Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Supernatural Literary Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's theme is a Halloween-centered freebie! Since Halloween is all about ghosts and witches and supernatural beings, I figured I'd highlight ten of my favorite magical-type characters.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter): It should probably come as no surprise that Harry Potter's biggest nerd and most type-A personality is my own personal favorite witch/wizard in the series, right?

Serafina Pekkala (The Golden Compass): They don't really do, like, spells, but the witches in the His Dark Materials series are powerful nonetheless (and ageless, and beautiful).

Mogget (Sabriel): In the magical universe of The Old Kingdom series, Mogget is a reluctantly tamed beast of pure magic who usually appears as a little white cat and is sarcastic af.

Daine Sarassri (Wild Magic): I loved Daine as a teenager who loved animals...her ability to commune with creatures great and small made me long to have the same ability (now that I'm a grown up I just try to cuddle my sometimes standoffish pug).

Galadriel (The Fellowship of the Ring): The beautiful, powerful elf queen doesn't get a lot of pages devoted to her in The Lord of the Rings, but she's memorable because she's amazing.

Melisandre (A Dance With Dragons): Melisandre was an irritating character to me until we started getting her point of view perspective in the most recent book in the A Song of Ice and Fire saga...now I just want to know mooooooore.

Sookie Stackhouse (Dead Until Dark): We learn later in the series what Sookie actually is, but when we meet her, we just know she's a waitress. And a telepath. And a delightful character, generally.

Viane Rocher (Chocolat): She rejects the label of "witch", but she has real, albeit subtle powers that give this lovely novel a touch of magical realism.

Mr. Wednesday (American Gods): This book features a bunch of interesting gods and goddesses, but the dynamic Mr. Wednesday, with his rumpled elegance and faded glory, is my favorite.

The domovoi (The Bear and the Nightingale): This book is filled with creatures from Slavic folklore, but my favorite is the domovoi, the house-spirit, who does small household magic in exchange for offerings of bread and milk.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Month In The Life: October 2017

What a month! October is always my favorite month of the year: birthday, usually the best weather, college football is in full swing, holidays are right around the corner. This October was especially lovely...not only did I celebrate my birthday (and my husband's), I had my annual girl's trip with my best friends and I got to go the wedding of my friend who was the officiant at my wedding!

In Books...

  • Bonfire of the Vanities: This was my second try at Tom Wolfe, and although by the end I could appreciate what he was trying to do with it, I just HATE his writing style. This was a chore to get through. 
  • The Royals: I've always been into the British royal family, and after I binged (and loved!) The Crown, this was a book I saw on a list of "if you liked the show, here are some books to read". It's kind of like a super-sized US Weekly all about the Windsors...sometimes questionably sourced gossip, but an interesting look behind the curtain at a family which has to be conscious of itself as an institution as well as a group of people bound together by blood and/or love. 
  • The Blind Assassin: Somehow, this was only my second Margaret Atwood (after The Handmaid's Tale), and reading it reminded me what an incredible writer she is. This book is intricately crafted and heartwrenching and so so good. 
  • Lincoln in the Bardo: This was our book club selection from the month, and I always read them even when (as was the case this month) I'm not able to go to the actual meeting. This book uses the purgatory-esque Tibetan concept of the bardo, where souls remain between life and death, to tell the story of how the death of his 11 year-old son, Willie, effected President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It's written as kind of a play, with nonfiction historical sources framing it...it's very odd, but it's good. 
  • Player Piano: The only other Vonnegut I've read is Slaughterhouse, which I liked, so I picked up his first novel. About what happens to the world when machines have rendered most people economically superfluous, it's surprisingly relevant to our current state of affairs. It struggles a bit in execution, but it raises interesting ideas.
  • White Fur: This star-crossed lovers story had some amazing writing, but ultimately fell pretty flat for me. I didn't ever really feel like I had a good understanding of the main characters and their motivations, and I didn't really get some of the choices the author made (in particular, about setting). 
  • The Book Thief: This book came in with high expectations, since it is so widely beloved. I found it very good (and the ending an absolute tearjerker), but I wasn't quite as blown away as I expected to be. Don't get me wrong, it was a powerful read, but it never got to greatness for me.  

In Life...

  • I turned 32: There was an update post and giveaway and everything! I've come to be on Team Low-Key Birthday over the years, so we went out to dinner at my favorite restaurant two days beforehand and just lived my normal life, work and all, on the day of. 
  • BFF2K17: It was Britney, bitch! My best friends and I decided we reallllly wanted to see Britney's show before she left Las Vegas, so we took off four days in the middle of the week to see the Wednesday show and take advantage of lower hotel rates. We shopped, we drank, we hung out...it was a lovely time and I already miss them!
  • My friend Rachel got married: Rachel and I worked together for about a year before she left the company, but we stayed friends and she actually performed our wedding last year! I am so jealous, because she got married at Reno's Discovery Museum and there's a Sue replica there so she got to live my t-rex wedding dreams.
  • Drew turned 32: My husband and I were born just two weeks apart, so we celebrated his birthday this month, too!  

One Thing:

As should be pretty obvious from my posting of a monthly photo of Lord Stanley, I am a pug owner. I am also just flat-out obsessed with pugs. If you, too, find pugs to be delightful, you should check out Inkpug, whose shop I have patronized for quite some time because I love their work. As usual, this is not a referral link, I am just pointing you there because I genuinely love their products.

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Book 100: The Confessions of Saint Augustine

"Whatever the reason, I was wretched. Every soul is wretched that becomes bound in friendship to perishable things. The soul is torn apart when the thing loved is lost. The wretchedness was perhaps always there, masked by the beloved thing that has been stripped away."

Dates read: October 28- November 1, 2016

Rating: 4/10

If I ever want to give myself a restless night, I start thinking about what happens when we die right before bed. Maybe I'll burn in the dark place for all eternity for not believing in a god. Maybe some part of who am I am will live on in some sort of incorporeal way. Maybe everything just stops. These are the times that I find myself wishing I had some kind of defined religious faith, that I could take comfort in the knowledge that life continues after death and that the good will be rewarded. Instead I get trapped in a loop of wondering and fretting.

I don't entirely write off the idea that I could come to buy into a belief system one day, but it seems pretty unlikely, honestly. But then again, it probably seemed pretty unlikely to the man who would become Saint Augustine, too. In his Confessions, he recounts his journey from being a young atheist living large and looking for answers with his intellect, to his eventual conversion to Christianity through the efforts of his mother, and the peace and security he found in his faith.

I found this book interesting more theoretically than in actuality. Although I'm not a believer, stories about faith (particularly people who came to faith rather than just continuing to believe what they have been taught since they were children) are intriguing...what makes a person decide to believe or renew a belief they had drifted away from? I suspect most of them would describe it the way that Augustine does, as a realization of a truth that they'd been looking for, consciously or unconsciously, throughout their lives. But the environment that produces that realization can vary...sometimes friends and family are involved, sometimes it's an intensely personal experience, sometimes it comes out of the blue, and sometimes right after a major life event that shifted perspective in a significant way.

I didn't realize until I'd already started it that the Kindle copy of the book that I was working with was an abridged edition. I'm not sure if that was a positive or a negative, honestly. While the book never really engaged me until the end, when Augustine gets more analytical about his beliefs, and I was therefore rather happy that there wasn't more of it to get through, perhaps that's because a more developed narrative would have been more compelling all along? I can't honestly say. I didn't personally enjoy reading this particular edition and wouldn't recommend it for a general audience, but for an audience curious and inclined to enjoy books about religion, this would be a worthwhile read.

Tell me, blog friends...Augustine is the patron saint of brewers, among other things. As a (former) attorney, my professional patron saint is Thomas More. I always have a Saint Christopher's medal in any car I drive. Do you have a particular patron sainthood that you identify with?

One year ago, I was reading: The Executioner's Song

Two years ago, I was reading: The Nazi Officer's Wife

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Book Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week, we're looking at books with interesting titles. At first I could only think of a couple and despaired at coming up with ten, but as I looked over my list of books I've read, it turns out there are a lot of titles that seem, well...kind of weird.

Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?: This is also known as the book that inspired Blade Runner, which is a cool movie but a very different (and very good!) experience as a book.

A Clockwork Orange: Also the inspiration for a famous movie, which is a more-but-not-entirely faithful adaptation of the book. This book has its own invented slang, which is a fun challenge to try to figure out as you read along, and is generally a very interesting read.

Me Talk Pretty One Day: The title of this book is also the title of one of the funniest essays inside it, in which David Sedaris recounts his very frustrating attempts to learn French.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: The first collection of Oliver Sacks case studies I ever read, including the one that gave the book its name...Sacks has a real gift for neurological case studies and this volume is fascinating and highly recommended.

Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: Honestly, this book of myths told like a modern teenager might re-tell them gets old pretty fast, but the title is delightful and accurate!

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: This book of Chuck Klosterman's insightful, funny writing about pop culture was a recommendation from a college roommate and is still on my shelves to this day.

My Booky Wook: Russell Brand's memoir is hysterically funny. Miss the second one, though, it wasn't anything special.

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: I loved this whole series about a British teenage girl, and all of them have amazing titles, this is just the first one.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: This was also a recommendation, from the same college roommate who recommended the Klosterman, but this was much less successful. It's quite a title, but it's mostly about hippies doing a ton of drugs and I HATED it.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: It's false advertising (for my money, anyways...I did not enjoy reading it at all), but it's a killer title.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book 99: The Executioner's Song

"Once, she was running around the place and he called to her. Something in his voice made her tear all the way down, and she couldn't stop and banged into him, hitting her knee so hard it really hurt. Gary picked her up then. She had her legs wrapped around his waist, and her arms over his neck. With her eyes closed, she had the odd feeling of an evil presence near her that came from Gary. She found it kind of half agreeable. Said to herself, Well, if he is the devil, maybe I want to get closer."

Dates read: October 15-28, 2016

Rating: 5/10

Awards/Lists: Pulitzer Prize, New York Times Bestseller

The death penalty is one of those political issues that people seem to have a gut-level, strong response to. You're either horrified by the idea of the state taking the lives of its citizens, or you see it as a powerful, necessary statement of the state's ability to punish those that have violated its most fundamental laws in the most profound way possible. It's one of those issues it's pointless to argue about...the reaction to it is visceral rather than logical. As it stands now, the United States is on the verge of having to have a broad conversation about it again, as one of the drugs that make up the judicially-approved "cocktail" for lethal injection is effectively no longer available for executions. Will there be a replacement developed, will we go back to the gas chamber, nooses, and firing squads, or will it be abolished? Only time will tell.

The death penalty has, of course, been abolished once before. In Furman v. Georgia, in 1972, the Supreme Court in a very divided opinion struck down death penalty statutes all over the country, citing arbitrariness and racism in determining which defendants were subjected to it. Four years later, in Gregg v. Georgia, the Court reversed itself and allowed the death penalty to resume. The first person to be executed after Gregg was a man in Utah named Gary Gilmore. In The Executioner's Song, Norman Mailer tells the story of how that came to be.

It's not actually all that complicated. Although he was quite bright, Gary had an unstable childhood and started getting into trouble young, stealing cars and getting sent first to juvie and then real jail. At 22, he was imprisoned for armed robbery and after spending 14 years on the inside, he was eventually paroled and went to Utah to live with a cousin. Although his family and new community genuinely tried to help him, Gary had a hard time adjusting to life in the real world...until he met Nicole Baker. Nicole had a troubled history of her own, including commitment to a mental health facility and two divorces (along with two children) at the age of 19. Their relationship was intense but turbulent, and their breakup left Gary spiraling out of control. He shot and killed both a gas station attendant and a hotel clerk, and was caught, tried, and sentenced to death in relatively short order. When the sentence was pronounced, Gary decided not to fight it...he went through lawyers until he found one that would honor his decision to not appeal and let the penalty be carried out. Although a few appeals were undertaken on his behalf, much to his fury, he was ultimately executed by firing squad on January 17, 1977.

Out of this, Mailer spins a 1000+ page epic. And there's probably an incredible 500-600 page book inside of it somewhere, but boy howdy was this in screaming need of a firm editor. The book is divided into two roughly equal sections...the first ends with Gary's sentence, and the second not too long after his execution. Both portions drag for extended periods. Although Mailer's prose style is interesting and engaging, his determination to include everything he uncovered in his clearly very extensive research weighs down the narrative. The book takes a couple hundred pages to get to the point where the murders happen...which are then over, along with the trial, in about fifty. The back half of the book is dedicated as much to the wheelings and dealings of Hollywood players trying to get the rights to Gary's story as it is to Gary's actual story, and though there's a statement in there about how Gary pretty much stopped being a person and started being a commodity from that point forward, it's honestly just not that compelling. I never had any emotional investment in the relationship between Lawrence Schilling and his girlfriend, although from the attention Mailer paid to it you would think it's an important component of the proceedings. The book finishes strong by recounting Gary's last hours, death, and the immediate fallout on his loved ones, but there had been so many bumps in the road along the way that I was mostly just glad it was over. You have to admire its ambition and scope, but the actual product is very uneven. It's worth reading, if you're interested in this kind of thing, but not a must-read by any stretch.

Tell me, blog friends...do you get into political arguments?

One year ago, I was reading: this book!

Two years ago, I was reading: Gilded

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Cookbooks/Food Blogs

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! It's pumpkin spice everything season, which makes it perfect that this week we're talking about food! I don't tend to read a lot of books that are food-centric, so I've decided to list some of my favorite sources for recipes, both cookbooks and food blogs!

How To Cook Everything Vegetarian: Mark Bittman has several variations on the theme of "how to cook everything", but this longtime vegetarian gets the most out of the veggie version, of course.

Sally's Baking Addiction: I think I mentioned this in one of my monthly wrap-up posts, but I've made several recipes from her blog/cookbook and they've always come out not just alright, but amazing.

The Southern Vegetarian: There's a perception that "down home cooking" can't be made without meat, and this cookbook has some great recipes proving otherwise!

Cookies for Christmas: I will confess to have only tried a couple of the cookie recipes in this book, but it's the book that my all-time favorite cookie recipe (their gingersnaps!) comes out of.

365 Easy Vegetarian Recipes: I'll be honest...cooking for me is a means to an end, not a process I get a ton of fulfillment out of. I want recipes that get me tasty food painlesslessly, and this book provides!

Budget Bytes: Beth's blog features recipes that are simple, straightforward, and don't break the bank to put together!

Penzey's Catalog: This catalog is mostly to sell their really good spices, but they do have recipes scattered throughout and I've torn out and collected many of them...the ones I've made have turned out delicious!

Thug Kitchen: I know, they've gotten a lot of blowback for the faux street talk, but they also show that vegan food can be fun and doesn't just have to be salad.

Smitten Kitchen: I don't have either of her cookbooks, but Deb's blog has provided me with recipes that stand the test of time.

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook: Can't go wrong with America's Test Kitchen! Because they've literally tested all these recipes to make sure they work the way they're supposed to. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book 98: Border Child

"But this third pregnancy felt similar to her first, with daily morning vomiting, and the constant taste of bile lingering in her throat. Perhaps this baby, like Lilia's first, would be a girl child. Little Alejandra would be almost four now. Is almost four now. She is almost four, Lilia told herself. Is, not would be."

Dates read: October 12-15, 2016

Rating: 3/10

Like pretty much everyone else in America, I'm descended from immigrants. On my mom's side of the family, the most recent immigrant was my grandmother, from Austria. On my dad's, it's my great-grandfather, from Poland. I have my whole family tree mapped out on Ancestry, I like digging into it and finding passenger lists and marriage certificates and thinking about how many people through history making certain moves at certain times that it took to end up with me, here and now. It's kind of miraculous, when you think about it.

But the historic, boats coming into Ellis Island type of immigration that white people tend to think about isn't the reality of immigration as it exists today. There's a whole complicated series of visas, or, for some people from south of the border, there's a fraught experience of smuggling oneself across the Rio Grande in the desperate hope for a better life. It's the same reason our grandparents and great grandparents came, but it's a different way of trying to make it happen. And it's a tragedy during such a border crossing which underlies Michel Stone's Border Child.

Hector and Lilia are a young couple in a small village in Mexico, the parents of a toddler son and an as-yet unborn baby. But they'd once had another: their firstborn, a daughter named Alejandra. Both Hector and Lilia had wanted more than what their rural town had to offer, and so Hector had himself smuggled to the US. Lonely and impatient, Lilia took Alejandra and attempted to cross herself. She was separated from the girl, and while Lilia made it, Alejandra vanished. They lived in the US a while anyways, ultimately being deported after a few years. They have their son and Lilia becomes pregnant again, and they try to move on, but a chance encounter with the one person who might be able to help them find out what happened to Alejandra leads Hector on a dangerous journey across the country to find out.

One of the reasons I read is to explore worlds outside of the one I experience as a married middle-class white lady in the US in this day and age. I picked up this book hoping for insight into the situation that drives people to try to cross the border, why they risk so much just to get into the country and try to stay. What I got was...not that. While it does get a little bit into what drove Hector and Lilia north in the first place, the book as a whole is just not very good, honestly. Neither of the main characters is given much depth, and the prose is flat. I've always understood one of the fundamental principals behind good storytelling to be to show rather than tell. Stone does exactly the opposite...he never lets a moment breathe, always has to put what should be subtext directly into text. There's no subtlety or artistry to it, and it's never more than a workmanlike reading experience. I was disappointed in this book, and wouldn't recommend it.

Tell me, blog friends...which of your ancestors was the most recent to come into the country where you live?

One year ago, I was reading: The Life of the World To Come

Two years ago, I was reading: Unbelievable

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Autumnal Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! Early October is like peak fall, for me...the leaves are changing and colorful, the weather is usually crispy but not yet cold. It's my favorite time of year, and I'm celebrating it with this week's topic, which is books with fall-seeming covers. These books all have the purples and oranges and yellows and reds and browns that fit in with the loveliness outside! I usually have an explanation for my picks, but this week I'm going to let the visuals do the talking and just list my selections below.

Jane Eyre

To Kill A Mockingbird

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

Where The Heart Is

The Help

The Cider House Rules

Ella Enchanted

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Catching Fire


Monday, October 9, 2017

Year 2: An Update (And Giveaway!)

Today is my 32nd birthday! Instead of doing yearly wrap-ups at the end of the year, like most people, since I started the whole "read 500 books in the next decade" thing that is the entire theme of my blog on my 30th, I use my birthday as the beginning and end of my reading years. Without further ado, during the past twelve months:

In Reading

  • Books read (this year): 84! This is well above my yearly goal of 50, but still below last year's total of 95. I actually was on pace to come close to last year but the last book I finished before my birthday took longer than expected, and then the book that I'm very close to finishing also has taken me a while, so 84 it is. 
  • Books read (total): 179. This is over three years "worth" of reading, and closing in on four. I don't know what the future holds, so I'm pretty comfortable having this buffer in place in case I find myself with fewer opportunities to read as much in the coming years. This does mean that my reviews on the blog are lagging significantly behind my actual reading...you'll notice I'm still posting about books I was reading in 2016! I do write my reviews shortly after I finish the books, though, and I write at least a little bit about what I'm currently reading in my A Month In The Life posts, so while I toyed with the idea of doing more than one review post per week, I decided against it. I like the pattern I've got going on here, and hopefully you do too!
  • Male/Female Authors: 44 women/40 men. Last year was almost exactly equal, and this year is pretty close, too. I don't make a concerted effort to read in gender balance (I just pick up the books that look interesting to me), but I do like to be conscious of whether I'm reading drastically more of one than the other.
  • Most Read Genres: This year, I read 56 fiction books (most read subgenres: contemporary fiction and then historical fiction) and 28 non-fiction books (most read subgenres: memoir and history). The pattern I began last year held fairly true this year as well...I tend to read about 2/3 fiction, 1/3 nonfiction, which seems like a good balance to me. 
  • Kindle/Hard Copy: This year, I read 44 books in either hardcover or paperback and 40 on my Kindle. This is much different than last year, when Kindle books made up nearly 2/3 of my reading. I've cut back dramatically on ARCs this year because they're such an inconsistent (in terms of quality) part of my reading experience, and I think I've had an overall more enjoyable reading year for it. 

In Life

I like to look back on major events of the year and see what I was reading during those times. Books are kind of the soundtrack to my life these days.
  • Girl's trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: My annual trip with my best friends to do something fun is probably my most-anticipated event every year. I miss these two girls so much so I really cherish getting to see them. Last year's trip was Universal Studios in Orlando to visit the Harry Potter stuff, and it was super fun (especially since it was right after the election when I needed a pick-me-up). I was reading: Invisible Man
  • Beginning of my third legislative session: The two months before session and then the four months of it going on are the busy season for me. The first day is the official beginning of the end of my life outside Carson City until June. I was reading: Flowertown
  • End of my third legislative session: I never appreciate how much I enjoy not having a commute to work like I do at the end of the time when I have one that's forty minutes each way. It was a snowy, stressful session, but I did learn a lot, so all's well that ends well, eh? I was reading: In The Skin of a Lion 
  • First wedding anniversary: One down, forever to go, eh? The first year of being married was honestly not really a big change because our lives are very much like they were before, only I have a different last name. Which I now usually am able to give without having to think about it or starting to say my maiden name first. I was reading: Spoiled
  • Michigan trip to visit family: This was, I think, the longest I've been in Michigan continuously since I left in 2012, a little over a week. We spent four days in my hometown with my mom and saw friends there, and then we drove up to the Upper Peninsula with my dad to visit his hometown of Ontonagon for the annual reunion for that side of the family. It was my husband's first time in the UP and I'm really glad he got the chance to see it and meet my relatives, who mostly weren't able to come to the wedding last year. I was reading: Station Eleven 
  • Mom's trip to Lake Tahoe: This was my mom's third trip to Reno since I moved out here, and she both spent time with us and family and did a half-mile open water swim in the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe (which were less frigid than usual because of our roasty summer) and it was really fun to have her visit! I was reading: The Idiot 
And, in honor of my second year of reading and blogging, I'm giving away a copy my favorite book that I reviewed on the blog over the past year! I read a bunch of fantastic stuff, but one book definitely sticks out as the best one: We Need To Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. So here's how it's going to work: if you'd like to be entered to win a copy of this book, please use the Rafflecopter below sometime in the next week (through October 16). I'll randomly select 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). Sorry international friends, this one is US-only. Thanks for reading along this year!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Book 97: The Life of the World to Come

"Fiona and I kept talking, kept living in this way, long after our friends had grown comfortably into their older, smaller lives. We claimed every experience for only ourselves: the first snow, the last rays of the day, every star we gazed at was ripped from the public domain- property of Fiona and Leo's New Life Together, copyright and patent pending and no squatters allowed."

Dates read: October 10-12, 2016

Rating: 5/10

We've all gone to pieces over a bad breakup, haven't we? Tell me I'm not the only one. I had two rough breakups before I met my husband: one with the guy I dated off-and-on for three years in college, and one with the guy I dated off-and-on for a year in law school. I'm friendly with the both of them now, but holy smokes did I lose my brain then (sorry, everyone who had to deal with me). But I think a brutal heartbreak can, in the long run, be a net positive: it certainly helped me reflect on my own behavior in relationships, and think about what I actually wanted out of a partner, and somehow I ended up with the best husband in the world.

In Dan Cluchey's The Life of the World To Come, Leo Brice is a anxiety-ridden pre-law senior in college when he meets Fiona Haeberle. Fiona is quirky, outgoing, mercurial, an aspiring actress, and she and Leo quickly become a couple. They move to New York for Leo's legal education, she gets a job on a cheesy soap opera that films locally, and they're happy. Or so he thinks. Right after he finishes the bar exam, though, she suddenly leaves him in the middle of the night for her co-star.

Leo is completely devastated, and while he tries to put himself back together, he begins a job with a small firm focusing on death penalty appeals. Leo recovers from his breakup as he gets involved in his case, defending a religious man convicted of an out-of-character murder many years prior...with a young, pretty co-counsel who makes Leo feel like there might actually be a life after Fiona maybe. The client is only a half-hearted participant in his own appeal, and his philosophizing helps Leo get his own life back together.

So when I was in college, Garden State was a super-hyped movie. I like it, but it hasn't aged especially well...a lot of the self-conscious quirk on display has come to feel artificial. And it is, of course, the poster child for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trend that was a big thing around that time. I actually think Natalie Portman's Sam is one of the better-done examples of it, but it got a little irritating for a while there. This is relevant here because this totally feels like a screenplay that was written to be one of those Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies and then became a novel. Despite being so central to the plot, Fiona doesn't really have much of a character. Any insight into who she actually is and what drives her is left for a cringeworthy conversation Leo and Fiona have years after their breakup, in which the now-famous Fiona calls her ex to ask if she was a good girlfriend and he gets the chance to take her down a peg (of course he takes that opportunity). It's not presented as a gross moment for him, but rather as a moment of triumph, and that's just one of the issues with this book.

Besides Leo not really being all that interesting on his own (tightly-wound lawyer gets dumped, gets sad, tries to rebound with a coworker...snore), the book doesn't really seem to have a lot of direction or any real idea of what it's trying to say. Breakups suck? Working on a death penalty case can improve your mental health? It's cool to bang your coworkers if your boss eggs you into it? I'm not necessarily opposed to reading white-dude-navel-gazing if it's done well, but this isn't done well. If reading about a 20something dude mourn the loss of his girlfriend who's more concept than person is something that sounds interesting to you, you might enjoy this book. If not, move along.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever had a terrible breakup?

One year ago, I was reading: Sophie's Choice

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Crushes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic is book boyfriends/girlfriends...you know, when you're reading a book and get all swoony about one of the characters. This is a bit of a tough one, for me, because I don't read a ton of books with a central romance (which tend to be the type of books that make you all swoony over characters), so I'm splitting it up: five boy crushes, and five girl crushes!

The Dudes:

Captain Wentworth (Persuasion): This was the first Austen I read, and the hero remains my favorite. He's loyal and good-natured and big enough to forgive a foolish spurning means that even though she's an "old maid" (at 27!), the love he and Anne have for each other is just delayed rather than denied and this book is great and so is he.

Kolya (City of Thieves): Rakish and high-spirited, Kolya tends to win over everyone he meets with his charm. Especially women, and it's not hard to understand why: young and handsome and endearing tends to be an easy sell.

Charles O'Keefe (A Wrinkle In Time): This series is so amazing because it has such great characters: prickly Meg, self-possessed Charles Wallace, and brave, kind Charles, who is able to maintain his own stable goodness despite adverse circumstances. It's easy to understand why Meg loves him and it's hard not to love him a bit yourself.

Eric Northman (Dead To The World): This whole series has a rotating cast of love interests for Louisiana waitress Sookie Stackhouse, but you'd be hard pressed to find someone whose favorite isn't Eric, particularly in the fourth book, where he's lost his memory and imperiousness and he's just a tall, handsome sweetheart.

Jean Valjean (Les Miserables): A man who recovers from some previous missteps to live virtuously and devote himself to the loving raising of a child who isn't his? If that's not dreamy to you, we have different ideas of what dreamy is.

The Ladies:

Sabriel (Sabriel): Smart and brave and with powerful magic, Sabriel is enchanting and one of those characters who you can never forget once you've experienced.

Yvaine (Stardust): An actual star, kidnapped by a young man named Tristan to be a present for the girl he pines for, Yvaine is sarcastic and witty and it is no surprise that Tristan eventually realizes that he's actually in love with her after all, because she's great.

Natasha Rostova (War and Peace): If you can read this book and not fall a little bit in love with Natasha, you've got a heart of stone. Her spirit is what holds this enormous epic together, and the way she ends up still doesn't sit quite right with me.

Ellen Cherry Charles (Skinny Legs and All): Tom Robbins is a love-him-or-hate-him writer, and I tend to be in the former group. Ellen is a waitress who wants to be an artist, and her struggle to figure out her relationship with her husband and the world and herself and her pride and vulnerability make her a winning heroine.

Bridget Jones (Bridget Jones's Diary): Bridget drinks too much, can't stick to a diet and exercise plan, and speaks before she thinks. She is a delight and I want to be best friends.