Friday, March 31, 2017

A Month In The Life: March 2017

 March brings the first tentative steps into spring (only to be followed, of course, by several backwards steps retreating into winter) and this year, somehow even more snow and rain into the general Reno area (we're having the wettest water year on record yet). Let's see what else it brought, shall we?

In Books...
  • A Leg To Stand On: Oliver Sacks is one of my all-time favorite authors, and his memoir about the experience of recovering from a gruesome leg injury and finding himself as a patient rather than a doctor is, as always, touching and insightful and wise. 
  • Die A Little: I've heard so many raves about Megan Abbott's work, and this is her debut, a female-driven Los Angeles noir. It's a quick, enjoyable read that made me look forward to the other books of hers that are living on my Kindle!
  • Housekeeping: Our book club selection for March, I found Marilynne Robinson's writing exquisite, but the book's ultimate failure to develop much in either the way of plot or compelling characters undermined it. 
  • City of Thieves: Game of Thrones showrunner David Benioff is also a writer himself, and this book, about two young Russian men who get sent on a journey for eggs during the starve-out siege of St. Petersburg, was something I didn't expect to get too much out of but LOVED.
  • Green Girl: I found Kate Zambreno's novel about a confused young woman from the US living in London and trying to recover from a shattering relationship and the loss of her mother, to be both alienating and very difficult to put down.
  • Chemistry: I was lucky enough to score an ARC of Weike Wang's debut, which was one I was especially looking forward to, but although it was an enjoyable enough tale of an overachieving daughter of Chinese immigrants who hits pause on her Ph.D., it didn't quite live up to my expectations.
  • Stranger In A Strange Land: This is a sci-fi classic, but I found it pretty dull, honestly. A standard messiah-sacrifice story with lots of long passages of exposition about religious/philosophical beliefs and I had a hard time keeping myself interested, honestly. 
  • The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: This story about a Justin Bieber-esque 12 year-old pop star touring and starting to push back against the control of his momager develops a really great voice for its protagonist, who is both touchingly innocent and profoundly jaded. Never quite great, but very solid.

In Life...
  • Still in session! Until June, this is going to be essentially everything in my life because I do nothing but work all day and spend all weekend recovering and we're not even halfway through yet and it already feels like it's been about a century. We just got through the first major deadlines (bill introductions), with the next one upcoming in two weeks (first house committee passage), so it's definitely going at full tilt.

One Thing:
  • This probably makes me a bad American, but I love royalty...the number of books about royals on my shelves is a large one. So this piece from The Guardian, about what will happen when the Queen passes, was completely fascinating. Logistics!

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Book 70: The Last Picture Show

 "It took a rich, fast crowd to go swimming naked, and Jacy always prided herself on belonging to the fastest crowd there was, moral or immoral. Indeed, for a rich, pretty girl like herself the most immoral thing imaginable would be to belong to a slow crowd. That would be wasting opportunities, and nothing was more immoral than waste."

Dates read: July 17-19, 2016

Rating: 9/10

The town my dad grew up in is dying. Has been for years. Little place in the western Upper Peninsula that's been slipping ever since the copper mining left. Then the paper mill closed. Then they re-routed the highway so you don't have to go through town. Now all of the schoolkids, K-12, can fit in one building, businesses are closing down for good, and it seems more and more likely that one day Ontonagon will just cease to exist.

But it's still scraping along right now, and in that it's like Thalia, the fictional Texas town where Larry McMurtry sets The Last Picture Show. Oil keeps Thalia together, provides roughnecking jobs for the local working class boys, and keeps the town's wealthiest family, the Farrows, in their relatively cushioned niche. Gene and Lois Farrow's spoiled, beautiful teenage daughter Jacy is the apple of every boy's eye and when the story starts, she's chosen her blue-collar classmate Duane as her boyfriend. She doesn't really have especially strong feelings for Duane, but she likes that he's in the backfield on the football team and that he adores her and buys her things. That he's poor enough to piss off her parents is icing on the cake.

But the book isn't really about Duane. It's sort of about Jacy, but it's really about Sonny, Duane's best friend, and their senior year in high school. Sonny is just kind of drifting along without much direction, being mediocre at sports and crushing on his best friend's girl, until he finds himself in an affair with Ruth, the football coach's neglected wife. He's thrilled to be getting laid regularly and fond of Ruth, but their affair triggers something deeper for her. Stuck in a bad marriage she made to rebel against her parents, she feels seen and desired for the first time in her adult life, giving her back some of her dampened inner fire but also making her heart-wrenchingly dependent on the attention of a teenage boy. And when Jacy sets her sights on Sonny, well...heartbreak is in order.

One of the things that struck me particularly about this novel was the lack of romance in the way that McMurtry dealt with sex. The experience of sex for the characters ranges from the purely transactional (both Sonny and Duane sleep with hookers) to the deeply meaningful (the way that Ruth views her assignations with Sonny). It felt more honest than either treating it consistently as either a purely physical exercise or A Mystical Union Of Two Souls. There's even a range of feeling about sex within the characters themselves: for example, Jacy sleeps with the besotted Duane as a means to an end of losing her virginity to be more attractive to another man and coolly leaves him shortly thereafter, but she's genuinely hurt when she has sex with the local pool hustler because she feels real desire for the first time in her life and it turns out she's just a a way he's acting out towards his own lover. It hits on the way that sex actually works in real life, with a wide spectrum of meaning depending on the content, and it's just part of why the novel rings so true and so real.

Sonny's not a bad guy, despite his sometimes cavalier treatment of Ruth's feelings. He's just young and is still feeling his way into becoming an adult. Which is pretty much everyone's situation, including the adults's the rare coming-of-age story that doesn't neglect the older generation. The idea that we're all just trying to figure out how to be a grown-up is what gives the novel its power. I loved this book and the way it took you inside the character's heads (mostly Sonny, Jacy, and Ruth, but a few others) and let you see situations and other characters from different perspectives. It creates a sense of people, not just characters, on the page. It felt like a tour of loneliness, in a way: everyone in the story is lonely and trying to deal with that loneliness in their own way. Everyone's grasping at something they think will help that seems tantalizingly just out of reach. Which isn't just small-town life, to be certain, but cities seem to have more to offer to distract from that emptiness. The people of Thalia, though, just have their aching hearts. It's not a long book, but I found it so compelling that I blasted right through it. Simple but vivid prose and emotionally honest characters made it hard to put down.

Tell me, blog it harder to be lonely in a small town or a big city, do you think?

One year ago, I was reading: The Group

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I'd Love To Meet

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's topic is meeting authors. I've actually only ever met one of my favorite authors...Jeffrey Eugenides came to the University of Michigan campus when I was an undergrad to speak, and I came away with a signed copy of my favorite book to show for it. There are, of course, plenty of other authors I'd love to meet, and here are ten of them!

Charlaine Harris: I loved the Southern Vampire Mysteries, and I've heard her other works are just as delightful. She seems so unpretentious and sweet and I'd love the chance to say hi!

Alison Weir: Once I read my first one of her amazing history books, I promptly went out and acquired a copy of pretty much everything else she's ever written. She ran a school for kids with learning disabilities before she was able to be a full-time writer, which I think is pretty awesome.

Stephen King: I think I've only read one of his novels (The Shining for sure, and I can't remember if I read Carrie at some point?), but from his Twitter and the column he used to do (still does? Is it in EW? I can't remember), he seems fantastic. He did actually come to Reno to do a signing last year...but it was my wedding day, so I was kinda busy.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah was completely amazing, and so is her TED talk, and I just love her.

John U Bacon: If I'd planned my schedule better at Michigan, I could have taken one of his classes, but I've read all of his books and I read his blog and he's smart and funny and insightful and loves Ann Arbor and that's a pretty great combo.

Nick Hornby: His protagonists are usually overgrown man-children, which, snore, but he's such a good writer that I eat it up with a spoon anyways. He's so witty with words, I'd love the chance to actually hear him talk.

Kazuo Ishiguro: I love his delicate, sensitive touch with prose and characters and the chance to listen to him talk about how he does it would be amazing.

George R. R. Martin: I love the Song of Ice and Fire series so much (and I've heard incredible things about the Dunk and Egg books, which I want to read soon!) and his blog is always interesting, and he seems like the type to appreciate people nerding out over his work, right?

Tamora Pierce: As much as I love The Hunger Games, I get annoyed when people make it out like Katniss was the first badass female protagonist in YA. Those of us who grew up with Alanna the Lioness and Daine and her wild magic know better. She's the kind of author whose books I want to share with my own children.

J.K. Rowling: She's a brilliant writer and such a bold social media presence. Getting the chance to tell her how much Harry Potter meant to me in person? I'd consider myself very lucky indeed. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Book 69: The Shipping News

 "Quoyle was not going back to New York, either. If life was an arc of light that began in darkness, ended in darkness, the first part of his life had happened in ordinary glare. Here it was as though he had found a polarized lens that deepened and intensified all seen through it. Thought of his stupid self in Mockingburg, taking whatever came at him. No wonder love had shot him through the heart and lungs, caused internal bleeding."

Dates read: July 12-17, 2016

Rating: 6/10

Lists/Awards: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize

I am a habit-bound person. All I need to do to get myself into any sort of routine is make myself do something for a few weeks, and I'll just keep on doing it once I get set into it. This comes in handy with exercise (once I can make myself get out there and actually do it, of course) and lunch (I eat literally the same exact thing every day and have for years), less so when I get so stuck in my patterns that I don't get outside the box every once in a while. There's a happy medium between slavish devotion to a habit and complete chaos, and working on finding that medium is something that's challenged me for years now.

But the rewards of actually scooching outside of your established patterns can be high indeed. And finding the kind of ordinary bravery that it takes to make a change in your circumstances and how powerfully doing so can change you for the better, is what for me was at the heart of Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. Our protagonist, Quoyle (his last name, he's never given a first name), grew up the less-loved son of a cruel father. He's a big man, not particularly attractive nor particularly mentally gifted, and with the kind of aura of pathetic sadness that people seem to avoid almost in fear that it'll be catching.

He ends up working at a newspaper, and then meets and somehow marries Petal, who is lovely but unhinged, and manages to have two daughters with her. She quickly comes to loathe Quoyle, and is constantly and obviously unfaithful. She finally leaves him, but karma comes around fast and she's killed in a car accident almost immediately afterwards, leaving him a despondent widower and single father. Luckily, this is when his father's sister turns up and invites him to join her in returning to the small coastal town she and Quoyle's father grew up in: a place called Killick-Claw in Newfoundland.

Not having any other real options, Quoyle accepts and gets a job covering car crashes and shipping news for the local paper, The Gammy Bird. Over time, he develops real and deep friendships with the other townspeople, and grows closer to a young widow raising a child of her own. These slow developments in Killick-Claw make up both the bulk of the book (the plot is pretty front-loaded) and the meat of the book: Quoyle coming into his own is what it's actually about more than anything else.
This book seems like it should be tailor-made for me: small-town life, lovely prose, character study. But it just never quite clicked, much to my regret. Proulx's writing is fantastic, lovely and evocative without going into purple territory. She builds Quoyle bit by bit, showing you who he is without telling you...Quoyle's constant demonstrations of affection and concern to his daughters makes it clear how deeply important they are to him without Proulx having to spell it out. But I think it was my issues with Petal that torpedoed it for me. Besides her preposterous name (Petal Bear? really?), she couldn't have been more of a two-dimensional character: she is hateful and cruel and it's not enough to have her cheat on him, she has to bring men to their house to do it. It's not enough for her to eventually leave with the girls, she has to sell them to a pornographer (obviously they are recovered). I could believe that the kicked-dog of a man he is in the beginning would continue to love her despite the cheating, but after she tries to sell their kids like that, I can't believe that anyone would so easily forgive and hold on to that relationship as their great love affair. And since his slow process of recovery in a new place constantly references her and their tragic "love", I never could quite buy into it. Just never came together for me the way I wanted it to.

Tell me, blog friends...what do you think you couldn't forgive?

One year ago, I was reading: On The Edge of Gone

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Kept Me Up Late To Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's theme is "one sitting books". Now I read a lot (obviously), but I almost never read a book in one sitting. That's just not the way I do things. So rather, in the spirit of the theme, I've made my list out of books that kept me up late to read. I'm usually pretty good about putting my book down at bedtime, because I'm one of those people who doesn't function well after a bad night of sleep. But sometimes, I'm just too into it and I can't make myself do the smart thing and get back to it tomorrow. So here are ten books that kept me up late at night to read them!

The Queen of the Night: Even though I'm usually a character-over-plot reader, I could not get enough of this plot-heavy historical fiction mystery. I kept promising myself just one more chapter until I went to sleep, and then one more, and one more...

The Last One: This book's story, about a woman on a reality TV survival show when a deadly pandemic strikes, deconstructs the way we respond to these kinds of shows and the action is hard to tear yourself away from. I loved this book.

Green Girl: This was a very recent read, and even though I didn't actually like it that much, I found it very difficult to turn away from the tale of a lost young American woman in London trying to figure out the world.

Dead Until Dark: All of the books in the Southern Vampire Mysteries did this for me, honestly. They're breezy and light and so easy to get sucked into and hard to put down.

Gone Girl: Didn't we all get totally drawn into this book when we read it? The mystery of the first half, and the twist, and then wondering how it'll all end could you sleep before you find out how it resolves?

Anna Karenina: I found this gigantic Russian tome to be incredibly compelling. I finished it in about 5 days, which meant a few days of less-than-ideal resting but I couldn't tear myself away from Anna's tragic story.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Before I finally picked the first of these Swedish mystery/thrillers, I thought they couldn't possibly live up to the hype. But then I opened the first one, and found it really hard to close it again until it was over.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Ok, fellow nerds who were growing up in the Harry Potter midnight-release-party era, you gonna pretend like you didn't get the book and then immediately stay up all night until you knew how the saga ended? Didn't think so.

Child 44: I grab a lot of books that look mildly interesting off of Kindle sale pages, because for 2 or 3 dollars, why not? This was a bit hard to get into at the beginning, but once it took off, it really took off and I had a really hard time turning off the light to take a break and rest

We Need To Talk About Kevin: Even though you know from the beginning how it ends, the way it unfolds is what keeps your attention. I kept turning the pages to dive deeper long past I should have been getting some shut-eye

Monday, March 20, 2017

My Reading Life: What I Wish I Would Have Read In High School

 The title is a bit of a misnomer. There are some books that I read in high school that were amazing: To Kill A Mockingbird (read in 10th grade), The Great Gatsby (read in 11th grade, and which I super hated at the time and think high school is too early to really appreciate it). But there were also some clunkers: Of Mice and Men (read in 9th grade), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (read in 12th grade). High school is such a heady time, hormones and emotions running high, and the right book at the right time can instill a lifelong appreciation for books and the worlds you can explore through them. If I was redesigning the standard-issue high school curriculum (which I know doesn't really exist, my in-laws are teachers), here are the three works I would want everyone to read each year

Freshman Year

Romeo and Juliet: I read this one freshman year, and I think that's the perfect time to read it. Romeo and Juliet is a bonkers play, you guys. Fighting in the streets! Romantic obsession! Sex! Death! It's a story about teenagers being crazy and stupid and perfect for 14 year olds.

1984: In terms of actual reading comprehension level, this is very understandable for a teenager. Some parents would probably freak out because of some very mild sexual situations, but they need to chill out. This is a great novel to inspire kids to start to think critically about political and media manipulation (especially in this new age of "alternative facts")

The Hunger Games: I think recently popular lit gets overlooked on school reading lists, but I think this would actually go great with 1984. The language is a bit more modern but touches on similar themes about government control, and features a badass female heroine.

Sophomore Year

To Kill A Mockingbird: This literary classic was on my own 10th grade reading list, and I think that was a great time to have read it. Scout is a fantastic heroine, and lessons this book imparts about standing up for what's right and empathy for others are powerful at any age, but especially around this time.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower: This story, about the tight bond that develops between flawed teenage outcasts, is sensitive and powerful. As much as parents would love to pretend otherwise, teenagers do have sex lives and sexuality, and this novel speaks to those developments in a way that will ring true for 15 year-olds.

Speak: On the dark side of that idea about teenage sexuality is the reality that sexual assault is a real risk during these years. The book is incisive and witty and can help girls understand that unwanted sexual attention isn't their fault...and boys understand the importance of consent. 

Junior Year

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: The story of Francie Nolan is one about overcoming the odds, mostly because of a love of reading and school. Francie lives through some pretty tough stuff and manages to stick it out, and I know when I was 16, I was pretty sure I had it pretty bad myself, so this book will bring both perspective and an example of triumph over obstacles.

The Catcher In The Rye: I really think this book speaks most powerfully to teenagers, who are obsessed with the idea of being real, the idea that adults are fake. By the time I read it, in my early 20s, I mostly wanted to give Holden a hearty smack across the face and tell him to snap out of it. But for a 16 year-old, the sense of aimlessness and feeling like you should know what you want from your life even though you totally don't is very identifiable.

Fahrenheit 451: Our world today has more easy distractions than ever, making the relevance of this novel, about the importance of books and reading and how easy it is for these things to fall by the wayside, even more obvious. This book will likely not speak to every 11th grade student, but for those who make the effort to understand it, it would be richly rewarding.

Senior Year

In Cold Blood: Truman Capote's masterpiece about a shocking murder in Kansas is a fantastic way to work with 12th graders about style. It was one of the very first non-fiction novels, and is perfectly paced and plotted. The appeal of a story is about the way it's told as much as anything else.

A Brave New World: This fits right in with the 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 suggestions earlier along the way about the ways that the powerful can subdue the masses through social control. This one is, for my money, the most mature of the three I've picked and as you're about to send kids out into the world, one that I'd like to have fresh in their minds.

Lord of the Flies: I think I actually read this in 11th grade, but it works fine here too. Finding and trying to fit into groups is a big part of the teen years, which continue into college, and the power of those groups to influence their members is something that's good to put into 17 and 18 year-olds minds as they get ready to really experience life outside the home for the first time.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book 68: Under The Tuscan Sun

"On my way out, I see a man in a sweater, despite the heat. The trunk of his minuscule Fiat is piled with black grapes that have warmed all morning in the sun. I'm stopped by the winy, musty, violet scents. He offers me one. The hot sweetness breaks open in my mouth. I have never tasted anything so essential in my life as this grape on this morning. They even smell purple."

Dates read: July 7-12, 2016

Rating: 5/10

I am super fortunate: not only have I been able to travel internationally, but I've been to Italy three times. I don't think there's any way to say it that doesn't sound like humblebragging, but my mom has always valued traveling with my sister and I, so she's been generous enough to take us on family vacations. The first time I went was Florence and Rome, the second was just Florence, and about a year and a half ago we went to Sorrento. Of the places I've been, Florence is my favorite. Tuscany is an incredible place and I hope I get to go back someday.

Even if I never do go back, though, I feel incredibly lucky to I've been able to go to Tuscany at all. But it's one level of privilege to be able to visit briefly. It's a whole other level to be able to buy property over there and actually live there for parts of the year. But what some of us can only dream of, others are able to make happen and Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun recounts her experiences buying and renovating a farmhouse in Cortona, Italy, and the first years she spent with it as her Christmas and summer home.

First things first: the movie (which I've never seen) is apparently not a strict adaptation of the book. While in both cases Frances' divorce from an apparently very wealthy man (she mentions it only vaguely in the book) is what enables her to purchase the home, the movie apparently gives her a hot new Italian man to mend her broken heart. In reality/the book, she is already happily remarried by the time she decides to start looking for a summer home in Italy. Let me stress that again: they have the means to start searching for a summer home in ITALY. If rich white people doing home renovation, eating food, and contemplating their navels is not your deal, this book will not be for you. I've seen rather a lot of negative reviews focused on the premise that the book is not like the movie and/or annoyed that it's about nothing more than wealthy people doing construction and eating.

There are reasons I found the book to be a mixed bag (hence the very middle of the road rating), but they don't have anything to do with either the lack of romance or the privilege. Well, sort of the latter, I guess, because my biggest beef with the book is that there isn't really any conflict. Story structure has remained remarkably consistent over recorded history, which means there are clearly elements that are naturally appealing to people when they're taking in a tale. One of the fundamental pieces of a story is conflict: we want to see our protagonists struggle with obstacles. Frances...doesn't, really. She obliquely mentions that things are expensive, but there's never any indication she has to scrimp or save or go without in order to afford them. She and her husband do a lot of DIY to fix the place up, but the impression is that they enjoy doing it, and don't need to do it for money's sake. It all just seems to roll along...they find the house, they buy it, they do gradual repairs, they start spending a lot of time there, they make new friends, and they're happy. Which must be lovely to experience, but pretty boring to read about.

What saves it from being a total snooze is the writing. Mayes is a poet, and it shows. It's beautifully written, and the way she writes lets you see with your mind's eye the lawn at Bramasole with the bright yellow table she had painted, loaded with fresh and simple but delicious food, looking out on the olive trees and flowers and rolling hills. There's an enjoyable element of wish fulfillment fantasy...very very few people will ever get to live the kind of dreamy life she shows us (I have no doubt there were and are less wonderful elements behind the scenes, but she doesn't go into them), so it gives us a window into what seems like an incredible experience. But I had trouble focusing on it because I was honestly mostly bored after about the first 100 pages or so.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever been to Italy?

One year ago, I was reading: To Die For

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishAnd for this first week back after what was a well-timed break for me, we're looking at our Spring TBRs. This is kind of a rough outline for me, because I'll have some book club picks that'll get inserted in here, but here are the next ten books I'm planning on reading!

Green Girl: Kate Zambreno is an author I've heard good things about and this was a Kindle sale special so I picked it up. It's about a young American woman struggling through living in London and I'm intrigued.

Chemistry: This is a 2017 release I've been looking forward to, about a Ph.D. candidate who has a bit of an identity crisis and tries to discover who she is outside of her chemistry studies, and I got an ARC so I'm super pumped.

Stranger In A Strange Land: I do enjoy the occasional science fiction, and this is a classic of the genre.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: This was another Kindle sale pickup about a preteen pop star that seems to be kind of loosely based on Justin Bieber and it seems interesting.

The Road to Jonestown: Another ARC! This one is about the People's Temple cult, which is a story I've always been fascinated by, so I'm really excited to read a book about it.

Innocent Traitor: Alison Weir a favorite author of mine, and while she usually writes nonfiction history, this is a fictional account of Lady Jane Grey, who's a really interesting figure.

My Sister's Grave: This one I'm honestly not much looking forward to. It was a Kindle First pick quite some time ago and maybe I'll start skipping some of these because there are so many books I DO want to read out in the world. Maybe I'll skip this one. We'll see.

All The Lives I Want: I've honestly soured a bit on the "humorous essays" genre, but Alana Massey is such a fantastic writer that hers is definitely one I'm happy to be able to read early (got an ARC!)

The Children of Henry VIII: More Alison Weir! I love royalty history and this one touches on both the actual Lady Jane Grey as well as Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: I've heard really mixed reviews on this Dave Eggers memoir, so here's hoping I am more of a "loved it" than a "hated it". 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book 67: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

"Thus we will see that Katherine of Aragon was a staunch but misguided woman of principle; Anne Boleyn an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance; Jane Seymour a strong-minded matriarch in the making; Anne of Cleves a good-humored woman who jumped at the chance of independence; Katherine Howard an empty-headed wanton; and Katherine Parr a godly matron who was nevertheless all too human when it came to a handsome rogue."

Dates read: July 2-July 7, 2016

Rating: 7/10

When we were growing up, it was always my little sister who was the Anglophile. Every time we stopped at a bookstore, she had to get a book about England. She even ended up married to a British guy (completely coincidentally, but I'm sure that adorable accent didn't hinder his entry into her good graces). But it must be airborne, because she got me hooked into books about England too. I've written before about my fondness for the Tudor period, but while that might have been the first instance of it showing up on this blog, it certainly won't be the last.

Even with being a Tudor nerd, when I pulled Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII off my shelf to read, I figured I was in for a long haul. Nearly 600 pages of nonfiction tends to be a lot to handle, no matter how interesting you find the subject. But as you can see, I actually read it pretty quickly! Which is attributable in large part to how good Weir's writing is. Although she's presenting facts, she doesn't forget that her job as a writer is to tell a story for the reader. The story of Henry the Eighth and his wives is an inherently juicy one, and she tells it well.

Like many stories about Henry and his wives, the first two (Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn) dominate the narrative. In the case of books based solidly in historical fact, I have to imagine that part of that is simply because there's the most information there about these two women. As royalty in her own right, Katherine's life would have been much more documented than a common woman. And since Henry and Anne's affair lasted seven years before their marriage, there was a lot of time for things to be written about her by the types of people whose correspondence would have been preserved. Jane Seymour, on the other hand, had a very short courtship with Henry, and indeed a rather short life once they married, leaving much less time for a record to be developed. Weir does challenge the prevailing wisdom that regards Jane as a mild-mannered pawn used by her relatives to secure influence. She would have had to have a healthy level of her own ambition to pull it off and there's no reason to believe she didn't.

At the end of the day, this is a history, so if you're looking for deeper cultural analysis along the lines of The Creation of Anne Boleyn, you're barking up the wrong tree. It's obviously very thoroughly researched and told with considerable narrative skill, but there's little in the way of "new" information if you're fairly well-versed in the subject. I did learn new things, like that Henry's outreach to the Duchy of Cleves indicated interest in either of the two duchesses...Anne, who became his wife for a short while, or her sister Amelia. I also learned more about the lives of Henry's sisters...not a lot, because they weren't the subject of the book, but enough to intrigue me and make me want to learn more someday. I'd recommend this book to a pretty wide group...people interested in the time/place/people will get the most out of it, but its size shouldn't intimidate readers without that kind of pre-existing grounding in the subject.

Tell me, blog friends...what interests have you picked up from family and friends?

One year ago, I was reading: American Gods

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book 66: Missing, Presumed

"Her lonely bench, police blue, on a deserted Sunday platform; wondering what's left in the fridge for tea. The problem of food, for one: it symbolizes everything. She wants delicious morsels, yet cooking for herself is so defeating: a surplus of ingredients, the washing-up unshared, and the sense that it doesn't matter- the production of it or whether it's nice." 

Dates read: June 27- July 2, 2016

Rating: 7/10

Nothing sets off the media like the disappearance of a pretty young white lady. Pretty young white lady goes missing, and the news cycle promptly revolves around it. Dudes don't merit nearly the same kind of coverage, and for people of color, it's practically nonexistent. It's hard to see how it's not tied up in the "flower of white womanhood" thought pattern that posits pretty young white ladies as delicate symbols of purity (not human beings with the right of self-determination, oh no) that need to be protected (by white men, naturally) from evildoers (usually people of color). A pretty young white lady goes missing, and things go a little crazy.

And it's not just us in the US, apparently. In Susie Steiner's Missing, Presumed, the pretty young white lady, Edith Head, is also posh (her father is a physician for the Royal family and connected to top government officials), which means that things really go bonkers. The book isn't really about Edith, though. It's about how the way she suddenly vanishes one night after going out for drinks with her boyfriend and best friend sends shockwaves through a whole host of people: her mother (whose own medical career was forced into the backseat by her husband's), the aforementioned best friend (who worships her), and of course the police, particularly Manon Bradshaw, the detective assigned to the case and her sweet-natured partner Davy. When a seemingly unconnected body turns up in a river nearby not too long after the disappearance, Manon can't shake her sense that the two cases are somehow connected and she doggedly fights to find out what links them.

Steiner has done one of my favorite things with Manon: she's written a strong female character who's a bit of a mess without losing her strength. Manon's about to turn 40, desperate for a family, and can't quite seem to stop sleeping with just about every dude she meets from internet dating sites, no matter how terrible the date. She's not written as an out-of-control sad sack, though, just lonely and wanting a family of her own and having no idea how to get there. When she finally does find herself in a relationship, though, the way it plays out is so cringeworthily realistic to anyone who's ever been unhappily single (I have definitely been in that category before): how fast she falls, ignoring warning signs, and how gut-wrenching it is when it comes apart. I did find myself wishing that Steiner had either centered the entire story on Manon or made more use of the other narrators...Manon is by far the dominant voice, and the others are used so relatively little, that it feels like Steiner couldn't make up her mind which way she wanted it to go and tried to have it both ways.

The mystery part of the plot, which is secondary to the character development part of things, was suitably well-done for me in terms of not being really obvious (I'm not much of a mystery reader so your mileage may vary) but I found myself questioning the motivation behind the eventual solution: I didn't think that the driving character would have behaved in the way that they did and thought it all wound up a little too neatly tied in a bow. But since the focus was really on the characters and the characters were well-written, I really enjoyed it.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever been unhappily single?

One year ago, I was reading: Without You, There Is No Us