Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Top Ten Beach Reads

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is all about beach reads. Whatever that means: I think we all interpret it a little differently. And I'm not really a beach person at all, but beaches mean summer and there are some books I definitely think of as summer books. Easy to read, but suck you right in and don't make you struggle to decipher each sentence. And preferably set during summer, of course!

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
E. Lockhart's most recent novel came instantly to mind when I thought of summer. It's a teen book that takes place on a family's private Massachusetts island, and there are so many secrets!

2. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
Another teen book set in summer, this coming-of-age novel is about a girl who spends her summers away from home (much like Summers at Castle Auburn, now that I think of it) and focuses on one significant year when everything changes.

3. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
A teen book about twins, Noah and Jude, and their romances and family secrets. It's one of my favorites!

4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I feel like this is probably also a good winter read, but I'm keeping it here nonetheless. It takes place in a rambling old castle in the English countryside, and that's just perfect anytime!

5. Joyland by Stephen King
I always love reading Stephen King in the summer, but this one was especially summery with its carnival setting. It wasn't horror, but it was quite suspenseful, and as usual his characters really came alive on the page.

6. Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
Really, teen books are just perfect for the summer and there's a good chance you haven't yet read this recently-released novel. It's all about one girl's summer plans going awry by the return of her mother who abandoned her as a baby, and as a bonus she brings her two other daughters with her.

7. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Set mostly in a small Italian village, I can't believe this cinematic novel hasn't yet been made into a movie. The audio version is especially wonderful.

8. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Because what's better in the summer than a road trip?

9. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
A plane full of beauty pageant contestants crashes on a deserted island, and the girls must fight for survival. This is quite possibly the funniest teen book I've read, but also the best one about female friendships.

10. The Best Man by Kristan Higgans
I'd be remiss if I left romance off of a list of beach reads. This is a contemporary romance that takes place at a winery in California. I've read three books so far in this series and will continue to read more.

What are your favorite beach reads? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Summers at Castle Auburn

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn (2001)

Born the illegitimate daughter of a deceased noble, Coriel spends summers at the castle with her uncle Jaxon and half-sister Elisandra and the rest of the time with her maternal grandmother. Coriel's grandmother is an herbalist (or witch) and Coriel plans to follow in her footsteps. But at the castle her relatives have other ideas about her future. Coriel feels torn in two: she wants a future as a healer in her village, but also loves her sister and other friends at the castle where she spends every summer.

Little is mentioned about her time with her grandmother, focusing instead on the summers. Castle life is very different, with parties and feasts and all the luxuries of royalty. In addition to the regular servants, the family also keeps slaves from a magical people known as the aliora. Coriel has always admired her uncle Jaxon and hasn't questioned his prowess as a hunter of the aliora, and though she has known some of the slaves all her life it is only as a teenager that she begins to question the practice, and her admiration of Jaxon fades. Similarly, she has always been in love with Prince Bryan, but now that they are both older, she no longer envies Elisandra for being his betrothed.

This is not a story with a lot of action, at least not at first. The first several chapters are just setting the stage of Coriel's life and I felt quite drawn into her life and didn't care much that I had no idea yet what the story was going to be about. This allowed me to get pretty invested in her life, I think, so that later when all the things started happening I really felt like I was involved. Mostly it was a coming-of-age story with Coriel starting out innocent, but then learning more and really having her eyes opened to things going on around her, and how she deals with this new knowledge.

My only criticism is that I wish it would have dealt with the topic of the aliora a bit more. They are hunted and enslaved, but still don't seem to be considered "lesser" for reasons I can't mention without spoiling the story. Just a little bit more discussion about how people viewed them would have made it a lot more clear to me. But that's literally the only thing I can think of that was remotely wrong with the book, and even that didn't actually detract from my enjoyment, only made me wonder a bit.

I hadn't ever heard of this book until Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner posted a glowing review of it. Castles? Summer? I'm in! It is pretty much exactly what I expected/hoped it to be. I'm not a big fantasy reader* but here the fantasy elements were woven in with the larger story rather than dominating it. This is an older book so I wouldn't have found it on my own, and I'm very glad I heard about it. I read as much of it as possible while sitting outside on sunny days, and I highly recommend that you do too!

*I don't know what I think fantasy is. I have read and enjoyed plenty of fantasy (I mean, Harry Potter for one!) but when I think of it as a category I seem to think it's one I don't read.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

MLA Conference

I normally go to the New England Library Association Conference in the fall, but I've only ever gone to the Massachusetts Library Association Conference once, and that was just for one day. But this year I was asked to be on a panel which was scheduled for 8:30am (I didn't know the time when I agreed to it - ugh!) so I went for two days so I could spend the night there before my panel.

I went to sessions about various topics: mindfulness, desk-less reference, Girls Who Code, Wikipedia, digital impact on library spaces, and my panel on Reference in the Digital Age. Rather than summarize each of them, I'm just going to list some of my take-aways.

- Our minds wander 46.9% of the time (yay, it's not just me!)
- Learned basic mindfulness practice
- Just a few minutes a day of this for two weeks should result in improved mood and memory
- I should read 10% Happier by Dan Harris
- R. David Lankes is a guy to follow because people were quoting him all over the place
- All library staff should know: how to download content, issue new library cards, fix copier jams, checkout and renewal, and what's happening in the library that day
- Reduce service points to the smallest desks possible
- The Millis Public Library now only has one loan rule: everything goes out for two weeks, fines .10/day, and patrons love the simplicity
- Get every space in the library to work in 2-3 different ways depending on how it's used at different times of the day (flexible physical spaces were mentioned repeatedly)
- In 1984, 37% of computer science graduates were female; today it's 18%
- Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani has a TED talk that I should watch soon.
- 50-90% of physicians and 94% of medical students use Wikipedia
- Librarians should love Wikipedia because it's a discovery tool. You get lost in it, but you learn so much!
- The majority of Wikipedia editors are white, male, and under 40
- Got lots of info about editing Wikipedia articles, some guidelines and where to start

Ok, that's a hodgepodge of information! As usual, I came away wanting to do all of the things, but past experience tells me that is unlikely. I heard so many great ideas about library spaces and service that I think will be helpful as we start planning our library renovation, some from the session about digital impact on library spaces and some from my panel on reference in the digital age. I also really want us to start a Girls Who Code club, though I know there will be challenges. Attending a session on mindfulness was a surprise even to me, but the title of the session contained the word "focus" somewhere which is something I'm desperate to do. I learned a lot and will be implementing it right away! I really, really doubt I will start editing Wikipedia articles, but I think it's a lot of fun to think about.

All in all it was a really good conference. Not one session was a dud!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week is all about books that, a while after reading, your feelings develop in some way. I love this topic, because I think about it a lot, especially when I'm looking at old reviews or Goodreads ratings. Sometimes I'm quite surprised about what I thought of a book right after I finished it.

I have 10 books/series that I think much more highly of then right after I finished them:

1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
My blog review ends with "I thought it was good, and her eloquent writing elevates it a bit more, but I don't think it's a book that will stick with me." Ha! That was in March 2014 and more than two years later I still think about this book.

2. The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater
The books in this teen paranormal series are Shiver, Linger, and Forever. I gave the middle book 2 stars on Goodreads and the others 3 stars, but I keep finding myself telling people how much I liked it. Whatever was not so great about it didn't stick with me because I apparently only remember the good stuff.

3. Moloka'i by Alan Brennart
I gave this one 4 stars, but in my head it's a 5-star book all the way. I recommend it ALL THE TIME at the library. It's a shame that I didn't write a full review because it was just so amazing. Perhaps it hasn't really changing in my head and I was just conservative with my 5-stars at the time, but I don't know for sure.

4. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Here's another book I find myself recommending frequently, though I only gave it 3 stars when I read it. It was what I would call a quiet book - a lot of subtleties and not a lot of action. But I think it has stuck with me more than I expected.

5. The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield
This is an odd one. I don't do spirituality, but I do listen to my aunt, especially when it's about books, and that's the only reason I ever picked this up. I keep wanting to re-read it actually because there was so much in it that I found useful that I want to go back and remind myself of. I gave it 3 stars, probably because it's a fun novel, but its value has grown over time as I remind myself repeatedly of the few things I do remember from it.

6. The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I am perplexed as to why I gave this book only 2 stars. It was never my favorite growing up, but as an adult I definitely appreciate it more. It's not as strong as the others in the series for sure, but as I remember it now, it made me feel a lot better about the crappiness of adulthood.

7. What You See in the Dark by Manuel Muñoz 
Another book that I was surprised to see I only gave 2 stars to. In my review I mentioned that it is dark and moody and atmospheric, and I think that's why I think of it so positively now. As with many of these books, I don't know if my feelings have actually improved over time, or if my memory has just failed.

8. Going Bovine by Libby Bray
I remember exactly why I didn't really like this when I first read it, but what I don't remember is what my coworker (a teen librarian) said about it that made me change my mind. Either way, I have much more of an appreciation for this book than when I first read it. It's very unique among teen novels.

9. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
I do enjoy some chick lit, and I remember this one quite fondly. My review and rating was pretty lukewarm at the time. Part of what made me think a bit better of it was the follow-up. I had an issue with one of the characters, but the next book centered around her and made me much more sympathetic to her. Giffin may write chick lit, but she handles some complicated situations quite well.

10. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
The finale in the Divergent series brought everything to a satisfying end, but at the time I gave it (and the second book) a lower rating than the first one. Now I can't figure out why. It was really good!

These are all books that I remember liking more than I did, and in most cases I think there was just something that bugged me while reading that was ultimately rather unimportant. On the flip side, there are a few books I remember being completely engrossed by that just didn't stick with me at all. Most notably The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I LOVED this book, couldn't put it down, and read it in a day. By the following week, I couldn't tell you why it was so awesome (and other people I know had the same experience.) It may have just been because I consumed it so quickly rather than savoring it. But I think the important part is that it was so amazing while I was reading it. I had similar experiences, though to a lesser extent, with other books like The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan and A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. It's so interesting that we can feel so differently long after reading a book than we did upon first reading it. I wonder if anyone has scienced this yet.

Do you have any books about which your feelings have changed over time? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, May 23, 2016


Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach (2016)

In Mary Roach's new book, which will be out in just a couple of weeks, she explores the science behind day-to-day aspects of being at war. Each chapter focuses on a different topic: clothing, transport, noise, heat, diarrhea, maggots, stink, sharks, underwater disaster, sleeping on submarines, and two chapters devoted to genital injuries and reconstruction.

I learned a little bit about a lot of different things, though to be honest I think I forgot most of it instantly as I moved on to the next topic. (This isn't Mary Roach's fault.) Some parts were pretty memorable. I learned that the reason humidity is so wretched is because your sweat doesn't evaporate and can't cool you down. That maggots are incredibly effective at cleaning wounds, but aren't practical because of the associated costs. And that "On top of its other charms, the maggot breathes through its ass." I also learned that the military pays $35 a gallon for rabbit poop, which makes me regret all that we wasted when we had a pet rabbit. (Sandfly larvae feed on a mixture that includes rabbit poop.) And how a military operation could go awry from the all-too-common scourge of traveler's diarrhea, and the impracticality of zippers or velcro to a sniper.

At times it was a bit of a slog, but was still filled with her trademark humor and frequent tangental footnotes, both of which made the experience more enjoyable. It was definitely interesting, but I think the nature of the science she was looking at this time is just more....science-y than her others. Topically, I suppose it's closest to Packing for Mars in the degree of focus on hard science versus human behavior (Bonk) or an overview of all the ways cadavers are used in research (Stiff). But somehow Packing for Mars still seemed a little more fun. Perhaps because space exploration is just a more positive experience than going to war. Either way, this is probably my least favorite of her books, but that might not be the case for someone more interested in war and the military.

I received my copy of Grunt courtesy of the publisher. I was not compensated for this review.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Visible City

Visible City by Tova Mirvis (2014)

A stay-at-home mom in New York City begins spying on neighbors through their apartment window. Her absentee husband begins skipping work to do research at the public library. A young woman moves in with her parents temporarily to heal an injury but is reluctant to return to her fiancé. The lives of all these people begin to intersect in unexpected ways, ultimately forcing them to confront difficult truths in their lives.

When I received this book as a gift a couple of years ago, I was quite intrigued by the premise of people in the city all spying on each other. It's kind of what we do in cities, like it or not. Everyone is so close to each other, it's almost impossible to avoid seeing or overhearing something. We are protected by our anonymity - who cares what people see of us when they are complete strangers? But in this novel, the strangers meet and actually get to know each other.

Nina embraced the urban proximity that gave her such a close perspective on the lives of others, and when she met Leon, one of the neighbors she had been watching, she dove in. Left alone for long hours with only her children while her husband worked ridiculous hours at his law firm, she was enchanted by what seemed like comforting intimacy of the middle-aged couple she watched. Of course, real lives rarely match how they look from the outside.

Leon's wife, Claudia, was an art historian researching stained glass windows, and her work turned out to be a fairly major plot point. It tied into some construction going on that made Claudia extremely aggravated because it disrupted her work. Another character involved in this stained glass window plot was Arthur, who lived in an apartment with a dog named Churchill and was constantly writing angry notes to the other residents about proper building etiquette. I've not even lived in such a building, but this character seemed very familiar to me, and I was glad he ended up playing a larger role.

The connections between all these characters were improbable for sure, yet we do have connections we are discovering all the time, and probably many we never realize. I'm sure some people would find the intersection of characters too contrived, but somehow it really worked for me.

So many observations in this book resonated with me. When Leon came upon some protestors "...he wished their placards conveyed not the slogans written in bright, bold letters, but the quieter internal ones, such as Afraid of Change, or Need Outlet for My Anger." When Nina wanted to know more about Claudia and Leon she became frustrated that Google can't provide access to their conversations or private thoughts. Haven't you had a time when you felt an urge to Google something completely unreasonable? It does seem like we should be able to find anything we want on the internet.

The observations and insights came frequently, and I made a lot of notes while I was reading. The huge amount of fodder for discussion would make this a great choice for a book group. I'll admit that although I liked the setup from the outset, for the first several chapters it all felt a bit flat. But then somehow the characters and their lives became more full and vivid. It may just be that there were several different characters and the short chapters devoted to each meant that it took a while for them to take shape. Either way I was quite glad it came together for me, because I liked the whole idea of the story from the very start and I wanted it to live up to its potential, which it did. It gave me lots to think about!

Visible City is one of my TBR Pile Challenge titles. I don't want to brag, but I only have two books left on my list. It would be super cool if I finished this whole challenge by halfway through the year, but I don't know how likely that is.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Crown

The Crown (The Selection #5) by Kiera Cass (2016), narrated by Brittany Pressley

In The Heir, Eadlyn Shreve began her Selection to choose a husband, inviting several young men to the palace to try and win her over. When the book ended she had narrowed it down to a handful, her brother eloped with a French princess, and her mother had a heart attack. As The Crown opens, her mother is recovering and Eadlyn is forging on with the process of trying to find a husband.

I guessed/hoped early on who the lucky guy would be, but I couldn't figure out exactly how things would go to get there. A lot happened that I didn't anticipate, so I kept changing my ideas as I went along. It was super fun to keep guessing! Meanwhile a lot was going on with her family, and I also sort of assumed that she would be Queen by the end of the book so I was very worried about how that would happen. I didn't want her parents to die after I spent all that time with them in the first book. This was all very stressful for me, as you can imagine.

Eadlyn continued to mature, which was a relief after her spoiled obnoxiousness in the first book. Occasionally she'd have a flare-up, but that just kept it real. She was definitely under a lot of pressure here, what with the continued concerns about how the public perceived her, and the small matter of having to choose a guy to spend the rest of her life with. At one point she invites some regular people in for a town hall meeting, and she got a pretty strong dose of how life was for regular folks, and a bit of attitude from them as well. She was surrounded by people who respected and deferred to her that it was kind of a shock. She didn't have as much control over her Selection process as she'd like either, so she definitely had some struggles here. I really just wanted her to find happiness and success. I knew it would all end well, but I really worried about how that would happen.

I loved this series from start to finish. I was just enthralled! The Selection is a big fancy deal with its romance and fancy dresses and wooing, but the stakes are pretty high for the people involved and there were just so many characters I cared about! I listened to all of the books on audio and both narrators were very good and I ran so many miles on the treadmill while listening to this series. It made unpleasant exercise easy, and that's not something I can say about many audiobooks.

This is the end of the series, though there could totally be more books. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, but I'd really like to see how things go in the future for this country and its royal family.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Top Ten Books I Picked Up on a Whim

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Ten Books I Picked Up On A Whim (however you decide to interpret that.) I don't pick up many books on a whim without knowing anything about them, so I'm interpreting it as any books that I didn't plan to read. Books that I impulsively picked up immediately after reading one good review, or books that I didn't know about until my book group picked them. These are the ones that fall into those categories and that I really liked, and are in no particular order. As usual, links go to my reviews.

1. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
A book group pick, I had never heard of this book or author before I started reading. I was a bit wary for the first few chapters, but then it really picked up. An excellent dark psychological crime novel.

2. Walter: the Story of a Rat by Barbara Wersba, illustrated by Donna Diamond
This comes the closest to a true whim - I saw it on a coworker's Staff Picks shelf and grabbed it, never having even heard of it before. It's a book for kids, but don't let that stop you. It's an adorable and heartwarming story.

3. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
The publisher sent a galley of this one to me and as soon as I saw that it was a dystopia, I pretty much ate it up. I loved the world Bow created, and I'm looking forward to book 2, which will be out in the fall.

4. The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
Another book group pick, I think I had heard of this one before but didn't know anything about it really. A crime novel with an unusual premise - it's centered around two women, who as young girls were responsible for another child's death - I found it totally captivating.

5. Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm
My book group is really great at picking excellent books I know nothing about. I had heard of this one because I received a galley of it, which I immediately passed on because I was reading other things and it just didn't look very interesting. I'm so glad my book group recommended it!

6. Asking For It by Lilah Pace
This was an impulse buy for my nook after hearing about it on a podcast. It's an erotic romance novel with a pretty dark premise and a cringe-worthy title, but it's very well executed.

7. The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski
I read about this on a blog and immediately, impulsively requested it through interlibrary loan. It's a great little novella about time travel from the 1950s to the Victorian era.

8. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel
Here's another that I received as a galley from a publisher. I get a decent number of galleys, but only read a few. I'm glad I read this one - it's a novel that reads more like an interconnected set of stories, all revolving around culinary talent Eva Thorvald. Required reading for foodies.

9. The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin
I had never heard of this book until I received it as a gift from a friend. It begins with a young artist dying at the age of 18, and tells the story of her rise and fall through interviews, photos, art, and other ephemera. Unusual and really fantastic.

10. Level Up by Cathy Yardley
Another nook impulse buy, this short contemporary romance novel centers around some video game designers. In addition to the romance, there are some great female friendships and interesting themes about women in male-dominated professions.

What about you? Have you discovered any great books that you read on a whim?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (1598)

I've just finished the third play for the Bardathon Challenge, and the first of two comedies. Much Ado About Nothing is two love stories twined together with some double-crossing and mistaken identities and lots of witty repartee.

Claudio and Hero want to get married until he is led to believe that she has been carrying on with another man like some sort of wanton hussy. Then she faints and her family pretends she is dead so they can see who feels guilty about the deception. Meanwhile another couple, Beatrice and Benedick, are constantly at each other's throats, and obviously totally attracted to each other. Both are determined not to get married at all, and as they sling insults back and forth others step in to trick them into admitting their attraction.

Reading a comedy was a relief after all of the murder and killing of Macbeth and Hamlet. I was already familiar with Shakespearean insults but it was great to read so many in context. This play really was very funny. A constable named Dogberry (and that's not even the funny part) was called an ass at one point, and goes into this whole speech in which he kept interjecting that he is an ass: "But masters, remember that I am an ass, though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass." And in the following scene reminds everyone again, "And, masters, do not forget to specify, when time and place shall serve, that I am an ass." As with the other Shakespeare plays I've read, the plots aren't fantastic, but I guess it's all about the language which is both appealing and vexing.

I've stuck with the Folger edition for this play as well. I tried an Arden again, but although they come so highly recommended, I just find the format very hard to read. Each page has a small amount of text and more than half of the page is footnotes, which seems less orderly than the Folger editions, which have the text on the right and explanations on the left. I was also looking at some No Fear Shakespeare editions, which instead of definitions and explanations have "regular language" text on the facing pages. I think I'd rather have the explanations, but I can see how those editions could be very helpful as well.

I only need to read one more play to complete my goal for the challenge, and the one I've chosen is A Midsummer Night's Dream. I keep feeling inclined to pick it up, but I want to wait until summer for the proper atmosphere. Recently I checked out a copy of Shakespeare's complete sonnets, but the most famous one ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?") was ripped out of the book, so I returned it to the library (and we're replacing it.) But I may try some sonnets again in the future since those are less about plot and more about language, which is what he really excelled at.

I've also learned that the Museum of Fine Arts will be presenting a production of Cymbeline this summer, so that might be the performance that I will attend for the challenge. If so, I will want to read the play before going. And the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company will be performing Love's Labour's Lost on Boston Common this summer. I'm not a big fan of the crowds that will be there, but perhaps I'll convince myself (and probably a friend) to attend one of these performances as well.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Amityville Horror

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

One of the books I read over and over again in high school was Jay Anson's allegedly-true ghost story, The Amityville Horror. This cover on the left is the edition that I read, complete with flies. In fact, there were illustrations of flies throughout the book at the beginning of each chapter. It was thrilling and disgusting at the same time.

In late 1974, a guy murdered six members of his family in a house in Amityville, and about a year later another family moved in. After about a month the family left, claiming they were terrorized by paranormal phenomena. They did meet with Jay Anson, but although he wrote this whole book about the experience, none of it was ever substantiated. (Libraries in my network have it shelved in 133 with paranormal phenomena, except for one brazen library that has it in the fiction section.)

Whether true or not, it was terrifying to read and I savored every bit of it as the Lutz family encountered strange sounds and smells and had nightmares and experienced all sorts of increasingly creepy phenomena. I don't remember whether or not I actually believed that it was true, but I'm sure that I wanted to believe it. I cannot explain why, but when I was a kid I really wanted things like ghosts and haunted houses to be real. It is also true that I had nightmares and frequently woke up in the middle of the night and had to walk around the house in the dark to check and make sure that everything was ok and it wasn't on fire or anything. So really, I just tortured myself for reasons that elude me now.

Years later my mother's house, the very old house that I grew up in, became mysteriously infested with flies. All year round, just like the Amityville house. It was pretty gross to be sure, but man, having read The Amityville Horror so many times, it was also downright creepy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Hired Girl

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (2015)

It's 1911 and fourteen-year-old Joan lives on a farm with her father and brothers. She loves reading and wants to become a schoolteacher when she grows up. But when her father forces her to quit school her dreams are dashed. It becomes more and more hopeless until one day he crosses a line by burning her books. So Joan leaves the farm and goes to Baltimore where she lies about her age and gets a job working for a Jewish family called the Rosenbachs.

This could be the end of it but Joan, who started calling herself Janet as part of her new identity, is immature and prone to drama and jeopardizes her place in the Rosenbach household again and again. The things she does are stupid, but also believable for a 14-year-old who is a hopeless romantic. Luckily the Rosebachs are nice people and Janet is a hard worker who they (mostly) like, so they didn't cast her out. But still, it was rough going!

The novel is written as Janet's diary, so we get everything from her point of view as it happens, complete with all her internal turmoil. As I said, Janet is immature and impulsive and dramatic, and it would be easy for those traits to make an annoying character, but she isn't at all. She desperately wants to experience more of the world - education, romance, fun - and being stuck in her day-to-day drudgery sometimes pushes her over the edge. She wants to be a good person though. She's not at all averse to hard work and definitely earned the money the Rosenbachs paid her. She also wants to be a better Catholic, which is why she set up appointments for one-on-one instruction with the local priest. She also struggles with her newfound love of material things, now that she had enough money to buy them. She feels that she should save her money, but she is easily convinced to instead buy a new hat or a parasol. I think anyone who has left home and started generating their own income can relate to this. For all her faults though, she's a very strong young woman who stands up for the things she feels are most important, and I really admire that about her.

At times Janet really made me laugh. She so wanted her life to be glamorous, lamenting that real life wasn't nearly as glorious as the opera, and feeling disappointed in herself when she found her stomach rumbling during times of great crisis. "Heroines in books don't eat when their hearts are broken," she lamented. During a conversation with a friend she expressed disapproval at girls playing sports, saying "I believe ladies should vote and be doctors and maybe even be President, but they should stay tidy and not perspire." Like the good Catholic she was, she prayed frequently and would relate the response she got to her prayers, which was a mixture of wisdom and practical advice, like being reminded of the importance of loyalty, and that if she buys a new dress she should consider that pink tends to fade quickly. I found it all delightfully hilarious.

I felt very immersed in this story, the way I have from other historical books about young women such as Anne of Green Gables and I Capture the Castle. It was somehow cozy and familiar while still being a fresh new story. This is a book that I will likely recommend often.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Non-book Websites I Love

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is Top Ten Websites I Love That Aren't About Books, which sounded like fun until I started to really think about it. The fact is that I don't have many sites I read regularly that I really like that aren't about books. I apparently have no other interests besides reading. So I don't have ten, or even five. It's a little sad. So sad that I won't even number them.

The Bloggess
Jenny Lawson is hilarious and always makes me feel better. She has been very open about her mental illnesses in her books and often posts reminders that depression lies and that it's ok to be weird and different. She relates bizarre situations she gets into, hilarious arguments with her husband, and adorable pictures of her pets, which all have very cool names. She also has a giant metal chicken named Beyonce, so.

It's an election year here in the US, and that means people are saying some crazy shit. More so than usual, even. Regular people do not have time to research every claim, but luckily there are others who will do that for us. Also see: Factcheck.org, and snopes is also great for dispelling internet rumors.

Smitten Kitchen
I hate to cook, but I really love food and pretty pictures of food. Whenever I am looking for ideas for something to cook, I start here. I've made some tasty stuff from these recipes.

I guess that's basically it? I look at other sites, but I don't consistently love them or find them useful. I don't even have a favorite news source, because I think most of them are kind of awful, and anyhow I'm becoming inclined to go live under a rock and avoid news of the world.

So, what amazing websites am I missing?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Come as You Are

Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski (2015), narrated by the author

I had heard about this book from reviews, but it was the author's interview on the podcast now known as Smart Podcast Trashy Books that reeled me in. Emily Nagoski and the regular podcast ladies had a great conversation about women's sexuality, myths and misinformation, and what romance novels so often get wrong about sex.

Chapters cover topics such as basic sexual anatomy, the dual-control model of excitation and inhibition, the stress response cycle, and our cultural context. There is a lot of information here, but these were a few of the most interesting takeaways:

- All human genitals are the same parts organized in different ways
- Your brain has a sexual accelerator that responds to sexually relevant stimulation associated with arousal; it also has sexual brakes that respond to turn-offs. These are two separate controls, and the information is learned, not innate.
- What your genitals respond to and what turns you on are not necessarily the same. This is called sexual non-concordance and it's normal. Although our culture insists that being wet means being turned on, that is not only incorrect, but a dangerous idea.
- Sensation is context dependent. Think about being tickled when you're feeling playful vs. being tickled when you're cranky
- Sex is not a drive. This is important because the idea that it is a drive, and therefore necessary to survival, leads to sexual entitlement and violence.
- You are normal.

It's tempting to try and explain all of these ideas more fully to give you the context, but then I'd be repeating the entire book and this would be an extremely long post!

Throughout the book Nagoski uses some composite characters to illustrate all of these ideas and we follow their stories throughout the book. Exercises and worksheets are included to help the reader identify their own unique sexual map. Ultimately this is a guide to understanding sexuality in order to make your sex life better, but even if you're not looking for sexual self-help I would urge any women out there to pick up this book. You will learn something new, your experiences will be validated, and most likely something you pick up here will benefit you in some way. And not just in terms of sex - I would argue that the section about the stress response cycle is invaluable to any human.

I opted for the audio version because I was looking for an audiobook to listen to and thought it was the most likely way of actually getting around to reading this book. It was read by the author and I knew I'd be happy to listen to her voice because I had heard her on the podcast already. Strangely, there were a few times when quoted passages were narrated by some British dude, which was jarring and distracting and I can't imaging why this decision was made. But it was only a few times and didn't detract from the experience (much.) I can't say it was all super enjoyable to listen to because science, but I learned a lot (even though my mind may have drifted a few times.)

Although much of this information isn't new, it is not widely known. Our culture stubbornly insists on a lot of crazy ideas that we cannot seem to give up (and our sex education is deplorable), but Nagoski is doing her part to try and get the truth out there. She has also taken it upon herself to write an erotic romance novel, primarily driven by her hatred of 50 Shades of Grey (which she discusses in the book and, far more extensively, on her blog.) She calls her novel a "feminist, sex positive, science-driven erotic romance." Sign me up!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Wild Swans

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood (2016)

Milbourn women are extraordinary, but it has come with the price of early, tragic death. Ivy Milbourn doesn't think she'll ever live up to the expectations of her grandfather and achieve the greatness of her grandmother and the women who came before her, but maybe that means she'll also escape the family curse. At any rate, this summer she's done with all the extracurriculars, the classes and activities her grandpa has pushed at her in hopes of finding some hidden talent. This summer, Ivy is just going to be a regular teenage girl and party with her friends and swim and have fun. That is, until her mother - who abandoned Ivy as a baby - returns to town with two other daughters in tow.

My biggest fear when I was anticipating this book was regarding the fact that it's it's contemporary fiction and therefore will be nothing like The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Jessica Spotwood's series about three witch sisters with an ominous prophecy. Much to my delight, Wild Swans opened with the story of the Milbourn family curse. This immediately put my fears at ease and drew me into the story and soon I had forgotten all about my worries.

Ivy was great. I totally get her frustration about not having a thing she excels at. I've never had pressure to be extraordinary at anything, but I always thought it would be nice to be really good at something. It sucks when you keep trying a ton of different things and are only ok at all of them. I can only imagine how much worse it must be with the pressure of such accomplished ancestors hanging over your head. Ivy is kind of introverted but still sometimes goes out with friends, and she attends some local bonfire parties and even drinks (though not to excess.) She loses her head a bit over a boy named Connor who is one of her grandfather's students and I like she got carried away a little with him. She was so realistic to me. She was also kind of dorky in the best way, with her summer job at the library and the way she responded to stress by signing up for a college-level French class.

Ivy had two best friends, Claire and Abby. They were both good friends but I especially loved Claire. She was openly bisexual and was frustrated at the assumptions people made about her, but instead of feeling bad or internalizing these ideas, she worked hard to refute them. Claire knew what she was all about and was confident and not afraid to say what was on her mind. She was also very protective of her friends and unapologetically feminist, offering such as advice as "We do not give blow jobs so that boys will like us!" She made me laugh out loud more than once, and I really, really want her to be the protagonist of Jessica Spotswood's next novel. (I have maybe already contacted her with this request. Maybe.)

The cast of characters was quite diverse, actually. In addition to Claire, Abby's younger sibling is possibly transgender, and neither of Ivy's potential love interests are white; one is Mexican-American and the other biracial.  This book isn't about issues of diversity, it's not about race or gender or sexual orientation, but rather just happens to be populated by a variety of people who are different from each other. You know, like in real life.

Fundamentally, this book is about Ivy and her family, and how she feels about the way she fits into it and the way that they treat each other. She has huge issues with her mother - as would anyone who was abandoned as a child - but also maybe with her Granddad who has been raising her all this time. Not to mention the difficulties with her half-sisters who didn't even know that she existed. There is a romance story here too, and I like it, but it takes a back seat to the other parts of the story because this isn't a romance novel.

Despite my intense love of The Cahill Witch Chronicles, I was not at all disappointed by this new novel, which I devoured in just two days. It was wonderfully satisfying. And now I have to patiently wait for Jessica Spotswood to write her next book. (Hopefully starring Claire.) Perhaps in the meantime I'll pick up A Tyranny of Petticoats, a book of short stories that Spotswood edited that features fiction about badass women. If you're ever looking for some feminist fiction for teens, you will not be disappointed by this author.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Off Season

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

Last night a teenage girl came into the library looking for books with lots of graphic violence in them, specifically with psycho killers if possible. This request made me think about some of the books I read when I was in high school and primarily read horror.

One that has never quite left me is Off Season by Jack Ketchum, a book I'm pretty sure I read more than once. First published in 1980, it's about a family of cannibals in Maine who feed on tourists. Of course. I only remember that it was incredibly graphic on the killing and eating details, which was quite thrilling to me at the time.

Apparently it was quite controversial and shocking at the time, although the publisher made Ketchum remove some parts, but it was re-released in the late 1990s in an unedited version. So I guess the edition I read in the 80s was the edited version, though I recall it being quite graphic. I suppose I could hunt down the more recent version to read, but...I'll probably pass. I still like horror, but my days of enjoying gratuitous violence just for the shock value are over.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Knit Tight

Knit Tight (Portland Heat #4) by Annabeth Albert (2016)

Brady works as a barista at The People's Cup in Portland, OR. Only 23, a tragic accident has left him the de facto parent of his family, raising three small children along with his 18-year-old sister. But he'll soon be competing in a barista contest with a cash prize that could change their lives for the better. When a local yarn store owner falls ill and her nephew comes into town to care for her, Brady is suddenly reminded of all that he is missing while working so hard and trying to keep his family together. Evren's presence at the coffee shop's Knit Night is a welcome distraction for Brady, and maybe this new guy is exactly what he needs. But can they be more than just friends with all the complications both their lives are throwing at them?

I read a review of this romance novella on Smart Bitches Trashy Books, which gave it an A. A Portland, Oregon based romance with a coffee shop and knitting? Um, yes please. Two young guys helping each other out with family problems in a sensitive and compassionate way? Be still my beating heart. Not to mention that Evren is Turkish and has a really sexy accent (in my head, at least.)

This is the first male/male romance I've read, and while I know that most of them are written and read by women I somehow have felt like...like they are not for me? Like it's some weird kind of voyeurism to read about a romance between two men because, I don't know, it has nothing to do with me? By that logic, obviously, I also shouldn't read romances about young people (so, most of them) or historicals or those with non-white characters. Ultimately a romance is just a story about two people finding love so in that way it felt like every other romance I've read and I didn't feel odd about it at all. Even during the sex scenes, which were very...um...thoroughly described.

It did seem like everything happened quite fast. When I thought that a month or so had passed, it turned out that it was several months, although it didn't seem like they had been together many times at that point. Consequently it felt almost like insta-love. One conflict between the characters is that Brady is bisexual and Evren (like most of the world) has huge issues with that. He claims to have had two bisexual partners in the past and was hurt by both of them, and so presumes that Brady would cheat on him and therefore doesn't want to get involved. This is a great storyline and a great opportunity to debunk some myths, but it felt like it wasn't delved into enough. I felt like the issues needed to be worked through a bit more. All of this compressed timeline and glossing over of problems may be because this was a novella and perhaps it should have been fleshed out into a longer novel. I know I would have liked to get more of Evren's story, especially more details about his past relationships that make him hesitant towards Brady at first.

But the real problem with the story was this: Evren knit a pair of socks for Brady and I did not feel that Brady was enthusiastic enough when he tried them on. I mean, come on, there is little that is more luxurious than a pair of hand-knit socks. I expected moaning and sighing and stroking of ankles here. Brady, you do not deserve hand-knit socks.

I was rather drawn in by the cover (I mean, look at those sweaters!) though it seems inaccurate. I'm pretty sure both of these guys have long hair and the one on the left could be hiding a ponytail or a bun (Brady wears his hair in a bun) but the guy on the right definitely has short hair. It didn't really occur to me before, but in most romances we have pictures of at least one character on the cover and I really could have done with some visual representations of these guys.

At any rate, this was a rather sweet story even if it left me wanting a bit more. Brady is such a great guy, who is working so hard to keep his family together, and I can't think of a character who is more deserving of happiness. There are some very sad times in the story for sure, but they help build the relationship between the two heroes, and I was glad that most of the emotional turmoil was about legitimately serious stuff rather than their own angst. Overall it was a pretty decent story with characters I liked spending time with and a satisfying conclusion.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Night Watch

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (2006)

Opening a couple of years after World War II, this novel centers around several connected characters. Kay works for a Christian Scientist, who treats his patients by trying to convince them their maladies are all in their heads. Helen and Viv are coworkers in a match-making agency. Helen is in a relationship with an author named Julia, while Viv is in a relationship with a married man, and the two women don't know these things about each other. Also a secret is that Viv's brother Duncan was in prison. He now lives next door to Kay. The second part of the book takes place a few years earlier in 1944, and the third part goes back even further to 1941.

Waters has made some interesting choices with this timeline. For some story lines it means getting the emotional impact of an important reveal  at the end, while for others it ends with the initial meeting bewteen two characters who have no idea what they will go through together, but we do. It's almost ant-climactic in a couple of the cases, but that's ok because more than one big reveal at the end would definitely be overkill.

Before I started reading, for some reason I thought this was a less-liked Waters book and I wasn't expecting much. I have no idea why but I also thought it wasn't about lesbians. At any rate I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong on both counts. In Goodreads ratings, it falls approximately in the middle, and there are definitely lesbians. I liked it not as much as Tipping the Velvet, but more than The Paying Guests or Affinity, maybe around the same-ish as The Little Stranger and Fingersmith. It's hard to say for sure since I read some of these so long ago.

My edition was around 525 pages but didn't feel that long at all! Every time I sat down to read I'd become engrossed and would be surprised at how many pages I had read when I checked. As with her other books, she makes the setting feel so real, and every little thing about the characters and their lives came alive so vividly. I felt like I wanted more from all of them - I wanted to know more about their pasts, more about what happened between the events of the different sections of the book, and more about what happens later. That's not to say that anything was left out that should have been included, just that Waters makes me so invested in her stories that I can't really get enough.

Long ago I swore off reading any other novels that take place during World War II so I feel a bit duped since I didn't realize that's when it took place. But I love Sarah Waters and had every intention of reading all her books no matter what, so the setting wouldn't have stopped me even if I had bothered to read anything about the book before I started it.

When all is said and I done, I feel quite satisfied that I have now read all of Sarah Waters's novels. On the other hand, I feel a more urgent need for her to write another one so I can read it because I want more books by Sarah Waters!

The Night Watch is the seventh completed book for my TBR Pile Challenge, which means I have only three left. I'm just as shocked as you are that I'm so far through this challenge so early in the year!