Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads Week

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis is a topic very near and dear to my heart: I grew up on an inland lake in Michigan, and until I moved out to Nevada, you could find me in the summer going back to my mom's pretty often to take advantage of the opportunity to lay out on the boat. I did plenty of reading while basking in the sun, and even though I'm generally of the opinion that any read can be a beach read if you take it to the beach, here are ten books I think match the breezy feel of a day by or on the water!

The Devil Wears Prada: I've talked about the life lessons about balancing work and home that can be taken away from this novel, but it's also a thinly-disguised expose about working for Anna Wintour at Vogue and the descriptions about how the rich and fashionable live are frothy and fun to read about.

Pride and Prejudice: A lot of Austen would be very beach-readable, but this one, to me, has the most lightness and humor. There's lots of romance, too, and it's very easy to just enjoy without having to think too hard.

Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn takes the domestic drama suspense novel to a whole new level. Nick and Amy's awful behavior gets you hooked and the plot races forward at a breakneck pace, so you're sucked in and it's hard to put down.

Bridget Jones' Diary: This book is as rip roaringly funny now as it was when I first read it in high school. Whenever I feel like I'm not adulting very well, a dip into Bridget's story makes me realize I have it much more together than I give myself credit for. And that I'd rather die than record my daily calories and alcohol units in my diary.

The Other Boleyn Girl: I imagine lots of people will have long since read this one, but a good royalty-behaving-badly book based in the Tudor era will never not be a great way to pass a day in the sun. If you've read this one but you haven't read any of the companion novels dealing with Henry's other wives, they're cut from the same cloth.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: Chuck Klosterman is a fantastic writer, and his collection of insightful and witty essays on pop culture pull tons of references together to make you think (but not too hard) about the world we live in.

Dead Until Dark: As you've probably heard even if you never watched the series, True Blood was a sexy, soapy romp that also touched on some larger themes. The book series mostly stays away from the larger themes part, but keeps all the steamy fun recounting the romantic adventures of Sookie Stackhouse, psychic waitress. This whole series is actually pretty delightful even if paranormal romance isn't really your genre.

Chocolat: They made a movie out of this, but I hated the movie so if you did too don't let that dissuade you. This story of Vianne, a single mother, who makes chocolate, and her young daughter in a small French village has romance, female friendship, and a running battle between our heroine and the local priest who takes a strong and instant dislike to her.

The Rosie Project: When a socially awkward and intensely logical (and probably autistic) college professor decides it's time to get married, he devises an intensive questionnaire to find him the most ideal mate. But when one of his friends puts Rosie, who definitely would not score highly on the survey, in his path, he finds himself drawn to her despite knowing she's not "right" for him. Or is she? I'm no fan of romance, but this is sweet and funny and perfect to take for a day by the water.

The Big Rewind: I juuust posted about this, but it's the best beachy book I've read in a while, so I'm adding it to this list. Fun and smart and witty and a quick read, this is a great choice to tuck in your beach bag.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book 26: Without You, There Is No Us

"Was this really concionable? Awakening my students to what was not in the regime's program could mean death for them and those they loved. If they were to wake up and realize that the outside world was in fact not crumbling, that it was their country that was in danger of collapse, that everything they had been taught about the Great Leader was bogus, would that make them happier? How would they live from that point on? Awakening was the luxury available only to those in the free world."

Dates read: March 1-3, 2016

Rating: 7/10

Traveling internationally, even the small amount I've been able to do, is wonderful but alienating. The language is different (even when it's the same), the food is different, the entire pattern of life is different. And that's in first world, Western countries. I can't even imagine what it must be like to go to North Korea. It must be like going to the moon.

Suki Kim, author of Without You, There Is No Us, emigrated to the United States from South Korea with her parents when she was about 13 years old. She became a writer and a habitual wanderer, ending up on a few news trips to North Korea. When an opportunity came up to go there on an extended sojourn by joining the teaching staff of a missionary group running a university, she jumped at the chance. And so she found herself at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), teaching English to upper-class North Korean young men for about six months before returning to the U.S. and writing a book about her experiences there.

This is a memoir, so Kim's family history and personal struggles during her tenure at PUST are recounted along with what it's like to be one of very, very few foreigners living in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The teachers (all missionaries apart from Kim) are effectively imprisoned on campus, only allowed off the grounds for carefully arranged and supervised outings. They are constantly wondering if revealing even small details about life outside the DPRK to their students will lead to their deportation (in the best case) or imprisonment (in the worst). They know their use of limited internet is being constantly monitored, so they have little contact with the outside world. Kim cares for her students, who are eager and obedient learners, while simultaneously being horrified by how easily and often they lie to her. She wonders if they are informing on her for even the smallest line-crossing. She loves them, but she can't trust them or anyone else.

I'm not usually drawn to memoirs, but information about how the hermit kingdom works on the inside, even on the limited scale Kim was able to experience, is fascinating. I'm honestly boggled that a country in our hyperconnected day and age manages to be so isolated from the world around it. You have to think that it'll end one day, that either reunification will happen or it will re-enter the global community as its own country. And when it does, what will North Korean citizens think? Kim's students, the best and brightest the country has to offer, struggle to write essays because the concept of supporting a thesis with facts is so foreign to them. How will the North Korean populace cope with an outside so different than they had been led to believe?

Tell me, blog friends...what do you think about North Korea?

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

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis is another hard topic for me! I generally don't shift much in opinion once I've made my mind up about something (it takes me a while to get to the mind-made-up part though). Although I've historically done a lot of re-reading, it's not been so much a thing for me recently, so it's hard for my opinions to shift too much. But here's my best shot at it:

The Great Gatsby: This was the first thing that came to my mind, because when I read it as a high schooler I hated it, but when I read it again after I'd been in college a few years I loved it (still do). While it may be appropriate for high school on a prose level, I think it's hard to appreciate this novel without some rough life experiences behind you.

Anna Karenina: This feels like cheating a little, because the first time I tried to read this (in high school), I dropped it about 100 pages in because it felt soooo boring. So I didn't actually read it the first time, but when I picked it up a few years ago, I loved it and flew through it in like, a week. Another one where life experience really helps connect you to the novel and characters.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: I legitimately loved every single entry of the Harry Potter series as I read them when I was a teenager. And when I re-read the whole series a couple years ago, I loved them again. Except for this one, which I've started thinking of as Harry Potter and the Teenage Angst. So. Much. Stupid. Drama. Which is honestly probably fairly realistic for that age group, but was so tiresome to read about.

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: I haven't actually re-read this one since high school, when I loved it. But when I think back to it, I wonder what all the fuss was: as hard as it tries to convince you it's about a bunch of devil-may-care sassy dames, it's actually about a bunch of self-centered overgrown adolescents who are bound together by their love of making excuses for themselves. I have no desire to ever read this again.

The Prince: I tried to read this in high school and thought it was incredibly boring. A more recent re-read shows it to be a really astute look into governance, which I wasn't as interested in then but I am interested in now, so I think it's more about my preferences shifting than anything else.

Uglies: I got pretty into this series early in college (my younger sister had the books and I borrowed them), but looking back on them, it's hard to believe I took books with something called "The Pretty Committee" seriously. I don't think they're awful or anything, but I'd no longer be inclined to read or recommend them.

Tuesdays With Morrie: I found this really touching when I first read it when I was 18 or 19, but reading it a few years later, I was dismayed to find it mawkishly sentimental and trite. I grew up reading Mitch Albom's columns in The Detroit News and he's a talented sportswriter, but I don't want to read any of his books again.

Go Ask Alice: Not that I would have been the type of kid to get into drugs, but I found this really horrifying and realistic when I read it when I was around 13 or so. It was based on a true story...or so I thought, until an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Liar City, when they exposed it as complete baloney.

Flowers In The Attic: I actually read this whole series as a teenager and loved their over the top drama. When the first novel went on sale on the Kindle for $2 recently, I thought I'd revisit it. They do not hold up and I couldn't get more than a few chapters in.

Evening: This is a fairly recent one...I read it right after law school, after seeing and enjoying the movie, and really liked it, finding the story heartbreaking and poignant. When I was cleaning out my bookshelves right before my last move, I remembered it was about a woman who never really gets over a one night stand at a wedding and though it's written well, I couldn't fathom ever wanting to read it again.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Literary Adaptations...The Good

Any book snob will tell you that the book is always better than the movie. Always! I'm not a very good book snob, because I think that's baloney. A book is a different medium, but that doesn't mean that it's always the superior one. So get ready to hate, because here is my list of movies that I like more than the books they're based off of:

Practical Magic: Ok, qualifier here. This isn't a "good" movie. But it's really fun to watch. I remember being SO excited when I found out it was based off a book and eagerly tearing in...and hating it. The fun and lightness of the movie were nowhere to be found and while I've watched the movie over and over again, I've never been tempted to reopen the book.

Gone With the Wind: A lot of people love Margaret Mitchell's novel and it's widely considered a classic. But I'd seen the movie, with the absolutely perfect Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable so many times before I read it that it just couldn't measure up. The movie sheds some of the side plots that are more narratively deadweight, which helps it feel like it's moving along even through a run time long enough to require an intermission.

Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet: Reading the play is one thing, but seeing it come to vibrant life, original language and all, is awesome. Luhrmann finds the youth and impetuous energy of this play about young people and with the help of a well-cast Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes makes the Bard's words resonate way more than your randomly assigned classmates in 5th hour English.

The Godfather: The first two movies in this series (I pretend the third doesn't exist), tell what I will argue is the greatest American tragedy ever presented: the rise and fall of Michael Corleone. The story that Mario Puzo's The Godfather tells is a pretty boring gangster drama. Skip the book and watch the movies until you can recite them from memory instead.

Clueless: This is saying something, because I LOVE Emma. But Alicia Silverstone is so delightfully vapid but good-natured as Cher Horowitz that it's impossible to not just fall in love with her. It's not an especially faithful adaptation, but there are a lot more of the major themes and plot points in there than you might give it credit for unless you think about it. It updates and refreshes the story without being too revisionist.

The Shining: Stephen King's tale of claustrophobic horror is legitimately great, even though I honestly don't much care for horror as a genre. Either in books or movies, but Kubrick's version of the story (which shares only broad outlines with the original, much to King's dismay) is so weird and visually stunning that its domination of the source novel can't be denied. 

Breakfast At Tiffany's: Truman Capote was famously displeased with what the movie did to his novella, which is beautiful written. Instead of casting Capote's friend Marilyn Monroe as Holly Golightly as he'd wanted, they gave the role to Audrey Hepburn and completely changed the ending. But I feel like the movie works even better, somehow, as Capote didn't want it, with a staying power much more durable than the original slim volume. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Book 25: The Big Rewind

"I glared up at her. If there are vampires anywhere in the world, they're in this end of Brooklyn, sympathy-sucking leeches living every day like it's their own private reality show, latching on to anything that might get them a moment of attention, a warm body, a subway seat on a ten-minute ride."

Dates Read: February 28-March 1, 2016

Rating: 8/10

I remember making mixtapes. When you were a kid growing up when I was a kid, there were two ways to get songs onto your tape: a dual tape deck (covetable, and eventually something my family had, but not until later) or the good old radio. I don't know how many nights I sat there in my bedroom, waiting for a song to come on so I could add it to my mix. Obviously this made for some haphazard tracklists because things were in the order you could get them off the radio, so I never got much into the mixtape as artform. I am an obsessive playlist curator on my iTunes today, though, which is for all intents and purposes the same thing.

Mixtapes as artform are at the heart of Libby Cudmore's The Big Rewind. We're going back to Brooklyn...but this time, the modern-day hipster-infested version. Jett Bennett is subletting her grandmother's rent-controlled apartment and working temp jobs while she tries to figure out what to do with her life now that she has her Master's in music journalism but no one seems to want to pay her for her writing. When she gets a mixtape in her mailbox meant for her neighbor KitKat, she goes to drop it off...and discovers KitKat's body, murdered by a blow to the head. Jett works to try to solve the crime, the only clue to which is the mixtape, and is inspired to go back through her own collection of mixtapes from lost loves, reaching back out to them along the way.

The Big Rewind was obviously inspired by Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, with both books featuring main plotlines in which the music-obsessed protagonist reconnects with ex-lovers as they try to figure out where they're going with their lives. But it's not a gender-swapped rip-off: there's the mystery of what happened to KitKat to move the plot forward, and Jett is a very different person than Hornby's Rob Fleming. But the parallels are clear, and if you enjoyed Hornby's, you should enjoy Cudmore's, too. 

This is a perfect summer/beach read for 20- and 30-somethings. It's entertaining and moves quickly, blending together light mystery and light romance with bright, witty prose. The reason I throw an age range on there is that the book very much reflects the world as it would exist to a mid-to-late 20s resident of Brooklyn: it's peppered with references to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, Reddit, etc, that might just fly right over the head of people who use social media primarily to post family photos and political memes. As someone who spends a lot of time online myself, it feels very organic and natural, but for someone who experiences the internet as a less integral part of their life, it might be confusing. That being said, I really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it. This is Cudmore's debut novel, and I'm excited to see what she does next!

Tell me, blog friends...when was the last time you made a mixtape?

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, William Morrow Books, through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Picked Up On A Whim

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's topic: books you picked up on a whim. This is actually going to be a hard one for me...I tend to buy based on recommendations. I haven't really gone to a bookstore just to browse in a looooong time, I've always got a list of what I'm looking to add to my shelf lately. But where I do browse a little more is my Kindle, where I look through the monthly and daily sales to see what I might want to read. I've gone back through my stacks and tried to remember what I picked up without doing more than reading the back cover (or the Kindle equivalent):

The Virgin Suicides: I picked this up when I was in high school...the movie had just come out and it was on the display table at the front of the Borders. My mom would usually buy my sister and I a book or two when we went to the store so I grabbed it and it became one of my very favorites.

The Twentieth Wife: On the other hand, I remember snagging this one in college at some point on a bookstore trip, When I recently got around to reading it, I was unimpressed. So high-risk/high-reward with whim books for me.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn: This was a whim Kindle buy...I saw it during a monthly sale, thought it looked like it was up my alley, and bought it. That was a good choice, I loved this book.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: This was a "thrift store impulse" kind of buy. It was there, it was cheap, and I figured it was probably worth a read. And it was worth that, anyways, but it wasn't life-changing or anything. Neither miss nor hit, really.

The Remains of The Day: This was pretty similar to the above...I've left books I saw because they got turned into movies off this list for the most part, but I was only somewhat aware that this had been made into a movie when I bought it. I'd read Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go a few years previous, but wasn't on any special mission to read more of his work or anything. It turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read.

Devil In The Grove: This was a Kindle purchase...I'd never heard of it, but once I found out it had won a Pulitzer and was about Thurgood Marshall before he went to the Supreme Court, I spent the 2 or 3 dollars and it was well worth it. This is an incredible book that makes the Jim Crow era really come terrifyingly alive.

Methland: Despite the fact that the place I was from (rural-ish Midwest) seems like exactly the kind of place that should have had a meth problem, I'd never really known anyone who did meth. I mean, I probably knew someone who did, but I didn't know they did. But anyways, I was certainly aware of the meth epidemic, and I this book (a Kindle deal) really helps lay out the root of the issue and how it tears families and communities apart.

Katharine of Aragon: I'm partial to Tudor-era history, so this seemed like a worthwhile Kindle score to pick up. It's a compilation of three books about Henry the Eighth's first queen, and it was just okay honestly. Not bad, but it dragged and if I hadn't been stuck on an airplane while I was reading it I probably would have been pretty bored by it.

She's Come Undone: I actually remembered having seen this book at the library when I was a kid, so when I found it for cheap secondhand, I figured I might as well read it even though I had no idea what it was about. I've also read Wally Lamb's other well-regarded work, I Know This Much Is True, and for both of them I have to say that while Lamb is a talented writer and these are the kinds of books I tend to enjoy, I didn't really click with either of these. Worth a read though.

The Piano Teacher: Janice Lee's recent The Expatriates has been praised by lots of bloggers whose opinions I respect and the reason I'm reluctant to pick it up is this book right here. I found the cover striking and the summary on the back intriguing enough, but I found the book itself wanting. All the characters behaved so strangely and were so hard to connect with. I didn't care for it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Book 24: The Guest Room

Dates read: February 25-28, 2016

Rating: 6/10

"He realized how much he was dreading the sunrise: it would illuminate just how much his world had changed since yesterday- and how damaged was the little bark that carried his soul, how far it was from the shore, and how menacing were the waves in between. No one, he knew, was ever going to look at him quite the same way again."

As someone getting married soon (about a month after this post will go live, but about three-ish months from when I'm writing it), reading a novel about a bachelor party gone horribly wrong is...interesting. Not that I'm worried about Drew having the kind of party that goes on in The Guest Room. If I were, I wouldn't be marrying him.

In The Guest Room, Richard Chapman is just trying to be a good best man when he agrees to host his little brother Phillip's bachelor party at his home. He sends his wife and young daughter away for the weekend, expecting the usual kind of bachelor deal: drinking, carousing, maybe strippers. What he gets are two young Eastern European women in his living room that are clearly more than "just" strippers: they're prostitutes. What he doesn't realize until much later is that they aren't "just" prostitutes, but women who are being trafficked for sex. After he comes close to but ultimately stops himself from sleeping with one of them, his entire world is turned upside down when they violently kill their "bodyguards" and take off. The story splits and follows two tracks: what happens with Richard as the ramifications of that night spiral out of control in both his personal and professional lives, and the story of Alexandra, the girl Richard almost slept with, both before and after that night.

While author Chris Bohjalian does a great job of making Richard a sympathetic character, using him as a lens to show how even fundamentally decent men participate in and perpetuate a culture that treats women as commodities, Alexandra's is the more dynamic story. An aspiring ballerina in Armenia, she is lured away from home after both her parents die by her mother's former employer with promises of dance training and a career. Once she's taken, the 15 year-old is repeatedly raped, groomed to become a high-class call girl over the course of a few years in Russia, and then comes to the US, where the bachelor party is among her first assignments.

There's a distaste, if not recoil, by "normal" people when they think about the idea of a woman having sex for money. What kind of person would consider something like that? Why on earth? I was among them, but over the past couple years, I've been reading Maggie McNeill's excellent blog, and I've come to understand that plenty of women willingly chose the sex trade for lots of perfectly understandable reasons. While sex slavery does exist, it's MUCH less prevalent than most people would believe. So while the story told by Alexandra might be true for some small number of women, your average escort has a much more prosaic background. And while I think Bohjalian chooses to make her story dramatic for the purpose of impact, it still perpetuates a mythology that a lot of people cling to which is ultimately harmful for sex workers.

As I whole, I found the book decent but not great and ultimately forgettable. There's a good amount of suspense built in Richard's storyline, wondering how things are going to play out for him, and even more in Alexandra's storyline once it gets to the "after the murder" part. But the ending felt...undercooked, for lack of a better way to describe it. It seemed like Bohjalian wrote himself into a corner and kind of flailed his way out of it. On a final, nitpicky note, I've never had to Google as many words in the course of one book as I did with this one. I think of myself as having a pretty extensive vocabulary, but there were many words I'd never encountered before. Which is great on one level, because I'm always down to add a new word to my trove. But it struck me as a little pretentious, since most of those words were used when a simpler, more accessible one would have been perfectly appropriate.

Tell me, blog friends...what's your favorite pretentious vocab word?

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

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Websites I Love That Aren't About Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's topic: non-book websites that we love! Being a bookworm is a pretty big part of my identity, obviously, I started a book blog and everything. But I like lots of other things too, so I'm excited to share some of my other favorite places on the internet outside of bookworld!

A Model Recommends: Ruth was an actual fashion model, and although it seems like she's retired from the runway at this point, she has a ton of experience getting makeup slathered on her face and took that experience and turned it into a really enjoyable beauty blog! She just had her first child and has a companion blog, The Uphill, about her experiences with pregnancy and motherhood that's just as wonderful as AMR.

Blue Collar Red Lipstick: I like fashion and style and reading about those things, but from, like, real people. Not that the various 5'10" 120 pound girls living in NYC and wearing head to toe designer clothes that seem to be the popular fashion bloggers aren't people, obviously, but you know what I mean. Adina is a lawyer living in Edmonton and a mother of two who posts her work and weekend outfits and I love seeing what someone of a similar life station to me actually wears in her life. She's got a great sense of style and has also written some books (under the name Aren Piada) which I haven't gotten a chance to read yet but I'm looking forward to reading when I get the chance!

Hacker.Ninja.Hooker.Spy: Aussa's life would be too bonkers to be true except it is true, and while she's gone through some awful situations, her determination to look at her life with a sense of humor rather than what would be deserved self-pity makes this one of the funniest blogs I read. I don't think there's a single post that hasn't elicited actual out-loud laughter.

Go Fug Yourself: Heather and Jessica actually started out as writers for Television Without Pity (where I once haunted the America's Next Top Model boards daily), and not only do they run GFY, they are YA authors themselves (all their books are on my TBR). But I started reading GFY back in 2004 when I was a sophomore in college and haven't stopped since. That's over ten years, so this is good stuff.

Budget Bytes: I like looking at food blogs and pretty food photographed in pretty ways, but the reality is that I'm not a very adventurous eater. I like mostly pretty basic stuff. Beth posts recipes that are both totally doable for a basic home cook (which is where I'd consider myself to be) and as the name of her blog suggests, affordable to make! Not everything she posts is vegetarian-friendly, but there's plenty that is and I've never made a dud from her.

Pole Dancing Adventures: In my spare time, when I'm not working or reading (or hanging out on the couch drinking beer, let's be real), it's as likely as not that you'll find me at Epic Pole Fitness. I've been doing pole for exercise for the past couple years (very off and on, but I've been going consistently for the past 6 months now) and I LOVE it. It's so much fun and a great workout, but there are definitely downsides (falling, brusing), and Leen's well-drawn and funny comics about pole are something I really enjoy!

Pajiba: I first found them when they were mostly a film review site. Those days are long in the past for them, but as they've grown to encompass generally entertainment and cultural news (which is almost their sole focus these days), I've kept up with them. Their writers are smart and insightful and funny (not 100% of the time, obviously, because that just doesn't happen, but most of the time) and it's one of my favorite sources of information on the internet. 

MGoBlog: I'm a VERY proud Michigan alum. Ask anyone who has ever met me. Especially Michigan athletics. And there's no resource on the internet for Umich sports like Brian at MGoBlog. I've been reading since college and although I kind of peaked with the post-Carr coaching search when I was in law school, I still do a glance at MGoBlog daily just to see what's going on.

Modcloth: Here's a story about me: I never had much of a sense of style (read: I was not at all good at dressing myself) until my last year of law school. I had an off-and-on relationship that went off again, and instead of getting back together with me like he always had before, my ex started dating one of our classmates. I was angry and heartbroken, and in a fit of pique, I vowed that he could date whoever he wanted, but I would never show up at the law school looking less cute than she did. And she was a Southern girl, so she dressed well. I had to step up my game. Enter Modcloth, where I found the kind of pretty dresses that would become my trademark when I moved back to Michigan and then out to Nevada. I have coworkers that have literally never seen me in pants even though winter definitely happens in northern Nevada because I love my dress collection so much I refuse to wear anything but dresses.

Tumblr: I've been on this site since...2008? Geez. I started out being much more active in terms of actually posting myself, but I haven't done much of that in the past five years or so. At this point, I'm mostly just keeping up with my favorites. There's so much content on tumblr, which is one of the great things about the site: you can curate your own feed to be exactly what you want to see, and there's something to see for pretty much any interest. It's pretty much my only connection to what the cool kids are up to anymore.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Book 23: The Twentieth Wife

"These last two months had been slow and uncomfortable. They were all waiting for something. Waiting for Akbar's death. Waiting to see who would win the throne. Waiting- yet not wanting the Emperor to die, for either possibility seemed frightening."

Dates read: February 22-25, 2016

Rating: 4/10

Sometimes I wonder how much the liking of a book is tied to the time when you first read it. I wonder if I would still love some of the novels I first read in high school as much as I do if I'd been older and had a more developed critical eye than I did then. I started reading the Twilight series in the wake of a bad breakup, and I remain fond of the series (especially the breakup arc in New Moon) despite knowing full well that they're not high-quality literature. It would stand to reason, I think, that some books I've read right after something wonderful seem particularly lesser-than in comparison, and sometimes books that followed a dull and plodding one seem even better than they might actually be.

So I wondered if The Twentieth Wife following the double punch of two brilliant novels in a row might have been contributing to my disappointment with it. Was I being entirely fair to the novel on its own merits? If I'd read it, say, after one of the Masks of God books would I have liked it more? Ultimately, I feel like the answer is that no, I'm not being harsh because it doesn't measure up to the two amazing books I just read, it's honestly not very good.

To start on a positive note, it did introduce me to an era of world history I know precious little about: the Mughal Empire of India. I'd only really known two things about it previously: the rulers of the Mughal Empire were Muslim, and that the Taj Mahal was built as a memorial for a Mughal empress, Mumtaz Mahal. That's pretty much it. So the details that this novel provided about the empire and its courtly life were new, interesting information, and I particularly enjoyed the way each chapter opened with a quote from a historical source about the characters and events to be presented.

What didn't quite work, though, was most of the rest of it. The writing quality isn't particularly high...it was difficult to find a highlight quote because there were few bright spots. That's not to say it's especially poorly-written either, because it isn't...it's just mediocre. The novel tells the story of Mehrunissa, the daughter of a court official under the rule of Emperor Akbar. Although she is married to a soldier as a young woman, she and Akbar's heir apparent, Prince Salim, fall in love and eventually marry after her first husband's death. He becomes the the Emperor Jahangir, and she becomes his twentieth but most important wife, Nur Jahan, one of the most powerful women in the history of the Muslim world. She must be quite the interesting woman, eh?

Not really, as author Indu Sundaresan paints her. According to Sundaresan, when an eight year-old Mehrunissa catches a glimpse of Salim's first wedding at court, she decides right then and there that she will one day marry Salim. For no reason made particularly apparent, she attracts the interest of Akbar's most powerful wife, Ruqayya, as a companion, and spends her time at the palace thinking about how to attract Salim's attention so she can one day become an empress herself. Indeed, she spends her time at home thinking about the exact same thing. Even after she is married to another man, she keeps dreaming of a future with Salim. Mehrunissa is given no other real characterization besides "beautiful, educated woman completely obsessed with Salim". There's no depth or interest to her character. She has no close friends. Her first husband is presented as a one-dimensional brute who does not appreciate her or treat her very well. When the narrative shifts, as it does at times, to present Salim's story, he's presented as a weak-minded but ambitious man, easily manipulated, who is just as obsessed with Mehrunissa at first sight as she is with him. Neither of these people is given much of an inner life, nor are they at all compelling.

Which is disappointing, because from the Wikipedia-ing I was inspired to do, she led a very interesting life and a book about her should be fascinating. But a complete lack of character development and clunky writing have doomed this one to the donate pile.

Tell me, blog friends...what's one area of world history that you wish you would have learned more about in school?

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Childhood Characters You'd Love To Revisit As Adults

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic: ten characters from childhood that you'd love to revisit as adults. This was a trip down memory lane, as I spent time thinking about the books I loved growing up, which was a lot of them. Here are the characters I'd most like to connect with:

The Babysitters Club: I read what feels like it was probably close to 100 of these books as a kid. Of course I desperately wanted to start a club of my own, and of course I didn't, but I lived vicariously though the girls' adventures. I wanted to think I was a Claudia, but I was totally a Mary Ann. I'd love to see an adult novel that followed up on their lives...maybe a mystery set at their 10 year reunion? 

Meg Murry (A Wrinkle In Time): After being the main character of the first two novels of the Time Quartet, the focus shifts off of Meg and onto her brothers. We see a little bit of her, but we don't really get to focus on her and her life. We know that she ends up married to Calvin and the mother of a large family, but I want to see a follow up with Meg from her own perspective. It looks like such a novel was in the works when Madeline L'Engle had a stroke and stopped writing, which bums me out. 

Georgia Nicholson (Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging): I loved this silly series and in my head, Georgia grows up to be more-or-less Bridget Jones, but I have a feeling she'd even put Bridget to shame sometimes in terms of getting herself into messes. I'm going to have to keep on with my own ideas, though, because Louise Rennison sadly passed away earlier this year. 

Harry Potter: And the rest of the Potter gang, obviously. We've gotten little glimpses through Rowling's ending of the final book and updates on Pottermore, and I'm hoping Harry Potter and the Cursed Child shows us even more of who Harry, Hermione, and Ron have become as adults. 

Ella (Ella Enchanted): Cinderella may be a classic, but the Disney movie was never a favorite of mine because Cinderella is so boring (I quite liked Drew Barrymore's Ever After, though). This retelling makes our girl a much stronger and more interesting character, and I'd love to see what happens in her happily ever after...I have a feeling it's much more complicated than that. 

Matilda Wormwood (Matilda): I loved this book so much as a kid...probably because I identified hard with its smart, book-loving heroine. I have a whole rant about the movie and how much I hated it, but that's neither here nor there. After a childhood full of abusive parenting and magical powers, I really want to know what a grown-up Matilda is like after her telekinesis vanishes and she gets to live with Miss Honey. You have to think those early experiences would leave some pretty significant scars...

Jess Aarons (Bridge to Terabithia): This book made me ugly-cry as a kid, and after the death of his best friend, I wonder what happened to Jess. Thinking back on it as an adult, imaginative and artistic Jess seems to be written as potentially quietly gay, and I want to read about him going back home to visit small-town Virginia after moving to New York or Chicago or LA and becoming an artist.

Karana (Island of the Blue Dolphins): I'm pretty sure everyone read this in elementary or middle school, right? What we don't think about is what happens when a young woman who has lived alone on an island for years not only re-encounters humanity, but finds herself in a completely different culture. What does she do? How does she live her life? I'd love to read about Karana's post-Island life. 

Miyax (Julie of the Wolves): I remember reading the sequel, which presents Miyax/Julie's life when she leaves her wolf pack and struggles to readjust to a world that's changed in her absence. But she's still just a teenager in Julie, and I'd love to see her continue to learn and grow and see what she decides to make of her life and continue to deal with culture clash 

April and Melanie (The Egypt Game): I know, there are other characters, but these two unlikely friends were my favorite. After a childhood of imagination games, I picture the girls going to college and growing apart, but reuniting in a chance encounter and slowly reconnecting. Anyone else want to read that or just me?