Book 47: Chasing The Sun

"Andres always speaks last; Marabela has never cared for last words because her power lies in silence."

Dates read: April 30-May 2, 2016

Rating: 6/10

During my second year of law school, the house I lived in was broken into. It wasn't the first bad thing to happen while I lived there; I actually grew to think of that house as cursed. But besides the break-in, those are stories for another day. It happened on a weekday night, sometime between about 7 and 10. My then-roommate and I were both at a party. They got in by breaking our bathroom window: a quick grab of our electronics (including, in what to this day still infuriates me, my external hard drive) and out. The things were mostly replaceable (except my digital music and photo collections), but my sense of security in that home was gone forever. The knowledge that someone had been in there, rifling through our things, set me on edge every day until the one I moved out.

And knowing how scary and violative it felt to have my house burglarized when I wasn't even there, I can't even fathom how it must feel to be kidnapped. Which it would seem was a real risk for the upper class, particularly women, in mid-1990s Peru. In Natalia Sylvester's Chasing The Sun, Andres and Marabela Jimenez would seem to have it pretty darn good: they're wealthy (Andres owns his own company), have a nice house in Lima City, been married a long time, and have two great kids. But of course, things are not as they seem. Marabela recently walked out on Andres, and although she returned, their marriage is cracking and they're circling each other warily. So when she doesn't return one night after running some errands, Andres assumes what he thinks is the worst: she's left him again.

It turns out to be much, much worse than that: he gets a ransom note from her kidnappers demanding a sum he can't possibly produce to ensure her safe return. Andres is forced to reach out to his long-estranged mother for help. She connects him with a man who negotiates with kidnappers for a fact, this man recently helped secure the release of Andres' first love, Elena, the woman he (and his parents) had always expected him to marry. While the plot progresses forward through the negotiations to get Marabela back and Andres' reconnection with Elena when he finds out she's in a mental hospital to deal with the fallout from her own abduction, it also looks backwards to show the reader the relationships between Andres, Elena, and Marabela, and how things got to where they were right before Marabela was kidnapped.

This is an enjoyable, if not especially substantial, book. The subject matter is a little too heavy for a beach read, but otherwise about that level: good but not great, decently-written but not special, compelling enough to keep your attention but can easily be put down. The plot moves along at a nice clip and doesn't drag, characters aren't flat but aren't deep and rich, either. The ending ties its loose strings into knots too easily, but not in a way that's infuriating, just kind of annoying (I wish there'd been a little more ambiguity left in it). I liked reading it, but it didn't make much of an impact on me. This is worth a read, but isn't unmissable.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever lived in a place that felt like it was cursed?

One year ago, I was reading: Through the Language Glass

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I'd Name A Child After

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic is characters we'd name a child after. I've got lots of thoughts about baby names (as a nine-and-ten year old, I'd read baby name books like they were actual books, cover to cover) and I've got lots of characters I love, so here are my ten!


Lyra Belacqua (The Golden Compass): I love this little hotheaded, stubborn, intelligent girl so much that I'd love to name a child after her and hope she could be nearly as delightful and challenging as her namesake.

Sabriel (Sabriel): Her strength and resourcefulness make her a wonderful role model for a little girl to look up to...and the name is familiar and yet different enough to be special.

Emma Woodhouse (Emma): A little more morally complex of a heroine, Emma is handsome and clever...and spoiled and selfish and convinced of her own rightness even when she probably shouldn't be. But she's charming and she learns a lesson by the end and no one's perfect, right?

Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre): I didn't expect much when I read this one a few years ago...gothic drama has not tended to light my fire. But I really liked it, and Jane herself is strong and bright and while Mr. Rochester is problematic, Jane herself is very much rootable-for.

Natasha Rostova (War and Peace): I LOVED Natasha for most of the (long) runtime, so to speak, of this classic that more people should actually tackle. She's a shining presence in the midst of a lot of very Russian sturm-und-drang (I know that's German, but I don't know what the equivalent would be in Russian). Like many, I'm disappointed in how the best character ended up...if you want to know why, you should read it!

Daine Sarassri (Wild Magic): I never got into much else in the Tamora Pierce bibliography, but I think it's because none of her other heroine spoke to me the way that Wild Magic's Daine did. Literally raised (in part) by wolves, she's connected to nature and animals and spunky and brave and great.

Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): He doesn't seem to be much of a functional human, but damn Sherlock is clever and interesting and it's weird but not too weird of a name for a kid, right?

Rhett Butler (Gone With The Wind): I will say that he's not as dashing on the page as he is on the screen, but it would have been really hard to measure up to Clark Gable at maximum charisma no matter what. And even on the page, he's still way better than Scarlett.

Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings): He's not the protagonist of LOTR, but I would argue that steadfast, truehearted Samwise is the hero. When I first read the books as a teenager I found him an irritating tag-a-long, but as you get older you see that the power of his devotion to his friend is the power that really destroys the Ring at the end.

Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire): There are so many indelible characters in this series that it's hard to pick just one. But to name a child after? The deliberate, strategic Tyrion, who recognizes that his body isn't going to be what gains him the respect he craves and develops his brain instead.

Book 46: The President's Club

"For the former presidents, the club can be a vital, sometimes surprising benefit of post-presidential life. They have relinquished power, but not influence; and so their influence becomes a piece of the sitting president's power. They can do more together than apart, and they all know it; so they join forces as needed, to consult, complain, console, pressure, protect, redeem."

Dates read: April 25-30, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Books are the best but hardest present to give. Someone liking a book you bought them feels so much deeper than liking a piece of jewelry or a new gadget. It feels like a genuine connection. But books-as-gifts are really hard to get right. What if the recipient doesn't care for the genre, or doesn't like the writing? It's not fail safe, but as a person who likes to buy books as gifts, I try to find a non-fiction book about something the recipient is interested in. Like The President's Club, which was a gift to my presidential history nerd husband and I borrowed because I thought it looked interesting too!

Despite having worked in politics for a few years now, presidents have never been a particular area of interest for me (perhaps because of my legal background, I tend to gravitate towards writing about the courts). Many presidential biographies feel too much like hagiographies for my tastes. But Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy's The President's Club covers an angle I wouldn't have given much thought to: how do those in the Oval Office relate to those whose tenure there is over, and vice versa? 

The list of former presidents is pretty short: there's only 43 of them, and there's never more than a handful (if any) still living. Assuming nothing happens to anyone before the end of Obama's term, there will be five of them. Many of them go on to do charitable work for causes they feel strongly about, but they don't tend to be the kind of people to just go away quietly once their time in the spotlight is over. They tend to meddle, either to the good or ill of the current tenant at the White House, and part of that depends on how the current president uses them. 

Gibbs and Duffy's book explores the relationships of the post-WW2 presidents, comparing and contrasting as they go along. As someone relatively unfamiliar with many of the presidents (I'm informed for an average person, but since the presidency isn't a particular interest, I'm not even close to actually informed), I found the book absolutely fascinating. I found it especially compelling to look at how each president related to their predecessor as opposed to those who came after them: for example, Truman's willingness to reach out to and ask for help from Hoover (and the close relationship they ended up having) informs his obvious hurt when Eisenhower apparently wanted nothing to do with him, particularly considering that they had been close during Truman's presidency and Truman had even encouraged him to run for office. Death and scandal unite the club, illustrating that for all of personal emotional threads that may or may not unite the men within it, it's really fundamentally about ensuring the legacy and protecting the role of the presidency itself.

I think there's a basic human urge to want to find people who have important things in common with you to hang out with. I know that one of the reasons I blog, besides enjoying the sound of my own voice (so to speak, anyways) is that I enjoy being part of a community of people who really love books and reading. I would never personally want to run for or become the president, but I can only imagine if I were to be, how grateful I would be to have the people around who'd done it before and be able to join with them when I was done to support the new kid. Even if politics isn't your usual thing, this book is much more about the relationships between people. I really enjoyed it and I think you will too!

Tell me, blog you have a favorite president?

One year, ago, I was reading: Unbelievable 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I've Added To My TBR On Recommendation

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic is books that ended up on the TBR pile based on recommendations from others. This is a tricky one...for most of my life, I've tended to chose to my own reading for my own reasons, only very infrequently seeking or taking recommendations. But since I started to get involved with book blogs (a while before I started my own), I read about the great things you all are reading and I want in! So here are books that have gotten added to the long and growing list because they've been recommended to me. 

You Will Know Me: I'd never read Abbott before, but I've heard great things about her work around the bookish internet. And I've long been interested in women's gymnastics, so when I started hearing good things from people who had the ARC, I picked up a copy of my own when it went on Kindle sale recently!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: I remember seeing this on a list somewhere (Buzzfeed? Book Riot? Pajiba?) of best books and having generally heard good things about Michael Chabon, it ended up on my TBR.

Boy, Snow, Bird: The bookternet definitely was how I got introduced to Helen Oyeymi and when I found this at my local SPCA thrift store (where paperbacks are 50 cents and hardcovers a dollar...can't beat those prices) I definitely yanked it off the shelf and now it's at home.

Station Eleven: I've always had a fondness for post-apocalyptic literature and it seems like everyone ever on the internet loved this, so it's on my Kindle until I get to it!

Over-Dressed: This was a recommendation from Adina at Blue Collar Red Lipstick, whose blog is totally worth reading for its primary style content alone, but she's also a reader (and author!) who does the odd post about what she enjoys. I read Deluxe based on her rec and got a lot of food for thought out of it, so I picked up this one she recommended as well. 

Fangirl: Probably not a surprise that lots of book bloggers enjoy a book about a young woman who spends a lot of time writing for the internet, but Rainbow Rowell's books are generally well-liked and so I've added them to my TBR! 

The Sense of an Ending: This was one of the personal good friend Kailey recommended it quite some time ago and when I saw a secondhand copy, I remembered her talking about how much she liked it and picked it up. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Another Kailey recommendation...she's a genetic counselor, so the subject area is particularly compelling to her, but she made it clear that it's broader than just a book for science nerds (not that a book for science nerds is a bad thing!) and I've got it on my Kindle. 

Ghost Wars: Another personal rec! This was actually a favorite of my college boyfriend and as I've gotten more interested in global political affairs over the years, I decided to snag it!

The Lace Reader: My coworker is a writer and editor, and when she mentioned this was her favorite book, it got added to my list! It went on Kindle sale not long after she mentioned it to me so it's safely on my e-reader and waiting to be read.

Year 1: An Update (and Giveaway!)

I turned 31 yesterday, so it's time to check in! I started "counting" my reading for the blog on my 30th birthday last year even if I didn't actually start blogging until December. Without further ago, during the past twelve months:

In Reading
  • Books read (this year): 95! Which is way above my usual pace and consisted of a lot of stress-reading, but is also great because this means that I have a nice little cushion for any times coming up when my reading slows. Obviously, not all of these are on the blog yet, but they're nearly all written and ready to go.
  • Books read: (total): 95. Since this is the first year, these numbers are the same.
  • Male/Female Authors: I like to keep track of the proportion of male v female authors I've read. I'm not inclined to go on a only-women authors spree, but I do like to be cognizant of it. And as it so happens, this year I've read 48 books written by men and 47 written by women, so close to a 50-50 split.
  • Most Read Genres: I read 63 fiction books (most read sub-genre: contemporary fiction) and 32 non-fiction (most-read subgenre: history).
  • Kindle/Hard Copy: I definitely read more on my Kindle this year: 58 ebooks and only 37 hard copy. My general pattern to make sure I'm making progress through both my backlist and my ARCs is to read 3 ARCs for every 5 backlist books. The ARCs are almost entirely ebook, and for the backlist, I generally alternate ebook v physical book, so that's how those numbers got so sideways.

In Life

I thought it would be neat to keep track of what major-ish events were going on in my life as I read each year. I'm actually getting ready to launch a new feature here on the blog: at the end of each month, there will be a Life Notes or something like that kind of post, where I'll talk about what I read and share some highlights from my actual life. I've noticed similar posts around the book blog community and I think I'd like to get in on the fun!
  • Girl's trip to Denver: This actually predates the blog but postdates the 30th birthday on which I started tracking my reading, so it counts. Two of my best friends and I do a long weekend together every year, and so last November, we spent three days in Denver, which was a really cool city, but not as cool as getting to see my best friends again! They still live in the town we all grew up in, which is in Michigan, so I don't get to see them often and it's always a special occasion when I do! I was reading: Oriental Mythology
  • Got a dog: Lord Stanley joined our household right after I started this blog! He's almost five now, and he's the cutest and the sweetest and he's definitely a pain in the tuchus, but he's worth every second of it. I was reading: Occidental Mythlogy
  • Went to San Francisco: We do a work retreat every year, and this year's destination was San Francisco! Which I've been to before, obviously (Reno is only about a 5 hour drive, so it's an easy trip over the hill (read: Sierra Nevada mountains), particularly in the summer. This was the winter, but it was still super fun. I was reading: Creative Mythology
  • Went to my best friend's baby shower: Remember how I barely get to see my friends? Well, when it's best friendship, you go to Michigan at the end of January for a baby shower. My "nephew" was born in March and he's just the best. I was reading: Still Creative Mythology. This was only a week after the SF trip, so it's not bad, but you guys that book took me so long to read and I hated it so much. 
  • Got married: My now-husband and I have been together for four years at this point and he's my favorite guy and now he's mine forever with a ring and everything! I was reading: Zodiac (review pending)
  • Honeymooned in Chicago: I'd been to Chicago, but not in quite some time, and Husband had never been. He's not a laze-on-the-beach type, so we thought Chicago would be a good time...there's so much to do and see and eat! And we did and saw and ate and it was fantastic. I was reading: Song of Achilles (review pending)
  • Weekend in Lake Tahoe: This was only a vacation to me, my husband unfortunately spent most of it working (his workplace holds an annual event at the lake). But I got to go to fancy dinners and on a nice boat cruise, so I had a lovely time! I was read: The Other Side of the River (review pending)
And, in honor of my first year of reading and blogging, I'm giving away a copy my favorite book that I reviewed on the blog this year! I read a lot of great books, but my favorite was Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men. So here's how it's going to work: if you'd like to be entered to win a copy of this book, please leave a comment below sometime in the next week (through October 16). I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner and then reach out to you for your contact info, which I'll only use to send you your book from Amazon (either paperback or Kindle, depending on your preference). Thanks for reading along this year!

Book 45: The Crack In Space


"The mind of man was uncommonly stubborn and slow to change. Reformers, including himself, were always prone to forget that. Victory always seemed just around the corner. But generally it was not, after all."

Dates read: April 23-25, 2016

Rating: 7/10

So remember how I was literally just telling you last week that science fiction isn't my genre of choice? Here's another science fiction book! It's a very different kind of science fiction, though. The Crack In Space mostly falls under the sci-fi label by virtue of its author (Philip K. Dick) and the fact that it's set in a future world with some advanced technology. It throws out one of those historical what-ifs that I'm so fond of, except way further back then I'd think to go: what if homo sapiens were not the kind of humans that won out evolutionarily?

The Crack in Space posits our world about 2080 (which, at the time it was published, would have been over 100 years in the future): there is severe overpopulation, to the extent that many young people are choosing to be cryogenically frozen until the labor market is better. It's an election year, and there's a black presidential nominee for the first time ever. That nominee, Jim Briskin, is struggling in his campaign until he's tipped off about some major news: there's been a rift discovered to a whole new that looks like it will support human life. Briskin seizes on this development to announce that it will be his platform to thaw out the frozen and give them this world to settle, and his opponent jockeys to match his promises, when it's revealed that the new world is populated after all, but not by people as we know them. Instead it's Peking man that survived. So now what?

That's maybe half the plot of this slim volume (it's about 200 pages long), but it's the main one. First of all, let me say that I'm glad that we beat out Dick's predictions and had our first black president 75 years ahead of schedule. Moving on from that, though, what I really enjoy about reading Dick's work is that he poses interesting, thoughtful questions rooted in an understanding of human nature. As much as we might think that if we discovered a parallel Earth we'd learn from our past and thoughtfully go about exploration and potential colonization, the reality is that in an election year, politicians would be falling all over each other to posture and secure an important position for themselves. If the world's population was so huge that abortion wasn't just widespread but encouraged, that people were freezing themselves in hopes of a better life someday, it would absolutely end up with people getting sent through the door/portal/whatever without much in the way of an actual plan while news cameras flashed and the powers that be congratulated themselves on a job well done. Maybe I'm a little cynical (I was a litigator and now I'm a lobbyist, so that probably comes with the territory), but I feel like Dick gets how people would actually behave instead of how they'd prefer to imagine they would. I found it a quick and enjoyable read which had me pondering alternate realities.

Tell me, blog friends...if mankind found a new world, would you want to be one of the colonists?

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Villains

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's subject is villains, which is an interesting stretch for me because I don't read a lot of book with clear-cut "bad guys". The kind of literary fiction (which makes me feel so pretentious to say) to which I am drawn tends to find its drama in the conflicts of people who don't fall super neatly into "hero" or "villain" categories. But here are the ten I chose!

Elphaba (Wicked): I know, this is cheating. The villain in the book is the Wizard, Elphaba is our protagonist. But the Wicked Witch of the West is one of pop culture's great villains, and Gregory Maguire's book examining the story from her side is a classic in its own right that spawned several sequels (none of which I've read).

Amy Dunne (Gone Girl): Also mostly not a villain, she's much more accurately an anti-hero. But also, she's a lady who faked her own death and framed her husband for her murder, which is pretty damn villainous. But damn if ladies don't understand her rage at a world that tried to shove her neatly into a box she had no desire to fit into and broke out of to forge her own deranged path.

Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada): Most of us have had a bad boss or two. But Miranda Priestly (allegedly based on Anna "Nuclear" Wintour) takes the cake: she's demanding, demeaning, virtually impossible to please. Or is she just a woman who's had to become that person in order to get to the top of her profession?

Mrs. Coulter (The Golden Compass): Much like our protagonist Lyra is, we're both drawn to and repulsed by the beautiful woman with her shiny hair and the golden monkey who accompanies her everywhere. She may be ultimately redeemed by her love for her daughter, but she's still a hateful and fearful person and a worthy adversary. 

Cersei Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire): She's such an asshole (you know, cheating on her husband with her own twin brother, giving birth to several of her brother's children and passing them off as her husband's, the way she treats the Starks, etc). But when Martin starts giving you her POV chapters, she's still terrible but much more understandably so. A ruthless and ambitious person who is neither given the opportunities she wants because of her gender nor nearly as smart as she thinks she is, she's very rootable-against.

President Snow (The Hunger Games): The detail that Collins includes about the smell of him, his heavy rose perfume not quite able to mask his oral bleeding, is the kind of thing that lodges in your mind even if you have no real frame of reference for bloody roses. His ruthless rule over Panem is just the icing on the cake.

Humbert Humbert (Lolita): Probably the best example of a sympathetic villain in modern literature, Humbert's sophisticated excuses for his own behavior and passion for Lolita can overwhelm, on first read, the fact that he's a child rapist who preys on and attempts to dominate a vulnerable youngster who has no one else to turn to.

The Volturi (New Moon): A powerful Old World ruling court of vampires with superpowers is sort of cheesy but also sort of awesome. Once they start getting more developed in later books they lose a lot of their mystique, but when they're a shadowy force in the second book, they're a compelling adversary for Bella and Edward.

The Overlook Hotel (The Shining): I love both the book and the Kubrick movie of this story, but they're definitely different. The hotel is a far more malevolent force in King's original work, slowly poisoning Jack Torrance's mind. 

Grandma (Flowers In The Attic): Saved the cheesiest for last, because this lady is totally over the top and awful and just the most ridiculous villain. Will any of us ever forget about arsenic-laced powdered donuts? Or when she poured TAR in Cathy's HAIR?