Thursday, October 19, 2017

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (2017)

It feels like it's been about a decade since John Green's last novel, and for a while there I didn't think he'd write another one. But finally the happy day has arrived! And passed, because I read the book in about two days and now I'm in the same position of being caught up on his books and having who-knows-how-long to wait for another. Possibly for all of eternity. ANYWAY.

The premise of the story is that a billionaire went missing overnight to escape indictment, and there's a very large reward being offered for information on his whereabouts. Sixteen-year-old Aza has taken notice of this situation - or rather her best friend Daisy has - because it so happens that Aza used to be close with the billionaire's son, Davis. Daisy persuades Aza to take the opportunity to rekindle their old friendship and Aza does. Davis sees right through it, but it doesn't actually matter because as it turns out he and Aza hit it off quite well.

But what makes this all so much more interesting is that Aza suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It really screws with her life. She gets into these thought spirals and can't escape and can't participate in what's going on around her while it's happening. She has a cut on her finger that she keeps re-opening and is convinced she's going to die of a bacterial infection called Clostridium difficile or C. diff, which can be fatal. We have access to her thoughts, her conversations about this with her mother and Daisy, and her therapy appointments. I don't think I've read anything about mental illness that put me as a reader quite this effectively into the character's thought processes. It was scary, and I just felt so bad for her because the main issue is that she can't control her thoughts and, I mean, who can? Most of us are just lucky that our thoughts aren't quite like this. It's no secret that John Green has OCD himself, which explains why he has such good insight into this. It must have been painful to write.

I loved Davis and his younger brother Noah. They really were rich beyond rich, but they seemed to realize that their life wasn't exactly normal. Their house had a movie theater and a pool. They had a full staff including a house manager, who was basically their stand-in parent while their father was missing. It was so sad because nobody seemed to appreciate that they needed someone to take care of them. Their mother was already dead, and Davis was old enough that he and Noah could be on their own and just needed a legal guardian, who I think might have been the house manager. But Noah was not dealing well at all with the situation. Davis wasn't crazy about his dad anyway, but Noah really missed him. Aza was the only one who seemed to understand and to empathize with him.

I haven't even mentioned the tuatara. Their father's will left everything to a pet a tuatara. You know, as you do.

Anyhow, if you like John Green I don't even have to tell you to read this. In my opinion it's not, like, TFIOS-level awesome, but it's still a book by John Green which makes it better than the majority of books out there. I really enjoyed the time I spent with it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Binti

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (2015)

As you may know, Nnedi Okorafor is a hot new science fiction author. Every time I turn around someone is recommending one of her books, either at work in the library or on one of the many book blogs that I read. I've been wanting to read her since I saw one of her books listed on For Harriet's books by black women that everyone must read, which I used for a display last January. Finally I requested a copy of her novella, Binti, which is hard to come by since it is pretty much always checked out.

Binti is the first of the Himba people to be offered a place at the elite Oomza University, and her family would not have approved, but it's an opportunity she can't turn down. So she leaves home secretly at night to travel to another planet. Aboard the ship she stands out, with her clay-covered skin that is the hallmark of her tribe, but she quickly makes friends. But just days before arriving at their destination the ship is infiltrated by a deadly enemy.

This is one of the most creative stories I've read, and I can't even compare it to any other scifi I know of. I loved some of the details of this story - for instance, Binti was essentially traveling through space in a giant shrimp. A shrimp! That was their ship! And I don't mean that the ship was made to look like a shrimp - I mean that it was an actual living creature and they were all inside it. WHAT. Also, Binti was super into math in a way that I barely comprehended, but that was one of her special gifts. Her people were very talented with technology, but she went beyond what was usual. She was considered a harmonizer, which had something to do with the way she understood and communicated with circuits and currents. The enemies that board the ship were also fascinating: jellyfish-like creatures called the Meduse who wreak havoc but are strangely unable to harm Binti.

I always appreciate books that are character-driven, and it makes it immensely happy to find character-driven science fiction. This was all about Binti and her experiences, hopes, and fears. As I mentioned it's a novella, but even at 90 pages there was a lot going on and a great deal of world-building. This is a planned trilogy, with the third installment due in January. Highly recommended!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ghost

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016), narrated by Guy Lockard

Castle Cranshaw - self-nicknamed Ghost - knows how to run. He's been running fast since he was a kid trying to outrun a bullet. But track has never been his thing, until one day he impulsively shows up a practice and challenges one of the best runners there. The coach takes ghost under his wing and adds him to the team. But it's a challenge. Not the running - that part's easy. What Ghost keeps getting stuck on is the part where he needs to stay out of fights, plus he doesn't have the right gear for running track and the only way he knows how to get it might get him in even more trouble.

Middle-grade fiction has never really been my thing, but I keep hearing about Jason Reynolds and this book in particular recently (partly because a book group at work is reading it) so I downloaded the audio which was a nice short listen between some of my longer audiobooks.

I enjoyed this story way more than I thought I would. Ghost is really a great kid, and Reynolds captures all the difficulties of growing up with it's myriad pressures and few solutions available to kids. Ghost is really doing the best he has with what he has, which isn't much. His father is in jail for trying to shoot Ghost and his mother, and now his mom is working her butt off to take care of him. She works in the cafeteria at a hospital and she's taking classes to be a nurse. Every time she appears in the story she is exhausted, and it's not hard to see why. She's a pretty amazing, strong woman and I think Ghost sees this too.

He's not over what happened when he was so young, but he's never really talked about it. Only when he joins the track team does he have a real support system of peers who help each other out and understand what their friends have been through. This camaraderie is due in no small part to their fantastic coach, a former Olympic medalist who doesn't like to talk about his past but obviously cares more about the kids on his team than pretty much anything else.

The other great adult in Ghost's life is Mr. Charles who owns a store where Ghost goes all the time to buy his favorite snack, sunflower seeds. The two have a great relationship and when Ghost finally gets his track uniform Mr. Charles is the first person he goes to show it to.

Lest we forget how young this kid is, at one point he exclaims how great it would be to own a store because you wouldn't have to buy groceries. I totally remember being young enough to think that makes sense. He's also obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records, memorizing and rattling off the names of people who hold records for various feats, a very common interest for people that age (I also found it fascinating, but never got as far as memorization.)

Guy Lockard captured all the humor and wonder and cleverness of Ghost's personality and made this book a lot of fun to listen to. He narrates some other books by Reynolds too, so if I decide to read more from this author - which seems likely after Ghost - I'll probably listen to the audio version again.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book

Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book by Jomny Sun (2017)

In this graphic novel, a sad lonely little alien is sent to Earth to study humans. He meets all sorts of "humans" including a tree, a bear, an egg, some bees, a turtle, a dog, and some very smart otters. He feels more at home among all these various earthlings than he does with his own people, who check back on his progress from time to time. They don't seem to think he's doing very well fulfilling his duties, but the little alien is learning so much about friendship and feeling good about oneself that it hardly matters.

This book is apparently based on a Twitter account, which I haven't even checked out since the book is so cute I can't imagine how it would come through on Twitter. I mean, I can imagine and it doesn't seem like the sort of account I'd enjoy following. But I love it as a book.

It's a simple, but also profound. It's adorable, sad, hopeful, and philosophical. It's right up there with Hyperbole and a Half on my just-now-formed list of graphic novels to read when you need to lift yourself out of despair.

Graphic novels always leave me a loss when I'm trying to blog about them. They're so visual and contain so few words, and somehow that translates to me not being able to find enough words to talk about them. So I'm just going to leave you with photos of some of my favorite pages.






Thursday, October 5, 2017

A few I didn't finish

I've failed to read a number of books recently, so I thought it would be fun to do a roundup. (Plus I have nothing else to post about since I haven't finished anything.)

WTF?
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This Pulitzer-winning (2016) novel was one of the nominees for our Community Read. It sounded promising, the story of a Vietnamese double agent in America after the Vietnam War. However, I only managed to read 22 pages of the book. I had no idea what was going on. This author clearly spent immense time and effort in masterfully crafting each sentence, but I have no idea what those beautiful sentences were saying. I feel bad about abandoning a book for the Community Read committee, and I think this is the first time I haven't finished reading one. But it was so clear that this impenetrable book would be a turn-off to a lot of people and that's the opposite of what we're trying to do.

Poor timing.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith

My first (and only?) foray into the work of Zadie Smith did not go nearly as well as I had hoped. For years I've felt like I should try this author and finally I put this book on my Personal Reading Challenge list and, a couple of weeks ago, dove in. The problem is that I knew I was going to start reading Middlemarch soon, and that's a terrible time to pick up a 400+-page novel with tiny print, thinking I could just breeze through it. There's no breezing with this book. It's not bad, actually, and for a while I liked it and assumed I'd read the whole thing. Then, about 75 pages into it, I realized that I just saw no compelling reason to keep going. The characters felt distant and unknowable, and the story had no momentum for me. The writing is perfectly lovely and had I not been just about to embark on an even longer, denser book perhaps I would have kept going. Would I have finished? There's no way to know the answer to that one.

Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Ugh.
Dear readers, this is the second Community Read I failed to finish and it came so soon after the first one. It's almost like the problem is me, not the books. But that's not the case. This book is terrible. It sounds interesting - it's about a group of refugees and their soccer team. This particular edition is adapted for middle-grader readers and it's possible that the adult version is better but I'm not willing to find out. (And the committee was unsure which version we'd be talking about because the person who nominated it hasn't actually read it, and I think this is where we went wrong.) I have two examples of what is wrong with this book. First, there's a scene in which a woman is fleeing her house in Liberia with her children because some men have broken in to murder her husband. It is unclear how many children she has because the book says she lives with her husband and sons and then lists four names, but the first one is definitely a son and if the husband's name was mentioned wouldn't it have been first? So she's fleeing the house and grabbed two sons on the way out, and they escaped to a refugee camp where they lived for 5 years and then got 4 tickets to the US where she then set up house with her three sons. Did she go back for the other son? And how many sons total did she have? It was incredibly unclear. The second example of what is wrong with this book is that all of a sudden on page 92 the author inserts himself in a bit of first-person narration after the entire book so far is in third person and he does not appear in it. Talk about jarring. It was also just kind of boring. I abandoned it soon after, almost halfway through.

So there you have it. All of my recent shame.

Have you read any of these books? Have you given up on anything lately?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Mrs. Fletcher

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta (2017)

Tom Perrotta's brand new novel is about two characters: a 46-year-old woman and her son. Brendan is a total frat boy, heading off to college. He's not a terrible person, but he's a straight white dude who is completely oblivious to what it's like not be a straight white dude. He's sort of gross to women and doesn't understand that. He just sort of bumps around through his life, without focus or intention, other than having a good time and partying. Eve is sort of glad to have Brendan out of the house (who wouldn't be?) but also feels the empty space that has now opened up in her life. She makes some attempts at friendship, and starts taking a class called Gender and Society at the local community college. One night she gets an anonymous text from someone calling her a MILF, and she gets fixated on the concept and develops an obsession with a porn site called MILFateria.com.

I loved Eve. She ran a Senior Center and was a totally competent and confident professional, but in her personal life she floundered. She was divorced and her dating life is rather stagnant, though her newfound porn habit has made her rather more adventurous in real life. She begins doing lots of ethically-questionable things, and I really rather enjoyed her struggle to behave as a responsible adult and give in (sometimes) to her desires. I found her very genuine and relatable in many ways, and to be honest I feel a bit miffed that a male author created her.

Brendan is another thing altogether. He annoyed me so much, and I kept picturing Tom Perrotta chuckling about Brendan's stupidity as though he was once just like Brendan (though I suspect he wasn't ever like Brendan.) I feel like we were supposed to be annoyed with Brendan but also write him off as young and stupid in a harmless way, but I don't find him - or any guys like him - to be harmless, and couldn't be amused by him. He even once used my most-hated, most-invalidating, male-tone-deaf statement, which is: "Don't be like that." (Does anyone else hate that phrase as much as I do?) He was an interesting character in a way, and he got his comeuppance but didn't actually care because he is so stupid he doesn't know what a jerk he is. I wanted him to grow up more during the course of the novel and develop more self-awareness. Don't get me wrong though; I still liked reading the parts of the story that were narrated by Brendan.

So that's not a criticism of the book AT ALL. My only criticism relates to a transgender character, Eve's class instructor. Margo Fairchild referred to her early life a couple of times saying things like "when I was a guy" and referencing how she "used to be man," which is not how trans people generally think about themselves. I mean, in her mind she was always a woman, right? But trans people are all different just as cis people are all different and it's not completely out of the realm of possibility that someone might speak this way. Just...I find it hard to believe that a trans woman who teaches a college class about gender would speak this way.

Otherwise, I loved this book. Tom Perrotta has never disappointed me. His stories and his style of writing are always a pleasure and and I'm only sad that now I'll have to wait another few years for another book.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

September wrap-up and plans for October


Geez, where did this month even go? I'm scrambling to write this post before October is upon me!

Reading


I read 8 books this month and I'm shocked to realize that 4 of them are nonfiction. I only read one of the Community Read nominees for work (and it was a re-read of Wonder) so I'm behind on that. Let's look at the categories I'm tracking.

Reading Challenge List: Um. Nothing from the list, though I just started reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith, but I completed the race category by reading They Can't Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery.

CBAM: Not participating this month, but am planning to read Angels in America for October.

Romance: The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean

Nonfiction: Lots! The aforementioned They Can't Kill Us All; self-help book The Miracle Morning; In the Shadow of Liberty; and The Fact of a Body.


Listening

I'd never seen a white squirrel before, but saw one in Montreal
and then this one right in my neighborhood.

I listened to Wonder by R.J. Palacio for the Community Read committee. It was a re-read and I didn't post about it by my original post is here. I was planning to finish off His Dark Materials on audio, but instead have just been catching up on podcasts. By the Book has finished their first season and I'm very sad, but their second season is apparently starting in November and they've promised some mini-episodes between now and then.

Watching


I have finally finished season 9 of Doctor Who and learned that season 10 is only available on Amazon Prime for an additional fee. But there's a new season of Call the Midwife so I'll be starting that soon.

Knitting


Still working on the East Neuk Hoodie. I'm almost back to where I was when I ripped it out, which is definitely a good thing but also doesn't feel like actual progress.

Eating


Everything. All the time. Unhealthy stuff, mostly. Food makes me feel like adulting is just impossible. I mean, we're expect to hold full-time jobs, sleep 8 hours a night, exercise, floss, walk the dog, pay bills, clean our houses, AND prepare delicious wholesome meals. It's not possible. And this is for people without children. And not even counting family obligations, romance, or a social life. Who decided that we all need to do all this stuff? Because I'd like to give them a stern talking-to.

Doing

I took two trips this month! We had planned to go camping the first week and dropped the dog off at boarding on Labor Day. The plan was to leave for camping the next day, but the weather forecast was so bad that at the last minute we booked an Airbnb in Montreal and drove up there for a few days. We visited the botanical gardens and there was a great installation of sculptures made out of branches that you could walk inside. They were so amazing! I kind of want to live inside of one.

Later in the month was my annual trip with my sisters and niece to CT to visit my aunt. We spent a long weekend catching up, maybe doing a couple of activities, and mostly sitting around lazily eating baked goods. We had more activities this year so it flew by faster than usual, but it was still a good time. We went to the Durham Fair and to Old Sturbridge Village, as well as visiting another aunt and uncle who live nearby and making a trip to Little Poland in New Britain to get some
Bernie the labradoodle
kielbasa. (We're part Polish.) We also visited a New Age shop and I bought a Buddha statue, which now resides on a little table near my pew. My aunt has a new puppy, who is very energetic. She is kind of ridiculous, and was maybe a little annoying to the other dog who is elderly.


Plans for October


I'll be reading Middlemarch with some friends, which I'm really looking forward to. I'm also hoping to make real, actual progress on my knitting project. The New England Library Association Conference is later in the month, which is always fun, but even more so this year since it will be in Burlington, VT and our featured author speaker is Chris Bohjalian.

How was your September?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Genuine Fraud

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart (2017)

When the story begins, Jule is relaxing at a resort in Mexico. We know that she was best friends with Imogen, who has committed suicide, and that she's on the run. The story is told backwards, each chapter taking place before the previous one (and they are even numbered backwards), and each one revealing more of Jule's story.

It's very difficult to write about this book without giving away too much, but there are a few things I can tell you. Jule and Immie's friendship was not a healthy one. Jule is dishonest about who she is, in different ways to different people. The story travels between places like Martha's Vineyard and London and Puerto Rico. Immie is very rich and Jule is not. Crimes are committed.

Neither Jule nor Immie were likeable at all, at least from my perspective. I didn't hate them, they just both had issues and I wouldn't want to be friends with them. But I did like reading about them! In fact, I kind of wanted more. I'll admit the book left me a little unsatisfied, partly because I didn't feel I got enough of either of them. There were a couple of other characters in the book also, Immie's boyfriend Forrest and another friend named Brooke. I didn't get to know Brooke very well, but I didn't especially like Forrest. The cast of unlikeable characters actually added to the mystery of the story rather than detract from my reading pleasure, which was a nice surprise.

I was skeptical of the backwards format and thought I would be confused, but it wasn't confusing at all. Each chapter began by saying how far before the last chapter it took place, so I was always oriented. I really appreciated that, and I think telling the story in that order worked well.

Reviews characterized Genuine Fraud as a thriller and claimed it was suspenseful, neither of which I agree with. I went into it expected more suspense, more tension, more surprises but that's not what disappointed me. A story told backward like this, revealing more itself as it goes is still interesting even without shocking surprises - it can be more about the how and why. However, I didn't get enough of that. I still don't understand Jule's motivations here, nor did we ever get the full story of her childhood which was alluded to so many times.

It was fun to read - I definitely wanted to just drop everything and spend every moment with this book! But it also left me wanting more. It's a good book that I enjoyed reading, but for me it doesn't live up to either We Were Liars or The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Ten Books That Feature Black Female Characters


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Ten Books That Feature _____ Characters and I decided on black women. All of these books feature black women as main characters and the authors are also black women.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is one of the best books of 2017. Please read it. The novel was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and it does a great job of telling one story about how police brutality affects lives, and all the ways that it's not a clear-cut issue. The characters are incredibly well crafted, both teens and adults. Amazingly, it's a debut novel.

2. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Also a teen novel, this one focuses on immigration issues. There's also a romance. If you like it, you should check out her other novel Everything, Everything which I also really enjoyed.

3. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Vividly detailed historical novel that takes place in 1960s Nigeria. I've read all of Adichie's books, but this one remains my favorite. I also highly recommend Americanah.

4. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
I don't know why these books all have "sun" in the title. This play about a black family in the 1950s who are trying to better their lives. Even though it's a play, it somehow felt richly detailed and I could picture everything as it was happening. Beneatha is a smart, ambitious young woman who wants to become a doctor, and she tries to expand her horizons by trying out different things, which her mother characterizes as "flitting around" by I see more as experimentation and trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to do.

5. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
In this harrowing story, a woman named Mireille is kidnapped while visiting her parents in Haiti. The story is graphic and real, and we get both her experiences during her captivity and the aftermath and recovery. Roxane Gay is one of the most talented writers out there, and I'm already behind on reading her books.

6. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
Ok, totally different. This is a romance about a free black women who goes undercover as a spy during the Civil War. Elle Burns is incredibly smart (she has a photographic memory) but she's also very resourceful and intuitive, and stronger and more mature than most romance heroines.

7. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
Another romance! This is the first in a series which takes place in the Old West, so it's after the Civil War but still not a super-friendly time for young black women to be setting out on their own like Eddy Carmichael has done. But I loved how she settled in a new town and started a new life there (which is totally my book catnip for some reason.) I also enjoyed the second in the series, Breathless.

Now I'm going back in time a bit because there are some classics I want to include even though I read them way back before I even considered having a blog.

8. Push by Sapphire
This is the book that the movie Precious is based on. It's very hard to read because of the graphic violence, but that's what people sometimes have to endure, like this teenage girl. It stuck with me for a very long time, and then all those wounds reopened when I saw the movie.

9. The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah
A classic in urban fiction, I read this in my early 20s I think, and was so struck by it because everything about this story was so incredibly different from anything I had experienced. The main character, Winter, grows up in the inner city and her dad is a drug kingpin. She gets very caught up in the glitz and glamour and becomes very materialistic, but I think later on she figures out that maybe it's not all worth it. I remember being rather impressed by how driven and focused Winter was in going after what she wanted.

10. Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker
There was a period in my 20s when I read everything I could get my hands on by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and out of all those books, this is the one that sticks with me. It's about a woman caught between African and American culture who ends up being genitally mutilated because that's what women in her tribe do. I felt so terrible for her and so traumatized by what she put herself through.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Fact of a Body

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (2017)

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich went to Louisiana for an internship at a law firm, where she learned about the case of Ricky Langley, who was convicted of murdering a 6-year-old boy. He was a pedophile and the more she learned about his case, the more memories it brought back about her own childhood and the grandfather who had abused her. The story of Ricky Langley and the story of Marzano-Lesnevich's childhood are both told in alternating chapters, resulting in a book that is both true crime and memoir.

Neither story is simple or straightforward. Ricky's life even began in a strange way, born while his mother was confined to a body cast after an accident that killed two of Ricky's siblings. At the time of the murder, Ricky was living with a couple and their two kids. Apparently the man, Terry, had been known to abuse at least one of his own kids. Ricky maintains he did not sexually abuse the young kid before murdering him, but there was some physical evidence showing that he was possibly abused at that time. However, DNA tests showed that evidence wasn't related to Langley. Just a few months after the murder, Terry drove his motorcycle into the side of a moving train, killing himself and his son. Ricky kept asking for help and it was denied. He tried to educate people about pedophilia in an attempt to help deal with other pedophiles and nobody wanted to listen. He wanted to be in prison so he wouldn't hurt anyone.

Marzano-Lesnevich, coincidentally, also lost a sibling. She and her brother thought they were twins until it was revealed they were actually triplets, and their sister died as an infant. Her grandfather sexually abused her and her sister for several years. As if the abuse itself weren't enough, her family later denied that it ever happened. Her parents consulted a child psychologist at the time who advised them not to press charges, not to even confront the abuser, in an effort to minimize impact on the kids. As an adult she overheard a conversation at a party in which her father told someone, and I think he was laughing about it, that she was the only one who remembered the abuse. Her sister made a conscious decision to pretend it never happened.

Reviews of the book make too much of the author's views on the death penalty and her reaction upon meeting Langley, when she suddenly felt that she wanted him to die. I thought this whole book would be about how her feelings about capital punishment changed through this case, but it wasn't. There is so much to this story, to both stories.

Her writing is beautiful and evocative, and I became completely wrapped up in both stories. Part of what made it so immersive are the detailed descriptions that go beyond what you normally find in nonfiction. She cleverly achieved this by using words like "maybe" and "perhaps" to describe what things may been like for a particular character. For instance: "Standing outside is a woman. Maybe she's leaning against the side of the building, one hand resting on the top of the trash can, her head thrown back as she exhales into the night sky." In this way, she was able to paint a scene quite vividly without actually making it into fiction. It was brilliant.

In fact, the whole book was brilliant and powerful and thought-provoking. If you like true crime or memoirs - and especially if you like both - I highly recommend reading it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is the top books we're looking forward to reading this fall.

I only recently began adding books to my To Read shelf on Goodreads again, and I've been exercising a lot of restraint so it's not (yet) out of control as it used to be. Of course in some cases I've just put the books on hold at the library and then frozen the hold, which is basically just adding another list altogether. At any rate, I have grand plans to fly through my To Read list(s) before the end of the year. I still have some things to read for the Community Read committee and my personal reading challenge, but still. I have more than 3 months to do all of this. No problem, right?

Here's what I'm most looking forward to reading this fall:

1. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Ok, this might put a cramp in my plans to "fly" through my list. This isn't even technically on my list, but I recently made plans with some friends to read it together beginning in October. I just bought my own copy and I really love the cover. I'm excited!

2. Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart
I have a library copy and plan to start it later this week. I adore E. Lockhart and the reviews for this new novel have been pretty great.

3. Hunger by Roxane Gay
She's just an incredibly talented writer, and I've heard from two different friends that this book is amazing. Also, I've already bought a ticket to see her speak in March!

4. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
New John Green! I don't even know what it's about! It doesn't matter!

5. Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
A new book by Tom Perrotta is always cause for celebration. And reading.

6. The Burning Girl by Claire Messud
Initially I wasn't thinking I'd necessarily read this, but it's a pretty short book with a compelling premise, and I'm still rather haunted by the last Claire Messud book I read.

7. Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun
I don't even remember where I heard about this. It's a graphic novel about a lonely alien sent to observe Earth, and I just now discovered that it's based on the author's Twitter account. Anyhow, it looks so adorable I might die of cute overload.

8. What Happened by Hillary Clinton
At this point I just want to read it because everyone right now is so indignant about the fact that she had the audacity to write it, and honestly is there anything she can do that people won't be upset about?

9. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
Speaking of unruly women and books that have gotten flak for stupid reasons...

10. We Are All Shipwrecks by Kelly Carlisle
I think I mostly added this to my list because it's my favorite book title that I've seen in a while. But it also sounded pretty good from the reviews.

There are so many exciting books that didn't even make this list, but these are the ones that I'm the most urgently interested in right now. Which, obviously, could change at any moment.

What are you most looking forward to reading this fall?

Monday, September 18, 2017

In the Shadow of Liberty

In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives by Kenneth C. Davis (2016)

When we learn about U.S. presidents in history, what is often left out of the stories is that many of our early presidents owned slaves. In fact, the centrality of slavery to the formation and growth of the United States is barely, if at all, menioned. Kenneth C. Davis is telling exactly that part of our history in his book for teens which focuses on the lives of five enslaved people who worked for presidents. Billy Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson were slaves who worked for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson.

Of course these presidents all had a whole slew of enslaved black people working for them, many of whose stories have been lost to history. The lives of black people in early America weren't documented as they were considered property, not people, and even the stories of these five people had to be pieced together, sometimes imperfectly. Kenneth C. Davis (and I think it's worth mentioning that he's a white man) has endeavored to tell their stories as respectfully as possible. He usually uses terms like "enslaved people," pointing out in his "Note to the Reader" that he hopes this will emphasize that they were people with a condition forced upon them, and that it doesn't define who they are as the term "slave" does.

I'll admit that I haven't read as much about slavery as I probably should have. I've picked up some things over the years from my fiction reading, movies, and that sort of thing but I don't recall when (if ever) I've read an entire book on the subject. It was completely glossed over in school when I was growing up, just a line here and there in a textbook that we read out loud in class but didn't really discuss in any meaningful way. And of course most of what I learned about the early presidents amounted to hero worship, as though they weren't regular people who lived in the context of their times like everyone else. A lot of the way I remember learning history was just a collection of facts that didn't really come together to tell any sort of story. I sure wish we had read a book like this in school.

Some of the details we got included the early lives and family background of the enslaved people, their skills and interests, and their relationships with the people they were forced to work for. The presidents had varying relationships with their slaves, but often considered them part of their families, which is very strange when you think about it. Some of the presidents were actually against slavery, so owning slaves seems pretty hypocritical. Of course, in some cases had they tried to free their slaves, they just would have ended up being "owned" by someone else, so maybe they were better off staying with someone who had appreciation for the unfairness of their positions. Davis doesn't try to gloss over the hardships endured by enslaved people who were often separated from their loved ones and had to work cruelly long hours. I did notice that a passage about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings didn't at all dwell on the fact that she was a teenager when she first bore a child by Jefferson and didn't note that their relationship was almost certainly not consensual. Is this because the book is geared towards young people? Or did the author just not get into the details of the Jefferson/Hemings story because that wasn't his focus?

Between chapters were timelines of historic events in the U.S. especially having to do with slavery. On these pages Davis also included periodic population numbers, noting how many of the population at that time were black, and how many were enslaved. At one point 1/6th of the U.S. population was enslaved. When I think about these numbers, it paints a very different picture of the United States than I've ever had from studying history or even watching period movies.

Although it was an informative nonfiction book, which I never enjoy as much as I do a good novel, I found In the Shadow of Liberty to be pretty fascinating reading. The author's style was easy to read, there were a lot of illustrations, and I learned a lot that I didn't know. Honestly I have no idea if there are other books like this for young people, but I like to think this isn't the only one that tries to tell a truer version of history than we all learned a couple of decades ago, and before. It made me want to learn more about certain parts of U.S. history.

I read this for my Not-So-Young Adult Book group, but it satisfies a category for my Personal Reading Challenge. The category is U.S. History/Politics and I'm not sure what I had in mind with the "politics" part, but this was certainly about U.S. history. I have two more titles and two more categories on my challenge, which means I'm doing better than I predicted a couple of months ago.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Day of the Duchess

The Day of the Duchess (Scandal and Scoundrel #3) by Sarah MacLean (2017)

Malcolm Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven, hasn't forgotten about his wife since she day she left. He searched everywhere for her, and now she is back and she wants a divorce. But that isn't easy in Regency England and the only way Malcolm will consent is if Seraphina helps him find a new wife. So they're off to the country together to meet some eligible young women and determine which one the Duke should marry. Of course his only plan for the summer is to win back Sera, the only woman he truly cares about.

This is a great setup because the hero and heroine are already married. But boy did they both mess things up early in their relationship! They had been in love, but Sera wasn't certain he wanted to actually marry her because of her family's reputation so she tricked him into marriage. He was outraged, thinking this meant she didn't actually love him, and wanted nothing to do with her. They were brought together again briefly by an event that turned tragic, and that's when Sera fled to America and started a new life. But her goals now involve owning a business, and married women can't own property, hence her need for a divorce.

You might remember the Dangerous Daughters from my post about The Rogue Not Taken, the heroine of which was Seraphina's sister. In fact, during one memorable scene Sophie found Sera's husband, Malcolm, in a compromising position with another woman and pushed him into a fish pond. Now, Sera has brought all of her sisters with her as she undertakes the job of finding Malcolm a new wife. It's quite a support system too, especially given how much they all dislike him for making their sister miserable. Sera's sisters are outspoken and hilarious, though I keep confusing them all with each other since their names all begin with S.

Of course it all becomes obvious very soon that Sera is just as much in love with Malcolm as he is with her, despite all they've been through together. They both hurt each other in pretty intense ways and getting past that is difficult. In this way, this is probably one of the messiest and realistic romances I've read. The current story is alternated with flashbacks to their early relationship and all the events that surround it, so the full story is filled in as we go. This is pretty common in books these days, but I don't think I've read a romance structured this way, so that was a nice surprise as well.

As one would expect from any novel by Sarah MacLean, it's filled with cheeky humor. In the scene when Seraphina first meets Malcolm and addresses him as "my lord" he responds by telling her it should be "Your Grace." To which she replies: "How did you know how throughly women enjoy being corrected by men? And over forms of address, especially. It is a great wonder that none of us have ever fallen in love with you."

In another part, when Malcolm says he wouldn't trust Sera's sisters around unmarried men because of their reputations, she laments: "Oh, yes. Poor unmarried men, weak-willed, doughy boys with neither control nor intelligence. So easily marked and ruined by women-- ever more powerful...Poor, sad men, so kind and blameless, fairly wandering the streets in their impotent impressionability." I really enjoyed Sera a lot.

But her sisters were just as cutting. When a man tells Sesily what he thinks he wants, she responds, "I do like it when a man tells me about myself. It's positively aphrodisiacal." To which he says "I'm an American, my lady. Don't flummox me with all your big words." It was all so very satisfying.

When I began this series, I think I assumed there'd be a book for each of the five sisters, but then the second book was about someone outside of the family, and a couple of the sisters got married between books. I know MacLean has a new series coming out so this might be it for this series, except for what I think will be a novella about the relationship between Sesily and the aforementioned American. At any rate, I'm sure whatever she writes will be her usual mix of smart, feminist, fun and delightful.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Top ten books I read the first year I had my blog


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. I feel like I haven't done one of these in a while! They were on hiatus for a bit, and I've just been very busy/tired/lazy and sometimes the topics haven't appealed to me. This week's topic is a throwback freebie. One of the ideas was Ten Books I Loved During the First Year I Started My Blog. I really like that idea!

These are all books I read in 2007 and loved, in the order that I read them.

1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

2. The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler

3. The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

4. Sunshine by Robin McKinley

5. Firmin by Sam Savage

6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

7. The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken

8. A Secret History by Donna Tartt

9. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

10. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Fun fact: when I started this blog it was primarily going to be about knitting and librarianship. I hardly posted about books at all! A couple of these were mentioned in passing in posts on other topics, but only one had a full post devoted to it.

The complete list of books I read in 2007 is here. (Thank goodness I was doing that from the very beginning!) What an amazing reading year that was! It was HARD to narrow down this list. There were so many other great books by some of my favorite authors, like Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby. Wow. The books on the list are not just books I loved, but ones that I still consider favorites, and in most cases really want to read again.

That was a fun trip down memory lane!

Monday, September 11, 2017

They Can't Kill Us All

They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery (2016)

If you've paid any attention to what's been going on in the United States in the last several years, you know about the deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and many other black men at the hands of the police. Journalist Wesley Lowery was on the ground in Ferguson, MO and several other cities over the course of the year, observing the aftermath of these shootings close up. His book is a different perspective on the stories we're familiar with, but it also puts these recent events in a larger historical context of racial justice movements.

This was not at all a pleasant book to read, though it was short and fairly easy to follow. It's just not a story one wants to delve into for pleasure so I sort of had to force my way through it. I knew about all these deaths already, have closely followed the aftermath (well, from afar anyhow), and have made a point in the last year or so to read about race and policing and related issues. It's not a pretty picture.

I remember after Michael Brown was shot, when Ferguson was in chaos, and many well-intentioned people pointed out how unnecessary the rioting and burning and looting were. But what many of us didn't realize is that police had been shooting black people in that neighborhood for years, and before it blew up into a newsworthy revolt it didn't grab anyone's attention. This particular shooting was the straw that broke the camel's back, and the people of Ferguson made sure everyone knew about it.

The fact is that police are all local, the decentralization making it hard to hold them accountable at any but the most local level, and they have an almost unilateral right to kill people. This is horrifying. And it doesn't help that our police forces have the power to arm themselves with military equipment. Their job - or so I was always taught - was to keep the peace. But as Lowery describes in one scene about a demonstration in West Baltimore, it was volunteers who had to stand between protestors and police and de-escalate. Why aren't police taught to de-escalate situations? It looks an awful lot like they don't want to. And no, not all police are horrible. Lowery includes a passage when a Black Lives Matter volunteer named Mica Grimm attended a small conference at the White House. A police chief in attendance slipped her a note saying "Don't be deterred from speaking truth to power." Yet the violence and racism is undoubtedly systemic and pervasive.

It made me so mad, and I was already mad about this. I'm mad that we have to come out and say things like "black lives matter" AND that so many people are upset by that statement. I'm mad that this is all ingrained into the fabric of our society in such a way it's hard to get at, and it feels like there is literally nothing I can do about the injustice. Lowery includes the following Einstein quote: "The world will not be destroyed by evil, but by those who watch without doing anything." This is similar to the oft-quoted "First they came for the Socialists..." piece, and it's all true. I guess just speaking out whenever there's an opportunity, protesting when there's a protest, and learning as much as possible about these issues is a start. I'm sure not going to sit by and just watch it all continue to happen. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to even realize the extent of the problem.

Anyhow, this is less a review than an angry diatribe about racial injustice in the United States, but I do urge you to read this book if that's something you want to learn about. (And you do, right?) I've already read The New Jim Crow, which I think should be required reading, and this is a great follow-up as it gets into events that have happened since The New Jim Crow was published. I'd love other suggestions of books on this topic if you have them.

This book fulfills the "race" category of my 2017 Personal Reading Challenge. I've read other books this year that would probably have fit, like You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. But I wanted to pick something that focused exclusively on race and this was the first one picked up that does so. I've ready plenty of articles, watched YouTube videos, and listened to many episodes of the Code Switch podcast, so it's not as though I haven't been paying attention to these issues, but this is the first book I picked up this year focused solely on race.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Miracle Morning

Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8am) by Hal Elrod (2012)

I wasn't going to post about this book that I picked up impulsively and was very cynical about. I mean, when I saw the "before 8am" part, I almost didn't open it. But the thing is, as much as I hate getting up early, I've always thought I'd be way more productive and together if I made it a habit to get up at an excruciating hour and get stuff done. I think I first heard about this book in the FB community for the By the Book podcast - which you should totally be listening to. It's two women reading and living by self-help books and talking about their experiences. A couple of people suggested this as a future book, and then it popped up somewhere else - a blog? A list of recommend self-help books? - and that was enough for me to request it from the library.

The basic idea of the book is that you should start your day with a series of activities abbreviated with the handy acronym SAVERS. Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, Scribing. Silence is meditation or prayer, and I already meditate, but not in the early morning because for a time I did get up extra-early to meditate and it just felt like an extension of sleep. Affirmations are new to me (I just think of Stuart Smalley, and Elrod admits that was also his first thought) but apparently the idea is that you rewire your thinking about yourself by replacing your negative thoughts ("I always screw up everything!") with positive ones ("I am a competent professional who excels at my job".) It makes a sort of sense. Visualization is basically what it sounds like, visualizing what you want your life to be like. Exercise is exercise. Obviously. Reading refers specifically to that related to personal development (i.e. self-help books), and Scribing is writing (because SAVERW is not a good acronym) and can be anything, but Elrod recommends writing in a journal.

The book is only about 128 pages, which includes a lot of padding and repetition because honestly this is not a difficult concept. There's also a lot of the irritating cheerleading that is present in pretty much every self-help book ever. You can make your life whatever you want it to be! If your life isn't awesome, it's your own fault! You can make a ton of money if only you want it enough! Seriously, he says that if you surround yourself with wealthy people you will be wealthy. Most infuriatingly, he says that 95% of people are just settling for mediocrity because they can't be bothered to make their lives better. Yes kids, most people are lazy and they suck. Super nice, Elrod. Way to show compassion for your fellow humans. As much as he insists he's not blaming people when bad things happen to them, he really sort of is. Oh, and he also says that writing a bestseller is "easy." Ugh. Anyhow, I ignored the stuff that annoyed me and focused on the bits that seemed helpful.

One thing he said really stuck with me. He talked a little about one's life purpose, a concept that I find frustrating and confounding. I don't know my life's purpose and with a lot of self-helpy stuff, you can't go anywhere if you don't know that. Anyhow, Elrod said at one point that it's not something you "figure out," you "make it up, create it, decide what you want it to be." It might be a semantic nuance, but the way he put it makes me feel so much better. I can totally just pick something! And then if it doesn't seem right, pick something else! This makes so much more sense than the idea that you must look deep within yourself to try and discover your life's purpose which is surely hidden in there somewhere.

There are some practical considerations to doing all these 6 things before getting for work. He suggests either a 30-minute or 60-minute Miracle Morning, with some suggested breakdowns for how much time to spend on each activity. My concern, though, is the time it takes to move from one to the other. And, like, the first day I tried doing all the things, I started with meditation and spent the whole time thinking about how the other activities would go and what order I should do them in and I never write in a journal so what should I write about? Elrod says that he arranges everything he'd need the night before so it's all ready for him when he gets up. Journal, yoga DVD, etc. This makes sense. I suspect that some of the other kinks might work themselves out with practice.

I'm still concerned about the actual getting-up-early aspect though, which I think is where I'm going to get stuck. I wonder if it's enough to just do all these things every day and not necessarily all in the morning, but I guess the idea is that you're starting your day off making sure that you feel like your best self before you tackle everything you need to do. I don't know how much of this I'll implement, but I do know that currently I'm not off and running in the mornings, and I don't always go into work with the best mindset to do a good job, so I'm willing to try. I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes in my monthly wrap-up!

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017)

Evelyn Hugo is an actress who rose to fame in the 1950s and became as well-known for her string of marriages as for her acting skill. But she has always kept her private life as private as possible. Now elderly, she contacts a little-known journalist named Monique to write her life story for her, as long as she promises not to publish until after Hugo's death. Monique is baffled about why Hugo chose her, but is happy to listen as Evelyn Hugo finally reveals her secrets, once and for all.

This is a marked departure from Reid's other books. It is more....literary? I'm sure a book reviewer would say it far surpasses her other books which, though they have very thought-provoking themes, are written in a light breezy style. Here, we get all the detail and description of a typical historical novel as we hear the full story of a fascinating woman's scandalous life. I certainly can't fault it - it's a great book - but I'm disappointed because I so enjoy Reid's typical, unique style.

But without comparing it to her other books, there is little to criticize. There's one thing, though, and that's the whole framing device of Monique and her story. I'm not a fan of this device in books as it's usually superfluous. It is here, too. There's a purpose, of course, something you learn at the end that ties their two stories together, but I found Hugo's story interesting enough without it. As often happens in books with this structure, we didn't get enough of Monique's story or get it often enough to keep it in my mind. So every time the focus switched back to her I had to remind myself what was going on with her, sometimes needing to flip back in the book searching for the last bit about her. I also just didn't think Monique was a very good character. For a journalist, she sure made a lot of assumptions and jumped to conclusions, sometimes without even hearing out what Evelyn was trying to say.

Despite these flaws, it was a pretty great book. Evelyn Hugo's story was incredibly compelling. The big question posed early on was "Who was the love of your life?" With seven husbands, there were plenty to choose from, and there had always been questions about which of her marriages were for love and which for convenience or to help her career. But it turns out - and this is revealed fairly early - that the love of Evelyn's life was another actress, Celia St. James. Anyone in a same-sex relationship at that time had to think long and hard about how to conduct their lives, and who to reveal themselves to; of course that went double if they were famous. If a regular person lost a job because their boss found out they were in a same-sex relationship, that person could still find another job even if they had to move to another town to do it. But a famous person is too well-known to escape any information that is revealed about them. Evelyn and Celia spent literally decades trying to navigate their situation, sometimes breaking up for years before inevitably coming together again.

Meanwhile, there were marriages, and Evelyn did love at least a couple of her husbands. The first one was just to get her out of her town, and she even got married once or twice to distract the press from other situations she didn't want them to focus on. One she married for love, and he turned out to be abusive. Another, Harry Cameron, was a close friend throughout her life. Ultimately, she was a smart woman who knew how to manipulate people to get what she wanted. Her choices weren't always kind, but they were usually thoughtful.

As long as I don't think about how this book compares to her others, I like it quite a bit! It just feels like a lot of other people's books, and her older books don't. But if I need another fix of the old-school, Taylor Jenkins Reid, I still haven't read her very first book, Forever, Interrupted. If you like historical fiction, especially about Hollywood lives, I'd recommend The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August wrap-up and plans for September




Reading


I had a lot of assigned reading this month! But I also managed to read a few things that are pretty new that I had been anticipating, such as The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, Young Jane Young, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (which I'm just finishing up now.)

I finished reading for the IPNE book awards, which is a relief. I haven't posted reviews because I can't until after the winners are announced and by then they won't be fresh in my mind, so I've just decided not to review these ones.

My other assigned reading was for my library's Community Read committee, for which I read Homegoing and The Only Road. Homegoing was also on my Personal Challenge list for the year, so I was going to read it anyhow.

Let's check the categories I'm tracking!

Reading Challenge List: Homegoing, as I mentioned, and The Fold by Peter Clines

CBAM: Ugh, fail. They were reading Northanger Abbey which I just read last year, so I was going to read Sense and Sensibility - AND count it for Austen in August as well - but I only got as far as checking a copy of the book out of the library and then returning it soon after. Boo.

Romance: Falling for Trouble by Sarah Title

Nonfiction: Another fail. But I just grabbed a copy of They Can't Kill Us All, and I have The Fact of a Body on its way to me, so maybe I'll make up for it in September.

Listening


Gratuitous dog photo
I listened to the first two books of His Dark Materials as preparation for the new Philip Pullman coming out this fall.

I found the most amazing new podcast!
By the Book is hosted by two hilarious women who read and live by self-help books and talk about their experiences. I love it!

Unexpectedly, I also caught a live show this month. There's the old English ska band called The Selecter that Eric loves and they came to the US and played very near us. It's all about the lead singer, Pauline Black, who is 63 years old now (!) but still amazing and energetic. I'm not into going to 10pm shows in the middle of week, especially when I don't know about it ahead of time, but I saw them a few years ago and knew it was a show not to be missed!

Watching


I'm still watching Doctor Who, and I think that's basically it. I haven't watched any other show or movie. But I've watched enough episodes to get a decent amount of knitting done.

Knitting


I finished my Waterfall Rib socks finally, and ripped back and restarted my East Neuk Hoodie. I'm still not sure if it's right, but the only way to be sure is to keep going and see how it turns out. It's so tempting to start another project right now, but I'm just not that kind of a knitter anymore. If I get back to knitting every day, then I can have multiple projects going.

Eating


For years, we've struggled with taking lunches to work. I know it's the way to go - both financially and healthwise - but coming up with make-ahead food that is transportable, filling, healthy, and delicious is a challenge. Plus, as much as I like a good sandwich, I don't have extra time in the mornings to prep anything so what I'm taking for lunch needs to be ready to go when I am. Recently, we've somewhat given up in that we're just not doing this together anymore. Eric is....I don't know what he's doing. I guess going out to lunch every day? I'm still bringing lunch, but at least I can just pick something and not worry about whether he'll like it, who's actually going to make the thing, etc. I have a whole Pinterest board for food. It's ridiculous. Recently I made My Big Fat Greek Quinoa Salad and Mediterranean Pasta Salad. In the summer, I like to eat lunch outside in the park behind the library, so something I can eat cold is a must. This week, however, I've been bringing prepared/frozen entrees from Trader Joe's. It's kind of a treat actually, because I haven't gone to a Trader Joe's in ages and one just opened up near me. 

Soon I'll be able to make soups and casseroles again, which are good for bringing to work. But it's always an extra thing to do on the weekend. If only we cooked big meals every night, there would always be something leftover for work. But that's completely unrealistic, and usually if we make something for dinner that has leftovers, we eat them another day for dinner.

I've thought about just going out to lunch more, as there are plenty of options near my work. But sometimes I don't want to take the time to do that, or go outside the building in bad weather. It's such a dilemma.

How do you deal with work lunch? What are your favorite foods to make ahead of time to bring to work? I can use any and all advice on this!

Doing


A room with a pew
The trip to the spa on my Bermuda cruise has sort of kindled my interest in finding good personal care products, so I subscribed to Birchbox. I really enjoyed my first box!

I'm still running twice a week, and getting back on a more regular meditation schedule.

I took a random day off from work because I have a lot of time I need to use before the end of the year, and I devoted it to going through some old photos. This is part of my effort to pull together a room we recently had redone that I've sort of taken over as my meditation room / room of solitude / happy place. The church pew I bought back in June is in there, and I've added candles and an art print that I checked out of the library and I'm keeping it all very tidy and cozy and calming because god knows I have no control over the rest of the house. That's my meditation cushions underneath the pew in the photo. I just slide them out when I need to use them.

Plans for September


As much as I don't feel like I've had enough summer, I do have some fun plans for fall. Next week I'll be camping for the first time in a few years and I can't wait! A couple of weeks after that is my annual trip to CT with my sisters and niece to visit my aunt. It's just a relaxing weekend of sitting around lazily and eating things, with occasional activities thrown in, but I've come to really look forward to it every year. We started doing it after my mother died so we'd be sure to still see our aunt occasionally, and I kind of wish we had started this years ago!

I don't know when this will start, but I think a couple of my friends and I will be reading Middlemarch together this fall.

How was your August?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017)

When Aviva Grossman was in college, she worked as a congressional intern and had an affair with her boss that became public. Much like Monica Lewinsky, Aviva was then slut-shamed and though the story was soon overshadowed by the events of 9/11 she was never quite forgotten. The story of her downfall and invention is told in five parts, from five different perspectives.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, or who tells different parts of the story, because it's too much fun to discover all of that for yourself. But I can tell you that Aviva had a very difficult time getting a job after this scandal broke. And that the first part of the story was told by Aviva's divorced mother about a series of first dates she goes on when she's in her sixties. And part of the story is told through a series of emails written by a precocious young girl to her Indonesian pen pal. And that the final section of the book is written as a Choose Your Own Adventure.

Young Jane Young was just released on August 22, but if you can snag a copy soon I'd recommend it for one of your last days at the beach. It's easy and quick and enjoyable to read, but it will also give you some food for thought. I'm still mulling over a few things that, to me, seem a little unresolved. I have questions. The main theme, of course, is about slut-shaming and how to move past the errors of one's youth. (Monica Lewinsky did a great TED Talk about her experiences, by the way.) It's also about infidelity and the ways women respond to unfaithful husbands, as well as mother/daughter relationships.

In case you can't tell, this is an unabashedly feminist novel. Some of the characters claim not to be feminists, as many women in real life also do (though I've honestly never understood those women.) There's a discussion about moving out of the way for people on the sidewalk, and how some men just seem to assume the crowd will part for them; when Aviva sees a man she dislikes walking down the street like he owns it, she decides she won't step aside as everyone else is doing and has a small but triumphant moment when he must step aside for her. There's a brief conversation about "gaydar" in which someone points out that it's just based on prejudice and people with gaydar are actually bigots. (Which...right? Isn't gaydar just stereotyping?) The aforementioned young child has a transgender teacher and learns a couple of lessons about what that means and how to speak respectfully about trans people (though, unfortunately, she wasn't corrected for her use of the word "transgendered.")

The more I think about it, the more I think this could be a good novel for a book group. I imagine some great discussions about escaping from the past, who has the right to know what about other people, controlling information about oneself and meddling in other people's lives, and of course publicly shaming women for doing the same things men do all the time with barely any repercussions, and various other feminist issues. But whether you read it with a group or alone, if you like funny, feminist novels you should definitely read it!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (2017)

In the 18th century, it was popular for well-off young men to take a Grand Tour of Europe after finishing school and before settling down with the responsibilities of adulthood. For Henry "Monty" Montague, this means traveling with his best friend Percy and his sister Felicity. Monty is a complete rake and has just been kicked out of school; the tour is his last opportunity to prove to his father that he's not a complete screw-up. Felicity, who has always wanted an education, is to be dropped at a finishing school along the way. And they are to be accompanied by a stuffy chaperone, whose job apparently is to make sure they don't have any fun at all. But it goes off the rails rather early and the group ends up being attacked by highwaymen, captured by pirates, and having an amazing adventure, during which they all grow up quite a bit and come to learn their own value.

Did I mention that Henry is in love with Percy? Or that Felicity is more suited to medical school than finishing school? Or that Percy is biracial? There is a lot going on in this novel, and it is all completely my sort of catnip. The Gentleman's Guide came out in June, but I heard about it last winter when a librarian I used to work with raved about it after reading an advanced copy. I was sold on the cover alone.

It seems a bit long (500 pages) but it's super easy to read! I sped through it in just a few days. The author uses a lot of period terminology I was unfamiliar with and had fun looking things up (xebecs, cicerone) even though in most cases I could get the general gist from the context. Monty is the narrator and his voice is just so casual and flip, but fun and witty. He describes his own dimples as "so deep you could pour tea into them." Yes, he is egotistical and self-centered. Although Percy is his best friend, it has never occurred to him that Percy is often treated differently because of his brown skin, often mistaken for a servant or a slave. Monty is also such an incredible flirt. He's the Jack Harkness of the early 18th century. He's attracted to everyone, it seems, male and female alike. In one scene Percy says "You would play the coquette with a well-upholstered sofa." The two young men banter so much that they can't decide if the other one is reciprocating romantic feelings or not, and if those feelings are serious or just more about having fun for the moment.

I've barely mentioned the plot and adventure! Near the beginning of the tour, Monty is already partying a little too heartily. He ends up in a compromising position with the mistress of the Duke of Bourbon (whom he has already offended) and manages to steal a valuable object during the escapade. He just swiped the small puzzle box to piss off the Duke, thinking it was nothing but a trinket, but of course it turns out to be more valuable than he ever could have imagined. This theft sets the whole rest of the adventure in motion, as the group is now being pursued by those trying to help the Duke get it back, but when it's discovered that the Duke stole it himself, Monty thinks they should return it to the rightful owners. The adventure takes them all over Europe in a very different sort of Tour than they had planned.

I could go on at length and quote more passages that I like and talked about how much I like the characters (and can we have another book in which Felicity is the star?*) but just go ahead and read it for yourself!

(*After investigating Mackenzi Lee's forthcoming books, I've learned that there will be a sequel and it will be about Felicity. It's called The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, because of course it is. 2018!)