Saturday, May 18, 2019

We Are All Shipwrecks

We Are All Shipwrecks by Kelly Grey Carlisle (2017)

When Kelly was three weeks old, her mother was murdered. She grew up with her grandfather and his much younger wife, sometimes staying with her grandmother and her friend Dee. Her grandfather owned a porn shop and as he got older and less able to work, his wife Marilyn assumed most of the responsibilities of running the business. At one point he bought a boat and because of the costs of fixing it up, they ended up giving up their house and living on the boat full-time. In her memoir, Kelly Grey Carlisle documents her unusual childhood and adolescence, while trying to unravel the mystery of her mother's life and death.

Her grandfather, Richard Grey, was British and insisted he was titled, calling himself Sir Richard Grey. He claimed a lot of things about his life, some of which were true. Although he took good care of Kelly, he was an angry man, what some called verbally abusive. The little he told Kelly about her mother was not necessarily true. She had mixed feelings about her grandfather and so did I by the time I finished reading.

Marilyn put up with a lot, and I was struck by her devotion to taking care of Kelly. She married Kelly's grandfather because he was stable and she very much wanted a baby. Since she didn't have children of her own, when Kelly's mother was killed, Marilyn was the person who most wanted to take care of her. She wasn't happy with some aspects of her life and I really think she would have left had it not been for Kelly.

The idea of living on a boat in the marine seems very foreign to me, but apparently it's not that unusual. For one thing, they had lots of neighbors who also lived on their boats and they made up a pretty tight-knit community. While reading this book I happened across a new book called The Tiny Mess, which documents people who cook in tiny kitchens. Their living quarters vary from tiny houses to vans to converted water towers, but I was struck by how many people live (and cook!) on boats. They're primarily in Southern California, which is also where Kelly grew up. It's a whole world that I didn't know existed.

Mostly this book was slice-of-life in that there weren't major events or catastrophes she was documenting, but just what it was like to grow up the way she did. Always in the background though were the questions about her mother and the years leading up to her murder. Kelly got conflicting stories from family about why her mother was living on her own so young, and what her relationship with her family was like. As an adult Kelly got in touch with the investigators assigned to the case and finally learned some answers to her questions. Ultimately it was a satisfying story that explores themes about family, both blood-related and not.

We Are All Shipwrecks first caught my eye because of the title - I do love a good title - but it has languished on my To Read list for quite a while. It was the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge that finally got me to pick it up. If you're interested in delving into a quirky life filled with complex people and relationships, you may also enjoy this story.

Pride

Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018), narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo

Just after finishing American Street, I downloaded Ibi Zoboi's newer book, Pride. Given how much I liked the first one, I suspected I might also like her Pride and Prejudice retelling.

Lizzy Bennet is now Zuri Benitez, who lives in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn with her older sister Janae, and younger sisters Marisol, Layla, and Kayla. It's very easy to see who's who. Their names are similar to those in the original, as are their personalities, but in an updated way. Marisol is the serious one, but her specialty is finance. Layla and Kayla are just ridiculous, boy-crazy younger sisters, much like Lydia and Kitty. Their mother is very interested in the Darcy family who just moved in across the street and encourages her daughters to pursue the brothers, Darius and Ainsley.

Although the characters are plot are similar to the classic we all know and love, Pride is very much its own story. The Benitez family has Haitian and Dominican roots, and her culture is very important to Zuri. So is her neighborhood. When the Darcys move in, she can tell right away that they don't belong. They are rich and dress like dorks and talk like white people. She's very protective of her neighborhood and way of life; in fact, she has a pretty limited worldview and isn't even interested in experiencing life outside of Bushwick. She doesn't like Darius, but keeps running into him, especially since her sister Janae is so smitten with his brother Ainsley. Of course it's inevitable that Zuri and Darius will get together eventually, but without ruining anything I'll say that the ending wasn't what I expected. Much like the classic upon which it is based, Pride is about growing up and how your family changes, and there's are some pretty big changes for her family.

The audio narrator was great! In fact, Elizabeth Acevedo is the author of The Poet X. I suspect she was chosen for this book because there's poetry in it. Zuri is a poet and even ends up reading a poem in public while visiting the campus of Howard University. I was very glad I chose to experience the audio version.

I probably got a little too distracted comparing Pride to Pride and Prejudice, but it's pretty hard to avoid if you're familiar with the Jane Austen story. Just know that even if you're not, you're still in for a good story that stands on its own.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Dolefully, a Rampart Stands

Dolefully, a Rampart Stands by Paige Ackerson-Kiely (2019)

I was drawn to this book of poetry when I read that it was set in the rural Northeast. According to the description the poems are about "isolation, captivity, and vanishing." I can't ever get past the words of poetry to find the themes so I can't really talk about what I'm supposed to get out of this collection, I can only talk about my own response.

I was struck by the language of these poems, and by the unusual form of some of them. One of the earliest poems in the book, "The Lesson," is written like a prose paragraph. I didn't expect this, nor did I expect later another poem written in the same style that extended for 20 pages, one solid paragraph on each page. It's described in reviews as having a noir style which isn't how I would have thought to describe it, but I suppose it's apt. It's called "Book About a Candle Burning In a Shed" and it's about the investigation of the murder of a young woman. The narrator maybe be a police officer, and I alternately thought he was and was not the murdered woman's ex-boyfriend. I kept getting confused on that point. Although this poem went on a bit long for me and I couldn't quite make sense of it, I really liked the narrative voice.

Other poems written in a more traditional style stood out to me because of their vivid and unexpected imagery. Here's a bit I like from "Shine":

The stars do not eat my breakfast.
A man eats my breakfast. Like the stars
he cannot take care of me very well.
But oh does he burn.

I don't know why I like that so much, but I do.

"The Rose Bush" might be my favorite. I want to quote it in full, but will just share this part:

Dieback all the way back
before you were born ugly 
in the cradle, pretty at the table.

Something about that sounds like a song, the whole poem does, and I want to keep reading it over and over. It appears fairly early in the collection and I think it was here that it all began to feel somehow familiar. When I was in high school I wrote poetry - not terrible poetry either, poetry filled with sharp images and words that just sounded satisfying when you put them together. Had I continued to write poetry, I'm convinced it would have been a lot like some of the poetry in this book. What a strange response to reading someone else's book, but there it is.

I want to just continue through the collection, quoting all my favorite passages here, but I'd be here all night re-reading the entire thing. Suffice it to say that I'm very glad I picked up this book. For a while there I was trying out various recently-published books of poetry and not really finding anything I loved so I almost cancelled my library request for this one, only changing my mind at the last minute.

I may come back to it again sometime, and I may seek out another of her books. One of them is titled My Love Is a Dead Arctic Explorer and I can't imagine anything with that title wouldn't be good.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Five Days at Memorial

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (2013)

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Memorial Medical Center was flooded and lost power. Backup generators were of limited help. Temperatures rose. The occasional rescue vehicle came and could only take a few people at a time, and staff had to make decisions about which patients should leave. As the situation became more desperate, the hospital was in survival mode. Treatments and routines halted as the focus was just on keeping people alive and hopefully getting evacuated. But poor communication and lack of disaster protocols both inside the hospital and out meant there was no clear directive and staff didn't necessarily know what was going on. It seemed as though some of the sickest patients were doomed to prolonged suffering and, ultimately, a certain death. Somewhere a decision was made to inject them with drugs that not only eased their suffering but hastened death.

It seemed like an impossible situation, one without clear leadership or a coherent plan. The hospital's parent company told staff to wait for the National Guard. But the government was also responsible for trying to rescue everyone else in New Orleans too, and didn't have the resources needed. Poor organization surrounding the rescues: helicopters, to save time and fuel, transported evacuees to just beyond the flood zone where, it was hoped, ambulances would meet them to take patients to hospitals. But those ambulances didn't materialize. Some helicopters were being turned away when they approached the hospitals helipad, but by whom? And why? There were still patients inside in poor shape who needed to leave.

All this was described in the first part of the book; the second part was devoted to the investigation and legal fallout that came later. One doctor in particular, Dr. Anna Pou, was implicated in possibly euthanizing patients and she became the focus of the investigation. She was a well-respected head and neck surgeon who was known to care deeply for her patients. Could she have possibly taken lives? Was the situation that desperate?

Fink provided a lot of context for the story and the issues. She began with a brief history of Memorial Hospital, described how some of the patients were actually patients of LifeCare, another hospital that had space in the Memorial building, a setup that didn't help communication when crisis came. She also described the medical community's code of ethics as it pertained to euthanasia, and the history of why it's not a popular idea in the professional medical world. The investigation into the events at Memorial during Katrina was also meticulously described. I didn't actually find the second part of the book quite as page-turning, but I can't deny it was all helpful relevant information that was necessary to tell this story.

It's no wonder this book won a Pulitzer. The myriad issues make it so complicated, and Fink did an excellent job of bringing in different perspectives. The result is not an argument for whether or not Dr. Pou should have been sent to prison, but a nuanced examination of the situation and surrounding issues without any clear answers. As I read, I found myself agreeing with conflicting perspectives. When doctors talked about the importance of never doing harm and how clear that directive is under all circumstances, I agreed that wrongdoing occurred. But when one of the evacuated doctors is taken to an airport and realizes that's where patients would have ended up - not at another hospital - and they would have died from lack of care, I agreed that the situation was extraordinary and the regularly rules did not apply. When family members had been forced to leave the hospital bedside of their loved ones to evacuate, only to find out later their loved ones had been injected with morphine and died, I felt the injustice along with them. And so on. When all was said and done, I think I came away feeling like people made mistakes, but they weren't heartless killers. They were doing the best they could under the circumstances and truly didn't want their patients to experience prolonged suffering only to die anyway.

There is so much to unpack and discuss in this book. I'll be thinking about it for a very long time.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Before She Knew Him

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson (2019)

Hen and Lloyd have just moved into their new house in the (fictional) town of West Dartford, Massachusetts. When they realize that their next-door neighbors are the only other couple around without kids, they decide to try and strike up a friendship. The neighbors, Matthew and Mira, invite them over for dinner. While touring the house, Hen spots a fencing trophy in Matthew's study and instantly recognizes it as having belonged to a guy who was murdered. Everyone notices her acting strange, but even though she tries to cover it up, Matthew knows she's onto him.

But Hen has her own history with the law, and one that doesn't make her any kind of a reliable witness. It doesn't help that the only reason she recognized the trophy as the one stolen from Dustin Miller is that during a manic episode (she has bipolar disorder) she had become obsessed with his case. So of course Matthew gets rid of the trophy and Hen can't convince anyone, including her husband Lloyd, that Matthew is a murderer.

We know by about page 12 that Matthew is a murderer, so this is no traditional crime novel. But Peter Swanson's never are. The real mystery is what Hen is going to do with the information she has, and what Matthew is going to do about the fact that she knows he's a murderer. This is all very psychological, which is exactly what I like in a crime novel.

Matthew is so interesting. His early life was completely screwed up and he is very influenced by his sadistic father. His father was horribly abusive to Matthew's mother, and the result is that Matthew only wants to kill men who harm women. It's hard to argue with that, I guess, but it's a pretty harsh sentence when the harm is defined as things like cheating on a girlfriend. Matthew's brother Richard was also influenced by their parents but in a different way. The less said about that the better.

Hen was the perfect person to have dirt on Matthew, as far as the plot goes. Because of her mental illness and how that manifested in paranoia previously, she cannot convince anyone that what she observes is true. She can see Matthew murder a person in front of her and there is still doubt about her as an eyewitness. Matthew is a beloved teacher; Hen is a mentally ill woman who suffers delusions. Who is going to be believed?

If I had to criticize anything at all about this book, it's just that I wanted more from Mira. We get her perspective at one point, a point at which she is becoming suspicious about her husband, but I would have loved more from her later. I just found the whole situation so fascinating and screwed up and there was more I wanted to know about. But if my worst criticism of a book is that I want more of it, that's the sign of a pretty good book.

If you like crime novels and haven't read Peter Swanson yet, get to it! I'm very much looking forward to seeing him in person at a conference I just signed up for. He'll be on a panel with a couple of other Massachusetts mystery/thriller authors and I can't wait hear what he has to say!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Paradox Bound

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines (2017)

In the town of Sanders, Maine an eight-year-old boy named Eli has an encounter with a mysterious woman wearing a tricorn hat and driving an old Ford Model A. He sees her again when he's 13. But when he next meets her as an adult, it's followed later by a visit from a faceless man. He asks Eli about the woman, forcing him to give answers about where she was headed, so Eli decides to head to Boston to warn her. He soon learns that the woman, Harry, is a searcher traveling throughout history looking for a literal incarnation of the American dream and that the dangerous faceless men are after her. Eli ends up hopping aboard the Model A with Harry and joining the dangerous search.

Honestly, it's so hard to describe this book because it sounds kind of ridiculous, but believe me when I say it's worth reading. I've been a fan of Peter Clines since I read 14 and he hasn't disappointed me yet. I don't actually want to go into too much detail because half the fun is figuring out what the hell it's all about as you go along. And I wasn't super clear on a lot of it, to be honest. I didn't understand what form the dream took - was it an actual object? And Harry was very particular in saying that she traveled through history, not through time, and correct Eli if he referenced time travel. I'm not sure of the difference. But none of this really matters, and it didn't make the story confusing for me.

Sanders was sort of a sleepy little town that hadn't completely caught up with the modern day, and Eli had lived there all his life so far. I think he was 29 when he leaves to travel with Harry. He always wanted to get out of his town but never quite got motivated. His childhood bully, Zeke, grew up to be a cop which can't have made things easier. He also had a relationship go South recently, so his life situation was pretty perfect for a grand adventure. As much as Eli was sort of obsessed with Harry, it wasn't a romantic thing, for which I am grateful. But they were a great duo as they traveled through history searching for the dream, encountering some famous actual people from history, and evading the creepy faceless men.

This is a page-turning adventure that moves quickly, but not so quickly that there's not good character development. It's very well thought out and well-crafted, which is exactly what I've come to expect from Peter Clines. The fact that a town in Maine features so prominently led me to look him up and discover that he is, in fact, originally from Maine. Turns out he has worked as a props master on Veronica Mars, which I am currently rewatching and somewhat obsessed with. Worlds collide.

Paradox Bound is on my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, which I am almost ashamed to admit since he's an author I always read now so I don't know why it took me so long to get to this one. It was fun and entertaining and unexpected and strange. I've never read a story quite like it. I think I've said that about his other books too. As always, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what he writes next.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

April Wrap-Up and Plans for May


Reading and Listening


I finished 8 books this month, which is pretty typical. It was a good reading month! I read three very different nonfiction books that were all quite good: I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening), which is all about having productive political conversations with people who may have different perspectives; Mayflower, the history of the first Europeans who came to New England and their relationship with the native people; and An Everlasting Meal, which is about food and cooking.

Both audiobooks I listened to were great: The Upside of Unrequited and American Street. Really, everything I read and listened to this month was quite good!

I managed to get to one book from my TBR Pile Challenge at the very end of the month, Paradox Bound by Peter Clines, which I'll be posting about soon.

Watching

 

Ridiculous dog photo of the month
 I watched the first season of The Great British Baking Show without Mary Berry or Mel and Sue. In many ways it wasn't the same, but the bakers were great and the new people can't help that they aren't the old people. Plus, baking!

I'm also re-watching Veronica Mars in anticipation of the reboot that's coming in July. I've watched season 1 and am now on season 2. It's so funny to watch a show I've seen before that I remember bits and pieces of, but there were a lot of things I had totally forgotten. Such a great show!

Earlier this month I made a visit to an actual movie theater to see Jordan Peele's Us. I was afraid it would be super creepy and freak me out, but although it had some creepy moments I found it more thought-provoking than scary. It's the sort of movie that as soon as I finished it I immediately wanted to go back and watch it again knowing what I know now.

Cooking

 

Nice-looking loaf of bread. Tasty, too!
I think the only new things I tried were Chile and Bell Pepper Quesadillas from Moosewood Cooks at Home and Sloppy Joes from the Pioneer Woman both of which were pretty easy and tasty. I also finally tried a no-knead bread, or I guess it's technically Almost No-Knead Bread, as the recipe in Bread Illustrated is called, since there's like a minute of kneading. It came out quite well! Otherwise I cooked and baked things I've made before.

Work lunches are always a struggle and I've made grain bowls a couple of weeks recently. I used this recipe once, I think back in March, but then another week I decided to just make up my own since it's all components. I roasted some broccolini and carrots, cooked arborio rice and mixed it with pesto, added sauerkraut leftover from the previous bowls, and topped it all with chopped radishes and hard-boiled eggs. It was pretty good. I like the idea of just cooking components and throwing them all together. I look at a lot of grain bowl recipes but usually there are things I like and don't like about them, so I may start just mixing and matching components and sauces and whatnot. One thing that frustrates me about these recipes is that they often top them with avocado, even the ones suggested to take for lunches on the go. It's like they don't realize that avocados will brown. I love avocados and would love to have them in my lunch, but it's not realistic. Anyhow, we're also getting into main dish grain/pasta salad season so I look forward to finding some new options to eat outside in the park during my lunch while reading. I can't wait for those days!

I also got together with a friend to do some cooking and we made a stir-fry. I learned from this experience that the best way to stir-fry is to cook each ingredient separately and then combine them at the end. In the past, I've followed recipes that try to time it so that you put in the longest-cooking things first and then add the others gradually so that they'll all be done the right amount at the end, but it never quite works out. I think that's because you can't necessarily anticipate how long something will take and it's very easy to overcook ingredients. So now I may try stir-frying again because I really like eating stir-fries and now I feel like I have a handle on how to do a better job of it.

Doing

 

I did finish physical therapy, not because my shoulder is 100% healed but because I reached the point where my insurance cut me off. Yay, America. I'm glad it's over though. They were lovely at the physical therapy place, but it was hard. It was a lot of exercise, and also I had to use part of my lunch break twice a week, so I'm glad to have that off my schedule. I have some exercises to do at home, though I haven't been great about actually doing them.

First al fresco dining of the year, at Twyrl in Arlington
With physical therapy over, I've begin doing other exercise again. I've gone to Zumba a few times and I've been running once or twice a week, though it's been hard with all the rain we've been having. (I don't run in the rain. Or snow. Or ice.) But when I've run it's been for 2 miles or a little more, which is pleasantly surprising.

I also finally bit the bullet and ordered a new laptop, since mine has had multiple horizontal lines running across the screen for a couple of months now since I dropped it. I couldn't bear to pony up for another Macbook so I ordered a cheap laptop that was recommended in an article. Honestly I didn't do a ton of research because computers are boring, but I also didn't spend a ton so it doesn't feel very risky.

I've made pretty good progress on the sweater I began knitting. I actually screwed up near the very beginning and didn't realize it until a few inches later, but I ripped back and re-knit it correctly because I knew it would drive me nuts if I left it, even though it probably wouldn't be noticeable to most people.

Plans for May

 

Now that I'm out of the bleak winter I feel like I need to reassess and refocus on goals for this year. Right now I don't remember what any of those goals even were.

I'm attending the Massachusetts Library Association conference later this month, which I'm looking forward to. I also have a new person starting at work who I have to train and get up to speed, so I think it's going to be a busy month!

I booked a camping trip at the very end of the month that I'm excited about because we're actually getting a camp site that requires a half mile hike to get to, which means we won't have lots of people and dogs and radios on top of us. I'm just hoping the weather holds! It feels like we got a year's worth of rain in April so hopefully we'll have nice weather for May.

How was your April?


Sunday, April 28, 2019

American Street

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (2017), narrated by Robin Miles

Fabiola and her mother leave Haiti to come to the United States, but her mother is detained at the border, leaving Fabiola to go on alone with her cousins to her aunt's house. Her new life at the intersection of American Street and Joy Road is not off the start that she expected, but Fabiola does her best to fit in while hoping her mother can eventually join her. Her cousins- Chantal, Donna, and Pri- are tough and notorious, known as the Three B's (brains, beauty, and brawn.) Donna's boyfriend Dray is a drug dealer who beats her, and Fabiola's fiercely protective feelings for her cousin draw her into a plan that is dangerous for everyone.

I thought this was going to be a book about a new immigrant trying to fit in, but it's so much more. The fact that her cousins are wrapped up in the stuff they're wrapped up in makes it much more complicated. And her Aunt Jo is not in great health so she isn't as strong of a parent as she could otherwise be; she had really been counting on Fabiola's mother to be there. Plus Fabiola ends up with a romance with Kasim, who is a good friend of Dray's who Fabiola isn't crazy about being around. And there's a mysterious guy on their street who everyone calls Bad Leg but who Fabiola is convinced is Papa Legba, a voodoo spirit, and begins listening intently to his songs which she thinks may provide direction for her.

These kids may be streetwise, but they are still teenagers and I was very worried about them. Especially Fabiola, who was SO desperate to get her mother out of lockup that she would do anything to help her. I could totally see where she was coming from, but at certain points in the story I wanted to warn her against the things she was doing, or considering doing. Fabiola was loyal almost to a fault. There were times that I wanted her to slap Donna and insist she break off her abusive relationship, but instead, Fabiola would comfort and support her. Even though she was new in Detroit, she was confident enough to stand up for her family and new friends. For instance, Dray showed an interest in Fabiola's friend Imani and Donna was terrible to Imani but Fabiola defended Imani even though she was also loyal to her cousin because she knew Donna was in the wrong.

I was struck by the way these girls were so jealous and fought over men. Like, why not just insist the guys make a choice, or at least ask them which girl they were interested in? But I've never understood the way people will fight over a romantic partner as though they're an object without a will of their own. Is the assumption that the person likes both potential partners equally and they need to fight it out? It doesn't make sense to me. And it's not the other person's fault, it's the two-timing jerk's fault, so they're the one you should be fighting with. Anyway, I digress.

That was a criticism of human nature, not of the book. I honestly have no criticisms of this book. I listened to the audio version, which Robin Miles expertly narrated. Although her name sounded familiar to me I can't identify anything of hers I've listened to, but it does appear that she narrates some other pretty great books, notably the Broken Earth and Binti series. If you were considering listening to either of those, let that be your deciding factor.

American Street was a contender for our community read this year, and I can see why it was nominated. It's a different story than I've encountered in teen lit before and I thought it was great! Ibi Zoboi has also written a Pride and Prejudice retelling and I just checked to see if it was also narrated by Robin Miles, but to my surprise the narrator is none other than the author Elizabeth Acevedo. This is definitely going on my list of audiobooks to listen to sometime soon!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

An Everlasting Meal

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler (2011)

So I don't remember where or how I heard about this book, but I somehow got the impression that it would teach me how to cook without a recipe. In reality, it was more like a series of essays in which Tamar Adler talks about everything she cooks and eats, telling us how and why she does what she does. It's very much about intuitive cooking, but doesn't really tell you how to gain that skill yourself (possibly because you either have it or don't?) She does give instructions, and even recipes, but it's pretty loosey-goosey. I came away with the feeling that any cooking instructions at all are just suggestions and you can always take them with a grain of salt and change them to suit your needs and tastes, which is pretty reassuring.

It also emphasizes using up every single part of every food. She's constantly talking about throwing ends of onions in a bowl for stock or pouring fat into a jar for cooking later. I imagine this is incredibly useful if you're very frugal yet very organized (so as to keep track of all these odds and ends) or if you're living through some sort of apocalyptic event.

The whole experience was rather aspirational for me, as I did like to imagine that I'm the kind of person who can just throw bits of this and that together and have a delicious meal, or who will squirrel away bits of bone and fat and vegetable scraps and then - and this is key - remember that I have them and also where I put them.

In reality, I think maybe it did give me a few ideas about ways to use bits of leftovers; primarily, smashing them up and putting them on toast. There were also a couple of practical ideas I might employ: buying lots of vegetables and just roasting them all at the beginning of the week rather than waiting to cook them later when I magically have good ideas about how to use them; and using leftover parsley by making parsley oil, which she insists makes everything taste better:

"To make dark green, lovely parsley oil, chop the leaves off a bunch of parsley, smash a clove of garlic to a paste with a little salt, and douse both in olive oil. Combine herb and oil here with volition. It is not damp herb you want, but a lusty, deep, spoonable sauce that assures sliced tomatoes get eaten deliberately, with eager hands spooning garlicky green sauce onto each."

Sounds tempting, doesn't it? I also liked her idea that you can put pretty much any leftovers onto some rice, top it with a fried egg, and call it a rice bowl.

Early in the book she makes some crazy statements that I'm glad I soldiered past. She says that avocado should never be put in an omelet because it tastes "flabby," which isn't even a thing. Plus as far as I'm concerned, avocado is welcome everywhere. She also insists that frittatas are intended to be made ahead and "cooled for hours or days because they are better that way" and that "No one has ever eaten a frittata hot and not been scolded for it." Obviously a bold lie as I've eaten, and served, many a hot frittata and not once been scolded. They're fine leftover the following days, but not better.

Her small number of controversial statements are tempered by her more welcome opinions, like what a shame it is that we've decided bread is bad for us. She insists that it is not and she's preaching to the choir here because I could not agree more that the recent vilification of bread is a travesty. I also think it's important to mention that she is honest about how long it takes to caramelize onions, which elevates my opinion of any food writer.

The thing about this whole idea of using bits of leftovers together to make new things is that they do have to go together. Sometimes my leftovers are already sauced or spiced in ways that would not be delicious together. It seems like she maybe eats a lot of the same kinds of things: variations on bread, rice, beans, roasted vegetables, drizzled with oil and a grating of parmesan, topped with a fried egg. Adler was also rather inconsistent in that she goes back and forth between "anything goes" and strong statements beginning with "you must" and "you shouldn't." But like with any book of advice, I feel like you should just take what works for you and leave the rest.

Much of the pleasure of this book is in the writing itself, which is often dramatic and grandiose and full of unexpected, and often clever, turns of phrase. Some readers find it a bit twee, and I suppose it veers in that direction sometimes but I like a surprising metaphor and her descriptions made me want to eat almost everything she was telling me about. It was a very sensory experience. When I finished it was very jarring to see on the back cover flap that she lives in Brooklyn, as I had pictured her rattling around a big old farmhouse in a slow-paced little town somewhere. I guess it's reassuring to know that one can have this attitude and philosophy towards food even in a city.

When I started this book I was honestly not sold on it and wasn't sure if I'd finish, but ultimately I was captivated by her obvious deep love of food and the lush, almost magical, way she writes about it. I don't know how much, if at all, this book will influence the way I cook and eat, but it's a book I can see myself coming back to in the future.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

My Sister, the Serial Killer

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

The story begins when Korede receives a phone call from her sister, who has just murdered her boyfriend. She needs Korede's help to clean things up. This is the third time. Korede knows that it is wrong but Ayoola is her sister and it's her job to protect her. Plus, at this point she's already an accessory because the first time it happened she believed Ayoola that it was self-defense, and now she's just in too deep. So she helps Ayoola dispose of the body and clean up the guy's apartment once again.

However, Ayoola is now setting her sights on Tade, a doctor with whom Korede works. Korede is in love with Tade, but her beauty is no match for Ayoola's and now Korede is afraid Tade will end up dead as well. The only person Korede can talk to is a coma patient whose family doesn't visit often. He's been there for months and his family no longer visits often, but Korede sits and talks to him because he can't talk back and will likely never wake up.

This is a super short book and I read it in two evenings. It's only a little over 200 pages and they are small pages. It goes quickly but there is a lot here. It's really an understatement to say that Korede's and Ayoola's relationship is complicated and a little unhealthy. Ayoola is the beautiful one who can get away with anything (literally!) because everyone around her is blinded by her beauty. Korede is the dependable one, often overlooked, but she is a nurse and is always the one who takes care of everyone. They also have the shared experience of growing up with their father, which is a story in itself that we get piece by piece throughout the story. He was not a nice man and he is dead now, but it is his knife that Ayoola uses on her victims.

The status of women in Nigeria is undoubtedly more complicated than I know, but it's definitely not ideal. Korede and Ayoola's father would beat them, and he once brought a mistress home and paraded her in front of his wife. I don't think these things are necessarily super unusual, and they definitely provide an interesting context for a story about a woman murdering men.

There's a lot to talk about and think about here, so if you're looking for an especially unusual book group pick, I think this would be a stellar choice. I haven't read anything quite like this surprising debut novel, and I will be eagerly awaiting Braithwaite's next book.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

One in a Million

One in a Million by Lindsey Kelk (2018)

Annie co-owns a social media company with her friend Miranda, and they are having a tough time making ends meet. When a guy from another office in their building challenges them to a bet, Annie can't pass it up. She agrees that she can take whoever next walks through the door and get them 20k Instagram followers in thirty days. If she does, she gets a month of free rent on her office, which they desperately need. Enter Dr. Samuel Page. A scruffy historian who has just been kicked out of his girlfriend's house and is now sleeping in his office, Sam is not at all interested in social media. But he is interested in selling the dry historical tome he has just published so he agrees to participate in the bet.

It's no mystery that Annie and Sam will have a romance - because this is a romance novel - but how they will get there is all the fun. She loves social media; he hates it. He just wants to be left alone; she wants to make him famous. Oh, and how she really got him to agree to the social media campaign? Promise to put him through a boyfriend bootcamp so he can win his ex-girlfriend back. What could possibly go wrong?

Because of the focus on social media culture, this is sure to be dated in no time, but right now it's an awful lot of fun. It's a little dramatic, maybe not entirely believable, but it's funny and entertaining and exactly the perfect book to have around while I was reading Mayflower for those times I needed to read something a little lighter.

Annie was a hard worker and good at her job I loved the focus on a small business run by two women who were kicking ass. Ok, so the social media campaign she started for Sam, calling him the Hip Historian, didn't make a ton of sense to me. Late in the book when she finally had a brilliant idea about what to do to finally get him a ton of followers, I couldn't figure out why that wasn't the first idea she had because to me it seemed obvious. But that was my only criticism. A lot of romances also tell the story from the hero's point of view and here it was all Annie, but I think that worked.

It was also very funny. For instance, Annie snagged a copy of Sam's book to use to research him and his interests and when Miranda starts reading it out loud and it immediately becomes obvious that it's dry and impenetrable, Annie suggests, "Maybe it's a horcrux." It was just filled with pop culture references and clever quips.

As you're thinking about nice weather and beach reading, you might want to consider bringing this book along with you. If you're looking for something light and fun and entertaining, this could easily fit the bill.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Mayflower

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (2006)

I've mentioned before how spotty my U.S. history is and how I don't remember anything I "learned" from the dry textbooks I was given in school growing up. It was just a recitation of facts and I don't think any of them actually stuck with me - I just remember trying to memorize key names, dates, and phrases to pass tests. Well, I was finally inspired to get a fuller picture of the beginnings of our nation with this book by Nathanial Philbrick. He's popular so I thought it might be readable enough for me. It begins with the first pilgrims leaving England, going to the Netherlands (we weren't taught about that part in school,) and then traveling aboard the Mayflower to the new world. They found a spot where nobody was living, made friends with the native people nearby and tried to integrate in a peaceful way, and then 50 years later the Puritans really screwed things up and then came King Phillip's War, which changed the whole dynamic until it became English vs. Indians, and you know who lost that war.

I really liked the nuance here, which is lost from pretty much all discussions about this time period I've ever been a part of. As a kid it was all happy pilgrims coming to a new land and everything was fine! Then as an adult everyone was like "Everything you learned was wrong! All the Europeans just came and murdered everyone in cold blood!" Of course the truth is somewhere in between. Those first to arrive acknowledged that there were others here first and that they had rights. They reached out to the indigenous people and befriended them and learned from them. They had to depend on them to survive and they appreciated that, but their descendants and the Puritans who came later hadn't had those same experiences and they just wanted the Indians out of there so they could have all the land. I think this book was the first time I knew the difference between Pilgrims and Puritans, and it was definitely the first time I got such a complete story about the first white settlers in New England.

However it was still a nonfiction book about history, so I got bogged down in certain parts. When the war really started up and there was a lot of descriptions about military maneuvers and transactions and other things that are more difficult to picture I struggled a bit. Plus there were a lot of names and tribes, and it was hard to keep straight who was who. Another thing I never learned as a kid was that the different tribes had different alliances, so initially the war wasn't just between the English and the Indians, but some of the English made it into a racial thing rather than about the original issues, which was pretty interesting. But I know my difficulty understanding some of that is just the way I read and understand what I'm reading. In fiction they say you need to show rather than tell, and in nonfiction there is just naturally more telling. Sometimes they don't have enough detail to flesh it out the way fiction does, and sometimes an event just needs to be summed up so as not to take up an extra 100 pages. It just makes it hard for me to visualize what's happening or integrate it into the story I'm reading. This isn't a criticism of the book at all, just an acknowledgement of my own shortcomings in being able to take in nonfiction, particularly about history.

All in all, I'm very glad I read this book. I learned a lot from it and I'm sure I'll forget most of it very soon as I am wont to do, but that's probably just more reason to make a habit of reading nonfiction. This is sort of timely as next year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, but of course any time is a good time to learn more about history.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (2017), narrated by Arielle DeLisle

Molly Peskin-Suso has had twenty-six crushes but so far has never even been kissed once. She's self-conscious about her weight and afraid of rejection. Now, her twin sister Cassie has a girlfriend and Molly feels even more alone. This new girlfriend, Mina, has a good friend Molly starts thinking of as "hipster Will" and he is super cute and kind of flirtatious. Cassie and Mina are clearly trying to get Molly and Will together, but Molly is unsure, especially after she starts working with Reid, a Tolkien fan and Ren Faire enthusiast who seems not at all her type, and yet.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has declared same-sex marriage legal, which means that Molly and Cassie's parents can finally get married. Molly immediately gets to work creating centerpieces and other decorations, as this girl was basically born for Pinterest. As the wedding date draws near, tensions run high in the family and Molly fears Cassie's new relationship will mean the two sisters won't ever be as close as they once were.

If the second part of Molly and Cassie's last name sounds familiar, that's because you met their cousin, Abby Suso, in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Abby appears here too, as Molly often turns to her for advice. (Molly even meets Simon himself at one point via Skype.) One thing I really liked about this book was that the family relationships were at least as important as the romantic ones. I loved that Molly's cousin is her best friend, that her relationship with his sister is so incredibly important to her, and that her moms are involved in their daughters' lives in such a caring way. They know everything that's going on with Molly and Cassie and talk to them about it. This means their relationships, but also sneaking around and drinking alcohol. They're very clear about their expectations, but never portrayed as villains. They just care a lot about Molly and Cassie and want them to make good choices.

The romances were great too! As Cassie and Mina fell immediately into an intense relationship, we see it from Molly's point of view. She feels left out when Cassie doesn't tell her everything about her budding romance with Mina, but she also feels left out because it feels like everyone around her has had a relationship except for her. Now she has two boys who seems to be interested in her, Hipster Will and Middle Earth Reid. She coaches herself to get out there and take risks, and her awkward fumbling in dealing with these boys was pretty realistic. I know that poor communication can be an annoying trope, but here it rang true and watch some of her conversations go the way they did was a bit painful but absolutely genuine.

The narration by Arielle DeLisle was decent, though I though she made some of the voices a bit annoying, like Abby's high-pitched squeak. Although I maybe didn't like this one as much as the other two Albertalli books I've read, it was still pretty solid and I'll probably continue to read (or listen to) anything this author writes.

Friday, April 5, 2019

I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening)

I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers (2019)


As everyone who has talked to me in the last couple of months knows, I've been listening to a podcast called Pantsuit Politics, hosted by two women from different sides of the aisle. Sarah is a Democrat and Beth is a Republican, and their tagline is "No shouting. No insults. Plenty of nuance." In their new book, they try to teach the rest of us how to put partisanship aside and have difficult political conversations with people with whom we disagree.

They are both women of faith and as such they talk a lot about grace. This is not a religious book, so please don't be deterred if you're the sort of person who is deterred by that. There's an occasional Bible quote, but these women are what I tend to think of as "the good kind" of Christian, which is sort of horrible of me. But what I mean is that they espouse the values I was always taught in church as a child (charity, forgiveness, etc.) rather than the hatred and judgment we all too often see from so-called Christians these days.

Although Beth and Sarah are willing to, and even embrace, differing viewpoints, they have some baselines. For instance, they don't consider racism or homophobia to be acceptable because they feel strongly that all humans are deserving of respect and love so they will not entertain those views or give them airtime. They do not embrace the "all sides" rhetoric or condone news shows that insist on giving equal airtime to all viewpoints when clearly some viewpoints are more valid than others. These are very smart women who value education, ethics, and honesty and strive to rise above partisanship and I think they do it very well.

The first few chapters of the book are collectively called "Start with you" and they introduce us to some foundational principles to make sure we're bringing our best selves to our political conversations. They acknowledge that many of us are discouraged from talking politics, especially with people we disagree with, but they think this is dangerous because it reinforces isolation and echo chambers. They encourage us to "take off your jersey," a reference to how we talk about politics like sports, in which the only important thing is that our team wins. In "Find Your Why" they ask us to look at our values, which is a more productive focus than the nitty-gritty of particular pieces of legislation and allow us to have relatable conversations with other people who want the same basic things even if we disagree about how to get there. "Put Politics in Its Place" is a reminder to keep things in perspective and think about other ways outside of politics that we can have a positive impact.

Part two is "Turn Your Eyes Outward," which is where they give more specific advice about interacting with other humans in political conversations once we've worked on ourselves. They talk about grace, which is basically giving people the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming that everyone is nefarious. They encourage us to be curious, about each other and about issues: ask questions rather than assuming that a person who believes one thing also holds a whole set of beliefs that you think go together, and learn as much as you can about issues from nonpartisan sources. They talk about embracing paradoxes and the value of being uncomfortable, how to exit the echo chamber, and of course, offer advice on keeping it nuanced. They acknowledge the complexity of issues and relationships and warn against oversimplification and taking sides.

I could honestly talk about this book for ages. It makes wish my book group was still together so we could talk about this because I think there's a lot here that we would all do better to think about and consider. I know my friends and I are just as guilty of a lot of these things as anyone, and we could all do better to make fewer assumptions about each other and stop acting like we're all going to die if such-and-such person gets elected or some horrid piece of legislation enacted. Yes, there are bad things and there always have been, but there are more productive ways to deal with them than to become more and more partisan and divisive. That is what's been happening and it's not benefiting anyone right now.

I found so many passages I wanted to save and quote, but if I try to do that here I'll basically be re-writing the book. But I put a bunch of them into a Google doc that you can access here if you'd like to read some samples. I do encourage you to read this whole book though. I promise you it's short and easy to read. I struggle with nonfiction - especially nonfiction that's not telling a story - and I had no problem with this one. It was enjoyable and gave me a lot to think about. I'm adding it to my very short list of books that I think everyone should read.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A couple of short books

Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak (2018)

Girl Town is a collection of five stories in graphic format. The cover illustration is of Betsy from the first story, "Girl Town." It's about three young woman who live next door to three other woman who they find kind of terrifying but also compelling. In "Radishes," a girl convinces her friend to skip school and go to a very strange market where they sample some produce that has surprising effects. "Diana's Electric Tongue" is about a woman who buys herself a robot boyfriend. "The Big Burning House" is about a cult movie that has been lost and nobody can quite remember all the details, and two women who have a podcast about it have suddenly obtained a copy of it that will answer all their questions. In "Please Sleep Over" a young woman invites her friend to stay at a house that apparently belongs to her parents and honestly I am not quite sure what is going on. The two women arrive wearing some sort of medals around their necks that aren't ever explained, a stranger comes into the house talking like she knows them, and the ending doesn't make sense to me.

Anyhow, my favorite was "Diana's Electric Tongue" although I really liked "Radishes" quite a lot too. I could see myself going back to read those again.


Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath (2019)

Speaking of stories where I don't really know what was going on, this never-before-published short story by Sylvia Plath was pretty weird. She submitted it to a magazine when she was in college and it was rejected, and it was just published for the first time in a standalone volume. This seems to be a thing now - publishing a short story all by itself - and I'm not sure what I think of it. At any rate, I wasn't about to pass up something by Sylvia Plath.

In this story, Mary reluctantly leaves her parents on a train where she is going to a place called The Ninth Kingdom. What is the Ninth Kingdom and why is she going there? Who the hell knows. Well, one lady knows, I think, and she's sitting next to Mary on the train. She's friendly and knows more than she's really letting on, but she won't actually tell Mary (or us) anything. I don't know if Mary's parents sent her away or if she's ever expected to come back or what explanation she has for her journey. Her parents make a reference to "time to leave home" so it doesn't sound ominous. But the woman on the train makes the trip often and seems to have some sort of business interest in it. When Mary talks about how luxurious the trip is, the woman says you pay for it in the end. "The train company has more than a pure friendly interest in the passengers." And then they came to a stop and a woman whose ticket was for that stop had to be forced off, which implies that the passengers don't like where they're going.

I think the whole thing might be an allegory about becoming an adult and choosing your path in life. The woman on the train says the passengers bought their tickets and chose their destinations and they can't now decide to get off elsewhere. Mary is destined for the final stop, and the older woman describes the Ninth Kingdom as "the kingdom of negation, of the frozen will." But there is one way that Mary can escape her fate, which makes it all a little bit less ominous. I read the story twice, and although it still doesn't 100% make sense to me, I feel pretty confident about my interpretation.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

March Wrap-Up and Plans For April


Oh spring, it feels like you might finally be arriving!

Reading and Listening


This month I finished two books for my TBR Pile Challenge, Prairie Fires and Pachinko.

Handsome gent I got to meet
I also finished three sequels, which I didn't realize until browsing through my Goodreads just now. They were Leah on the Offbeat, The Everlasting Rose, and Puddin'. All teen books, and all excellent! I read The Everlasting Rose in print, but listened to the audio of the other two. I'm trying not to blow through my year's worth of Audible credits too quickly, so I took a look at what was available through my library via Libby, and now I'm listening to The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli.

I'm still really into the Pantsuit Politics podcast, though I'm hardly listening to any others at this point. I don't know if it's because I'm listening to so many audiobooks or if I'm listening to all these audiobooks because I'm not listening to so many podcasts. I've also started reading the book by the hosts of Pantsuit Politics, which is called I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening) and it's all about having difficult political conversations with people who identify with a different party or ideology. It's really excellent, and that's saying a lot from someone who usually can't read nonfiction that isn't telling a story. By the way, most libraries have classified this book in the religion section, but it's not a book about religion so don't be deterred by that if you even happen to notice. Both of these women are of the Christian faith and so it comes up on occasion but not in an annoying way.

Watching


I finished watching One Day At a Time which was so good, but unfortunately isn't going to be renewed for another season. It's a shame because it's so smart and funny and I love all the characters. It tackles a lot of social issues, but not in a preachy or over-educational way.

I also watched Shrill, which was great! It was based on Lindy West's book of the same title, which was excellent and which I highly recommend. I hope this show will continue.

Cooking

Coffee and cardamom cake

I did so much baking this month! We're cooking from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi for April's Cookbook Club and I've tried out three recipes so far. First was the Coffee and Cardamom Pound Cake, which I'll be making again for the meeting. It was amazing and I can't stop thinking about how delicious it was. I was surprised because I'm not usually into coffee-flavored things that aren't actually coffee. I also made Tessa's Spice Cake and White Chocolate Cheesecake with Cranberry Compote, which were also quite good. Those ones both just seemed a bit more work than was worth it, though I'd make the cheesecake again with a different base. The crust was a combination of graham cracker and almonds (which, inexplicably, you buy raw and then roast. WHY.) but I'd really prefer just a regular graham cracker crust. The compote was also a pain, but I bet there's an easy alternative to that.

And I promised to bring dessert to a friend's house one evening and took that opportunity to bake two kinds of cookies from Smitten Kitchen Every Day, some strawberry meringues and coconut meltaways. They were pretty delicious. I also made some food that wasn't dessert, I guess. Oat bread and a couple of different pasta dishes. Honestly, the desserts were really the exciting parts of this month. For a couple of weeks there I didn't cook very much, but we had leftover stuff in the freezer that needed to be used up so that worked out ok.

One of my goals this year was to come up with a good list of things to make for dinner on weeknights so I really want to get going on that. It's got to encompass things for all seasons though, so it's more of a challenge. It seems like most of the quick things I know of are either tacos or pasta and I don't want to be eating those same things all the time or I'll get tired of them. Apparently Jamie Oliver has a new cookbook of 5-ingredient recipes and many of those are pretty quick so I'll be checking that out sometime soon.

Doing


We got our tax stuff submitted on time this year, which honestly feels like a huge win right now. Seriously, this winter has been so bleak - despite not having very much snow - that getting anything at all accomplished felt insurmountable.

This month I also started running again by which I mean that I went running twice, and late in the month, but that's something.

Unfortunately I am still in physical therapy and will be into April. But only about two weeks of April because after that my insurance cuts me off. Also unfortunate is that my physical therapist has introduced planks to my sessions. (Are you trying to kill me, Francesca?)

I finished the shawl I was knitting! And impulsively ordered yarn for a very ambitious sweater which I've already swatched for and started. It's an Alice Starmore sweater and I ordered the exact yarn (from her line) that was used in the photo in the book. In the same colorway. What can I say? I like how that sweater looks.

Oh and I went to a catwarming, which is exactly what it sounds like and you should be jealous. Why aren't catwarmings a thing? I hope this is the beginning of a trend. Also, I miss having a cat.

Plans for April


Someone at work just left to start a new job in April so I'm hiring again, but this is an intern position for a library school student so that's just the nature of it. Still, it means being short-staffed for a bit and then training a new person, which is always a decent amount of work.

We're doing another knit-along, though it's for this headband thingy which will be a much quicker project than the last one, and easily made with yarn from my stash.

I'm hoping to start running more regularly again and maybe also going to Zumba class more. I want to plan a camping trip for the end of May/beginning of June too. It's nice to finally be able to start planning warm-weather activities!

How was your March?

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Puddin'

Puddin' (Dumplin' #2) by Julie Murphy (2018), narrated by Erin Mallon and Kyla Garcia

If you've read Dumplin' or watched the excellent movie version you'll remember Millie Michalchuk, inspired by her friend Willowdean to enter the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant and surprising many by winning second place. Millie has gone to fat camp every summer, but this year she is determined instead to follow her dreams by attending broadcast journalism camp at the University of Texas. She is also determined to turn her friendship with Malik into a romance. Meanwhile, dance team member Callie Reyes is hoping to compete at nationals and finally become team captain. But when a vindictive prank goes wrong, she finds herself in a lot of trouble and she loses everything she thought was important in her life. The story alternates between these two characters who form an unlikely friendship.

I loved Millie. She is into crafting and inspirational quotes and organizing. I'm sure she has a killer bullet journal. She is learning to speak up for herself and it's heartwarming and satisfying to see her flourish. Which is not to say that anything comes easy, but that I know she's up for the challenge. Millie's mother is very strict and determined that Millie will attend Daisy Ranch again this summer and this will finally be the year she loses the weight. Never mind that she's been torturing herself with diets for years without any noticeable change. Millie is just done with all that - with this goal that feels meaningless, the constant diet cycle, with feeling like she's not good enough because she's fat. She has more important things to do. Oh, and I loved her flirty relationship with Malik, an awkward boy who is super-friendly with Millie when they chat online every evening, sometimes all evening, but kind of stiff and stand-offish when they see each other at school.

Callie was complicated and abrasive. She was very hard to like, partly because she was so honest all the time and didn't try to soften her words. When her world falls apart because of some bad choices, she is thrown together with Millie and begins, very reluctantly, hanging around with her group of friends. They are no more excited to spend time with Callie than she is to spend time with them, but it's Millie who decides they will embrace Callie and that, despite her flaws and her former popular-mean-girl status, she is deserving of friendship. Callie has little to lose at this point and because she's grounded for potentially the rest of her life she takes what few social opportunities she is allowed to engage in. Even though she had been part of the super popular group at school, Callie had often felt like a misfit, just as Millie and her friends had. Sure she fit in at school, but at home she often felt like she didn't belong. Her father is Mexican, but her mother, stepfather, and little sister were all white and blond.

Callie was a great, complicated, complimentary character to Millie and I loved seeing how their friendship developed. They also both had romantic interests and gave each other advice on getting these relationships off the ground. But the friendship was the most important part of this story, and how these girls supported each other as they tried to achieve their goals and just figure out who they are.

These days I am too often reminded that no matter how much I like to be inside the teen characters in books, in reality I'm more like their parents. Honestly, I'm older than some of their parents. At one point in this story Callie refers to her mother's "old lady music" which turns out to be Tori Amos!! Wow, I really felt that in my old lady heart. But mostly I just got really into the story and rooted for these imperfect humans trying to find their way in the world.

The audiobook was excellently narrated by Erin Mallon and Kyla Garcia, two distinct voices that brought the characters to life. I had such fun listening to this book that I didn't restrict it to my commute. I would find things around the house to do while listening, and I credit it for helping me get my new knitting project started. (Millie would approve.) In short, don't miss out on this book! It's the perfect pick-me-up to lift your spirits as we emerge from the bleak winter months and look forward to better times to come.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Dreamers

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (2019)

I still remember when Walker's first novel, The Age of Miracles, came out and a coworker approached me in the library clutching a copy in front of her and said "You've GOT to read this." A bunch of us read it and talked about it for a while afterward. It was a sensation. I devoured that book in one day and loved it immediately, yet just a few months later couldn't remember very much about it at all. Nevertheless, seven years later as I was reading Walker's long-awaited second novel, I couldn't help but be reminded of her first. I guess I didn't forget it after all.

It begins with one girl asleep in her dorm. Her roommate, Mei, notices that she's been asleep all day and tries, unsuccessfully, to wake her. She's taken to a hospital, but dies. Meanwhile other students fall into the same deep, heavy sleep. The dorm goes on lockdown, but nonetheless the sickness spreads throughout the town of Santa Lora, California. Soon the hospital is full of sleeping patients.

We meet many residents of this small town: Sara and Libby, two sisters who live alone with their paranoid father; their neighbors Ben and Annie, college professors with a new baby; Rebecca, a college student who doesn't know she's pregnant when she falls into her sleep; Nathaniel, a biology professor whose partner suffers from dementia; Catherine, an infectious disease specialist called in from Los Angeles to help with the crisis. It becomes big news, of course, this new disease that nobody knows how to contain. Precautions are taken, decisions are made, and the residents deal with it as best they can while not knowing if the next time they - or their loved ones - fall asleep, it might be for a very long time, maybe forever.

The very tone and atmosphere of this book is perfect for a story about the spread of an illness. It's not action-packed, but instead focused on the minutiae of every day, always with the ominous backdrop of potential calamity. Everyday life is suspended: school is cancelled, the town is under quarantine so nobody can visit or leave, and social gatherings are discouraged in an effort to reduce the spread of illness.  There's nothing most people can do except stay at home, away from other people and their germs, and wait.

I don't want you to think it's boring, though. It's definitely not. We're getting to know the characters and their lives and family tensions and how those are affected by this strange, unforeseen situation. It's quietly ominous in the most enjoyable way. Later in the book you learn a little more about the experiences of those affected. I won't spoil it for you, of course, but it's fascinating to think about. This would be a great book for discussion - I don't think anybody I know has read it yet but I hope someone does soon so I can talk about it with them.

This whole feeling of life being disrupted in a way that's quiet (rather than panicked) is what reminded me so much of The Age of Miracles, I think. That and the ease with which I became immersed in it every time I picked it up and was reluctant to put it down again. A very satisfying follow-up to her first novel that was absolutely worth the wait!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Everlasting Rose

The Everlasting Rose (The Belles #2) by Dhonielle Clayton (2019)

I've been dying for the release of this book since I finished The Belles back in January. When the last book ended Camille was on the run - the Queen was dead, Princess Sophia was trying to claim the throne and Princess Charlotte, who was the rightful heir, was missing. Charlotte had recently awoken from her deep sleep, thanks to Camille who had also discovered that the cause wasn't a mysterious illness after all, but poison administered by her sister Sophia. Now, Camille is in a race against time to find Princess Charlotte and return her to the palace to claim the throne.

Princess Sophia claims that her sister is dead, and she's preparing for the funeral and her own coronation. She's also offering rewards for the return of Camille, her sister Edel, and the guard Remy who has been helping him. Camille and Edel use newfound powers to disguise themselves as they move around, but still they must be careful. When they learn of an underground resistance run by a group called the Iron Ladies they wonder if maybe they'll have help.

I really liked revisiting this world and spending more time with Camille and her sisters. While trying to locate Princess Charlotte, Camille was also trying to find her Belle sisters who had been moved to different locations. She was very worried for their safety, especially as she learned more about Princess Sophia's dark plan for the Belles once she was officially Queen. If the Belles were treated like chattel before, now they would be treated even worse. Camille also has a new romantic interest in the guard Remy, who she used to dislike but is now getting to know much better.

It was also great to see more of the world introduced in The Belles. I was especially interested in the Iron Ladies, who didn't partake in the beauty rituals everyone else did, using only basic maintenance to dull the red in their eyes and make their straw-textured hair easier to deal with. One of the other symptoms was described as mental unbalance though, and that wasn't addressed here. I don't know if it's an omission or something that will be a addressed in a potential third book. Honestly, there were a few bits in this book that didn't quite make sense or were awkward. And then there was the impulsiveness of Camille, wanting to run after her friends who were captured though she obviously didn't stand a chance of saving them. But she's a teenager, so that is just a part of her personality I think. One of her hot-headed impulsive actions created a needed diversion though, which is obviously good, but I wasn't sure whether or not it was planned. Camille is fairly unpredictable and her instincts aren't always on point.

At any rate, these were minor issues in a book that was overall pretty action-packed and difficult to put down. I loved spending more time in this world and with these characters. I can't tell if there's going to be a third book, because although there's more that I want, things were fairly resolved in the end. But I'm hoping this series isn't over!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Last Night in Nuuk

Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen (2019)

I don't often read fiction reviews, primarily because I ended up finding too many things I want to read, but not long ago this one caught my eye as I was perusing a review journal at work. Anything that takes place at the cold outer edges of the world intrigues me, and this book is set in Greenland. I've read two other books set in Greenland and posted about them here, but this book is very different from either of those.

Set in the capital city of Nuuk, this short contemporary novel is about five people whose lives are intertwined. The book is divided into five chapters, one from the perspective of each character: Fia, Inuk, Arnaq, Ivik, and Sara. Fia's chapter begins with an ending - she breaks up with her boyfriend, Peter, and finds herself surprisingly attracted to a woman she meets, Sara. Fia is temporarily staying with her brother Inuk's friend Arnaq, who is attracted to Sarah's partner Ivik. Arnaq is drunk and reckless and betrays Inuk by revealing something he told her in confidence. It's all a little confusing when I describe it here, but not when you're reading it.

This book could have easily been 300 pages, but Korneliussen's writing is quite lean and the whole thing is only 173 pages and includes text conversations, hashtags, a multiple choice form, and a few pages with only one or two lines on them. So it felt a little experimental, but I think it works.

I don't remember what I read in the review - basically I saw "Greenland" and put it on my To Read list - so I didn't know what to expect from the story when I started it. It's heavily LGBT (with basically all of those letters represented) and it made me wonder a lot about the larger culture in Greenland and how accepting people are. I didn't get a lot about that from the story. It's pretty straightforward and doesn't go into much about the characters backgrounds or anything beyond what is happening at the moment. There was also a bit about one of the characters being in prison that I didn't really understand, and I still don't know if it was a literal or figurative prison.

It took me a bit to get into this book, but once I did I flew through it pretty quickly. Had it not been so short and quick I may not have finished. For what it was, I liked it well enough, but I don't know that it's a book that will have a lasting impression on me.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Refugee

Refugee by Alan Gratz (2017)

I don't especially like middle grade books, but this is our pick for the Community Read at my library this year. While I'm no longer on the committee, I still offered to run a book discussion so I had to read the book!

There are three different stories. One is of Josef, a Jewish boy trying to escape Hitler's Germany during World War II. His father was taken to a concentration camp and when he was released the family left on a ship headed for Cuba. But they weren't the only ones - two other boats were also headed there for Germany, and it was uncertain whether or not they'd be allowed to disembark once they got there.

Isabel lived in Cuba in the 1990s and her father was involved in a protest. The police were after him, so the family convinced their neighbors to take them on the boat they had been building. It was a pretty makeshift boat, but it was all they had. The two families headed out, bound for the Florida coast.

Finally, Mahmoud lived with his family in Syria until the day in 2015 that their building was bombed. They left Aleppo in their car, hoping to drive as far as possible and then find transport the rest of the way to Germany. They encountered dangers and obstacles all along the way, and spent time living in refugee camp and in an abandoned mall.

These stories had a common thread of course, and that was escape. In all these stories the families were at great risk and they didn't all make it to their destinations. All were desperate and needed help along the way and sometimes they were lucky to find kind strangers. These are horrible experiences for anyone to go through, but especially children, and it happens every day. It's all too easy to hear stories about refugees on the news and not think much about it, but stories like these put real faces and real people in the news stories. Although it's a work of fiction, they're based on real situations and some of the characters are based on people who actually lived. It's terrible to think of what families like Isabel's can go through to get to the United States and then think about people who just want to build a wall to keep them out. Why would anyone want other humans to die just because they weren't lucky enough to have been born somewhere safe that remains safe?

The book was written in alternating chapters, which I didn't like at all. I don't mind when a story is told from different perspectives, but this was actually three different stories and organizing it like that felt like I was reading three different books at once, four or five pages at a time. It made it difficult to get into any of the stories. So pretty early on, I decide to just read all of Josef's chapters in a row, then Isabel's, then Mahmoud's. This gave me the opportunity to get more into the stories, which was a better experience for me.

All in all, they were pretty decent stories and I flew through them, reading the whole book in one (albeit long) evening. They were fairly simple as they were written for young people, but didn't shy away from tragedy. And there was some pretty painful tragedy. I know that this year the committee wanted to find a book about immigration and I think this was a great one to highlight the different kinds of experiences people have when fleeing their countries, and of course, the reasons they need to leave in the first place. It's a good jumping off point for discussions and programs around immigration and I'm very curious to hear what other readers think about it.