Review: In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist

From the publisher:
When Tom’s heavily pregnant girlfriend Karin is rushed to the hospital, doctors are able to save the baby. But they are helpless to save Karin from what turns out to be acute Leukemia. And in a cruel, fleeting moment Tom gains a daughter but loses his soul-mate. In Every Moment We Are Alive is the story of the year that changes everything, as Tom must reconcile the fury and pain of loss with the overwhelming responsibility of raising his daughter, Livia, alone.
By turns tragic and redemptive, meditative and breathless, achingly poignant and darkly funny, this autobiographical novel has been described as ‘hypnotic’, ‘impossible to resist’ and ‘one of the most powerful books about grief ever written’.
Shortlisted for the Nordic Council Literary Award — the ‘Nordic Booker’ — the judges praised it as “one of the most powerful books about grief ever written.” Malmquist is the first novelist to ever win Sweden’s prestigious Dagens Nyheter Culture Prize.  This novel is translated from Swedish by Henning Koch (the translator of Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove). 
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This is a moving and beautiful story. The book is written with incredible vulnerability and passion. It's a painful story, but also one of resilience and new hope and family. 
The writing is good, as is the translation. However, my biggest complaint about this book is how dialogue is dealt with. I'm generally not a fan of books that forgo quotation marks for dialogue, but this is the most confusing and unnecessary version of this I've read. Dialogue lines are continuously included directly within full blocks of text, and often one line will be one person and the next will switch to someone else. It may be easier to read if they were separated into new lines and paragraphs, but as is, the dialogue is confusing and just makes for a slower and more difficult reading experience. 
So, overall, this is a beautiful and painful story. The book is worth reading. But I just don't care for some of the syntactical decisions. 
Links: Amazon, Goodreads
This post is part of the tour for this book, via TLC Book Tours

Review: You Don't Look Adopted by Anne Heffron

Sunday, January 14, 2018

From the publisher:
When you take away the habits of your life, you get to the question of Who am I? And if you sit with that, you get to the question of How far am I willing to go to find the answers? If you are Anne Heffron, someone who had no idea where she was the first ten weeks of her life, you’ll give away almost everything you own, pack what’s left, and head for the city of your birth on a voyage you call Write or Die with the pledge you won’t go home until you find what’s real about yourself.

Anne Heffron was born in Manhattan in 1964 to a young college student who gave her up for adoption. Fifty-one years later Anne returned to Manhattan to find the roots of her story, the story that began with her birth instead of the story that began “The day we got you.” This journey is the subject of “You Don’t Look Adopted,” an account of the perils and blessings of adoption.

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Anne Heffron's candor is remarkable. Her perspectives on adoption are raw and fresh and vulnerable. And though they may be hard to hear, and sometimes hard to agree with or believe, it's clear that they're fully honest. Heffron doesn't hold back. She has a strong and confident writing style that suits the format of the book well. I enjoy the short fragmented style of the book. It's filled with a multitude of short, individually titled sections, lasting anywhere from half a page to a couple of pages. The topics of sections vary, but all deal in some way with Heffron's family, adoption, and self-discovery process. 

I may not personally agree with all of her opinions, but everyone's beliefs and experiences are different, and I totally respect how she views adoption, even if I don't always see it the same way. As someone who isn't adopted, I obviously have a very different and less informed perspective. I will warn potential readers (especially those who were adopted or have adopted) that Heffron's perspective on adoption, for the most part, is negative. Though she acknowledges the positives of adoption, she blames adoption for most of the problems she's had in her life. While interesting and well written, a parent who has adopted, or someone adopted who feels positively about the experience may find fundamental disagreements here. However, it's a great and impressive book that I'd definitely recommend! 

I received an advanced copy of this book through the tour with TLC Book Tours. 

Find the book on Amazon, Goodreads, or Barnes and Noble.

Q & A with author Kelly Davio

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Two days ago I posted a review of It's Just Nerves, a collection of essays on life and illness by Kelly Davio. It's truly a fabulous and entertaining book. As a follow-up, this is a Q&A I did with the author herself! She discusses her writing process, challenges, and future projects! Check it out here:

Q: When did you decide to write this book? What made you want to write it?
A: I didn’t really decide that It’s Just Nerves would be a book until well after I’d written
most of these essays, actually! I wrote the bulk of what’s in the collection over a
period of a few years, starting with “Strong is the New Sexy,” an essay that now
happens to be the opener of the collection. I thought at the time that I was dabbling
in nonfiction as a break from writing poetry (which is the medium in which I’d
always worked before). I felt like I wanted to explore these themes of illness and
disability in a way that poetry wasn’t suited to. I mean, how do you talk about what
it feels like not to be able to swallow in a poem without your reader assuming it’s a
weird metaphor?
Even as I was writing some of that content, I didn’t really expect to continue to work
in personal essays in an extensive way. But after that piece found a home in a
journal that I really loved, I began to get invitations from more and more editors
who were interested in publishing my work on the same themes, so I kept
producing more. I realized that there was something about this short nonfiction
form that really connected with people and fit a need that wasn’t being fulfilled by
other reading that was available to them, and I felt gratified to be able to speak into
that need. Eventually, I had a column, first at The Butter and later at Change Seven
Magazine, where I published these essays on a regular basis.
At some point, I looked at what I had written and thought that maybe it wouldn’t be
a bad idea to try to make a full-length collection out of some of the pieces I liked the
most, so I started to shop around for a publisher. I was incredibly happy to find a home for the book with Squares and Rebels; my editor, Raymond Luczak, shared my vision for what the book should be, and together we sorted out what essays I should include that would be original to this book and that would help it hang together as a whole.

Q: What is your general writing process?
A: I am a very slow writer. Glacial, really. It’s funny, because I spend most of my workday writing, and when I’m doing those day-job projects, I’m able to work quickly, even when I’m writing about tricky technical topics (like clinical research, for example). But when I’m working on essays like the ones in It’s Just Nerves, I’m writing to explore an idea, or even just to solidify an idea. So there’s a lot of staring at the blank page, writing 1,000 words, deleting 700 of them, starting over, and slowly creeping toward something like a full draft. Even if I end up hacking out a lot
of words, I don’t look at them as having been wasted—they’re all in service to the
eventual essay.

Q: What are the biggest challenges of writing a book, particularly one that's
nonfiction and includes research and personal info?
A: Combining research with personal narratives was absolutely the biggest challenge
with this book! It felt necessary to me to try, though, because it was a way out of
making the book just about me, and a way around making my experience into a
universal; I didn’t want the book to be this solipsistic experience where I navel-
gazed the whole way through, but I’m also keenly aware that my experience is just
one experience, and I don’t have the standing to speak on behalf of all sick or
disabled people. Contextualizing my story in this moment in national and
international politics and policy was a way to widen the viewfinder, I guess. I’m not
sure if I was wholly successful in the attempt, but I was interested in hybridizing the
personal and the public. Research also gave me something to pour myself into in the
days after Brexit and after the US election. I needed

that distraction from how I was
feeling about the chaotic spiral of the world.

Q: Do you foresee writing another book? If so, what might the topic be?
A: I have a few other books lying around my desk, yes! I have a second poetry
collection, The Book of the Unreal Woman, that’s coming out in 2019, and the topics
really merge with those of my essays. The poetry collection is mostly written in the
persona of the Unreal Woman (she’s part me, part antihero straight out of a
Flannery O’Connor short story). She says everything I’d like to say in my day to day
life, but can’t because I like to be civil. That book is kind of the unruly cousin to It’s
Just Nerves.
I also have 3 novels—all of which I’d classify somewhere in the bucket of literary
horror—that I’ve written. I haven’t done anything but litter the house with them,
though, so it’s probably time to start thinking about whether to send those out!
For the time being, I’m not writing much, just reading a great deal and waiting for a
next idea to form. I have a nascent idea for the next book, but it’s really swimming
around in the creative ooze right now.

Q: Anything else we should know?
A: If folks like It’s Just Nerves, I’d also recommend that they check out Sonya Huber,
Ariel Henley, Keah Brown, Alaina Leary, Meg Day, Jeannine Hall Gailey, and Tanya
Chernov, all of whom inspire me creatively and whom I really look up to as writers.

Book Review: It's Just Nerves

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's Just Nerves by Kelly Davio
4/5 Synopsis:
With equal parts wit and empathy, lived experience and cultural criticism, Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability explores what it means to live with an illness in our contemporary culture, whether at home or abroad.

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This collection of essays is thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating. The essays are compact, expertly written, and full of personal anecdotes. Davio combines researched information with her own personal, often funny, sometimes challenging or painful experiences. Davio has an illness, but not one that's always apparent to those around her. She relates struggles with eating, reading, and going to the gym, all things that most would assume she could do with ease, but she finds challenging or sometimes impossible because of her very real, difficult to see or understand illness. In these short essays she explores the experiences of those who have an illness in our society, a society which can often prove to be very ableist and restricting.

Davio's perspective isn't one you find often in nonfiction writing, and her writing skill and engaging voice make it all the better. This is a short, educational, impactful book about an experience many choose to ignore or forget about altogether. Davio stands up for herself, makes fun of herself, and also extends certain expectations or hopes upon those in our culture who ignore or disbelieve people who have illnesses that cause challenges in everyday life.
This is a great book and one I definitely recommend. Each essay is a new insight that will offer you a better understanding, and, often times, might also make you laugh out loud on public transportation.

Please see the next post on my blog for a Q & A with the author of this book!

Book links: Goodreads, Amazon, Author website

Book Review: I'll Have What She's Having

Friday, September 8, 2017

I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy by Erin Carlson

From the publisher:
A backstage look at the making of Nora Ephron's revered trilogy--When Harry Met SallyYou've Got Mail, and Sleepless in Seattle--which brought romantic comedies back to the fore, and an intimate portrait of the beloved writer/director who inspired a generation of Hollywood women, from Mindy Kaling to Lena Dunham.

In I'll Have What She's Having entertainment journalist Erin Carlson tells the story of the real Nora Ephron and how she reinvented the romcom through her trio of instant classics. With a cast of famous faces including Reiner, Hanks, Ryan, and Crystal, Carlson takes readers on a rollicking, revelatory trip to Ephron's New York City, where reality took a backseat to romance and Ephron--who always knew what she wanted and how she wanted it--ruled the set with an attention to detail that made her actors feel safe but sometimes exasperated crew members. 

Along the way, Carlson examines how Ephron explored in the cinema answers to the questions that plagued her own romantic life and how she regained faith in love after one broken engagement and two failed marriages. Carlson also explores countless other questions Ephron's fans have wondered about: What sparked Reiner to snap out of his bachelor blues during the making of When Harry Met Sally? Why was Ryan, a gifted comedian trapped in the body of a fairytale princess, not the first choice for the role? After she and Hanks each separatel balked at playing Mail's Kathleen Kelly and Sleepless' Sam Baldwin, what changed their minds? And perhaps most importantly: What was Dave Chappelle doing ... in a turtleneck? An intimate portrait of a one of America's most iconic filmmakers and a look behind the scenes of her crowning achievements, I'll Have What She's Having is a vivid account of the days and nights when Ephron, along with assorted cynical collaborators, learned to show her heart on the screen.

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This was a case of a book with a great concept and premise, but slightly less than great execution. While I loved the subject material, and reading behind the scenes personal details about some of my favorite movies (especially When Harry Met Sally) and details of Nora Ephron's life, the writing was often confusing. 
The author jumps around to new ideas and stories a lot which ended up confusing me more than once. 

At one point she's talking about Meg Ryan's life, and in the next she's back to quoting Nora Ephron on another topic. The book could also be shorter. Some of the descriptions and examples are less necessary and less interesting than others. 

However, overall I enjoyed this book and the many interesting tidbits and stories it offered about some movies that I love. The more you enjoy romantic comedies, actors, and these three films in particular, the more you'll enjoy this book. 

Links: Goodreads, Amazon, the book tour

Book Review: Dirty Wars and Polished Silver

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Dirty Wars and Polished Silver by Lynda Schuster

Pages: 352
Publisher: Melville House

From a former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent, an exuberant memoir of life, love, and transformation on the frontlines of conflicts around the world

Growing up in 1970s Detroit, Lynda Schuster felt certain life was happening elsewhere. And as soon as she graduated from high school, she set out to find it. 

Dirty Wars and Polished Silver 
is Schuster’s story of her life abroad as a foreign correspondent in war-torn countries, and, later, as the wife of a U.S. Ambassador. It chronicles her time working on a kibbutz in Israel, reporting on uprisings in Central America and a financial crisis in Mexico, dodging rocket fire in Lebanon, and grieving the loss of her first husband, a fellow reporter, who was killed only ten months after their wedding.

But even after her second marriage, to a U.S. diplomat, all the black-tie parties and personal staff and genteel “Ambassatrix School” grooming in the world could not protect her from the violence of war.

Equal parts gripping and charming, Dirty Wars and Polished Silver is a story about one woman’s quest for self-discovery—only to find herself, unexpectedly, more or less back where she started: wiser, saner, more resolved. And with all her limbs intact.

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Schuster has an excellent authorial voice that makes every adventure even more fascinating to read. She's had an incredible life, filled with travel and experiences most people would never dream of having. 

The tone of the writing is very engaging and never fades to dryness or loses audience attention. This is a great memoir for anyone interested in the work that Schuster has done, the concept of foreign correspondence, and even travel or the culture and lifestyle of other countries. 

Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Author Website
I received my copy from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. See the rest of the tour here

Book Review: A Beautiful Poison

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

Pages: 350
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many victims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned—and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.

Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her closer to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.

As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone—even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.

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This was much more suspenseful and mysterious than I expected. I thought I'd enjoy this book, and my expectations were absolutely exceeded. This book is fantastic. Not only does it have a genuinely interesting mystery plot, with several twists I was definitely surprised by, but it also incorporates excellent use of historical realities. 

It's not often that I read something taking place in this time period, and I've never read a book about the deadly influenza in the US in the early 20th century. There are also issues dealing with the then-unknown radium poisoning, the war, the draft, and "modern advancements" of the time. I can't vouch for how accurate all of the small historical details are, as well as the phrases and words and machines used throughout, but it definitely allowed me to feel transported to another very intriguing era. I felt for every character, doubted them, cared about them, suspected them. I changed my opinion on the outcome of the mystery many times and was still wrong. 

This is a dark book, filled with pain, death, and mystery. But it is kept interesting and engaging by the incorporation of lighthearted characters, mild humorous moments, and a whodunnit fit for any fan of mystery books.

This book started a bit slow, and didn't get me too hooked until about a third or halfway through. From there on, though, it was gripping and I flew through in a few hours. Highly recommended. 

Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Author Website