Monday, February 29, 2016

Winter Bingo

It is February 29th, and that means that Winter Bingo is over. Here's my final card:

In a surprising turn of events, I learned that I'll Give You the Sun is an award winner, so I checked off that spot as well, which means I completed another row.

I completed 16 squares total, including two complete rows. Here's list of the qualifying books I read, in order that I read them. Links go to my reviews.

One-word title: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Romance: Waiting on You by Kristan Higgins
Time travel: The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski
Thriller: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Start a new series: Asking For It by Lilah Pace
White cover: Bonk by Mary Roach
Multi POV: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
2015 Release You Missed: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Graphic Novel: Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
A Friend's Fave: Hild by Nicola Griffith
Book Was a Gift: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
Award Winner: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Pink cover: A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean
Blue cover: Saga volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Fantasy: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
2016 Debut: Daredevils by Shawn Vestal

Phew! That was fun. Considering that I didn't read anything just for this card, I managed to check off a whole lot of squares. Imagine if I had tailored my reading towards this challenge!

Now I'll be focusing on my TBR Pile Challenge and Bardathon Challenge.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Knitting

I finished the Arrow Socks over a week ago, but the pictures from last weekend were terrible and I needed to redo them during the week. Luckily, I was home on vacation all week so I was able to take pictures during the day.

Here's one of them on.

The Arrow Socks pattern is from Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch, and I bought the yarn in Lancaster, PA when I was there a couple of years ago. The colorway is called Buggy Top. I used size 0 needles, as I generally do. I wore these socks already and they were nice and warm and comfy and I'm pretty happy with them. I also like the way the light gray striped as I was knitting. Plus they're a sensible color so I'm likely to wear them more than I wear, say, my bright orange socks. (I usually wear them under tall boots. Nobody needs to know.)

Since I'm on vacation this week I've had time to do more knitting and you'll be thrilled to learn that I started.....another pair of gray socks. I'm sorry. It really makes for boring blog fodder. But I've also restarted my East Neuk Hoodie in a shade of mustard yellow that I really like so that's is exciting. I hope to post an update with pictures sometime soon!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Time Traveler's Wife

In which I share vague recollections of books I read long ago that have stuck with me.

I read Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife years ago and loved it so much it instantly became a favorite. But it was also such an incredibly heartbreaking story that I can't bear to read it again.

It's a love story about Henry and Claire, who are star-crossed in the worst way. Henry is a time traveler and he has no control over his travels, nor does he even understand why it happens. So he meets Claire at many times during her life but they're not always age-appropriate for each other, and he doesn't necessarily get to stay for long. You can see how difficult this could make a relationship. I just felt so awful for Henry because, well, what a way to live. And I felt bad for Claire too, because she never knew when he'd be there and when he'd suddenly be ripped from her with no warning.

Don't watch the movie, by the way. I did, not on purpose, but because it happened to be on, and I wish I hadn't. It made me want to read the book again just to cleanse the badness from my head, but as I said I just can't read it again.

Audrey Niffenegger has published one other novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, which was only ok. But she has also published some illustrated novels which are quite good, my very favorite of which is The Night Bookmobile

I do hope that someday I will find it in myself to read this wonderful story again, but even if I don't I think it might just stick with me forever.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (2015)

In a world inspired by ancient Rome, a young woman watches as the only family she has is ripped from her by the Martials, the ruling class. Determined to save her brother, she seeks out the Resistance for help. They agree, but for a high price: she must go undercover as a slave and spy on the Commandant at the most prestigious military academy in the country. The Commandant is cruel and vicious, and her last slave was killed after just two weeks. Laia doesn't know how she'll survive, but it's her only choice. Meanwhile, the Commandant's own son, Elias, dreams of escape from the academy and a life he wants no part of. When their paths cross, Laia and Elias begin to forge an unlikely friendship.

The idea of an oppressed underclass in a violent society and one or two teenagers trying to break free seems familiar for a reason. When you add in the Trials, in which Elias and four other recent graduates must compete to the death to become the new Emperor, it conjures comparisons with several other teen dystopias. Since I'm already going down this road, I'll start with the things I didn't like about the book (in order from least to most bothersome) and then move on to what I liked.

Laia's devotion to her brother is what the whole story hinges on and like in so many other books, this deep familial love drives our heroine to risk her own life again and again. I'm honestly never totally convinced by this and - here especially - she has so little chance of surviving and even so it's far from certain that her efforts will save her brother anyhow. It's also true that Laia had nothing left to lose, so I'm willing to overlook this for the most part.

Speaking of the risks, the Commandant is supposed to be so ruthless and cruel that slaves rarely lasted more than a week or so with her. Initially this showed in her treatment of Laia, but then it started feeling like the Commandant let a lot go. Had there been some explanation, like maybe the Commandant being sick of having to train new slaves and making a decision to let up a bit, this would have made more sense. As it was, it's obvious that Laia just needed to survive in order for the book to continue.

I've identified the line of dialogue that I dislike the most in the world, and which appears in far too many books including this one. That line is: "It's not like that." When Elias defends the slave Laia, his best friend Helene accuses him of being sexually involved with Laia. This is not true, yet instead of saying, "No, actually I just feel bad for her because she's a slave," which would be the truth, he says "It's not like that." Why is this line always used in books? It's so close to an admission of guilt, it's more like trying to reframe it. It would be like saying, "Yes, I slept with her but not just for a cheap thrill like you think." It's weak and lame, and I've never heard anyone say it in real life.

Those are very specific criticisms, but what I liked about the book is much more general. I mentioned earlier that the setting was inspired by ancient Rome, and it definitely had that feel about it in terms of its place in history. I liked this historic dystopia feel, void of any kind of technology, and felt like I was transported to a very different place than I had ever been before.

Despite some of the plot holes, the story really kept me going and I enjoyed it a lot while I was reading it. I wanted to pick the book up at every opportunity and sit for hours reading to find out what happened next. I really didn't know where it was going to go, and I was surprised many times.

One specific thing that I can pinpoint that I liked was the character of Helene. She and Elias were super close and there was a bit of sexual tension happening, which was especially awkward since they had been such good friends for so long. But what I liked was that Helene was portrayed realistically as part of their class in that she wasn't sympathetic to the Scholar class, including Laia. Elias really was pretty alone in his views, which makes his character more special, and Helene was a complicated, believable character who I still admired quite a bit. I should mention that she is the only female student at the school, so she's not in an easy position. She is super smart and strong, but is still a product of her society in some ways.

I probably wouldn't have picked this up on my own but we chose it for my book group and I did really enjoy the time I spent reading it. My criticisms are enough that I won't give it high ratings and I'm not likely to continue the series (did I mention it's the first in a series? Of course it is.) But I spent a few enjoyable days getting lost in the story and in this fascinating, cruel world.

An Ember in the Ashes is a fantasy and thus fulfills another square for Winter Bingo. I unfortunately have no series finales or works in translation on my reading horizon, so this fantasy square isn't actually helping me much.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ten Books I Was Surprised I Liked

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Ten Books I Enjoyed Recently That Weren't My Typical Genre/Type of Book. I've amended that just slightly because I read in so many genres, so I went with the more general topic of books that I didn't necessarily expect to like but did.

1. Macbeth by Shakespeare
I mean, I didn't love it, but for the longest time I've been convinced that I hate Shakespeare and I was apparently wrong.

2. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
This series just didn't sound like the sort of thing I'd like, and I wasn't especially grabbed by the art. But I gave it a try based on the positive reviews I'd heard, and a sudden desire to catch up on graphic novels, and was sucked in right away.

3. Asking For It by Lilah Pace
Just the title and premise together made me cringe. I was very skeptical, but the story was well-crafted and the issues dealt with in a way that was sensitive and compelling and I really got into the story.

4. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
To be honest, I was sort of dreading reading this book because it's science-y and not about people, plus I tend to struggle with nonfiction in general. It wasn't the easiest read, but I definitely liked it more than I thought I would.

5. Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin
My initial reaction was kind of luke-warm, I think mostly because it was sold as a romance but it's more of a steampunk adventure story. What surprises me most about this book is how much it has grown on me since I finished it. It's the first in a series and I ended up pre-ordering number 2, which is waiting for me on my nook.

6. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
Because again, science. I listened to this on my flight to Russia and I think I'll always associate the two. It had adventure, danger, and a whole lot of good advice about life.

7. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
I did not expect to read this entire book. In fact, it's super jam-packed with data, statistics, and facts about race and mass incarceration and I took me a while to get through because I had to stop frequently to process what I had just read. But there was no question of stopping - I always wanted to pick it up again and learn more.

8. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
Although I had some problems with this novel, it was pretty enjoyable overall. Because of my conflicted feelings after reading it, I am mostly surprised that I still think about it as often as I do. I've heard that the author's next book is comparatively dark which intrigues me because I think she would do that well.

9. Waiting On You by Kristan Higgins
I think I'm surprised every time I read a romance that I like, but in this case I've read 3 books of a contemporary romance series and am still enjoying the series. I didn't think I liked contemporary romance, but maybe I am wrong about that.

10. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My view of this book, before reading it, was based entirely on thinking that the title was a bit too...sweet. There are a ton of mystery series out there that are too cozy for me and I think I thought this was one of them. The only reason I ended up reading it is because I was a desperate for an audiobook and didn't have any better ideas at the time. Although I haven't yet read any more books in this series, I'm definitely not opposed to doing so.

Have you read any books that you were surprised you liked? Share in the comments!

Monday, February 22, 2016


Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1606)

I have begun on my Bardathon Challenge! I haven't read any Shakespeare since high school but remember it being fairly arduous, so I was skeptical when, at dinner last weekend, two friends said I could probably read Macbeth in a couple of hours. In reality, it did take me longer, but only because of reading all the notes that accompanied the text. But I still read it all in one afternoon.

So, this is the one about the guy named Macbeth, who meets up with some witches who make predictions that he'll become king so he then murders the king to make this happen. He had doubts, but his wife encouraged him, and they both end up feeling horribly guilty. But then he goes on to kill even more people until he ends up dead himself.

It feels strange to write about something that is so incredibly influential and famous and has been written about to death by a million scholars. But I'm just going to do what I always do and tell you about my experience reading it because that's all I've got. I'm not a scholar of any sort. I wasn't even an English major.

As I said, it was shorter and quicker to read than I expected. Even more surprising was that the language wasn't that difficult for me. I remember how impermeable it felt when I was in high school, but I know more words now, and honestly a few of them I just learned recently from reading Hild ("thane" and "wyrd" are two that come to mind.) I'm glad the language didn't bog me down like it did in high school, because that's the real strength of the play and I'm glad that now I can appreciate it.

It's a pretty weak plot, to be honest. When it is discovered that Duncan, the king, has been killed, Macbeth feigns surprise. But then when they discover that the guards were also killed, Macbeth says he killed them because they killed the king. Nobody bothers to ask why he then pretended he didn't know the king was dead. I mean, seriously. Other parts of the plot I didn't completely understand because I don't really know how royal succession worked in this place and time, but I just rolled with it.

It was satisfying to read such famous lines in their contexts. When I came to the "Out, damned spot" part I remembered quoting that a lot in high school so I think this is the one I read in addition to Romeo and Juliet. It was definitely better the second time. In addition to the passages I recognized, some that I came upon for the first time were especially satisfying, such as when Lady Macbeth is expressing her unhappiness at how events have progressed:

Naught's had, all's spent, 
Where our desire is got without content.
'Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.

Oh, Lady Macbeth, you were a greedy fool and your husband should never have listened to you. Go wash your hands some more.

Although I didn't totally love it, I liked it more than I expected. Honestly, I thought it was going to be a really tough slog and would involve lots of deciphering passages and puzzling over meanings and having to read a ton about it to get anything out of it. Truthfully, I have read a bit about it since finishing, but not because I was so desperate for help. I read the essays included in the book (this is the Folger edition), and even watched some lessons from the Great Courses production How To Read and Understand Shakespeare, which is available through my library on hoopla. Most interesting in this extra reading/watching were the discussions about how this play would have been staged in Shakespeare's day, without scenery and with few props, but elaborate costumes. There's a theater company in Virginia that performs Shakespeare this way now so that people can get a sense of how it was originally.

Another point of interest is that one of the notes in the book mentions that many scholars and editors believe that some of the scenes with the witches were written by someone other than Shakespeare. Which led me to read a bit more about that, and about the different editions of the work that have existed. I mean, this is really really old so many of the earliest editions were altered a lot and it can be difficult to know a lot about the original version and its context.

Reading about Shakespeare is, of course, a rabbit hole and I could spend a whole lot of time reading more about this one play. But I have three more to read this year, which honestly now sounds like a pretty low bar. So it's possible that my year of Shakespeare may turn into more than I intended. Only time will tell!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Saga, Volumes 3-5

Saga, Volumes 3-5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (2014-2015)

I wrote about the first two volumes of Saga here, and now I've finished all that have been published so far. These three volumes continue the story of Marko, Alana, and their daughter Hazel as they travel to a strange lighthouse seeking a literary hero, after which Alana gets a job in the entertainment industry, and their family is torn asunder. Bounty hunters are still after them, but now they are joined by a robot seeking revenge and a whole slew of other interesting characters.

As much as I love these while I'm reading them, they don't stick with me terribly well so I wish I had them all at once and read them in a row. By the time I picked up Volume 3 I had forgotten what came previously, so I grabbed Volume 2 to refresh my memory. Which turned into a complete re-read of Volume 2 because these books are that good. And then I just plowed through the rest.

It's hard to separate what happened in which volume, but baby Hazel became a toddler, and Marko and Alana began having relationship troubles. After escaping a particularly hairy situation, they decided to sort of hide out in the open, and Alana took a job on a show called the Open Circuit.  The entertainment industry is stressful in many ways though, and soon she started making some poor choices involving drugs.

There is a seemingly endless parade of strange and interesting characters, though my favorite has to be Lying Cat. Sidekick of bounty hunter The Will, the cat knows when someone isn't telling the truth and will just interject "Lying" into the conversation. The Will is good at what he does, but is surprisingly human at times. I also have enjoyed The Stalk, a bounty hunter who is part woman, part spider and is totally creepy looking with her many legs and eyes, but is also totally badass.

This series is about war, but the human side of war. The characters are all very well crafted, and even the minor ones have some back story, and we get a taste of how the war affects people individually. They are all of different alien races, but it is easy to sympathize with their outrage at family members being killed and their desire, in some cases, to get revenge. Or justice, depending on how you look at it.

Sometimes I just stop and look at the art. When I first picked these up I wasn't especially drawn to the illustrations, but as I really started reading it I realized just how expressive it is and I really appreciate some of the more unusual angles and perspectives. The visual experience is just as enjoyable as the story itself.

One of the squares on Winter Bingo is "blue cover" and Volume 5 totally qualifies, so here is my updated bingo card.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Rogue By Any Other Name

A Rogue By Any Other Name (The Rules of Scoundrels #1) by Sarah MacLean (2012)

I've already read the fourth in this series, Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover, and I liked it so much I decided to go back and try this first one. Each book in the series is about one of four owners of a "gambling hell" (a casino) called The Fallen Angel. In this first volume, the Marquess of Bourne is set on reclaiming the fortune he lost many years ago in a wager, and then taking revenge on the man he lost to. However, the fortune is suddenly part of the dowry of Lady Penelope Marbury, on the verge of spinsterhood after a scandalous broken engagement years ago. The two knew each other as children, but that was long ago and Michael has obviously changed a great deal. The friend that Penelope remembered would never have forced a lady into marriage just to get a piece of property.

This is an interesting setup, the book beginning with an unwanted marriage and then going from there. It's apparently not an uncommon trope, one that I can see working pretty well for historical novels (though less effectively in a contemporary.) Here it worked well. Marriage at the time was often based on social or economic considerations, and thought Penelope had really hoped for a love match, she was resigned to her fate. I really felt for her during the long days and nights of her new husband's absence, during which she would be stuck at home (the aptly named Hell House), frequently staring out the window watching for Michael's carriage and wishing for adventure.

She got adventure though, when she finally took matters into her own hands and visited The Fallen Angel, which Michael was quite unhappy about. What made their relationship so interesting wasn't even the marriage of convenience, it was their shared history. Michael had become a pretty cold, driven man but deep down he couldn't quite forget how much he cared for Penelope, no matter how much he tried. When she approached danger or when another man acted interested in her, Michael reacted pretty harshly and protectively. Their relationship was borne out of a lot of really conflicting feelings, but I found it convincing.

Penelope's younger sisters were also integral to the plot, as part of the reason she relented to marry Michael was in hopes of his help finding good matches for them later. There were a lot of high-stakes deals in this novel, and I don't just mean at the gambling hell. One of her sisters, Pippa, was far too smart for the dimwit she was about to marry, though everyone including Pippa seemed to think it was nevertheless a good match. And that was about all one could hope for; it was ridiculous and risky to hold out for a perfect match, or a love match. Though I think Pippa eventually gets hers, since she stars in the second book in the series, which interests me just based on how smart and eccentric she is.

Another character I wish we saw more of was Michael's housekeeper Mrs. Worth. She was young for a housekeeper, and talked to Michael in a way that nobody else in the story could get away with. What Penelope first noticed about her was how beautiful she was, but she also has a potentially interesting back story. I was hoping she would have a larger part, or be featured in another book in this series, but I guess we have to settle for just a glimpse of her.

All in all, the story and the progression of the romance was satisfying. Each chapter began with letters between Penelope and Michael from when they were younger, though as the novel progressed, the correspondence became decidedly one-sided, which was kind of sad. I liked how this part of their background was shared throughout the book, adding depth to the current story. Michael was maybe not my favorite romantic hero, as he was so hell-bent on revenge for the past he kept screwing up the present. But that's why Penelope was there I guess, to knock some sense into him.

I think I still liked Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover better, but I still liked this enough to read more by Sarah MacLean. I have another book from this series, and I'm also interested in her new Scandal and Scoundrel series, which begins with The Rogue Not Taken. It's really all about the clever, hilarious titles, isn't it? Though MacLean is also great at writing strong female characters and snappy dialogue, so her stories are quite a treat.

A Rogue By Any Other Name is part of my TBR Pile Challenge, which means that I've now finished 3 out of 10 on my list. It's tempting to think that I'm way ahead of the game, but I'm really just front-loading because by late summer I'll be bogged down with reading for the Community Read and won't have time for these at all. And I haven't even started on anything for my Shakespeare Challenge, though that is up next, I think.

Additionally, the pink cover fills a square for Winter Bingo! At least I think it is pink? Sometimes it looks more red, but when I focus on the dress it looks pink. Maybe it's just my monitor - I read the ebook so the cover appears black and white on my nook. At any rate, I'm taking it. Here's my updated Winter Bingo card!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ten Songs That I Wish Were Books

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is Ten Songs That I Wish Were Books, and it may be my favorite topic so far. Now these aren't necessarily my favorite songs (some of those should not be messed with) and there's one song on this list I don't even like (see if you can guess which one!) They're just songs that I think have a good story behind them that could be developed even more. Read on and see if you agree! The links go to videos, some official, some not, some live - I just wanted you to be able to hear the songs since some are a little obscure. I hadn't seen most of these until after writing this, so my imaginary books are based entirely on my own interpretations.

1. Alfie by Lily Allen (lower quality, but uncut, version here)
Snarky young British woman who is exasperated with her unambitious pot-smoking brother. She is light-hearted and somewhat flip and only in his business because she cares so much about him, but man is he sick of her getting on his case. This book should be written by Kerry Hudson, the author of Tony Hogan Bought Me and Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma

2. This is What Makes Us Girls by Lana Del Rey
A young woman thinks back to her high school years, where she had some seriously wild and crazy times until one of her friends betrayed her and she got shipped off to juvie. Written by Sarah Dessen

3. Hurricane by MS MR
I don't know what this would be about, but there would be a lot of driving fast with the top down on warm summer nights. There should probably be something a bit paranormal. Maybe they're not driving, they're flying? I keep thinking vampires, probably because for some reason this song reminds me of the movie The Lost Boys. I don't even know if she's still writing, but this would be great if written by Francesca Lia Block

4. All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor
In which a teenage girl, in an attempt to feel better about herself, believes that being fat is better than being skinny and that's what all the boys want anyhow, according to her mom. Where the book departs from the song: girl realizes that any kind of body-shaming is wrong, boys like all sorts of different body types, and why the hell should she care so much about why boys want anyhow? By Sara Zarr.

5. Something For the Weekend by Divine Comedy
You probably don't know the Divine Comedy, but they are a very classy British band that I love. Pertinent repeated lyric from this song: "There's something in the woodshed." She thinks there's something there; he tells her not to be stupid, there's clearly nothing there. She wants him to go look. Then, spoilers that I won't tell you. Novel by Gillian Flynn

6. The Waitress by Tori Amos
In which a waitress wants to kill another waitress who has worked there longer, but is unhappy about her own violent impulses. By Ottessa Moshfegh, author of Eileen.

7. Budapest by George Ezra
A young wealthy man with a classy place in Budapest tries to convince his working-class lady friend to run away with him. I'd like this to take place around the 20s-40s and be written by Amor Towles, author of Rules of Civility.

8. In a Week by Hozier
Hozier explained, when I saw him perform, that there's a field in Ireland where bodies tend to be disposed of. In this novel about two corpses in a field and how they got there, there is a connection between events of the past and a current couple. This sort of timeslip/genetic memory story can only be written by Susanne Kearsley, author of The Winter Sea and Mariana.

9. Dosvedanya Mio Bombino by Pink Martini
A story of unrequited love between a man who is caught between two beloved cities, Moscow and Rome, and the woman who follows him around the world but is always a little too late. The strong sense of place that this book needs could be perfectly captured by Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins.

10. Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War by Paul Simon
This would be a novel about the the artist Rene Magritte and his wife and dog. After the war. As the title suggests. It would be languid and atmospheric and written by W. Somerset Maugham.

Would you read any of these books? What songs do you wish were books?

Monday, February 15, 2016

I'll Give You the Sun

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (2014)

I first posted about this book a little over a year ago here, but I finally convinced my Not-So-Young Adult book group at work to read it so that meant I needed to read it again too.

I went into this a little worried that I wouldn't love it this time, and I felt a bit of pressure since I told everyone in my book group how fantastic it is. But by the time I finished, I think I felt all of the same feelings as I did the first time. This was surprising since I knew what was going to happen, but I think it's a testament to Jandy Nelson's writing that my emotional response is apparently based less on the surprise and the events of the story, and is more about just how she tells the story and how much I care about the characters she has created.

The two main characters, Jude and Noah, are twins and each of them tells half of the story; Noah, the parts that took place when they were 13 and Jude, the parts that took place when they were 16. At the heart of the novel is a tragedy that changes them both, but there's a lot more happening as well. At 13 both twins were applying to get into an arts high school, though Noah was seen as the more promising artist. He also had a budding romance with the boy next door to distract him. Jude was less serious about her art and was more mainstream, hanging out with lots of popular kids from school. Post-tragedy it is Noah who hangs out with the popular kids, conforming as much as possible, while Jude is struggling at the arts school, avoiding boys at all costs, and living her life based on a book of superstitions passed down from her grandmother.

I loved the characters so much, and not just Jude and Noah. The artist Guillermo Garcia, who Jude begins taking sculpting lessons from, is tortured and difficult, but ultimately a really wise and wonderful person. Likewise, his young British friend Oscar is troubled and impulsive and makes terrible decisions, but you can't help liking him anyhow. The twins' mother is one of the most human parent characters I've read about in a teen book, and even their father, while not quite as central or well fleshed-out as other characters, was quite sympathetic.

Possibly one reason why this book evokes such an emotional response is because of the amount of risks taken or at least considered, and the number of betrayals that occur. A few different characters must make some high-stakes decisions and weigh the choice to take the safe route or do what they really want even though it could be disastrous. Even more painful are the times that people hurt others who they care deeply about. Seriously, nothing in this story is easy and a lot of painful choices are made, but it's all understandable when you get to know the characters.

Earlier I mentioned that Jude is sort of obsessed with superstitions and she is forever carrying around strange objects or foisting them onto others because of the magical properties they allegedly hold. It was a little sad that she was so desperate she was grasping at such things, but it was also very fun and I think these rituals gave her a sense of control that she really needed to feel. Noah wasn't superstitious, but what gets him through everything is his "invisible museum," the paintings he create in his head all the time. I loved the descriptions of all his artwork, those he actually made and those that only existed in his head. I wished I could actually see all of his art, which is one of the frustrating things about any book where art is central. Imagining it is good, but I do really want to see what the author is envisioning.

Obviously, I have a lot to say about this book, and that is because it's wonderful. Do you like teen books? Do you like good books? Do you like books that make you feel feelings? Then get yourself a copy of this one. Trust me.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Girls

In which I share vague recollections of books I read long ago that have stuck with me.

Last week I mentioned that American Horror Story: Freakshow brought to mind Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. But the second book to come to mind was The Girls by Lori Lansens.

Rose and Ruby are a pair of craniopagus twins - conjoined at the head - born to, and abandoned by, their teenage mother. They're adopted by the nurse who delivers them and the novel is the tale of their entire lives.

I was reminded of them by Bette and Dot from Freakshow, conjoined twins who were sort of the opposite - they were one body with two heads - but otherwise similar. Like any two sisters, both of these pairs had their different personalities and disagreements, but were literally stuck together despite their own individual needs and desires.

Can you even imagine? I have a hard enough time living together with another person (and one I chose myself!) The thought of going through life attached to another body sounds horrible. But if that's all you've known, I suppose it's a bit different.

I don't recall how I first heard about The Girls, but it was the book that introduced me to Lori Lansens. She is an under-appreciated author who deserves to be read more widely. I also really enjoyed her novels The Wife's Tale and The Mountain Story.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Grownup

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (2015)

Gillian Flynn's standalone short story begins when the unnamed narrator had to give up her job of giving hand jobs because she had carpel tunnel syndrome. Luckily, the establishment she worked for, Spiritual Palms, also employed psychics. One day a desperate woman named Susan Burke comes in and the narrator goes a bit above and beyond to help with her family problems, but is soon in over her head.

I don't want to say too much about it, since it's just a short story so there's not a whole lot to it. The setup was great, and I really liked the narrator (and didn't even realize until I started writing this that I don't know her name.)

Late in the story there's a part where a character goes into a lengthy explanation that he simply didn't have time for, and which was a whole lot of telling and not showing. A friend's Goodreads review describes it as "verbal throw up." It felt like time stood still in the story to wait for the guy to explain what was happening, which was disappointing coming from a talent like Flynn.

However, I was pretty sucked in up until that time, and there were parts that seriously gave me the creeps. I love Gillian Flynn, and an imperfect story from her is better than some other authors' best works so this wasn't especially disappointing.

It also qualifies for Winter Bingo, because this book was a gift. I realize it's not an entire novel, but it is a stand-alone book and it's not like there are even prizes for this challenge (I don't think?) so I feel fine including it. Plus I just read Hild, which was approximately 4,000 pages long so I think the two balance each other out.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Top Ten Books About Love

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week is a Valentine's Day themed freebie. I don't really like Valentine's-themed anything, but for some reason I just want to go traditional with this theme.

Here are my favorite books about romantic love:

1. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Hands down, the best story about love ever. It gave me so many feelings that, despite how much I love it, I can never read it again. That shit is dangerous.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I'm conflating the book with the BBC movie, but I don't care. It's all about stories, right? This is a story. (Starring Colin Firth.)

3. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
It has been a while since I read this one, but I just remember the romance being quite delicious. Cameron Quick is my favorite kind of romantic her, a Mysterious Loner Dude.

4. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
I mean, come on. Rainbow Rowell is magic.

5. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
There are a few romances going on this story. Most importantly, this book contains the best kissing scene ever and for that alone it belongs on this list.

6. One Day by David Nicholls
I read this long enough ago that I don't remember the details too well, but I do remember the feelings. So many feelings.

7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Speaking of feelings. I almost didn't put this on here because there are so many aspects of the book I love even more than the romance, but it really does belong on the list. I like guilt-free sex in my YA novels, not to mention smart quirky humor.

8. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Because I'm an idealist, and because I like friends-to-lovers stories.

9. My Notorious Life by Kate Manning
This isn't a love story, but I was captivated by the relationship between Axie and Charlie. It wasn't at all a storybook romance, but was a realistic portrayal of a very devoted couple.

10. Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
I had to put at least one actual romance novel on here, and this is maybe my favorite that I've read. (This might be cheating, but my other top contenders were Texas Destiny and A Lady Awakened.)

I'm sure I'm missing something, but I have read a lot of books. I'm surprised to see that Pride and Prejudice is the only classic on here, but I just can't think of any that aren't by Jane Austen. What am I forgetting?

Monday, February 8, 2016


Hild by Nicola Griffith (2013)

Seventh-century Britain: Hild is born into an uncertain world where many kings vie for power. One small mistake, one illness, or a death in childbirth can change everything. During Breguswith's pregnancy, she had predicted that Hild would be "the light of the world," and so taught her to make prophecies even as a child. When Hild was three her father was poisoned, leaving her mother Breguswith alone with her two daughters. With nowhere else to turn, they went to the court of King Edwin, Hild's uncle, and she was raised as his seer.

Hild was less a seer than a keen observer, thinker, and guesser. Though confident in her abilities, she always knew that if she let him down she could be killed. Late in the book she made an especially important prediction that was obviously just a guess, and I couldn't help but admire how she patiently and calmly waited to find out the truth.

Political machinations always confuse me and there was a great deal of that here. It was difficult to keep track of all the people and places and sometimes I was confused about where a name was even a person or a place, never mind how they were related to the story. It was stylistically challenging as well, the writing reminding me most of A Game of Kings and Wolf Hall (though I liked this much better than Wolf Hall.) There were a few times that I reread a paragraph, especially those filled with various names and places, and felt rather stumped about what it was actually saying and I couldn't help but feel that I'm not really smart enough to read this. But I applied the same method I did to War and Peace; I just kept going without worrying too much about understanding every little detail. This worked pretty well. I know if I went back and read the whole thing again it would probably make more sense, but I won't be doing that.

Included in the book are a map (useful), glossary (useful), pronunciation guide (somewhat useful), and family tree (also just somewhat useful.) More helpful would have been a list of all the characters and a descriptions of who the hell they are. I can't tell you how many times a name was mentioned as though I should know who they were and I swear I hadn't seen it before. There were SO many characters in this book, and many of the names were similar (frustratingly like Game of Thrones, except that in this case many of the characters were real, so it makes more sense.) I kind of wish I had listened to the audio while reading, just to get the correct pronunciation. The guide in the back helped in some cases, but not all.

Lest you get the false impression that I didn't like the book, let me share my favorite parts. Hild was a super intriguing character who had complicated relationships with others, especially her mother. Breguswith was also rather fascinating and probably would make a great protagonist herself. Female characters all have a gemaecce, which is a formal friendship or partnership. It's like you are paired with a friend who you are stuck with for life, but in a good way. Griffith apparently created this term, but I kind of wish it was a real thing.

Marriage at this time was economic and political, but these characters found romance and pleasure in many forms. In the pre-Christian era apparently nobody cared who you had sex with or what gender they were. (Can we please go back to that? Thank you.) This was another of my favorite aspects of the novel, the way in which these people took pleasure where they could get it. It didn't hurt anyone, and made their short dangerous lives more enjoyable.

I really liked the descriptions of all the details of day-to-day life. My favorite part of reading historical novels is getting a taste of what it was like to live in that time and place and this novel was dense with such detail.

I was reading this in late January and early February, and I particularly loved this February conversation between Hild and her friend/half-brother Cian:

"The weather's changing," she said.
"It will never change. It will be like this forever. We will grow old and die and be forgotten, and the foxes will gnaw at our bones."
He always got like that after spending too much time indoors.

Winter is the perfect time to read this novel.

The ending was so intriguing and man, I want to talk to someone about it. Decisions were made that confused me a bit (as usual, I didn't quite understand the political situation involved) but also it was unusual situation in other ways.

So I spent almost two full weeks reading this, felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I finished, went to Goodreads to mark it finished, and saw that it's listed as Light of the World #1. Now I feel rather deflated because this book is only the beginning. The second book isn't even listed yet so it's likely that by the time it comes out I won't remember much about this one. I'm definitely curious about what happens next because the ending, while not a cliff-hanger by any means, really kind of made me want to continue with the story. I have questions.

Since this book was published a few years ago, I've been drawn to the gorgeous cover, and I'm pretty sure it is that more than the rave reviews that really convinced me to read such a lengthy book. But I do need to credit my librarian friend Rebecca for telling me how good this book is, and that it's very dense but worth it. When the mother of a toddler tells you that a long dense book is worth the time and effort, you listen. The contents definitely live up to the cover. It's so complicated and beautiful and there is so much to talk about - I could actually go on for quite a while about this novel.

Hild is part of my 2016 TBR Pile Challenge, but also counts for Winter Bingo as a friend's fave. I've marked this off below, and also put a checkmark on the free square to make it more visually complete. Bingo! I only have a few more weeks for Winter Bingo and I've got two more books I'm hoping to read that I think will qualify. Neither will result in another bingo, but at least a couple more spots might get checked off.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Geek Love

In which I share vague recollections about books I read long ago that have stuck with me.

I've been watching American Horror Story: Freakshow and it reminds me so much of Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I swore I had written about that book on my blog somewhere, but when I checked I only found it in my To Read list from 2007, and my list of what I read from 2008. (For the record, I've now read 27 of the 60 books on that To Read list.)

Geek Love is about a family of carnies who deliberately create birth defects in their offspring so they can use their human oddities as attractions for their show. Thanks to all the drugs the parents take, their troupe includes a set of conjoined twins, a boy who has flippers instead of limbs, and an albino hunchback, among others. You can imagine how dysfunctional this family must be. These people were so screwed up, and I don't just mean physically. When you're making sure your kids have severe disabilities just to make a profit, you really aren't in a family with healthy relationships. The story took place over a pretty long time period, and ends far after their performing days are over.

This novel was so dark and weird and sad, and I know it's not for everyone, but if you can take this sort of relentless horror with such realistically-crafted characters that it seems like it could well be real, you might be interested in this book. You're unlikely to ever forget it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Death of a Stranger

Death of a Stranger (William Monk #13) by Anne Perry (2002), narrated by David Colacci

Hester Monk is running a clinic in a sketchy part of London, treating prostitutes for disease and injury. But one evening, prominent businessman Nolan Baltimore is murdered in this neighborhood. It is presumed that an interaction with a prostitute or pimp went wrong. Then a young woman named Katrina Harcus approaches William Monk because she fears that the railway company Baltimore and Sons is involved in a shady deal that could result in unsafe conditions for its passengers. In the course of his investigation, Monk recovers some of his lost memories and they involve time working for this very rail company when a horrible crash occurred and his good friend Arroll Dundas was imprisoned. Is there danger of another train crash? And is that actually why Nolan Baltimore was murdered?

As with all of Anne Perry's mysteries, there is far more going on than there seems at first. What actually drew me in was that William would learn more about his past, after an accident that caused severe memory loss back in book one. He has always known that he was sort of a different person before his accident, judging from how people treated him after, so he has a certain paranoia about the sorts of things he could have done. But I also really liked the subplot about Hester's clinic. During the course of this novel they were having issues with their space and knew they might have to move. More importantly, because of the murder there were police everywhere, which meant the prostitutes weren't getting much work. One of my favorite parts of this book was a conversation about this problem between William and Hester, when she complained about the situation and William got a little snarky.

"You wish to find who killed Baltimore so the police will leave and the prostitutes can get back into business? You have strange moral convictions, Hester." 

I loved her takedown:

"If I could change the world so no women ever went into prostitution, I would," she said angrily. "Perhaps you can tell me where I should begin. Get every woman a decent living at something more respectable, perhaps? Or stop every man from wanting - or needing - to buy his pleasures outside his own home? Perhaps every man should be married, and every wife comply with her husband's wishes or better still, no man should *have* wishes he cannot satisfy honorably. That would solve at least half of it. Then all we would have to do is change the economy. After that, changing human nature should be relatively easy." 

Monks response: "You have rather escalated your demands. I thought all you wanted was for me to solve Nolan Baltimore's murder."

(I transcribed this from the audio, so I apologize for any inaccuracies in punctuation.)

This is why I love Hester. She is SO practical. A woman after my own heart. Had I lived in Victorian times, in a mystery novel, surely we would have been besties.

As with all the books in this series, it ends with a courtroom drama. Oliver Rathbone (mysteriously autocorrected by my phone, in a note, to "rat hobbies") is defending a young man of the murder using some rather elaborate questioning as he circles around to his point. The judge, who has obviously never read any other books from this series, gets more and more exasperated with Rathbone, asking him a number of times if he's planning to ever get to the point. I have to wonder that this judge isn't familiar with Rathbone, who I think is supposed to be a pretty well-known attorney in London at the time. I think this bit was maybe a bit overdone. However, when it all shook out, I was satisfied with the conclusion.

As I mentioned in my kntting post on Sunday, every winter I listen to one of these mysteries while knitting. It's so perfectly cozy. I almost stopped after the last book in this series, but I'm glad I chose to continue.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top Ten Historical Settings I Love

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's list is of my top ten historical settings. I've provided examples, and some of them are actually fantasy but I included them because the historical settings were so prominent.

1. 19th Century Russia
See: War and Peace, The Gathering Storm (fantasy, but historical setting)

2. Victorian England
See: oh gosh, so much! Tipping the Velvet, My Notorious Life, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, The Luxe, Anne Perry's William Monk series which begins with The Face of a Stranger; the earliest one I blogged about was The Sins of the Wolf

3. Colonial America
See: The Cahill Witch Chronicles beginning with Born Wicked, which are admittedly fantasy set in an alternative reality, but the setting was great. There need to be more good books set in this era!

4. Ancient China
See: Gunpowder Alchemy, which as above is also fantasy, but I've love to read some more books set in Ancient China.

5. 1920s in America
See: The Great Gatsby, Twilight Sleep, The Other Typist

6. The plague years in Europe
See: Year of Wonders

7. Europe Middle Ages
See: Doomsday Book, Pillars of the Earth, and Hild, which I am currently reading

8. 17th century Amsterdam
See: The Miniaturist, the only book I know of in this setting, but it was a fascinating time and place that was really brought to life in this novel.

9. 1940s in America
See: Ten Cents a Dance, The Girl is Murder

10. 1980s in America
Gah, I can't quite accept this decade as historical, but it is. I love it because that's when I was a teenager and as much as I hated my entire adolescence I still love 80s pop culture.
See: Eleanor and Park, and I want to say Ready Player One but it doesn't actually take place in the 80s, it's just full of 80s pop culture references.

What are your favorite historical settings?

Monday, February 1, 2016

How to apply for a library job, part 2: interviewing

Back in early December I posted the first part of How to Apply for a Library Job, which covered the initial application. I have been putting off part 2, but here it finally is.

Congratulations, you got an interview! Now don't blow it!

Before the interview

- Prepare.

Some time has passed since you applied, so go back and look at the job posting. Be prepared to talk about your experience and skills as they relate to each component of the job.

Learn some things about the library. Look at the sort of programs they have, if they've been in the news, any major staffing changes like a recently-hired new director. Visit ahead of time if you can. Think about what more you want to know, and prepare some questions (more on this later.)

Practice responding to common interview questions. Here's one place to start. There are several links to other sites, but if you scroll past them, there's also a whole list.

Go in with an agenda. When I prepare for interviews, I make a lot of notes with skills, traits, and experiences that I don't want to forget to mention. I also list specific examples of things I've done that I think they may ask about. It's much easier to answer interview questions if I can glance down at my notes to jog my memory. I also write down a few questions to ask the interviewers.

- Dress nicely.

You'll never go wrong wearing a professional-looking suit, but it's not strictly necessary. Particularly if you're heading back to work after the interview, you may not want to do so. Wearing some of your nicer regular work attire should be fine. I honestly don't pay much attention to what people are wearing, unless it stands out in a bad way. I once interviewed a guy who was wearing a t-shirt with visible spots on it. It was just for a page job, but still, if the candidate can't be bothered to put on something clean that's sort of a red flag. (Same for the reverse by the way: I once was interviewed for a job by a library director wearing a shirt with an obvious stain on it. I wasn't impressed.)

Although it differs from conventional wisdom, I don't think that visible tattoos or facial piercings are inappropriate. I want to get to know the people I'm interviewing and body art can be important. But many people choose to cover up their tattoos or remove piercings for interviews, and that's a good idea if you want to be on the safe side. Even if those things are fine on the job, some interviewers may still consider it a bit much for an interview. Some hiring managers want to see that you can play the game. I recently interviewed someone with a facial piercing but didn't even notice it until about halfway through the interview, but for some interviewers it might really stand out.

At the interview

- Be on time. In fact, be early.

Give yourself a lot of time to get there. Obviously this will differ based on your geographical area, but around here there are frequently unexpected traffic snarls and construction, and our public transit is often late. But if you give yourself plenty of time and are still unavoidably delayed, just call ahead and let us know. If the weather is horrible and the going is slow, we probably already know because we were in it too. It shouldn't be a deal-breaker. We're not monsters.

- Be pleasant, make eye contact (but not too much), and try not to fidget.

I know you're nervous, but try not to let that get in the way of letting your personality shine. Smile and make eye contact (but don't stare into the depths of our souls, that really makes me uncomfortable.)

Even if you're not relaxed, try to appear so because fidgeting can be distracting and it's kind of infectious. There was this one time I was interviewing for a job, and I was holding a pen in my hand and flapping it back and forth nervously and it suddenly flew across the room. I don't recommend doing that.

- Be yourself, but be your best self.

I look for someone who is friendly and enthusiastic and can tell me why they're the best person for the job and why they are excited about it. This is no time to be modest: be proud of your accomplishments. Be honest about your shortcomings when you have to, but emphasize the positive. If you're a librarian, you're probably passionate about what you do and we definitely want to see that come out. I also want to know why you want this particular job, and I want to know how much you want it. If someone doesn't seem like they really want the job very badly, I am more likely to hire someone who does.

- Answering those difficult questions.

You're probably going to get stumped somewhere along the line. As long as you don't say something that raises a red flag, it isn't going to destroy your chances.

You might be asked for an example of a time that you did something in particular, or handled a specific sort of situation, and you haven't done that actual thing. That's ok. You can talk about something that is vaguely in the same realm, but it would be great if you also talk about how you would approach the situation if faced with it. This still gives us valuable information. (And don't feel like your examples all have to come from a library setting - telling stories from other types of jobs is perfectly fine.)

You'll probably be asked about your weaknesses, or areas in which you want to improve. Be honest. And don't try the old "I work too hard" because I can see right through that. This isn't a trick question, it's one about self-awareness. It definitely helps if your weakness isn't in an area that's crucial to your job. If it's a reference job and you say that you're not very good at customer service, I probably won't hire you. But I will be satisfied if you say that your business research skills aren't as good as you'd like, and that you've just signed up for a webinar on just that topic. We all have areas in which we need to improve, and I just want to know that you're aware of yours and at least thinking about tackling them.

If you really don't know the answer to a question you can talk about how you'd figure it out. Say you're given a sample readers advisory question and you're supposed to respond by listing some books that you would suggest. If you actually can't come up with any, just talk about how you would approach the question. What follow-up questions would you ask the patron? What tools would you use? Talking your way through a thought process for a specific situation may not exactly be an answer, but it's telling us how you think, which is very valuable.

Interview questions aren't designed to trip you up, or at least they shouldn't be. I've definitely heard of some that sound like they are, but I certainly don't want to leave someone speechless. My goal in interviewing candidates is to get to know them so I can decide whether or not I want to work with them, not to put them through some sort of harrowing test.

We know that you're nervous, and we probably are too. Some of our questions might be lengthy and you may start to answer, only to forget the second part of the question. It's better to ask us to repeat it than to just not answer the rest. Some of our questions might also seem perfectly clear to us, while they aren't to you, so ask clarifying questions if you need to rather than just guessing what we mean. I've reworded interview questions after several candidates seemed to misunderstand them.

- Have questions for the interviewers.

Finally, you should be asked if you have any questions for the interviewers. In the name of all that is holy, have questions. You can't possibly already know everything about the job or the library. Not long ago I interviewed someone who already worked in my department previously and had left just a few short months before. He managed to have some questions, and they were good ones. Ask about the work culture, the leadership style of the person you'd be reporting to, the biggest challenges of the job, what the interviewers like the most about working there. There are a ton of things you can ask. If someone I'm interviewing doesn't have questions, my impression is that they're not terribly interested.

After the interview

- Send a thank you note, I guess.

We are apparently divided on this matter. Just like wearing a suit, it can't hurt to send a thank you note. I personally don't care because in most cases I know whether or not I'm interested in hiring you by the time you walk out the door. You also probably already said "thank you" before leaving, so I think sending a note is kind of redundant. Still, many hiring managers expect them and it certainly shows that you're still interested after meeting them and hearing more about the job.

- Don't be discouraged if you aren't hired.

You don't know how many times I've wanted to hire more than one person we've interviewed, but I can only hire one person for one position. The position I mentioned in my last post about this, the one with 62 applications? We interviewed only 6 people. Just like there were great candidates (even ones I know personally) who didn't get an interview, 5 people interviewed really well and still didn't get the job. I hired the guy who has already worked in my department, recently, and did a great job and got along very well with everyone. Of course I did. My point is that there's nothing the other candidates could have done about it. And if I had 6 positions open, I would have been happy to hire the other 5 people as well. Which brings me to my final point...

- If you really want to work in that particular library and another job opens up, apply again. Don't think that because you weren't hired before, your chance has passed. Maybe you weren't right for that particular position and another position that is open is more suited to your skills. Or maybe they hired an internal candidate. Or maybe they wanted to hire both you and another person and couldn't hire you both and had to make a tough decision. In which case, now is your chance. (This also goes for those who didn't even get an interview. Sometimes there are so many good candidates we just can't interview everyone. Apply again!) I certainly hope that some of our past candidates will show up again the next time we're hiring (which, for my own sanity, I hope isn't soon.)

I hope this has been helpful. And good luck out there!