Friday, June 30, 2017

June wrap-up and plans for July



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

Reading


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

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

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

Listening


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

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

Watching


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

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

Knitting


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

Doing


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

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

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

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

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

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

Plans for July


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

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

How was your June?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Touch

Touch by Courtney Maum (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Best Books of 2017 So Far


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

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

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

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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

2. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

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

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

3. Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

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


4. Miss Jane by Brad Watson

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

5. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

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

6. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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


7. Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

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

8. The Painter by Peter Heller

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

9. The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

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

10. After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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

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

What are you favorites so far this year?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (2014)

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

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

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

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

and this one:

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


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

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

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning to Start


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

1. The Broken Earth by N.K. Jemisin

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

2. Cormoran Strike by Robert Galbraith

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


3. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

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


4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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

5. Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo


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

6. Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King

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


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

7. The Dark Tower by Stephen King

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

8. MadAddam by Margaret Atwood

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

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

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

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

Jessica Darling by Megan McCafferty

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


His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Freedom Summer Murders

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell (2014)

In the summer of 1964, three young men who were in Mississippi as part of the Freedom Summer effort to register African-Americans to vote. While there, they were killed by the Ku Klux Klan, with the help of local police. This book, written for teens, introduces readers to the three young men, the terrible events of that summer day, and the long journey to try and bring those responsible to justice.

The book begins with an overview of conditions for blacks in the South in the 1960s, Mississippi's resistance of compliance with integration, and the rise of the KKK. Then the facts of the murders are recounted. The next three chapters focus on the lives of each victim: Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. The rest of the book recounts the efforts to find and punish the people responsible.

This book reads like a typical nonfiction book for young people. It's a horrifying story, and pretty shocking when you think about how recent it actually was, but it wasn't especially thrilling to read. Honestly, I just wanted to be reading a novel. But we picked this for my book group at work and I did actually want to learn about this dark event in our history.

While I was reading this book, the verdict in Philando Castile's murder was announced. Calling the verdict a miscarriage of justice is putting it really, really mildly and I think my rage was compounded by the fact that I was reading a book in which a cop helped murder civil rights workers because he was horribly racist. I mean, seriously, United States, will you ever learn? It's as though nothing has changed. Of course, today's killings of black men by police aren't intentional, they are "misunderstandings," and somehow that makes it totally fine for these killers to remain unaccountable.

All that to say that this book is still really relevant today, sadly. I'd be surprised if something this blatantly racist happened and the perpetrators got away with it (though maybe not in Mississippi, based on what I've heard) but we've still got a long, long way to go before we achieve racial equality. The author does a good job of relaying that as well, and putting this story in a larger context.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (2016)

Beatrice Nash arrives at the small town of Rye in the summer of 1914, where she will be working as a Latin teacher. She is still getting over the recent death of her father, and her new independence - and conviction never to marry - are what has made her so determined to secure full-time employment. Her champion in securing this job is Agatha Kent, and Beatrice quickly befriends Agatha and her nephews, Daniel and Hugh. Over the summer, Beatrice tutors some youngsters, including a very intellectually promising Gypsy boy known as Snout. She also becomes closer with Hugh, though just as friends (obviously!) as he is sort of engaged to the daughter of his mentor. But as the months go on, war looms ever closer and the pleasant summer must come to an end.

The first effects of the war on the town of Rye are felt with the arrival of refugees from Belgium. Everyone is behind the war effort and wants to look patriotic, and many offer to take in refugees. But they want children, and many are disappointed that refugees often are entire families, which goes to show just how much of this generosity is genuine. This is symptomatic of the small-minded people in this town, who are constantly insinuating, manipulating others, and trying to keep in company of those who have secure, respectful positions in society.

Beatrice is far too practical for all of this, and we get to see over and over the way she bucks society's views of what is appropriate. She takes in a refugee, and then defends her when she is suddenly looked upon less favorably. She also supports young Snout for a scholarship, although he is viewed as an inappropriate candidate - despite his intelligence and interest in academia - simply because of his Romani background. Beatrice is also continually frustrated at the way men make decisions for women, and are completely allowed to do so. For a single woman like herself, this is especially difficult and even dangerous. I really loved Beatrice, for her intelligence, sense of justice, practical mind, and boundless compassion.

After last fall's U.S. presidential election I put up a display in the library about kindness and compassion, which had seemed in short supply for the entire interminable campaign season. This book was recommended to me as a candidate for that display, and now I can see why. Beatrice was welcomed to Rye so kindly by Agatha and her family, and then several of them took in refugees out of a genuine sense of compassion for those fleeing war. Agatha maintained a friendly relationship with Snout's Gypsy grandmother, despite the fact that she was ostracized by a large portion of the town. Many of the characters put their personal interests aside to take care of each other when needed, and became distraught when they were unable to successfully champion another's interest. A man leaving to go to war asked Beatrice to write to him, clearly insinuating feelings she didn't reciprocate, but although she was taken aback at his assumption, she softened when thinking about the dangers he faced and relented to write him some friendly words from home. It was all wonderfully heartwarming without being over sentimental or trite.

The story progressed at a rather slow pace - and it was long so it took me over a week to read - but I didn't mind at all because I so enjoyed spending time with these characters. I honestly don't know why it took me so long to get to this book, because I loved Simonson's last book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. But I can thank my Personal Reading Challenge for finally pushing me to read it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

If I Was Your Girl

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (2016), narrated by Samia Mounts

Amanda Hardy has just moved in with her dad in Lambertville, Tennesse. She is hoping to start over after being badly beaten by some kids at her whole school. Just a few years ago Amanda was known as Andrew, but now that she is finally living as her true self she needs to be free of her past and away from people who know what she's been through and don't understand her. In her new school, Amanda quickly makes friends and catches the eye of a boy named Grant who she soon starts dating. But no matter how many times her trans mentor, Virginia, tells her that she doesn't owe anyone the truth of her past, Amanda can't help feeling like she can't keep her secret forever.

I listened to most of this book while driving back from Maine last weekend, so I wasn't able to take notes to remind myself about details. But I got so wrapped up in this story, and really felt for Amanda. Aside from the narrow-minded people who made her life miserable because she was trans, the characters were very realistic and flawed and less simple than they may seem on the surface. One of Amanda's friends was a fundamentalist Christian (or at least her family was), but she wasn't especially bigoted. Another friend was bisexual (or maybe pansexual?) and an obvious ally, but maybe not as much of an ally as Amanda thinks. Amanda's parents, too, were pretty sympathetic figures. Her father had especially struggled to understand what it means to be Amanda, but despite this he still loved her and defended her. One of my favorite passages in the book was when Amanda catches her mother crying over photos of her as a child - back when she was known as Andrew - and her mother talks to her about how kids are always changing into someone new. She cried over infant photos when Amanda was a toddler, and toddler photos when she was older. This was a surprise to Amanda who assumed her mother was crying because she wasn't Andrew anymore, and in a way it was, but not the way that Amanda expected.

Her relationship with Grant had me worried throughout much of the book. Her secret was totally hanging over her the whole time, which is completely understandable, and she didn't know if she could trust him. In many ways he was a typical small-town guy, but there was something she knew about him that made her think maybe she could count on him to try and be understanding. When everything finally came out (because of course it did, and in a painful way) the reaction from people around her was both upsetting and heartening. In short, it was complicated. But ultimately I felt quite satisfied with the resolution and with (most of) Amanda's friends. She definitely had some true friends in Lambertville, even though she hadn't been living there very long.

This was the second teen book in a row that I listened to which took place in a rural area, and that made me quite happy. Being trans in the rural South is probably not easy, but the thing about small towns is that there aren't a ton of people there so when you become someone's friend it's really worth it to remain their friend, even when they turn out to be different than you thought. You're going to just keep seeing the same people all the time and it's really in your interest to get along with them as much as possible. In a city, it's easy to discard friends and not care about strangers but in a rural area there aren't any strangers.

I was very happy to earn that the author is trans herself. At the end of the book, she includes some notes about why the wrote the story the way she did, pointing out that it was very different from her own life. She admits that many aspects of the book were perhaps unrealistic for many trans people, but she wanted to make the story as relatable as possible to as many people as possible. Some of the reviewers on Goodreads take issue with this, and with the fact they don't think she confronts enough issues in the book.  I respect their opinions but also think there is real value in creating a character and story that can be sort of a gateway book for people who aren't as open to the trans experience. Not to mention, a book about a trans character that contains more positive experiences than negative ones is a great (and necessary!) way to show that being trans is normal, and we really really need that, especially for teens. I really enjoyed the story a lot and would be totally happy if Meredith Russo wrote a follow-up about Amanda's experiences in college. (Hint hint.)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Ramona Blue

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy (2017), narrated by Therese Plummer

In the small town of Eulogy, Mississippi Ramona stood out in many ways: a lesbian with blue hair who stood at more than six feet tall, she ....confident that she needed to take care of her pregnant sister, Hattie, and that she was outgoing the crowded trailer where the girls lived with their father and, now, Hattie's boyfriend. Yet this was her life and always would be. College is out of the picture with the coming responsibility of her new niece or nephew. When her childhood friend Freddie returns, they're both happy to leap back into their friendship. But soon it turns into something more, and Ramona begins questioning a lot that she has always taken for granted.

First of all, I'm so glad to see a new teen book set in a small town in the South. Teen books set in rural areas was on my recent reading wishlist. Thank you, Julie Murphy, for making my reading wishes come true! (And stay tuned for my next audiobook review, which is ALSO a teen book set in a rural area!) Murphy really captured the feeling of living in a small town where you know everyone and kind of feel like you're outgrowing everything, and for Ramona this was especially complicated because of her sister's pregnancy. Hattie's relationships tended to be brief so Ramona had no illusions the father would remain in the picture. And the family had almost nothing - they lost everything in hurricane Katrina when Ramona was five and it took them a long time to get back in a stable place. Ramona has a couple of jobs so she can contribute to the family income, and with a baby on the way, finances are even more strained. It's not hard to see why she thinks college is out of the question.

When the story opens, Ramona is trying to navigate a long-distance relationship with Grace, who came to Eulogy for the summer and is now back at home. Also back at home? Her boyfriend, who she has not broken up with as promised. Ramona is angry at Grace's unwillingness to come out, but Grace clarifies to Ramona, during one of my favorite conversations between the two, that she's still trying to figure things out, saying "that doesn't mean I'm hiding, it means I'm learning." Freddie was having his own trouble with a long-distance relationship he was struggling to keep alive, though it hardly seemed worth fighting for. After admitting defeat, he says to Ramona, "It's sad that sometimes we let ourselves believe that if it's not bad, it must be good."

Ramona and her friends were so much fun to hang out with, and were such great people. Her friends Ruth and Saul were brother and sister, both gay, and they all stood by each other. Hattie was super nice and she and Ramona were pretty devoted to each other despite their many differences. Oh, and they played MASH! There was a good amount of MASH in this book, which I also played a ton of growing up and had totally forgotten about. I also really appreciated that Ramona is one of the few female characters who is allowed to be interested in sex (which I think I've complained about a lot, but, man, it really annoys me!) Ramona says, "I think about sex. Girls think about sex. Sometimes a lot. I hate this idea that boys are thinking about sex nonstop and girls are thinking about, what? Stationary and garden gnomes? No."

Which is not to say, of course, that Ramona is as incredibly clear about everything as she would like to be. When she and Freddie start getting romantic, she is surprised but likes him so much she isn't about to steer clear because she has worn the lesbian label for so long. But she doesn't want to her mother to know. Her mother has for years been telling Ramona that liking girls is just a phase, and as much as Ramona doesn't want to care about what her mother thinks, neither does she want her mother to have the satisfaction of thinking she was right all this time.

The narration was great! I'm honestly not a good judge of whether Therese Plummer's southern accent was real, or sounded genuine, but I do know that I really enjoyed hearing her read this book to me.

Anyone who likes teen books should check this one out, and go back and read Murphy's last book, Dumplin', while you're at it!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

10 Books I've Added To My TBR List Recently


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is 10 Books From X Genre That I've Recently Added To My TBR List, but I've only recently started adding books to my TBR again and in a very limited fashion so I don't have 10 in one genre. There's a lot of crossover with last week's list of anticipated books for the second half of the year, but there are a few I wasn't able to fit on that list, and some that I've heard about since then. I've been putting a few things on my Goodreads To Read list, but more often I've just been requesting them from the library and hoping they don't all come at once.

So, here's 10 books I've added to my TBR (and/or library holds list) recently:

1. The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander
Lady travelers? Scoundrels? SIGN ME UP.

2. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
A coworker posted some snippets of poetry from this book and I couldn't resist requesting it through the library right away. This book is a couple of years old but has had a sudden surge in popularity and I'm not sure why.

3. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen
A forthcoming book about the ways in which female celebrities are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be acceptable.

4. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby
I can't resist the title or cover.

5. Touch by Courtney Maum
This was the one I tagged on at the end of last week's post because I couldn't believe I had forgotten it. A novel about a trend forecaster who sees a shift away from electronics to in-person contact, this sounds super intriguing to me.

6. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
A few years ago there was a big news story about a hermit being arrested for theft after living alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, and this book is based on correspondence and visits with the subject, Christopher Knight.

These others I talked about more on last week's list:

7. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

8. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

9. Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

10. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

I'm already worried that my TBR is getting out of hand again.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)


In this classic novel by Kate Chopin, we are introduced to Edna Pontellier, a young woman trapped in an unfulfilling marriage who suddenly realizes her true potential for happiness, though it may be out of her reach. The Pontelliers are vacationing in Grand Isle, Louisiana when Edna meets and befriends Robert, a single man in her social circle. They spend a great deal of time together and she hopes to continue their friendship when they return to town, but he, realizing his feelings for her are far beyond friendship, leaves for Mexico. Deeply upset, Edna tries to carry on and ends up befriending another man. Though the feelings are stronger on his side than hers, she pursues him until Robert returns to town unexpectedly. During this time she also moves out of her house, realizing how much happier she is when she does as she pleases.

I liked the general theme of this novel, which I know is heralded as a feminist classic. The prose was quite beautiful in parts, too. I especially enjoyed this passage, which comes at a pivotal point:

"There were strange, rare odors abroad- a tangle of the sea smell and of weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heavy perfume of a field of white blossoms somewhere near. But the night sat lightly upon the sea and land. There was no weight of darkness; there were no shadows. The white light of the moon had fallen upon the world like the mystery and softness of sleep."

Isn't that lovely?

However, I was never very drawn to the characters, nor did I feel like I knew them well. Even Edna remained a mystery as I felt I only knew part of what was going on with her. She didn't expound on her feelings about her husband or why she married him. Chopin only really scratches the surface of the inner life of her characters.

Since this is a classic I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that it ends tragically, and I don't know that it was necessary. Why couldn't Edna realize the sort of life she envisioned for herself? She had already begun. She stopped waiting around the house on Tuesdays, her day to be called upon by her friends, and she moved into another place and made it her own. There were few consequences to these actions so I don't quite know what was stopping her from continuing on this way. Had something dramatic happened to pull her back into society, or had her husband forced her back, I would have been more convinced.

I had been quite looking forward to reading what I expected to be a feminist novel, but I'm afraid it fell a bit flat for me. If you have other early feminist classics to recommend, let me know in the comments!