STEELE PICKS: Best Books of 2018

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

–As its title suggests, this is a novel about marriage. About an American marriage. about the institution of marriage and how it fits or does not fit individual aspirations and dispositions. Recently married couple Celestial and Roy have promising careers in Atlanta—Celestial as an artist and Roy in business. Celestial earned an advanced art degree in New York. She’s focused and determined to excel in the art world. Both she and Roy graduated from historically black colleges. Growing up with wealthy parents affords Celestial the ability to pursue her creative endeavors. Marriage often doesn’t align with a creative spirit.

At its core it’s a novel about the black experience. About what it means to be black in America. According to the NAACP, African Americans comprised 34% of the 6.8 million correctional population in 2014. African Americans are incarcerated at a rate of 5 times that of white Americans. It’s a reality that black Americans will be more likely to know someone in prison or be personally affected by the criminal justice system. It’s a reality that black men get targeted and get wrongfully accused or generally screwed over by the system.

As the novel progresses, the strong, vibrant writing allows readers to become absorbed in Celestial and Roy’s marriage and relationship as well as their relationship to their friends and family. Through these characters, author Tayari Jones explores family and love by delving into step-parenting, wandering biological fathers, fidelity and abandonment. How does the type of family the characters grew up in affect them as adults.

read my full review.

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Any Man by Amber Tamblyn

— If you’re looking for an intense, intelligent and engulfing feminist thriller, you must read ANY MAN. Author Amber Tamblyn challenges rape culture and the problematic treatment of victims and glorification of violence and misogyny through this thriller about a female serial rapist. The novel follows six men: an English teacher, a struggling standup comedian, a bi-racial web designer, a high school student, an alt-right media personality and a transgender man. A uniquely irreverent and impressively original novel, social commentary and crime thriller meld with insightful, sharp prose and diverse writing styles. She weaves in tweets, poetry, internet chat room, a radio talk show. She also flips everything one expects in thriller.

read my full review.

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The Collector’s Apprentice by B.A. Shapiro

–It’s 1922 and a young woman creates a new identity and endeavors to recover her family’s art collection and exact revenge on the fiance who conned her out of her money and reputation. From Philadelphia to Paris, it’s a whirlwind of a historical fiction thriller.

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Crudo by Olivia Laing

— The ecru cover with black lettering and a dismembered fly in the middle of Crudo’s cover pulled me in with its darkness. This might be a slim novel but it’s packed with provocative prose, eccentricities, witty observations and overall intellectual prowess not often accomplished through such brevity and through experimental style. It’s not easy to explain when nothing and everything occurs. It’s a feverish and daring stream of consciousness about our destructive and often restrictive society. Finding an element of safety and belonging can be overwhelming.  Author Olivia Laing  (<em>The Lonely City</em>) impressively wrote her fictional debut in real time over the course of seven weeks.

read my full review.

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Disoriental by Nejar Djavadi

— A gorgeous, exquisite, smart and meditative novel about an Iranian family and its struggles and triumphs. As Kimia Sadr sits in a fertility clinic in Paris she reminisces about family myths and ancestry. She ponders how she got to be where she is at this moment. She recollects her family history as well as Iran’s history and how it’s made her who she is today. Kimia is a lesbian and she’s decided to have a baby with a man that she met during her travels. He’s HIV+ and so they need to use the clinic. Kimia’s been wandering for years in an attempt to figure out where she belongs. For those unfamiliar, it’s the ideal primer to Iranian revolutionary history.  Abundant information gets beautifully shared throughout this novel in an accessible and manageable manner. It’s definitely a challenging yet completely rewarding read.

read my full review.

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Eventide by Therese Bohman

With an emphasis on culture and art, Eventide is a meditation on solitude, success and meaningfulness. Working in a male-dominated field, art history professor Karolina Andersson begins working as thesis advisor to a male student who claims to have discovered new works of art by a female artist in the early twentieth century. He’s attractive and intriguing to Karolina who recently ended a long relationship and finds herself wondering if she wasted her prime years with this man and if she’s even doing what will make her the most fulfilled. She’s plateaued in her career and doesn’t have as much interest in it as she had when she was younger. As a woman who also wasted many years in a bad relationship, who never married or had children and in her late 40s, I found myself completely commiserating with Karolina.

read my full review.

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Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

— a devastating, provocative and beautiful novel which illuminates the  horrific reality of sex trafficking and domestic abuse. Growing up in an impoverished village in India, Savitha and Poornima lack choices such as furthering their education. Instead, they’re expected to marry young and start families. After Poornima’s mother dies, she’s expected to care for her father and younger siblings. Which she’d rather do than be shipped off to marry. The bright spot remains the strong friendship that Savitha and Poornima established. They create saris on looms which Poornima’s father owns.  The women initially think that they might be able to succeed on their own and not have to agree to an arranged marriage. Savitha’s independent spirit and veracity inspires Poornima. Together the women become determined to forge a better reality. Although these women face repeated horrific abuse at the hands of men, author Shobha Rao makes readers both root for the women and wonder what they’ll do next to escape their current predicament.

read my full review.

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Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

–raw poetry

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How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran

–as a C-level and not famous music critic, I loved this novel and found much to which I could relate in this smart, funny, observant novel.

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The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

— this novel is weird and dark and brilliant. it’s about identity, connection, spirituality, faith.  a young woman joins a cult, becomes completely immersed in it and in doing so, grows apart from her boyfriend. he feels completely alienated but he also wants to save her from this cult.

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The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

–I really like Dave Eggers’s nonfiction books. even though i’m a tea drinker, this book about a man bringing coffee from Yemen to the United States is extremely interesting. it’s challenging in many ways. Yemen is a tribal country with much poverty and civil unrest. He’s of Yemen descent which helps immensely. I’m fascinated with Yemen. It’s complicated.

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

— LOVED IT. very relatable. plus I appreciate dark humor. Before I discovered yoga and meditation I would often isolate from the world by downing a bunch of pills. After a bad break-up, I spent three weeks consuming solely Diet Coke and Klonipin. I wanted to shut everything out. It was inherently easier to sleep through the misery in hopes I’d eventually feel better. It wasn’t the best coping mechanism. In case anyone’s wondering, I no longer drink soda and rarely rely on Klonipin. I still have terrible agoraphobia and anxiety but numbing myself isn’t going to fix that and there are much more productive uses of my time.

Everything appealed to me about the novel from the title to the cover—a portrait of a sullen Victorian woman—to the description to this sentence in the opening paragraph: “I’d get two large coffees with cream and six sugars each, chug the first one in the elevator on the way back up to my apartment, then sip the second one slowly while I watched movies and ate animal crackers and took trazodone and Ambien and Nembutal until I feel asleep again.”

read my full review.

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The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

— unusual novel about a female teenager and the Ethiopian community in Boston. she lives with her father. her mother took off. she becomes friendly with a substitute father father, Ayale, who works as a parking lot attendant. She becomes a runner for him, regularly delivering packages to several members of the community. She doesn’t know what she’s delivering and doesn’t ask until there’s some trouble.

I appreciated the beautiful writing and sharp, dark humor and mystery element.

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Who is Vera Kelly? By Rosalie Knecht

–a fantastic spy novel with a charming central character

 

–Amy Steele, January 9, 2019

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on tour: Cults

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New York-based duo Cults — one of my favorite bands– released Offering B-Sides & Remixes, a companion release to 2017’s LP Offering  that includes three previously unreleased songs  and a new remix of “Recovery” by famed producer John Fryer. The band start a U.S. tour in Washington, DC on November 30. Get ready for some dreaminess.

Offering B-Sides & Remixes Tracklisting:

1.) Not Impossible

2.) Hope You Found What You’ve Been Missing

3.) An Echo

4.) Offering (Mike Simonetti Remix)

5.) I Took Your Picture (Etienne de Crecy Remix)

6.) Recovery (John Fryer Remix)

U.S. TOUR DATES:

11/30/18 – DC9 – Washington, DC

12/1/18 – DC9 – Washington, DC

12/2/18 – Johnny Brenda’s – Philadelphia, PA

12/3/18 – Great Scott – Allston, MA

12/8/18 – Baby’s All Right (Early Show) – Brooklyn, NY

12/8/18 – Baby’s All Right (Late Show) – Brooklyn, NY

12/15/18 – Barboza – Seattle, WA

12/16/18 – Barboza – Seattle, WA

12/17/18 – Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR

12/19/18 – The Chapel – San Francisco, CA

12/20/18 – Gundlach Bunschu Winery – Sonoma, CA

12/22/18 – Echo – Los Angeles, CA

12/23/18 – Echo – Los Angeles, CA

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Dandy Warhols 25th Anniversary TOUR and new album

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It’s The Dandy Warhols’ 25th anniversary and the band will release its 10th studio album Why You So Crazy‘ (Dine Alone Records) and embark on a tour in 2019. A 360° short film for the song ‘Be Alright,’ was done in a single shot and filmed at the band’s space, Odditorium, which includes a bar owned by vocalist/guitarist Taylor-Taylor who has a deep passion for the wine world. Taylor-Taylor also directed the film which stars Jessica Pare (Mad Men).

The Dandy Warhols are:

Courtney Taylor-Taylor (vocals, guitar)

Zia McCabe (keyboards, vocals)

Peter Holmström (guitar)

Brent DeBoer (drums)

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‘WHY YOU SO CRAZY’ tracklisting:

1. Fred N Ginger

2. Terraform

3. Highlife

4. Be Alright

5. Thee Elegant Bum

6. Sins Are Forgiven

7. Next Thing I Know

8. Small Town Girls

9. To The Church

10. Motor City Steel

11. Forever

12. Ondine

U.S. TOUR DATES

May 3 – 5 – Atlanta, GA – Shaky Knees Festival (on sale 11.14)

May 6 – Washington, D.C.  – 9.30 Club

May 7 – Boston, MA – The Sinclair

May 8 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel

May 10 – Toronto, ON – CMW

May 11 – Chicago, IL – Metro

May 12 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue

May 14 – Denver, CO – Gothic Theatre

May 16 – Los Angeles, CA – Theatre at the Ace Hotel

May 17 – Santa Ana, CA – The Observatory at North Park

May 18 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore

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new music: Friendly Fires; Molly Burch

Infectious beats and an uplifting song. The video stars British actor Jeremy Irvine (War Horse and Mama Mia). He dances through the streets of London’s Docklands. more info on Friendly Fires.

 

The soulful Molly Burch has an amazing vocal range. “Candy” is from her recently released album First Flower.
Songwriter and actress Nöel Wells (Master Of None / Saturday Night Live) directed the video.
Of the collaboration, Burch says; “I’ve been a huge fan of Noël’s for quite some time so it was a dream of mine for her to direct this video. It’s really inspiring to watch her work. Her mind is so fast and full of ideas constantly. The whole day was mostly female dominated, which is always my preference (shout out to my sister Samy Burch who cast all of the wonderful actors in the video!) It was a glorious experience collaborating and I feel she captured the song so well.”

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book review: A Little Tea Book

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A Little Tea Book by Sebastian Beckwith with Caroline Paul. Bloomsbury| October 16, 2018| 132 pages | $20.00| ISBN: 978-1-63286-902-9

RATING: ****/5*
here’s my little review:

Although I’ve been drinking tea for years, I’ve only started learning about tea. I enjoy an Assam or Earl Grey in the morning and will drink green tea later in the day and evening. This lovely book serves as the ideal tea primer. It has brief sections and a conversational tone. As it states in the introduction: “I’m offering you a little about a lot.” It’s a foray into the world of tea and will make you want to read more and acquire more knowledge. It delves into quite a few tea topics including the tea plant, the six types of tea, names, history and health benefits. I didn’t know that tea originates from one plant—Camellia sinensis. Tea is categorized from least to most oxidized: green, yellow, white, oolong, black and dark. The tea name may refer to the process or to its place of origin. Where a tea comes from matters. For instance: “Green teas grown in China often have a nutty, roasted, vegetal profile while those from Japan tend to be more grassy and rich.” It’s a quick, pleasurable read—while sipping tea, of course– and also a solid reference. It will make a perfect gift for the tea lover in your life.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Bloomsbury.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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book review: Disoriental

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Disoriental by Negar Djavadi. Europa Editions| April 2018| 352 pages | $18.00| ISBN: 978-1-60945-451-7

RATING: *****/5*

“Our memories select, eliminate, exaggerate, minimize, glorify, denigrate. They create their own versions of events and serve up their own reality. Disparate, but cohesive. Imperfect yet sincere. In any case, my memory is so crammed with stories and lies and languages and illusions, and lives marked by exile and death, death and exile, that I don’t even really know how to untangle the threads anymore.”

“I have become—as I’m sure everyone does who has left his or her country—someone else. Someone who has translated myself into other cultural codes. Firstly in order to survive, and then to go beyond survival and forge a future for myself.”

A gorgeous, exquisite, smart and meditative novel about an Iranian family and its struggles and triumphs. As Kimia Sadr sits in a fertility clinic in Paris she reminisces about family myths and ancestry. She ponders how she got to be where she is at this moment. She recollects her family history as well as Iran’s history and how it’s made her who she is today. Kimia is a lesbian and she’s decided to have a baby with a man that she met during her travels. He’s HIV+ and so they need to use the clinic. Kimia’s been wandering for years in an attempt to figure out where she belongs. It’s perhaps not in her birth country where she spent the first ten years of her life and it’s not in her adopted country to which she and her family exiled. Being in one’s twenties and figuring out our place in the world can be complicated enough but Kimia had her sexual identity and cultural identity to figure out.

“Raised in a culture where the community takes precedence over the individual, I’d never been so tangibly aware of my own existence. I finally felt like I was in control of my own life. I could make decisions that had nothing to do with the past, or the way an immigrant has to act in order to gain legitimacy in their host country.” And “I was putting myself back together again, rediscovering happiness, getting back on my own two feet, as if after a long illness.” It’s fascinating that Eastern society stresses community and Western society focuses on individuals. Kimia faces prejudices in facing stereotypes of Iran and the Middle East: “Then a long silence, during which I could see in my interlocutor’s eyes that their Iran was located somewhere between Saudi Arabia and the Lebanese Hezbollah, an imaginary country full of Muslim fundamentalists of who I suddenly became the representative.”

For those unfamiliar, it’s the ideal primer to Iranian revolutionary history. Abundant information gets beautifully shared throughout this novel in an accessible and manageable manner. It’s definitely a challenging yet completely rewarding read. In reading Disoriental I was reminded of the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi which also focuses on the disdain for education and intellectualism and its impact on the Iranian Revolution. It’s not that different from our current political climate where well-educated people tend to be less likely to blindly follow a leader. You’ll understand and relate to this novel. Disoriental has been nominated for a National Book Award for Translated Literature. I’m rarely disappointed in Europa editions titles and I need to read them more often.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

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book review: Crudo

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Crudo by Olivia Laing. W.W. Norton| September 11, 2018| 142 pages | $21.00| ISBN: 978-0-393-65272-7

RATING: 4.5/5*

The ecru cover with black lettering and a dismembered fly in the middle of Crudo’s cover pulled me in with its darkness. This might be a slim novel but it’s packed with provocative prose, eccentricities, witty observations and overall intellectual prowess not often accomplished through such brevity and through experimental style. It’s not easy to explain when nothing and everything occurs. It’s a feverish and daring stream of consciousness about our destructive and often restrictive society. Finding an element of safety and belonging can be overwhelming. Author Olivia Laing  (The Lonely City) impressively wrote her fictional debut in real time over the course of seven weeks.

Kathy, a recently-turned-40 writer contemplates existential issues, the horror of the Trump presidency, white supremacy, Brexit, impending nuclear war with North Korea, social media, marriage and love.  “She was at the middle of her life, going south, going nowhere, stuck between station like a broken-down engine.” She marries a man 29 years older than her (also a writer) and falls in love. Of this new marriage: “She was feeling panicky, she couldn’t quite remember how to be alone, ironic since she barely regarded herself as female. A fag with tits, statically improbable but not unheard of, especially in the conglomerate-building internet era of gender dismantlement.”

When Kathy meets a friend at a pub, “They talked about marriage, how to do it so it didn’t bury you beneath its baggage. They thought they had a handle on it, they thought they could see a way to maintaining their dignity independence autonomy style, but it was touch and go they both admitted.” Completely relatable to me as I’m 49 and I haven’t been on a date in a year and I’ve never been married and struggle to find someone intellectually and culturally compatible. Someone who can support and comfort without control or stifling. “You think you know yourself inside out when you live alone, but you don’t, you believe you are a calm untroubled or at worst melancholic person, you do not realize how irritable you are, how any little thing, the wrong kind of touch or tone, a lack of speed in answering a question, a particular cast of expression will send you into apoplexy because you are so unchill, because you have not learnt how to soften your borders, how to make room.” Sheer brilliance throughout.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W Norton.

 

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