Monday, October 31, 2016

A Month In The Life: October 2016

If you missed my first-year-of-blogging update a few weeks back, I've decided to start doing monthly summary posts: not only what I'm reading (which at this point, is months ahead of what I'm posting), but of what's going on in my life outside of books. I like seeing what the lives of other book bloggers entail outside of solely the written word, so hopefully you like seeing mine too! Let's get to the important stuff first-

In Books:
  • I read... 
    • Sophie's Choice: Yes, the movie was based on a book. It's like 2/3 of a brilliant novel but suffers mightily for a too-strong focus on the author-insert character and the lack of a firm editor. 
    • The Mothers (ARC): No, not the one everyone's been raving about lately. This one's by Rod Jones. This was just kind of blah, honestly. Not special, not terrible, didn't say anything new or particularly interesting. One of those things I suspect I would forget I read but for this blog. 
    • The Life of the World to Come (ARC): This book seems like a screenplay from the early-to-mid-2000s when the manic pixie dream girl thing was a big trend in movies. The entire book is about a young lawyer trying to get over a bad breakup and although the writing was often quite good, I just couldn't bring myself to care.   
    • Border Child (ARC): I wanted this to be so much better than it was. Rather than a sensitive depiction of the issues that drive Latinx migration over the border and the incredible disruption it can have on families, it was trite and not very well-written.
    • The Executioner's Song: A sprawling, 1000+ page epic about the first execution carried out in the United States after the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-70s. Gary Gilmore killed two men and, when he was sentenced to die, decided to accept his sentence as imposed and did not appeal. Impressive ambition and scope, but deeply uneven. There's a brilliant 500-600 page book in here but it's far too bloated. 

In Life:
  • Both my husband and I celebrated our 31st birthdays this month! I'm exactly two weeks older than he is and one of these days I'm just going to stop reacting when he calls me a cougar because I know he only does it because I get huffy. My birthday was pretty low-key, just a quiet dinner at La Famiglia (my favorite restaurant in Reno...the gnocchi are amazing), but we got a little more social for Drew's, with a stop at the now-Patton Oswalt approved Noble Pie and some bar hopping afterwards. 
  • The second week of the month was pretty hectic, actually. For those of you who don't know, I'm a state government lobbyist in Nevada. Nevada usually has a 120 day legislative session every other year, but they can be called into special session if there's a pressing issue to be dealt with. If you pay attention to sports news, you've probably heard that Nevada approved a deal for an NFL stadium to be built in Las Vegas for the Raiders. Since we have clients who were interested in that, I monitored (read: watched and took copious notes) on the proceedings. It took from Monday until Friday afternoon...and I managed to come down with the seasonal flu on Wednesday! That didn't mean I didn't need to monitor, though, so I just kept my germs at home and watched it all from my couch looped up on DayQuil and Sudafed. I was glad when it was over and I could actually rest. 
  • I voted! Nevada has early voting, so it actually started on October 22nd and I went on the 25th. As a political professional type, I'm always going to make a pro-voting pitch, so here it is. I know voting seems boring. Wait in line, have to pick between people you've barely heard of OR are really tired of seeing commercials about. And it feels like one vote doesn't make a difference. But they do! Since they're down the ballot, state and local elections can be won and lost on just a handful of votes (one state representative in Nevada won his race by only 11 votes in 2014!). And really, it's the state and local races, and their results, that are going to be the ones that deal with and change the laws you interact with the most on a daily basis. So take an hour or so and Google the candidates and issues on your ballot, and then go out and do it. People will be getting elected regardless, so give it the best chance to be the people you'd rather see in there!

One Thing: Here's where I'll highlight one thing I've been really into this month, whether it be an album or a website or a beauty product or whatever. This month, it's the New York Times' election podcast The Run-Up. It's smart and informative and I can't wait for 8 days from now when it'll finally be Election Day and it'll all be over.

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book 48: Enchanted Islands

"But I found his dedication to the craft a sign that he was an enlightened being, like those monks who spend years crafting sand paintings only to sweep them away once they've finished. Now I see he was keeping himself busy, keeping the demons at bay. But demons are not dissuaded by oceans or preferences; they stow away like sea lice, unwanted visitors from another place, coming ashore with you wherever you go."

Dates read: May 2-5, 2016

Rating: 8/10

I turned 31 earlier this month. I still don't feel like a grown up. I don't pick up after myself with any sort of regularity. I eat frozen dinners at least a couple times per week. I laugh at fart jokes. I love T-Rexes and have a model skeleton of one in my office (courtesy of our incredible office manager, who not only got it for me but built it for me as a gift). I can take down a whole tube of Pringles in one sitting if I'm not paying attention. I've only recently started flossing regularly, and insist on using the little picks or I won't do it. My life only vaguely resembles the one I thought I'd have when I was younger: I was going to stay in Michigan and be a prosecutor. But here I am, a lobbyist in Nevada. I don't think of myself as an adult, even now that I'm married. When are we finally done growing up?

The answer, as gleaned from Allison Amend's Enchanted Islands, is much later than we think. Frances Frankowski is a shy, bookish girl growing up in a poor family in Duluth when she meets fellow youngster Rosalie at the library and the two become instant best friends. They grow up together, but when Frances learns that Rosalie is being exploited when the two are teenagers, they run away to Chicago. After some time there, Rosalie betrays Frances' trust, and Frances flees...first to Nebraska, then to San Francisco, where after a stint as a teacher, she eventually winds up as a secretary for naval intelligence when she's in her late 40s. She runs back into Rosalie and they are reconnecting after decades apart when Frances is offered the chance for marriage to a handsome younger man as part of a secret mission in the Galapagos, and when she accepts it, she alters the course of the rest of her life.

The book is split into four parts comprising two real halves: Frances' life before she meets her husband Ainslie and goes to the Galapagos, and after. The first half takes us through Frances' family life and the beginnings of her deep friendship with Rosalie. The book actually starts with Frances and Rosalie together in a nursing home, having both outlived their husbands, so we knows theirs is a relationship that stands the test of time going in. But the seeds of their break are planted early, and when it comes, we're as saddened as Frances herself is but not really surprised. What is surprising is that they manage to find their way back together early in the second half: a chance encounter in a movie theater in San Francisco, thousands of miles from where they once were girls together. By then, Frances is already contemplating the offer of a sham marriage and an adventure overseas, and it's as much a vain desire to announce to her friend that she IS married, thank you, that convinces her to go for it as anything else. The relationship she and Ainslie create, which sustains long after their mission has ended, is just as lovely but never more important than Frances' relationship with her real soulmate...her best and dearest and oldest friend. I've always had a soft spot for stories about female friendship, because my relationships with my girl friends have occupied such a central place in my own life.

This was a good book, and I've actually gone back and added one of Amend's previous novels to my to-be-read list, because I really enjoyed her writing, which is sure and strong. It actually struck me as I was reading it that this seems like the book that Sena Naslund thought she was writing when she wrote Ahab's Wife...minor personage (in this case, Frances Conway was a real person, who wrote two books about her time in the Galapagos, but she's not notable enough to have her own Wikipedia entry because all the secret spy mission stuff is completely made up), fiercely independent, facing obstacles, adventures, and hardships with strong will and determination. But Amend's work is far superior: she allows Frances to be flawed: prickly, occasionally small-minded, and petty. In doing so, she creates a beautifully realized character who is sympathetic and compelling. All three of the main characters are, really. Amend is a gifted writer and I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.

Tell me, blog friends...when did you start feeling like a grown-up? Or do you at all?

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

One year ago, I was reading: The Nazi Officer's Wife

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Horrifying Books I've Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! With Halloween around the corner, it's fright season. I enjoy a good pumpkin patch and seeing the neighborhood kiddos in their costumes, but actually scary things like haunted houses have never been for me (I don't like corn mazes either because being lost makes me panicky). I don't read much in the way of "horror", but I do read things that creep/freak/wig me out more often than you'd think for someone so jumpy. Here are ten favorites:

Go Ask Alice: Huge caveat here- I thought this was horrifying when I first read it at like, 11. A young teenager tries drugs and before you know it's she's getting sexually abused and runs away from home (I think, I can't really remember it very clearly) and it was supposed to be a true account of someone's life. Even though I think of it as laughably overblown now, I somehow was surprised when I found out recently it was complete fiction written by someone who's done a lot of these "scared straight" books.

The Stranger Beside Me: Ann Rule was a volunteer at a suicide hotline in Washington, and often worked the late shift beside a likeable young man named Ted. They became friendly, and sometimes spoke of what was then front-page news in Washington State: a series of murders of pretty young women. Ted, of course, was Ted Bundy...the serial killer who was committing all those murders. Realizing how little we actually know about other people is definitely frightening to consider.

In Cold Blood: The horror of this one comes from the sheer unpredictability of the gruesome murders of the Clutter family of Kansas, and Truman Capote's rendering of how their murderers came to them. The Clutters were just sleeping in their beds, minding their own business, when their home was broken into and they were brutally slaughtered. That's so scary to think about.

The Hot Zone: We've all heard, after the Ebola scares that happened fairly recently in America, about what that virus can do to you: bleeding out internally is not a pleasant way to go. But before those few cases that developed on American soil, there was another close brush with Ebola: an outbreak of a strain among imported monkeys just outside Washington, DC. Ebola-Reston turned out to be a version that didn't infect humans, but how easy it would be for a pandemic to spread in our globally linked world freaks me out to think about.

Under The Banner of Heaven: This is not really a book about Mormonism (even though there's a lot of interesting historical information in there), it's a book about fundamentalist religion. As a lady person, the treatment of women is especially awful.

Devil In The Grove: You learn about Jim Crow-era injustices and violence and lynching and the profound mistreatments of African-Americans in school, but it's sanitized. Reading this book, about four young men on trial in Florida for raping a white woman, doesn't sanitize anything. The actual constant threat and terror of black existence in the South during Jim Crow is eye-opening and just gut-wrenching.

The Pianist: The Holocaust is flat-out horrifying. There aren't words for it. Of the Holocaust memoirs I've read, this one's elegant-but-unsparing prose hit me the hardest.

The Shining: I don't read much traditional horror, hence this mostly-nonfiction list. But I love the Kubrick movie, and even though the original Stephen King book is almost entirely different, I love it too. Like most of the rest of this list, it's mostly about the monster inside of a man (the malevolent hotel plays a role, too, but it's Jack Torrance's internal demons that are the root of the issue).

The Stepford Wives: I've tried to keep the politics to a minimum here on this blog (we're here for books, after all), but I will never keep my passionate support for women's rights, including rights to control our reproduction, to myself. This quick-read satire makes you wonder, particularly in this election cycle, what men really do want from women.

The Circle: I read this very recently, so there's no review up yet, and it's problematic in a lot of ways. But the picture it paints of a world in while we give up more and more privacy to the internet is really scary to consider, because the slipperiness of that slope is real.

Friday, October 21, 2016

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

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.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

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 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

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.

Monday, October 10, 2016

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 
  • 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 
  • 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 
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!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

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?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

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?