Category Archives: Books

When Authors Are Torturers

Every book lover knows that authors are the source of both our greatest joy and our greatest pain. I’m talking about the often excruciating wait that comes between books from our favorite writers. On a rational level, we want them to take as long as needed to produce a quality novel, but on an irrational level, we’re desperate for our next fix. There are several authors whose disrupted publication schedule is keeping me in suspense at the moment, so here’s a rundown.

J.K. Rowling, as Robert Galbraith, was publishing the Cormoran Strike mysteries like clockwork. 2013, 2014, and 2015 each brought an installment. But 2016…nothing. There’s still no publication date for the fourth book, which means we probably won’t see it until fall at the earliest. I realize that she’s been busy, y’know, writing movie scripts and collaborating on plays. But I need more Cormoran and Robin in my life! The Guardian reports that she’s working on two books: the next Cormoran Strike mystery and a novel under her own name. Here’s hoping for the mystery in the latter part of 2017 and the novel in 2018.

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Meeting Rainbow at NerdCon 2015 when Carry On was freshly released

Rainbow Rowell spoiled us by being impressively prolific in her early years of publication. I believe she was already working on Fangirl (or possibly done with it) by the time Eleanor & Park was published, which resulted in two books in 2013. Then she gave us one book a year until 2016. I know she wrote a screenplay for Eleanor & Park, a movie that didn’t get made, and she signed a deal to write two graphic novels. I’ve been so anxious for the first graphic novel collaboration with Faith Erin Hicks. I imagine that the art side is extremely time consuming, but this announcement was made three years ago. Three years!

My last torturer is Maureen Johnson. Maureen has had some serious health shenanigans in the last few years, so I can’t really begrudge her the delay in her publishing schedule. And yet…the last Shades of London book came out two years ago. I miss my favorite irreverent ghost squad! I reread The Name of the Star recently, which was delightful, but it also made me impatient for the fourth book. She also has a new mystery series scheduled to launch this year called Truly Devious. That could almost make up for Shades of London. (Almost.)


Also at NerdCon 2015, Maureen Johnson leading a Q&A with the Vlogbrothers

In all seriousness, I love these women and will happily read their books whenever they’re released. 2016 was just a dry year for a lot of my favorite authors. In literature we play the long game, so there’s always something to anticipate.

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Reading Roundup 2016


With the help of my trusty friend Good Reads, I have another year of reading data to share. My goal for 2016 was to read 20 books and reread some recent favorites. Well, folks, I read 20 books! And for the first time since I started setting these goals, I finished more than a week before the end of the year.

However, I failed in the rereading part of my goal. This is partially due to the fact that I went back to school part-time in the fall. I’m happy that school doesn’t seem to be restricting my pleasure reading too much, but it does reduce my free time somewhat. As I worked on my Best of 2016 posts, it became clear that I still managed to read many wonderful books. There were impressive second novels from Suzanne Rindell and Eowyn Ivey, two favorites from past years. I’m also pleased that I read four nonfiction books. Hooray for broadening horizons!

In 2017, I will read 20 books and continue trying to reread. 20 feels like a realistic goal, even with the addition of school. Although I don’t have as much time for it, rereading helps me grow as a writer. I’m looking forward to new books from Sarah Dessen and Paula Hawkins—and hoping for something new from Rainbow Rowell and another Cormoran Strike mystery. Happy reading!

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Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 2

This year I’m in the unusual position of having already written posts about almost every book in my top 5. Sometimes it’s harder to write about books that I really love because I just want to say, “It’s sooooo good,” but I’m happy to have longer musings to offer. Here are my favorite books of 2016!

5. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Dead Wake Cover

I feel like I’ve read a great deal about World War II and very little about World War I. Thankfully Erik Larson, the wizard of history writing, turned his attention to that era. Dead Wake follows the events leading up to the sinking of the Lusitania, one of the catalysts for the U.S. entering the war in Europe. This being Eric Larson, he gives the full scope of the event, from the ship’s passengers to military intelligence to the soldiers aboard the German submarine. I consider it one of his most fascinating works. (You can read my full review here.)

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


As Gillian Flynn did in Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins plays with timelines and perspectives. The Girl on the Train follows Rachel, an alcoholic woman who becomes interested in a couple she sees from the train every day. Although this thriller is mainly focused on plot, I keenly felt Rachel’s loneliness and desperation. Other perspectives come from Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex, and Megan, the girl she watches from the train. I relished looking into these flawed women’s psyches. (You can read my book-to-film comparison here.)

3. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey


Eowyn Ivey made us wait four years for her second novel, but this was worth the wait. To the Bright Edge of the World is another piece of exquisite historical fiction set in Alaska. While her first novel focused on quiet moments, this one has plenty of action as Colonel Allen Forrester leads an expedition up the Wolverine River. Yet their journey also contains simple moments of human connection. Back at the military barracks, his wife Sophie pursues an interest in photography that raises eyebrows with the other wives. A beautifully written, beautifully human novel with a hint of the uncanny. (You can read my full review here.)

2. Room by Emma Donoghue


Room is a triumph of character voice. The story of a woman held captive in a single room is narrated by her five-year-old son Jack, who has never known the outside world. Even though I committed the cardinal sin of watching the movie first, I could appreciate what Emma Donoghue achieved with this novel. Jack has a distinctive way of speaking that reflects his age and bizarre upbringing. I wanted to jump through the page and hug him, but that’s not to say that the story is saccharine. As was mirrored in the film, Ma and Jack are perfectly imperfect.

1. Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell


Suzanne Rindell is my favorite new author on the literary fiction scene. Three-Martini Lunch deals with three characters searching for literary success in 1958 New York City. As in her first novel The Other Typist, Rindell explores the ways that we present ourselves to others and how small decisions shape our lives. The narrators range from Cliff, a deluded Greenwich Village hipster, to Miles, a black man coming to terms with his identity. Even as they made mistakes, I cared so much for these characters and hated to leave their world. I suspect this isn’t the last time Suzanne Rindell makes my list. (You can read my full review here.)

Thanks for joining me on this year-end review!

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Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 1

My reading took a somewhat different direction this year. I read very little in the young adult genre, but a lot of mystery and multiple nonfiction works. There were even a few classics because you don’t just stop being an English nerd. Here are my favorite books read in 2016, numbers 10 through 6!

10. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris


My Classic Hollywood education has naturally progressed to reading. Pictures at a Revolution follows the production of the 1967 Best Picture nominees and the breakdown of the studio system. The book could have easily been a confusing collection of names, but Mark Harris makes the stories easy to follow without feeling the need to refer back to earlier chapters. Like the best writers of film history and analysis, he brings immediacy to the rebellious beginnings of films that are now established classics. I stayed interested from start to finish.

9. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar

Esther Greenwood is a scholarship student at a prestigious East Coast college doing a summer internship with a women’s magazine in New York City, during which she experiences mental breakdown. Swap Esther Greenwood for Sylvia Plath, and all of these details remain true to her life. While sometimes stressful, The Bell Jar provides spot-on descriptions of the acute pain of depression. Having read a biography of Plath’s early life in 2014, I enjoyed finding the fictional counterparts to real-life people. It’s a tough but worthwhile read.

8. Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane


As mentioned in this post, I’ve been reading Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro mysteries this year. I liked all of the books, but Prayers for Rain stands out as a favorite. Being the fifth book about these characters, the emotional threads start to come together in satisfying ways. Patrick and Angie’s repartee is as sharp as ever, and at this point Lehane has become deft at asking complicated moral questions without being heavy-handed. The psychopathic killer also provides a particularly mind-bending mystery for the detectives and the reader.

7. Me Before You by Jojo Meyes


I avoided reading this book for a few years because of the weepy storyline. Then I took it to Florida with me, and while there are weepy moments, I was pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of the characters and pacing. When the movie came out, many people took issue with the story’s approach to the paraplegic character. All I can say as a reader is that I took his choices as particular to him and not representative of how all paralyzed individuals feel or think. To recommend itself, the book has witty dialogue and a narrator worth loving.

6. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca Cover

I had a running joke with my mom about long it took me to read this book. However, the delays were a product of library book interruptions, not a dislike for the book itself. Daphne Du Maurier’s writing reminds me of my favorite Gothic novels. In fact, the setting and plot are somewhat reminiscent of Jane Eyre, which blends the styles of Gothic and Victorian novels. While maintaining its foreboding atmosphere, Rebecca also made me feel a kinship with the narrator. I was glad to take my time with it. (You can read my full review here.)

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Courtney Coherent, By the Book 3

It’s been over two years since my last “By the Book” post, so I think I can safely indulge myself again. These questions are taken from the By the Book interviews in the New York Times Book Review. Some questions are new, some updated.


What book is on your night stand now?

I’m currently reading two books, which is unusual for me. The first is Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris. It’s a detailed look at the five movies nominated for Best Picture in 1967 and how their productions reflected the breakdown of the Old Hollywood studio system. I’m also working on Nutshell, Ian McEwan’s new book, because I got it off the library waitlist and won’t be able to renew.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

This year my reading has gone between literary fiction and psychological thrillers. I’ve also integrated some nonfiction into the rotation: a smattering of literary biographies, history, and psychology. I haven’t found myself reading young adult this year, so I must have needed a break. All the better to return to the genre with fresh eyes. Although I’m much less averse to mysteries these days, I still don’t find myself interested in legal dramas or straight-up romance novels.

Who writes the best thrillers?

My favorites are Gillian Flynn and Dennis Lehane. Although she’s only put out one book so far, I’m excited to see what Paula Hawkins comes up with after The Girl on the Train. Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters, also knows how to scare the bejesus out of me.

Tell us about your favorite short stories.

I’m not particularly well-versed in short stories, but my favorite is “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. It captures the vulnerability of being a young woman and teeters on the uncanny edge of reality as only Oates can do. J. D. Salinger also meant a lot to me as a teenager.

How do you organize your books?

Moving into a studio apartment, my biggest concern was whether there would be room for all my books. Thanks to some generous shelving in the closet, there was! Outside of the closet, I have a long, skinny bookshelf with perfect spaces for poetry, nonfiction, and books about writing. My larger bookshelf has most of my young adult and favorite adult fiction. Overflow is relegated to the closet.


What was the last book that made you cry?

Definitely Room. I ugly-cried watching the movie, and even though I knew what would happen, I cried again reading the book. If you want to reduce me to tears, just show me a child in distress.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain? 

There are way too many good ones, but I love Jane Eyre as a heroine. Despite having little social power, she stands up for herself and makes her own choices. My favorite villain would have to be someone whose villain status is ambiguous, like Amy Dunne from Gone Girl or Odalie and Rose from The Other Typist.

What book read for school had the greatest impact on you? And which book did you hate reading as a student?

Eleventh-grade English was a formative year for me, particularly studying poetry and the modernist writers. The Great Gatsby sparked my interest in literary criticism, as well as evoking themes that still fascinate me today. On the other hand, I loathed reading Ernest Hemingway. I had to read The Sun Also Rises again in college, and my feelings were much the same.

What was the last book you just couldn’t finish?

Oddly enough, I’ve tried twice this year to read books about Puritans and never made it past the first chapter. The first attempt was The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, and the second was The Witches by Stacy Schiff. I will have to give Sarah Vowell another chance because she seems very much in my wheelhouse. Apparently Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials are topics that I find interesting in theory but not in practice.

What do you plan to read next?

The new Blackthorn & Grim book just came out, so hopefully I will be getting that from the library soon. I’m also interested in reading Five Came Back, the other book by Mark Harris, and some of the writers referenced by Suzanne Rindell in Three-Martini Lunch, like James Baldwin and Truman Capote.


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The Girl on the Train, Page and Screen

I was late to the party, but The Girl on the Train is one of the most entertaining thrillers that I’ve read this year. My mom and I both waited impatiently for it to be released in paperback, and last weekend we saw the movie together. As you may have gathered from the previews of disgruntled Emily Blunt demanding to know WHAT HAPPENED THAT NIGHT, it’s about an alcoholic woman trying to piece together her involvement in another woman’s disappearance.


What makes the novel so interesting is also what makes it difficult to adapt to film. Paula Hawkins tells the story from three women’s perspectives and uses a nonlinear structure. The narrators are Rachel, the titular “girl on the train”; Anna, her ex-husband’s new wife; and Megan, the woman who disappears. Like Gone Girl before it, an easy criticism of this novel is that none of the characters are particularly likable. I happen to love Gillian Flynn’s penchant for deeply flawed women, and I feel the same about Paula Hawkins. Also similar to the experience of reading Gone Girl, I find my sympathies evolving as the book reveals more about each character. I wouldn’t want every book I read to have characters like this, but I enjoy it under the right circumstances.

Nonlinear story structure is usually an exciting device in fiction, especially for mystery writers. It can add to a sense of unease or confusion while also necessitating that the reader be engaged with the details of the mystery in order to follow along. However, visually indicating shifts in time can feel awkward on screen. The Girl on the Train attempts to do this with time and narrator shifts, which felt clumsy to me as a viewer. I also spent the first 20 minutes confused about why almost everyone in suburban London had an American accent, only to realize that the film switched the setting to New York and the Hudson River Valley. Except Rachel is still British and Anna has a slight Scandinavian accent. Paula Hawkins has pointed out that the story could take place in any commuter town, but I certainly missed the British-ness of the novel.


The three female perspectives are my favorite part of the novel. At first they seem quite different, but the reader begins to see commonalities in their experiences. On the other hand, the film is shot from a very male perspective. This is particularly apparent with Megan, who is frequently half-dressed and being ravaged by her husband with a bored look on her face. An aggressive sexuality is part of her character, but the film makes her an object rather than an agent. There’s also a certain meekness to Anna that isn’t present on the page. For a story that delves into three women’s psyches, a detached and sexually voyeuristic mood feels incongruous. Rachel suffers the least in this respect, both from getting the most screen time and Emily Blunt’s committed performance.

As is often the case with adaptation, I might like The Girl on the Train better with a second viewing, but for now I’ll stick to the book.

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Three Martinis, Three Narrators


It was bizarre the way time was like an accordion, and distinct moments that felt so disparate sometimes folded together with a callous symmetry.

Three-Martini Lunch was largely the inspiration for my rewatching Mad Men. The novel is set in Greenwich Village in 1958, two years before the start of the show. Although Mad Men mostly inhabits a different social sphere, Don has a few run-ins with hipsters in the Village. Reading the book and watching the show at the same time enriched both experiences for me.

Suzanne Rindell is the author of The Other Typist, one of my favorite books in recent years. In her second novel, she turns her attention to a different era of New York City. Three-Martini Lunch intertwines the lives of a Greenwich Village hipster, an aspiring editor fresh off the bus from Indiana, and a talented writer from Harlem. While her first novel showed a gift for character voice, Rindell takes this a step further by creating three distinct voices in her latest work. She makes me absolutely feel the characters through their way of thinking and speaking. With Three-Martini Lunch, she brings together individuals from very different backgrounds to create a surprising and meaningful story.

Cliff Nelson has chosen the Village lifestyle, but he was raised in wealth with a successful book editor for a father. Eden Katz pursues a publishing career amid hints that her Jewish last name, not to mention being female, could be barriers. Miles Tillman was raised in Harlem, but his intellectualism and natural writing ability draw him into the Village crowd. The Other Typist was deliciously unnerving because of its unreliable narrator. Although Rindell explores similar ground with Cliff, his delusions of grandeur are more along the lines of hilarious or pathetic. The reader is invited to question the biases of all three narrators, which I think is one of the most valuable effects literature can have.

Suzanne Rindell is a literature nerd’s novelist. While all writing is in conversation with the work that came before it, Rindell is unusually candid about her literary inspirations. And I love that about her! Three-Martini Lunch has echoes of Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, and James Baldwin—all of these cited by Rindell in the acknowledgments. Having read The Bell Jar earlier this year, I enjoyed seeing the parallels between Eden and Esther Greenwood’s experiences as young women trying to enter the elite world of writers and editors. Not to mention, Eden lives at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, just as Plath did when she stayed in New York for a summer internship. (Esther lived in a fictionalized version of the Barbizon.)

Although I was more familiar with the cultural reference points for Cliff and Eden’s stories, Miles was the emotional heart of the story. As he attempts to learn more about his late father, he is forced to confront the complexities of his own identity. Miles and Cliff are excellent foils. At first glance Miles certainly seems like a more reliable narrator, but his restrained manner extends to the way he tells the story. I may want to work backwards to the source material and read some James Baldwin. Probably a sign that I didn’t want this book to end.

One great book makes a new favorite book. Two great books makes a new favorite author. Pairing history with fascinatingly flawed characters and all things identity-themed, Suzanne Rindell is right in my sweet spot.

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