nerdy girl reads: the likeness

Howdy. Did you miss me? Sorry for my absence. Chalk it up to writer’s block and some good old fashioned burnout. I can’t promise I’ll be back every week, it is spring and every moment not at work should be spent outside, but I’m finally feeling inspired enough by a book to share.

Guys. You already heard me extoll the genius of Tana French here. I super loved The Secret Place (her most recent) and immediately picked up In The Woods. While I didn’t love it quite as much (uh, there’s no boarding school, duh) and the character of Rob is very unlikeable, I still raced through it breathlessly until the spectacularly self-destructive and wonderfully written ending. Every word French uses is elegant and perfect, even the Dublin slang thrown into each story for good measure. Since I love them SO much, I have been pacing myself with the Murder Squad, delaying starting the next story until now. Ugh I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

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The Likeness picks up six months after the end of In The Woods, and is told by Cassie Maddox, former undercover and the partner of Woods‘ Rob. Cassie has left the Squad to work in Domestic Violence, craving something more stable after the clusterf*ck of her last case with Rob. She’s bored and restless, unhappy with the relative boredom of her job and bucking under the stability of her long-term relationship with Squad member Sam. One morning she gets a frantic call from him to come to a crime scene — where she finds the body of a woman who is essentially her identical. And oh yeah, she’s using Cassie’s former alias. Undercover cop Frank Mackey convinces Sam to tell everyone she’s alive, and Cassie to return to undercover work for this investigation, infiltrating the home of Lexie Maddox and her four best friends who are considered suspects. Cassie gets to know them and becomes a part of their “family,” while learning that Lexie wasn’t anything but the smoke and mirrors of a girl with a past. As she pokes and prods, Cassie finds the cracks in the “family” and does everything she can, in every shade of moral-gray, to catch her man.

Like The Secret Place, I super loved this book. Cassie was a complex and relatable character and I thought French did a fantastic job weaving her past with her present. When she becomes Lexie, the words dance off the page and I never wanted it to end. While I loved Cassie, this book would be nothing without its supporting cast. On the one hand, you have Sam and Frank, coaching through the investigation and providing her with the links she needs (though she doesn’t always think so) to stay tethered to the real world, and on the other you have the housemates. Gah, they are the best collection of weirdos ever. All are grad students and all are escaping pasts they’re trying desperately to forget. Daniel, the quote-unquote patriarch, inherited the house and is a super socially-awkward guy. For reals. Abby is the quiet and caring mothering type, perfect to play off Lexi/Cassie’s wild streak. Justin is the sensitive gay one (and the only one who goes a little too heavy on the stereotype). Rafe is the hot and hot-tempered one from England. And of course there’s Lexie, the character who drives it all. She is reckless and free, secretive and dangerous. With all this damage, they can definitely live in their own utopia, right? Right. Totally sustainable.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again (when I allow myself to embrace my destiny and bellyflop into the series and finish it in one fell swoop — it’s only a matter of time), my favorite part of the French novels is the complexity of the characters and their relationships. The richness with which she writes takes a simple mystery (step one: girl is dead, step two: investigate crime, step three: find killer) and elevates it to a story that haunts you. I found myself sitting at work thinking about the characters and what it would be like to be in their situation. I wanted to fully immerse myself in the world she created. French effortlessly weaves in the themes of family, commitment, freedom, and sacrifice and leaves the reader wanting more, more, more. And of course the ending is perfect. Suspenseful as can be and completely satisfying.

Rating: 9, Just shy of perfect (Can’t put it down! Well rounded with exceptional characters and style.)

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nerdy girl reads: first impressions

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife…” … is really the only line in Pride and Prejudice I care to remember. I know, I KNOW, I am pretty much the only romance-loving woman who is not seriously into Jane Austen. I don’t get it either. So I kind of rolled my eyes a little when I realized Charlie Lovett’s new book was a mystery about good old P&P. I was SO looking forward to it because his debut, The Bookman’s Tale, was so wonderful. But I shouldn’t have despaired because in the hands of a good writer, even a Jane Austen-hater can be convinced.

first-impressions

As in The Bookman’s Tale, the narrative follows two story lines, one present and one past. In the present, we meet Sophie Collingwood, a recent Literature grad who (like most Literature grads) has no idea what she wants to do with her life. Her beloved uncle dies in a suspicious “fall,” and while attempting to restore his library (sold off to pay for the family estate, naturally — there had to be SOME British stereotypes!), she begins to work at an antiquarian bookshop in London. In the span of a day or so, two different customers request the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Her search for the title leads her into a mystery that questions the author of her favorite book, Pride & Prejudice. In the meantime, we follow a young Jane Austen and her friendship with Richard Mansfield, an aging cleric who encourages her writing and is a deep influence in her life. It is during their friendship that she gets the idea for an epistolary novel about a young man and woman named Darcy and Bennett who make disastrous “first impressions”…or was it really his?

As a book and mystery lover, I was pretty much already going to love this book, despite my anti-P&P bias. The mystery was well-paced and suspenseful, the reader is left guessing whether Sophie can save Jane Austen’s reputation and who is really coming after her and the book until the end. While I liked Sophie, my main critique of the novel is that she felt very one-note throughout the book and as a whole, the character development was a bit shallow. Her love triangle is entertaining, if not predictable. Just how does one choose between the hot smooth-talking book publisher who wines and dines you and the confident and attractive American literary scholar who writes you funny and romantic letters from his travels? Of course, you’d have to believe her “first impressions” of these suitors…

Under the mystery, the book is all about love…romantic love, familial love, the love between close friends, and the love of books and the worlds they transport us to. Reading the book is as pleasant a journey as a stroll around the English countryside, perfect for spring. Bibliophiles rejoice, if Charlie Lovett keeps writing beautiful love letters to literature like First Impressions, we’ll all be very happy indeed.

Rating: 7, Darn good (Highly recommended book that is well paced and enjoyable with a few flaws.)

 

nerdy girl reads: top 10 books of 2014

I read 60 books last year. I know compared to some that number is paltry, but 60 seems huge to me. More than one a week, even with a full time job and a (maybe somewhat lame) social life. I read some really great books, and much more diverse than it felt like at the time. These definitely aren’t going to be the books on all the fancy NPR or NYT lists, but they are the books I enjoyed the most and the ones that have stuck with me long after I closed the back cover. Got a new year’s reading challenge? Get started with one of these I know you’ll love.

2014-top-ten-books

The Secret Place by Tana French
You can give me a book about a murder at a boarding school any day and I know I’ll love it, but it won’t have the brilliance of French’s The Secret Place. While simultaneously following the murder investigation of a teenage boy and the lead up to his murder, you’re really reading a smart and unexpected look at friendship, loyalty, ambition, and growing up. I loved the cast of characters and couldn’t get enough of French’s spot-on teenage dialogue.

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
On the blog, I try very hard to either review a series as a whole or not at all. Most of my favorite series are not ones you can simply pick up in the middle, but I can’t not put The Magician’s Land on this list. The Magicians series follows Quentin, a brilliant debbie-downer of a guy, as he enters the world of magic, first at an exclusive school and then in the magical world of Fillory. Imagine a mix of Harry Potter and Narnia, narrated by Holden Caulfield. If you are AT ALL a fan of the fantasy genre or books with magic (I clearly am), the series is well worth your time, especially the final installment, which perfectly wraps up the magic.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
I’m not known for choosing books that really push my boundaries — I have a few genres I like and tend to color within the lines. Vampires in the Lemon Grove is so far out of the lines for me, but Karen Russell’s writing is absolutely captivating. I have never been a fan of short story collections, usually the characters and descriptions fall flat for me in their brevity, but there wasn’t a story in Vampires that I didn’t like. From the eponymous vampires of the title to women who turned into silkworms, each story is surprising and supernatural and full of smart and quirky storytelling. Seriously, I can’t choose a favorite, even months later.

Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte
Find yourself wanting to slow down and cut back on the busy this year? PLEASE pick up Overwhelmed. Brigid Schulte looks at how we balance (or don’t balance) our work, family, and play time in this book and I think it is an essential read for anyone who feels like they are too busy to have any fun. I’ll admit I’m not the busiest person (I did read 60 books this year after all), but that is by design. I hate feeling busy, which is, as pointed out in this book, different from actually being busy. I believe in policies that enable more flexible workplaces and love Schulte’s emphasis on finding and making time for meaningful play — the thing that makes us human and able to do everything else that much better. The strategies laid out are easy to implement and make a huge difference!

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
I am 100% this book’s demographic. Art? Yes. History? Yes. Mystery and theft? Yes and yes. Love story? YES. Three stories weave together in this gripping and twisty-turny read: our heroine Claire’s present-day story, her past, and the history of a Degas’ masterpiece that was stolen from the Gardner Museum in 1990. As Claire begins to forge the Degas, she begins to doubt its authenticity and the tangled web begins to weave. As an art history lover, I couldn’t get enough of this book. I said in my review that Shapiro’s writing is excellent, the mystery of the painting is enthralling, and the suspense of will-they-or-won’t-they-be-caught keeps you turning the pages well into the night and I stand by all of it months later.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
All I can say is this book though. It’s just so beautiful — both the story and the prose. A Tree Grows is the only classic I read this year (reading a few more is a goal for this year) and I didn’t write a review of it this summer because it’s so hard for me to put into words what this book means to me. I am SO glad I read it now and not in high school when the husband did (for the record: he loved it too) because it felt like it came to me at the most perfect moment. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, the story of Francie Nolan reminds us how complicated and beautiful this life we have is.

The Intern’s Handbook by Shane Kuhn
Are you a fan of Dexter? Yes? Go get The Intern’s Handbook. Now. It’s got all the makings of a fun thriller (I know, kind of an oxymoron there.): a sarcastic and witty assassin-turned-intern as a narrator, a plot that moves at breakneck speed, and twists and turns on every page. Plus a love story and a brilliantly designed cover (a skull and crossbones made out of office supplies! gah!) for some extra goodness. Both the husband and I couldn’t put this book down. Trust me, it’s no literary masterpiece, but it reads like an exciting screenplay (it’s already being adapted for a movie!) and is pure entertainment.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
OMG this book. If you’re looking for a literary masterpiece, The Shining Girls is not it. If you’re looking for a very creepy and deeply engrossing thriller about a time-traveling serial killer and the one who got away, hot on his heels in investigation, this is definitely it. Beukes’ characterizations are remarkable – I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a more evil or gruesome character than Harper. You’ll love the quick pace and suspense, dotted with the interactions with the “shining girls,” which act like short stories within the narrative and are a haunting look at women through history.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Every list needs a little chick lit yes? Big Little Lies is chick lit done right. This schoolyard drama following three women’s daily lives leading up to a shocking murder keeps you on your toes until the very end. As I said in my full review, you never know who has been killed and the storytelling effortlessly jumps from funny to dark and back again. It’s a fun read that has it all: humor, well-drawn characters, high-speed plot, and emotional depth.

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
As I mentioned in my full review of The Astronaut Wives Club, I really knew nothing about the early astronauts, much less their wives, and I completely gobbled this book up. I loved reading about the lives of these women, how they coped with the highs and lows, and how they used their positions of popularity and power to make a little history themselves. Koppel’s book is a little bit history and a little bit gossip and a completely fun way to learn a little American history. There’s also going to be a TV show based on it released this year and you better believe I will glued to my seat when it starts!

Honorable mentions: The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, and The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (like she wasn’t going to be on the list).

Fun fact: Least favorite books of the year were Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (ungodly boring), Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (funny how she can be on both of these lists – this book I just did not get), and Tenth of December by George Saunders (awful). All of these have either won or been nominated for book awards like the Booker Prize and the Pulitzer. I don’t want to know what that says about me…

What was your favorite book you read last year?

nerdy girl reads: big little lies

I will straight up tell you I judged this book by its cover:

big-little-lies

While it is beautifully designed and the imagery is striking, it is very clearly some form of chick lit, right? So I judged it and put off reading it. I guess I was trying to be literary? Ugh, so pretentious! Then I had to wait a million years (a month or two?) for my hold to come in at the library. Guess what? It’s totally chick lit. But Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies was one of my favorite books of this year. Sure it’s no heavy, full-of-lessons tome like The Goldfinch, but once I started reading, I never wanted to stop.

Big Little Lies follows the over-the-top schoolyard drama surrounding three women in suburban Sidney: Madeline, who is funny and smart and always holds her grudges…and whose ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into the hood, meaning their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest; Celeste, who is always the most beautiful woman in the room, but is also always covering up her bruises; and sad single mom Jane, who is so young that the other mothers mistake her for the nanny and so worried she’ll never move on from her disastrous one-night stand six years ago. Everything leads up the final scene, a drunken school trivia fundraiser, where we’ve learned through the (hilarious) police interviews scattered in between chapters that a murder has occurred. As the reader, you don’t even know who the victim is until the fateful trivia night, and it is a whirlwind ride getting there. The story jumps effortlessly from light to dark to light again, which is why when I’ve recommended it to people, I’ve said it’s an incredibly fun and funny read…that deals with murder and domestic abuse and elementary school drama. USA Today probably says it best: Reading Big Little Lies “is a bit like drinking a pink cosmo laced with arsenic… [BIG LITTLE LIES] is a fun, engaging and sometimes disturbing read.”

As I’ve said, I definitely didn’t want to put this book down. The quick pacing and shifting of narration keep you on your toes and some of the plot lines (especially Madeline’s) are so absurd, you can’t help but laugh out loud. I also read Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret (another good read, but lacks the same spark that BLL has) this year and it’s obvious after the success of the two novels, she prefers this three-character format. It definitely works for her and I’m amazed at how richly and realistically the characters are portrayed in so little page time. This book honestly had everything I love in a book: Real characters, great plot, tons of humor, suspense, witty emails/police documents. You know. On the surface this was about a group of parents acting badly. But under the surface are the ooey-gooey issues — bullying, abuse, trauma. Considering everything that was tackled in this book it should not have worked but it did, and that is to the author’s credit. I have recommended it to anyone and everyone who has asked me for new reading suggestions and do the same here. You’ll love it. I want to go back in time so I can read it for the first time again, that’s how much I loved it.

Rating: 9, Just shy of perfect (Can’t put it down! Well rounded with exceptional characters and style.)

nerdy girl reads: the secret place by tana french

It’s no secret by now that I have a thing for mysteries and thrillers. I try not to pick them up too often, because let’s face it, most of the time they’re about as substantial as the latest CSI: Wherever, but I always come back to them like a junkie needing a hit. And besides the Robert Galbraith (aka, JK Rowling) series and the occasional Stephen King, I shy away from the bestsellers like good old J. Patt and John Grisham, even though I’m sure they would be highly addicting and I doubt I’d be able to stop gobbling them up once I started. Which is why I hesitated to read any of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I needed a little more substance under the usual fluff of a thriller and didn’t think she’d be able to deliver, despite numerous recommendations from library staff and my own mother-in-law who may be one of the two or three people who read as much as I do.

Well, I was wrong, and I should have picked up these books from the minute they hit the shelves.

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The Secret Place follows Detective Stephen Moran who has been biding his time, waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—basically the rock stars of the Dublin police. It’s where all the cool kids are, obvi. One morning, sixteen-year-old Holly, daughter of a Murder Squad detective and a witness to one of Moran’s previous cases, brings him a photo showing a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of the girls’ boarding school she attends. It says, “I know who killed him.” The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is basically your average mix of teenage gossip and mean-girl cruelty, which is why the card stood out and the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome Chris Harper is resumed. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

In the course of a day, yes the book takes place in one singularly riveting day in basically one or two rooms, everything Moran and Conway uncover leads them to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. As the publisher says, “Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.”

Gah, right?

I won’t lie, I read this book in a matter of days and by about 300 pages in I was thankful I was on vacation and could read for hours to my heart’s content because I was not putting it down for anything. I loved the boarding school setting — it provides such a neat little bubble of drama and intrigue, especially when you add in the teenagers. I thought French did an immaculate job capturing the attitudes and wild emotions of the girls, especially in dialogue. I could precisely picture and hear their phrasing and tones of voice. For being a novel centered around hours and hours of interrogations, the pacing is lively and the flashbacks to the months before the murder (I loved Ms. French’s repeated turn of phrase: “Chris Harper has three months and six days to live.”) help give the reader insight to the characters and their motives. I’ll admit that I figured out who the murderer was before the detectives, but it was still shocking and satisfying.

Underneath the murder, The Secret Place is a beautiful, if not dark, exploration of friendship and loyalty. The friendship between Holly and her friends was touching and made me (and Detective Moran) nostalgic for those perfect early-teen friendships where you exist in this tightly-knit cocoon and everything you need is right there. Obviously it’s not healthy, nor sustainable, which is why we grow out of them. But it’s nice to look back. One of my favorite parts of the story is when the girls make a pact to simply stop giving a damn about boys or makeup or fitting in because they don’t want to change who they are just to fit someone else’s mold of beauty or their expectations of what they should be. I wish I had known people like this growing up because even as an adult, it was incredibly affirming. I also loved the relationship between the detectives. At first Moran was hesitant to work with Conway because she seemed to be everything he wasn’t. He loves beautiful things and uses his rough, poor past to motivate him to be better and more refined, where she embraces her equally bad upbringing and is abrasive, tough, and has been alienated in the squad. They definitely do not trust each other and neither want the other as a partner…at the beginning. The dynamics shift and though I like that French’s series focuses on different detectives in each book, I’d like to see how they get on together.

All in all, if you like mysteries and thrillers or like novels set in boarding schools (and who doesn’t?), you will love The Secret Place. When I finished I immediately began In the Woods, the first in the series, and it’s fantastic too. I just can’t stop, guys.

Rating: 9, Just shy of perfect (Can’t put it down! Well rounded with exceptional characters and style.)

nerdy girl reads: the art forger

Oh hey, a book review! It’s been awhile. Don’t worry, I’m back with a good one. A great one even. I am so totally in love with B. A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger, I can’t even stand it and I can’t believe I waited so long to read it. (An admission: I read an Advanced Reader’s Copy of the book, even though it came out awhile ago. My “to read” list is a long and lengthy tome.) I mean, it is pretty much written expressly for me. Art? Yes. History? Yes. Mystery and theft? Yes and yes. Love story? YES.

art-forger

You see what that little review blurb says up there on that ridiculously beautiful cover? It’s all true. The Art Forger is so twisty and gripping and fascinating. At its core, the book follows the same general plot line(s) as The Bookman’s Tale. Like, spot on. Which is great for someone who adored that book. Anyway, we have three stories weaving together: our heroine’s story today, her past, and the history of the Degas’ masterpiece that was stolen from the Gardner Museum in 1990. Claire Roth is our struggling young artist, paying (most of) her bills by reproducing famous artworks for an online store and working on her own series on the side. Obviously, she knows she can do better…but no one will give her a show. She’s been snubbed for years thanks to a handsome professor, a MoMA show, and a major scandal…one that can magically go away, hottie gallery owner and major love-interest Aiden Markel says, if she helps him with one teeny, tiny, insignificant project: forging a Degas.

That reaction you have right now? Complete disbelief? Yeah, I think everyone had that reaction. Because there’s no way in hell someone can successfully rip off a Degas and fool all the historians. But remember, Claire makes reproductions for a living…so she is an expert forger and for a one-woman show, she’d do anything. When the stolen Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, however, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery. Thus beginning the fabulous twists and turns of her search for the truth about the painting and its past.

I really enjoyed this read. As an art lover, I gobbled up all the art history (obviously, Degas is awesome) and found all the forgery details incredibly fascinating. I honestly knew nothing about the Gardner heist (I mean, I was 4 when it happened…). How exciting! I mean, it’s not cool that we’re missing priceless works of art. (Understatement much?) But it’s amazing that they haven’t been found. As a historical fiction lover as well, I really appreciated how Shapiro used letters from Isabella Gardner to tell the story of the original Degas and help Claire discover its hiding place. I thought it was original and helped keep the three story lines distinct and well-paced. However…as good as this book is (and it’s really, really good), parts of the plot are pretty predictable and some are completely superfluous. It’s fairly obvious what’s happened to Claire that’s made her blacklisted from the art world after a few chapters and she volunteers at a juvenile detention facility, something given a fair amount of attention in the plot without having any connection to the rest of the events. To this day, I have absolutely no idea why it was included. But in the end, none of those frustrations matter because Shapiro’s writing is excellent, the mystery of the painting is enthralling, and the suspense of will-they-or-won’t-they-be-caught keeps you turning the pages well into the night.

Rating: 8, Excellent (Memorable and above par, highly entertaining.)

As you can tell, I love historical mysteries about art or literature like The Art Forger or The Bookman’s Tale. Have you read one you loved? Share in the comments!

nerdy girl reads: night film

There’s really no rhyme or reason behind the books I decide to read or review. Some I write about because they’re just SO GOOD I want everyone to love them and some books are so popular, I feel like I’d be missing out if I didn’t throw my two cents out into the interwebs. And most of the time, I can go weeks after reading before finally getting to my review. But some books. Some books become an insidious weed in my brain and I can’t do anything else until I clear it all out here. Night Film is definitely one of those.

night-film

Marisha Pessl’s Night Film was published last year, I believe, and isn’t one of those ultra-popular reads every book club known to man is going to pick up. Mostly because it’s creepy as hell and ridiculously over-the-top in the best possible way. The book follows Scott McGrath, a disgraced investigative journalist who lost all his credibility years earlier when he tried to take down the brilliant, mysterious, and reclusive horror film director, Stanislas Cordova. Cordova’s enigmatic daughter Ashley has apparently committed suicide, but Scott thinks that’s just too convenient. He starts digging deeper into her death with the help of a ragtag team of people who knew Ashley and were the last to ever see her alive. The path they take winds them through mental institutions, voodoo curses, summer camps for wayward teens, a secret internet fan site for the “Cordovites,” foot chases through Manhattan, and, finally, a night or two within the military-fenced walls of The Peak, Cordova’s massive estate (a.k.a., the WORST acid trip ever).

I won’t lie, as far as crime novels or thrillers go, this one is a slow burner. It’s not one to cause obsessive 2 a.m. reading from word one. But what it lacks in initial fire, it makes up for it in spades later on. It is probably one of the most detailed stories I have ever read, fitting since the subject of the investigation is known as a meticulous and exacting creative genius. Cordova is such a great villain! He’s always just out of the picture, hiding in the shadows and pulling all the puppet strings to fit his narrative. Or so Scott believes because actors never talk about their work with him and the secrets all point to dangerous and deadly things happening behind those walls. Pessl truly created an enigma in Cordova – he is in turn evil and magical, brilliant and horrific. And he’s not the only great character. Nora and Hopper, the rest of the ragtag justice league, are so clearly depicted that you really feel their hope and sadness throughout the relentless search for the truth. Usually the characters are my favorite part (in the absence of a love story, obvi) but in Night Film I LOVED the inclusion of fake newspaper and magazine articles and photos and webpages from Scott’s investigation. So brilliant! It was like you got to be detective too and added so much to the narrative.

Ostensibly, Night Film is very simple. It follows pretty classic crime novel moves. But thanks to Pessl’s attention to (and inclusion of) all the details, it gets pretty deep. I found myself thinking about the book long after I would finish reading (and not just in some pretty effed up dreams it made me have), thinking about how in the search for the truth about Cordova, Scott is really searching for how he/you/me/everyone defines “truth.” If you fiercely believe that something is true, it becomes a part of your reality. In the book’s case, Ashley believed she was marked by the devil and Scott believed Cordova was an evil murderer. Were either of these things true? Can you really say they were false? I for one can’t say for certain and it makes me wonder what other “truths” out there are as malleable. Like I said, deep.

I really enjoyed reading Night Film and think it’s perfect for anyone who likes crime mysteries that veer a little to the creepy. Perfect before Halloween! (Just make sure to read the part in The Peak during the daytime!)

Rating: 7, Darn good (Highly recommended book that is well paced and enjoyable with a few flaws.)

sunday brunch

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If we were having brunch today, I’d probably be mainlining coffee and nursing sore feet from dancing all night long at our dear friends’ wedding last night. I’m always amazed at how each wedding we go to truly reflects the couple’s spirit and individuality, despite the fact that all weddings follow basically the same format. You know the drill: I do, food, CAKE, dancing, etc. The husband and I had such a fun night dancing (ok, maybe only one of us actually had fun dancing…) and celebrating with one of the most fun and light-hearted couples we know. Plus I got to wear boots. It’s like the weather knew we all wanted fall RIGHT NOW. Such a perfect night!

If we were having brunch today, I’d tell you all about my fantasy football team and probably be obsessively tinkering with my lineup and bore the hell out of you. Gah. I don’t know what has happened to me, but fall is here and football is back and life is so, so good because of it.

If we were having brunch today, I’d tell you I’m reading this creeptastic book called Night Film all about an investigative journalist trying to uncover the truth about a famous (but reclusive) horror film director’s daughter’s death years after he ruined his reputation for going after said director. It’s action-packed and scary and full of plot twists and turns, and since I’m now apparently in love with weird and creepy things, I’m loving it so much. Plus it’s chock full of notes and emails and (fake) web articles so it reads like you’re actually a part of the investigation. I can’t wait for the end.

I’m also reading a nonfiction book about the Civil War and (gasp!) enjoying it. Like I said, I don’t even know what has happened to me.

If we were having brunch today, I’d tell you this fall is going to be so great. I mean, Halloween is on a Friday this year, how could the whole season not be amazingly fun. The husband and I have a few weekend trips planned (though sadly, none together? boo), but other than that I’m hoping to stay here and enjoy being a little less busy. We (the collective “we”) LOVE to be busy, yeah? But it’s so draining, especially since work has kicked in again after the slow summer. So yeah, there probably won’t be any house improvements or party hosting because I think it’s time to sit back and enjoy for just a little bit. Or maybe that’s just my excuse to be a little more lazy. Potato, po-tah-to.

If we were having brunch today, I’d tell you go watch True Detective NOW if you haven’t. When did Matthew McConaughey become legit? Because whoa. This show is something special. In related news, when do new shows start? I am in TV withdrawal and I don’t even care how sad that is.

Your turn: What’s going on with you this morning?

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nerdy girl reads: the secret history

As I am often wont to do, once I find an author or series I like, I will read all of them at once in one giant obsessive binge until I finally surface for air and have to face reality again. You say it’s sad and compulsive? Ok, maybe a little. Maybe a lot. It’s not for everyone, and really not advisable for every author. Like Donna Tartt for example. After reading the brilliant, but VERY heavy The Goldfinch, I immediately picked up her other book The Secret History for book club. You guys, she is good. So good. But two straight dark and serious novels does not a happy summer make.

secret-history

The Secret History reminded me a little of the movie The Skulls. Do y’all remember that one? I don’t think it was very good in reality, but pre-teen me loved it. Plus Paul Walker was super hot. And maybe Pacey was in it too? It was about a secret society at one of the Ivies (Yale?). Clearly I paid much more attention to Pacey than to the plot. But I digress. So, our narrator Richard Papen arrives at Hampden College in Vermont straight off the bus from a small town in California and parents who pretty much didn’t want him around. Obviously, he doesn’t quite fit into his prep-school surroundings and therefore, is easily seduced by an elite group of five students – Henry, Francis, Charles, Camila, and Bunny. All Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. But they take him in and Richard gets to live the elite life for awhile, going out to country club lunches and taking long weekends at summer homes. As Richard is drawn in by their flashy friendship, he figures out a secret they share…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. Yeah, you guys. They pretended to be Greek and I guess decided that meant killing someone. Insane right? And that was just the beginning. Things devolve into madness and while I wish there had been some hysteria, instead there’s lots of alcohol abuse and silent mania.

Remember how I said this was a fun summer read?!?

Actually I would love to have read this book now, as the promise of fall is lurking in the wings and school is starting again. This book is intense, there’s no getting around that. It’s not light and fluffy, but it is really a terrific read. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a mystery because well, these super smart kids like to lay out very elaborate plans and it’s easy to figure out the ending, but it is so dramatic and tense that it gives you the same feel. The suspense is slow burning and masterful, reaching several crests before the final few pages leave you racing through each line. Seriously, I dare anyone to stop reading in the middle of the last chapter. It’s impossible. Tartt is so, so good at it. All of it, any of it. Just like in The Goldfinch, she sucks you in with these remarkably well drawn out characters who aren’t really good and aren’t really bad, they just make the decisions they think are best at the time (or in some cases, let others make decisions for them) and then have to punt a lot…as we all must do. I was fascinated and horrified by this semi-secret society (especially Henry, what a strange and complicated and effed up character) and found the book so smart and entertaining. Also, it’s not a million pages long like The Goldfinch. It’s only like, 500.

Rating: 8, Excellent (Memorable and above par, highly entertaining.)

nerdy girl reads: the girl you left behind

Just in case getting a little scared while lounging on your beach towel isn’t quite your thing, here’s another option for a little summertime reading: Jojo Moyes. Y’all know I love her. Me Before You…just gah. The woman knows how to write a great story. I picked up one of her latest, The Girl You Left Behind, on a whim one day while I was trolling around the library stacks. Obviously her name alone was enough to pique my interest, but the cover is gorgeous as always, and it was lust at first sight.

Which quickly turned into love at, oh, about page two. What can I say, I’m easy that way.

girl-you-left-behind

Thankfully, The Girl You Left Behind is nothing like Me Before You. In a good way. It’s still incredible, but my tear ducts were very appreciative not to have quite the same workout. As with so many of my favorite pieces of chick lit (Sarah Jio, I’m looking at you), the story is actually two stories woven together. The novel opens in 1916 with Sophie Lefevre, a Frenchwoman whose artist husband Edouard has left her to fight in the war. With her sister, she runs the family hotel and restaurant despite the fact that the town has nothing. When it is occupied by German soldiers, they are forced to host the soldiers, and in an effort to maintain some semblance of normalcy, Sophie has kept a portrait of herself, her most prized possession painted by Edouard, hanging on the hotel wall. The local Kommandant is drawn to it and they strike up what is something close to friendship, or at least as friendly as you can be with an enemy soldier who has a crush on you but could still take you and your family out at a moment’s notice. Sophie uses her influence to risk everything to find Edouard again – at the cost of her dear painting.

We then meet modern-day Liv, whose husband has suddenly died, leaving her alone…with Sophie, the only work of art they had in their one-of-a-kind glass house in London. Trying to break out of her glass cage of emotion, Liv goes out and meets Paul, a retired American detective who now helps uncover stolen art. Yadda-yadda-yadda, he sees the painting that conveniently is part of his new case. What follows is Paul and Liv’s search into the past, Sophie’s past to be exact, to try and uncover the truth behind the painting’s journey. A legal battle ensues with the couple on opposing sides, Liv fighting alone to keep the one thing she loves most and to hold on to the memories of her husband.

I was totally sucked in by this book. Like read-it-in-a-weekend hooked. I was completely charmed by Sophie and loved her part of the story – it was dramatic and full of heart. Sophie herself is strong and brave, even when the townspeople turn on her and she has nothing left. The details and complications of daily life during the German occupation were gritty and thought-provoking and of course I won’t lie, the Edouard and Sophie love story was riveting. We all know, epilogues are tricky and some are simply not great (Mockingjay, anyone?), but this one was perfect for the hopeless romantic I will always be. Trust me, it is exactly the ending you would want for people who suffer so much. The last half of the book moves at a breakneck pace to wrap up both Liv and Sophie’s stories and I found myself wanting to pump the brakes so I wouldn’t finish so quickly. But of course I couldn’t and now I’m itching to reread it. Though not as heartbreaking as Me Before You, I did feel the losses of the two women and loved how despite their grief, they both found strength to make hard decisions and fight through their consequences.

All in all, The Girl You Left Behind was touching and powerful. Like I said before, Jojo Moyes knows how to write a great story weaving polarizing topics, different plot strands & well developed characters together into a great escapist read.

Rating: 9, Just Shy of Perfect (Can’t put it down! Well rounded with exceptional characters and style.)