Tag Archives: Riverhead Books

Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

3rd July 2013

pg1*I received this book from the publisher, Riverhead Books, in exchange for an honest review.

In the opening pages of The Other Typist, beginning with the first line, “They said the typewriter would unsex us,” Suzanne Rindell immediately displays her writing chops, linking the typewriter, the women who use them, and the distance between the woman and the men for whom she types in a fitting criticism of the workplace in the 1920s.

Rose Baker is a typist for the police department, transcribing the confessions of those who walk through the precinct. She marvels at being thought too weak to handle the graphic talk, aptly pointing out that as a typist, she must hear the confession twice – once as it is dictated and again, as she types it.  Rose presents herself as clever, punctilious, and slightly prudish, a fact excused by her past – an orphan, she was raised by nuns.

But the other typist – Odalie – switches everything up. As Rose says, when Odalie enters the precinct, “I knew: It was like the eye of a hurricane. She was the dark epicenter of something we didn’t quite understand yet, the place where hot and cold mixed dangerously, and around her everything would change.”

Drawn in immediately by the confessional nature of Rose’s tale, the reader has no choice but to wonder at the tone Rose takes when she talks about the vivacious Odalie. At first wary of Odalie, Rose soon becomes enamored of someone so different from herself, calculatingly vying for her friendship. When Odalie does turn her light on Rose, it’s fast and bright, and Rose can’t turn away, bound by the dangerous mix of glamour and daring that Odalie exudes.

Along the way there are signs of distress, but Rose is in too deep, and the rumors of an inappropriate relationship with a nun hint at the possibility that Rose feels romantically toward Odalie, adding to her dependency. At the same time, The Other Typist briefly comments on the changing social sphere as well, as Rose says,

In a flash it came to me, and I suddenly understood something about my own generation….Their youth was what kept them moving, a sort of brutal vitality lingering in their muscles and bones that was all too often mistaken for athleticism and grace. But their innocence was something they were obligated to go on faking in order to maintain the illusion something fresh and spontaneous and exciting was just around the next corner.

But for Rose, the reality is that something spontaneous and exciting is around the corner; it just may not be what she thinks.

The Other Typist, though not as tight as perhaps the deft fiction of Sarah Waters, is an enthralling read I’d  compare to Affinity. It’s well worth the read as well as the edginess most readers will feel as Rindell unwinds this novel of love, obsession, and corruption.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

15th October 2012

Via Goodreads

*I received this book from the great people at Riverhead Books in exchange for an honest review.

From Goodreads:

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman* does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

Some heralded contemporary writers annoy the hell out of me. They’re authors you can tell think their prose is “pretty” and literary. Except sometimes I don’t know what their sentences are saying, they’re so convoluted. Junot Diaz is the opposite of that. In fact, there are moments when he writes pretty sentences but follows them up with a sentence so profane, I blush to think about it. He grinds the pretty from it, so the reader is constantly aware of two things: We are beautiful. We are ugly.

Using the last line of  a Cisneros poem at the beginning of the collection, Diaz sets the tone and the juxtaposition of love as both awesome and awful: “There should be stars for great wars like ours.”

Diaz’s collection of short stories highlights this duality in every story, every page, and sometimes every paragraph, remembering the newness of love and the heartache of the end. Because, as he says: “[T]hat’s when I know it’s over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.”

This Is How You Lose Her has women, surely, the women with big tatas, the users, the cheats, the beauties, and the faithful, but it’s also about other kinds of love, maternal love. And Yunior describes how his mother treats his brother Rafa and him:

With me she yelled and cursed and hit, but with him she sounded as if she was auditioning for a role in a Mexican novela. Ay mi hijito, ay mi tesoro.

And Yunior is crass, no two ways about it. But Rafa is worse, physically abusive to his girlfriends with a mean streak as long as the line of sucias that prances into the basement to bed him. Rafa has cancer, though he doesn’t act like any cancer patient you’ve read about.

…he fronted like nothing had happened. Which was kinda nuts, considering that half the time he didn’t know where the fuck he was because of what the radiation had done to his brain…Dude had lost eighty pounds to the chemo, looked like a break-dancing ghoul, had a back laced with spinal-tap scars, but his swagger was more or less where it had been before the illness: a hundred percent loco.

Mami goes the other way:

She’d never been big on church before, but as soon as we landed on cancer planet she went so over-the-top Jesu-cristo that I think she would have nailed herself to a cross if she’d had one handy. That last year she was especially Ave Maria.

Let me repeat: We’re beautiful. We’re ugly. Though in this case, which is which is a bit more difficult to discern. And that last passage, I swear to goodness, is a poem in itself, laced with enough of the profane that I’m not sure whether it’s a prayer or a curse.

And more than anything else, that describes the experience of reading This Is How You Lose Her and about the love in Yunior’s world – it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s obscene, and it’s lovely.

Add this to your shelf or see other reviews on Goodreads. Also, check out this great review at Feminist Texican [Reads].

*This is the only story that doesn’t seem to fit, the only one told outside Yunior’s perspective, with a shift in narrator as well. It’s an oddity I couldn’t quite reconcile with.


Review: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

6th September 2012

*I received this book from the publisher Riverhead Books in exchange for an honest review.

Elsa Emerson grows up walking the boards at her family’s playhouse in Door County, Wisconsin in the 20s. Her childhood is full of costumes, actors and actresses running through dappled sunlight, and nights under the stars watching magic on stage until her older sister gets involved with one of the actors and has her heart broken. Devastated, Hildy kills herself, and the playhouse and Elsa’s life change forever. Determined to recapture some of the pleasure of those heady nights on stage, Elsa marries and moves to L.A., where a movie exec discovers her, has her dye her hair dark, and renames her Laura Lamont.

In this golden era of Hollywood, stars are made, not born. The studios craft very careful images of their stars, grooming them to their specifications based on the types of films they shoot. And Laura is made, driven not only by her desire to act but also a sense that she should since Hildy cannot. After she outgrows her first marriage, she marries Irving Green, the studio exec who first discovered her, and the novel is the story of her life, the ups and downs of a film career, and the reality of raising a family in the most unrealistic place.

If you know nothing else about me, you know I love classic film. And not in the “I collect Audrey Hepburn posters, but I’ve never seen these films” kind of way. [And yes, that was me being snooty. ;)] It isn’t the films alone, however, that I love. The studios had such character and personality, that you can definitely tell an MGM film from a Warner Bros. film. Ownership to that extreme also engendered pride in making films that you just don’t feel today – at least not in the same vein.

Irving is part of that magic, and when he turns his spotlight on Laura, it’s a dream. When she marries him, Laura says she “decided it was reasonable to think of it as her first wedding, because the previous one had been someone else….There were an endless number of things that Laura was going to do that Elsa never would, and she couldn’t wait to find out what they were.” This disconnect between Elsa/Laura continues throughout the novel, and it’s something she, at times, seems aware of but mostly ignores. There’s no depth to her, so when her world is turned upside down a couple of times, she loses who she is and isn’t quite sure how to regain either of her selves.

It was when the plot began heading for the typical Hollywood story – actress past her prime, troubles with pills, selfishness – that my affection began to wane. Particularly because Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures uses one or two familiar names, but for the most part, all the actors and studio names are fake. I can understand there were possible legal reasons for this, but I’ve read plenty of books that use real names and brands. And, if you do choose to go the “anonymous” route, then I wouldn’t recommend giving the actors specific identifying marks. It’s confusing and annoying. There were moments when I was more caught up inwhothe real actors were than in Laura herself.

Ultimately, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is an engaging read and a promising debut. It may not be for the die-hard classic film fan, but it is a great story of life, love, and identity, perfectly summed up in this line: “No one could tell Laura Lamont what to do; she was too old for that. Let them come and look at her, let them try to swallow her up into their old-fashioned story lines. Laura was going to sew herself into the shape of happiness all on her own.”

Add it to your Goodreads shelf or check out others’ opinions.

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews

2nd July 2012

*Lydia with Riverhead Books sent me this novel in exchange for an honest review.

In 1939, Jack Kennedy is 22, in poor health, and trying to convince his doctors to release him so he can travel through Europe working on his Harvard senior thesis. Yes, war is on the horizon, but Jack is the son of an ambassador and likely to die before he reaches 30 anyway. In the meantime, the United States has no intelligence service, and someone is funneling Nazi money into the United States to prevent President Roosevelt from winning the 1940 election. Using the convenience of Jack’s trip and his status, Roosevelt recruits him as his personal spy, asking Jack to keep an eye on the situation.

My biggest complaint about this book? I so wanted it to be true. Even though there’s a big old tab telling me that Jack 1939 is “A NOVEL,” somehow my brain thought: JACK KENNEDY WAS A SPY. Until I realized it wasn’t true. So yeah, JFK as a spy, cavorting around Europe with women, dodging bullets and a brutish killer? Yes, please.

John F. Kennedy actually was in Europe in 1939, researching for his senior thesis, which would be published in 1940 under the title Why England Slept. He was also extremely ill as a young man, spending extensive amounts of time in medical facilities, his family all elsewhere. These are aspects of the legendary John F. Kennedy I did not know, and this novel is definitely one that you’ll pull out ye olde encyclopedia or ye new iPhone and Google to your heart’s content.

Preorder this book now for your Nook or from Indiebound. Comes out July 5.

The Books of BEA (And a little treat for you!)

27th June 2012

How have I not yet managed to talk about the books I got at BEA? I will tell you, though, that I am so excited about the books I had shipped home. There are only 15 of them, but wow, do they look good. These 15 represent almost all different publishers, many of them independent. They range from stories about an artist who does reproductions to a biography of a body part. Of the 15 books, 8 are by women, 7 are by men. Three are distinctly nonfiction, with Naomi Wolf’s Vagina in a category of its own. In all their, ahem, glory…

From the top:

From the top:

  • Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City Who Made the World by Boris Johnson/Riverhead Books
  • Instant by Chris Bonanos/Princeton Architectural Press (October 2012)
  • The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell/The New Press (October 2012)
  • Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Translated by Mary Jo Bang/Graywolf Press (August 2012)
  • Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf/Ecco (September 2012)
  • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles/Penguin
  • Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Julianne Garey/Soho (December 2012)
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón/Harper (July 2012)

Which will I be reading first? It’s almost as though I’m afraid to break the spell, as though if I choose one, the rest will disappear. That said, I think I’ll start with the slimmest volume, Beside the Sea. Lori and Tara actually told me about the book, saying: “It’s about a mother who is planning to kill her children.” Pleasant, right? Except that my Master’s thesis was about women who kill their children throughout literature. Specifically, the title is The Dialectic of Maternity: From Medea to the Moderns. Snazzy, huh? Ok, so it sounds kind of ridiculous, but it’s interesting how many many time this sort of story repeats itself in literature (and in life). So that will be my first pick.

And for those of you who weren’t able to make it, I have a BEA bag just for you. In the Random House tote bag are the BEA edition of The New York Review of Books, Anne Lamott’s newest, Some Assembly Required, in audio, Next to Love by Ellen Feldman (this one is so good!), and A Fatal Debt by John Gapper. Something for everyone! The only rules are you cannot have attended BEA, and you must leave me a comment. Which book would you most love to get your hands on? Is there any particular publisher you’re interested in? Do you think I’ve got 15 winners in these stacks? Make sure you comment by next Tuesday, July 3, at midnight!

UPDATE: Rachel won the BEA bag o’ goodies. Congrats!