Thursday, August 31, 2017

August wrap-up and plans for September


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

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

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

Let's check the categories I'm tracking!

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

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

Romance: Falling for Trouble by Sarah Title

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Plans for September

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

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

How was your August?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Only Road

The Only Road by Alexandria Diaz (2016)

Jaime and his cousin Miguel were asked to join a gang in their native Guatemala and refused, and now Miguel is dead. The gang wants Jaime and his cousin Angela, so their parents decide the only solution is for the two to make their way to the United States to live with Jaime's older brother. They don't have passports or very much money, but their families pool everything they've got and make a plan. Together, Jaime and Angela take buses and trains, stay in refugee camps, and entrust themselves to strangers - sometimes regretting it - to try and escape to a better life.

This is one of our picks for the Community Read committee at my library. We asked for suggestions from the public and many, many people wanted something about immigration. This definitely fits the bill, and it's a middle grade book so it's accessible to people of many ages.

I found it pretty easy to get into, and I liked the characters a lot. Jaime was a budding artist and as he traveled, his sketchbook was his prized possession and he was always worried about losing it. I can't even imagine leaving my life for another country with only a backpack. How do you decide what to bring? Angela was almost sixteen and I think she felt a responsibility to be a bit more in charge, but also she was only sixteen. I know that in real life kids do leave their homes for similar reason and try to get to the US and it is mind-boggling. They're kids! It's hard enough for an adult to do what they did.

I think my only criticism really is that, despite the hardships and dangers of this journey, I felt like these characters probably wouldn't have made it in real life. They would have been caught and sent back home, stranded somewhere in Mexico for years, or killed. They just kept lucking out. But the author acknowledges this in her note at the end and, really, it's a book for kids. You can have a couple of people die or go missing, but you've got to let these kids reach their destination fairly unscathed or nobody is going to let their kid read this. I think it's a good way to introduce the idea of immigration, and the necessity and dangers of illegal immigration, without scaring the pants off kids. You just want to make them be compassionate, not traumatized.

This was pretty good, despite my trepidation because it's a middle grade book which I'm not usually super keen on. Also, you may not have noticed, but I don't ever read any kind of Latin American literature. I once tried reading Love in the Time of Cholera and then I tried reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and I couldn't get through either of them and I became convinced that I just dislike Latin American books and/or authors, and that something is very very wrong with me. This is ridiculous of course, and I'm very glad to have actually finished and enjoyed this book because maybe it will snap me out of this silly mindset. Oh! And there's a glossary of all the Spanish words used, which would have been awesome to know about before I reached the end (though it was easy to figure them out through context.)

In terms of the Community Read, I don't yet know what my top pick will be, but I can at least say that I wouldn't be upset if this was it. It's not the sort of book that I'll be thinking about for weeks and recommending to everyone I know, but it was a good story on a topic that is important and relevant and I enjoyed reading it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Fold

The Fold by Peter Clines (2015)

Mike Erikson looks like a young Severus Snape and has an eidetic memory. He can recall anything he's ever seen; he can watch movies in his head, and his memories never fade. You'd think he would have a really interesting job, but he's a high school teacher in a small town in Maine. Until his friend Reggie arrives one day with an offer he can't refuse. He works for an organization that has built a device call the Albuquerque Door - it can transport someone hundreds of feet when they step through it, by sort of folding dimensions to shrink the distance. His team insists that everything is going fine and they are asking for more money to continue research, but he is convinced they're hiding something and he wants Mike to observe their work and report back.

The team working with the door, however, think they are doing fine and don't make Mike feel very welcome at first. They grudgingly accept his presence because their funding relies on it, but he knows they're not telling him everything. Mike pays very close attention to their work, remembering every detail vividly, and replaying his observations when needed. He also talks to the members of the team as much as he can, becoming fairly close with some of them. Everything seems to be going smoothly, until one of them steps through the door one day - just like any other day - and it goes terribly, weirdly wrong.

I think of Clines as a horror author after reading 14, and although The Fold is maybe a little less horror and more sci fi it definitely has some horror elements. I was up far too late every night that I was reading this, and a couple of those nights some pretty creepy imagery stuck with me as I finally tried to go to sleep. The story took a few interesting turns and went ways I did not expect, and I really couldn't put it down.

A lot of science fiction focuses more on the plot, action, and science aspects, leaving the characters behind. But Clines really makes his characters come alive, and you get to know Mike well throughout the story. His memory is both a blessing and a curse, a horror unto itself the more he sees horrible things that he can never unsee. And there are some pretty creatively horrific things in this story. It was clever, fun to read, and inventive. At least for those of us who don't read a ton of science fiction - for all I know, these ideas might not be as original as I think, but I had a great time reading it.

This book was on my 2017 Personal Reading Challenge, for which I only have two specific titles left. (We won't even discuss how many topical categories I haven't even touched this year.) Clines has a new book out this fall too! It's called Paradox Bound and is described as a "timey-wimey, full-barrel adventure novel that also teaches a non-ironic lesson in American civics." It sounds great! Look for it on a future list of books that have been on my to-read list for too long, because that seems to be my pattern.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Golden Compass

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ten Book Recommendations For....

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

1. Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

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

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

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

3. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld 

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

4. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

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

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

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

6. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

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

7. Bossypants by Tina Fey

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

8. At Home by Bill Bryson

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

9. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

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

10. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Knitting

I have finished a thing! A pair of things!

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Falling for Trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 7, 2017


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

My Last Continent

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond (2016)

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

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

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

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

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