Book Review: Passing by Nella Larsen

First line: It was the last letter in Irene Redfield's little pile of morning mail.

This slender novel reveals a deep, rich, emotional story as well as a snapshot of life in 1929 Harlem. Through the awkward reunion of Irene and Clare, we're also offered a glimpse into the complicated world of identity and colorism and the soul-crushing pain of being othered.

Undoubtedly a timely read no matter when, this book felt especially important to me in this time of Black Lives Matter and the importance of skin tone in film casting. (And speaking of casting, the upcoming film version of this book has been cast and I'm so excited!)

There's nothing oblique or obfuscated in this story (other than Clare's behavior, of course). Irene and Clare are young black women, married with children. But Irene is proud of her identity and her family and to her surprise, gorgeous Clare has passed herself as white, and is married to a very racist white man. The bulk of the story is about how I…

Weekend reads and struggling to be present...

This weekend I'm hoping to finish Theodora Goss' The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter which is so ridiculously fun, I can't even deal. It's about the daughters of famous Victorian scientists and their struggle to deal with the legacy of their fathers. If you love Victorian and Gothic lit, this will be catnip for you!

I just got a new tarot deck, The British Gothic Tarot, which I am also loving; and it's a fab overlap with my current read. (It's making me consider more book and tarot pairings!)

Musing a bit on what to do with this blog (yet again) since I'm finding it hard to keep up here and be present (and active) with the other blogs I enjoy. How do you all do it?

And of course -- what are you reading this weekend?

#24in48 Readathon: 20 Minutes to Start...

I'm absurdly excited for this year's 24in48 Readathon -- I've got a big ole stack of books prepped, some audiobooks in the queue (Welcome to Lagos as well as another non-fiction book about the Civil War as background research for my novel), plus a knitting project I'm dying to start. Iced coffee, dark chocolate, and three sleepy cats. I'm determined to clock in 24 hours this year, too.

Are you participating? What are you planning on reading if so?

July 2018 #24in48 Readathon Commitment Post!

I love readathons and I occasionally sign up and I almost never, EVER, never hit any goals (other than, like, an hour of reading and two or three hours of cheering). But much like NaNoWriMo, I can't stop trying.

So here I am, once again, signing up for the #24in48 Readathon! It's a simple premise -- try to read for 24 hours in a 48 hour period. For this month, it'll be July 21-22, and even though I've got a busy Sunday, I'm still going to try. Who knows, maybe I'll make 12 hours of reading happen!

Will you be participating? If so, share a link where I can check in on you and cheer you along! I'll most likely be updating on Twitter, Instagram, and Litsy (@unabridgedchick).

Book Review: Basic Black with Pearls by Helen Weinzweig

First line: Night comes as a surprise in the tropics.

It took me less than a month, but more than two weeks, to read this brief novel; it's incredibly interior-oriented, which isn't a bad thing, but it didn't allow for lazy, quick reading. Our narrator, Shirley, is clever, and you can't be sloppy to keep up with her.

The feel of this novel is Erica Jong meets Kate Chopin. Shirley is a smart, passionate 40-something housewife who travels the world meeting her spy lover.

But their latest tryst takes her back to Toronto, where she grew up and still lives, and as we watch Shirley attempt to untangle the clues that will connect her with her lover, we start to wonder just how much of this might be real.

And yet, that's not precisely the point of this novel. In her pursuit of her lover, we're exposed to Shirley's entire life -- her childhood, her marriage, her anxieties and hopes -- and a complicated-but-familiar portrait emerges. By the end, I found myself wantin…

Weekend reads, or what I'm not reading...

Here's the stack of books I'm presently not reading.

Serious book rut.

Not helped by the 100 degree weather here which makes focusing on anything but ice impossible.

How's your summer going? Reading anything good?

Book Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

First line: Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond.

I had to grit my teeth to get through this book. (All 209 pages.)

I'm ashamed to admit this since a surprising number of folks online and in person have cited this novella as one of their favorite books, but I found everything about this brief read to be agonizing -- the plot, the narrative style, the characters -- it and I just did not connect.

I went in expecting to love this book given its reputation and subject matter. Achebe depicts the story of a Nigeria broken by white colonialism; our hero is deeply flawed and stubbornly committed, living in a world with problems triply complicated by the unnecessary influence of white colonizers. Achebe's narrative style is straight-forward and clear, even as he articulates a world deeply foreign to modern audiences.

I suspect I didn't understand this book; I'm also not a huge fan of tragedies (I loathe Hamlet) so Okonkwo as a character didn'…

Book Review: The Hunger by Alma Katsu

First line: Everyone agreed it had been a bad winter, one of the worst in recollection.

Unlike most of the planet, I didn't like Katsu's debut novel, The Taker. Which I was bitter about, because Katsu impressed me with her potential.

With The Hunger, I got the novel I always wanted: taut, moody, dangerous, atmospheric, and creepy.

I don't know where to start with my squee-ing. It helps that the premise -- supernatural take on the Donner Party tragedy -- is just so delicious. Katsu doesn't speed through the trip, and through the early days we learn how fractured these people were, and the many demons that chased them. She takes her time to give the characters space to breathe, and we're rewarded with rich plot threads and deeply flawed and oh-so appealing characters.

For history sticklers, this book will surely aggravate, as Katsu takes some wild liberties with the histories of the Donner Party members: victims of sexual abuse, secretly gay, murderer. But I uh-dore…

Weekend reads, May 18

My weekend read is In the Distance with You by Carla Guelfenbein, a literary thriller set in Chile inspired by Clarice Lispector. It has a delicious opening line -- "Somewhere on the planet, there was someone responsible for your death." -- and I can't wait to settle in tonight for a good long read.

 What are you reading this weekend?

Top Ten Reads of 2017

In 2017 I read 40 books, and while it's on the leaner side (compared to the years I was aiming for 200+!), it felt like the first year I was really back into reading in a way I hadn't been since I was pregnant in 2014.

I got much closer to my goal of being a free-range reader in 2017, but I still struggled with balancing reading with other activities, and more importantly with regards to this blog, writing about my reads. (Here I am, almost halfway through 2018, and I'm seriously behind on reviews. Ugh!)

In 2017, thirty-four of all the authors I read were women. Seven were authors of color. Four of my reads were audiobooks, which is a first for me! I managed two non-fiction reads: one a memoir, the other a food/how-to guide. Twenty-four of my reads were 2017 releases.

As always, my top ten reads for the year were books that delighted me upon reading and have lingered with me after. All are books I've recommended multiple times and/or won't shut up about. Only one …

Wordless Wednesday, May 9

My Wordless Wednesday: a snapshot of my morning.

Book Review: Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

First line: --Central, this is Lapetus. Target in sight.

This is the final novel in the Themis Files trilogy (I reviewed the previous two novels, Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods.) 

I'm not going to summarize the plot because I don't want to end up spoiling anything. As a concluding novel, it did everything I needed a final book to do: wrapped up plot threads, answered the mysteries, and provided some final flash bang.

As with his previous novels, I think some of Neuvel's characterizations are thin -- no doubt because the story is told through transcripts and journal entries -- and it left me a little impatient with the story.

These were fast reads, so if you want a Michael Bay-esque summer action flick in a book, this trilogy will do it.

Title:Only Human
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Genre: Fiction (Sci Fi / Speculative / Mecha / Aliens / Parenthood / Social Commentary / Warfare)
Publisher/Publication Date: Del Rey (5/1/2018)
Source: Edelweiss

Book Review: Eventide by Therese Bohman

First line: The subway car was packed and she had to stand from Slussen to Östermalmstorg, crammed between people who all seemed to be sweating.

I didn't think I'd so enjoy a book that details the angst of being 40ish and uneasy about one's life. But Bohman's slender novel and her cerebral, melancholy heroine Karolina, are touching, familiar, and wryly funny.

This is a familiar story, but still feels fresh and vibrant. Karolina is 40-ish and newly separated, a decision that she agonizes over. Living alone, she relishes the freedom even as she doubts her own decisions. When her charming graduate student's research reveals an exciting, forgotten female artist, there is the promise of something more.

Bohman's narrative style, as translated by Marlaine Delargy, is both grounded and ethereal: we experience Karolina's grimy commutes through the city as well as float with her during her lofty, meandering ruminations. It's a think-y kind of novel that doesn…

Book Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

First line: The new doctor took her by surprise.

This book is my catnip: Victorian, gothic, haunted house slash ghost story maybe slash unreliable narrator, plus mysterious deaths and creepy countrysides and, well, this read did not disappoint.

I loved it.

Elsie is a young widow, mere months into her marriage. Her husband died under mysterious circumstances at his family's decrepit country estate and Elsie must go there for his burial, accompanied by a mousy cousin-in-law, Sarah. She finds The Bridge, as the house is called, in shambles, with an clumsy, unprofessional staff surrounded by hostile villagers. She also finds a home, and family, steeped in tragedy.

I don't want to say too much more lest I giveaway a small but meaningful detail, but needless to say, Purcell creates a story with all the shiver-inducing details one wants in a creepy gothic-y horror. Nothing can be trusted: not people, not one's senses, not history, not place.

The title's silent companions are …

Book Review: Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt

First line: Nineteen years old, Alma Maria Schindler longed body and soul for an awakening.

I knew, from the previous novels of Sharratt's that I've read (the astounding Illuminations and fascinating The Dark Lady's Mask) that I would love Ecstasy -- even though I feared the story of Alma Mahler's life would frustrate me. However, I should have trusted that Sharratt would somehow manage to make me not just enraptured of/with Alma but also the people in her life, including the frustrating Gustave Mahler.

Alma Schindler is beautiful and clever, growing up in Vienna's glittering world of art and intellect. She composes and wishes to devote herself to music, but aspires to a passionate love as well. She eventually marries Gustave Mahler, a genius who demands she give up her composing and devote her entire self to his art. The cost, unsurprisingly, is enormous.

This probably sounds miserable, but Sharratt somehow manages to make it deeply compelling and kind of understan…