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Lauren has been reading since she was born
What was it like to grow up wealthy in the 19th century? According to this book, it was even better than you could imagine! Sarah Elizabeth Birdsall Otis, Birdie for short, grew up on her family's estate with every wish indulged. Her handsome, playful father encouraged her sense of whimsy and fun, taking her on boating trips and acting in plays she wrote and performed in their outdoor theater. They traveled between homes so she, like many children of that era, created a "dollhouse album" filled with scraps of wallpaper and pictures cut from magazines to take with her wherever she went. This book has pages from the album, along with the story of Birdie's unconventional life. The writing is simple enough for a child to understand, yet engaging enough to keep an adult interested. This is the perfect gift for just about anyone: kids who will play with the replicas of Birdie's dolls that are included or grown-ups who will pore over the Victorian details (and perhaps play with the paper dolls!)
It's hard to define what genre this would fall under: it's literary fiction with family drama, women's issues, and a touch of malevolent mushroom sci-fi. Act of God follows several women: twins who couldn't be more different, an actress past her prime, a scheming Russian au pair; they all sound like cliches, but under Ciment's capable hands, they have depth. The "act of God" mentioned? Toxic glowing mushrooms that pop up under New York and wreak all sorts of havoc. The crisis adds an interesting dimension to the women's stories and I found I couldn't put it down. If you love smart, quietly moving novels (such as The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.) I highly recommend you pick up Ciment's newest!
Everyone knows Pusheen, the lovable internet cat! The subject of memes and emojis, Pusheen is famous enough to not need any help from me, but I just have to recommend this book anyway because it is so ridiculously adorable! Filled with helpful tips, such as career choices for your cat, places cats belong (hint: not the sink or your shoes), and, of course, tons of silly, adorable illustrations, I Am Pusheen the Cat just made me smile. If you're looking for a laugh (or you need a "Cookies: How To"), take a break with Pusheen!
In 1892, the crime that riveted the nation was one of passion: 19 year old Alice Mitchell was obsessed with her fiance and, when rejected, she stole her father's razor and slit her beloved's throat. The catch? Her fiance was a female: flirtatious Freda Ward. If homosexuality between men was taboo in nineteenth-century America, it was virtually unheard of between women. The details of Alice and Freda's romance were only hinted at in newspapers, but readers were astonished and inflamed. Not only is Alexis Coe's beautifully illustrated book an account of a largely forgotten murder, it's a succinct exploration of female homosexuality in America's past. Alice + Freda Forever is meticulously researched and compulsively readable!
Short stories often get ignored in favor of longer works, but that's a mistake when an author is as talented as Kelly Link! Not only are her stories beautiful and exquisitely written, each one is as different from each other as they are from anything else on the bookshelves. She writes about the future, both near and far, and a present day that's stranger than anything I've ever known. But at the heart of all her stories are relatable characters who yearn for love and security. If you are in the mood for mystical, moody stories that you can finish in 20 minutes, but think about for hours, Get in Trouble is perfect!
As a longtime fan of such quality shows as Toddlers and Tiaras and any dating trainwreck VH1 puts out, I fully expected to love this book, which follows the trails and tribulations of a "pageant family." What I didn't anticipate is how hard it would make me laugh (an undignified, gagging laugh) or how astute the cultural observations would be.Pretty Ugly chronicles the vapidity and ugliness of the "reality tv-ready" family with just enough lightness to keep the mood good-natured. Kirker Butler is like Chuck Palahniuk minus the filth, or Christopher Moore with bite, a snarky oracle of the modern age. I would recommend this to anyone who likes their satire hilarious and nervy!
Peter Swanson's second (and my favorite) book is a 21st century version of Strangers on a Train: two strangers meet in an anonymous airport bar and hit it off. They agree that some people are just, "the kind worth killing" and hatch a plan. But you know what they say about the best laid plans--I loved everything about this expert psychological thriller, from the plot twists that continue to the very last page to the perfectly loathable characters. This is the perfect homage to Patricia Highsmith, the kind worth reading!
Spademan is back! Who is Spademan you ask? Why, he's only literature's very first garbageman-turned-assassin, introduced in Shovel Ready! Near Enemy takes place just months after the last book, in a near future where New York City has been decimated by dirty bombs. Those who stayed among the radioactive ruins escape into a hedonistic virtual reality system known as "the limn". After a series of strange attacks have very real effects in the real world, Spademan is pulled in to investigate...along with his trusty box cutter. Sternbergh manages to combine cutting edge sci-fi with Raymond Chandler -style noir: the women are mysterious dames, the violence is constant, and the wisecracks are shot off like bullets. I can't wait for the next book in this wholly unique series!
Russia has its own version of the truth; it's malleable and ever-changing. The government, much like the one in Orwell's dystopian nightmare, is hard to pin down: sworn enemies become loyal allies and vice-versa, what's perfectly fine one day is is illegal the next, and there is a rotating list of papers one must provide if they are stopped on the street. As a result, the citizens are slippery and must reinvent themselves constantly. Pomerantsev explores this brilliantly, telling story after story about the strange contrasts found in this brave new world. There are the beautiful women who make a living hanging out in bars, searching for a new sugar daddy. There are biker gangs that are militantly, violently religious and gangsters who guard their home turf while making popular films (and performing their own stunts!). Nothing is True and Everything is Possible is a dizzying, dreamy read and I felt as though I'd visited another world after I read it - the perfect non-fiction, stranger-than-truth read!
Kitty has a good life: she owns a bookstore with her best friend and every day goes home (alone) to a little duplex she loves. The year is 1962 and most women are married by her age - it's not what Kitty imagined for herself, but she's content. Until the dreams start. She starts dreaming of an alternate life, one where she's married to "the one that got away" and has children she adores. But all is not right in this vivid night-time world and, as time passes, Kitty has more and more trouble distinguishing between her lives. I was completely absorbed is this intriguing debut novel and raced to the Inception-like ending - I can't recommend it enough!
Lena Dunham is that girl: she's complicated, neurotic, and utterly frustrating, but also brilliant, fascinating, and cooler than anyone else. Not That Kind of Girl is absolutely perfect, from the 70's font on the cover to the essays inside that detail everything from Lena's childhood fear of dying to her (many) sexist encounters in Hollywood. She holds nothing back and instead of being off-putting, it's intriguing. She's completely flawed and completely ok with it and I found myself both nodding and laughing hysterically throughout the book. This is the perfect gift for anyone who's not that kind of girl!
Every time I start one of Sophie Hannah's excellent mysteries, I don't see how it will possibly be solved--there are too many knots, too many tangled unknowable factors. And yet, somehow, they always are. They are brilliant and engrossing and her latest, about a man who says he killed his wife and the woman from his past who knows differently, is no exception! I also love delving into the complicated marriage of the two detectives who lead the series. If you are looking for a series of psychological mysteries that will you surprise you every time, pick up Sophie Hannah!
I wish Caitlin Moran had been writing when I was a gawky, ill at ease teenager! If you haven't yet heard of her, Moran is a gloriously foul-mouthed feminist icon, a combination of Gloria Steinem, Jacqueline Susann, and Tina Fey. How to Build a Girl is her first novel and I'm sure it will be just as popular as her amazing essay collections (Moranthology and How to Be a Woman--check them out!). She writes about Johanna, a girl much like Moran was, who longs for a life outside her crowded council flat. After a series of humiliating moments, she talks her way into a job at a music magazine and reinvents herself after Dolly Wilde, famously wild(e) niece of Oscar. The adventure that follows is exhilarating, glamorous, and heart-breaking. Her reflections on girlhood are hilarious and achingly accurate--I alternated between laughing out loud and cringing with sympathy. I heart Caitlin Moran and you will too!
I'm not usually a big reader of non-fiction, but A Kim Jong-Il Production reads like a fast-paced thriller and kept me captiv-ated! North Korea's Beloved Leader was a passionate cinephile who deplored the quality of his nation's films. What better way to improve them than to have two giant stars (think Brad and Angelina big) "involuntarily defect" and make movies for him? And that's exactly what hid did: kidnapping filmmaker Shin Sang-Ok and his actress ex-wife, Choi Eun-Hee from their native South Korea and bringing them across the 38th Parallel. The story that follows is so crazy, I'd dismiss it as far-fetched if I read it in a novel! Jong-Il was both smaller--he topped out at 5'2" and wore 5" platforms and a bouffant to compensate--and larger than life. He regularly held debaucherous parties where teetotaling was frowned upon, idolized and modeled himself after James Bond, and punished disloyalty with "secret" public executions. His many eccentricities are well-known, but Fischer does a fantastic job researching and setting the scene. His descriptions of Pyongyang, for example, are so evocative, I felt as though I were right there in Kim's "ideal city", so eerily reminiscent of Orwell's 1984. I couldn't put this book down; I devoured it in 2 days! I'd recommend Production to anyone who enjoys feeling smarter after reading non-fiction and wants an engrossing story to go along with it.
I have always had a soft spot for the women history has forgotten: the daredevils, the temptresses, the rule-breakers who, for whatever reason, just aren't remembered today. Almost Famous Women brings these characters back and it is phenomenal! Every story is a mix of history and Bergman's imagination, and I pored over them constantly flipping back to see the pictures that preface each chapter. There was a pair of conjoined twins, a ruthless pilot, a female Hemingway-esque island owner, and so many more--I wanted the book to keep going and going!
When most people talk about finding "the One", they're referring to a person, the relationship they've always been waiting for. For me, it's a book that clicks with me from page one, one that I either read or think about constantly, the kind I attempt to read at stoplights or in the shower. Luckiest Girl Alive is "the one" (or at least one of "the ones")! Knoll's striking debut follows Ani, a woman who's the master of reinvention, and it goes back and forth between her troubled past and her picture-perfect present. Ani is spiteful, bitchy, and flawed--I was alternately repulsed and impressed, and always interested! I can't recommend it enough, so I'll just say this: if you enjoyed reading Gillian Flynn, Claire Messud, or Megan Abbott, you'll love Jessica Knoll!
As a longtime book lover, I am also a longtime (and long distance) fan of The Strand, one of the biggest and brightest bookstores in New York City. I managed to fit in four excursions to my book mecca on a weekend trip to New York and ended up having to pay extra for all the books weighing down my luggage, and it was completely worth it! But until reading On the Books, I had no idea of the behind-the-scenes drama. In his fantastic graphic novel, Greg Farrell outlines the labor struggles of a few years ago, the ongoing battles between owners and management and the employees and their union. Not only was it a fascinating insider's look at the mechanics of the Strand, it's a relatable chronicle of the highs and lows of working retail, and absolutely hilarious. I may or may not have snorted with laughter on the bus while reading it. I'd recommend this to any comic reader, book lover, or wage slave!
All I've ever known of Jules Feiffer is the simple, yet vivid illustrations he did for The Phantom Tollbooth. Kill My Mother blew my mind! In his frenetic pencil drawings he brings together multiple storylines, from Annie, jitterbugging right off the page and shoplifting from department stores to her mother, Elsie, in over her head working for a piggish private eye. Along the way there's a mute giantess--a grasping, scheming femme fatale--a dancing boxer, and so much more. Kill My Mother combines the hard-boiled noir of Dashiell Hammett and the macabre creepiness of Edgar Allen Poe with a plain weird genius that is all his own--a beautiful, psychotic read!
Irene is the first book in Pierre Lemaitre's stunning Commandant Camille Verhoeven Trilogy, but it's actually the second book released in the U.S. The second book in the series, Alex, was released first. I'm not sure why, but I love these books nonetheless! They are twisty-turny mysteries that wheedle their way into your mind and haunt your dreams for weeks afterwards. Camille Verhoeven is a brilliant detective and the perfect nuanced character to support a trilogy. I can't say enough good things about Lemaitre's writing--give them a try and see for yourself!
As a child, my very favorite place was the library. It was filled with more books than I could ever read, comfy chairs, and a delicious book-smell that still has the power to transport me back to that age. The Midnight Library, with it's engaging tri-color illustrations, perfectly captures the magic I felt and makes it even better by adding adorable animals! Kids will love this whimsical picture book and so will their grown-ups!
I love Chelsea Cain's Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell series, so I was excited to see she was starting another. Fortunately, One Kick does not disappoint! Readers are introduced to Kick, a woman who survived a horrific childhood to become a strong, but damaged adult. When she starts to help the FBI track a predator who is eerily similar the one she remembers, she opens a Pandora's Box worth of horror. Graphic and engrossing, Cain's newest kept me on the very edge of my seat!
Christmas is both my favorite and least favorite day of the year. I'm happy it's here, but I'm sad it's ending. That's how I feel when I finish a series, especially one as well-written and inventive as Winters' Last Policeman trilogy. World of Trouble starts where Countdown City left off: Hank Palace is looking for his sister and trying to make it through his measured days. It's bittersweet, but I loved it!
Ooh I had so much fun diving into this book! I love talking about books and reading this collection of all the wonderful By the Book columns from the New York Times was like getting to have dozens of such conversations with all my favorite authors. I learned what David Sedaris would give the president to read, what Ira Glass thinks of guilty pleasures, and who Donna Tartt admires. There's a wide selection of interviewees, including some non-authors, and it's fascinating to see how many of their answers overlap--it's why I've decided to start reading Edward St. Aubyn (almost every author named him as a favorite). Whether they read it in short bursts, or in one decadent gulp, this is the perfect gift for bibliophiles!
Movie stars just aren't as glamorous as they used to be. The celebrities of yore did everything bigger than their contemporary counterparts. They wore the costliest of couture, made up fantastic pasts, and when they messed up, they did so spectacularly! Anne Helen Peterson, author of the fantastic Classic Hollywood Scandals blog posts on The Hairpin, now has a book collecting all of these stories, and I couldn't be happier! Not only does she have a knack for picking great tales, she explains them thoroughly and thoughtfully, showing how different scandals were reflections upon the times in which they occurred. She ties in current events and societal mores of the past and present and has a fresh writing style that keeps it all engaging. I already love old movies, but even if I didn't, my inner rubbernecker would still enjoy this book! Come for the naughty bits, stay for the academic air.
I managed to snag a Canadian copy of this because I couldn't wait any longer to read it! Schultz has an impeccable sense of timing, drawing out the story of a world consumed by madness in a series of flashbacks. In her version of the very near future, women with blonde hair suddenly fall prey to a strange illness that makes them psychotically violent. As a result, stores are sold out of hair dye, wig shops are raided, and blond women get rounded up to internment camps. Both horrifying and wickedly funny, Schultz's debut is smart and engrossing! Sometimes blondes don't have more fun..