Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Sleepwalker

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian (2017)

Annalee Ahlberg sleepwalks. One night she was found spray-painting the hydrangea in front of the house. Another time her daughter found her on the precipice of the Gale River bridge. One day, however, she just disappears. Twenty-one-year-old Lianna notifies the police and her father, who is out of town for work. She tries to reassure her young sister Paige, but they both know about the dangers of their mother's night-time wandering.

Lianna is drawn to a detective on the case, both attracted to him and convinced he knows more than he is saying. She stays home from college to take care of her father and sister, and continues trying to learn more about her mother's life and discover what could have happened to her that night.

What Annalee suffered from went beyond the sort of sleepwalking that I remember from my childhood. I would sometimes wake up in some part of my house and not remember how I got there. But Annalee would leave the house, her compulsions driving her to seek something she couldn't get, at least not when he her husband was gone. It was eerie, and a little scary in the way that any loss-of-control is scary. There's much more to Annalee than what her daughters know, of course, and experiencing the uncovering of secrets along with Lianna felt illicit and suspenseful. And sad too, because after all she has lost her mother.

We know there's a lot we don't know, and throughout the story I kept formulating my own theories about what might have happened. There are a couple of threads that turned out to be red herrings, but I enjoyed speculating about them and, in one case, I was very relieved that what I feared wasn't true.

The story takes place in a small town, of course, with the requisite gossip and rumors and I liked how that all played into the story of Annalee's disappearance. I also liked the way Lianna's relationship with the detective, Gavin, developed and what she learned from him. It wasn't a thriller by any means, but it was a mystery that, despite the sadness, was a pleasure to unravel.

Since I've read almost all of Chris Bohjalian's books, I'm trying to decide how this one compares. I don't think it will stick with me the way The Guest Room did, but it's just a very different kind of book, slower paced and with fewer surprises. I think the one it reminds me of most might be Secrets of Eden. If you like Chris Bohjalian, you won't want to miss it.

Monday, January 30, 2017


Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (2016)

The director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival has been delegating more and more to his assistant until his position is pulled out from under him entirely and his production of The Tempest cancelled. Lost and adrift, Felix flees to a small hovel where he lives alone, accompanied only by the memories of his dead daughter. Eventually he takes a job producing plays at a local prison and it is here that he finally has the opportunity to stage The Tempest. It is years since he was ousted, but he has been planning his revenge ever since, and it's through this play that he'll finally have it.

I read The Tempest pretty recently and then attended a performance, so it was pretty fresh in my mind as I began this retelling. This novel is about a man producing The Tempest, sure, but it's also the story itself. It's like two Tempests in one. And it works, brilliantly.

Just as Prospero was exiled with his daughter after being usurped by Antonio (or is it Alonso? I always confuse the two), Felix goes off by himself after losing his job and his memories of his daughter Miranda (of course) become so strong it's as though he imagines she's actually with him. He knows she's not really there, but he still talks to her and pretends she's real. He's been working at the prison for a while now, spending a few months of every year organizing inmates to perform a Shakespeare play. Circumstances come about that bring a group, including his former assistant Tony, to the prison to see the production and Felix knows this is his opportunity to exact revenge.

One of the things I loved is that the prisoners aren't allowed to swear, except for Shakespearean swear words from the play. So before they even start rehearsals they go through the text and compile a list of swear words. Then characters such as Leggs and 8Handz and VaMoose can be heard saying such things as "Right on, dude. Beetles light on them! Blister them all o'er!" and "Moon-calfs won't know what hit them!" and "Shove it, freckled whelp."

If you're not familiar with the original, there's a summary at the end which should help. It's definitely better if you can see how this story mirrors the original, but it could be enjoyed on its own especially since you get the whole story through reading about the performance staged by the characters. I found it a pretty quick read, clever and thorough enjoyable.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Painter

The Painter by Peter Heller (2014)

Jim Stegner's life has been filled with pain and turmoil. He once shot a man in a bar. He lost his only child. His relationships have fallen apart. But he's been limping along, and he's a successful artist despite the past he can't quite recover from. One day he sees two men mistreating a horse and something snaps, and he is once again on a destructive downward trajectory.

Jim's violent impulses are at odds with his reclusive nature. He wants to continue just painting and fly-fishing, but suddenly the law is on his back, as are some angry men looking for retribution. This novel is filled with interesting moral questions to ponder, and a revolves around an intense character study of a complicated man who is basically a good decent person but has on occasion done very bad things.

I've read few books that take place in the Southwest, and it's an area that I'm not especially drawn to, but Heller brought it alive beautifully and vividly. His descriptions of fishing and nature were breathtaking. Here's a paragraph that I loved:

"I walked up the hill. The long grass brushed my legs. The elk had spread out, and once in a while one of the calves lifted its head and cried. It cracked me in two. It was a birdlike cry, something between a chirp and the keen of a hawk. And one of the moms answered, tilting up her chin, louder, hollower, more resonant, a call that must have carried miles down the valley. They were close enough to see each other clearly, I was sure. They were conversing, a kind of call and response, an affirmation that rang against the hill."

Indeed it's the beautiful language that makes this book truly stand out. I had forgotten that Heller's style was such an integral part of The Dog Stars. I'm only sorry that it's taken me so long to read The Painter, and I only made it a priority recently because a coworker who read it urged me to read it too. I think The Dog Stars remains my favorite because of my deep love for dystopias, but this book is just as good.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Top Ten Books That Inspire Hope

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is a freebie and I began working on this on inauguration day so I was thinking about the future and trying to retain hope in what is, for many of us, a dark and uncertain time. So I give you my list of top ten books that inspire hope.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Although it's set in a harsh post-apocalyptic world, people are rebuilding society and keeping art alive. I find it the most hopeful and inspiring book I've read in this genre. We can survive anything!

2. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Every time I think about this book I want to read it again. It's wonderful in many ways, but it's on this list because A.J. Fikry is a curmudgeon who is determined to be unhappy and drink himself to death, but finds himself in a situation that suddenly makes him care about living again. Because "once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to give a shit about everything."

3. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Strayed used to write an advice column and they are collected here in a stunning array of beautiful, exquisite essays about many different kinds of life problems. The way she responds is compassionate but true, illuminating beauty of humanity in such a way that it makes me feel like everything is going to be ok. You can get a similar effect from the Dear Sugar podcast, in which she and Steve Almond answer letters wisely in very soothing voices.

4. Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
The key to peace is understanding and having compassion for one another, and I have no doubt that would be achieved if everyone in the world read this book. I don't know how to make that happen, but I'll keep doing my part to recommend it at every opportunity.

5. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
I only posted a little about this with short blurbs about various graphic novels I had read at the time. It's a wordless book that must be experienced to be appreciated. It's all about finding oneself in a very unfamiliar, confusing place and making it your new home.

6. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Satirical and unapologetically feminist, the young women in this novel struggle against a controlling corporation and battle an oppressive government as they discard the societal constructs that have been thrust upon them. Plus it's hilarious.

7. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
This story about a teenage boy planning a violent act was full of pain and anger, but also goodness and humanity. We affect one another in unexpected ways, and this novel illustrated that well. It also did a great job of portraying a caring adult helping a young person who was desperate, something we don't see often in teen fiction.

8. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
A friendship between two Mexican-American teenagers is highlighted in this teen novel, which I think is the first one I read that normalizes being gay. It shows what is possible when parents are supportive and people take the time to understand people they care about, and that gives me hope.

9. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Lawson (aka, The Bloggess) talks about mental illness a lot, constantly reminding us that depression lies and that you're not alone. Those messages shine through here as well in her second memoir, plus it's full of stories that will make you laugh.

10. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
What inspires hope more than a story about an unprepared young boy growing up while battling evil? Of course he couldn't do it alone, and the messages about friendship and joining together with others to be stronger are always relevant and important ones.

When I thought about this topic, I assumed my list would be populated with lots of books very clearly about people overcoming terrible situations and many of them would, of course, be true stories. Then I remembered how little nonfiction I read and, honestly, how dark my reading tastes are. I don't read very many books that are hopeful in the way I was looking for. But I think all of these showcases the basic goodness of people and the importance of understanding others, being our best selves, and not just knowing what is right, but taking action.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Knitting

Just some socks.

I haven't been knitting much lately, as evidenced by these socks I began eleven months ago. Partly that's because of the dog, who enjoys grabbing at my projects as I'm knitting and will only settle for, at the very least, closely inspecting it. It's hard to work under those circumstances. The other extenuating factor is that in the last few months I've had a lot of wrist pain and gave up on both knitting and yoga. But I've started knitting again because I want to take advantage of the fact that the dog is away at boarding while we have renovations being done on our house. It's going ok and I don't think it's bothering my wrists. I think yoga was the real culprit. (Those instructors really love having you remain in some variation of downward-facing dog for half the class, and I don't know why. Plenty of other poses to choose from.)

Anyhow, I have a new pair of socks. The days have been very gray so I wasn't able to get a very well lit photo. But they feel quite nice, which is what's important. I used some Regia yarn I had hanging around and the Garter Rib pattern from Sensational Knitted Socks.

Now I'm hoping to focus on my East Neuk Hoodie which has also been in progress for many months.

Friday, January 20, 2017

You Can't Touch My Hair

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain by Phoebe Robinson (2016)

I hadn't heard of Phoebe Robinson before learning about this book, because I'm hopelessly out of touch with pop culture (more on that later.) What got my attention was that it's a book of essays about feminism and race. As you might know, I'm always up for a good feminist rant, but I've also been trying to read more about race issues recently.

The first two essays are about black hair, her own and as it is presented in film, TV, and the media. Later essays cover a variety of topics, such as the loaded term "uppity," being the token black friend, the myth of the angry black woman, and racist casting calls. Her essay "Dear Future Female President: My List of Demands" gave me a pang, given the current state of things and what could have been. Her final essay, "Letters to Olivia," is a poignant and hopeful series of letters of advice written to her young niece.

As a white lady, I have a lot to learn about what it's like to be black in this country and these essays were pretty enlightening. At the same time, there's a lot I can relate to as a woman. So for me it was a mix of the familiar and the new. And of course much of it was hilarious. She will talk about something pretty serious, but use very comical language and imagery. She manages to strongly call out racism and sexism while still seeming super-friendly, like she's your good friend who cares about you but needs to tell you that you have to do better.

I kept waiting for her to call out some horrid, racist behavior from well-meaning white people and recognize it as something I had done (I am a product of my culture, after all) but fortunately for me that didn't happen. (Which doesn't mean I don't need to do better, because surely I do!) But man, some of the stories she relayed! She once took a writing class in which a white woman wrote a story about a slave who fell in love with her owner's daughter and, when an opportunity arises to escape, she chose to remain a slave so she could remain with her lady love. Which, omg, why would you even think this is a heartwarming ending to this story? Anyhow, Robinson is full of stories like this, proving that the world has not changed quite as much as some of us think it has.

Phoebe Robinson is at least a decade younger than I am and more hip than I've ever been. Some of her words are hashtagged or made into URLs and it was a bit jarring at first. Like mentioning those who aren't "#Blessed to be Oprah" or remembering when she was younger and thought awards shows were "the bomb.tumblr.com." But soon I got used to her unique style, though it took me most of the book to realize that BTdubs is her way of saying BTW. She also made a LOT of pop culture references. Some I didn't get, and some I was surprised that she got (I wouldn't think 30-year-olds would be familiar with Home Improvement.) Her love and admiration for Lisa Bonet made me want to go back and watch everything with her in it.

In summary, this book was both illuminating and a lot of fun to read. I might check out the podcast Phoebe Robinson does with her friend Jessica Williams (who wrote the forward to the book), 2 Dope Queens. I have a feeling it will just make me feel out and very un-hip, but I definitely want to hear more from this talented, witty young woman.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Ten Underrated Books I Read Last Year

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is hidden gems, or underrated books. I picked my titles by looking at the books I read in 2016 on Goodreads, arranging them by number of ratings they got, and picking out the 4- and 5-star books that have been rated the fewest times. This was fun! All of these books have fewer than 2000 ratings on Goodreads. They are in an order determined by a complex algorithm in my head based on how much I liked them and how underrated they are.

1. My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
I realize this didn't come out until November, but still. It should have gotten more attention. This was my #2 pick for 2016, second only to A Gentleman in Moscow.

2. Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
Is any author of teen fiction more underrated than Jessica Spotswood? I will answer this for you: no. It's baffling.

3. Beyond the Dark Veil: Post Mortem and Mourning Photography from the Thanatos Archive, edited by Sue Henger.
Even though this book was recommended by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess), it still has only 169 ratings on Goodreads. But that doesn't mean nobody is reading it: I asked my coworker who purchases photography books to buy it for the library, and it is always out. Every single time I'm on the Staff Picks rotation, I look it up and it's checked out. You'd think another library in my system would buy it too.

4. A Tyranny of Petticoats, edited by Jessica Spotswood
Oh look, it's Jessica Spotswood again! This is a great collection of short stories about daring young women throughout history, written by an array of wonderful authors.

5. Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
Ok, it's a nonfiction book for teens about the composer Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, so I guess the subject matter is pretty specific. But we in the United States should all learn more about our new Russian overloads. (God, I wish I was kidding. I mean, I heart Russia, but...)

6. The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
Here's another author who is totally underrated, at least in the U.S. As I was reviewing the titles on my list, I actually bumped this one up a star because it has gained a bit the more I've thought about it since I read it.

7. Level Up by Cathy Yardley
I can see why this book didn't get a lot of attention: it's a contemporary romance novella that's only available in ebook form. But it's about a video game designer and has some really fantastic female friendships going on.

8. Pit Bull: The Battle of an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey
Not only does this book not have a lot of ratings, but many are from people who I'm pretty sure didn't read it. People who added a rating just to give themselves an opportunity to spew vile hatred and tell everyone on Goodreads that pit bulls should all be killed. (Side note: remember my dog? I mentioned in the review of this book that she was adopted to us as a "pit bull mix," but we had her genetically tested and it turns out she's not really a mix. She's 87.5% American Staffordshire Terrier.)

9. Walter: The Story of a Rat by Barbara Wersba, illustrated by Donna Diamond
Gosh I miss rats. They really are so adorable. As was this story.

10. The Secret Language of Dogs by Victoria Stilwell
There are like a million dog books out there and I'm sure this one just got a bit lost in the shuffle, but I found it helpful, informative, and easy to read.

So there you go: the most underrated books I read last year. I hope you find your new favorite book on this list!

Friday, January 13, 2017

After I Do

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2014), narrated by Tara Sands

Lauren and Ryan have been together since college, around eleven years when the story opens. Their rock-solid relationship has crumbled and they have come to resent one another. So they resort to desperate measures. They decide to be apart for one year. No seeing each other, no talking on the phone, no emailing, nothing. They don't know what will happen at the end of this period, but they both hope this break will give them a chance to figure out what they actually want.

Lauren stays at the house with the dog, and Ryan moves to an apartment. It's rough, but Lauren has her best friend and her sister to support her. I loved Lauren's sister Rachel, who is an expert baker, and I like that they have such a close relationship. Including strong female friendships is so important to making characters real, and it's sadly left out of some books that focus so much on the primary romantic relationship that you'd think there's nothing else in the protagonist's life at all. Here, Lauren was given a chance to grow as a character and get to know herself better, while also having more energy for other relationships. Storywise, this also meant I had no idea whether or not she and Ryan would get back together in the end or not, and I liked that uncertainty a lot.

An unexpected consequence of the couple's separation was how it affected Lauren's family, especially her brother Charlie who has always looked up to Ryan. Her family has some pretty major events happen during this separation, and it was strange to not have Ryan there. Even just explaining what they were going through was difficult, especially to her grandmother, a lively lady who describes things she doesn't like as "farcical" and is convinced she has cancer and brings the subject up regularly, but is suspiciously vague on the details. Come to think of it, Lauren's entire family was a whole lot of fun to read about and I'm very glad they were all such well-developed characters.

One of the things I loved most about this book is the way it portrays different ways of having relationships. Not just in terms of the people involved - though there was a relationship between two women and another involving older people embarking on a new romance - but in a more philosophical way. Lauren was in the same relationship for years and valued the stability over passionate romance. Her mother only wanted the romance, and would end relationships when that wore off. Her sister was happily single and felt like her life didn't need to revolve around her relationship with romantic partners at all. Reid didn't present any of these as the right or wrong way, just laid them out as different ways people in this story viewed relationships. It was pretty cool.

My only tiny little criticism is not really a criticism, but more of a question. Without saying too much about it....is it normal for people to have their spouse's email password? I know there are couples who share an email or Facebook account (which I also don't get) but do people share passwords when they have individual accounts? That seems so very weird to me, and I may have gotten a little too preoccupied with this minor point.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book a lot! This is my second Taylor Jenkins Reid book, after One True Loves, and I really dig the unusual way she has of writing novels about relationships. They all seem to have such interesting little twists to them. I listened to this one on audio also, and although it was a different narrator, she was just as good. I feel like I may try to plow through Taylor Jenkins Reid's books in a way I haven't done with any author in a while, so I'm glad she still has two others. It looks like she has another coming out in June, and it sounds quite different from her other books, but I'm very intrigued! If you like books about relationships with a fairly light writing style but that still make you think, I recommend checking this author out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (2015)

Caden Bosch is on a ship and it's headed to the deepest part of the ocean. There's a captain and a parrot and he sometimes dreams of a place called the White Plastic Kitchen.

Wait, no. He's in high school and lives with his parents and likes to draw. The truth is that Caden is not sure what's real anymore and things are getting worse and everyone is worried about him.

Challenger Deep is written the way that Caden is experiencing it, as though all of it is equally real. Sometimes, there is crossover and it's possible to recognize certain elements in both of the parallel stories. It's very disorienting, as I imagine mental illness can be.

This is a book that I appreciated more than I liked, mostly because it wasn't very fun to experience. It was difficult to get into because it was so unclear what was going on, but eventually I got acclimated and starting liking it more.

As I mentioned some elements appeared in both stories. Much of what was in the hallucinated world came from the real world, and though some of the characters were easily identifiable as alternate versions of each other some were less clear to me. I also swear there were times that Caden experienced something in the hallucinated world before he experienced it in the real world. But maybe not. This story made me pretty unsure of everything. There were also parts where he would be experiencing something in one world and it would suddenly but seamlessly morph into the other world. For instance, a character named Carlyle was mopping the deck of the ship as he talked with Caden, and after emptying his mop bucket, he continued speaking and closed his laptop as Dr. Carlyle. It was really very cool when it happened.

The author's son, who illustrated the novel, has battled mental illness himself. I imagine he was a source of great insight as his father tried to create a novel that would accurately represent what mental illness feels like. And he did a great job - I mean, I don't know how accurate it is (though I imagine there are as many different flavors of mental illness as there are people), but it definitely felt disorienting and confusing and each story felt as real as the other. The writing was pretty sophisticated and effective at conveying these feelings.

This is a book for teens and, as I often do, I wonder what teens think of it. It had a very different feel from the other book by Shusterman that I've read (Unwind) and although I didn't find it as enjoyable to read, the story was better constructed and the main character maybe more real. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read more about mental illness and appreciates unusual storytelling.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Top Ten 2016 Releases I Didn't Get To

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten 2016 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To (But TOTALLY plan to.) As you know since I dispensed with my To Read list, my only real reading plans are the challenges I set for myself. The first 3 books on this list are on my personal reading challenge for this year. The rest are books that came out in 2016 that interest me so I'm keeping them on my radar even if I'm not promising that I'll definitely read them.

1. To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
I've heard wonderful things about this book by the author of The Snow Child, which I loved. I've even checked it out of the library at one point with a whole slew of other books, and ended up returning it because it came due before I got a chance to read it. I'm really, really looking forward to finally getting to it.

2. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
As much as I love Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and recommend it all the time, somehow I didn't pay much attention to Simonson's new book. But when I was putting together a post-election display about compassion, it was suggested as an appropriate book for the display by someone who really enjoyed it and now I do very much want to read it.

3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This one I heard about over and over all year, but it was Lindsay's post that absolutely sold it to me. Many books get good reviews and it's hard to know which ones I'll actually like, but I take seriously recommendations from people I know. (Ok, I don't actually know Lindsay, but I kind of feel like I do. We definitely have similar tastes in books.)

4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Here's another that has gotten rave reviews, won a National Book Award, and was at the top of almost every "Best of 2016" list I saw. I've been hesitant to read it because I once picked up his zombie book, Zone One, and couldn't get into his writing style (at that particular moment anyhow.) But I still think I'll give it a try at some point.

5. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
I've had my eye on N.K. Jemisin since The Killing Moon was nominated for a whole bunch of awards in 2012. The Obelisk Gate is actually a sequel to The Fifth Season, which came out in 2015 and I still haven't read it. Lengthy science fiction novels scare me a little bit, and this is a trilogy. (Or am I just assuming there will be a total of 3 books in this series?) I'm anxious to get started with this author, but my plan is to wait until the series is complete, or nearly so, before starting so I don't forget what happened between books. (I learned my lesson the hard way with Justin Cronin's series.)

6. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
I actually started this and probably read close to 100 pages, but it was too soon after reading another nonfiction book (Dreamland) and I just really needed to read a novel. It pained me to put it down because I so rarely try again on books at which I fail, but I hope this will be an exception because what I read was actually quite good.

7. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I've known how popular this book has been, but although I do like Trevor Noah I hadn't actually bothered to read anything about it. It was only when I was thinking about 2016 books for this list that I actually read about it, and I immediately requested it from the library. It sounds really interesting and it's also pretty short.

8. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
The idea of an alternate version of the U.S. where the Civil War never took place and slavery still continues in four states is very intriguing.

9. The Fireman by Joe Hill
Oh god, I'm so behind on Joe Hill.

10. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
How did I not manage to read Ann Patchett's new book? I love her writing so much! I realize the plot summary doesn't sound very exciting, but I also realize that shouldn't matter. It's how she tells her stories that is so wonderful and amazing.

Well, I didn't actually feel like there were many new books that I'm behind on until I started making this list, and now I feel like I'll never catch up! How can I possibly be expected to read all the books I want to read that have been published since books were invented and still be able to read the new ones being published every day? It's maddening.

What 2016 releases are you still looking forward to reading?

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2016)

Journalist Laura "Lo" Blacklock has scored the kind of assignment she has always dreamed of: a luxury cruise through Scandinavia aboard a ship with only 10 cabins. But one night she hears a scream coming from the cabin next to hers - a cabin that is supposed to be unoccupied. She heads out onto her veranda in time to hear something heaved overboard and to see blood on the railing. She tries to report what she assumes is a murder, but nobody will believe her. All the passengers and staff are accounted for, and the cabin in question was pristine only minutes after she reported the crime.

Yet another wildly popular crime novel, this one drew me in because of the gaslighting. I'd been sort of interested in this author for a while (I've also heard great things about In a Dark, Dark Wood) but after hearing someone on a podcast talk about the more psychological aspects of the book, I was sold. Lo is dismissed because of a few factors that supposedly point to her being unstable and unreliable. Before the cruise, a man broke into her apartment while she was there and though she was unharmed, she was quite shaken, unable to sleep and rather on edge. She also takes medication for anxiety, and drinks a lot. Therefore, she must be hallucinating.

When I began reading, I became almost immediately distracted by the idea of a cruise ship with only 10 cabins. I had to put the book down and do a little internet research to find out if this is actually a thing, how big that boat would be, and - most importantly - whether this should go on my list of vacation ideas.

Although it was a great premise for a story, it didn't quite capture me the way it apparently has some people. I felt like the first third of the book was Lo complaining about how tired she was and how much her head hurt. And also, she was really stupid. When people wouldn't believe what she witnessed, she kept pushing it even after receiving anonymous threats. She also kept telling people more than she should, considering they could actually be the killer and/or the person threatening her. There were, of course, bad consequences. Any reasonable person would have taken a hint after their story was dismissed, waited to get onto dry land, and then reported it. Why would you draw so much attention to yourself and point out that someone in your group is a murderer when you are all still trapped on a boat together in international waters?

When all was said and done, I found the story rather convoluted and the reveal a bit of a letdown. I liked the idea of the story and kind of liked the main character despite her being rather dense, but I'm not sure why the book is so incredibly popular. It wasn't an unpleasant way to spend a few hours, but I've read better crime novels that didn't get nearly this much attention.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 Personal Reading Challenge

You may remember that for the past few years I've participated in the TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader, and when he stopped hosting I continued doing it on my own. It's a great challenge and I'm excited to do it again! But I'm making changes and adding even more to it.

Last year I completed my TBR list by the middle of the year, so obviously it wasn't challenging enough. This year I'm making my list of titles a little bit longer, but I'm also no longer restricting it to books I've been wanting to read for over a year. There just aren't that many anymore.

Here's the list of books that I'll definitely be reading (or at least definitely starting) in 2017:

1. The Painter by Peter Heller (finished 1/20/17)
2. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (finished 2/26/17)
3. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (finished 5/16/17)
4. A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara
5. The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly (finished 2/10/17)
6. Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder (finished 7/3/17)
7. Grandville by Bryan Talbot (read 1/29/17)
8. The Fold by Peter Clines (finished 8/16/17)
9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin (finished 5/29/17)
10. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (finished 6/12/17)
11. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (finished 8/1/17)
12. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (gave up after 75 pages on 9/30)

This is a pretty good mix of newer and older books of varying length. Nothing is very intimidating, although A Little Life is the longest. I initially put Tender is the Night on the list, but then I signed up for the Classic Book-a-Month Club and since it's on that schedule already I didn't include it here. I want to challenge myself by reading different books for each challenge.

When I initially made my list I was thinking about how there's only one non-fiction title on it, and as always I'd love to increase the amount of nonfiction that I read. The tricky part is that I never know if I even have a chance with a nonfiction book until I start it, because the writing style can make or break the experience. I don't want to put myself in a position where I either have to force myself to read something torturous or fail a challenge. But I still want to be more deliberate about the nonfiction I read and make sure I'm reading in all the subject areas I want to know more about. So I created a list of categories/topics and plan to read a nonfiction book from each.

1. Biography: finished Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life 3/19
2. Science: finished Seven Brief Lessons on Physics 5/1
3. U.S. History/Politics: finished In the Shadow of Liberty 9/13
4. Race: finished They Can't Kill Us All 9/4
5. Self-help/Meditation: finished Buddhism Without Beliefs 2/20
6. Feminism: finished Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud 7/12
7. Class/Income inequality
8. Travel/adventure

Please let me know if you have recommendations for any of these topics!

I'm reserving the right to update my reading goals as the year goes on. This great article by my friend Dorie Clark (author of Reinventing You and Stand Out) talks a bit about why it makes sense to revisit your goals periodically rather than forcing yourself to stick with them for a whole year. Sage advice.

As with my reading challenges from past years, I'll update this post to indicate when I've finished each title and link to the review.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Year of Reading: 2016

1. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
2. Asking For It by Lilah Pace
3. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
4. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
5. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
6. Witches: the Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer
7. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
8. Walter: The Story of a Rat by Barbara Wersba
9. Beyond the Dark Veil, edited by Sue Henger
10. Bitch Planet, Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
11. Death of a Stranger by Anne Perry
12. Hild by Nicola Griffith
13. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
14. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
15. A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean
16-18. Saga, Vol. 3-5 by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan
19. Macbeth by William Shakespeare
20. An Ember in the Ashes by Tahir Sabaa
21. Daredevils by Shawn Vestal
22. The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
23. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
24. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
25. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
26. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
27. The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
28. Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison
29. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
30. Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
31. Faithful Place by Tana French
32. Level Up by Cathy Yardley
33. The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
34. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
35. The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
36. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
37. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
38. Knit Tight byAnnabeth Albert
39. Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
40. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
41. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
42. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
43. The Crown by Kiera Cass
44. Visible City by Tova Mirvis
45. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
46. Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn
47. Pit Bull: The Battle Over An American Icon by Bronwen Dickey
48. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
49. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
50. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
51. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
52. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
53. The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
54. Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg
55. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
56. Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
57. Act Like It by Lucy Parker
58. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
59. A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
60. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
61. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
62. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
63. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
64. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
65. Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
66. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
67. Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
68. Roller Girl by Vanessa North
69. Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving
70. One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
71. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
72. The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
73. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
74. The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean
75. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
76. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
77. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
78. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
79. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
80. Night by Elie Wiesel
81. Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood
82. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
83. Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones
84. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
85. The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics
86. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
87. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (see post from 2015)
88. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
89. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
90. A Tyranny of Petticoats, edited by Jessica Spotswood
91. Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
92. No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean
93. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
94. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
95. My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins
96. Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
97. My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
98. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
99. Unmentionable by Therese Oneill
100. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
101. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
102. The Secret Language of Dogs by Victoria Stilwell
103. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
104. In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins

A list of my favorites is here.

Counting books was especially confusing this year. I use my blog and Goodreads to create this list, but I had a blog post about three short works that included a stand-alone short story called Devotion that I blogged about but didn't put on my Goodreads list. I didn't include it because I don't think a 30-page story counts as anywhere near a book. But then I read 3 volumes of Saga and posted about them all at once, but I still counted it as 3 because if I had only read one volume - like with Bitch Planet - it would have gotten a spot all to itself. Oh, and Gillian Flynn had that weird little novella this year that was like 60 pages and that seems like a long short story to me, but I did blog about it in its own post so it got a spot on the list.

I also read both Salt to the Sea and Eligible twice this year, but only blogged about each of them once. And I re-read Station Eleven for the Community Read committee but didn't blog about it because I just did last year and I didn't have enough new to say to merit another post.

So that's it for 2016. Happy New Year and happy reading in 2017!