Sunday Salon: Local Election

Posted 22 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, memes, musings

sunday salon books

Time // 12:26 P.M. EDT

Feeling //  Exhausted. So exhausted. The local Judge’s election is on Tuesday and the mudslinging has been epic. All of my non-work friends (and my husband) are exceedingly bored with me because at this point the election is all consuming and leading me to be extra snippy and just generally boring. Just keep swimming, April.

just keep swimming

Reading //  Just finished the upcoming Blake Crouch novel. Review forthcoming. Also working on the new George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo, it’s very Faulkner-eqsue. Read: Fabulous. There are so many books from BEA waiting for me, this keeps me excited. I’m hoping to get some regular reviews going here again.

Living //  With the windows open! I feel like I need to start running again – partially because the stress of this election has me off the charts. I know that the endorphins from running would definitely help me more than stalking election sites on Facebook, but… effort.

Blogging // Yes, I saw all the BEA brou-ha-ha on Twitter this past week. I agree with most bloggers that it’s rather dated and boring. Let me be clear on my position. The sentiment that I largely agree with is this:

Publishers owe me nothing. In return, I owe publishers nothing. I have no problem with book bloggers that are able to monetize their blogs, as long as they are upfront about the monetization. That doesn’t necessarily make their opinions on books more or less valid than mine. Please stop telling me that I don’t know my worth. I know my worth. The thing is that the worth of me writing book reviews (or writing in general) is less than what I’m willing to accept to give this up as a hobby. Taking money for my blog turns this into a job. I have a job that I love, I don’t need another one – therefore – it’s not worth it to me to seek out paying opportunities to review. If this means that publishers don’t send me ARCs or I can’t attend BEA because I’m not actually a part of the industry – that’s okay. I guess what I’m trying to say to authors, bloggers, and Twitterers who try to say that if I’m not charging for my reviews I’m just another cog in the machine, is this:

election

There’s so much more going on in my head, Reader but, you guessed it! It’s mostly regarding this local election that bores everyone but those involved. Someone send me an easy way to Zen.

April

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Terrific Tuesday: Forty Rooms

Posted 17 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: Forty RoomsForty Rooms by Olga Grushin
Published by Penguin on February 16th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Contemporary Women, Family Life
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

Totally original in conception and magnificently executed, Forty Rooms is mysterious, withholding, and ultimately emotionally devastating. Olga Grushin is dealing with issues of women’s identity, of women’s choices, that no modern novel has explored so deeply.
“Forty rooms” is a conceit: it proposes that a modern woman will inhabit forty rooms in her lifetime. They form her biography, from childhood to death. For our protagonist, the much-loved child of a late marriage, the first rooms she is aware of as she nears the age of five are those that make up her family’s Moscow apartment. We follow this child as she reaches adolescence, leaves home to study in America, and slowly discovers sexual happiness and love. But her hunger for adventure and her longing to be a great poet conspire to kill the affair. She seems to have made her choice. But one day she runs into a college classmate. He is sure of his path through life, and he is protective of her. (He is also a great cook.) They drift into an affair and marriage. What follows are the decades of births and deaths, the celebrations, material accumulations, and home comforts—until one day, her children grown and gone, her husband absent, she finds herself alone except for the ghosts of her youth, who have come back to haunt and even taunt her.
Compelling and complex, Forty Rooms is also profoundly affecting, its ending shattering but true. We know that Mrs. Caldwell (for that is the only name by which we know her) has died. Was it a life well lived? Quite likely. Was it a life complete? Does such a life ever really exist? Life is, after all, full of trade-offs and choices. Who is to say her path was not well taken? It is this ambiguity that is at the heart of this provocative novel.

There is no way I can say enough good things about Grushin’s Forty Rooms. I’ll admit that while the first two or three chapters are flawlessly written, it still took about that long for this book to really grab me. But once it did, it didn’t let go until the end.

Let’s just start with the premise. Writing a novel around the idea that people on average inhabit about forty rooms during their lifetime, each chapter being a different point in time in the life of our protagonist, starting with early childhood. The writing in each chapter is skillfully and beautifully rendered, matching the thought patterns of each period of life it’s meant to represent. We begin with the little girl in the bathroom who is reflecting with childish thoughts about what it means for different members of her family to be bathing her. The prose is just so perfect that by the time I was grabbed by this story I felt like every part of it could be related back to my own life.

Forty Rooms is fantastic. Despite that there are many people who this book did not work for. I can’t recommend this book to people who need constant action. I can’t recommend it to people who dislike introspective character studies or can’t deal with ambiguity in a novel. Everyone else should definitely read it.

For a much more eloquent and well written review visit Catherine over at Gilmore Guide to Books.

Whatcha thinking, Reader? Does Forty Rooms sound like it might be your jam?

April

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Sunday Salon: Recovering from BEA

Posted 15 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, memes, musings

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So I got home from BEA yesterday night. It was a whirlwind good time and I’m really pleased with how it went. I got to hang out with some amazing women (at the very least I must mention Catherine from Gilmore Guide to Books, Shannon from River City Reading, and Marisa from The Daily Dosage – though there were many, many more).  Additionally, I picked up a ridiculous amount of books and now shouldn’t have a shortage for reading or reviewing for quite a time. I’m hoping to start writing reviews again or at least some discussion posts. Let’s see if we can’t get this blog rolling again, shall we?

I was really impressed with many of the publishers at BEA and how polite and helpful most of the publicists were despite what had to be long days on their feet. Hachette had an exceptionally organized booth and it was amazingly easy to access the ARCs that I was interested in.

Chicago is such an excellent city, I definitely ate all the things, though oddly that did not include Chicago style pizza, which I do love.

Tomorrow, I must return to work. It’s a probation day no less, which is usually the most unpleasant of court days. The local judge’s election that is giving me so much heartburn will be over in nine days which is not nearly soon enough.

Hm, I thought I had more to say on this, Reader. C’est la vie. How was your week?

April

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BEA 16: Books Off the Beaten Path

Posted 11 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, books and publishing, musings, Reading, Topics

BEA 16: Books off the Beaten Path

Just like most literary fiction bloggers going to BEA this go around of course I’m looking forward to and hoping to get my grubby little paws on the new Ann Patchett and George Saunders. As a apocalypse, horror, vampire blogger of course I’m looking forward to the thrilling conclusion of the Justin Cronin trilogy. The beach blogger in me admittedly might like to see what new thing Charlaine Harris will be pimping. But since I’m a little bit of an off the beaten path blogger I thought I might share some not-so-mainstream books that I’m hoping to encounter this year at BEA.

John Lennon vs. The U.S.A.: The Inside Story of the Most Bitterly Contested and Influential Deportation Case in United States History by: Leon Wildes (ABA Publishing)

“For the first time, noted New York immigration attorney Leon Wildes tells the incredible story of this landmark case – John Lennon vs. The U.S.A. — that set up a battle of wills between John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and President Richard Nixon. Although Wildes did not even know who John Lennon and Yoko Ono were when he was originally retained by them, he developed a close relationship with them both during the eventual five-year period while he represented them and thereafter. This is their incredible story.”

Truffle Boy: My Unexpected Journey Through the Exotic Food Underground by: Ian Purkayastha (Hachette)

“A self-described oddball kid from Arkansas, Ian Purkayastha found his true calling when he learned to forage mushrooms and tasted his first truffle. An instant passion for the delicacy sparked an improbable yet remarkable journey to New York to become the leading truffle importer in America in the dynamic and sometimes shady world of the exotic food trade. Today, at age 23, Ian has built a multi-million dollar specialty foods company with clients as renowned as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Chang. As “farm-to-table” becomes “forest-to-table,” Truffle Boy provides a unique view into the world of luxury sourcing, while delivering a coming of age story that will charm foodies and business readers alike.”

Mischling by: Affinity Konar (Hachette)

“It’s 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.

As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele’s Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.”

Tacky Goblin by: T. Sean Steele (Consortium)

“An aimless twenty-something struggles to make sense of reality after he moves to Los Angeles to live with his older sister. His legs are rotting, his apartment is haunted, and he’s in charge of taking care of a human baby that might actually be a dog. On top of it all, he has trouble making friends. Tacky Goblin blunders through particularly strange but familiar misadventures to remind us that, ultimately, learning to take care of yourself is hard.”

The Motion of Puppets by: Keith Donohue (MacMillan)

“In the Old City of Québec, Kay Harper falls in love with a puppet in the window of the Quatre Mains, a toy shop that is never open. She is spending her summer working as an acrobat with the cirque while her husband, Theo, is translating a biography of the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Late one night, Kay fears someone is following her home. Surprised to see that the lights of the toy shop are on and the door is open, she takes shelter inside.

The next morning Theo wakes up to discover his wife is missing. Under police suspicion and frantic at her disappearance, he obsessively searches the streets of the Old City. Meanwhile, Kay has been transformed into a puppet, and is now a prisoner of the back room of the Quatre Mains, trapped with an odd assemblage of puppets from all over the world who can only come alive between the hours of midnight and dawn. The only way she can return to the human world is if Theo can find her and recognize her in her new form. So begins the dual odyssey of Keith Donohue’s The Motion of Puppets: of a husband determined to find his wife, and of a woman trapped in a magical world where her life is not her own.”

The Last Days of Night by: Graham Moore (Random House)

“New York, 1888. The miracle of electric light is in its infancy, and a young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing Paul is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown attorney shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it? In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.”

So, those are some of the books off the beaten path I’ll be looking for at BEA, Reader. Any other suggestions? What are you looking forward to this fall?

April

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BEA16: Hopes and Dreams

Posted 9 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, books and publishing, Reading, Topics

BEA16 Hopes and Dreams

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I’ve been consistently sick for about three weeks and because of that pretty consistently hopped up on cough syrup while at home.

Work has been an unholy nightmare of the best kind. There’s a contested judge’s election that is turning into nasty politics, inter-office drama, and the usual suspects. We finished up jury trials in April and don’t have jury trials again until mid-June. I’ll admit that I’m feeling a little antsy and would like some intellectual stimulation to break things up. After trials in June I won’t have jury trials until September. I’m going to need some good reading.

BEA is near. I’ve finally started looking into where I need to be when to get the most out of it. More or less I have to admit that really what I’m most excited about is getting to hang out with Catherine (Gilmore Guide to Books) and Shannon (River City Reading). There do look to be some interesting titles being dropped and I’m hoping to find some titles that will amaze and excite me so maybe I can start reviewing a few books here and there again.

Okay, Reader. What have you been up to? Roll call for those of us going to BEA! 

April

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Weekend Gourmet: Staplehouse

Posted 17 April, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Places, Topics

staplehouse
Staplehouse
: Atlanta, Georgia

Experience Date: April 16, 2016

Price: $85 per person for five courses, $40 additional for wine pairing (six pours) – includes gratuity

I read quite a few articles about Staplehouse before we went last night. It’s being hailed as one of Atlanta’s up and coming new restaurants. I have to agree for the most part. On the whole, the food itself was quite good. My main issue with the experience was how damn loud it was in there. Also, the atmosphere was a little more laid back than I felt like I was paying for.

But let’s talk about the food.

Amuse Bouche: Party for the mouth! Buttermilk curd on crackers, sushi, and foie gras balls. I don’t remember what those sticks were. Those balls are covered in hazelnuts and are absolutely heavenly. It was paired with a surprise sparkling wine, I think it was an Atmospheres out of Loire, France. It was light without being too sweet.

staplehouse amuse bouche

amuse bouche

1st: Excellent Alabama blue crab with fresh asparagus, radishes, and egg yolks. The dish was initially a little bland until I managed a bite that also included an egg yolk. The saltiness of the egg allowed for the flavor in the rest of the dish to come out and I was really impressed. It was paired with a gentil vin d’alsace, a white wine that was just the right balance.

staplehouse crab

blue crab, asparagus, radish, egg yolk
Wine: gentil vin d’alsace, MEYER-FONNÉ, alsace, france 2014

2nd: Absolutely one of my favorite courses. The homemade ravioli was so fresh it melted in my mouth and was cooked to perfection. The green garlic and snap peas on top definitely were the perfect added crunch to make the dish just right. It was paired with a pošip out of Croatia, (that’s a white wine). I’m not sure that I’ve ever had Croatian wine, but it was an excellent pairing to go with both the pasta and the vegetables.

staplehouse ravioli

ravioli, green garlic, koji, snap peas
Wine: pošip, ZLATAN, hvar, croatia 2012

3rd: Poached sablefish. I pointed out to my husband that we didn’t get fish forks or knives with this course.  Poached fish generally isn’t something I care for, but in my experience when you have a phenomenal chef, foods you don’t normally care for can be made magical. This did not happen for me with the poached sablefish. The lime was overwhelming in this dish and the texture of the fish was something akin to warm sushi. I like sushi. I like cooked fish. I don’t like that state in between. This course was a fail for me.

The wine pairing was decent, but didn’t save the course. It was a Napa Valley Chardonnay that was unremarkable. Not bad, but unremarkable.

staplehouse sablefish

sablefish, salami, lime, nasturtium
Wine: chardonnay, TRUCHARD, carneros, napa ca 2014

Bread Intermezzo: Potato sourdough with homemade salted thyme butter. Heavenly.

bread intermezzo!

bread intermezzo!

4th: Meat course! Steak. The cut is best described as the top of the ribeye. Just like the ravioli, it was cooked to melt in your mouth perfection and topped with whipped fat – which I know sounds a little iffy – but I promise you was absolutely delightful. The charred vegetables on the side here should not be overlooked as they were a perfect compliment in both flavor and texture. The wine was a nebbiolo (red). To me it was a little like a cabernet in how it was a bit heavier and more bold than I generally like in a red, but paired with the beef, it was just right.

staplehouse steak

bear creek beef, spring onions, english peas, smilax
Wine: nebbiolo, BORGOGNO, ‘no name’, piedmont, italy 2011

5th: Dessert. Strawberries and butter cake. Sounded a little dull on paper, but Staplehouse delivered strawberries in a couple of different ways. Homemade sorbet, fresh strawberries, and strawberry bark were presented. The cake itself was a bit dry and lackluster. The most notable thing for me about this course was that it was paired with a moscato, which I normally really dislike – but this moscato wasn’t cloyingly sweet and it was paired perfectly with the strawberries.

staplehouse dessert

strawberries, butter cake
Wine: moscato d’asti, vietti, piedmont, italy 2014

Chocolate Truffles: Made in house! Surprise!

Cheers! Home made chocolate truffles!

Cheers! Home made chocolate truffles!

Overall: More or less this was worth the money for me. Like I said before, I felt that the casualness of the venue and the staff to be a little bit underwhelming considering the price. However, I get the idea behind trying to get the millennials who are allegedly ‘less casual’ in their desire for dining experiences.

Personally, I don’t need the white tablecloths and the guys with crumb sweepers – though they are nice touches. But I do require a certain amount of formality based on the price. This isn’t to say that the staff wasn’t incredibly knowledgeable about what they were serving, but …. the price just makes me wish that it was a little quieter and the tiniest bit more formal.

Worth a trip.

So Reader, what do you think? Any amazing recommendations for me? Anyone else been to Staplehouse?

April

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Sunday Salon: Easter Edition

Posted 27 March, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes, musings

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Time // 12:04 EDT.

Watching // DVRed episodes of The Walking Dead. Trying to catch up so me and Mr. SFR can watch the final episodes of this season together. Is there weird sexual tension between Rick and Michonne or is it me? Edit: Just finished the episode.. oh shit!

Also, Better Call Saul might be the most underrated show on television. I love it.

Joined // Snapchat. All the kids are doing it, you can find me there as steadfastreader. I’ve also been using a new app to track my water intake called Plant Nanny. It’s adorable and pretty effective. Apparently, your water intake should be based on your weight and activity level. Right now I’m supposed to be drinking 102 oz a day.

Plant Nanny

Plant Nanny

Playing //  Games with co-workers last night! We played Zombicide which is a totally bitchin’ cooperative game where you get to kill massive amounts of zombies. It was all fun and games until I was sacrificed to save the rest of the group. Easter appropriate.

Also started playing the computer game Factorio. It’s fun, but likely to be a giant time suck.

Reading // A bunch of stuff. Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which I’m enjoying. A People’s History of the United States is hard listening, but I think absolutely necessary. Also still wending my way through Gaiman’s The Sandman.

Hmmm… I feel like there’s more, Reader but I guess I’ll have to edit the post as it come to me later. How’s your Easter Sunday going?

April

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Three for One Thursday: Tournament of Books

Posted 24 March, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

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Bats of the Republic by: Zachary Thomas Dodson

Mini-Synopsis: A historical fiction/dystopian fiction crossover bound together with a beautifully illuminated text.

Mini-Review: This book is clever and manages to straddle two very different (seemingly incompatible) genres at the same time. But first, a word of warning. This book absolutely must be read in the hardcover edition.  No Kindle or other ePub versions, no ARCs. I also have my doubts about how well a library copy would hold up. The story is enough to hold it’s own – but believe me this book is a thousand times more enjoyable if you read it as Dodson (who incidentally is both the author and ‘illuminator’) intended it to be read.

Other Trusted Reviews: Shannon @ River City Reading

Rating: 4 stars

The Sellout by: Paul Beatty

Mini-Synopsis: A satire of epic proportions about an African American man sitting in front of the Supreme Court on some very… interesting charges. Touches on different facets of modern American life such as the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, and the father-son relationship.

Mini-Review: Look, this book is hardcore laugh out loud funny. But being a middle class white lady there are points where I felt uncomfortable with the laugh out loud nature of it. As Catherine from The Gilmore Guide to Books put it so eloquently:

“There is a cognitive dissonance in seeing the n-word over and over and over. As In ‘I should NOT be reading a book that uses this word like a comma” but I know it’s a satire.”

YES. EXACTLY THAT. This book is highly enjoyable but sometimes I feel like I’m not really allowed to be laughing at it. Despite that, I have to recommend it.

Other Trusted Reviews: Heather @ Bee’s Book Buzz

Rating: 4.5 stars

A Spool of Blue Thread by: Anne Tyler

Mini-Synopsis: Cradle to grave story about Abby and Red, family life, and growing older.

Mini-Review: This book is pretty well… meh. I really disliked Abby for the majority of the book and quite frankly I just didn’t care about most of the characters. This isn’t to say that Tyler doesn’t do a decent job in fleshing them out – quite the opposite. I just really didn’t care for them. The writing itself is done well enough – but it’s not enough to bump it up into ‘enjoyable’ range for me.

Other Trusted Reviews: Catherine @ The Gilmore Guide to Books

Rating: 2.5 stars

Bring it in, Reader. Thoughts or feelings on any of these? How have your selections been faring during the Tournament of Books?

April

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Let the Tournament (of Books), Begin!

Posted 7 March, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

tournament or books first round bracket

Let the games begin! Today is the first day for the 2016 Tournament of Books. So it was time to queue up the brackets and see where things fall. I did abysmally in my predictions last year, but maybe this year I’ll do better.

Pre-Tournament Play-In Match:

Avenue of Mysteries vs. A Spool of Blue Thread

I’m probably about 75% of the way through John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries and despite feeling like I’ve read this book before, I am enjoying it. I’ve had zero interest in A Spool of Blue Thread, so I’m rooting for the Irving novel. This is far from my most informed decision.

Tournament Proper

Fates and Furies vs. Bats of the Republic

I’ve read both of these books, at this point I’m rooting for Fates to take the Rooster. It hate it that Bats was matched up against it this early in the Tournament because I think Bats is an excellent and unique book in its own right. But I will be very surprised if it takes out the sheer literary amazingness of Groff’s Fates & Furies.

The Sympathizer vs. Oreo

I haven’t reviewed The Sympathizer yet, but I was pretty amazed by it. I thought the author did an astounding job in taking this American back to the horrors of the Vietnam war – and how those horrors were perpetrated on both sides. Oreo, on the other hand, I couldn’t even get more than fifty or so pages into. I’m down for The Sympathizer.

The Turner House vs. Ban en Banlieue

I only read The Turner House and I enjoyed it. I didn’t make it to Ban en Banlieue, so I can’t make too much of an educated guess on this one – but The Turner House is a solid read.

Our Souls at Night vs. The Whites

Look, I don’t think that Our Souls at Night will take the Rooster, but if The Whites knocks it out in the first round I will be pissed. As I said in my review I think that Our Souls at Night is a gorgeous piece of writing, while The Whites is just… not.

A Little Life vs. The New World

I didn’t particularly care for either of these titles, but I think that A Little Life has both a solid fan base and actual beautiful writing in its corner. The New World, for me, had neither of those and its most redeeming quality was the fact that it was very, very short.

The Book of Aron vs. The Tsar of Love and Techno

Both of these books were well written and readable. (I don’t think I’ve reviewed either of them). But as much as I love holocaust literature The Book of Aron was more susceptible to old tired tropes that are a part of that genre. The Tsar of Love and Techno, on the other hand, created a whole new historical fiction world for me. I’ve not read much about the U.S.S.R. or how Russia is after the fall of the U.S.S.R. and The Tsar of Love and Techno made me want to learn more.

Avenue of Mysteries (?) vs. The Story of My Teeth

This is making the assumption that Avenue of Mysteries wins the play-in round. But regardless, I know little to nothing about The Story of My Teeth, other than the fact that a few of my most trusted bloggers DNFed it or didn’t enjoy it. Here’s hoping for Avenue of Mysteries.

The Sellout vs. The Invaders

I’m probably going to be in the minority here, but I have to root for The Invaders. That book, so slim, yet so epic was fabulous to me. The Sellout was excellent, no doubt. It’s a fabulous satire, laugh out loud funny at times, but The Invaders has my heart.

So, these are my picks for round one. How are you feeling Reader? Will you be following along? 

April

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