Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Fictional Crushes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about the characters from books that make our hearts go pitter-patter and give us little fictional crushes. I'm going to split my list and first talk about the characters that I had crushes on as a teenager (when I read the most books that had swoony characters) and then ones that appeal to grown-up me!

Calvin O'Keefe (A Wrinkle In Time): A cute, popular boy who's super into the angry, awkward teenage heroine? Definitely something teenage me hoped (and failed) to find. 

Logan Bruno (The Baby-Sitters Club): This is another one where a cute boy was into the "nerdy one" and I'm starting to see a pattern here.  

Dave the Laugh (On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God): Robbie was the dreamy, older musician, but Dave is the one Georgia actually likes and that makes her, well, laugh. Even teenage me knew that was a better deal than the dude who's super cute but you can't talk to. 

Will Parry (The Amber Spyglass): I have to admit I'm not sure how much of my teenage book crush on Will was related to being all that interested in the character rather than investment in the love story Phillip Pullman tells for him and Lyra, but I definitely got all heart-eyes emoji. 

Edward Cullen (Twilight): I am not proud of this one, but years of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer primed me to think that an immortal vampire obsessed with a teenage girl is romantic and not creepy! I know better now!

Morozko (The Bear and the Nightingale): These books only came out after I was an adult but I looooved this character even though there is a similar kind of "immortal being obsessed with teenage girl" vibe...except that Vasilisa is given actual agency and I'm not sorry about this!

Eric Northman (Dead to the World): Okay, but these are mostly the closest things I've read to romance novels and the storyline in this book is like, designed to make the reader fall in love with Eric.

Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings): I'm sure this has been influenced by seeing Viggo Mortenson in the movies so many times at this point, but an adult man in literature who is responsible and faithful is pretty hot stuff. 

Frederick Wentworth (Persuasion): I just re-read this recently and while he's a little bland, the romantic letter at the end would many any lady swoon. 

Andrei Bolkonsky (War and Peace): Apparently becoming an adult means that reading about handsome men who are mature and kind-hearted is what makes for a crush!

Monday, August 30, 2021

A Month In The Life: August 2021


A big month! We took our first significant vacation since before the pandemic, and were able to celebrate some big news with friends and family, which was super nice. Also nice: being able to breathe normally outside! But it was only a week, and now we're back in the smoke with no end in sight. Keep the emergency personnel fighting the Dixie and Caldor fires in your thoughts, y'all...it's been a long summer for firefighters in the West and their work is nowhere near done.

In Books...

  • The Sisters of Versailles: Based in actual history, this is the story of four sisters (out of five) who each become mistresses of King Louis XV of France. It's an entertaining, relatively fluffy read that moves pretty quickly, though characterizations tend to be flat and a lot of the same notes are hit again and again. I would LOVE an actual high-quality biography of the de Nesle sisters, but this is fine for what it's trying to be
  • On The Move: My love for Oliver Sacks is well-documented, and I am happy to report that his second memoir (covering much of his adult life, as his first focused on his childhood) is wonderful. He recounts his struggles to live his life fully as a gay man, his love for motorcycles, living his life in the United States while never becoming a citizen, weightlifting, and professional difficulties in practicing medicine which ultimately culminated in his extraordinary writing career. I loved it.
  • The Man Who Killed Rasputin: This was my first time reading Greg King, who writes a lot about Imperial Russian history, and I was surprised that he seems to be a bit of a Rasputin apologist. He's much less charitable towards his actual subject- Prince Felix Yusupov, the fabulously wealthy and often impetuous aristocrat who was the ringleader of the group that carried out the titular assassination. I appreciate that he explored multiple accounts how events unfolded, though he seems to give unusual credence to some sources (like Rasputin's daughter, who was not present) that would not tend to be overly reliable. I'm now more interested in reading Yusupov's own memoirs.
  • The Walls Around Us: This book seemed to have less of an actual plot than just...vibes. It's successful at creating a unsettling atmosphere, but not as much at telling a coherent story. I'm often a sucker for a ballet book, but the parts of this story that could have been the most interesting to me (the actual details of how one of two best friends that might have been suspects in the murder of two of their classmates ends up in detention, while the other escapes suspicion) are glossed over. It's not what Nova Ren Suma was trying to do, and I get it, but that didn't make it any more satisfying to me.
  • The Human Zoo: This was a new release and I was intrigued by the idea of reading more about The Philippines from someone who had actual spent several years living there. The framing device is that a writer, whose mother is from the Philippines and who had spent many years of her childhood there, is trying to write a book about natives who became part of human zoos while she deals with the realities of the leadership of a Duterte-type figure. But I found the protagonist too passive of a figure to really get invested in, which meant the book didn't quite work since it's much more about her relationships than anything else.


In Life...

  • I'm having a baby: In February of next year, my husband and I will become parents! We're very excited, of course, and also a little bit freaked out about how much our lives will change. I know my reading pace is going to fall off quite a bit for a while there, so my monthly posts will likely be pretty boring for a bit! I do plan to integrate kid-centric content in here every so often, but that's not really the point of the blog so it won't be constant.
  • Vacation to Michigan: Besides a brief spin back for my sister's baby shower last September, I hadn't been back to Michigan with my husband for two years! We had a lovely week visiting with family and friends (and meeting our little nephew, who is eight months old and ADORABLE), and hope that the COVID situation allows for us to do the same next year as well.

One Thing:

The Caldor Fire may be wreaking havoc on Reno's air quality, but it's tearing through small communities in the Sierra Nevadas at an alarming rate and the people who live there are losing everything. While there are always many worthy causes out there (Hurricane Ida's impact on New Orleans will be devastating for the residents of that city for some time to come), if you'd like to join me in making a donation to support victims of the Caldor Fire, I'm supporting the El Dorado Community Foundation.

Gratuitous Pug Picture:


Thursday, August 26, 2021

Book 299: Going Clear

"Scientology is not just a matter of belief, the recruits were constantly told; it is a step-by-step scientific process that will help you overcome your limitations and realize your full potential for greatness. Only Scientology can awaken individuals to the joyful truth of their immortal state. Only Scientology can rescue humanity from its inevitable doom. The recruits were infused with a sense of mystery, purpose, and intrigue. Life inside Scientology was just so much more compelling than life outside."

Dates read: February 27- March 5, 2019

Rating: 8/10

I was not a popular child in my catechism class. When we learned about the transubstantiation of the host during communion, I asked if eating the literal flesh of Christ made me a cannibal. I was not shy about raising the hypocrisy of church leadership who engaged in the Inquisition while ignoring their own long history of sin. I suspect no one was disappointed when I finally stopped bringing a book to Mass and just ceased to attend entirely.

Lots of religious beliefs, like the aforementioned communion issue, sound really weird when you take them out of contexts. But it's difficult to top Scientology for oddball beliefs. It's hard to understand why public figures like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Laura Prepon and Elisabeth Moss would subscribe to a faith that features ancient aliens in volcanos and a galactic overlord named Xenu. Lawrence Wright's Going Clear takes a hard look at Scientology, the life of its founder L. Ron Hubbard and how the new religious movement took root and grew into the David Miscavige-controlled version we know today.

Much of what the book recounts is eyebrow-raising: Hubbard clearly was not entirely mentally well, and embellished his biography at best (at worst, he compulsively lied). His pride, his vanity, his use of the Sea Org as personal indentured servants are grotesque. But worst, and sadly, least surprising of all is his truly awful treatment of the women in his life. And things didn't get better when he passed on and control of the organization passed to Miscavige. If anything, they managed to get worse, with the harassment of critics and defectors taken to astonishing levels.

This was a fascinating book, full of information that was new to even someone like me who has enjoyed tabloid coverage of the faith (though I will say a lot of things that I used to read in The National Enquirer, which I loved in high school, were in here as well). Wright has clearly done his homework: his portrait of Hubbard is in-depth and revealing. He has a harder time with Miscavige, who would seem to have taken action to ensure that details about his life are difficult to come by. As such, the book loses some steam after Hubbard's passing. It's a story with enough drama that it doesn't unduly detract from it, but the focus is diluted.

One of Wright's primary sources for information about life inside of Scientology is Oscar-winning writer and director Paul Haggis. As such, we end up getting quite a lot of information about Haggis' life, and to be honest this is the least compelling part of the book. Every time the narrative returned to Haggis, I groaned. Leaving the church behind isn't easy to begin with, and to do so knowing full well the kind of targeting he would experience by speaking to a writer working on something destined to be less than glowing is brave, but unfortunately that doesn't mean the details of his personal story are all that interesting. As a whole, though, if you've ever been interested in new religious movements, or Scientology in particular, I would definitely recommend this book, as it manages to be both readable and thorough, a tricky feat.

One year ago, I was reading: The Moonstone

Two years ago, I was reading: Death Prefers Blondes

Three years ago, I was reading: Oryx and Crake

Four years ago, I was reading: The Idiot

Five years ago, I was reading: Bel Canto

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about books we wish we could open for the first time all over again. I'm a big re-reader, but there is something magical about discovering where the narrative is going as you read along, so here are ten books that I'd love to experience for the first time again!

The Secret History: I first read this as a senior in high school and it was so completely unlike anything I'd ever read before, it just blew my mind.

The Bear and the Nightingale: I'd always been interested in Russia, but this book spurred it to a full-blown obsession and it was just so rich and magical and I love it!

The Queen of the Night: I read this as an advance review copy so I had NO idea where it was going and each twist and turn of the plot surprised me.

The Amber Spyglass: I remember how excited I was to read this book, to find out how the story that had been told through the first two books would be wrapped up...and I was not at all disappointed!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: I really wish I could go back to the time before I knew that J.K. Rowling was a transphobe and just enjoy the magic of these books.

1984: I'm pretty sure I was 12 or 13 when I read this for the first time, launching a lifetime love of dystopian stories.

Gone Girl: I did NOT see that twist coming and it completely melted my brain.

Wicked: I read this at some point during high school and it introduced me to the concept of retellings for the first time ever, which has become a mini-genre of books that I really enjoy.

The Remains of the Day: I had no idea how much this book was going to emotionally wreck me until the end and going in blind made it hit that much harder.

A Wrinkle in Time: For me, this book was special because it was the first time I felt like I really saw myself in a work of fiction...as an angry, awkward, smart-but-underachieving middle schooler, Meg Murray was EVERYTHING.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Book 298: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie


"She thought of Miss Brodie eight years ago sitting under the elm tree telling her first simple love story and wondered to what extent it was Miss Brodie who had developed complications throughout the years, and to what extent it was her own conception of Miss Brodie that had changed."

Dates read: February 24-27, 2019

Rating: 6/10

Lists/awards: Time's All-Time 100 Novels, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2012 edition)

Like everyone who's ever been to school, I've had teachers that run the gamut. Most of them were decent. Some were awful. Some were great. There was my fourth grade teacher, who was personally offended that I would read during class because I was bored and made it her mission to embarrass me by catching me not paying attention (she never succeeded). And then there was Mrs. Helppie, my AP English teacher who single-handedly taught me to write with anything approximating skill and would make us kettle corn and show us movies based on books/plays on Fridays. I will never forget her or her truly impressive selection of jewelry.

For most of us, our formative teachers are people whose influence on us was in the classroom, where their inspiration was related to learning about the world. In Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, however, things are different. The titular Ms. Brodie cultivates a group of girls at their school in Scotland, seeming to be one of those "inspirational" teachers often idealized in books and film: she believes that what happens outside of the classroom can be just as important if not more so than what happens inside of it. She invites them (brainy Monica, pretty Jenny, sporty Eunice, sultry Rose, observant Sandy, and the poor scapegoat, Mary) to her home, takes them on cultural outings. But along with art and history, Ms. Brodie is also a big fan of fascism. And her interest goes beyond just being a role model for her girls...as they grow up, she begins to manipulate them.

Ms. Brodie is a single woman, and falls in love with Mr. Lloyd, the married art teacher. Their mutual affection is never consummated, so even while Ms. Brodie carries on a relationship with the bachelor singing teacher Mr. Lowther, she schemes to get one of her girls to have an affair with Mr. Lloyd in her stead, confiding in Sandy about her plans. While Rose is her intended proxy, it is Sandy who winds up sleeping with him, and who adopts his Catholic faith and becomes a nun. It is from the convent that she is recounting her youth and the role Ms. Brodie played in her life.

This is a brief work, only about 150 pages. As such, many of the characters are flat, even most of the "Brodie set" outside of Sandy. But generally speaking, it paints a vivid portrait of a time, and a place, and the people involved. Jean Brodie is a character who soars off the page, complex and interesting and so deeply flawed. For all her bluster and bravado and determination to avoid pity, she's ultimately a pitiful figure. And one who's careless of the damage she causes, inspiring a student to run away to fight for Franco, which leads to her death. On a lesser level, Sandy's assignation with her art teacher does not leave her without damage.

I was of two minds about the length. On the one hand, I wish there had been more time to develop the other girls, and the relationships between them as well their connection to Ms. Brodie. On the other hand, I don't know that the plot would have the same power, the same feeling of a drive toward the inevitable conclusion, if it had to persist over a longer period of time. This is a solid book, and an unusual twist on the stories about teachers who change lives. I'd recommend it for a quick, engaging read.

One year ago, I was reading: The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B

Two years ago, I was reading: The Forgotten Sister

Three years ago, I was reading: Life After Life

Four years ago, I was reading: Mildred Pierce

Five years ago, I was reading: Wild Bill Donovan

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Book 297: The Silkworm


"Pain and fear were making him angry: fear that he would have to give up the prosthesis and resort to crutches again, his trouser leg pinned up, staring eyes, pity. He hated hard plastic chairs in disinfected corridors; hated his voluminous notes being unearthed and pored over, murmurs about changes to his prosthesis, advice from calm medical men to rest, to mollycoddle his leg as though it were a sick child he had to carry everywhere with him. In his dreams he was not one-legged; in his dreams he was whole."

Dates read: February 28-24, 2019

Rating: 7/10

Like any people pleaser, I'm always both desperately curious about and deeply afraid of learning what other people really think of me. I try to be a person that I myself would like, but you never know how it's coming off. Do people think I'm fake? Irritating? A disastrous social experience my freshman year of college made it hard for me to trust my own perceptions of how I'm actually thought of by others. It's one of the reasons they say you shouldn't snoop: you might not like what you find.

In Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling's second entry in the Cormoran Strike mystery series, The Silkworm, private detective Strike is hired to investigate the disappearance of small-time novelist Owen Quine. Quine seemed right on the verge of potentially making it big: he'd written a "poison pen" novel revealing the secrets of all his acquaintances, including the ones much more famous than he. But as Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, are busier than ever in the wake of solving the Lula Landry murder, Owen's wife Leonora approaches him to help find her husband. He's always been mercurial and has disappeared before, but she needs him to come back home, and blithely assures them that his agent, Elizabeth Tassel, will pay for the investigation. Intrigued despite himself (and despite the fact that Tassel does not in fact want to pay him), Strike digs in.

What he finds is first the body of Owen Quine, and then, as the investigation continues, the remnants of the life of a very unhappy man. Quine was unfaithful and often cruel to his wife, and bitter about the success his former friend Michael Fancourt had experienced as a writer. The manuscript of his latest work, the "poison pen" one (called Bombyx Mori, the silkworm of the title), is utterly rife with contemptuous portraits of others. And perhaps that is why his body is grotesquely disfigured, the result of a certainly painful death. As Strike and Ellacott get closer to tracking down who might have killed Quine, they find themselves increasingly in danger.

If you liked The Cuckoo's Calling, you'll also enjoy this. They proceed in a similar way: interview-by-interview investigation, with occasional indulgences of the writing "hiding" the answers from the reader in a trope that I tend to find highly irritating. Because we did a lot of the introductory work in the previous entry in the series, Rowling is able to better flesh out the characters: both Cormoran and his family and Robin and her fiance Matthew get more layers to them this time. I particularly enjoyed that Rowling gives Robin stunt-driving skills, as they play against the "spunky but ultimately passive" type I thought the character was starting to fall into.

I have liked reading both of the books in this series, but not enthusiastically. Part of it is that the genre doesn't especially appeal to me. I'm just not big into mysteries. Part of it is the way she characterizes Cormoran as someone who thinks of himself as ugly but has no problem attracting attention from women, which is something I do not care when either men or woman are written that way. The prose and plot are mostly fine, though I did think this had a few too many characters. There's obviously plenty good here, as you can tell by my rating, but I don't know that this is going to be a series that I feel compelled to closely follow. I do recommend it, but be prepared for some gruesomeness in the text.

One year ago, I was reading: Ivanhoe

Two years ago, I was reading: Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams

Three years ago, I was reading: The Informant

Four years ago, I was reading: The Sense of An Ending

Five years ago, I was reading: A Passage to India

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Book 296: Daisy Jones & The Six


"'She had written something that felt like I could have written it, except that I knew I couldn’t have. I wouldn’t have come up with something like that. Which is what we all want from art, isn’t it? When someone pins down something that feels like it lives inside us? Takes a piece of your heart out and shows it to you?'"

Dates read: February 15-18, 2019

Rating: 9/10

I've read enough Hollywood memoirs to know that being talented isn't necessarily a ticket to automatic success, fame, and happiness. First of all, there are plenty of talented people who never make it at all because they just didn't get the right break at the right time. And if you do get that break, the team that surrounds you can help leverage it in the right direction...or the wrong advice can send it all crashing down. And then, of course, there are the things you get access to once you've made it to a decent level of success: the sycophants, the drugs, the partying. So many chances to go wrong.

Told in the style of an oral history or Behind The Music special, Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones & The Six gives us the story of a band who create a legendary album...and break up right in the middle of the tour, never to perform together again. Daisy is an LA girl who mostly raises herself, and rises above her It Girl beginnings through the strength of her talent as a singer and songwriter. The Six are a band rooted in the collaboration between the two Dunne brothers (Billy the lead singer, Graham the guitarist), with the remaining four drawn into their orbit over time. After some initial minor success leads Billy down the road of partying, sex, and drugs, his wife Camila helps him get clean for her and their new baby daughter. The band seems destined to work steadily but never really break out until their shared label puts Daisy on a single with The Six. It's such a hit that a joint record seems the only logical next step.

It's the writing and recording of that record, Aurora, which forms the core of the narrative. The tensions between Daisy and the already established The Six (who have internal fissures of their own) roil, over who will be writing the songs and how the album will be put together. And Daisy's own drug use, already established but increasing as things progress, adds another layer of complications. And most problematic of all, the chemistry that makes Daisy and Billy compelling co-writers and duet partners isn't just in the recording booth. Once it all comes together, the album is an undeniable smash, but a confrontation tears it all apart.

This book was optioned for a series adaptation before it was even released to shelves, and it's not hard to see why: there are vivid characters, plenty of storylines, and real drama. I was at first put off a bit by the lack of actual narrative structure (the entire book consists of snippets of interviews laced together), but the style wound up suiting the story, for me. It gives the reader the chance to get to know characters through both their own perspectives and the perspectives of others, and it keeps things moving along quickly. It's easy to devour large portions of the book in one sitting, easy to convince yourself that it won't take too long to read 10 more pages, which becomes 20, and then 50. I got so emotionally invested in the characters that even though the actual plot varied quite little from where I thought it would go, I wanted to see how it all played out.

Though it was a fantastically enjoyable book, it wasn't without flaws for me. For one thing, Daisy's slim frame, acknowledged to be at least in part owed to her addiction issues, is fetishized in a way that felt weird. And it didn't quite stick the landing...the reveal of the person behind the interviews felt inorganic, and the actual closing note also rang false. But mostly, I thought it was textured, layered, and enormously entertaining and compelling. I really loved it and would highly recommend it to all readers!

One year ago, I was reading: The Thirteenth Tale

Two years ago, I was reading: Marie Antoinette

Three years ago, I was reading: Shantaram

Four years ago, I was reading: Party Monster

Five years ago, I was reading: Reading Lolita in Tehran

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Covers That Made Want to Read/Buy the Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week is a pretty covers week...we're talking about books we decided to read because we liked the cover! I don't know that the cover has ever actually been the deciding factor for me, but I won't lie that the good ones catch my eye and make me curious about what they might be about...which sometimes results in a purchase/read! 


A Tale For The Time Being 

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Interestings


The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging

The Fountainhead


The Luminaries