Saturday, December 16, 2017

2018 TBR Pile Challenge



I'm so happy that Adam from Roof Beam Reader is hosting this challenge again! I've been doing it on my own the last couple of years and I'm really looking forward to participating with other people again.

As you know, I stopped keeping an official TBR list, though I started up again recently in a very limited fashion. My books are ones that I know were on my Goodreads "To Read" shelf previously, that I've wanted to read since they came out (pre-2017), or that I'm somehow otherwise fairly certain I've wanted to read for more than a year. For instance, I first read about Assata last December when I was prepping for my January display of books by black women. And one of them was on my 2017 Personal Reading Challenge and I failed to read it but still want to. I swear I'll read you this time, A Little Life!

Without further ado, here's my list:

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
2. Longbourn by Jo Baker
3. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
4. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
5. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
6. Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
7. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
8. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
9. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
10. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
11. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
12. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

My alternates:

1. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

There are some long books on here, and also more non-fiction than usual. But that's why they call it a challenge, right? I feel most intimidated by Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie. Even some of the more fun ones are pretty long, like NOS4A2. I'm reassured by the shorter books like Giovanni's Room. I think it's a great mix of titles and I'm hoping to find some new favorites here!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Flight Attendant

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian (2018)

Cassandra Bowden is a heavy drinker, prone to blackouts. Such is the case after she landed in Dubai, and spent the night with a passenger she had met and flirted with on her flight. She woke up in his hotel room in the morning, bits of the evening slowly coming back to her: drinking lots of arak, coming back to the hotel room, a female guest named Miranda who brought a bottle of vodka, breaking the bottle, leaving the hotel room. Yet here she still was. Then Cassie finally turned her head to look at Alex Sokolov, and saw that he was dead. Panicked, she feared that maybe she killed him. Even if she hadn't, just being beside him in the bed would surely implicate her. So she slipped out of the room and caught her next flight.

This isn't a whodunnit. We know who did it by the next chapter, though we don't know why. More important though, is what happens to Cassie, the fallout from her decision to say nothing and leave the hotel room as though she didn't know a murder had taken place there. What could possibly make a person look more guilty? Especially a person known for being a party girl, for hooking up with a lot of guys, and for generally being irresponsible.

Do you ever read a book, see what the protagonist is doing, and want to shake them by the shoulders and tell them it's a really bad idea? I felt a little bit like that with Cassie, but it was also easy to understand why she made the choices she did. She didn't make these choices because the author needed her to in order to advance the plot; her choices were completely believable for her character. Her weaknesses were real, and they determined her behaviors. It wasn't pretty, but it was genuine.

But back to the plot. I don't want to give too much away, but there's some international spy activity happening here involving Russians. And Cassie, in addition to hoping she won't lose her job because of her involvement in a murder (oh, of course it comes out! She didn't cover her tracks that well) has a strained relationship with her sister who doesn't trust her, and the baggage of their whole family situation.

During this whole time that Cassie is waiting for the authorities to figure out she was in the hotel, and then waiting for the consequences of her involvement, she's trying to go about her regular life. She's reading Tolstoy's novella Happy Ever After, and keeps putting off getting a manicure because of inconveniences like having to meet with her lawyer. She also thinks a lot about her drinking, how much she enjoys the ritual of alcohol, how she's not an alcoholic because she can go days without drinking. But, all it took was one Negroni (her drink of choice) to start her on an all-night binge that resulted in hours of lost time.

I was drawn into this story from the very first page. In the scope of Bohjalian's work, it reminds me most of The Guest Room, perhaps because someone who is essentially a bystander makes one poor decision and gets drawn into an international crime scene. But another way that The Flight Attendant is similar to that book is that I'm likely to keep thinking about the main character for a good long time.

The Flight Attendant will be published in March 2018. I received my copy courtesy of Penguin Random House. I was not compensated for this review.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2017


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Posting a list of my favorite books of the year before the year is over makes me anxious but I'm powering through it.

I made this list by finding the books I rated 5 stars on Goodreads (minus the 2 re-reads), then sifting through my many, many 4-star books to choose the ones I like most at this very moment. The Because I am fickle. This always makes me second-guess my book ratings. Like, why didn't I give 5 stars to Young Jane Young or Miss Jane or The Power when I keep recommending them to everyone I ever talk to? My ways are a mystery even to me.

Without further ado, I present my top 10 favorite books of the year. The first half are my 5-star reviews, followed by the top 4-star, but within that they're in no particular order. All links go to my reviews.

1. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

3. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

4. Touch by Courtney Maum

5. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

6. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

7. The Power by Naomi Alderman

8. Miss Jane by Brad Watson

9. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

10. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Interesting things about this list: 9 of them are written by women; 7 were published in 2017. It looks like 28 of the 95 books I've read this year were published this year, which I think is more newly-published books than usual.

I'd say it was a pretty good reading year!

What are the best books you read this year?

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Burning Girl

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud (2017)

Claire Messud's newest novel is essentially a character study about a teenage girl named Cassie, told from the viewpoint of her friend Julia. They've known each other almost their whole lives, and were best friends until drifting apart in middle school. Their families are very different; Julia, with a stable family, destined for college, and Cassie with her religious and protective single mother. Cassie's mother begins a relationship with a local doctor named Anders Shute, and when he moves in, the walls start closing in on Cassie. As her freedoms are taken away one by one, she becomes consumed with the idea of her biological father and enters a downward spiral that Julia feels helpless to stop.

The girls first meet Anders Shute after Cassie is bitten by a pit bull at a shelter where they volunteer. (Important note: it was her fault, though I'm annoyed that the pits were treated in a stereotypical "they're so dangerous!" way in this book.) Dr. Shute patches her up, but his slightly odd demeanor casts an ominous pall over the situation that extends to his later relationship with Cassie's mother. There's an implication that he may have inappropriate feelings for Cassie and may have deliberately sought her mother for a relationship to be closer to Cassie.

We never quite get a handle on Anders Shute, nor do we on Cassie herself, and that's one of the themes of this short book: you never really know another person. Julia observes that life is theater, and we all play roles. They may change over time, but we always choose what we let others see. To her, what's happening with Cassie is rather a mystery, just as many situations around us - especially when we're young and adults keep a lot from us - remain partially shrouded and unfathomable.

In keeping with the rather dark tone of the book, Julia and Cassie spent a lot of time visiting an abandoned mental asylum at the height of their friendship. (As one does - in my pre-teen years it was an abandoned house with lots of interesting stuff left behind from the previous inhabitants.) One of my favorite passages in the book was Julia speculating about what happened to the asylum's residents:

"In twenty years, they couldn't all have died - but even if they had, the world wasn't getting any less crazy. So the dying generation of crazies was being replaced all the time by new crazies, a rolling population of lunatics as constant as the tides. Unless it wasn't individuals that changed but society itself: they changed the laws, they closed the asylums, and suddenly the crazies weren't crazy anymore. Maybe when society changed it was decided, somehow, that they never had been crazy; it had all been a category mistake....That would mean you couldn't be sure about things. Better to believe that sane people were sane and crazy people were crazy and you could put the types of people on opposites sides of a wall and keep them separate, clean and tidy. Without that, where did the lunatics go? Where had they gone? Were they among us? Were they us?"

The reviews of this novel seem mixed, and the average rating on Goodreads rather low, but I quite liked it. It was dark, sad, and ominous, and Messud's prose was a pleasure to read. Her only other book I've read was The Woman Upstairs, and I like this one better but stylistically they're comparable. If you liked The Woman Upstairs, I would recommend trying The Burning Girl.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (2017)

When the Osage people were pushed off their land, they were relocatd to an area that turned out to have oil and they become quite wealthy. But in the early 1920s a rash of murders swept through the community, and efforts to investigate and bring those responsible to justice were thwarted. Finally, the organization that came to be known as the FBI, run by J. Edgar Hoover, got involved. Some murderers were caught, but it also turned out that the extent of the crimes went beyond what was previously suspected.

Grann starts his book with the story of the murder of Anna Brown, who was shot in the head. Another sister, along with her husband, was killed in a fiery explosion. Still another sister was slowly being poisoned until she went to the hospital where she was out of the reach of her husband. Many Osage women were married to white men, and it becomes clear that many of these men were playing a long game to get their hands on their wives' wealth. It was a huge conspiracy, with so many players involved it was almost impossible to stop it. Doctors, members of law enforcement, and other community leaders were themselves involved, so there was nobody victims or their families could turn to. When someone got close to solving the crime or implicating someone, they too were killed.

It's a story about a rash of crimes, but also about white supremacy. The government had promised the Osage they could stay on their land in Kansas, but when white settlers came in demanding the land, they were moved. (Among these white settlers? The Ingalls family. Now I'm even more interested to read Prairie Fires, which I think talks about this more.) American Indians weren't allowed to have control over their own finances, but were appointed white guardians. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Killers of the Flower Moon is a thorough examination of a piece of history I knew nothing about, told in an engaging narrative style. I know pitifully little about America's indigenous people and the ways in which white people have destroyed their culture and communities, and this was a fascinating glimpse into one small piece of that history. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Top Ten Bookish Settings I'd Love To Visit


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today we're thinking about book settings we'd love to visit - how fun!

1. Hogwarts
Obviously.

2. Regency England
But I wouldn't want to live there.

3. West Egg, 1920s
I like a good party, and 20s fashion.

4. 19th century Russia
I've been to Russia, but man it's different now!

5. Lyra's Oxford
I just want a daemon, to be honest.

6. The small English villages where Helen Simonson's books take place.
They're so cozy and filled with people I'd love to spend time with.

7. Manningsport, NY
From the Kristin Higgins Blue Heron series, and I don't just want to visit, I want to live there.

8. The cold places: Alaska, Antarctica, etc
I know that's more than one place, but I can't remember which books take place in which settings, I just like the cold climates. Again, I wouldn't want to actually live there.

9. The far future world of The Power where women are in charge
I know it's still oppressive, but as a woman it would be a refreshing change

10. The fictional version of pioneer America
Look, I know that the real Ingalls family weren't the paragon of virtue that Wilder tried to convince us they were, and that they were among those who pushed indigenous people off their land. So I consider her idealistic world a fictional one, and I would like to visit it.

This was hard, because so many of the settings I read about - especially the ones that play such an important part in a story - tend to be either dystopias or set in wartime, and those are places I definitely don't want to ever go to.

What bookish places would you like to visit?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday Knitting

I'm in Maine for my family's late Thanksgiving this weekend, and I finished the body of my sweater.



It looks terribly rumpled and there are loose ends everywhere, but you get the idea.

I'm very happy to be this close to finishing this seemingly endless project! I mean, it's not that close really, I've got two sleeves and a hood to knit now.

I tried it on to make sure the armholes were large enough and they seem fine. The sweater itself is a bit long, but I find that they tend to stretch horizontally which makes them a little shorter, so it should be fine. And if it's not fine, at least it will be finished and I can move on to something else.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Novemer wrap-up and plans for December


Reading


Middlemarch. Still, always, feels like I've been reading it forever. I like it though. I also had the good fortune to score a galley of Chris Bohjalian's forthcoming novel, The Flight Attendant, which I loved. (I haven't posted about it yet because it won't be published until March, so I'm trying to hold off until a little closer to that time.)

Reading Challenge List: Nothing.

CBAM: Nothing. This month's book is The Brothers Karamazov, which I read in college and liked but don't need to read again. Especially while I'm reading Middlemarch.

Romance: I read both The Proposal by Mary Balogh and Hate To Want You by Alisha Rai, both of which were quite good and rather different from other romances I've read.

Nonfiction: I'm having a sudden burst of wanting to just read all the nonfiction, so I grabbed a few different ones from the library. I just finished Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, which was fascinating and horrifying.


Listening

Someone got a new winter coat.

Last month I started listening to the new Pink album, Beautiful Trauma, and I haven't stopped yet. Now I have tickets to see her perform in April!

While waiting for the new season of the podcast By the Book, I decided to go back and listen to more episodes of Invisibilia, a fascinating podcast about human behavior and psychology. 

My only audiobook this month was The Power by Naomi Alderman, which was excellent.

Watching


The Good Place! And as much as I was never interested in The Great British Baking Show, I impulsively watched an episode and now I'm hooked on that. And I want to bake all the things, but my oven is being kind of a jerk these days.

Knitting


My tv-watching is ramping up a bit, which is great for my knitting. I've made a lot of progress on the front of my sweater. I haven't done a knitting post in a while - sorry! Hopefully I'll get it together to do one soon.

I also started a new cross stitch project, but I can't do that while watching tv. I worked on it a bit while listening to The Power and some of my podcasts. 

Eating


Everything, all the things, all the time. The month culminated with Thanksgiving, so. Our was very low-key. Eric cooked and one of my friends came over so it was just the three of us. We managed to eat a lot of food and drink a lot of wine. A couple of days before I tried to bake cookies for one of our desserts and managed to both burn and undercook them at the same time. (Mary Berry would have been so disappointed.) I mean, we ate them anyway, because cookies.

Doing

Owl Incognito by Ohotaq Mikkigak

A rather exciting local election took place, and I was a bit focused on that early in the month. It turned out quite well for my candidates!

We had some work done at our house, including getting new front steps and a new retaining wall in the backyard so the neighbor's house won't slide down the hill into our yard. Yay, masonry!

I visited the Museum of Fine Arts for the first time in quite a while. I really need to not go so long between visits again. One of the major exhibits right now is art by Takashi Murakami, which was great, but I also really enjoyed a small exhibit of Inuit Art. The photo to the right is a piece from that exhibit.

Plans for December


We're going to Maine this coming weekend to have Thanksgiving with my family because this is the weekend that people have off from work.

I'm going to see a stage production of Sense and Sensibility a couple of days before Christmas and I haven't read the book so I'm hoping to do so before the show.

Classic Book a Month Club is reading Wuthering Heights, which I'd love to re-read, but I'm honestly not sure that will happen either.

Sometime soon I'll be posting my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list, which I'm very excited about! This challenge is hosted by Roof Beam Reader, and he hasn't done it the past couple of years. I've done it on my own, but it's not the same so I'm very happy it's an official challenge again in 2018!


Pitch Perfect 3 will be coming out at the end of the month, so I'll be going to see that with some friends. Super exciting!

And of course, I plan to do a lot of my annual end-of-the-year lamenting about how I didn't achieve even one of my goals and what the heck am I doing with my life, and how can I be better person next year, etc. So stay tuned for my December wrap-up!



How was your November?


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Top Ten Books On My Winter TBR


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week is all about our winter TBR lists. And when you've greatly restricted your use of a TBR list as I have, there's nothing more fun than permission to make one.

Here are the books I'm most looking forward to reading this winter:

1. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

2. A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara

3. Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson

4. The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty

5. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

6. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

7. Longbourn by Jo Baker

8. Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor 

9. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

10. The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

Some of these are on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list which I'll be posting sometime soon, once it's finalized. (Roof Beam Reader is hosting again, so I don't need to do it on my own this year!) I'm hoping to start Sense and Sensibility sometime very soon because I have tickets to see a stage adaptation of it the weekend just before Christmas. My book group at work is reading Allegedly, I think for January. Others are just books I've been wanting to read, some of which just came out recently.

What are your winter reading plans?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017)

In an unspecified country, Saeed and Nadia meet and begin seeing each other as war closes in around them. But there are rumors of doors appearing that will take you far away to other countries, if you can find someone you can pay for the privilege of using one. They finally decide it's worth the risk, and they leave everything behind and step through, not knowing where they'll end up.

Where they land initially is Mykonos, in Greece, but it's not their last stop. Wherever there are doors, there are refugees like themselves trying to escape their homelands in search of a better life. Migrant communities rise up around the world, shifting the population and creating lots of competition for housing. As Saeed and Nadia navigate this new landscape, they initially grow closer and think of themselves as married, but as time goes on and their environments change, so do they, and both must think about what future they want.

Hamid's book is very short and I read it in just two days. The writing is lovely, and though filled with many lengthy comma-laden sentences, is rather easy to read. It's not especially detailed or descriptive, but just enough to give it a bit of atmosphere. I'm definitely left with questions about the doors and the ways they've changed the world, but the story here is really about the relationship between Saeed and Nadia. Even here, I felt like I was just scraping at the surface of these characters; I did get a good sense of their relationship, which was the point, but we don't get a lot of details about their characters' inner lives, past experiences, quirks, or internal struggles. They seem real enough, but like people you're seeing at a bit of distance. This really isn't a criticism, as these are all stylistic choices, but I think it's worth mentioning that this book isn't as meaty as my usual fare.

As I mentioned, the doors were never explained, and that's ok. What we know is that they began appearing at some point, and continued to appear (or be found) for a while at least and seemed to be permanent once they appeared. The result was essentially an opening of all borders, which is fascinating to think about. Of course people left the war-torn areas and went to more stable and wealthy areas, causing quite a shift in population. The doors that were found would quickly be taken over and guarded, and whether or not they could be accessed depended on who was guarding them. I wish we got more about the results of these population shifts, but if all my questions were answered this would have been a much longer and completely different book and I don't think I'd actually want that.

Exit West was a nice little break from my usual kind of reading, but I'm not sure if I'll remember it at all six months from now. However, I did quite like the short time I spent reading it.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Hate To Want You

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai (2017)

Livvy and Nicholas are descended from the Chandler and Kane families, who used to own a grocery store empire together. But when a tragic accident killed Livvy's father and Nicholas's mother - who were inexplicably in a car together that night - that came to an end. Nicholas's father forced Livvy's mother to take a buyout for her husband's half of the business, giving her a raw deal. Then the store burned down and Livvy's twin brother Jackson was implicated, though never charged. Nicholas's father told him he had to break up with Livvy. But for ten years, they continued to see each other in secret once a year, just for sex, no strings attached. Now that Livvy has returned to town temporarily to take care of her mother, all the old wounds threaten to open up again.

Livvy hasn't been back home in years, hasn't seen her twin brother in years, hasn't had a proper conversation with Nicholas since they broke up, despite their yearly sex date. As if the original tragedy weren't enough, Livvy's brother Paul - married to Livvy's best friend Sadia - died a year ago. There is a lot of tragedy in this story, a lot of suppressed emotions, and issues left undealt with for years.

Livvy's grandfather who co-founded the grocery store was Japanese and he ended up in an internment camp during World War II. During that time, all the family's valuables were held by the Chandler family. This history not only added more interest (not to mention ethnic diversity) but it added even more depth to the complicated relationship between the two families. The characters were also diverse in that Livvy's widowed sister-in-law is bisexual and her aunt's great love was also a woman, but neither of these are made a big deal, they are just mentioned casually in passing.

I haven't even mentioned Livvy and Nicholas's relationship itself. They once had a traditional relationship, but once they had to break up and got together only annually on Livvy's birthday for sex, they stayed emotionally detached. I mean, not really, but they didn't talk or anything. They always got together in a different city, wherever Livvy was at the time. She was a tattoo artist, and of course there's meaning behind each of her own tattoos, which we eventually find out about. Once they're in the same town again, it becomes very difficult to maintain the same sort of relationship, which of course is a great thing because they were both pretty miserable for that whole decade.

I heard about this book on Smart Bitches Trashy Books, which picked it for their book club a few months ago. I feel like it got a lot of buzz, so despite my general wariness of contemporary romance, I was very curious about it. I also heard a couple of interviews with the author on the same podcast and she is delightful, and has a great laugh that I could listen to all day. It surprised me in a couple of ways. For a romance this book is pretty dark, which I didn't expect, and I also didn't realize it was an erotic romance until I started reading it. It's sort of opposite of the light, funny historicals I'm used to. I think it's not exactly my jam, but it's undeniably good. The writing is solid, the emotional journeys of the characters feels genuine, and there's lots of interesting subject matter.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz (2017)

Salvador has grown up with his adoptive gay Mexican father, and they've led a pretty consistent comfortable life until now. Sal's temper is starting to get the best of him and he's getting into fist fights at school, his grandmother Mima is suddenly very ill, and his best friends Sam and Fito are going through their own difficult situations. In addition to the major issues, Sal has a college admissions essay hanging over his head. He struggles with it mostly because he can't figure out why he's special (which I think many of us can relate to, especially as teenagers.)

Sam and Sal are like brother and sister, and I loved their relationship. I especially loved that there's a book with a girl and boy who are friends and there is no romance whatsoever between them. Their friendship was very cute too: they texted each other constantly, even when they were in adjacent rooms, and they often came up with a word for the day (wftd.) They also played a game of "What if?" One person would ask a question like "What if we had never met?" and the other one had to come up with an acceptably creative answer by the end of the day.

Initially Sam doesn't like Sal's friend Fito, but as it turns out she just didn't really know him and as soon as they start spending more time together, they also become good friends. Sam and Fito both have mothers with very serious problems and their relationships are complicated. Sal doesn't have a mother at all, so this is something they all sort of bond over.

Nature vs. nurture came up a lot in this story. Sal has been thinking a lot about his biological father recently, worrying that he somehow inherited this new tendency to fight. He doesn't know who his father was, and his mother died when he was only three years old, so he doesn't even remember her. The family he grew up with is the only family he knows. Not only is he not biologically related to them, but he's also a white kid in a Mexican family.

Sal's family was great, but especially his dad, Vicente. Saenz writes amazing parents, as I discovered when I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Many people will recognize Sal's house - the household teenagers are drawn to, where they feel comfortable with the adults in residence and, more importantly, where they feel welcome to hang out and be themselves. It becomes a hub, and Vicente jokes that he collects 17-year-olds.

Les you think it's all happy and uplifting, I should mention that there was a lot of death in this book. It didn't feel piled on though; it was spread out a bit so the characters had a chance to deal with it. These kids were talkers who worked through their feelings and dealt with the turmoil going on inside of them. Perhaps it's not entirely realistic, but if nothing else it's a great model for how to handle your life.

In a lot of ways, this is an idealistic book (as was Aristotle and Dante) but it still felt genuine. Even though a lot of bad things happened in the course of the story, it's still uplifting because of the way the characters all took care of each other. Sometimes that's exactly the sort of book you need.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Power

The Power by Naomi Alderman (2016), narrated by Adjoa Andoh

The world has suddenly changed: teenage girls now carry a power within them to deliver electrical shocks. Female babies are now born with it; and it's possible to awaken the power even in older women. It's game-changing and we see this massive shift primarily through four characters: a young Nigerian journalist; a London teenager from a rough family; a foster girl being raised in an abusive family; and an American senator. The story is framed in a far-future exchange between a male author writing a novel about the "great cataclysm" and his female agent.

What's brilliant about this book is that the whole idea is that whoever has power will abuse it and be in control and oppress others. The far-future framing parts show a world in which roles are reversed. It is men who aren't taken seriously, women who are in charge, and they're convinced it has always been this way. It wouldn't even make sense for men to run things, they think. It seems ridiculous, the way men are viewed, which highlights exactly how ridiculous the treatment of women in our world is.

Once I got the characters straight, they solidified into real people for me, and I was so invested in everyone getting through the very dangerous times unscathed. Allie, once she killed her foster father and left her abusive home, followed the voice in her head and began a new religion, dubbing herself Mother Eve. Streetwise Roxy witnessed her mother's murder and vowed to take revenge on those responsible. Margot is a politician whose teenage daughter helps her awaken her own powers, which she must initially hide out of fear it will hurt her political ambitions. Tunde was a rather aimless young guy who began recording footage of girls using the power, and then became dedicated to documenting everything about this new world landscape, as great risk to himself. At first, this new power was seen as something scary that needed to be contained, and leaders scrambled to make plans to deal with it. But soon it became obvious that the power was there to stay, and that women would use it to hurt men and gain control.

Listening to the audio version meant being a bit disoriented during the first several chapters as they switched back and forth between characters. Once the story returned to the first character, I couldn't remember anything about her character and had to go back and listen to parts of the first chapter again. So in that way, it probably would have been a good choice for me to read in print. But then I would have missed out on the excellent narration by Adjoa Andoh, who is extremely talented at all kinds of accents and did an amazing job with all the characters' voices.

I kind of wish I had read this for a book group because there's just so much to discuss! However, two of my coworkers have read it and I think we'll spend some time talking about it now that I've finally finished it too. Right now, in the current political climate in the U.S., and with all the sexual assault allegations against powerful men coming to light, is probably the perfect time to read a book about women giving men a taste of their own medicine.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Proposal

The Proposal (The Survivor's Club #1) by Mary Balogh (2012)

A young widow named Gwen has just quarreled with the friend she's staying with, and is out walking the beach when she falls, twisting her ankle. Luckily, an imposing stranger named Hugo is standing nearby at the time and rescues her. He takes her back to the house where he's staying with some friends who all met when they were recovering from their war experiences and injuries and now return for a get-together every year. Gwen doesn't want to impose, but her injury is bad enough that she shouldn't be moved. She and Hugo dislike each other from the start, but they begin to warm up to each other quickly. It can't go anywhere though, as she is an aristocrat who does not want to remarry, and Hugo needs to marry now that his title requires it but he's determined to marry someone in his own social sphere.

The premise doesn't sound like anything special, but these two characters make this very different from any romance I've read. These are no young, naive virgins, blushing at any hint of impropriety; both are seasoned and mature, and not afraid to speak of their desires. For one thing, they have sex fairly early in the book, when they still rather dislike each other, and have no illusions that it will lead to anything else. You don't see that very much in historical romance. They have scars from their past, hers in the form of a permanent limp and his of a more internal sort. Because of the kind of people they are, this isn't an all-consuming, passionate romance with dramatic confessions and tears of joy and all the typical trappings of the genre. No, it's like a story about a couple of people you know who develop a mature affection and you're really glad they found each other. It's satisfying.

So what was the tension, the thing that kept them apart? Primarily, it was class. I mean, Gwen didn't want to get married again anyhow. Her first marriage wasn't awesome and I think the fact that she was single made her think she had a second chance to live her life the way she wanted to. She didn't want to leap back into another lifetime commitment. But the real hurdle to overcome was that she was from the upper classes and Hugo earned his title in the war, and inherited his wealth from his businessman father. His people were different from hers, and the life he wanted was on his farm with the lambs and his garden, not in London at fancy boring parties.

In these historical romances, the characters are pretty much always aristocratic. Occasionally there will be an outlier, but this is the first book I've read where they really get into what that means. For instance, when Hugo invites Gwen to stay at his place with his family, he mentions the difficulties of all his relations getting time off work. And his sister Constance, who Gwen introduces to London society, can't get over how idle all the men are. They don't have jobs or any purpose - they're boring. She had a great time at the parties, but when it comes down to it, she's probably going to marry the ironmonger she's known all her life, a good hardworking guy.

I've been in a bit of a reading slump recently, having started and stopped a few different books before picking this up. I spent probably a full week or so reading it, as I was spending much more time catching up on tv. At first I thought it was just ok, but once I started getting to know these characters and their lives - and there's a lot here I didn't even get into about their dark histories that have formed who they are - it became clear that this really stands out among historical romances for it's realism. I was intrigued by the whole idea of this series, as several of the main characters have disabilities, but there's so much more here that is interesting and thought-provoking and refreshing. After trying this one I suspect I'll read more from this series.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is 10 characters who would make great leaders.

I think about leadership a lot, and the ways things could be better if, oh, I don't know, someone different had won the U.S. presidential election last year? Or if, in general, women ran the world. Because honestly, I am running out of patience with men and their stupidity and the sexism that so permeates our culture. So here's my list of characters from books who should be running pretty much everything and yes they are all women.

1. Frankie Landau-Banks from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
She's very good at planning, scheming, and plotting, all in secret while maintaining a relationship with the person in charge of the organizing she is undermining. Brilliant.


2. & 3.  Vivian Carter and Lucy Hernandez from Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
Viv started Moxie, the zine encouraging girls to fight back misogyny in their school. Lucy was part of the catalyst for Viv to start it and one of her strongest supporters. They worked really well together.

4. Jane Young from Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
A strong capable women who bounces back from being slut-shamed, à la Monica Lewinsky.

5. Elle Burns from An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
She's intuitive, resourceful, with good judgment, a photographic memory and a passion for justice. Any black woman who do something as risky as going undercover as a slave during the Civil War is clearly not afraid of anything.


6. Willowdean Dickson from Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
A self-confident fat girl who assumes she has as much chance of winning a beauty pageant as anyone else is exactly the sort of role model teenage girls need. In fact, she did inspire many other girls who considered themselves misfits to also enter the pageant. She is thoughtful, introspective, self-assured, and very determined.

7. Ifemelu from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
As a Nigerian who has also spent years living in America, her perspective on race in America is invaluable. It also helps that she's a fantastic writer and communicator, as we learned from her blog Raceteenth.

8. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I mean, she volunteered as tribute.


9. Binti from Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Here is a woman who left her planet to attend an elite university, the first of her people to do so. On the way there, she was faced with an incredibly dangerous enemy. She's very brave, but maybe more importantly, she's not afraid to be different, nor is she afraid to those who are different from her. Would make an excellent diplomat.

10. Jin Ling from The Walled City by Ryan Graudin 
Jin disguised herself as a boy to survive, determined to get her sister out of the house of prostitution where she was being held captive, whatever the cost. Really anyone who survives and even thrives in a dystopian setting while remaining a good person is someone who should be in charge of things.

And a shoutout to the entire cast of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. A group of beauty queen contestants crash on an island and rather than killing each other to survive, they join forces against a common enemy while encouraging each other to be their true selves.

You know, there are so many great female characters who would be fantastic leaders. Just like there are many women in real life who should be in charge.

Monday, November 6, 2017

On Tyranny

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder (2017)

I would have picked this up ages ago had I not conflated it in my head with the almost-700-page Capital in the Twenty-First Century. But no, this one is only 128 tiny little pages. (Seriously, it's only about 6 inches tall.) Something or someone  recently in the political we-must-do-something-sphere mentioned it and I looked it up again and, realizing my mistake, picked up a copy at work and read it in about 2 short sittings.

Each section begins with one of the 20 lessons, and then a few pages talking about the part of history from which we learned this lesson and how it can be applied today. For instance, lesson 8 is "Stand out" with the explanation, "Someone has to. It is easy to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. Remember Rosa Parks. The moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow." This lesson is followed by examples about how in Nazi Germany (which, as you can imagine, is frequently mentioned in this book) most people went along with Hitler's agenda, but it is those who did not who we now remember. Snyder tells the story of a woman named Teresa who snuck into Warsaw ghettos at great risk to herself to bring food and medicine to Jews, both those she knew and those she did not, ultimately helping one family escape and saving their lives.

Other lessons include "defend institutions," "remember professional ethics," "be kinder to our language," "believe in truth," "make eye contact and small talk," "contribute to good causes," "be a patriot," "be as courageous as you can," and several others, all of which are worth carefully considering and applying to your real life. Some are more obvious acts of political resistance, while others are more about taking part in society in smaller, but still important ways. Like the one about making eye contact and small talk is about building relationships, even superficial ones, so that when real oppression arrives people don't just all instinctively fear each other. Snyder says that in fascist Italy in the 20s or Nazi Germany in the 30s, simple smiles and handshakes were viewed with greater significance.

This book was obviously published in response to the current administration in the United States though, interestingly, Snyder never mentions the president by name. Some of the lessons are ones we hopefully won't have to think about, but if we do we'll all be well served by remembering and abiding by them. As I mentioned, I read it very quickly - it's extremely simple and clear and may make it onto my extremely short list of books that everyone should read. I sort of want to buy myself a copy and carry it around with me at all times, right next to my pocket Constitution.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Lady Traveler's Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen

The Lady Traveler's Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen (Lady Travelers Society #1) by Victoria Alexander (2017), narrated by Marian Hussey

India Prendergast's cousin has taken a trip organized by the Lady Travelers Society, but when her letters stop arriving, India knows that something must be terribly wrong. She pays a visit to the Lady Travelers Society and finds they are less than above board, and takes it upon herself to travel to the continent to seek out her cousin. Unfortunately she must travel with Derek Saunders, known scoundrel and the nephew of one of the women who runs the Lady Travelers Society.

The party includes Derek, India, and a couple who served as chaperones, and they begin by going to Paris as that is where India's cousin's last letter was sent from. They decided to try to find out whether or not she was still in the city and if not they'd then go to the next destination on the itinerary. This must have been in 1889 because the Eiffel Tower was new and the Paris Exposition was happening, so they couldn't get a hotel. They instead stay with Derek's step-brother Val, who was even more of a rogue than Derek (but was also actually a good guy.)

The trip is not off to a great start when India's trunk goes astray and she is left in fashionable Paris with only her dowdy grey traveling dress. Her chaperone lends her some clothing, but it's far showier than the practical clothing India usually wears. This might be a good time to mention that India is very set in her ways, completely practical, and rather a prude. She's almost 30 and therefore a confirmed spinster, which suits her just fine. She's not at all the sort of woman Derek is used to being around, but despite how different they are they do become friends on this journey, and of course that friendship turns into something more.

I heard of this described as a romance, and I suppose it is that, but almost nothing happens in that direction until about halfway through. Up until that point, the story is occupied with the disappearance of India's cousin, the nefarious doings of the Lady Travelers Society, Derek's reputation and attempt to get back on the straight and narrow path, and all the logistics of the trip to Europe. Some of the Goodreads reviews said that the story was very slow to start, but I think they mean the romance because I think there was a lot happening aside from that. To me, this is less a romance novel than a work of historical fiction that has a romance as one of the plotlines.

But who cares how it's categorized. It was an engrossing, fun story that I enjoyed a lot from the very beginning. I loved India, despite how rigid she was. Raised by her cousin, she was determined not to be a burden, so she had been working for 8 years as a secretary to a man she considered a friend. She was smart and capable and more open to new experiences than even she realized. Because of her unfortunate background, I think she never expected much for her life and just decided to be satisfied with what she had. Derek was a bit put off by her at first - neither of them liked the other until they decided to make an attempt at friendship since they'd be traveling together for a while. He was really a decent guy who had been a bit irresponsible in his youth and had earned a reputation. But he was sincerely trying to put that all behind him and be a responsible adult.

Part of what made this book such a great experience was the narration of Marian Hussey. Her clipped British accent was just perfect for India Prendergast, but she read the other voices very well too. I listened to the bulk of the book while driving to and from Burlington, VT for a conference, which was close to 7 hours of listening time. There's little that is better than using a long drive to listen to most of a book. What a great use of time, and I can't think of a better way to make a drive pleasant. I probably won't be able to ever think of this book without seeing colorful fall leaves.

This is the first in a series, so yay! I hope the same narrator reads the future books, in which case I'll be experiencing them all on audio. If you like historical novels about independent women where romance is a large part of the story - but not the whole plot - I suggest you try this book.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October wrap-up and plans for November


Reading

Snail I saw at the bus stop

I've begun Middlemarch and am so far on track with our reading schedule.

Reading Challenge List: Nothing.

CBAM: Angels in America by Tony Kushner, parts 1 & 2

Romance: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander (review coming soon!)

Nonfiction: Hunger by Roxane Gay

Listening


The Lady Travelers Guide was on audio so I spent some time listening to that. I've also spent a great deal of time with the new Pink album, Beautiful Trauma. It's so perfect for my mood right now.


Watching

terrible pic of my new dress from eShakti

The latest season of Call the Midwife. I'm also almost finished with Miss Fisher's Mysteries, and I've begun season 2 of Stranger Things.

Knitting


My East Neuk Hoodie is progressing! I've divided for the armholes and I'm nearing the end of the back. I was stymied a bit for a moment there, but realized I cannot count. Thank goodness for simple math to get me back on the right track.

I also worked on a little cross stitch project, and now that I'm almost finished I've ordered two more.

Eating


Briefly got on track with some healthy meal-planning and then it all went to hell again, culminating with me getting sick the last weekend of the month. Not eating well, plus an exhausting conference, do not work together to make me healthy.

Doing


As I mentioned, I attended a conference this month. The New England Library Association was in Burlington, VT this fall and it was jam-packed with great, informative sessions. Some of the highlights were sessions about critical media literacy (i.e. how to spot fake/biased news), free speech vs. hate speech, and neutrality. Chris Bohjalian was the featured speaker, and authors Garth Stein and Ann Hood also spoke. I was hoping to type up my notes, but feel really behind right now so I'm not sure I'll get to it.

October always feels so busy at work, and it's even more so this year. In addition to being away for the conference, I was out for a couple of days because I had vacation time to use up, and I also had to train two new substitutes. We're also in the planning stages of a renovation which means extra meetings.

#riotgrams day 29: recent acquisitions
This month I participated in #riotgrams, which was on Instagram and sponsored by Book Riot. Each day there was a theme or topic and you just post a book-related photo on that topic and tag it #riotgrams. It was fun! I've been using Instagram a lot recently, but even so it was a bit of work to make sure I had something relevant to post every day.

I finally ordered some clothes from eShakti and can't believe I didn't do this years ago! Their clothing can all be customized to size as well as preference for length, neckline, and sleeve styles. Plus everything is machine washable and has POCKETS. Dresses with pockets, you guys! I bought a dress and a jumpsuit (!) and then as soon as I got them I ordered another dress. I should also mention that their clothing is pretty inexpensive. The dress I just got was customized to size and style and was a total of $66 including shipping.

Plans for November


I'm hoping to read Sense and Sensibility very soon as I'll be seeing a production of it in December. It sounds like we're getting our front steps rebuilt in a couple of weeks, and also getting a new retaining wall so our neighbor's house doesn't slide down into our yard. We'll probably do something for Thanksgiving, though I don't know what yet. But I'm sure it will involve pie. I'm traveling to Maine the first weekend of December for family Thanksgiving (we celebrate it whenever people have time off from work, which isn't always actual Thanksgiving weekend.) Otherwise, I'm just hoping to get caught up on stuff at work that I got behind on in October.

How was your October?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Moxie

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017)

A teenaged girl in Texas is really fed up with the way girls are treated in her school, and the way the boys are allowed to act towards them. Vivian Carter has endured games of "bump-and-grab" which is exactly what it sounds like, boys constantly telling girls to "make me a sandwich" and wearing t-shirts that say things like "Great legs - when do they open?" It's not even so much that they are doing these things, but that they're getting away with it. But football is king at this high school, and the boys who play it get to do whatever they want. Vivian is inspired by her mother's collection of zines from her Riot Grrl days and stealthily begins her own, which she calls Moxie. And now the double-standard at her school becomes even more apparent.

Viv doesn't tell anyone that she is the girl behind Moxie, the one who is encouraging other girls to find solidarity and participate in protests. She doesn't know what her friends would think. Her new friend Lucy Hernandez is obviously on board with Moxie, but her BFF forever, Claudia, seems more unsure. Viv is accidentally discovered with copies of the zine by attractive new boy Seth Acosta, but he is an ally and keeps her secret. They start dating, which adds a new dimension to the whole situation and gives Viv hope that some boys are actually decent people.

This is not at all getting across the amazingness of this book. I loved everything about it! The complexities of feminism, and how Viv's efforts were received by girls of color, the acknowledgement of the importance of all-girl spaces, the realities of being a feminist while dating boys, who despite their best efforts are just not going to quite get it. I even loved Viv's mom, though I depressingly realized at one point that she is MY AGE. Which is exactly the problem with reading teen books when you're in your 40s, but I'm willing to deal with that because I'm not giving them up.

I first heard of this book because of a horrible, ridiculous review that appeared in Kirkus Reviews. I thought the review was stupid when I first read it because the criticisms just don't belong in a book review, but after actually reading the book I realize the reviewer wasn't even remotely correct. For instance, she criticized the story because boys weren't allowed to participate in the fight against misogyny, which has nothing to do with how well the book is written, not to mention that we are not, as a society, in agreement on that particular issue. But after reading it, it's clear that she's completely wrong about boys being left out - Seth clearly supported and participated in the actions and Vivian was happy to have his support. The reviewer also claims that the characters ignored due process, which, have you ever read a crime novel? And why is this a valid thing to cover in a review? Also, it's not entirely true and honestly, I could go on at length about the reasons why women do not go to the police every time we experience a sexual assault, but again, this subject doesn't belong in a book review. Anyhow, thank you Kirkus for drawing so much attention to this book that many people have now read, who maybe wouldn't even have heard of it had you not so grossly misrepresented it in your review.

Although I'd argue it's always the right time for feminism, I think right now is an especially good time for a book about girls speaking out about sexual harassment and assault. But it's also a great story full of likable and relatable characters, and it's fun! If you haven't read it yet, go grab yourself a copy right away!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hunger

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (2017)

As a child Roxane Gay endured a horrific sexual assault that she did not know how to deal with. Afterward, she began to overeat, trying to hide herself. She writes candidly about what it's like to live in her body, one that is much larger than is acceptable in our society, and the numerous indignities that she suffers every day because of it. Although it's a memoir, much of it consists of vignettes on various topics, such as how inhospitable certain seating is for her, what it's like for her to go to the gym or to the doctor, and her thoughts about weight-loss shows like The Biggest Loser.

This book is intensely personal. She admits things that must be very difficult to admit, and though it's incredibly reassuring to hear as a fellow human, I can't help but wonder what it costs a person to write a book like this. She is really laying bare everything about herself and that has to affect her relationships and her interactions with people (including friends and family) who have read it.

Although it's more personal than her other books, her trademark wit is still apparent. In a chapter about Oprah Winfrey and her weight loss, she mentions a commercial in which Oprah says, "Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be." We've all heard that idea, of course, that there's a skinny woman inside, just waiting to get out. Gay's thought every time she sees the commercial is, "I ate that thin woman and she was delicious but unsatisfying." I also found it rather charming that she refers to her romantic partner as her "person."

I'll admit I was a little disappointed at the lack of a narrative thread through much of the book; I think I was expecting more of a traditional memoir than a collection of thematic essays, but she gives us a great deal to think about. It's not as though I was unaware of how our society looks upon people who are overweight or some of the specific problems (like airline seating), but there was so much I hadn't thought of. It's like this with any marginalized population, of course. Those of us who aren't part of that population can only understand a fraction of what they experience. Although many people have written about their weight and body image, I don't think I've read anything this detailed or personal or honest.

Gay came across as resigned to many unhappy aspects of her life, which left me feeling rather downhearted. She's appreciative of the many good things about her life, and rather likes herself though she feels like she's not supposed to. It's definitely a book that is more thought-provoking than enjoyable so I can't enthusiastically say how much I liked it. So much of it was unpleasant to hear and think about. But it's good, there's no doubt about that. She's incredibly talented and brilliant and it's always worth listening to what she has to say. Hunger is a must-read for anyone who's a fan of her work.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Angels in America

Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches (1992) and Part Two: Perestroika (1993) by Tony Kushner

This two-part play was the October pick for Classic Book-a-Month Club. Set in the 1980s, it focuses on two couples: Joe and Harper, and Louis and Prior, but other major characters include lawyer Ray Cohn, Joe's mother Hannah, and a nurse named Belize. The story takes place in the height of the AIDS epidemic, and two characters are afflicted. The angels of the title aren't a metaphor - actual angels appear, though they're only one of the fantastical, surreal elements of the play.

Early in the play, Prior is diagnosed with AIDS and his lover, Louis, doesn't deal well with this news, to put it mildly. Joe and Harper's relationship is also crumbling; they are supposed to be good Mormons, but Joe has been repressing his true self for quite a while and Harper is mentally ill.

I knew this was going to be confusing to read as soon as I read the list of characters at the beginning. There aren't a lot of them, but there are specific instructions that the actor playing Harper's imaginary friend Mr. Lies, for instance, should be the same actor who plays Belize, and the actor playing the Angel should also play the nurse, Emily. I really tried to picture the actors in each of these roles but they were a number of instructions of this nature and it was a bit too much to keep in my head the whole time.

I can see that this is a great story and I think watching a production would be rather spectacular, but I'm afraid that the reading experience wasn't great for me. I had such high hopes after A Raisin in the Sun, but this is just such a complicated play that it didn't come through as well on the page for me.

I don't know if this is a play that gets performed often, but I'll keep an eye out for a production because I think I'd really like to see it. In the meantime, I know that HBO made it into a mini-series and I may check that out. I'm a bit daunted by the length - it's about 6 hours and the two volumes together are only about 260 pages, so they must have added a lot to it - but I've heard it's very good.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Top Ten Unique Book Titles




Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week is all about unique book titles, which is super fun! A lot of book titles are rather samey, using words that aren't very memorable, not to mention trends like all the books with "girl" in the title, which just leads to confusing them all wiht each other. But some really knock it out of the park with creativity. I'm sure there are some great titles out there I'm not remembering now and I'll kick myself later when I think of them, but here are a few that came to mind right away.

1. The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage
I can't seem to make a book list of any sort without this ending up on it.

2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
A classic. But I love it. It's a whole sentence and it's kind of creepy even when you don't know much about the story.

3. We Are All Shipwrecks by Kelly Carlisle
This is a new memoir and I'm planning to read it, based almost entirely on the title.

4. Nefarious Twit by Tony McMillen
I haven't read this yet, but I think I'd like it. I keep coming across it at the library where I work, because it's in both our regular collection and our local author collection. It's a very satisfying title to say.

5. Normal People Don't Live Like This by Dylan Landis
A great book of short stories that I read based on the title alone. It's also a refrain that goes through my head a lot when I look around at the condition of my house.

6. I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
A book of essays that didn't really live up to the title, but was still ok enough. I really like cake.

7. The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders
A book of essays by Saunders back before he got really well-known with Tenth of December. It's very good!

8. When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
Slightly magical British coming-of-age novel that I kept hearing about on The Readers podcast, and remembered because the title really stands out.

9. Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
Pretty ominous, and it was totally appropriate to the story. A bizarre little book. Great title and a creepy cover.

10. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Those aren't two words you'd generally think to put together if you're not Andrew Smith, and most of us aren't.

I didn't even get into all the punny romance titles, which I totally love, but I guess they aren't unique since so many of them do employ puns. I can think of some more that are unusual, but in ways that I find annoying because they're just too long or too precious-sounding. Are there any great ones that I forgot?

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.