic park. When I got in Thursday afternoon, the weather was perfect, and we took a tour of the area.

And, of course, had to get a skyline shot.

Friday, my brother, Matt, took off work, and we wandered the city, eating Cuban corn, seeing the dude from the Mayhem commercials, and watching books hang themselves.

Saturday was a picnic in Prospect Park with friends and fruit, tomato-mozzarella sandwiches, prosecco, and rose. Oh, and the Radical Fairies, a group of men in drag. Never a dull moment.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was free for the day, was our next stop. I’ve wanted to visit for years but have never made it until this trip. Lovely.

The bark on this tree was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Matt and his beau Christopher relaxing in the softest. grass. ever.

Me and Matt relaxing in the softest. grass. ever. Seriously, I hate grass, but this was almost better than my mattress.

Monday and Book Blog Uncon, which I wrote about last week.

Lori from TNBBC, one half of the reason I had the most fantastic time at BEA. Tara from Book Sexy Review is the other.

Monday evening I went to the IPPY Awards and met Larry Closs, whose fantastic book Beatitude I reviewed here. He won a gold medal in the LGBTQ category, and he and his friend John and I chatted for a good while. It was so nice to meet him!

Amy Shamroe and I. Amy was nice enough to include me in this really cool event, and it was so great to meet her in person.

Tuesday was the official start of BEA, and I met up with Julie from Julz Reads for breakfast before heading to the Javits.

For lunch, the “3 Shades of Jenn” Jenn from Jenn’s Bookshelves, Me, and Jenn from Literate Housewife (not sure I’ve ever been so thrilled to meet a Twitter person in person!) sat down with some great audiobook narrators, including Xe Sands and Karen White, both of whom I know from Twitter.

This was also shortly before I made a total fool of myself in front of The Novogratzes. (Seriously, I called everyone I knew afterward because I was so darn excited to meet this interior design SUPER duo.) I love their style and saw them from a row over. They weren’t signing, but the publicist dragged me over and introduced me because I was a fan. I was shaking and kept saying ridiculous things, but Cortney and I chatted about the Brooklyn Flea Market, and she gave me tips on a couple other places to check out. It was thrilling.

Ashley, Tara from Book Sexy Review, Amanda from Dead White Guys, Rachel from A Home Between Pages, Lori from TNBBC, Me, and Alix from Romance Books Forum

Wednesday may have been the best day ever. Ok, Wednesday was the best day ever. First of all, I attended the Power Reader breakfast at Random House. Just being in Random House? Amazing. Meeting these ladies? Even more amazing.

Farin from The Redheaded Reader, Jenn from Literate Housewife, Jenn from Jenn’s Bookshelves, Swapna from S. Krishna’s Books

I made the rounds, also getting to meet Farin from The Redheaded Reader for the first time.

But this. This right here. How can this not be “best day ever” material? I talked to Nate Berkus, and he was so friendly and kind and handsome. I seriously could barely focus on anything else I was so excited to meet him.

Then I spent the day touring booths. This was at the Chronicle booth where Chris Bonanos had this amazing camera and was taking photos for each copy he signed of his book Instant: The History of the Polaroid.

Wednesday evening I got to meet the fantastic Lydia Hirt of Riverhead Books, who organized a cocktail party for bloggers who were part of a book tour for Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone.

After that, I dashed over to Central Park where my brother (an event planner) was helping to supervise an important soiree. Christopher (on the right) and I made the most of the evening, watching how the 1% live. :)

Friday I walked the High Line, which is absolutely beautiful. One of the highlights was seeing the artwork some of the residents have as you walk. This installation actually glows in the dark at night. So cool. Shortly after this I went to the Chelsea Market.

Friday afternoon I walked for ages, trying to get to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum. When I was two blocks away, I see a sign stating it won’t be open until Fall 2013. So I ducked into the National Academy instead. They had an exhibit called “Women’s Work” – it was really interesting, and they also had a collection of Mary Cassatt’s work, which I love.

Then it was time for some Billy’s Bakery. Banana cupcakes. I don’t even like banana, but these are amazing. I told the guy behind the counter that this craving was a year in the making. He wisely got a big box out. :)

Lusting after a brownstone in Chelsea.

Me and the bro before I left Saturday morning. A huge thanks to both him and Christopher for letting me crash in their dining room – and for making an air mattress the most insanely comfortable thing I’ve slept on aside from my own bed. Love you both.

Jun 112012
 

Monday. 9 a.m. Bryant Park. New Yorkers wrapped sweaters and scarves around themselves, grumbling that June 1 is a ridiculous time to wear a scarf. I agreed. Two women sat near the fountain, huddled against the cold, and thankfully, I received a tweet telling me to look for a brown sweater and a black jacket.

This was the start of Book Blog Uncon for me last Monday morning. There early, Tara from Book Sexy Review and Lori from TNBBC warmed the day by being so darn sweet, and we enjoyed meeting several others before heading over to the Bank of America lounge across the street and meeting Jeff from The Reading Ape and Book Riot and Rebecca from Book Lady’s Blog and Book Riot. We were joined by several others and headed over to the Center for Fiction at The New School (who so graciously allowed us to use the space for free).

We quickly set up in the beautiful center before Jeff asked us to present our possible session ideas. We tossed ours out, decided which might pair well together, and chose the ones in which the group was most interested. Then we broke the day up into hour-long sessions, with two sessions going at the same time (this ended up devolving into large-group sessions).

Immediately, I enjoyed the format of the Uncon. I liked everyone having input and creating a conference that met our specific needs. I also liked that people took ownership over the various topics. The first session broke into two groups: Close Reading and State of the Industry.

Close Reading

The close reading session was interesting, though Lori, Tara, and I later discussed how we wished we had taken the conversation further into how we could use this in our own blogging as opposed to a simple academic practice alone. At lunch, we brainstormed that taking an opening sentence from a book or chapter and querying readers for possible interpretations might be a more interesting way to discuss it as opposed to only giving our own interpretations, and I really liked that. As a teacher, this is one of the things I encourage my students to do. I don’t want them to tell me what they think I think it means; I want them to delve into it using their own faculties.

Social Media

After the first time slot, the group seemed interested in the same topics, so we came together in what I envision as basically a Twitter conversation…in person. Ironically, we discussed social media: why have it, how to manage it, and who is on it. Though I wished there was a bit more direction with the conversation, it was still really interesting to see the different perspectives.

For example, I have personally allowed my Twitter account to become much more personal than it used to be. I tweet about random things, not just about books. Amy from Amy Reads said the same thing. Lori from TNBBC doesn’t have time to be on Twitter throughout the day and just wants to see bookish tweets when she gets home. She only follows book people as well. Personally, I enjoy the people I follow on Twitter who aren’t so one dimensional, but obviously that’s a very personal sentiment. We also discussed anonymity and how difficult it is in this era to truly remain anonymous.

Similar to this discussion, we talked about branding, the “four-letter word” some people steer clear from. I jumped in and said that I personally really like the idea of branding and don’t consider it a four-letter word, when someone else pointed out that many people consider “branding” just another word for “marketing.” I can certainly see why some would relate the two in this world of monetization. So what do I mean? Rebecca at Book Lady’s Blog is a perfect example: if you look at her blog, you know you can expect some sauciness. If that’s not your thing, you know to look elsewhere. Rebecca continues this across her platforms, and on Twitter, she’s also pretty saucy. Hopefully, here you know what to expect as well. I’m a picky gal, and I’m not afraid to say it plainly. You guys know I get persnickety, and you know that continues across the board in books, film, design, and on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Creating Community/Dealing with Conflict in Comments

After lunch, we discussed commenting, creating community, and how to deal with conflict in comments. One of the best things I got out of this, and I honestly can’t remember if anyone said it or if I just dreamt it: What do you want out of your comments? Personally, I want conversation. That’s partially why I switched to disqus because I think it’s easier for other people to respond to anyone’s comment, not just my own. I teach, but having a conversation about a book in class is still very different from having a general conversation about a book or topic. Others mentioned they want comments for affirmation, and I’d say everyone wants that to a certain degree. Lori from TNBBC talked about how she got into blogging “backwards,” starting a Goodreads group that self polices and has spawned multiple groups and boards. Therefore, most of her conversation occurs there and not on her blog. She also mentioned that her Goodreads group feels like a more natural conversation. Others mentioned that they get a lot of response to reviews on Facebook or Twitter and wish it translated back to the blog. Jeff from the podcast Reading and Writing said he uses a plugin called Livefyre, which pulls comments from other platforms (I will definitely be looking into this).

As for harsh comments, almost everyone agreed that there is a difference between constructive and well-said disagreements and personal attacks. Amanda from Dead White Guys asked if anyone disables anonymous comments because most of the issues she has come into play when someone comments anonymously. Lori states she moderates and deletes any personal attacks. Amy from Amy Reads said she has had some backlash in comments from friends of authors but that most are respectful, and she acknowledges that.

Book Reviewing/Future of Book Blogging

Lastly, we discussed book reviewing in general and the future of book blogging. High on everyone’s list was the subject of DNF. Personally, I don’t ever not finish a book. Jeff is the same way. Rachel from A Home Between Pages is quick to abandon a book if it doesn’t feel like the right fit and will tell readers why on her blog. She finds these reviews spawn conversation and that she has even passed on a book to a commenter who expressed interest in it. Most said they enjoy hearing why someone will not finish a book. Again, this is a personal sentiment, but I have read enough books that really turn around for me halfway through or even further that I don’t feel I can accurately review a book without finishing it.

This also led to a conversation about reviewing: Do you review every book you read? I don’t, and I’m honestly not even sure I can articulate why. I just don’t. I review most of what I read but not all. I had an aside with Rachel and Jeff, telling them that at times if I’m not feeling well, I’ll pick up a throwaway book that I don’t expect to be all that good but that I just want something light to read. Jeff said these types of books may be the most interesting reviews. Also, Rachel said she loved dystopian YA novels but doesn’t review them. When I asked her why, she said that she doesn’t feel there is anything constructive for her to say. She just loves them and can’t quite express why and doesn’t feel that is all that helpful to her readers.

As to the future of book blogs, there was much conversation about how many blogs are becoming “niche” blogs. You go to Blog A for romance, Blog B for mysteries, Blog C for YA, Blog D for Paranormal, etcetera, etcetera. This disturbs me as an eclectic reader. This blog will never fit all that neatly into a category, and if that stifles it a bit, I’m ok with that. My reading doesn’t fit neatly into a category. I don’t read because I blog; I blog as an extension of what I read. We also discussed the personality of blogs and why we think our personas are so important to the success of our readership.

Wrapup

One of the things Jeff said that I found most interesting was his comment that the Uncon was really an expression of how effective social media is. What began as an idea on Twitter grew to have its own blog and Twitter account (kudos to Cassandra at Indie Reader Houston) and then to its own meeting in New York City. Like it or not, social media is an incredibly interesting tool that is changing the way we work and communicate.

For its first time out of the gate, I thought the Uncon was really great. As Teresa at Shelf Love mentioned in her post, nothing at Uncon changed the way I will blog; however, it certainly initiated thought and introspection about how and why I blog. In the future, I think it would be helpful to delineate sessions a bit more and to also have the person proposing the idea speak for 5-10 minutes as to the focus of the session before opening comments, perhaps posing questions to the group. However, all in all, this was the conference I wanted to attend, and I’m so glad I did. There are few experts in book blogging, and I enjoyed having all levels of experience participate in this conversation, contributing and querying. This was not the sort of discussion where people asked questions they knew the answer to already. Instead, this was a genuine expression of a group of people interested in books and blogging and readers.

Other recaps:

Shelf Love

Dead White Guys

Libereading

 

May 292012
 

*This book was sent to me by the publisher Riverhead Books (Penguin) for a TLC Book Tour in exchange for an honest review.

It’s the roaring 20s, and amid the controversy of speakeasies, flapper skirts, rising hemlines, and short hairstyles are two women stuck in Wichita, Kansas, each aching for change in different ways. Louise Brooks is 15, intelligent, cynical, and a fantastic dancer ready to start her career by attending the Denishawn School of Dancing, where Martha Graham also originated. Cora Carlisle, on the other hand, is 36, lonely, and curious about her roots. Left in a Home for Friendless Girls in New York at age 3, Cora was later sent out on a train with other girls to be adopted – some as members of the family and others as indentured servants. Though Cora was lucky and loved by the Kaufmann family, she wants to revisit the orphanage to find out anything she can about the mother who left her there.

Offering herself as chaperone to Louise for a month in the summer seems simple enough, but Louise is determined to make it as difficult as possible. She mocks Cora’s lifestyle and beliefs, her strict societal code, the corset she wears faithfully. Cora believes the girl needs a mother, one who will care for her and guide her as Louise’s own mother does not, but slowly she comes to see Louise as wise beyond her years, causing Cora to question her beliefs and open herself up to the possibility of change.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty is both a coming-of-age story and a coming-into-her-own story, and the novel has so much heart. Though Louise is the obvious protagonist, she is not who Moriarty focuses the story on. Instead, she tells the story of Cora. Cora, who loves her adoptive family but experiences grief at a young age. Cora, who loves her husband but has no intimacy with him. Cora, whose children are going to college, leaving her alone in the house and lonely.

Cora is a product of her generation. She supports Prohibition and is appalled at the changing trends of the 20s. Choosing to leave her husband for a month to chaperone Louise in New York is a monumental decision, and one that, if her husband didn’t have a secret that could destroy him, she may not have been allowed to make. And Louise doesn’t make it easy; she’s condescending and rude to Cora, holding Cora up as the worst of society. But Cora does the same to Louise, even though she sees moments where Louise is kind, but slowly she realizes the ludicrousness of some of the social mores of her times and begins to change, living a lifestyle Louise would probably approve, and as she notes beautifully about her changing perspective, “She was grateful life could be long.”

That summer is just one part of the book, but its effects follow Cora back to Kansas, and though the latter half of this book witnesses the changes wrought in Cora, at times it felt like a recitation of Cora’s philanthropic goals. However, this isn’t an action novel. It’s intended to be an examination of a life, of Cora as wholly new woman, a woman changed who appreciates her husband Alan in new ways, who is on the board of a home for unwed mothers, and who is unafraid to live a life she loves, even if it is in secret.

As Cora says near the end of the novel:

She was every Cora she’d ever been: Cora X, Cora Kaufmann, Cora Carlisle. She was an orphan on a roof, a lucky girl on a train, a dearly loved daughter by chance. She was a blushing bride of seventeen, a sad and stoic wife, a loving mother, an embittered chaperone, and a daughter pushed away. She was a lover and a lewd cohabitator … a champion of the fallen, and a late-in-coming fighter for reason over fear….she knew who she was.

The Chaperone is a novel of identity and its fluidity, but it’s also a novel of decency and basic human understanding whose power is in highlighting the beauty of something as simple as acceptance and love.

Preorder The Chaperone (out June 5, 2012) by Laura Moriarty from Indiebound or for your Nook.

Check out other reviews at the TLC website.

Mar 202012
 

*I borrowed this book from my local library.

Ok, so I didn’t exactly love the first Emily Giffin book I read. The main character/narrator drove me bonkers, and I just couldn’t sympathize with her selfishness. In fact, I probably never would have picked up this author again except that Elyse from Pop Culture Nerd and I had a pretty long discussion about Sophie Kinsella’s new book I’ve Got Your Number and we mentioned some of what we love about Kinsella. She makes strong heroines who aren’t necessarily going to give up who they are in order to be with a man. That’s a rarity in these types of books. [See my review of 666 Park Avenue.]

When I was at the library last week, I picked up Love the One You’re With and decided to read a few chapters before I fell asleep. This usually goes one of two ways: My eyes get heavy and within two chapters, I put the book down, not because it’s boring but because I’m not that into it or I’m really tired. Or, I stay up until 3 am, not daring to look at the clock, so intense am I on finishing a book. This book definitely fit in the latter category.

Ellen has been married for 100 days exactly when she passes her ex in a New York City crosswalk. The ex with whom she had an extremely intense relationship that broke off with little warning and no further contact. When he calls her and meets up with her in a diner, her heart drops to her stomach, and her knees go weak. This isn’t a normal reaction when you’re a newlywed, right? Ellen feels guilty immediately, going home to her husband Andy and trying to forget about Leo, but it isn’t easy. Leo was her passion, the kind of boyfriend that almost makes a girl self destruct because she cares so much, but the breakup spurred her to begin her successful photography career and to begin dating Andy, her college roommate and best friend Margot’s brother. For a girl from Pittsburgh who lost her mother at age 13, being a Graham is as close to being a Kennedy as a girl can get. The Grahams love Ellen, and they’re quite wealthy, part of Atlanta’s elite.

So why does Ellen fantasize about Leo? And why is she feeling more and more trapped by the family that loves her?

What did I think of Ellen? Ellen is so real. Very often, with chick lit or women’s lit or whatever you want to call it, the girl is with a real loser, and the other guy is so obviously the right choice that you want to smack her upside the head until she realizes the error of her ways. In Love the One You’re With, both of these guys are great, and one of the things Elyse pointed out stuck with me: “If I were her friend, I’d have a hard time giving her advice.” Because the choice to be with either of these men means a very different life and lifestyle for Ellen – not better of worse – just different. Until the end, I was honestly not sure which way Ellen was leaning, and I was ok with that.

What made this book stand apart from other chick lit books? Ellen loves her career. She’s a photographer, and she’s serious about it. She isn’t giving it up because her husband is a wealthy attorney. Plus, there aren’t 20 shopping trips to Barney’s where she spends 2 years of my salary on clothing. In fact, fashion is rarely, if ever, mentioned in the book except to distinguish how Leo and Andy dress. It was so refreshing to find a woman whose every waking breath wasn’t focused on ways to spend her money.

Why does Ellen even think about ditching Andy? Andy is wealthy, and though in many chick lit books, this is the heroine’s pass to spend tons of money on Chanel and Marchesa, Ellen actually sees it as a drawback instead of a bragging point. The couple moves to Atlanta to be closer to Andy’s family, and Ellen feels claustrophobic. She misses New York. She misses the energy she put into her photography because she just doesn’t feel the same way about Atlanta. Plus, she feels pressured to act a certain way or to have certain luxuries that she isn’t really comfortable with. So the problem is really that Andy doesn’t pick up on all of this, more than that there is something really wrong with their relationship.

So who does Ellen choose? Well, I’m certainly not going to divulge that juicy bit of gossip. You’ll just have to read this one yourself, and I highly recommend it.

If anyone has other books that sound like they break the chick lit mold, send me the titles! [pretty please]

Buy this from Indiebound or for your Nook.

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