Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers (2016)

As soon as possible after finishing The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, I picked up the next book in the series. I read it in just two days (and now I'm on hold for the third one, but it just came out so I'm going to have to sit tight and wait my turn.) This one is about a couple of side characters from the first book, but I'll describe it without spoilers so don't worry about that.

Pepper is an engineer who has befriend an AI (Artificial Intelligence) and put her in a body kit. This means that an AI designed to monitor a ship is now living in a very human-like body. So the AI goes to live with Pepper and her partner Blue and tries to get used to her new situation. She picks the name Sidra for herself, and she is completely disoriented and frustrated by the fact that she can't see behind her, that she isn't permanently attached to the Linkings (which is like the internet), and she just doesn't know what to do with herself. Plus it's illegal to house an AI in a body kit, so she needs to do a very convincing job of acting human.

The other story being told at the same time is Pepper's backstory, from back when she was known as Jane 23. Her early life was spent in a factory, where she sorted scrap, determining what could be useful and what wasn't. She slept in a dorm with other girls, sharing a bunk with Jane 64. Their meals were just liquid in a cup, referred to only as "meals" and Jane had no idea there were different kinds of foods. The girls were watched over by the Mothers, which were robots. Obviously she escaped and it's a really fantastic story that I loved reading about, but I'm not going to ruin things by telling you all about it here.

We don't see any of the other characters from the first book, but I'm ok with that because there's just so much good story here and I grew to love being with these characters just as I did my old friends from book one. There weren't as many different species introduced here, but we got to see more slices of life, and I'm starting to think Becky Chambers can just keep writing more and more books set in this universe and I will never grow tired of learning about these characters, their worlds, and their histories. I can't wait to get my hands on book three!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Dating You / Hating You

Dating You / Hating You by Christina Lauren (2017)

Evie and Carter are Hollywood talent agents, who meet by chance at a party and are very attracted to each other. They both hesitate, because dating another agent is potentially horrible. They work constantly and are always at the beck and call of their clients. One person like that in a relationship is bad enough, but both of them? They'd never see each other. Nevertheless, they can't keep their eyes (and hands) off each other, so they go for it. Then, without warning, their companies have merged and they are now coworkers. Even worse, their horrid boss Brad tells them he won't ultimately be able to keep them both, so now they're basically pitted against each other in a fight to keep a job.

Brad was with Evie's company before the merge so she's very familiar with his ways - his misogynistic, jerkbag ways. Now that she's in direct competition with a man for her job, it's even more glaring. She is clearly the more experienced one, but Brad continues focusing on her one failure, never mind that every agent has had failures, and treating her like more of an assistant than an actual agent. Even Carter is horrified. But that's not enough to keep Evie and Carter on good terms. No, their relationship is now a fight to the death and they begin playing awful (but kind of hilarious) pranks on each other while trying to resist the magnetic pull that won't go away, regardless of their professional situation.

Everything about this was pretty satisfying. The way Evie dealt with her sexist workplace, the dynamic between her and Carter, and the look into a world that I knew nothing about. I've probably spent about 4 seconds of my life thinking about talent agents before reading this book. It's a professional I've only been vaguely aware of. Are there even any other books or movies that focus on talent agents? I'll be honest, it's not something that actually appealed to me and I wouldn't have picked the book up based on the description. I read because I kept hearing how good it was from many different sources from blogs to book review journals. And I know that it's impossible to tell from a plot summary whether something is good or not, so I'm glad let my disinterest about the inner workings of Hollywood put me off.

I'm always happy to find a contemporary romance that works for me. It's not easy - there has to be something keeping people apart, and in the modern worlds that's difficult. The two-author team known as Christina Lauren found a very effective way to create a love/hate relationship that was a lot of fun to watch, and their writing style was clever, funny, and engaging. This book really lived up to the hype for me.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers (2014)

Friends, I've just read the most wonderful book! I kept hearing that it was good, and I even checked it out of the library once before and returned it without reading it. But this time I took it on vacation with me and we had the best time together!

As the title suggests, this story is about a journey to a planet. Ashby is captain of the Wayfarer and its multispecies crew. He has finally hired a clerk, which he was totally overdue for, and which has now given his team a more professional air and helped secure a very exciting new job. They are to create a tunnel to a planet called Hedra Ka, which has long been unfriendly to everyone but has suddenly joined the Galactic Commons. (Nope, not suspicious at all. Nothing to be concerned about.)

The new clerk aboard the Wayfarer is Rosemary Harper, who is trying to flee some secrets of her own. She's more than happy to take on her new job with her interesting crewmates. Like Rosemary, some of them are human: Ashby, Kizzy, Corbin, and Jenks. But their doctor/chef who they call Dr. Chef is a Grum (his real name is unpronounceable by humans) and he's described as a cross between an otter and a gecko, and he walks like a caterpillar on a few sets of hand-feet. Sissix is the pilot and she's an Aandrisk, a reptilian being with feathers on her head and claws. Her people are very physically affectionate beings and have a lot of casual sex, which is not considered especially private. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, is Ohan. They are a Sianat Pair, which are all infected with a virus called the Whisperer that gives them a much deeper understanding of space and therefore great value as navigators. They think of themselves and their virus as a pair, so they are always referred to as "we" and "they" rather than a singular pronoun.

What makes or breaks my experience reading science fiction are the characters. Sometimes they're two-dimensional because the story is all about the plot and the world-building, and those books just don't do it for me at all. These characters are all fully realized and genuine and I had a fun time with them on their long journey. This wasn't at the price of other factors though; in fact, the world-building was great, and totally borne out of the characters, each of whom had a story that told us more about the universe in which it takes place.

But I think what I liked best about this novel was the way all these characters from very different cultures communicated and worked together. Most of them spoke a couple of languages, and they learned about the histories of other species and, at the very least, their customs and conventions. They were all super aware that their own way was not everyone's way. And when they didn't really understand another species' ways, they still respected them. They still went along with it and didn't try to convince them their way was silly or made no sense. It was pretty great. There's a point in the story when Corbin is talking to Ohan about how Jenks is in love with Lovey, their AI on the ship, who doesn't even have a body. He says "I don't pretend to understand. Frankly, I find the whole notion absurd...But it doesn't matter what I think. Jenks thinks something different, and his pain is very real right now. Me knowing how stupid this whole thing is doesn't make him hurt any less." And Corbin is an asshole. But even he has respect for others' differences.

The cultures were so inventive and well-thought out too. Aandrisks will give one of their feathers to someone who has touched their life, and keep the ones given to them as a reminder of everyone they've had an impact on, which I thought was a neat practice. More interestingly, they don't see children as fully-fledged people until they get their feathers. The death of hatchlings is fairly common and to be expected. Sissix doesn't understand why an infant would be considered of more value than an adult, saying "the idea that a loss of potential was somehow worse than a loss of achievement and knowledge was something she had never been able to wrap her brain around." Me too, Sissix. Me too. I've never understood why we consider babies and children to be more important and valuable than adults (although I still think they're people, and don't think they are necessarily of lesser value.) And the Sianat Pairs! To think that a virus is absolutely necessary to your identity, even though it is greatly reducing your lifespan. So many philosophical questions come up in relation to Ohan and their species and their relationship with this virus. And I haven't even mentioned the Aeluons, who don't speak or hear as we do, but communicate through colorful displays on their skin.

Look, I could go on at length here, and I guess I already have. There's just so much interesting stuff in this world, and it's populated with people I really want to get to know more. It was super creative and a lot of fun to read. Fortunately, there are two more books in this series (so far? I don't know if it is complete) so I may pick up the next one. I read the description and it's pretty intriguing, though I haven't heard if it's as good as this one. But I'm willing to find out.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (1956)

A young American man named David is in the South of France, his girlfriend having just left to return to the US. David is about to return to Paris where Giovanni is being executed. He reveals the story of how he met Giovanni at a gay bar he visited with his friend Jacques, and how he began a relationship with Giovanni, eventually moving in with him. He knew it wouldn't last as his girlfriend Hella was in Spain only temporarily and would return, but Giovanni hoped otherwise. Eventually we learn what a huge mess David has made of everything and why Giovanni is being executed.

This is a very short book (my edition was 170 pages) but one packed with beautiful language and emotion. The atmosphere was one of a sort of tragic hedonism. David and his friends Jacques, Guillaume, and of course Giovanni drank a lot and drifted about aimlessly and hurt each other, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. The language almost romanticized it at times, but also sharply conveyed the more sordid and ugly parts.

Considered a gay classic, Baldwin's publisher apparently initially balked at it because of the content. More recently, it has been acknowledged to be bisexual - it seems weird that it wouldn't have before, but I guess it took a while to accept that bisexuality is actually a thing. David had a relationship with a boy before when he was young, but he also loves Hella and does want to marry her. Even Giovanni also had a woman in his life before he and David met, and one with whom he shared a loving relationship before it ended with tragedy.

This is the cover of the edition I read and it's a little odd - I never understand occasionally an author's photo appears on the front cover. I would understand if the novel was more autobiographical, but I don't thing this one is. Also, from what I can tell, the characters are all white. (David is described as blond and Giovanni is Italian.) But of course this is just one of many editions, I just really enjoy a beautiful cover and this one doesn't do justice to the story within.

I can't believe I haven't read James Baldwin before. Why did nobody tell me how lovely his writing is, and how compellingly genuine his characters? I know he also wrote a lot of nonfiction in the form of essays, as well as short stories, plays, and poetry, so there's a lot to choose from. If you have suggestions about what I should try next, please let me know in the comments!

July Wrap-Up and Plans for August


I read THREE books from my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list, which is making me smug. This is what happens when I don't have any assigned reading for book groups or whatnot - I read things that I've been wanting to read for a while! Most notable was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, which I think everyone in America should read.


Boston Harbor Island view

I listened to the audiobook of the new Alyssa Cole novel, A Princess in Theory, which was even better than I expected. Another audiobook I enjoyed this month was the teen book Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson.

In between audiobooks I'm continuing to listen to my regular podcasts, including the newest one in my rotation, Slow Russian. I don't know how much I'm picking up from this because I feel like there are so many new words and expressions in every episode, but if I keep listening regularly I'm sure I can't help but increase (or rebuild) my vocabulary.

This month I also got to listen to Janelle Monae live! This is the second time I've seen her perform and she is just fantastic. The first time was a few years ago when she opened to Prince, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you how great that show was.


I saw the RBG documentary, which was great. I really didn't know a ton about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so I was very happy to learn about all her early cases that she chose because they advanced the rights of women. I also learned that she survived pancreatic cancer, which I didn't even think was possible, and that gives me a lot of hope that she might be immortal.

This month I also finished watching The Handmaid's Tale season 2, and continued with Poldark and Parts Unknown. If you're interested in travel to unusual places and you like food, I highly recommend that show.

A while ago a friend recommended the movie Mudbound, and I also finally watched that. It's about two families in Mississippi - a black family and a white family - during World War II. It's very upsetting, but also very good.


Corn Fritters

Very little, mostly fritters. I had a lot of social plans this month which means I didn't have a ton of time for cooking. I ate a lot of things like tacos and pasta with pesto. But I did make the Zucchini-Cornmeal cakes from Dinner by Melissa Clark, which were actually a lot of work but very tasty, and the Corn Fritters from the Smitten Kitchen website, which were also delicious but easier to make. It was nice to be able to buy fresh ingredients from the farmer's market that's near my work. The only thing I cooked that wasn't fritters was the 8-minute Pantry Dal from the Oh She Glows website. Don't be fooled by the title, it takes a lot longer than 8 minutes. But you can use up whatever vegetables you have on hand and it is very easy to throw together in a pot, and then you can relax while it simmers away. I'll be making this again. And probably the corn fritters too.

In addition to all my social plans I've been making a concerted effort to cut down on food. When I pulled out all my summer clothes this year I found that some of them didn't fit. I've been using an app called MyPlate to track calories, though I'm not restricting myself as much as the app suggested because that's just not sustainable. It worked out fine this month, but I had little cooking time anyhow. I'm not sure how it will go when I do have more time for cooking and baking, but I probably won't find that out until fall. At any rate, I have a lot of cookbooks with options for pretty healthy fare so I'm not very concerned.


As I mentioned, I had a lot of social activities. July 1 was an annual day trip with friends to the Boston Harbor Islands, followed by a delicious seafood dinner in Boston. The following weekend I went to a party, and then spent an afternoon with a friend I hadn't seen in a while and we did an escape room, which was WAY more fun than I thought it would be. I had evening dinner plans with various friends throughout the month and then this past weekend was a friend's birthday and we went to the Janelle Monae concert.

Sock in progress
After not having gone to a yoga class (or my gym at all) for a year or close to it, I went to yoga this month and it felt amazing. I'm hoping I can get back into the habit of going!

In knitting news, I finally finished that second sleeve! All I have to do now is sew in the sleeves, sew up the hems and cuffs, and make and attach the elbow patches.

I have also begun another project! First time in close to two years, so this is big news. I started a black sock, because I am in need of black socks. I've been working on it on the bus and while watching tv, so it's moving right along already. It's the Chain Rib pattern from my old friend, Sensational Knitted Socks.

Plans for August

I'm actually posting this a little early, because I'm ending July and beginning August with a trip to Prince Edward Island. I've never been there before and I'm really looking forward to relaxing, eating, and enjoying nature.

Later in the month we'll be going camping again since we were a bit shortchanged by the weather last time. And I have unspecified plans to take a day trip with a friend one Saturday, so I'm sure we'll end up doing something fun.

How was your July?

The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (2016)

It's the end of the 19th century, Cora Seaborne has just been widowed, and she's never been happier. She takes her companion Martha and her son Francis to Essex to get away from it all and it is there she meets local vicar Will Ransome, with whom she becomes fast friends. This despite their very different outlooks on religion and the local fear of a deadly serpent said to be haunting the sea and causing all sorts of strange happenings. Cora is an amateur naturalist and wants to believe the fears are founded and there is an undiscovered species lurking in the waters. Will is just as convinced it's all in their heads, and they just need to strengthen their religious convictions and see that there's nothing there.

I read the first 100 pages - about a quarter of the book - and put it down in favor of something else. It didn't feel like it was going anywhere and I didn't think I'd finish it. But then I bored of the other book, and felt inclined to pick this back up again. I stayed home sick from work one day, and read the last 200 pages in one day. So I guess I liked it after all.

It was rather atmospheric, what with unexplained phenomena and a character with consumption and a missing teenage girl.  Cora's son was also very unusual - I think these days we'd say that he's on the spectrum - but in the context of this book, his behavior just added to the air of mystery. Will's daughter Joanna was a bright young girl just coming into her own and had been friendly for many years with Naomi, a fisherman's daughter. Together they played at casting spells, but Joanna was starting to outgrow this mysticism for more serious studies, creating a rift in their friendship. Then Naomi went missing.

Cora's friendship with Will was central, and complex. He was married and Cora loved Stella too, as did Will. But it was also clear that Cora and Will's friendship was special. Cora was also friendly with a doctor, Luke Garrett, whose feelings for her were much stronger and he was vexed at her new friendship with Will. Cora's companion Martha also seemed devoted to Cora beyond the usual way. Cora had a lot going on, and many of the people around her grew impatient with how she was handling her newfound freedom, dressing in ways unbecoming to a lady and tramping about England doing whatever she wanted. I was very happy for her. Her husband was an ass and she was finally free of him, and she wasn't about to start acting in accordance with everyone else's expectations now. Although this novel was set in the Victorian period, the characters' behavior and relationships aren't what I expected to encounter - for instance, there was some casual sex - and I found that refreshing.

This isn't a fast-moving story with a complicated plot, and I think the reason I put it aside for a while was that I wasn't in the mood for it. Which is what I suspected at the time, as I couldn't point to anything specific about I didn't like. As I said, it's atmospheric, and focused on relationships, and the writing was of a fairly literary caliber. When I began I felt like I needed to concentrate, but I think I've just read a lot of books in a row written in a much simpler style, so it was a bit of a shift. This has been on my To Read shelf on Goodreads for a while - well, it think it was the first thing I added when I started using that shelf again - and I am quite glad I finally got to it.

Sarah Perry's new novel, Melmoth, will be out in October. It takes place in Prague and involves a dark legend and a missing person and sounds like it might have a similar feel to The Essex Serpent.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (2017), narrated by the author

Jade accepts every opportunity that comes to her way, because she wants to make sure she has every chance at success. She takes a bus across town to attend a private school on scholarship, and she is now asked to join a mentoring program called Woman To Woman. She joins, but is resentful that it's for "at-risk" kids and she's not at risk. She is, however, one of very few black kids at a mostly-white high school and can't help but think that's why she keeps being asked to take opportunities that are supposed to help her. Jade thinks she is completely capable of helping others, and what she wants most is to be asked to participate in the study abroad program and use the Spanish she studies so diligently while taking part in a volunteer project.

As if it wasn't enough she didn't want to join Woman To Woman in the first place, her mentor Maxine keeps standing her up, and taking long phone calls when they're together. At the same time she's very supportive of Jade's art, spectacular photo collages.

Jade has recently befriended a girl named Sam who takes the same bus across town to school. Sam is white, and sometimes doesn't understand the things that Jade complains about. When they're shopping together and a salesperson exhibits racist behavior toward Jade, Sam tries to explain it away. As much as Jade likes Sam, these interactions make her very uncomfortable.

A major theme in this book is Jade's unwillingness to speak up for herself. She internalizes unfairness, slights, and racism and doesn't ask for the things she wants. She's a smart creative person who has a lot to give to the world and I really liked seeing her grow stronger and begin to find her own voice and take the scary step of confronting people and asking for what she wanted. It felt so liberating!

Although her relationship with Maxine was sometimes strained, Maxine helped Jade to take this initiative. It was rough though. Maxine had to convince Jade she was worth spending time with, and had to convince Jade's mother that she wasn't overstepping her bounds. Jade's mom worked really hard but was also a great mother, and didn't appreciate being treated like she wasn't there for her daughter, who consequently needed another adult woman to help her out. But eventually mom and Maxine got to know each other more and the relationships all solidified a bit. It was an interesting dynamic to watch unfold.

The audiobook was narrator by the author, who doesn't sound like a professional narrator, but I liked listening to her. She had a casual, conversation tone that sounded appropriate for a teenage girl.

This was only about 5.5 hours long, so it only took me about a week. I usually just listen on my commute, but I found myself carving out time at home to listen while doing other things. Jade was a great character, and I loved seeing her come into her own and really start standing up for herself. She'll go far, and she doesn't need any more well-meaning help to do it.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Good Luck With That

Good Luck With That by Kristan Higgins (2018)

I know Kristan Higgins from the very enjoyable Blue Heron series, but now she's writing outside of the romance genre. Good Luck With That is the story of three friends who met as teenagers at "fat camp" and have stayed close over the years. Marley and Georgia especially so, but Emerson has kept her distance a bit. When they are reunited at Emerson's deathbed, she leaves them a final wish: complete the list of goals they made when they were teenagers. The list was called Things We'll Do When We're Skinny and included items such as "eat dessert in public," "get a piggyback ride from a guy," "tuck in a shirt," and various other things they felt they had to be skinny in order to do.

Emerson's death was directly attributable to her vast weight gain, causing difficulty moving her from the house to the hospital and requiring a specially sized casket after her death. When Marley and Georgia arrived at the hospital to visit Emerson, they were shocked and appalled at her condition. I was very taken aback in those early chapters and wondered if the book was going to be fat-shamey, but stuck it out. I didn't yet know Marley and Georgia, and had I been able to get to know them before they appeared at Emerson's bedside I think I would have felt better about their reactions to her condition. Although she dies early in the book, we do get Emerson's story through the journal entries she left behind. It was a pretty sad story, and isolating herself from her closest friends made it all the more worse.

Marley and Georgia weren't without their own struggles. Georgia was the thinnest of the three, constantly being encouraged/shamed by her mother, who arguably had her own serious eating issues. Georgia, an attorney turned preschool teacher, was once married to a fantastic man, but basically sabotaged the marriage because she was so uncomfortable with herself and didn't think she deserved him. Now, he has appeared again in her social sphere and she realizes she still doesn't have closure over their failed marriage. Marley is a personal chef with her own business, who pines after her brother's coworker, a guy who she's slept with a few times but who keeps his distance in public. Marley is probably the most well-adjusted and ok with herself character in the book.

I really liked Georgia and Marley's friendship, and the way they honored Emerson's memory by working to complete the items on the list - but not waiting until they were skinny. This isn't a book about weight loss, but rather about the relationship women have with food and their weight and the pressures to be thin, and the way we think we need to be a certain size in order to deserve love and happiness. Sometimes it made me uncomfortable, which is not a bad thing, but mostly I got really sucked into these women's stories. Kristan Higgins is noted for her humor, and there were many many funny moments in this book. It was super easy to get into and I couldn't put it down for the very few days I was reading it. There was a lot going on in the characters' lives - much more than even what I've mentioned - and I was very invested in their stories.

The style reminds me a lot of old school chick lit, which I really miss. Although there are serious issues, it's told in a light and upbeat way with a lot of humor, and although it's not a romance there is definitely romance in the story. It's a perfect summer read.

Good Luck With That is due out in August. I received my copy courtesy of the publisher, and was not compensated for my review.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Four Tendencies

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How To Make Your Life Better by Gretchen Rubin (2017)

I listen to By the Book, a podcast hosted by two women who read and live by self-help books for two weeks at a time and then talk about it on their show. It's hilarious! They haven't done this book, but many of their fans have mentioned it in their Facebook community. I'm familiar with Gretchen Rubin because I used to read her Happiness Project blog back before she ever got a book deal (although I stopped when I had had enough of the relentless pursuit of happiness), and I'm always interested in understanding personality types. So I thought this might be helpful.

Rubin has boiled people down to four basic types, or tendencies as she calls them, according to how they meet expectations from themselves and others. Upholders meet both inner and outer expectations; Questioners meet inner, but not outer, expectations; Obligers meet outer, but not inner, expectations; and Rebels basically refuse to meet any expectations.

What this means in practical terms is that, for example, Obligers will be dependable at meeting deadlines set by their boss but may struggle to go to the gym regularly. However, if they have a gym buddy they're supposed to go with, they'll go because they won't want to let that other person down. According to Rubin, most people are Obligers. Questioners need reasons for what they do, so they don't meet expectations from others unless they are themselves convinced that it makes sense. They also tend to be the people who will research something to death before making a decision about it. Upholders regularly meet inner and outer expectations. They are rule-followers who tend to form new habits fairly easily. Rebels are the opposite - they are all about freedom and doing whatever they want in the moment, resisting expectations from themselves as much as they resist expectations from others.

If you know me at all, you'll immediately recognize me as an Upholder, which as far as I can tell, is the very best tendency. I may be biased. We are the ones who are often accused of being rigid. It's true that I like to have a plan and stick to it, even if that plan is going home and putting on my pajamas at 7pm and reading all evening. That is just as legit as what someone else wants me to do.
But I'm super grateful that I happen to find my own expectations just as important as the expectations of others - I rarely, if ever, fall into the trap of saying "yes" too much until my plate is too full and I'm overwhelmed. I also do tend to form habits fairly easily and stick to plans, though I have recently gotten better at allowing myself to drop things when I no longer think they're helpful or relevant. In case you're wondering, my husband is most definitely a Rebel and according to Rubin, the Upholder/Rebel pairing is pretty much the worst combination of tendencies to have in a relationship. So there you have it.

Obviously, not everyone in each category is the same, and there is overlap. (I think I have a little bit of Questioner, for example.) Plus of course, people have other aspects of their personalities that can dilute or mitigate their tendencies. But what I like about this, and other personality-sorting such as the Enneagram, is that it's a tool to take a closer look at why people do the things the they do and act the way they act. In terms of interpersonal relationships, I find it very useful to look at people in different ways. I'm a manager and of course I immediately tried to sort people in my department into categories, although to be honest, these categories are just giving me names for things I already knew about them. (And I thank my lucky stars I don't have to supervise any Rebels.) But for people I don't know as well, it might actually be helpful in figuring out their motivations. This kind of personality analysis is also helpful in understanding oneself too, of course. Upholders are a pretty small group, apparently, and I definitely fall into the trap Rubin (also an Upholder) mentioned, in which I don't understand why people can't just do the thing they've said they want to do, or are expected to do. Just do it! Do the thing! Do all of the things! Make a list and follow it! Yeah, that's apparently not how most people operate, so I need to realize that I'm actually the weirdo in sticking to things I've decided I want or need to do, sometimes regardless of whether it even still makes sense.

Although I found this book fairly interesting and helpful at the beginning, the long sections devoted to each type were a bit bloated and I got especially bogged down during Obliger. It got very repetitive - how many times must you repeat that Obligers meet outer expectations but not inner expectations? It felt like this fairly short book would have been better as a lengthy article. But maybe it's just because I'm not invested enough in the idea that I need such thorough explanations and numerous examples.

If you're interested in learning your own tendency (though you may already recognize it from my descriptions above) you can take the quiz here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Just Mercy

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014)

I first heard of Bryan Stevenson back in 2014 when I read the book No Choirboy, a teen book about teens on death row. Stevenson is an attorney who was mentioned in the book because he's an advocate for people treated unfairly by the justice system. He also appears in the documentary 13th, which is about racial inequality in the U.S. justice system. I've admired him ever since I heard of his work, and recently I finally made a point to read his book.

Stevenson's passion for justice is clear and unwavering and he has spent his entire career helping those who need it the most. He started the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides representation for prisoners who were wrongly convicted or didn't receive a fair trial. We learn about many of these case in the book, and they are all horrifying.

The story focused on the most is that of Walter McMillian, a black man convicted of murder and sentenced to death. At the time of the murder he was at a fish fry with many friends and family, but their testimony was completely disregarded and he was convicted on the basis of one witness who was obviously lying, but he was white and everyone wanted to convict someone for this terrible murder. It was obvious to Stevenson that McMillian's trial had been a farce, but even so it took quite a while to get McMillian set free.

Other stories are equally as horrifying. A 14-year-old girl accidentally started a fire in which two people died and was sentence to life without parole. An intellectually disabled woman was charged with killing her baby and, facing a capital charge, took a plea for life in prison - but there was no baby. She had never even been pregnant. A 13-year-old boy shot a woman (she lived) and was sentence to life without parole. He was sent to an adult prison and because such young prisoners are often targets for abuse, he was put in solitary confinement and kept there for 18 years.

Although Stevenson won some of his cases, he didn't win them all. He wrote about one death row inmate he wasn't able to save. He visited the man on the last night of his life and then witnessed his execution. He reflected:

"In debates about the death penalty, I had started arguing that we would never think it was humane to pay someone to rape people convicted of rape or assault and abuse someone guilty of assault or abuse. Yet we were comfortable killing people who kill, in part because we think we can do it in a manner that doesn't implicate our own humanity, the way that raping or abusing someone would. I couldn't stop thinking that we don't spend much time contemplating the details of what killing someone actually involves."

I learned about so many terrible things from this book. Black defendants having all-white juries at their trials, and racist jurors not being excluded. That by 2010 the state of Florida had sentenced over 100 kids to life without parole. Kids! That between 1990 and 2005 a new prison opened in the United States every 10 days. That the drugs used for lethal injection had been banned for animal euthanasia because they caused a painful and tortuous death, which led to correctional authorities obtaining them illegally for executions.

I knew that our justice system was flawed. I've read The New Jim Crow. But reading this...I felt like it's more than flawed. It's completely broken and useless. Why hasn't there been a huge outcry? Why hasn't it been fixed? Do other people who work in the system not care? Thank goodness for people like Bryan Stevenson and the other attorneys at his organization who are trying to fix the horrible injustices that have been allowed to take place.

It was very hard to read, especially in the current political climate in which the current administration seems determined to undo the social progress we've made. But I also think it's very important to read - Americans need to understand that this is happening. I know there's a strong movement against mass incarceration and towards prison reform, and I only hope it can result and real and lasting change.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Princess in Theory

A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole (2018), narrated by Karen Chilton

Busy, working graduate student Naledi starts getting emails claiming she's betrothed to an African prince, which she deletes because of course they're spam BUT THEY'RE NOT SPAM. Prince Thabiso has to travel to New York on business and decides to seek her out in person, which goes terribly awry when she mistakes him for a new hire at her waitressing job and he plays along with it only to set a table on fire. Needless to say, it's not a good impression. But when he turns up in the apartment next door to her and offers to cook her dinner, they smooth things over and soon it starts heating up between them. But she still thinks his name is Jamal and he doesn't reveal his real identity, or their shared background, so that's rather a ticking time bomb.

Naledi only remembers New York. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was very young and she grew up in a series of foster homes. None of them stuck and she is without family, struggling to complete her education. She needs an internship and hasn't heard back from the person she's supposed to be interning for, and this is a great source of stress, in addition to the demands on her time with school and two jobs. Even as she becomes more and more attracted to the guy she knows as Jamal, she is convinced that their relationship won't go anywhere.

The setup alone was enough to get me to read this book, but the execution was fantastic. Naledi definitely has some self-esteem issues when it comes to relationships, and the knowledge that Thabiso was lying to her about such huge issues really hung over me throughout the story. But not too long - this isn't one of those stories where it all comes out very late in the book and then they get over it and live happily ever after. No, there is a lot more to this story and that's what makes it so good.

When all is said and done we learn about Thabiso's country and his life, the issues facing them and why they're all counting on him to get married, the whole story behind Thabiso and Naledi's childhood betrothal and, finally, why Naledi's family fled Thesolo and started a new life. Throughout, Naledi tried to come to terms with Thabiso's lies, her attraction to him, and how the situation would affect - or not? - her life. They were both such great characters. Naledi down-to-earth and practical, but passionate about her work in public health, Thabiso raised to have his every need served but still empathetic to the needs of his people.

Literally the only thing wrong with this book is that when Naledi learned Thabiso's real identity she never expressed concern about what happened to the real Jamal, who probably really needed that job. (Thabiso intercepted him outside and paid him something like $20k to not go in, so he's fine. She just doesn't know that.)

The audio narrator was great (she did the accents, though I have no idea if she based the Thesaloian accent on a real African language) and I thought this was a great choice for audio. I mean, there were some sexytimes that were fairly graphic and I always feel a little weird listening on the bus even though I know nobody can hear what I'm hearing. But overall it was a fun and satisfying listening experience.

Fun fact: Alyssa Cole is known for her great dresses, which she buys from an Etsy shop called Adorned by Nicole. The dress on the cover is actually a dress designed by that shop. So if you love it (and why wouldn't you?) you know where you can get one.

The book I've been reading in print at the same time as this one is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, which is all about our horrible broken justice system and innocent people being executed. But we have to also read things that make us feel good and remind ourselves why life is even worth living in the first place. So do yourself a favor and pick up a story that you know is going to end well - like this one. As much as we need to pay attention to horrible stuff happening around us, sometimes we also need to escape for a little while.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike #1) by Robert Galbraith (2013)

This is the first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, who initially published it under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I've heard great things about it - about the whole series - and I love all of Rowling's other books, so it was only a matter of time before I read it. Of course it's fairly long so I kept putting it off, and it ended up on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list.

The story opens on the aftermath of an apparent suicide. A famous model has jumped from her balcony, and police and paparazzi swarm the street outside her London home. But her brother refuses to believe she killed herself and hires private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate. One witness, a resident of the building's first floor, claims to have heard Lula Landry arguing with a man before falling to her death, but is this witness credible? Is there something suspicious about Landry's down-and-out friend Rochelle, who seems like she doesn't want to be found? And what of Landry's estranged boyfriend? The police consider it an open-and-shut case of suicide, but to Strike too many unanswered questions remain.

Cormoran Strike is in the midst of his own difficulties. As the story begins, he's just begun living in his office after a devastating breakup, business not healthy enough to support his renting an apartment. He has a new secretary sent by a temp agency, Robin, who is fascinated by Strike's work and dreads being moved on to her next job. This tension permeates the novel, as Robin proves herself worthy of more than just administrative duties due to her cleverness and resourcefulness, but Strike knows he can't afford to keep her on. Robin is engaged to a guy named Matthew who disapproves of her working for Strike, and I kept hoping she would dump him. It's a sketchy situation really, working for a guy who is clearly living in his office but trying unsuccessfully to hide that fact. He also tries to hide his prosthetic leg, crankily urging Robin to leave when he's been walking a lot and just needs to take his leg off for some relief but refuses to do so with her there. I loved seeing their very different personalities interact, especially as the story progressed and they got more comfortable with each other.

Along the way, we learn a lot about Landry's life. Her adoptive family, as well as her reconnection with her birth mother and search for her biological father. We also meet her friends, both the unlikely - Rochelle, who she met in rehab - and the other models as well as a designer she modeled for and had a close relationship with. We also learn about Strike's life: the son of a groupie and a rock star, everyone knows who his father is and mention him whenever they meet Strike, but he himself has only met his father a couple of times. The similarities between Landry's and Strike's life were apparent, but so were the vast differences, but both characters were fully realized even though one was already dead when the book began.

It was long, as I mentioned, but not unnecessarily so. The mystery of Lula Landry's death had many twists and turns and it took Strike - with Robin's help - a long time to investigate all the leads. It did take me a long time to read, but it was definitely worth it. There are two more books in the series, with a fourth to come later this year, so I look forward to picking those up at some point.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Wrap-Up and Plans for July

It already feels like summer is flying by too fast!


I haven't completed anything from my TBR Pile Challenge this month. I finished A Short History of Nearly Everything at the very end of May, and I'm just now starting the next book for my challenge.

I read a couple of very new books - The Outsider by Stephen King and The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls by Jessica Spotswood. Another great book I read this month was Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, which was quite timely as it dealt with immigration.

I only completed 6 books in June, which is a little less than usual for me, I think because the Stephen King book was so long. I really thought I'd start flying through my TBR list now that I don't have a book group and therefore have one less book to read per month, but it was a busy month.


My only audiobook was Forever, Interrupted, which is now my least favorite book by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Otherwise, it's been the same old music and podcasts. Oh! I did add one new podcast - Slow Russian, which is a Russian language-learning podcast. I've been wanting to brush up on my Russian but I don't necessarily want to just listen to the regular language-learning sources and their boring conversations about your flight and how to get to the museum or whatever. On this podcast the host, Darya, reads a short piece about some aspect of Russian culture. Then she goes through it sentence by sentence and explains things that might be unfamiliar. Of course, there are also words I should know but don't that she doesn't explain, but I'm trying to just let it go and soak in what I can.


The Handmaid's Tale might be slowly killing me. I'm so very worried about the state of our union right now and I love this show, but it doesn't help. I thought it would be over after 10 episodes like last season, but apparently it's going to go for 13. So my trauma is being prolonged.

We've started watching Poldark, one of those historical British shows that is right up my alley. I had heard of it before, but then a friend mentioned liking it a lot and told me more about it and it's actually something Eric and I are both interested in and can watch together, which doesn't happen often. It's great so far!

I also began watching Parts Unknown, the Anthony Bourdain show where he travels to different places and eats interesting things. I knew very little about him, but after he died everyone had such great things to say. I almost wish I had watched this while he was still alive, but then I'd be as upset as everyone else. What really spurred me to watch wasn't just his death, but the fact that my Cookbook Club at work is going to be doing his book for our next meeting, so I thought I'd try to familiarize myself with him a bit more. He's so incredibly unpretentious, which I love. On the second episode of the show he goes to Koreatown in Los Angeles and eats at a Sizzler. A Sizzler! No matter where he goes (so far) he loves everything he eats. The guy just loved to eat, apparently, which I totally understand.


Um. Let's move on.


Lots of pickles
There was a lot going on this month, so I haven't cooked very much. June started out with a birthday party that I threw for myself, but we had it catered because I didn't want to spend the entire day slaving over food. We also went camping one weekend, and there have been a few other social activities. The weekend is really when I have time for cooking so if I end up having a lot of plans on the weekend then I don't have as much time to cook.

I did make pickles for my Cookbook Club at work, which was easy and delicious. We were cooking from Flour, Too by Joanne Chang. I also tried a couple of new recipes from Melissa Clark's Dinner but no real favorites, I don't think. Below is a photo of a Colombian-inspired chicken dish that has a lot of great flavors, but was kind of awkward to eat so I'm undecided about whether I'll make it again.


As I mentioned, the month began with a birthday party for my 45th. It was great, but I stayed up waaay too late and spent the entire next day - my actual birthday - in my pajamas, eating leftover party food and feeling out of sorts. The following weekend I went to a friend's 40th birthday party, which was a 90s dance party. I was a bit concerned about being able to pull together a good 90s outfit, since I was determined not to buy anything, but I borrowed some boots from a coworker, found a pair of lace tights in my drawer (where the heck did they even come from?) and the outfit really came together from there. So, lots of birthday fun in June!

Eric and I also took our first camping trip since we adopted Petri. We bought a new, larger tent which I love. I had no idea how she would behave on a camping trip, especially with the potential for so many other dogs around, but she was surprisingly well-behaved and really liked sleeping with us in the tent. The trip was cut short because of impending rain and thunderstorms, but I wasn't sure we'd make it through more than one night anyhow so it wasn't too much of a disappointment. It also gave us some extra time back at home so we went to see Deadpool 2, which was pretty good.

At work, a lot of the month was spent in interviews for a new Assistant Director and Teen Librarian. I'm amazed that we managed to cram in 2 rounds for 2 positions AND keep the reference desk staffed (more or less) but now the worst is over. Interviewing can be so exhausting. I'll be hiring another person in my department later this summer, but it's a position we've been without for about 5 years, so now it feels like it's extra. Exciting times!

It's halfway through the year, and I've mostly done ok at sticking to my goals. I need to remind myself that part of the reason I wanted to become a better cook is to be healthier, because recently my eating habits have not been great. (Birthday = giant cake for days. Camping = s'mores with lots of leftovers and I've been toasting marshmallows on my gas stove.) I won't beat myself up for not doing a lot of cooking recently, because part of enjoying summer is making plans with people on those precious weekend days. My other major goal this year was to be better about getting together with friends, especially those I don't see often, and I have definitely been doing that.

From Dinner by Melissa Clark
I may have mentioned that this year I switched from a bullet journal to a Passion Planner, and I'm still trying to decide if this planner will work for me. I do love the setup and the focus on goals (although I admit I haven't been filling everything out recently and I need to do better on that!) but I don't have enough space for my daily to-do lists. There's not even a space for that actually, because the way it's set up every day is a schedule. I don't have a ton of scheduled events, so I've just been covering the time slots with washi tape. Unfortunately, it doesn't leave a ton of space to write so I have to try and write very tiny. I think the larger size planner would work better, but I'm not sure it would fit in my bag. I might try the larger size next year and if it doesn't work, maybe just incorporate everything I like into a bullet journal? I don't know, but I really don't want to lose the goal-setting aspects of this planner. I also really like the weekly quotes and directives, all of which are great reminders. For instance, the quote next week is "Sometimes you have to find the good in goodbye." Then it says "Let go of the negativity you have towards someone by reflecting on the lessons you've learned from them. Believe that your experiences have made you stronger and that your future deserves to be shaped by positive experiences instead of being weighed down by negative ones."

Plans for July

One annual activity that I always look forward to is a day on Georges Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands. Some friends and I take the ferry over and just spend a relaxing day together, walking around, sitting in adirondack chairs staring at the ocean, and catching up with each other. Then we take the ferry back to Boston and usually wrap up with dinner at a local restaurant. I always end up exhausted and sunburned and it is totally worth it.

My same friend who organizes that excursion also has a birthday later in July and this year we'll be spending her birthday at a Janelle Monae concert. So exciting! We've seen her perform before when she opened for Prince back in 2013 and it was a great show. Her new album is fantastic and I can't wait to see her perform these songs.

I am hoping to do a little more cooking than I have been, especially since I've made a list of recipes I've been wanting to try but that are very summery. I've been waiting for in-season tomatoes, corn, and other produce so I want to be sure I make use of them while I can. I went to the Farmer's Market near work on its first day of the season and bought some rhubarb and chard for a recipe. I haven't gone in the couple of weeks since then, but would like to make it a habit.

How was your June? 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2014)

It seems everyone has been raving about this book - and Backman's other books - for quite a while now, but I never paid much attention for some reason. Then I realized it was supposed to be an uplifting heartwarming story about a quirk curmudgeon, which sounds exactly like the sort of thing I'd read.

As you may have gathered from the title, it's about a man who is named Ove. He is a widower who is very set in his ways, and makes it his business to patrol his neighborhood (he lives somewhere in Sweden) to ensure nobody is breaking any rules and he thinks anyone who doesn't drive a Saab is an idiot. When the story opens, a new family is moving into a nearby house and much of the story is his association with this people who are determined to be his friends, even though he is incredibly rude to them. Also, he keeps trying to commit suicide but is always interrupted, often by his new neighbor Parvanah who, unlike her husband, is not a complete idiot. Ove sort of grudgingly likes her. Oh, and there's a cat who keeps hanging around who Ove also grudgingly likes, mostly because he wife Sonja loved cats and literally the only thing in the world that it seems he has ever loved was his wife.

Everything I've read about this book talks about how heartwarming and uplifting it is. It's even on a list of "Books on the bright side" that we made at work (well, it was, I've taken it off.) I did not find it to be terribly uplifting. Ove's backstory is sad and tragic and he doesn't know how to relate with people and seems to not ever feel any feelings except for his wife, and their story wasn't an especially happy one either. Plus he literally keeps trying to kill himself through most of the book. So yes, eventually things get better for him and he makes connections with people but at the risk of being a bit spoilery, it doesn't have a very happy ending. So I have rather mixed feelings. It's a good book, but not what I expected it to be. I like dark and sad books, but went into this expecting this happy, uplifting story I got neither of those things.

The writing style is the clever, witty sort that I do really like. Here's an example early on, about one of Ove's neighbors:

"The Blond Weed, Ove calls her. Tottering around the streets like an inebriated panda on heels as long as box wrenches, with clown paint all over her face and sunglasses so big that one can't tell whether they're a pair of glasses or some kind of helmet."

That's sort of how it all sounds, exaggerated and satirical, and I liked it because I was delightfully surprised at how everything was described. And I'll admit, I did not necessarily disagree with some of Ove's views of things, which maybe makes me a curmudgeon too.

He was a great character in some ways. The story goes back and forth between present day and his earlier life, and he had a hard upbringing. But he took his father's lessons to heart and has always been a person of strong principles. He may be abrupt with people, but his sense of right and wrong is unwavering, which is what really matters when you get down to it. I felt sort of sad that his wife was really the only light in his life. I have no idea why this woman actually wanted to be with him to be honest, but it can't have been easy for her. He seemed like he was missing a lot in his life. He didn't seem to really enjoy anything, and much of the time just used routines to get through his days. I think he had some happiness, but it was so very limited.

My feelings are obviously very mixed. Have you read this? Or other books by Backman? What did you think?

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls

The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls by Jessica Spotswood (2018)

Four sisters, orphaned and living with their grandmother, share a transformative summer. The oldest, Des, works full-time in the family bookstore and has been handling most household responsibilities while their grandmother has been recovering from an injury. Bea has just graduated and will be going to Georgetown with her boyfriend Erik, except she can no longer tolerate even thinking about this long-standing plan. Kat has been dumped and is formulating a plan to get her (jerk of an) ex-boyfriend back. Vi has a deep crush on a girl named Cece who seems super nice, but also seems to have a boyfriend.

These were all such good story lines, and I really loved these characters. Des is this totally dependable mom-figure who takes care of everybody at the expense of really living her own life. The book never comes out and uses the word "asexual," but she makes it clear a few times that she is uninterested in pursuing romantic relationships with anyone of any gender. She is, however, interested in a friendship with Paige, new to town, and different from anyone Des has known before. Her grandmother warns her away from this girl, claiming she is trouble, but Des ignores her, tempted by all the fun times she can have with Paige.

I loved how imperfectly realistic these characters are. Like Bea, who has been with her boyfriend since she was 13 (!!) and they've totally planned their lives together, but she is no longer interested in that life. She has also met a very attractive boat-dwelling guy named Gabe and has been spending some time with him. She can't bring herself to break up with Erik though. His family is like her family and vice versa. It would be like two families splitting, rather than just two people. And Erik is a super nice guy. There's nothing wrong with him, it's just that Bea is no longer in love with him. It would be much easier if he was actually a terrible person. 

Like Adam, Kat's ex-boyfriend. He cheated on her and is now dating the girl he cheated with. Kat is determined to win him back and realizes that the person to help her do it is Mason. Mason is bisexual and recently went through a breakup with his own boyfriend, who he also wants to win back. Kat's idea is that they will pretend to date and make their exes jealous. This will be especially easy since Kat and Mason got the lead parts in a play - a perfect situation to construct a romance! But it starts being difficult to tell what is acting and what is real.

The youngest sister, Vi, has been an out lesbian for a while now, and it's no big deal. The girl she is crushing on, however, is Latina and has a pretty conservative family. Also, a boyfriend. Vi has no idea if Cece is even interested in her and is SO angsty about it and tries to avoid Cece and gets all weird when they actually interact. (I mean, you remember being 15, right?) Cece is so great and they have a ton in common but Vi can't tell if Cece is being friend-nice or more-than-friend-nice. I feel you, Vi - we've all been there! I liked that some little things were included about Cece's life, like how annoyed she gets when people ask her where she's from and compliment her on her English. (Hint: she is from the United States and has always spoken English.)

I love small town stories and stories about sisters, which Jessica Spotswood is so good at (see also: The Cahill Witch Chronicles.) She's also good at creating individual, diverse characters who are realistically flawed and who I always root for. I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a perfect summer read. I know the title says "the last summer" but I would absolutely read another book about these characters and how things are going a year or so down the road. I want to make sure they're all ok!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Forever, Interrupted

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2013), narrated by Tara Sands

I've been reading all of Taylor Jenkins Reid's books, mostly on audio, and all I had left was this one, which I believe was her first book. All I knew going into it was that it was about a young woman whose husband is killed. It turns out they were only married nine days - though I don't know if that's better or worse than if they were together longer - and the story goes back and forth between the current time period and the time before he was killed, starting on the day they met. It was a whirlwind romance and one of the things Elsie needs to deal with after Ben's death is the fact that he never told his mother about Elsie at all.

Elsie is a librarian, and it is clear that Reid did not do even 10 minutes of research about what that means. It is implied that her library degree is a bachelor's (rather than a master's), and because she went into library science she was making more money right out of school than her peers. (HAHAHA.) At her job, she doesn't work on the reference desk because that is left to those without degrees. (What?) Instead, Elsie appears to spend 95% of her time researching topics for displays, and the rest of it shelving or filing things. None of this is based on reality. Reading a few job ads or a short career profile online would have cleared that up right away. I tried to ignore all of this, but my god it was so annoying. And I hate to spoil things by talking about things that happen late in the book, but I'm going to. Elsie literally punches a library patron and doesn't get fired. In fact, although she's arrested she doesn't even get disciplined at work. She works for a municipality - this is completely unrealistic. I could go on about how laughably ridiculous everything was that related to her job.

I also had some minor issues with the aftermath of Ben's death. Like, why did nobody from his life appear aside from his family? Didn't he have friends? Coworkers? Someone outside of family who cared about him enough to go to the funeral or contact Elsie? And I thought his mother handled his death a little too well for someone who was still getting over losing her husband three years ago. It seems like this would have compounded her grief, but instead she was a pro at it because she had just gone through this all not long ago.

I didn't hate it all. If I had, I would have just stopped listening. I liked the whole premise of the story, and having such a young woman lose a spouse is unusual. When you add all the complicated circumstances surrounding their whirlwind relationship and 9-day marriage, there is really a lot to think about. After Ben's death, Elsie met his mother and I really like how the relationship between these two women evolved. Elsie also had a friendship with an elderly library patron named Mr. Callahan, and I also really enjoyed their relationship.

In many ways, it was much like her other books (except The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which is very different from all of them), but not as good. It's got her trademark breezy style and relationship story with a bit of a twist, but it just wasn't as convincing to me somehow. I just couldn't get into the story of their relationship because it went so fast it was bordering on insta-love. Also I am a super-cynical middle-aged married lady and while I love a good romance, I can't take young people falling instantly in love super seriously. Come on, you barely know each other.

If you are not a librarian and not a cynic, you might like this book more than I did. Some of my criticisms are more about me than the book (except the poor research - you should always do research) and even with those, I still finished it. I still listened every day on my commute, wanting to know where the story was going. I also just like Reid's style of writing, the relationships and the emotion in all her stories. The narration was good too, which made it all go down easier. It was her first book and I've read and enjoyed everything she's written since then, so it really doesn't affect my overall opinion of this author. In fact, I also just learned that she has a new book coming out in 2019 and I'm already looking forward to it!

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Outsider

The Outsider by Stephen King (2018)

A child is horribly murdered and mutilated, and all evidence on the scene points to an unlikely suspect - local Little League coach and all-around great guy Terry Maitland. However, Maitland also has an air-tight alibi. He was out of town with several of his teacher colleagues at a conference and was even caught on film at right around the time the child was killed. But how can you argue with DNA evidence? Detective Ralph Anderson and his colleagues don't think you can, but after arresting Maitland publicly and learning of his alibi, he has a lot to answer for. This is just the beginning of Stephen King's newest novel, which goes on for over 500 pages and ends up somewhere unexpected.

Somehow, I thought this book was more of a crime/mystery novel than traditional Stephen King fare. It's definitely about a crime, but things got pretty weird quickly. Without giving too much away (because everything I describe above happens very early) I will mention that the story brings in some elements inspired by folklore which can, of course, be incredibly creepy and I like how it was used here. There was also a real-life tragic event that happened in the past at a tourist attraction which also lent quite a creepy feeling to the story.

If you've read King's Bill Hodges trilogy you'll recognize one character, Holly Gibney, who is intriguing enough in her own right to make me want to finally pick those books up. As always, King seems to pull his characters out of real life, each one fully-formed and multi-dimensional as people you see every day. I don't know how he does this. They're all imperfect - some more than others - and watching Ralph Anderson grapple to explain something inexplicable, or Marcy Maitland try to reconcile her husband with the horrible person who committed a violent crime was satisfying, but familiar to anyone who's read Stephen King before.

The Outsider is pretty long, and I spent a full week and a half reading it, but it was well worth the ride. I can't exactly say I enjoyed it, as so much of it made me feel rather uncomfortable and a bit icky, but it was so well crafted and satisfying and I definitely liked spending time with these characters as they tried to unravel this strange mystery.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Long Way Down

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017)

Long Way Down is a novel in verse about a teenager named Will whose older brother was just shot and killed. Will has been taught the rules since a young age: no crying, no snitching, get revenge. So he finds his brother's gun and sets out to get revenge on the person he's sure is responsible for his brother's murder. He gets in the elevator and starts down. On every floor, another person gets on - a person who is dead and who tells Will another part of the interconnected story leading up to this moment.

It was a very quick read, though you do get a lot of story. At least enough to know that Will is learning a lot about where and how things can go very wrong when you follow these rules he's been given. It's clear that following them will only lead to more violence and death. It's also clear that he doesn't even know for sure who killed his brother, even though he feels sure about it.

I keep hearing in my head what my former Teen Librarian from a couple of years ago would say every time she read something about a black kid that involved the inner city and violence. She got very frustrated that the only black kids represented in teen lit lived in the inner city, came from broken homes, were involved in gangs, etc. So I do keep thinking about that. However, that's taking a broad view of teen books which, while important, isn't the whole story. This book itself is undoubtedly good. It's popular and has won awards. It really packs a punch. It says a lot with relatively few words.

At the same time, this sparseness of words is what I think kept me from getting into this story as much as I would have liked. I think I just don't love the novel-in-verse format. I know I loved The Good Braider, but that used a slightly different style of verse that was a little denser. Here, there really were just a smattering of words on each page. They were well-chosen words, but for me, I just like more of them, if that makes sense.

As a side note, I've heard that the audio version of this book, which Reynolds narrates, is fantastic. I considered that format, but it's only about an hour and a half long and I was looking for something to fill more hours of my commute.

This is the second book by Jason Reynolds that I've read (after Ghost, which I liked more) and I think I'll probably read more of his books. I'm especially interested in The Boy in the Black Suit and All American Boys.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Go, Went, Gone

Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (2017)

A newly-retired professor in Berlin is faced with empty, unstructured days. Not long into his retirement, Richard learns that a group of African refugees are demonstrating in Alexanderplatz. He becomes curious and goes to visit them, becoming very invested in their lives as he continues to learn their stories and educate himself about their home countries and the situation they are now in.

They came from different countries in Africa, all by way of Libya. From there they made it to Italy and were there for a while before ending up in Germany. This complicated route also complicated their legal status, so although they all wanted to find work and start their new lives, they were instead relegated to temporary shelters where they need to wait for their cases to be processed. Richard stuck with them as they were moved to a different facility, and tried to help them with their cases as much as possible.

There was so much to like about this book. Richard's quiet, routine life. The way he was drawn slowly into the lives of these men just because he didn't have much to do and his curiosity was piqued. There was a point at which I was afraid he was just being nosy or a half-hearted do-gooder white person, but he really cared and he took steps to try and help, with little regard for his own comfort and convenience. He really was a decent human being who wanted other human beings to have the lives they deserved.

I loved how closely he listened to the stories the refugees told him, and how he started spending time learning everything he could about their countries and their situations. He really thought about what they were going through, and what it must be like to be in their situations. It spilled over into his private life, of course, through conversations with various friends. Some also took up the cause, while others were less empathetic.

He's not perfect. He had a lover, even while his wife was alive, and he doesn't feel bad about it. Even as he visits the refugees, he becomes attracted to the Ethiopian woman who is teaching them German, and tries to maneuver opportunities to talk to her. But his heart is in the right place, and he's a humble man who is willing to admit what he doesn't know and tries to learn as much as he can in order to be a better person.

The writing was lovely, which I always feel strange commenting on when the book has been translated because I don't know how faithful it is to the original. But much of the pleasure of this book is how it's written. Here's a passage I like:

"He walks past the vacant lot where until recently a large villa stood with bay windows, a glassed-in veranda, and carved wooden ornaments, but now there's nothing but pallid sand waiting for the new construction to begin-- there's no better way to make history disappear than to unleash money, money roaming free has a worse bite than an attack dog, it can effortlessly bite an entire building out of existence, Richard thinks."

Through it all is another small thread, in which a man drowned in the lake near Richard's house last summer and the body has not yet been recovered. Nobody will swim there, except tourists who don't know better, and Richard thinks about it now and then throughout the book. It's just a little thing in the background, but it somehow added to the overall feeling of the story. Similarly, Richard often hearkens back to the days when Berlin was divided by a wall and he lived in the East. Borders are important in this story.

This isn't a fast-paced novel by any means and there's not a lot of action. It's literary to be sure (even though I'm not certain exactly what that means.) It's quiet and introspective and rather beautiful. Of course it's also timely, with today's divisive conversations about immigration and who should be living where, and what reasons are good enough to seek asylum in another country. It hasn't garnered a lot of attention - I hadn't even heard of it until I received it as a gift - but it absolutely deserves to be widely read.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Girl is Trouble

The Girl is Trouble by Kathryn Miller Haines (2012), narrated by Rachel Botchan

I recently re-read The Girl is Murder for my Not-So-Young Adult Book Group, and it spurred me to finally listen to the follow-up. In the first book, Iris and her dad had recently moved to the Lower East Side. He was injured at Pearl Harbor and her mother committed suicide, and now Iris had to leave her private school and nice neighborhood and live with a father she barely knew in modest accommodations while attending a new public school. He's a private investigator and she started helping him on cases, which he wasn't crazy about, and specifically one case involving a missing boy from Iris's school.

But now, we're getting back to Iris's mother's death. In the last book Iris heard a rumor that her mother had been having an affair, which maybe factored into her suicide. Now it looks like maybe it wasn't suicide at all. Meanwhile at school, someone has been putting anti-Semitic notes in the lockers of Jewish students, and Iris has been asked to investigate. It's World War II after all, and there are Nazi sympathizers even in the U.S. Although Iris herself is Jewish, she had felt relatively untouched by these sentiments though she was aware of Hitler and his ideas.

Iris and her friend Pearl have a conversation in which Iris mentions suspecting someone of being behind the notes, but says she can't believe it about them but if they did it they must have a good reason. Pearl says something very insightful to her. She says that even if it's her best friend she can't excuse them for it, because that's what leads to situations like in Europe. You need to speak up when someone does something wrong even if you like the person. It doesn't matter if they're a good person otherwise. The Nazis came to power in Europe because of otherwise good people being excused for bad behavior. I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it and it was a very powerful moment in this story, and also true. It's a valuable lesson for all of us, not just Iris.

There's so much more about this I found fascinating and relevant to any time where there's a rise in hatred towards certain groups of people and society is divisive in response. It gets very morally questionable in a way that I found kind of fascinating. It could lead to some great discussions, I think!

All the while, Iris is trying to chase down the person who she thinks murdered her mother, while ascertaining how much her father knows, and trying to figure out how her uncle Adam fits in. Plus, she's pretty sure her dad is hiding something from her and lying about where he's spending his time. She's also seeing a boy named Benny, who she became interested in during the first book, despite the fact that he insists on calling her Nancy Drew. (Ugh, boys and their stupid nicknames.)

As much as I liked the first book, I think this one was even better. Everything about the anti-Semitic notes at school, and the mysteries surrounding her mother was just SO interesting when you start finding out the secrets. Although it's a sequel and I do recommend the first book, I think this one can stand on its own. They were both great on audio too!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

April/May Wrap-Up and Plans for June

Oh my gosh, I completely missed the April wrap-up! A few days into May I realized I didn't do it and at that point it felt too overwhelming to do all at once so suddenly. I usually start it in the middle of the month and work on it a bit here and there until I can finalize it at the end of the month. ANYWAY. Here's two months of my life at one time!


I read some hot new books: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. And in the not-as-popular as it should be category was the new Peter Swanson book All the Beautiful Lies. And a hot-off-the-press nonfiction book that I highly recommend, So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. This is probably why I forgot to do my monthly wrap-up - all these amazing books I was reading!

My April read for my TBR Pile Challenge was The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. It was actually an alternate, but it was what I was in the mood to read. In May, I've tackled A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

I've handed off my Not-So-Young Adult Book Group to our new librarian after the May meeting, so now I'm completely free of assigned reading for the foreseeable future. I'm sure I'll do something silly like sign up for a mid-year reading challenge or start another book group or something, but in the meantime I'm going to enjoy reading whatever I want to read in the moment (aside from my TBR Pile Challenge Books, but I did pick all of those myself.)


Notable audiobooks I listened to were The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley, which I bought on sale from Audible and then totally forgot about about for several months, and the new Alissa Nutting novel, Made For Love.

I saw Pink perform in early April, which was amazing, especially since we had crazy good seats like I've never had at this kind of show before. A couple of weeks later I went to see George Ezra. He's always fun to see perform live!

I've also been listening to the new Janelle Monae album, Dirty Computer, and will be seeing her perform in July. I never used to even listen to her and then I saw her open for Prince, and wow, she's an amazing performer. I'm very excited to see her again!


I'm watching the second season of The Handmaid's Tale, which is very good but also traumatic. Honestly, I know they've renewed for season 3 but I hope that's it because I'd like to think this situation comes to a happy end before too long.

Speaking of unhappy stories, I also watched the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events and enjoyed it a whole lot! There will be another season, I imagine, because there are 4 more books, but I don't know if it will follow the book trajectory and end there, or continue.

The only movie I've gone to see recently is Black Panther, which, if you're only going to see one movie in a stupidly long period of time, this is definitely the one to see. I don't really like superhero movies - they're so samey and cliche and sexist - but this one really knocked it out of the park. Even if you don't compare it to the low bar of superhero movies, but movies in general, it's really good!


I finished a sleeve and started another. I'm so slow! Also, sleeves are boring! At this point I definitely won't be wearing it until fall which makes it even harder to motivate myself. But I'm trying to tell myself that when I finish this I can start on some socks which a) I need, and b) will be a nice summer project to take on the bus with me.


Delicious scones!
I think I've gotten bread out of my system, at least for now. I made Whole Wheat Quinoa Bread from America's Test Kitchen's Bread Illustrated a couple of times in April and by the second time it came out quite well. I made Anadema bread, from the same cookbook, for the second time in May and it came out very well also. So now I think I can move on. Plus, it's hard to use up the fresh bread before it goes stale unless I eat it all right out of the oven, which is tempting but probably not a great idea. Oh! I also made Quick Cheese Bread from Bread Illustrated, which was pretty delicious - I've never made a savory quick bread before. I made that again in late May for a goodbye party for someone at work. So delicious and unhealthy.

All that bread baking meant that I hadn't gotten around to trying to make scones, which I had been wanting to do for a while. In May I finally did so and was very happy with the result. They were the Cream Scones from America's Test Kitchen Cooking school. I had only tried scones once before, years ago, and they didn't turn out well at all so this felt like a huge success.

Chickpea Shwarma Flatbread from
Pretty Simple Cooking
In April I hosted the Cookbook Club and Potluck at my library. We cooked from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi, and I made a simple dessert of pears poached in white wine and cardamom.

I recently checked out a cookbook called Pretty Simple Cooking, about which I was skeptical, but I tried three different recipes and they all turned out well. And they were fairly simple, as promised. I copied those recipes from the book before returning it in case I want to make those dishes again.


In early April I took some days off to go visit my aunt in CT with my niece, and we went into New York for the day, which was fun. Then my niece and I came back to MA and we saw the Pink concert. It was a great trip!

As part of my season tickets to the American Repertory Theater, I saw Jagged Little Pill which is a musical created by Diablo Cody based on the Alanis Morissette album. It wasn't quite what I expected, but it was a great show! I can't imagine how difficult it must be to come up with a story to go along with an album of songs that have already been written.

Obligatory dog photo. Action shot!
I've been running more, sometimes with the dog. She does...ok? But the problem really is when we encounter other dogs and she completely loses her shit. And when the weather is nice, ALL the dogs come out to play.

What else? I almost stopped blogging. I felt overwhelmed with keeping up with everything, and also I feel bad that I never change the look of my blog, but I HATE all the technical finagling that's involved and it's always more time-consuming than you think it will be. I didn't post anything for a couple of weeks and it felt very liberating but then I panicked because I really depend on all my blog posts to remind me about books I read and what I thought of them.

Work has been...a lot. A couple of people left so we need to hire replacements, and also I got approved for a new full-time person in my department - a position I've been trying to get back since I lost it in late 2013, so this is a huge success! But it means that I'll be spending most of my summer interviewing, and I used to love hiring people but now it's not as fun anymore. I mean, it turns out well - we've got some great people on our staff - but it's just so hard to tell from resumes and interviews what someone will be like to work with.

Plans for June

I'm throwing myself a birthday party because why not? I haven't done so in ages, and I'm turning 45 which seems kind of numerically significant. We're also going camping later in the month for the first time since we got a dog and we're taking her with us. We bought a larger tent and everything. Worst-case scenario she's horrible and won't stop barking and nobody gets any sleep so we call it quits after one night. We're not going very far away and it's only $17/night so we'd only be out $17 for the second night. It's worth trying!

How was your April and May?