Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman (1995), narrated by the author and a full cast

The orphan Lyra Belacqua has grown up at Jordan College in Oxford, though she's no scholar herself, preferring to explore the college grounds with her friend Roger rather than spend her time learning. But her carefree life comes to an end when her guardian Lord Asriel arrives with strange tales from the North about a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis and a mysterious substance called Dust. He removes Lyra from Jordan College and she goes to live with Mrs. Coulter, a scholar and explorer who is very warm and kind towards Lyra. But all is not as it seems, and soon Lyra is going North herself to rescue her kidnapped friend Roger who has been kidnapped, armed only with a strange truth-telling contraption called an alethiometer and accompanied by a group of Gyptians and an armored bear.

This is my third time through this series, which I've been wanting to revisit for quite a while. When I heard that Philip Pullman will be releasing a new book this fall in a related series, I knew it was time to go back and listen again. This is one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to, and still one of my favorite. It's narrated by the author and a full cast, and it's just wonderful.

As much as I love the story of Lyra's adventures, it's the world-building which has always captivated me about this series. In particular, I love the idea of daemons. In this world, every person has an animal that is connected closely to them, like a part of their soul, and they cannot survive if they are separated. Lyra's is called Pantalaimon and because Lyra has not yet reached puberty, Pantalaimon can change his shape and become whatever animal he wants. But eventually all daemons must settle on a final form. I just love the idea of having a special pet friend who you can talk things over with and who is always with you. In Lyra's world, you're never alone.

Ever since reading this I've also wanted an alethiometer, the "golden compass" of the title. It's a complex instrument, covered in symbols that each have many meanings. Lyra learns to read it and is able to ask it questions with her mind and then discern the answers by interpreting the symbols the device's hands point to. How can I get one of these? It just seems like it would really come in handy.

As is the case with any really great series start, the book ends with more questions than it answers, which of course is the reason to keep going. The reader is introduced to a whole new world and the more we learn, the more we want to know. It's been a long time since I last experienced this series so I only remember bits here and there, so the rest of the story will likely be as much a surprise as it was the first time. I look forward to starting The Subtle Knife very soon!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ten Book Recommendations For....


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is "Ten book recommendations for...." and I'm doing mine for people who want uplifting books that are "smart" or "not fluff." We've had some patrons in the library with this request and it's very difficult! Literary fiction tends to be pretty heavy duty. The thing about books is that there has to be some elements of conflict or risk or something to keep one's interest and be worked out, and the ones that tend to be more light-hearted are things like romance, which is absolutely not what these patrons want. Do you know how hard it is to find smart books without tragedy? It's hard! But I've put together a list with some contenders. You'll notice that most (or all?) of them are pretty reliant on humor, which is the only way I know to address this problem.

1. Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

This is my go-to recommendation for this type of request. Or lots of requests, come to think of it. It's the one that I think fits the bill the best. Bernadette is pushed over the edge by an impending family trip to Antarctica and disappears just days before they're scheduled to leave. The whole thing is told through emails, letters, documents, and some narration from her daughter, Bee. Fast-paced, satirical, wacky, and clever.

2. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This story about a widowed curmudgeon who likes books more than people is filled with humor and literary references. In re-reading my post about it now, I said that it gets a bit dark and sad, but honestly I don't remember that. I remember the uplifting aspects of the story and the humor. Maybe I need to re-read it. But I'm leaving it here for now anyhow because it's really a fantastic book.

3. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld 

A modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice! This is totally chick lit, but since Sittenfeld is considered somewhat literary, people eat this up and still think it's literary (whatever that actually means) and I'm willing to let them keep believing that.

4. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

A retired Major living in a small English village begins a romance with a Pakistani shopkeeper, and must contend with the disapproval of the locals who have never quite accepted her. A major theme is the tension between tradition and change. I really loved this book.

5. The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

This one is a bit divisive, but I really enjoyed its quirkiness. The main story centers around a couple who haven't dealt with the death of their child, which totally makes it sound like the opposite of what I'm looking for here, but believe me when I say it's not a sad book. The husband is put in charge of the Queen's menagerie at the Tower of London and there's a lot of comedy and little romances and whatnot.

6. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

I read this one so long ago that I don't have a blog post about it. It takes place on the fictional island where the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" was coined, and a statue upon which it has been memorialized (along with its creator) has been losing its letters. As they fall, the town council bans residents from using that letter AND the author drops that letter from the book as well. A very clever, unique book.

7. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Now we're getting into nonfiction, which I think is the easier way to handle this particular request except that I don't read nearly enough of it. Tina Fey is definitely smart and has some things to say about being a woman working in comedy, tells lots of stories from her own life, and of course it's quite funny.

8. At Home by Bill Bryson

Or probably anything by Bill Bryson? I've only read this and A Walk in the Woods (so far), and this is the one that strikes me as more brainy. But it's still easy to read and funny. Basically, he takes a tour through his historical house, exploring the history of each room and the objects within in, as well as the aspects of life most associated with that room. A thoroughly readable history of domestic life.

9. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Another book where you learn a lot, but have fun while doing it. I've read a few of her others, but I think this one is still my favorite. Roach investigates lots of practicalities about life in space, and there's science but not too much for a regular person to understand.

10. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I mean, life in South Africa under apartheid when you are racially mixed is not a walk in the park, but this is not a depressing book. Noah talks a lot about his everyday life, tells lots of funny stories, and it's filled with admiration for his mom.

Can you think of any books that you think belong on this list? Let me know in the comments. Really, please, please tell me - I need help with this!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Knitting

I have finished a thing! A pair of things!


And here's a close up (with a bit of dog hair, sorry.)



This is my first sunday knitting post since January when I finished my last pair of socks. I'm not even sure when I started these because I neglected to add the project in Ravelry (which I sadly have not been using, and I really need to rectify this), but I assume it was not long after finishing the last pair.

The pattern is from Sensational Knitted Socks. The yarn I think is Rowan Fine Art, at least that's one of the 3 yarn labels I found in my project bag. (The others are Regia which I'm pretty sure this isn't, and the Kettle Dyed yarn I bought in PA in the colorway Buggy Top, which I distinctly remember being grey.)

I think I mentioned at one point that I cut back on knitting and yoga months ago because of wrist pain, and I only started doing both again fairly recently. I also hadn't been watching much TV because TV and knitting go hand in hand for me, so I started both again at the same time. I've started watching Doctor Who again, which I gave up after a few Peter Capaldi episodes, but now I'm (re)committed to it.

Next up, I reeeally need to rip back my East Neuk Hoodie to, oh, about the spot it was at in this photo, and a little more actually, because I think I should have attached the pocket earlier. I don't even remember how far past that point I got because it's literally been months since I've looked at it. I'd love to just ignore it and start another pair of socks, but I feel strongly that I need to deal with this mess before moving on. Wish me luck.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Falling for Trouble

Falling for Trouble (Librarians in Love #2) by Sarah Title (2017)

Joanna's band finally made it big, but at their first show of the tour Joanna froze on stage and was kicked out of the band. She's returning to her hometown of Halikarnassus to stay with her grandmother, who just happens to have broken her leg, so the timing works out perfectly. She'll hide for a while, help out her Granny, then leave this stupid town again, once and for all. What Joanna didn't count on was meeting Liam, the sexy director of the local public library.

The first thing you should know about this author is that she is a librarian. Because I'm going to tell you, there is nothing more painful for me to read than a non-librarian writing fiction about libraries and librarians (and I'm sure that goes for other professions, too) because they inevitably get it all wrong. Not this lady, though - she knows what's what! From the anecdotes about patrons to the very real budget struggles of a small library, Sarah Title has nailed it. What a relief!

So, back to our story. Liam loves the town of Halikarnassus as much as Joanna hates it, and he's dedicated to making sure the library provides much-needed services to everyone in town. The mayor, though, has other ideas about how the town's budget should be spent, namely by making expensive improvements to their sports facilities. (Isn't that always the way?) Definitely not a reader, the mayor doesn't grasp even the basics of library service and is constantly making stupid (but believably stupid) arguments about why the library shouldn't have to, say, buy new books all the time. Meanwhile, Joanna's grandmother Peggy is an avid library user and advocate. While she's laid up with her broken leg, she must send Joanna to the library for her books which, of course, results in Joanna and Liam crossing paths a number of times and being very drawn to each other despite their outward-seeming differences, she being a rocker and he a librarian.

The main conflict in the story is that while the two are becoming involved right away, there's an understanding that Joanna is only there temporarily and the relationship can't last. As far as conflicts go, it's not a huge one - it doesn't really keep them from being together - but it's a welcome respite from the typical neuroses that often serve as the main conflicts in contemporary romances.

I enjoyed Title's writing a lot, easy and breezy with a healthy dose of humor. I loved the moment early on when the mayor points out that sports equipment like shoulder pads would protect children, saying "New books won't actually do anything for kids, would they?" and Liam responds with "Are you fucking kidding me?" Only when silence fell did he realize he had said that out loud. Later, in another conversation with the mayor, Liam became so frustrated that "he wished he was holding a pencil so that he could break it in half. But then Hal would probably cut his supply budget because now he had two pencils." It was all so enjoyable to read!

If I were going to write a romance novel, it would pretty much be this one. But of course I won't ever do such a thing, so I'm very glad that Sarah Title has done it for me. I heard of the first book in the series, The Undateable, when it came out, but it was the plot description of Falling for Trouble that really caught my notice. Now that I know I like her writing, I'll likely try others in the series. The Undateable is about a college librarian and the forthcoming Laws of Attraction is about a law librarian. I like that she's mixing it up with different kinds of librarians - how fun!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Homegoing

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016)

In 18th-century Ghana two sisters were born in different villages to the same father, but unaware of each other's existence. One marries an Englishman in the slave trade and lives in a palace; the other is captured and brought to America as a slave. Homegoing follows these sisters and their descendants through several generations to the present day (or close to it.) It's been a pretty popular books and nominated for several awards.

The writing is beautiful, and Gyasi does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into each time and place. With all these settings, that can't have been easy. She must have done a ton of research to get it all just right, and I'm no judge of accuracy but it sure felt right. It's very impressive, especially for a debut.

Interestingly, she focuses a lot on how Africans were complicit in the slave trade. I don't think this is discussed much (at least I wasn't very familiar with this aspect of history), but I guess in the US our education about slavery tends to be focused on slavery here, not what brought the slaves here. Of course, this is only in the early chapters, as the later stories bring in other themes and issues that were more relevant to those time periods.

The thing about this book is that each chapter is about a different character, and this is where it fell short for me. It reads more like a collection of connected stories than a novel, which is fine if that's your thing, but I found it frustrating. Every time I became captivated by a character and their story, the chapter would end I'd be transported to another continent, and another time period. It felt like a lot of jumping around, and a lot of characters since each main character also came with a full cast of family members, friends, and other people who showed up in their stories briefly and then were forgotten again when it jumped ahead another twenty years. Sometimes a character would reappear, but by then I couldn't remember who they were and what I knew about them, only that the name was familiar.

As much as I can appreciate this novel and admit that it's very well crafted, I can't say that I enjoyed it as much as I had hoped.

I read Homegoing for my 2017 Personal Reading Challenge and also my library's community read committee, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Have you read this book? Did you like it more than I did? I feel so conflicted about it!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

My Last Continent

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond (2016)

Naturalist Deb Gardner spends as much time as possible in Antarctica studying penguins. Here she meets Keller Sullivan and they begin a romance of sorts. They see each other when they're in Antarctica, but then go to their respective homes back in the US. Such are the lives of those who study Antarctic penguins. Conditions in the region are dangerous and precarious, and both Deb and Keller are caught up in a deadly disaster when a cruise ship travels too far into unsafe territory. The novel begins several years later, but moves back and forth between several time periods before and after the shipwreck.

I really know how to pick a book for a cruise! In my defense, I only knew that it was about Antarctica and penguins - because what else would I need to know to pick a book? But luckily I'm not really bothered by that sort of thing. (I once read a book about a plane crash on a flight and I hate flying.) Lindsay over at Lindsay's Library shares my affinity for books that take place in cold climates. We both read Bleaker House and were disappointed by the lack of penguins, so when she mentioned this book and said it was very satisfying on the cold/penguins front I grabbed a copy from the library. It was very satisfying in these important elements.

Parts of the book take place in Oregon and Missouri, but most of it is in icy Antarctica. I thought Raymond did a great job in transporting readers to this unfamiliar landscape. I also learned about different types of penguins, other birds of the region, and even Yeti crabs. (Did you know they were a thing? I didn't even know they were a thing.) Deb felt most at home in this landscape, and her character was definitely a loner who didn't form relationships easily. Her romance with Keller was a surprise to her, and unsurprisingly, not terribly easy.

For me, it started to drag a little in the middle, and I became slightly confused about the different time periods (though I know that's me, not the book), but then it really picked up again near the end. Mostly it was quite easy to read, and though it goes rather quickly I wouldn't call it a page-turner. It's slower paced and focuses a lot on the characters rather than the action, until the actual disaster is happening anyhow. Some parts of the story were a bit predictable, but I don't think this book is supposed to be full of surprises.

It's also kind of a sad book. Parts of the main story are sad, and there's also an overarching environmental message that is not pleasant to think about, though it's undoubtedly true. I liked it a lot, but if you want a light-hearted pick-me-up, this isn't it. If, however, you are drawn to this sort of place, as I am, or you think you'd like a story about a disaster intertwined with a relationship story (that also might be rather disastrous) then you might like this as much as I did.

Monday, July 31, 2017

July wrap-up and plans for August



I think I say this every month, but July really flew by!

Reading


Not as much as usual, to be honest, for several reasons. I was away on vacation for a week, spent my listening time on podcasts rather than audiobooks, and starting watch more tv. Which is all fine! But it means I didn't do great in my categories. Let's have a look, shall we?

Reading Challenge List: I've begun Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
CBAM: nothing
Romance: finished A Scot in the Dark which I started in June, and is my only June/July romance
Nonfiction: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen

I also read two of the four books I have to read for the IPNE Book Awards, but I can't post about those books until sometime this fall. Now I also have six books to read for the library's community read committee, though I can post about those as I read them. One happens to be Homegoing which was also on my reading challenge so I'm currently killing two birds with one stone.

In terms of reading I'm very torn. On the one hand, I have a lot of assigned reading and want to resist paying attention to what new books are coming out. On the other hand, I'm doing a Fall Book Buzz program at the library with a coworker in which we'll talk about books we're excited about for the fall so I have to pay attention.

Listening


Pic from this month: yarn bombing in Bermuda!
I did listen to one audiobook this month, When Dimple Met Rishi, which I think I started in June. After that, I just listened to podcasts. I just subscribed to Book Riot's new podcast, Annotated, and the first episode was pretty good. It was all about independent bookstores. There was a great episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books that I listened to early in the month about an author who is traveling around the world living temporarily in different places while she writes. It sounds kind of amazing.

Halsey has a new album out, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, which I've been enjoying despite the fact that it begins with an excerpt from Romeo & Juliet.

I've also been digging a song called "Meticulous Bird" by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down (The really weird video is here) and "New Rules" by Dua Lipa (video here.)

Watching


I finished up the latest season of Call the Midwife, watched a few episodes of Miss Fisher's Mysteries, and then decided to revisit Doctor Who. When Peter Capaldi was cast I had only watched a couple of episodes and decided I didn't like him. But I heard it got better, and - I'm not gonna lie - when the announcement came that the next Doctor will be a woman, it rekindled my interest. I'm now halfway through the first Peter Capaldi season and I still think his Doctor is kind of an asshole but I do like Clara a lot.

Also this month I finally saw Cool Runnings, the 1993 movie about the Jamaican bobsled team.

Knitting


I have been knitting! I was going to even throw together a knitting progress post, but failed. At any rate, all this tv watching has resulted in more knitting time and I'm now halfway through the second sock of the pair I began back in the winter. I'm trying to psych myself up to rip back my East Neuk Hoodie and fix the pocket that I screwed up but didn't realize until later. I'd like to be able to wear this sweater in the coming winter.

Eating


I've begun preparing overnight oats for breakfast. There are a ton of recipes on Pinterest and I just took ideas from various ones. I combine oats, chia seeds, banana, almond milk, blueberries, and maybe nuts in a mason jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid, shake it up, and put it in the fridge before I go to bed. In the morning I have a satisfying breakfast that holds me over much longer than cereal does and is more healthy. This week I bought some cherries (on sale!) and slivered almonds to try in my oats.

Doing


The big focus this month was my trip to Bermuda! Nothing else really mattered :)

Plans for August


I need to finish the two books for the book award committee, and I'm also hoping to read Sense and Sensibility or perhaps Emma by Jane Austen. The Classic Book A Month selection for August is Northanger Abbey, but I just read that last year. I want to participate though, so picking another Austen title seems appropriate.

Other than that, my plans are just to enjoy summer as much as possible before it's gone!

How was your July?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (2016)

The novel opens with a conversation about a murder. Several wealthy women sit at a trendy restaurant in 1975 and accuse one another of letting Truman Capote into their social circle, which they say led to a death. You don't yet know who died or how it happened, but as the story proceeds it moves back and forth in time, filling in the details. At the heart of the novel is the intense friendship between Truman and a woman named Babe Paley. Much of what occurs in the novel is based on real-life events, but as Benjamin explains in the Author's Note at the end, she had incredibly leeway in writing this book simply because so many of the people involved were chronic liars, so anything is possible.

Babe fascinated me. She was known for her beauty, she was always impeccably dressed and completely gracious. But her marriage was pretty much a sham. Her husband no longer desired her and had many affairs. She was incredibly lonely. Truman was exactly what she needed in a friend, and he was the only person with whom she was completely honest. Injured in an accident when she was very young, Babe had false teeth and facial scars, but nobody except Truman ever saw her without her teeth and full makeup, even her husband. Her existence seemed exhausting, the constantly facade she had to maintain, and for what?

Truman was very hard to pin down. He was genuinely devoted to Babe, and even to some of their other friends, but he lacked good judgement. He eventually published a story full of their secrets, told to him in confidence, and somehow thought they wouldn't be angry at him. Throughout the novel he turned from a young, fun, promising writer to a troubled, unhealthy, heavy drinker who was crushed by the pressure to write something that could live up to the mastery of In Cold Blood. It left me wanting to read more about his real life.

This book was just full of flawed characters who did awful things to each other, but with whom I couldn't help but sympathize. I loved all the glamour and drama and secrets. I read this on my vacation, and it was just perfect for a sunny day lazing about drinking cocktails on a cruise ship. But I imagine I would have enjoyed it just as much had I been at home.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen (2017)

Each chapter of Buzzfeed writer Petersen's book focuses on a different female celebrity who is unruly in some way, and examines her particular way of being too something. Subjects include Serena Williams, Melissa McCarthy, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton, Caitlyn Jenner, Jennifer Weiner, and Lena Dunham. Some I'm familiar with, some I dislike, and some I had never heard of, but all are controversial in some way and don't quite fit society's mold of how women should be.

I really liked the idea of this book, and the format. Devoting a chapter to each woman gives the reader a chance to get to know that particular person thoroughly. It's still thematic though, as each woman is "too" something different. For instance, Hillary Clinton's chapter is entitled "Too Shrill," and Jennifer Weiner's "Too Loud."

The most interesting to me, I think, was "Too Pregnant," the chapter on Kim Kardashian. The Kardashians are barely on my radar, as I don't pay much attention to celebrities, especially the ones who are famous for no real reason. My impression of this family is that they are shallow, attention-seeking, and of no interest to me. However, I am familiar with the standards to which celebrity women are held, and when one is pregnant there are certain expectations. For instance, a celebrity should remain skinny and toned, but appear like she has a basketball under her shirt. She should be happy and glowing. Kim Kardashian apparently gained weight all over (as women typically do when pregnant) and suffered through a pretty horrible pregnancy. She was uncomfortable and that made her unhappy; she definitely didn't glow.

On the other hand, and in the same extended family, Caitlyn Jenner's chapter ("Too Queer") didn't especially seem to fit in. She's definitely outside of the box in some ways, but Petersen spent a lot of time talking about how much she does fit in with what makes an "acceptable" trans women. She did note that Jenner has brought to the fore many other trans women who don't fit that mold as well.

I've never paid much attention to Lena Dunham ("Too Naked") and find her sort of annoying, but now I have a new appreciation for her. Her character on Girls is awkward and wears unfashionable clothes that don't fit. She is in a lot of romantic and sexual situations and the driving narrative of the show is that the audience sees her as imperfect, but she's confident and sees herself as sexy and desirable.

We are all familiar with Hillary Clinton, obviously, and this chapter mostly just made me sad. Well, angry and sad. It's summed up in this paragraph:

"While other unruly women in this book have learned to tread a narrow lane of acceptability, Clinton's lane has been attenuated to a tightrope. She should be assertive but not bossy, feminine but not prissy, experienced but not condescending, fashionable but not superficial, forceful but not shrill. Put simply: she should be masculine, but not too masculine; feminine, but not too feminine. She should be everything, which means she should be nothing."

The other woman in this book with whom I was most familiar is the author Jennifer Weiner ("Too Loud"), who is well known for speaking out about the gender imbalance of authors reviewed by highbrow publications, especially The New York Times Book Review. I remember when this all happened, and reading this made me angry all over again. Basically, books by women are simply not taken as seriously as those by men and although there are just as many women as men writing books (or maybe more, actually) it's rather suspicious that such a high percentage of reviews are about books written by men. Many books by women are relegated to the chick lit category, which is considered total fluff, even though books by men which also focus on things like relationships are pretty much considered literature. Weiner was very critical about this and of course there was a backlash.  As an aside, I question Petersen's definition of chick lit as "masscult" books that feature "romance, shopping, and other activities women do." Is romance an activity? Anyhow, chick lit is less about the activities and more about the writing style, if you ask me.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and its in-depth look at women who push boundaries, even if they aren't all viewed as being feminist icons. It goes to show there are many different ways to be a feminist and it actually made me feel hopeful.

Also, I get to check off another category in my Personal Reading Challenge: feminism. I've got four more categories and four more specific titles to go.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Bermuda Vacation

If you happened to notice my lack of posts last week and were wondering what was up, I was away on vacation. My niece and I traveled to Bermuda on a cruise. I was never interested in cruises, but a friend of mine has gone on this one many times and since I was definitely interested in an easy, relaxing vacation I thought it was worth trying. We both had a fantastic time! (And lest you are picturing me traveling with a child, I should explain that my niece and I are only about 7 years apart.)

Here's our ship, in port at the Royal Naval Dockyard. It's big. I'd never been on a boat this big. (It's the Norwegian Dawn, for any of you who care about specifics.)



I didn't take that many photos, and definitely not many aboard the ship, but of course I took one of the library.


I was honestly surprised how often I walked by the library on the way to the outdoor pool/bar/party area and saw lots of people sitting inside, reading and playing board games. It warmed my heart a little.

Bermuda was beautiful, of course. We had one afternoon of horrible rain and thunderstorms so we were unable to visit one of the beaches we had planned, but that was really the only bad thing that happened. And I can't be upset because they needed the water - Bermuda doesn't have a public water system so they rely on the rain, and they hadn't gotten much so far this summer.

We did make it to another beach, Tobacco Bay, which is my kind of beach. I'm really not a beachy person at all, but I do enjoy sitting outside in the sun and admiring the view and this place was gorgeous. The water was warm and full of colorful little fishes too!


There was so much beautiful scenery, and interesting rock formations, that I didn't even get a photo of the sandy part of the beach. Trust me, it was there and it was lovely.

Bermuda has some very neat plants and trees (and birds, but I didn't get any photos of those) and I think most of my photos are of the local flora. The first interesting tree I spotted was this one that looks like a cactus.


This one is also super neat.


Everywhere you turn there are gorgeous flowers, like these.



Chickens are pretty much everywhere, too. I took far too many photos of chickens. Here's a sassy one, strutting across the road like nobody's business.


Of course we spent a great deal of our time eating and drinking. After all, vacation is just about killing time between tasty meals, right? (No? Just me?) When you book a cruise there are various packages you can get and we signed up for the unlimited adult beverage package. I'm not ashamed to say that we got our money's worth out of this. The first cocktail of the day would be as early as 11am, but it was vacation after all. (Now that it's over I feel like I need to detox for a while though.) Once we got to Bermuda, we spent more time exploring and less time drinking, but of course we still tried the national drink of Bermuda, the rum swizzle.


This one is pictured along with my meal at the Frog and Onion. If you ever go to Bermuda, be sure to eat at this place. They had the best rum swizzles and delicious British fare. I'm not sure what my niece was drinking in this photo, but I think it may have been another popular Bermuda drink, the dark and stormy. Also delicious.

The food on the ship was actually quite good, better than I would expect when you can't bring in fresh ingredients every day. One night we went to a restaurant called Teppenyaki, named for a style of Japanese cuisine, where the chefs prepare food in front of you, while juggling and singing and basically being very entertaining. This was my dessert, a green tea cake with green tea ice cream. It was delicious, and I don't even really like green tea.



We also got pampered at the onboard spa, where we were both sternly admonished for not exfoliating. I got a hot stone massage, she got a bamboo massage, and we both got pedicures. This was my first massage ever, and only my second pedicure. So that was a very luxurious experience for me, and one I'd love to repeat (though I wish it wasn't quite so expensive.)

I'd never taken a vacation with my niece before and, in fact, we almost always see each other with other family. We traveled quite well together, since it turns out that we're basically the same person. It was both super fun and relaxing. I suspect we might do this again someday.

Of course I spent some of my relaxation time reading. When you're in the middle of the ocean on a ship there's plenty of time to kick back with a book! I'll post soon about what I read on my trip.

Have you been to Bermuda? Or another cruise? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Scot in the Dark

A Scot in the Dark (Scandal and Scoundrel #2) by Sarah MacLean (2016)

Tragedy has struck the Dukedom of Warnick. In fact, sixteen tragedies, leaving the title to the seventeenth in line, a Scot named Alec Stuart. He hates the English and wants nothing to do with the title, wealth, or anything else that comes with it. He was very clear with his solicitor on this matter. So clear, that Alec only learned five years later that he was left a ward, a young woman named Lilian Hargrove.

The circumstances upon which he learned of her existence were scandalous. Lily had posed nude for a portrait that she thought was to be kept private by the artist, with whom she thought herself in love. The artist, Derek Hawkins, had no such illusions about their relationship and now planned on a public showing of the painting, which he considered a masterpiece. Lily would be ruined. Not only would she not be married to Hawkins, but the shame of the nude portrait of her would end her chances of making another marriage. Alec has come to London to try and rectify the situation by finding someone for her to marry. He is generous with his vast fortune, which should help secure a husband. But they have only something like nine days before the painting will be publicly revealed so a husband must be found before then.

The problem now is that Lily and Alec are very attracted to each other, but each of them thinks they don't deserve the other. Lily, because of the nude portrait; Alec, because of a deep-seated feeling of unworthiness for anything other than cheap sex, which is more fully explained late in the novel. Obviously the two should be together, and we know they ultimately will, but the getting there is a bit more torturous than necessary.

Alec is stupid and kind of a jerk. He kept denying Lily her happiness because he thought he wasn't good enough, which, honestly....come on, romance novels. I've never encountered so many people who denied others' happiness out of a twisted ostensibly-selfless feeling that the other person would be better off without them, even though they are both absolutely dying to be together. To make matters worse, Alec and Lily have had some sexytimes, which in those days pretty much meant you needed to marry. And she's already had something similar happen, so when Alec kept insisting they couldn't be together and taking off, I was finally like, if you're going to be this way then no, you don't deserve her, you lout!

Despite Alec's stupidity, the story was ultimately quite satisfying, but that's because Lily was awesome. She was smart and strong, and managed to overcome her feelings of shame at what she had done. Honestly, Alec didn't do a damn thing. She acted to try and fix the situation for herself, and then she changed her mind and decided to fix it a different way and she did it all herself. Well, she had some help from her amazing and wonderful new female friends. I loved this aspect of the story: Lily had never really had friends, and now that she is about to be the subject of public humiliation, a group of scandalous sisters take her right into their fold and help her out however they can. It was both touching and empowering.

This is the second in the Scandal and Scoundrels series (after The Rogue Not Taken), which is based on TMZ-like headlines, but Regency style. This book extended that theme even farther with the nude portrait plot, so similar to current situations involving released sex videos or photos. The chapter titles are all gossipy scandal sheet titles, which I find rather delightful. I was spurred to read this by the release of the third in the series, Day of the Duchess, which has gotten great reviews and which I'm quite looking forward to reading!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pioneer Girl

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill (2014)

I have been reading this forever! Well, a month and a half. I almost put it down several times. It's unwieldy, a large, square, thick hardcover volume that is impossible to carry around so I could only read it at home. And it's dense - not the autobiography itself, but the annotations, which are tiny and numerous and make up the majority of the text. Many contain the information I was after, explanations of various events in the Ingalls family, but some were less interesting. For instance, when Laura mentions jackrabbits in her story, there is a lengthy note all about the type of jackrabbits that lived in that area at that time. Ultimately, I started skipping over (or just skimming) the annotations that I wasn't interested in, which made the experience much more pleasant.

What I wanted to read this for was the real story behind the Little House books that I've read so many times. I reread them a few years ago, and they held up, but of course being an adult gave me a different perspective and I wanted more information. The thing is, as much as they were based on Laura's life, they were still fiction. I was eager to get the real story, but kept putting it off because of the size of the book, hence the reason this was on the list for my Personal Reading Challenge this year.

In terms of getting the real story, I came out of this pretty satisfied. I had read a little bit here and there about the Ingalls family, so even when I reread the series I knew that all the blathering about being so independent was not entirely true. Here, we learn much more about how Laura's story was so carefully crafted to support the family's narrative of independence and the constant move westward. For one thing, the family didn't steadily move west. They would go west, move back a bit temporarily, go west again, etc. Often they stayed with friends and relatives, or others stayed with them. It was clear that people in that part of the country at that time relied on one another quite a bit to survive. But that wasn't the story Laura wanted to tell in her fiction. At times, the narrative she developed was just more straightforward and worked better, especially for a kid's book. At other times, it was clear she wanted to tell a specific version of the story.

Their time in Iowa was completely left out of the novels. It wasn't rural like the other places they lived. This part of the autobiography was comparatively gritty, with stories of spousal abuse and death. Ultimately the Ingalls family left town under cover of darkness because they hadn't paid their debts. If they had, they wouldn't have been able to afford to leave town.

Many of the editor's notes regarded confusion in the timeline and inaccurate dates. Laura was writing her autobiography years later and she didn't have access to the sources we can easily view now in order to factcheck her memories. Obviously she couldn't remember every little detail and she did the best she could to put it together; it's ironic that she'd be able to actually access all of that now if she were still alive.

Her gift for writing prose shone through clearly, however: "The winds which all day had blown strongly, dropped low with the sun and went whispering among the tall grasses, where the earth lay breathing softly under the summer night falling softly over the prairie and tucking them gently in." It was still rough, as this was a draft that never made it to publication, but you get the idea.

Her story ends the day she and Almanzo got married. Interestingly, she was not required to say "obey" in her vows because the progressive clergyman who married them didn't believe in it. I found this quite surprisingly since I remember weddings 100 years later in which brides did promise to obey their husbands. We don't get the story of their marriage, which was disappointing because I wanted to hear more about that than what I read in The First Four Years.

Despite having to slog through some of the notes, I'm very glad I finally read this book to learn more about Wilder's early life. I've also just learned that a biography about her will be released this November, called Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I imagine this will be an easier, more straightforward read, though it's currently listed at 640 pages.

As I mentioned earlier, this is on my 2017 Personal Reading Challenge list, and I'm surprised to find that I only have four more titles to go. (The nonfiction categories, though, are another matter entirely.)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (2017), narrated by Sneha Mathan and Vikas Adam

It's the summer after senior year and Dimple Shah is attending a program called Insomnia Con before heading off to Stanford in the fall. She has a great idea for an app and is determined to win, but she is foiled almost immediately from the start by being paired with Rishi Patel. Until she arrived, Dimple had no idea that her parents and Rishi's parents were hoping the two would marry. She's furious! She didn't come here to look for a boyfriend - much less a husband - and Rishi is a bit too traditional for her anyway. But he's a nice guy and she's willing to give him a chance as a friend. Just as long as he doesn't stand in her way of winning Insomnia Con.

Dimple is ambitious, practical, determined, and generally a bit angry. She's always scowling. She refuses to wear make-up, and has no patience for the frat-boy types her roommate Celia hangs out with, who she and Rishi call Aberzombies. She's also not interested in having her parents choose a husband for her.

Rishi is at Insomnia Con to meet Dimple. He's planning to go to MIT in the fall to study engineering, so he'll have a secure income on which to raise a family. Growing up he drew comics, working especially hard on one about an Indian superhero. But his art is all-consuming and he has decided to put it aside for a more practical career. Still, when he arrives at the SFSU campus for Insomnia Con, he sees an ad for Little Comic Con and decides to attend, just for fun. Little did he know he'd meet one of his heroes, and eventually begin to second-guess his career plans.

One of my favorite things about this story is that even though Dimple was super angry to find out her parents were hoping she'd marry Rishi, she doesn't respond by writing him off entirely. Rishi is a really, really nice guy and she sees that right away. They get along well and she's happy to be friends with him. Of course, this is a romance so they do start dating. They try to hang out with Celia and her friends, who are total snobs who make fun of Dimple, and they are all competing to win, so there's a lot of angst and drama in the story.

My only complaint at all is that there wasn't enough about the actual competition and the development of their apps. Not that I wanted to read about coding - I really don't ever want to read about coding - but I think they had classes and workshop time to work on their projects and we didn't really see it. I know Dimple and Rishi were working on an app to help people manage their diabetes, but I don't know what was involved or how the project was going or if they struggled at all. We only saw their free time, which they seemed to have a lot of considering how competitive this program is supposed to be.

We did, however, see how much time they spent on preparation for the talent show. Rishi and Dimple performed a Bollywood dance, which I'm very sorry I didn't get to actually see. The Aberzombies were performing some sexist bullshit that involved Celia and Isabelle dancing around in bikinis while the frat boys looked at them and made comments about how hot they looked. Celia wanted nothing to do with this idea, and I found her struggle a very compelling part of the story. Lots of great feminist fodder in this book!

I also really liked the inclusion of Indian-American culture, and even some Hindi conversations. Dimple and Rishi were both Indian-American, but they were different from each other - Rishi traditional and Dimple not so much - and their families were different, and they both struggled with their relationships and expectations of their families. This is also a different sort of arranged marriage than what most Americans think of when we think of arranged marriage. I think most of us picture a young girl being forced to marry someone she doesn't know, who might be much older than she is. Although that's a reality for some cultures, it's not for this one. It's more like parents talking to their friends and deciding their kids might be a good match and they should meet. Like a blind date arranged by your parents. Nobody is forced into anything.

This was a very fun and enjoyable teen book! For a while there, I kept seeing it on all the blogs everywhere and it seemed like everyone loved it, so I couldn't resist downloading it from Audible and I'm glad I did. The narrators were both great and I liked the story quite a bit. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes teen books, but especially if you're looking for a bit of cultural diversity.

Friday, June 30, 2017

June wrap-up and plans for July



Hello! How is it possible that June is over? I'm just thankful that it's finally warm! It has led me to become obsessed with making and drinking cold brew iced tea. It's so easy and refreshing, I'll probably be drinking it constantly all summer.

Reading


Let's see how I did in the categories I'm tracking:

Reading Challenge List: The Summer Before The War by Helen Simonson; I'm still working my way through Pioneer Girl.
CBAM: Didn't participate in this one this month
Romance: Currently reading A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean
Nonfic: The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

So that is ok-ish? I had no plans to read the CBAM this month as I'm probably only reading about 5 or 6 for the year. I'm definitely falling behind on my Personal Reading Challenge but I don't care a whole lot as I've been reading some great stuff. I loved The Summer Before the War, which was on my list for the year, and Touch by Courtney Maum, which was an impulse read. I listened to two great teen audiobooks at the beginning of the month: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy and If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo.

Listening


Most of my listening this month has been audiobooks, but I've also been spending some time with Lorde's new album, Melodrama, which is quite good.

I have a playlist on Spotify that I listen to while running and I just added All I Want Is You from the Juno soundtrack. I really need to mix this list up a bit more frequently. I'm taking suggestions!

Watching


First lobster roll of the season!
I finished season 1 of The Handmaid's Tale, which has made me quite happy (and a little scared) and I'm still watching the current season of Call the Midwife.

On one of my Fridays off (I was working Saturday that week) I went to a matinee of Wonder Woman. I'm not a big fan of superhero movies because they're basically all the same and I'm very frustrated at how horrible the female characters are. This was probably the best superhero movie I've seen. The movie itself was good (not fantastic), but the character of Wonder Woman was great. She actually had a personality and compassion and was strong and badass. Usually women get to be great fighters or have actual human feelings, but not both.

Knitting


Ugh, not much. And now I've come across my embroidery supplies and really want to embroider something instead.

Doing


At the beginning of June I went to Maine for a weekend. My sister was having a numerically-significant birthday so we had a big party for her, which conveniently was held on my birthday since that was the closest Saturday to hers. (Our birthdays are two days apart. What are the chances?) I got to have my first lobster roll of the summer while I was up there.

While in Maine I bought a church pew (as one does.) It's quite lovely in the upstairs room we just had repainted. Eric questioned my choice and I had to insist that the pew fit with my artistic vision for the room, and I'll admit I felt a bit defensive about the whole thing. But then a couple of days later he bought a concertina, so.

Having a new musical instrument in the house inspired me to pick up my flute a bit for the first time in years. I'm basically starting from scratch, though it's coming a lot quicker than it did the first time.

I also resumed running more regularly and going to yoga again.

As part of my effort to be more informed and involved, I attended an ACLU event about a police surveillance ordinance that would prevent police from using intrusive surveillance without having to go through some official channels to get approval.

Work feels less frantic now that our new teen librarian has started. Earlier in June we held a GeekCon at the library, encouraging folks to dress up and come to the library for crafts and trivia and watching some episodes of shows. The photo of me and Hermione is from this event. I don't know why I look psychotic.

Plans for July


Per tradition, I'll be going to one of the Boston Harbor Islands this weekend with friends. It's usually a leisurely day of strolling, eating, and sitting in Adirondack chairs enjoying the sun and catching up with each other.

Later in the month I'm headed to Bermuda! I'm taking the cruise from Boston with my niece and we are both very excited!

How was your June?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Touch

Touch by Courtney Maum (2017)

Sloane Jacobsen works as a trend forecaster. She predicted the now-ubiquitous swipe, a motion familiar to any smartphone user these days. She predicted the rise of childlessness, and has been hired as a consultant by tech company Mammoth to help gear up for their huge annual conference which will be devoted to the topic. But even as she begins work on tech products for people without children, she senses a huge shift away from technology entirely, a new embracing of person-to-person contact.

Ironically, Sloane is living far, far from that ideal herself. Her long-term partner, Roman, has taken to wearing a Zentai suit and proclaiming the death of penetrative sex in favor of more virtual options. She's been out of touch with her family since she moved to Paris immediately following her father's death. They haven't forgiven her for abandoning them in their grief. As her visions of the future become stronger, she finds her new outlook at odds with both her job and her personal life.

When I read about the premise for this novel I was instantly intrigued. A backlash against our screen-obsessed social-media-driven lifestyles? Yes, please! But it's not just a great idea, thankfully; it's also very well executed. Sloane is a well-known, driven professional, who takes this temporary job at a cutting-edge tech company and then realizes, and begins exposing, how ridiculous it all is. Mammoth has a recognizable corporate culture, but with just enough more to make it slightly alien. Upon arrival, Sloane was given a self-driving car named Anastasia, who not only brewed fantastic coffee but was skilled in the art of conversation. The company not only has a beer pong table (believable), but it provides kombucha on tap, "conflict-free" food, and is "scent-branded," with office diffusers emitting a mixture of citrus and lemongrass. Some employees wore only long johns to work. It seems to take place in the future, but not terribly far off. There's the very sophisticated self-driving car, and the fact that Roman has watched Pitch Perfect 3 many times (it will be released in December 2017), and some indications that perhaps terrorism has increased: "Overhead, the sky was empty. Red alerts throughout the city. Another no-fly day."

I love the way Maum expanded on her themes. For instance, a office discussion about how we rarely have surprises anymore because we rely on technology to tell us if someone has kids before we go on a date with them, or if a restaurant is good before we try it. And Sloane hoped people wouldn't buy into Roman's idea about the end of sex, but acknowledges a generation "raised on a diet of withholding- free from additives, free from BPA, free from communal love." Everything is believable because it's visible in our culture, but it's taken just one step further, which I suppose is the key to great satire.

This story provided so much to think about, and I was kind of excited about Sloane's ideas as I was reading. I knew she would end up making big changes in her life because of her new way of thinking and I couldn't wait to see how that went for her. She had a lot of pain and emptiness in her life, and I felt so invested in her potential happiness. She felt guilty for basically abandoning her family, and as much as she tries to stay in touch with them now, she's just not there and isn't really in the loop about what's going on. This part of the story struck me, because while I've never intentionally avoided my family, I do live two states away and feel pretty removed. This is the only book I've read where a character also felt really out of the loop with their family.

I also liked that her trend forecasting was based not on data but on actual premonitions that came to her in psychic-style visions. It's an unusual blend of technology and New Age ideas that you don't usually come across in the same book. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about that because I don't really believe in psychic powers, but in this case it somehow worked for me.

The Goodreads description compares this novel to those by Maria Semple and Jess Walter, neither of which seem quite right to me, though it's definitely as good as their books. It's not zany like Maria Semple, and the only Jess Walter book I've read was Beautiful Ruins which is historical fiction and completely different from this. So don't expect anything like those, but do expect excellent satire that is fresh and original.

Touch was just published a few weeks ago so I haven't heard a lot about it, but I'm looking forward to hearing what other people think about it. I'll definitely be recommending it a lot!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Best Books of 2017 So Far


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's list is our favorite books we've read so far in 2017. Yay!

Interestingly, I've only finished about 48 books so far, which means I'm on track to read slightly fewer than usual this year. I definitely feel like I'm reading a little less and taking longer to read each book, but I'm not certain why.

These first two are my only 5-star reads so far this year (I'm very stingy with my 5-star ratings!)

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I think we can all agree that this book is something special. The issues are timely, the characters are realistic, the story is complex and nuanced and thoughtful, and the audio narration is stellar.

2. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Character-driven science fiction about astronauts in a Mars mission simulation. I can't tell you what I loved most about it without giving too much away, but I loved spending time with these characters and the writing was accessible and sophisticated at the same time.

The rest of this list was difficult to compile! The first few were easy, but it got harder to choose after that without falling into the trap of listing the most recent ones because they happen to be more fresh in my mind. I have a lot of 4-star reads, so I went back and read my own reviews and compared them to determine which ones I liked more than others.

3. Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

I honestly don't know why this author isn't more well known. I'm getting a bit tired of thrillers with twists, but this guy does it so much better than most that I'll read anything he writes. If you like Gillian Flynn, you need to check out Peter Swanson.


4. Miss Jane by Brad Watson

The premise was so unusual, and Watson beautifully crafted it into a very compelling portrait of his main character's life. If you like historical fiction about women, definitely pick this one up.

5. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Another work of historical fiction, this one felt very cozy to me in that I wanted to move to this town and befriend all of these characters. It's not cozy though, as the looming war and death begins to affect their lives, but it's so much about coming together and supporting one another.

6. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

This story about a transgender girl trying to fit in has so much heart, and managed to be realistic without being cruel about it. Bonus points for being set in a rural area in the South.


7. Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Another teen book that takes place in a rural area, also with an LGBT theme, and also really, really good. I love Ramona.

8. The Painter by Peter Heller

I read this way back in January and had to re-read my blog post to remember how much I liked it. Peter Heller is fantastic at creating complicated characters who feel real.

9. The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

The final volume in the trilogy that began with The Tea Rose. I loved this series the whole way through. It's a must-read if you like historical fiction.

10. After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Reid is a new favorite author. I love the inventive ways she finds to explore relationships, and her books are so easy and fun to read.

There are so many others I want to cram on here, but I'm sticking with ten!

What are you favorites so far this year?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (2014)

This collection of poetry touches on themes of love, loss, abuse, and survival. It's divided into four sections, "the hurting," "the loving," "the breaking," and "the healing." Most of the poems are quiet short - some only three or four lines - and they are accompanied by simple, but expressive, line drawings.

These verses are simple in that you don't need to puzzle over every line to try and figure out what the poet is getting it, and I appreciated that. At times this meant that I breezed through without thinking about them much at all since they're so obvious in meaning, but at other times I dwelled on a poem or its accompanying drawing. Many of these poems could easily be the sort of anguished poetry you write in high school and are later completely embarrassed by (not that I'd know, of course) but it never quite crosses that line. Perhaps the level of maturity and insight is enough to take it out of the realm of cliche while remaining in a spot that is very recognizable to other humans.

I have a hard time writing about poetry, so I'll share a couple of the short poems here for you to get a taste.

One of my favorite illustrations
i know i
should crumble
for better reasons
but have you seen
that boy he brings
the sun to its
knees every night

and this one:

for you to see beauty here
does not mean
there is beauty in me
it means there is beauty rooted
so deep within you
you can't help but
see it everywhere


Published on Createspace in 2014, the volume is currently experiencing a surge in popularity, though I'm not sure why this has happened after so much time. I heard about it from a coworker who shared a few snippets online, and it looked like the sort of poetry I could get into, or at least understand. It's not for everyone though, that's for sure. The Goodreads reviews are all over the place, and some reviewers hate this collection with a vehemence that is a bit surprising. Some say it's not even poetry because the form is so loose, which is a very odd criticism to me. I mean, if poetry can't be loose and creative, what can? I think poetry is the sort of thing that is very individual and personal; a particular poem or style of poetry either speaks to you or it doesn't.

For me, the experience of reading this book was a bit uneven. I was quite drawn to some of the poems; others, not so much. And that's fine. I really enjoyed the drawings though, and in some cases, the particular combination of verse and illustration. I'm glad that I picked it up.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the last True Hermit by Michael Finkel (2017)

You might remember a news story out of Maine a few years ago, when a man was arrested for theft and it was discovered that he had been living alone in the woods for 27 years. When he was only 20, Christopher Knight left the world behind without a word to his family and set up camp in a well-hidden area in the woods. He survived by stealing food and other supplies from local camps surrounding some nearby lakes, including a camp for disabled children and adults where he was eventually caught. The author corresponded with Knight and visited him in jail for interviews. This short book is the result of his research.

I think what most people most want to know about Christopher Knight is why he went into the woods. Knight can't really explain it himself, but it's clear that he is not a social person at all, and I can understand why someone might want to just check out from the modern world and go live alone in the woods. He seemed to recoil from a lot of the trappings of life in our society, and it's not hard to blame him when he talks about how unhappy people seem to be at their jobs, and the amount of useless crap they buy. When he left the world Knight was really alone, not Thoreau alone. When mention of the famous author comes up, Knight shows only disdain for the poseur. (What he says is true too - Thoreau talked the talk, but he didn't really walk the walk. He often dined at friends' houses, for instance, rather than staying home alone and cooking food he grew himself. I'm not a fan of Thoreau either.)

I was more interested in the how of Knight's life. Apparently some who heard his story thought he was lying; they didn't think it was possible. For instance, he didn't require any medical help for 27 years. He claims it's because he wasn't around people to get their germs and that may be true. Or maybe he was just lucky. He didn't do a lot of activity that put him in danger aside from the stealing he depended on to survive, and the only times he left his camp were when he needed to stock up on supplies.

As much as I was sympathetic to his desire to get away from it all, I did have a hard time with the theft. You've got to take care of yourself if you're able to, and maybe he should have done a bit more living off the land. He didn't even try to grow vegetables. I think this may have been because he was so ready to just pack up and leave if he was discovered, and maybe he didn't want to start a project that seemed even semi-permanent. Or maybe he just wasn't a good planner. Considering that he seemed to take to the woods impulsively, that could certainly be the case. It's hard to know.

Public perception of the "Maine hermit," as he was called, varied. The local deli Big G's (which you should absolutely visit if you're ever in Waterville, ME, because it's delicious) named a sandwich The Hermit after him. A Dutch artist made a whole series of paintings inspired by him. Of course all the locals talked about him, and I was surprised to hear how many of them weren't upset that he stole their stuff and wished he had been left alone. Others talked of their resentment at having to install security systems on their camps, and how the regular break-ins left them in fear for years. I was curious about his family's response to this whole thing, but for the most part they didn't want to talk to Finkel. Like Christopher Knight, they were all a bit stand-offish. They did admit they thought he was dead that whole time, so of course it was a shock to learn the truth.

Finkel didn't really get enough out of Knight for an entire book (Knight didn't actually do a lot to talk about), but he added some bits about hermits and solitude and whatnot that was actually quite interesting. Did you know that people who live in cities have chronically elevated levels of stress hormones? I didn't, but as someone who lives in a city, I'm not surprised. On the other hand, spending time in quiet, rural settings makes people calmer, less depressed, and improves their cognition and memory. Indeed, Knight reported spending a good deal of time just sitting in quiet meditation and daydreaming, and says he was never bored. However, solitude in the extreme leads to all sorts of bad effects, as we've learned from studies about solitary confinement.

I've been interested in Christopher Knight's story since it first broke, especially since I used to live in that area. But I'm also fascinated by stories of people who just give everything up and break with their life and do something completely different. This was a very quick read, but I found a lot here to think about. It would be a great choice for a book discussion group.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning to Start


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is series we haven't yet read but want to.

1. The Broken Earth by N.K. Jemisin

The first book, The Fifth Season, sounded so great when I first heard about it but I wanted to wait for the whole series to be out before starting it. Otherwise I run into that problem where a new book is released but I can't remember what happened in the last book. But I can't wait to finally read this apocalyptic story. N.K. Jemisin is one of very few black women who write science fiction and I hear she's really really good at it.

2. Cormoran Strike by Robert Galbraith

I love J.K. Rowling and I've heard great reviews of her mystery series, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Her style is so friendly and humorous I'll read anything she writes. I've had Cuckoo's Calling on my radar since it came out, but somehow it just never seems quite the right time to start it.


3. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

I'll be honest: part of the reason I've been wanting to read this series is because of the covers. The series of 4 books is both science fiction and fantasy with fairy tale elements - basically, it's everything. I've been trying to decide if I want to tackle it on audio. I hear it's great, but the books are pretty long and I do prefer shorter audiobooks. It's a conundrum.


4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

There was a lot of hype when this first came out, but I heard the series was consistently good from beginning to end. I put it off so all the books would be released and then by the time they all were, I had moved on. But every time I see it mentioned I think I should pick it up (someday!)

5. Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo


I feel like everyone was reading this series at the same time as Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The first book of this fantasy is Shadow and Bone, which I came really close to reading a couple of times but somehow still haven't.

6. Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King

I've honestly never heard it called that - it's always the Mr. Mercedes series when people talk about it. At any rate, I can't keep up with Stephen King so here I am, having missed this entire mystery series.


These next three I've actually started by reading one book a long, long time ago and then not continuing.

7. The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Speaking of not being able to keep up with Stephen King! I read The Gunslinger back in high school and I think maybe it wasn't as much my sort of thing as King's other books so I didn't keep going. I had in my head that this was a long series, though I just looked it up and there are only 8 books. My vague plan for this series has been that someday Stephen King will die and I will feel very sad, and then I'll remember there's a whole long series of his that I haven't yet read.

8. MadAddam by Margaret Atwood

I read the first book, Oryx and Crake, when it first came out and always meant to get to the second. But, as often happens, I couldn't even remember the first one by then so I just stopped. I've actually been planning to read the whole thing in the next year or so.

9. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Of course I've read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe multiples times. Who hasn't? But it's ridiculous that I never read any other book in the series.

I guess I only have nine. Or, if you count the two series I've read but really want to read again, eleven:

Jessica Darling by Megan McCafferty

For years I've suffered under the delusion that I only ever read the first book and I kept thinking I should finally get around to reading the rest of it. Then I was looking through the little notebook where I've been listing every book I've read since mid-2000 and saw that I've read the whole series. Anyhow, I went to my local bookstore and bought all three books with plans to reread the series sometime in the definite future.


His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

I loved this series on audiobook! According to my aforementioned book-tracking notebook I read the whole thing a second time, which I didn't remember doing. But kind of. I think I read it in print that time. Anyhow, now that Pullman has announced another series related to that series I want to read it all again in preparation. I think I'll listen to the audio again because it was really wonderful.

Are there any series that you keep meaning to read but haven't? Share in the comments!