Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book 18: The Woman Who Would Be King

"She had just embarked upon the highest-stakes move any woman had made in the history of human politics. With this novel and irregular kingship, she had arguably created more problems than she had solved. She would need to unite all her abilities in the years to come- ideological, economic, military, and political- to maintain what she had wrought."

Dates read: January 14-19, 2016

Rating: 7/10

When I was a little girl, my mom bought me a book about King Tutankhamen. It had beautiful glossy photos, and I was fascinated by the short life of the boy king...and the maybe-supernaturally shortened lives of the people who excavated his tomb and awakened the mummy's curse. From there sparked a love of ancient Egypt, peaking when I was absolutely nerdy enough at age 9 or so to write a letter to the editor to correct one of the Detroit papers when they ran an article that misidentified Osiris as a goddess. While my hardcore Egypt phase eventually faded, the Egyptian exhibit is still one of my favorite places at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and I'm always interested in reading more about it.

Quick, name me an Egyptian queen. I'm guessing that for most of you, Cleopatra crossed your mind. Maybe some of you went for Nefertiti. But while Cleopatra is remembered for her dramatic life and death and Nefertiti is remembered for her beauty, the queen that had probably the most successful reign as the ruler of Egypt has been largely forgotten: Hatshepsut. Like most Egyptian queens, she was initially married to her brother, Thutmose II. But he was sickly, and when he died when she was only about 16, she successfully finagled a role as regent for her toddler stepson/nephew, Thutmose III, and from there, had herself crowned king in her own right alongside him. In The Woman Who Would Be King, author Kara Cooney walks us through how Hatshepsut pulled off this highly unusual feat by using the authority and power she'd acquired through her religious role, surrounding herself with the right advisors, and emphasizing her own royal lineage. During her reign, she embarked on an ambitious temple building program and maintained her country's security while continuing to subjugate its vassal states. Her gender was, of course, the elephant in the room, and Cooney describes how Hatshepsut's depiction of her own gender in statuary shifted over time, from frank acknowledgement of her femininity near the beginning (when she served as regent) to an entirely masculine presentation as her co-ruler grew up and became a man himself. She goes on to detail what became of Hatshepsut's legacy after she passed and how Thutmose III initially embraced but ultimately rejected reminders of her rule, having artistic depictions of her altered or destroyed to erase to her from the record as much as possible.   

Cooney is an actual Egyptologist, and it shows: she presents tons of information about ancient Egyptian social, religious, and royal life in the context of spinning Hatshepsut's story. She must be a good teacher in her day job as a college professor...the information she gives us is detailed but not dull; it doesn't feel like reading a reference text. For as much as we do know details about ancient Egyptian society, it's amazing to me how much we don't know at the same time...Cooney's writing, as well-researched as it is, is peppered with "probably" and "might have", because there is just no way to know for sure. I'll admit I found this same quality irritating in Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life, but maybe that's just because I'm relatively accustomed to reading about Cleopatra in the context of historical fiction. I've never read about Hatshepsut before, so I don't have the same kind of expectations about being told a fleshed-out story. Also, Cooney makes it very clear, repeatedly, that the kind of records that would lead to a better story simply don't exist, because the Egyptians at that time kept written records only of the official version of events, with any sort of juicy personal interest tidbits left off entirely.

Cooney's writing is lively and interesting, and I think she does a good job of presenting the information in a way that makes you care about it...she doesn't just dump it out there without context, it's always clear that the things she's telling you about are necessary for an understanding of what happened. That being said, unless you're inclined to enjoy reading a factually-dense non-fiction book, you might find your attention wavering during some of the longer passages about religion or royal administration.

Tell me, blog friends...did you ever go through an Egypt phase?

**I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Of My Most Recent 5 Star Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic: Ten Of My Mose Recent 5 Star Reads. Since the bulk of my content are actual review posts with ratings, I don’t want to sit here and type more about things I’ve already typed about at length (unless, of course, you want to go back and comment on the posts, in which case I’d LOVE to have a conversation about anything I’ve reviewed). So I’m going to look at books I read in the year or so BEFORE my 30th birthday/the start of this blog and highlight ten of the best books I read.

Bring Up The Bodies: I'd read the first volume of this series, Wolf Hall, and actually not really cared for it despite being a sucker for Tudor historical fiction. I think part of it might have been reading it on my Kindle...some books really benefit from being read physically. But I was willing to try the second novel in a hard copy and I LOVED it. The slow build of the first book pays off in this one, the intrigue and drama fly fast and furious, and reading it from a different perspective than we usually see in these kind of books was fascinating. It was great.

Remains of the Day: I'd read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which I liked a lot, so when I saw this at a secondhand book sale, I figured it was worth the $1. I was right. This one grabbed me right from the start, ripping my heart out as I read about Stevens' life and the happiness and meaning it could have had if he'd have only opened himself up to it. It's gorgeous and sad and wonderful.  

A Thousand Splendid Suns: Like everyone else in the world, I read and loved The Kite Runner. I was a little wary of this one because I had such high expectations from Khaled Hosseini's debut, but I knew this was a story about women and I'm always a little suspicious of men writing women's stories. I didn't want to be disappointed, and I wasn't. It was a lovely portrait of female friendship and the power women have when they work together.  

Blindness: I'd seen the movie first, because I love Julianne Moore, and found it well-done but difficult to watch. But I heard the book was a struggle to adapt and better than the movie, and it's true. It tells the story of a world where blindness has become a contagious disease. The first round of victims are quarantined, and an eye doctor's wife refuses to leave her husband despite not being affected and so pretends that she too is blind. It's about humanity and inhumanity, and even though it's written with nameless characters and lack of dialogue markings, it's so good that you just adapt to it and the pages fly by.

High Fidelity: Another one where I'd seen the movie first. The movie is a really solid adaptation, Nick Hornby's novels seem to move well to screen. He really nails that "adult who hasn't quite grown up yet and finally takes significant steps towards maturity over the course of the story" place, which, even though his characters are mostly white dudes, I think is a place that's relatable for a lot of people (myself included). It's a coming-of-age novel, just with the actual age being older than the traditional version of that reliable story. 

The Age of Innocence: I actually still haven't seen the movie for this one! But I want to, because I loved this story of smoldering passion and the ritualistic social manners that keep the players stuck in their roles. It's a love triangle, but one where all the players are sympathetic, the ties that bind them are real, and no one is an interloper just created to be an obstacle in the Twu Wuv of the "real" couple. It explores a lot of the same themes as Anna Karenina, and while it's not quite as masterful, it's beautifully written and a lot shorter. If you enjoyed this, and you should because it's great, the Tolstoy should be on your TBR too.  

The Pianist: And yet another entry in the "I watched the movie first" file. And while the book is excellent and heartbreaking (as Holocaust survivor stories are), this might be one of those cases where the movie measures up to a really good book. Both are incredible stories of survival and the power of music to play on the humanity of both performer and listener. 

So Big: This was something I never would have picked up on my own, but it went on sale for the Kindle and when I saw it had won the Pulitzer Prize, I figured it was worth a read. And yes, yes it is. So Big is the story of Selina, a high-spirited young woman who leaves her native Chicago to teach in farm country for a year. She plans to return home, but instead falls in love with a strong, handsome farmer. They marry and have a child, but her husband dies not long thereafter. Her young son is nicknamed So Big, and her struggle to raise him as a single mother is affecting and inspiring. She's an amazing character and this book is unforgettable. 

The Interestings: I'd heard a lot of buzz around this one when it first came out and finally got around to reading it when I scored a secondhand copy for cheap. It's the story of a group of kids that come together at a summer camp for the artistically gifted and whose friendships wax and wane over the course of their lives as they unfold in many directions. I find these kinds of friendships-changing-over-time novels to be incredibly compelling, and the current running through it about what it means to think of yourself as special and how it impacts your perception of happy-but-ordinary circumstances is just icing on the cake.

Stardust: Last one where I saw the movie first (which is cheating, because this is the last book on the list)! The movie was fun and forgettable, but the kind of epitome of "the book is better"...there's nothing wrong with the film, it's just not as good. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Book 17: Approval Junkie

"I was weirdly comforted by the fact that my new husband chalked up most of my distasteful behavior to my being possessed by the devil himself. It was as if he saw the best in me, and my best self was haplessly caught in an evil stranglehold that made me do things like show up sullen to the party his network threw to celebrate his show that I wasn't on, as aggressively passive-aggressive as I could appear."

Dates read: January 11-14, 2016

Rating: 6/10

I want people to like me. My friends (obviously), people at work, the people reading this. I'm pretty sure I should be embarrassed by how much it matters to me what people think, but it does matter all the same. The older I get, the more I'm okay with the idea that since some people aren't really my cup of tea, it's fair that I'm not everyone's cup of tea either. But that means that I'm okay with about 2% of people not liking me, maybe 3% as a worst-case scenario. Everyone else, I'm going to go ahead and need your approval.

Which is why I was intrigued enough by the title of this book to put it on my to-read list, even though comedian essay/memoir isn't the end of the reading pool I do more than lightly dip my toes in very often. Faith Salie's Approval Junkie chronicles her lifelong pursuit of other people's regard, from her childhood acting career, to her determination to win her high school's Miss Aphrodite crown, to trying to build a career as an actress in Hollywood, her relationship with her first husband, her divorce, remarriage, and eventual family life with children. Her writing voice is strong, sure, and entertaining, and she doesn't just go for funny (although when she does, her chapter about trying to win over Bill O'Reilly is a highlight). She also hits pathos, describing her difficulties dealing with the death of her mother when she was 26 and her struggle to conceive a child; as well as life advice, in her chapter about how to conduct an interview/genuinely listen to other people.

At the end of the day, I remembered why I don't usually read these kind of books unless they're by people I already love, like Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey. Even with their books, I find myself smirking wryly rather than actually laughing out loud. It's really hard to be laugh out loud funny in print...the only comedy book I can actually remember triggering more than the occasional light chuckle was My Horizontal Life. I'm not super into Chelsea Handler, but that book was hysterical. Salie's book is pretty decent, but not up to the Kaling/Fey level. On the whole it's more funny than not, and it's entertaining if not particularly memorable. I'd recommend this for a slightly older crowd...a lot of its humor deals with divorce, fertility treatments, and childrearing. While it can certainly be appreciated by people who haven't had those experiences (like me), I feel like it would be most enjoyable for people who can relate better. 

Tell me, blog friends...have there been any books by comedians that have actually made you laugh out loud?

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven't Talked About Enough

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic: Ten Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven't Talked About Enough. Since I’ve posted fairly little about my reading outside this blog and obviously I read a lot before I started, I’m going to take this opportunity to write about ten of my all-time favorites as mini-reviews!

Lolita: An incredible book that I really believe everyone should read. Humbert Humbert is objectively an evil man, a child molester that marries a mother just to get close to her pre-teen daughter, and once the mother dies, takes advantage of Lolita's powerlessness to finally satisfy his desire for her. But it's an astonishingly beautifully written example of how everyone is the hero of their own story, even terrible people.

The Secret History: This was a book I read originally in AP English in high school and have read so often I had to replace my copy when the cover fell off. When a working-class California kid goes to school at an elite Northeastern liberal arts college, his background in Latin gains him entrance into a tight-knit group of Classics scholars. The book opens with the group murdering one of their own, and then goes back in time to show you the before, and then the after as the group struggles to cope with what they've done. So good. 

The Virgin Suicides: This is my all-time favorite book, and my signed copy (from a reading Eugenides did at Michigan while he was there) is one of my most prized possessions. I connected with it instantly: when the youngest Lisbon sister is taken to the hospital after her first suicide attempt right at the beginning of the book, she goes to Bon Secours Hospital, which happens to be where I was born. It's a wonderful coming of age story about infatuation and obsession and bad parenting and those the marks those heady teenage years when you feel so much so deeply leave on your psyche. 

1984: This is the first book I can remember loving. I must have read it in 7th or 8th grade. From the opening line ("It was a cold, bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen"), I was just totally hooked on the story of Winston, Julia, and the dystopian world they live in. In today's increasingly surveiled society, this novel is more relevant and important than ever. 

Emma: I wasn't a girl that grew up on Austen. It was only a few years ago that I read my first (Persuasion) and have from there read my way through most of the rest. And maybe it's colored by my affection for her modern-day incarnation Cher Horowitz, but Emma Woodhouse is one of my favorite characters in literature...I think as much as anything because she's a fundamentally happy character, not given some sort of trial to suffer through but whose conflict is mainly coming to terms with the consequences of her own non-malicious but oblivious mistakes. 

The Cider House Rules: I saw the movie first, in high school, and loved it. Once I found out it was based on a book, that was my introduction to John Irving. It's still my favorite Irving, probably because it illustrates (beautifully) one of my most deeply held principles: that this world doesn't exist in black and white and sometimes virtue means re-evaluating your ideals to accommodate real life in all its infinite complexity. 

The Great Gatsby: I read this for my junior year English class and hated it. HATED. I thought Gatsby was a moron and Daisy was a twit and thought the ending that left no one happy was just fine for a group of awful people. But then I grew up and experienced loss and heartbreak and regret, and did a complete 180 on the book. It's so great but I think it's read way too early in the standard high school curriculum. I feel like you need to have at least one big romantic loss in your rearview mirror to really appreciate this one the way it deserves. 

Skinny Legs and All: This was a book I actually grabbed at my dad's house growing up, and the trademark Tom Robbins mix of sex, metaphysics, religion with a quick-moving plot and bold female characters just grabbed me and didn't let go. The adventures of Ellen Cherry Charles and Boomer the accidental artist and Can o' Beans and Dirty Sock and Spoon has always had a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf. 

Remains of the Day: I read this a few years ago and it just ripped my still-beating heart out and stomped on it. As English butler Stevens reminisces about his past piece by piece over the course of the book, you see how his sense of duty and propriety has robbed him of the chance to experience any real happiness in his life. Gorgeous and sad and wonderful.

The Stranger Beside Me: I've always been fond of true mom had some Ann Rule books laying about here and there when I was growing up and I enjoyed them, but this one is the one to read. You see, when she was just getting started in her writing career, Rule spent time volunteering at a suicide crisis call center. And one of her frequent partners, with whom she grew fairly close? Ted Bundy. Yes, that Ted Bundy. She tells the story of his criminal history while at the same time telling the story of her coming to terms with the reality of the bright young man she had thought of as a friend. Fascinating stuff. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

So You Miss The Hunger Games?

With the final movie having come out a few months ago, The Hunger Games are officially over. Like most readers, I tore through the trilogy in what felt like no time...more than once even! While Katniss Everdeen inspired her really obvious knockoffs (Divergent, anyone?), nothing has quite lived up to Collins' trilogy. And while they're not all quite the same, obviously, here are some of my favorite YA series led by bad-ass female characters:

The Old Kingdom trilogy: For me, these books are the most similar to Collins' and the most likely to be enjoyed by the Hunger Games crowd. Anyone who loved tough, strong Katniss should love equally tough and strong Sabriel, whose beloved father has disappeared into the realm of Death while fighting a powerful necromancer. She has no choice but to rely on the skills he taught her to find him and save her home from evil. These books are fantasy rather than dystopia, but they've got a similar girl-on-a-quest narrative, and a similar approach to the obligatory "love interest" plot point (in that it's a relatively minor plot point...and bonus for no artificial love triangle!). For me, the second volume of this was the weakest (I didn't like Lirael as a character as much as I liked Sabriel), but the first and third were great. There's actually a fourth one that's come out, and I can't wait to get my hands on it and read it because Garth Nix is amazing.

The Immortals quartet: Anything by Tamora Pierce is a solid choice for a young feminist (she's also got the Young Lioness quartet that's very popular and well-regarded, but that one didn't do nearly as much for me when I read it), but this series is my favorite. Daine Sarassri is an orphaned young woman living in a fantasy kingdom called Tortall who discovers that she has a kind of magic, not of the traditional spells-and-charms kind, but a rarer kind of Wild Magic that allows her to commune with animals. Her gift has always set her apart from people, so she's more comfortable with four-footed than two-footed company. Daine, like Katniss, is proud and private and awkward and uses her strength to protect the ones she loves, and her adventures make for compulsive, entertaining reading.

His Dark Materials trilogy: This one is stretching it farther from The Hunger Games base, but it does feature a headstrong, scrappy girl who fights back against the system. The plot is complicated and gets into some strong theological questions like the nature of sin, so the reading is a little bit slower paced, but don't worry, it's not drudgery by a long shot. Lyra Belacqua is an unforgettable heroine and readers who gobbled up Katniss' fight against the Capitol should enjoy Lyra's push back against authority in her world, too.

A Wrinkle In Time Quintet: If you've read them, you might be wondering how I'd compare them to The Hunger Games, which is fair. But I think you can trace a line from smart, stubborn Meg Murray to smart, stubborn Katniss Everdeen without too much trouble. Neither Madeline L'Engle nor Susan Collins is afraid to let their heroine be prickly and sometimes unlikable. Both Meg and Katniss fiercely love and work to protect their younger sibling at great risk to themselves. Unlike The Hunger Games, we actually get to see later stories from the perspectives of the younger siblings in question, and the part of the story that involve an older Meg make me wish we'd gotten a better look at older Katniss.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Book 16: Mr. Splitfoot

"I have a parade of grotesque urges. I want to push little buttons quickly. I want information immediately. I want to post pictures of Ruth and me smiling into the sun. I want people to like me, like me, like me. I want to buy things without trying them on. I want to look at photos of drunk kids I knew back in high school. And I want it all in my hand. But my cyborg parts have been ripped out. What's the temperature? I don't know. What's the capital of Hawaii? I don't know anything. I don't even know the automated systems in my body anymore. I don't know how to be hungry, how to sleep, to breathe." 

Dates Read: January 7-11, 2016

Rating: 7/10

What does it mean to like a book? Does it mean you find it compelling and want to keep reading it when you put it down? Does it mean you think it's well-written? Does it mean that you connect with the characters and care about what happens to them? Does it mean you don't want it to end? Does it mean you want to read it again? Or is it just something ineffable, unquantifiable, that marks the dividing line between "liked it" and "didn't like it"? I can't remember a book before Mr. Splitfoot that has so challenged me to think about what I mean when I say that I "like" a book. I'm still not sure, months after it's been filed away as "read" on Goodreads, whether or not I liked it (I write the first draft of my review very quickly after finishing a book, but I do come back to make revisions a few times before anything officially goes up). That rating? Not a result of any sort of thought process besides that a six seemed too low, and an eight too high.

Mr. Splitfoot is structured as dual narratives that come together at the end. The first, earlier-in-time part of the story follows Ruth and Nat, two of many abandoned children at a state-funded, religiously-motivated facility in upstate New York that cares for them, sort of, until they turn 18. Ruth's older sister Elinor has aged out, so she and Nat declare themselves sisters and bond to each other as their chosen family. As children, they start playing at summoning ghosts with the other kids, and once they reach their late teens, a traveling con man named Mr. Bell takes them and their act on the road. The second, later-in-time part of the story focuses on Cora, Ruth's niece, in the present day. At 25, she's living with her mother, working a dead-end job at an insurance company, and has just been knocked up by older man named Lord who's still married to the wife that was institutionalized after she tried to kill him. Cora only met Ruth (and Nat) once, but that one visit stuck with the then-teenage Cora for life. When Ruth suddenly reappears, after Cora's revelation of her pregnancy to Lord doesn't go well, Cora is just about over everything in her life enough to follow the now-mute Ruth on a journey. Where they're going, and why, and how Ruth came to be mute, are revealed only gradually over the course of the stories as they move forward.

I think, ultimately, that I liked Mr. Splitfoot. I LOVED the language. I highlighted what feels like a quarter of the book in my Kindle and agonized for quite a while over which quote to publish as a part of this post. I've put more Samantha Hunt in my Amazon wishlist, because her way with words is incredible. It reminded me of how Jeffrey Eugenides writes, and Eugenides is one of my all-time favorite authors. And I found the book compelling, both because of its powerful language and because I wanted to see how the mysteries presented by the story were going to be wrapped up. And when they do wrap up, at the end, it makes for a big and satisfying emotional punch. But I thought it moved too slowly, with not enough revelations along the way...instead of whetting my appetite for more, I just kept getting frustrated by not knowing what was going on or where it was headed. And characterization, which is big for me in my enjoyment of a book, was thin. It was hard to understand what motivated the characters to act the way they did. Was it worth reading? Yes, for the wordsmithing alone. But did I enjoy the experience of reading it? Only sort of and sometimes. I did appreciate it by the end, and it stuck with me for a long time. 

Tell me, blog friends...what do you mean when you say you like a book?

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books On My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic: Ten Books On My Spring To Be Read List. I’m just going to list the next ten books on my TBR, because who knows if I’ll be around to them in the “spring” or not? 

To Die For

The Nazi Hunters

Private Citizens

On The Edge of Gone

Sex With Kings

A Calculated Life

Yes Please

The Group

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Suspicious Minds 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book 15: The Serpent King

"If he could be still enough, all the world's motions would cease. The orbit of the earth. The dance of tides. The march of rivers to the sea. Blood in veins. And all would become nothing but her perfect and temporary thereness. Hold this moment. Keep it. Until the next train whistle in the distance pierces the stillness."

Dates read: January 5-7, 2016

Rating: 10/10

The town I grew up in was just this side of rural by the time I hit high school: they put up the first full stoplight (not just a blinking red or yellow) when I was in eighth grade. Our first McDonald's came that year too, or the year after. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if we'd had the internet in high school. The internet was around when I was in high school, of course (I graduated in 2003). Everyone had an email address, and (more importantly) an AIM screen name. But the internet was dial-up, and unless you had two phone lines at your house, you couldn't be constantly online or no one would be able to make calls. What I mean was if we'd had the internet like today, constant availability and access. I used books and movies to escape the limits of my experience as a high schooler, but if I were in high school today, I have to imagine I'd have been an active blog reader and probably a blogger myself.

Which is why I think I connected so hard with Lydia, one of the three rural Tennessee high school students at the heart of The Serpent King. Lydia reminds me of myself in high school...that feeling that you were destined for something greater than what Belle in Beauty and the Beast referred to as "this provincial life" (Belle's kind of a snob when I think back to that movie). Thinking that you were smarter than the people around you, and that somehow made you better than them. While I had a little bit of a hard time buying that Lydia wouldn't have at least some social interest from her peers solely by virtue of her fashion-blogger access to fancy things, she was such a well-drawn character and her emotional truth resonated enough to make this merely a quibble.

Her two best friends and fellow outcasts: Dill, the son of a Pentecostal minister serving time for possession of child pornography, and Travis, a hulking, gentle soul who immerses himself in a Song of Fire and Ice-esque fantasy series, are trying to navigate their senior year. Senior year of high school is such an emotionally-charged time of life, where you start really thinking about The Future in a real way for the first time. The K-12 schooling that has been your entire life since you can remember is about to be over, and the future can feel both overwhelmingly wide and incredibly narrow at the same time. Everything is tinged with a kind of premature nostalgia because you know it's ending. The Serpent King captures the feeling of senior year with such assuredness and beauty that it took me straight back there mentally...I found myself pondering what senior-year me would think about the life I've ended up with, what I would have been like as a senior if I graduated ten years later, trying to figure out what ever became of people that I haven't even thought about in ages.

This is the best high-school experience novel I've read since The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. Chbosky's novel has become a modern-day classic, and I don't see any reason why The Serpent King shouldn't do the same. Strong characters and a beautifully-told, powerful story. A must-read.

Tell me, blog friends...what did you think your life would be when you were a senior in high school? How differently did it turn out?

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Five Characters Everyone Loves But I Just Don't Get and Five Characters I LOVE But Others Seem To Dislike

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic: characters you either love that everyone else hates or you hate that everyone else loves. I feel a little like this prompt is tilted towards reading that’s fandom-oriented (i.e. YA), which isn’t most of my reading. Since I can't come up with ten either way, I’m going to split this as 5 Characters Everyone Loves But I Just Don’t Get and 5 Characters I LOVE But Others Seem To Dislike.

Not For Me

Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter): Honestly, she was the first character that came to my mind when I read the prompt. People ADORE Luna, and I just...don't. I re-read the series a few years ago and my first impression was confirmed. She's not an awful character or anything, she's just not my cup of tea...I find her quirkiness irritating rather than endearing, which leaves me feeling all aloney on my owney.

Lizzie Bennett (Pride & Prejudice): Everyone falls all over themselves about what an amazing heroine she is, but she's my least favorite of the Austen novel leads. I get that the whole thing with the book is her and Darcy learning to get over their pride (hers) and prejudice (his), but she's kind of a jerk enough along the way that I'd have been just as happy to see her not get the happy ending (I think Darcy's pretty yuck himself, though, so they totally deserve each other anyways).

Tris Pryor (Divergent): I tried and failed to get into the Divergent books (I thought the first was decent, but the second annoyed me so much I didn't even pick up the third. I will at some point, probably, but I'm in no hurry at all. Tris completely failed to grab me...she just immediately felt like a poor man's Katniss Everdeen, except with all the real interest sucked out of her. Pass.

Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With The Wind): The only reason anyone can stand her, I think, is Vivian Leigh’s incredible performance in the movie adaptation. In the book, I found her selfish and spiteful and petty and just a terrible mother. I enjoyed the book much less than the movie and the character of Scarlett was the main reason why.

Don Quixote (Don Quixote): The power of my hate for this book a year after I've read it is unabated. If the guy were just being weird by himself and not getting anyone else involved in his nutty take on the world, I have no beef. But like old dudes everywhere, he goes ahead and decides that his view of the world is the only correct one, dammit. Ugh. Ugh. Hated him, hated Sancho, hated the book. 

But I DO like...

Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby): She's selfish and shallow, but I've always seen her as a sad and ultimately sympathetic character. To me, she's trapped inside the world she's chosen and swallowed up by it. She's a pretty little bird, raised in a cage, that lives in a cage, and ultimately will die there without ever knowing true happiness. 

Cho Chang (Harry Potter): This is maybe cheating a little because I'm not a hardcore Cho fangirl, but I think she gets an unreasonable amount of pushback. Harry gets a crush on her, waits forever to make a move, and then gets all butthurt when she's had the audacity to start going out with someone else who likes her. And after that guy dies, she tries to move on with her life and give going out with Harry a shot and figures out she's not ready to date again yet. What's to hate on here? I genuinely don't get it. 

Frodo Baggins (The Lord of the Rings): He's not anyone's favorite character in The Lord of the Rings trilogy...not even mine. But I feel like he gets brushed off as whiny or boring, when he's actually incredibly brave and dedicated. Guy has never left his hometown and then VOLUNTEERS to take the most powerful evil object that exists to the worst place in the world to destroy it, and stays true to his mission even though he's given plenty of chances to ditch it. He only falters at the very end, when the Ring's malevolent influence that has been working on him the entire time finally overcomes him. Frodo is a badass, yo. 

Humbert Humbert (Lolita): I know. He's reprehensible. He's a child rapist. If he were an actual human, my legs couldn't carry me away from him fast enough. But as a character in a book, he's fascinating: witty, erudite, and completely undone by his infatuation with Lolita. It's a testament to the power of Nabokov's talent that he can write this absolute monster of a man with such pathos that he's not nearly as loathsome as he should be. 

Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair): I totally did hate Becky for the first portion of the novel as she schemed away without any apparent thought for the consequences for other people, up to and including her only real friend Amelia. But as the plot pushed forward, I found myself rooting for her. She's totally a sociopath, but girl is a SURVIVOR. She does what she needs to do to. Now that I'm thinking about it, she's a lot like Scarlett O'Hara, but for some reason I find her struggles to work her way up the ladder from the bottom more compelling than Scarlett's quest to retain a top-level perch. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Book 14: Thirst

"She sat on the step, her skirt hugging up and exposing the tight skin at the bend of her knee. The stairs were lipped with crosshatched edgings that looked like graphite. Something about it made him sad- that brutal edge so close to Laura's knee. There was nothing in either one of their bodies as permanent as those emergency stairs"

Dates read: January 2-5, 2016

Rating: 6/10

Almost four years ago now, I moved from Michigan to Nevada. In Michigan, I lived right on the water, on an inland lake. Like, open the door and the water was no more than a stone's throw away. I've been swimming in the summer and on ice skates in the winter for as long as I can remember. Moving to Nevada was a very real change from that. Nevada is the driest state in the country in a good year, and we haven't been having good years lately. We're in the middle of a serious drought, and it's not hard to imagine a future in which there could be significant water restrictions.

But the action in Thirst is kicked off by something not so prosaic as a drought. Rather, the fresh water simply vanishes.  The grid goes down, as does the network, and emergency services are so overwhelmed that they can't respond to the crash causing the enormous traffic snarl Eddie Chapman finds himself in. He doesn't know about the water yet. Frustrated at the delay, close to home, and wanting to avoid worrying his anxious wife, Laura, he leaves his car behind and jogs back to his house. On the way there, he notices that the stream he crosses is dry, the trees around it singed and ashy. And thus Eddie, Laura, and their suburban neighbors find themselves in an awful bind: unable to communicate with anyone besides the people they're in physical proximity to, no access to news or information, and no water during the steamy summer weather. How everyone deals with the circumstances they find themselves in is really what the book is about. How do you provide for yourself? Your neighbors? Strangers? The initial panic, the dwindling supply of liquids, the delirium as the dehydration kicks in...the pretense of civilization vanishes quickly. 

This novel read, to me, of a mix of two books I've read recently: Jose Saramago's Blindness (which I loved), and Knut Hamsun's Hunger (which I hated). Like Blindness, the story follows a group of people cut off from the outside world in a place where rules and the social ties that bind are disintegrating after a catastrophic event. Like Hunger, the inability to meet basic needs of physical survival cause the characters to become delusional and therefore unreliable narrators. Thirst is better than Hunger, but not nearly as good as Blindness. The plot took a while to start moving, and I felt like it ultimately wrapped up a little too quickly. Less exposition at the beginning, more denouement at the end would have made it stronger. But it's engaging, and once I got into the thick of it I was intrigued and wanted to know what happened next. It's pretty quick to get through, and I enjoyed it. I'd recommend it to a friend interested in post-apocalyptic style literature, but don't think I'll end up re-reading it myself.

Tell me, blog friends...what do you think is the worst doomsday scenario? Running out of water sounds like a pretty awful one to me.

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books To Read If You Are In The Mood For Learning

My original plan with this blog was to do just one post per week: my 500 books, in the order I'm reading them. But with the Book Blogger Love-A-Thon, I got a little inspired to do more. I'm not going to go bonkers here, but there's a feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish called Top Ten Tuesday that I read a lot on other people's blogs that I follow, and I want to get in on the fun! The prompt this week was Ten Books To Read If You're In The Mood For X. I kind of waffled back and forth about what exactly I wanted X to be, and then finally hit on my topic. That’s right, y’all: non-fiction. I feel like non-fiction doesn’t get a lot of love on the book blogosphere, so I’m highlighting ten of my favorite non-fiction books to read if you're in the mood to learn about something new! 

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: This is the book that made me become a psychology major in college, and I’m exaggerating only slightly. It’s a collection of short case studies about people whose brains aren’t working the way they should. I read the title story in my Introduction to Psychology class and was fascinated, and when I picked up the whole book, I devoured the entire thing in short measure. How and why the brain goes wrong is just incredibly interesting, and Oliver Sacks (one of my favorite authors) always makes sure that it’s not just the biology and chemistry, but that these things happen to actual people and the impact it has on their lives.

The Nine: As a law-and-politics person, I’m inclined to be interested in those sorts of books for pleasure reading, so there are going to be a few on this list. This one is about the Supreme Court and how it operates: a behind-the-scenes look at the then-sitting justices and how they go about getting the business of the Court done. With the death of Justice Scalia and a confirmation fight almost certainly upcoming, this is a timely read about what actually goes on with those nine judges that make up the highest court in the land. 

The Hot Zone: I first read this book in high school…and then again and again and again. It seems like something that should be a mystery thriller: an Ebola virus outbreak on the east coast of the United States. But it’s real! It happened! This is a must-read and will drive home even further how very scary that recent outbreak was and how bad it could have gotten. 

Under the Banner of Heaven: I picked this up at the airport flying back and forth between Alabama and Michigan during law school on a whim and I was totally sucked in to this story about Warren Jeffs and fundamentalist Mormonism. Nevada has a lot of Mormons, and the ones I know (mostly through work) are some of the nicest, hardest working people I know. But religious fundamentalism isn't exclusive to any one faith, and this book sheds light on the evil that can be perpetuated in the name of God and heaven.

Devil in the Grove: Speaking of evil, I think a lot of people don't appreciate how bad things really were in the Jim Crow-era South. We know, but we don't know. This book brings it to horrifying life by telling the story of one of Thurgood Marshall's pre-SCOTUS cases, in which four young black men go on trial for raping a young white woman in Florida and the depths of depravity they are subjected to are just beyond imagination. I tend to be a little defensive of the South after my time in Alabama for law school, because there are so many amazing people down there that get tarred with ugly stereotypes just because of where they grew up. But, in the interests of honesty and fairness, there are a lot of people who are racist and zero embarrassed about it and pretending it ain't so isn't helping anyone. 

In Cold Blood: This is one of my all-time favorite books, which I recommend across the board to everyone. It tends to be considered the first non-fiction novel, so its structure appeals to people who are usually all fiction all the time, while also appealing to people who actually enjoy reading non-fiction. It's a true crime story about the brutal murder of a four family members in rural Kansas. The whodunit isn't the point, you find that out pretty quickly. But the why and the what happens next...that's the good stuff.

The Anointed One: This one is REALLY specific to my interests, but I think it's a fascinating story regardless of where you live. Veteran Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston tells the story of the gubernatorial election of 1998 and how it was effectively decided by the powers that be long before the first voter cast the first ballot, recounting how each step drew Kenny Guinn's inevitable election even closer. Nevada is a small state in terms of politics, so many of the players are still active and still at it.

A People’s History of the United States: Social justice is a HUGE area of discussion right now, what with Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and the Black Lives Matter movement. It seems like there are a lot of people who want to shout loudly about the American Dream and how incredible it is while happily ignoring the reality that the pretty much our entire history consists of things being really pretty awful for anyone who isn't an upper-class WASP. This is what they didn't teach you in history class. Because it seems inevitable that it will come up, no, I don't hate America. I think America's a good country and I like living here and don't want to leave. Being critical of our own history, especially how it deviates from the preferred narrative about boundless opportunity for everyone ever, is something I don't think constitutes anti-Americanism. I think it's necessary for us to keep getting better and better.

Game Change: For the story of an election that more people might be familiar with, this book covers the presidential race in 2008. Spoiler alert: Obama wins. But unlike the smoothly orchestrated machinations of the election depicted in The Anointed One, this one got messy. This book lifts the curtain on the slugfest to the Democratic nomination and the hurried scramble to find a solid vice presidential contender on the Republican side that gave us Sarah Palin. What we see on the news is just the tiniest fragment of what goes into a presidential campaign, and this is a fascinating look at something much closer to the whole story.

Deluxe: Have you ever coveted a Louis Vuitton bag? Or sighed longingly after a designer gown? Once upon a time, luxury goods were, well, luxurious, crafted with the highest quality materials and attention to detail. But the rise of corporate monolithic ownership of luxury brands presaged the decline of the artisans who established them in the first place and cost-cutting has made what was once deluxe a shadow of what it used to be. I'm a devoted reader of my lady mags, and this really made me think about the business behind the pretty pictures.