Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Month In The Life: December 2017

Tomorrow is 2018! And not a moment too soon. This year has had some wonderful parts for me personally, like completing my third session and taking real strides forward professionally, and my trip with my husband to Michigan to see my family and take him to the Upper Peninsula, but it's been exhausting on a lot of other levels. Here's hoping that I can take the lessons from these past 12 months forward and leave the rest of it behind for a fresh beginning in the new year! And, of course, that I read wonderful books :) But before we call it quits on 2017, here is a look back at the last month.

In Books...

  • The Lady Elizabeth: I've loved every one of Alison Weir's histories that I've read, but this is the second of her fiction works to leave me cold. Despite the fact that she's a much better historian, the fiction is just as trashy as Philippa Gregory's, but not as compelling. 
  • The Games: I'm one of those weirdos that likes the Winter Olympics better (mostly because of figure skating), so before Pyeongchang kicks off, I figured I'd read this book about the history of the Games. It's good, but very information-dense...I tend to prefer my non-fiction a little more narrative. 
  • The Girl In The Tower: The first book in this series just made my best books of the year list, so I had high hopes for the second one and they were not disappointed! Vasya's adventures continue, taking her both on the hunts for bandits and into the dangerous world of Moscow high society. The final book is due out next year but I need it NOW!
  • The Lady of the Rivers: Philippa Gregory's books tend to be guilty pleasures for me...I know they're historically dubious and often sensationalistic, but they're easy to read and kind of fun for brain candy. This one is neither especially good or especially bad from her, so it was entertaining enough and not especially memorable. 
  • The Power: This examination of what might happen to our world if women developed abilities that made them the physically dominant (and therefore, more powerful) gender had interesting ideas, but never really developed narrative cohesion.
  • Rebecca: This book inspired a fantastic Hitchcock movie, and might be the best example of imposter syndrome I've ever read. Very good and something I'll definitely read again!

In Life...

  • The holidays continued: I managed to get my presents off and out on time and had a lovely Christmas with my husband and his parents and the dogs. I am very glad that the season of official overeating is over. 
  • The Broke and the Bookish Secret Santa: I did this for the first time last year, and had such fun with it that I was really looking forward to it this year! It's so fun to try to find fun things for your new internet friend...and get your own presents in return! Many thanks to Lois at You, Me, and A Cup of Tea for the books and pug goodies! 

One Thing:

Thankfully my own experience with this kind of thing in Carson City has been minimal, but this piece from the New York Times on the rampant sexual harassment of female lobbyists, usually by male lawmakers, in state legislatures rings true to a lot of things I've heard through the grapevine. I'm glad that the national climate is turning towards actual consequences for men who exploit their positions of power to prey on women.

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Book 109: Seating Arrangements

"Transformation captivated Livia, but she was squeamish at the thought of changing her own life. To change would be to admit she'd been going about things all wrong. Her people noticed change, discussed it, speculated about its superficiality, its vanity. The only kind of change they understood was the flickering skin of the octopus, blending in with its surroundings, or the real estate flipping of the hermit crab, always shopping for a slightly roomier prison."

Dates read: December 1-9, 2016

Rating: 5/10

I went to a selective university, where I changed my major right before my senior year and finished all of my degree requirements in two semesters. I took the LSAT with no prep classes. I went to law school. I took the Michigan bar exam (with prep classes, which is definitely why I passed it). I was a practicing litigator. I've made two cross-country moves to places where I knew virtually no one. All of these were stressful. And I'd do all of them again before I'd plan another wedding.

Don't get me wrong, my wedding ended up being lovely and really fun (and I have the pictures to prove it thanks to my amazing photographer Lauren Lindley, who I will shamelessly plug because it's my blog and I can and she travels everywhere to shoot, you guys!), but all the intricacies of planning it were awful. Interestingly enough, it's not the bride in Maggie Shipstead's Seating Arrangements who's struggling during the wedding weekend. Even seven months pregnant, Daphne Van Meter is laid-back and serene. It's her family that are the ones having a hard time.

Her father Winn is obsessed with both his failure to attain membership in an exclusive golf club and his long-standing crush on Daphne's friend and bridesmaid, Agnes. Meanwhile, younger sister Livia is still reeling from a bad breakup. Another bridesmaid, Dominique, is trying to figure out if she still belongs in the New England WASPy world of her boarding school youth, when she and Daphne became friends. Over the course of the long weekend, the tensions roiling beneath the surface of the otherwise picturesque island gathering begin to escape their usual repression. There's even a literal explosion!

Let's start with the good. Shipstead's prose is graceful and insightful, neither spare nor flowery but confident and perceptive. Quality writing can make up for a lot of ills, and Shipstead's is damn good. The characters she creates feel real, and Livia and Dominique are sympathetic and interesting...especially Livia, whose raw heartbreak reminded me of my own tumultuous collegiate relationship. But where the book was held back from greatness or even real re-readability was its focus on Winn, by far the least compelling character in the book. Like the others, he's drawn with psychological verisimilitude: everything she reveals about why he is the way he is makes sense. But that doesn't change the fact that the way he is is unpleasant and off-putting, and I didn't enjoy reading about him. Since his storyline makes up about 40-50% of the book, that was a real problem. I'm not necessarily opposed to unlikable characters, but I want them to be complicated and interesting. Winn is just a pompous social-climbing blowhard going through a midlife crisis. There's nothing special there. For people who enjoy books about rich people behaving badly, you'll probably like this book. And for the rest of us, there's still a lot of good here. But for me, it mostly made me more interested in reading Shipstead's other work.

Tell me, blog you like reading about rich people behaving badly?

One year ago, I was reading: The Guineveres

Two years ago, I was reading: Hood

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'm Looking Forward to In 2018

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! These tend to be my hardest topics to do, the ones that are about looking forward to future releases, because I read so much backlist. But even I have some releases I'm particularly looking forward to...I'm highlighting mostly books I've been fortunate enough to get an advance reader's copy of!

The Winter of the Witch: This is easily my #1 most anticipating. I loved the first two books of Katherine Arden's Winternight trilogy and can not WAIT to get my hands on the third!

The Immortalists: This book is about what happens when four children are told the dates of their deaths by a fortune teller, and how they go on and live their lives. It sounds exactly up my alley, honestly.

This Could Hurt: Having had a bad workplace environment in the past, one of the things I appreciate most about my job is the fantastic people I work with. This story about a group of people linked by their workplace sounds super interesting.

The Sky Is Yours: Dystopias always pique my interest, and then add in dragons and I'm definitely excited to read it!

Sophia of Silicon Valley: It sounds pretty much like The Devil Wears Prada in the tech world, which is intriguing.

Court Justice: My husband (and I'm sure many other sports-video-game players) misses the NCAA football series, which he always bought every year. This book tells the story of Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit against the NCAA for licensing the images of players, which is what put a stop to it, and I'm curious to hear about his story.

All The Castles Burned: I've always got my eye out for books about boarding school drama.

Chosen Country: I think most people don't appreciate how rural Nevada actually is because they think about Las Vegas and sometimes Reno, but that changed at least briefly when the Bundy case made the news, and this book is about that case as well as the changing face of the West, so it sounds very attuned to my particular interests.

The Red Word: Sexual assault on college campuses is something we've all become increasingly aware of, and this book examines the issue through the story of a young woman caught between a group of feminists and a fraternity.

Girls Burn Brighter: Books about female friendship, especially through tough circumstances, have an undeniable appeal to me.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Book 108: Freakonomics

"Economics is, at root, the study of incentives: how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. Economists love incentives. They love to dream them up and enact them, study them and tinker with them. The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented the problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme." 

Dates read: November 26-December 1, 2016

Rating: 6/10

Lists/Awards: New York Times bestseller

Why do people act the way they do? It's a question that has been debated by societies for what we can only assume is basically the entirety of human existence. Astrology has been used to try to explain it, as has the balances of humors in the blood. In modern times, there's an entire scientific field that studies human behavior and what causes it. Psychology, though, tends to focus on the bigger, more 40,000 foot view of why people behave in particular ways. It doesn't answer, for example, why crack dealers often live with their mothers. In Freakonomics, economist Steven D. Levitt (with co-writer Stephen J. Dubner) attempt to answer that and various other questions about human quirks. Some of these are relatively light-hearted (tracking how baby names move down through social classes over time), and some have much more serious implications (tying Roe v. Wade/more widespread access to abortion with decreasing crime rates).

Levitt and Dubner put all their faith into a field usually called behavioral economics. It posits that humans are rational actors, and when they appear not to be, it's because the incentives that drive their choices aren't obvious. How much you go along with their theories depends on how much stock you put into behavioral economics, and for me, it's honestly a mixed bag. The most interesting portion of the book, in my eyes, was the chapter on abortion and crime. It's more of a purely statistical dive, and the underlying assumption that he uses, that women are good judges of when they shouldn't bring children into the world because they won't be able to devote sufficient resources (money, of course, but time and energy too) to their raising, is one that makes sense to me. The children that might otherwise have been brought into the kind of poor home environments that correlate with (but don't necessarily cause) criminality simply weren't born and therefore can't be in the world, committing crimes. It's a bold hypothesis, and unsurprisingly turned out to be one of the most controversial. Since I had the revised/expanded edition of the book, they actually included an appendix chapter doing a deep dive into their statistical analysis. I've got some very basic grounding in statistics, but it was beyond my ability to actually comprehend, so I just have to trust that they did their homework correctly.

There are some other interesting tidbits, including one about charter/magnet schools and their effect on student achievement, but I found myself often skeptical of their breezy assurance of their own correctness and faith in their data. After the massive statistical analysis failure of the 2016 election, it's more obvious than ever that data isn't always needs careful parsing and tweaking to accurately reflect reality.

Tell me, blog much faith do you put in data?

One year ago, I was reading: The Moonlight Palace 

Two years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hope Santa Brings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! With Christmas coming next week, true blue book nerds are always looking for book-shaped presents under the tree (and bookcases to put them in, and room for those bookcases, etc). While I can feel my husband cringing at the thought of bringing even more books into our apartment, there are definitely more that I want! Here are ten I'd really like to get my paws on (once they're out in paperback, if they're not already):

Scoring the Screen: I love a good film score, so of course I'm interested in a whole book about how they're put together.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: I loved Arundhati Roy's first novel, so I'm biding my time until her long-awaited follow-up is released in paperback to read it!

Lower Ed: I've followed the author's online presence for a while, and her writing about how for-profit colleges prey on the aspirational dreams of the poor definitely has me interested enough to read her book on the subject.

Young Jane Young: With so many stories about sexual misbehavior in Congress lately, this book about a 20-something who has an affair with her married Congressman boss and the ramifications on her life seems very timely.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: This real story, about a WWI-era codebreaker (and her husband) was recommended to me by a friend and seems VERY much up my alley!

No One Cares About Crazy People: My mom has worked in and around the mental health field for decades, so I've heard about it from her perspective and my own undergraduate background in psychology gave me some more information, so basically I'm the target audience for this history about psychiatric treatment in the modern world.

Hiddensee: I can be a little hit and miss on Gregory Maguire, but with my sister's ballet I sat through endless performances of The Nutcracker so I am curious to read about his take on the story!

A Different Class of Murder: Upper class British true crime murder thriller basically checks every box I have.

Jane Seymour: I will never apologize for my Tudor-craziness, and this is supposed to be one of the best books on Henry's third wife.

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Having lived through the Beanie Baby craze, I remain astonished and how wide and deep it went before just vanishing, so this book about it seems like it'll be fascinating reading!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book 107: The Girls

"I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you- the boys had spent that time becoming themselves."

Dates read: November 24-26, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Teenage girls are kind of sociopaths. I know that I was. You're just figuring out who you are and who you might want to be, trying on identities like clothes. Everything seems so black and white: you're a good girl or a bad girl, a nerd or a popular, a prude or a slut. Male attention is both terrifying and intoxicating, often at the same time. You want desperately to feel like an adult and demonstrate that you're not a child anymore without really knowing what the consequences of your actions could be. It's a wonder any of us get out of it with even somewhat-functional mental health.

Emma Cline's The Girls has been widely billed as a novel about the Manson cult, but that's not entirely accurate. It does feature a significant portion of plot about a Manson-esque group, but what it's really about, more than anything else, is the heady experience of being a 14 year-old girl. We first meet Evie Boyd as an older woman, staying briefly in a friend's beach house when she finds herself between gigs as a live-in nurse. Her friend's college-age son stops by with his teenage girlfriend, and watching them and her brings back Evie's memories of that fateful summer when she found herself around the edges of the lives of Russell (our Manson stand-in) and his pack of girls.

Evie's in an especially vulnerable spot that summer; her father has recently left her mother for a young colleague, and Evie and her longtime best friend are starting to drift apart. She's fascinated by the group of teenage hippies she sees around town, drawn to their exotic-seeming poverty so different from her own comfortable trust-funded existence (she's the granddaughter of a never-named wealthy former child star clearly modeled on Shirley Temple). Evie's particularly hypnotized by their ringleader, Suzanne, and the intensity of her infatuation finds her constantly lying and making excuses to go out to the ranch where the group lives, doing whatever she can (sex, drugs, helping the girls break into homes in her own neighborhood) to fit in and attract Suzanne's attention and praise. But eventually, as in real life, there's a grisly murder and the hazy fever dream of that summer ends, leaving Evie back in her old world.

Cline has a real gift for atmospheric, lush prose. She creates a powerful sense of mood, a feeling that every moment is weighed with portent...which goes right along with what I remember from being that age. Everything is so close to the surface, and Cline really captures those feelings of uncertainty and being right on the edge of something meaningful that characterize being that age. She also draws a picture-perfect portrait of the kind of all-consumingness of female friendships in the teenage years. It's a tricky thing to depict without devolving into cliche, but Cline really gets at the heart of that desperation to please the object of your obsession. The plot moves along fairly slowly, but the careful attention paid to creating the ambiance of teenage girlness and the rich, vivid writing more than make up for it. I don't know that this is a book that would be as successful if you've never actually been a young teenage girl and can't identify with it, but I personally really enjoyed it and would recommend it highly.

Tell me, blog you regret some of the things you did when you were 14?

One year ago, I was reading: The Wonder

Two years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books of 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week, we're looking at our favorite books of the year. Instead of doing a list of my favorite books I've read this year, I like to focus this list on my favorite 2017 releases. The books I read that came out this year are a bit of a mixed bag, but here were my 10 favorites!

The Bear and the Nightingale: I absolutely loved this YA fantasy based on Russian folklore. The best part? It's the first of a trilogy!

Shattered: This book relied heavily on interviews with staffers and painted an inside picture of a campaign that some people I know (who worked on it) disagree with, but seems like it comports with what we saw happening on the outside. I thought it was really interesting and well-written.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?: As a woman who works in politics, I'm always interested in reading about the experience of other women who work in politics because there aren't nearly enough of us. And Alyssa Mastromonaco's book is funny and smart and wonderful.

Lincoln In The Bardo: This was a weird book, tbh. It's written more like a play than anything else. But once you kind of get used to the way it's trying to tell its story, it gets inside your head and your heart.

La Belle Sauvage: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series is one of my all-time favorites, and I'll admit I was nervous about whether this, the first in a second trilogy, would measure up. It's not as immediately great as The Golden Compass, but it's very good indeed and I'm so excited for the other two!

The Hate U Give: This was one of the most-hyped books of the year, and while I didn't think it quite measured up to the stratospheric expectations, it was very good and very timely and very much worth reading.

Stay With Me: From the blurb, you think you're getting into about a book about a marriage tested when a second wife enters the picture. But with each new twist, it becomes about so much more, and it's an unforgettable story of love and loss.

If We Were Villains: This is so heavily "inspired by" Donna Tartt's The Secret History that it's almost more of a retelling, but it's an entertaining read.

Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud: I love Anne Helen Petersen's writing about celebrity, so I wanted this book about famous women who transgress social expectations to be brilliant. Alas, it is only good, but it's still very much thought-provoking.

Chemistry: A Chinese-American grad student who seems like she has it made blows it all up and then tries to figure out what's next. On the way, she comes to terms with how unhappy her "great" life had made her and has a reckoning with the ways her upbringing has continued to resonate through her life.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book 106: The Emigrants

"Even the least of his reminiscences, which he fetched up very slowly from depths that were evidently unfathomable, was of astounding precision, so that, listening to him, I gradually became convinced that Uncle Adelwarth had an infallible memory, but that, at the same time, he scarcely allowed himself access to it. For that reason, telling stories was as much a torment to him as an attempt at self-liberation. He was at once saving himself, in some way, and mercilessly destroying himself."

Dates read: November 21-24, 2016

Rating: 7/10

One of the hardest things I've ever done is leave home. I love the Ann Arbor area where I grew up. The trees, the lakes, the restaurants and bars...I know them and love them and miss them. When I got back from my three years in Tuscaloosa for law school, I swore to myself that I'd never live anywhere else long-term ever again. But then, of course, I've ended up doing just that. And as much as I love Reno and our life here, there's a part of me that still thinks of Michigan as "home".

Leaving one's area of origin, and the emotional impact of doing so, is at the heart of W. G. Sebald's The Emigrants. I thought it was a novel when I picked it out for my Kindle, but it's not: it's a collection of four short stories on a common theme. The first two stories are fairly short and deal with men displaced in Europe as a result of their Jewish heritage during World War 2, and the second two are longer and deal with transnational migrations, with one story having no apparent connection to Jewishness and the second being the most explicitly tied to the Holocaust of all four of them, as well as being the only story primarily based in a female perspective.

All of the stories end in tragedy, and only one is told even in part as a first-person narrative. It gives the book a sense of remove, and the beauty of Sebald's language makes it feel like almost like an elegy in prose form. The power of loss and memory is gorgeously and movingly conveyed...every one of these stories gently rips your heart out. As someone who doesn't particularly enjoy short stories, I found that this was a very well-done collection of them. There aren't too many, and they are all arranged around a similar theme in a way that really works and keeps the stories flowing together and seeming like one piece. Like four movements to a piece of music. I would definitely recommend it, but maybe if you're not in a low mood already, because as lovely as it is, it's a downer.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever lived away from home for a long time?

One year ago, I was reading: Seating Arrangements

Two years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Bookish Settings I'd Love to Visit

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week we're talking about book settings we'd love to visit. There are SO many places I've read about that I'd like to go that this was hard to narrow down! I've divided my list into two sections: those from fantasy novels and don't actually exist, and those that are based on/are places in the real world.

Hogwarts (Harry Potter): Obviously. For real, though, I am expecting to see this on just about every list today haha!

Jordan College (The Golden Compass): Philip Pullman creates such a magical place in this grand university that I'd give anything to see it in person!

Abhorsen's House (Sabriel): The ancestral home of the Abhorsens sounds so cozy and lovely! (PS: this book, one of my favorites, is on Kindle sale right now for just $1.99)

Lothlorien (The Fellowship of the Ring): It was so hard to pick just one setting from this book! Because of course I want to visit the Shire, and Tom Bombadil's house, and Elrond's house too. But if I could only see one, it would be the beautiful forest ruled by Celeborn and Galadriel.

The Fairy Market (Stardust): The way Neil Gaiman paints this enchanted festival makes me want to be able to wander the stalls and see the goods for myself!

The unspoiled Nebraska prairie (My Antonia): This would be impossible to actually visit because it's long gone, but the way Willa Cather describes the loveliness of the prairie before widespread settlement makes me wish it was still around to be marveled at.

Napoleonic St. Petersberg (War and Peace): This one goes back in time, because the way that the balls and parties of the old nobility are portrayed seems so exciting!

Charleston (The Lords of Discipline): This book, apart from its primary narrative, also serves as a love letter to Charleston, which made me really want to see the city.

Hampden College (The Secret History): The northeast is packed with beautiful little liberal arts campuses, and while Hampden is technically fictional, it's apparently based heavily on Bennington College.

Hever Castle (The Other Boleyn Girl): The next time I go to England (which is an amazing thing to be able to say), I really want to just go all-out on a royalty binge and visit castles...and I'm particularly eager to see this one, which was the home of the Boleyn family.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book 105: Eleanor of Aquitaine

"She had inherited many of the traits of her forebears, and was energetic, intelligent, sophisticated, headstrong, and perhaps lacking in self-discipline. She possessed great vitality and, according to William of Newburgh, a lively mind. Impetuous to a fault, she seems to have cared little in her youth for the conventions of the society in which she lived. Sharing many qualities with that company of ambitious, formidable, and strong-minded female ancestors, she was to surpass them all in fame and notoriety." 

Dates read: November 15-21, 2016

Rating: 8/10

It's easy to forget that the world didn't always look like what it looks like today. Obviously, everyone knows that Egypt now is different than Ancient Egypt, but what we think about tends to be the cultural differences between them. The very borders of what land was considered Egypt aren't the same. So, too, in Europe. We think about the countries of Europe as being more or less settled, but it wasn't always so. It took the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella to bring together much of what is modern Spain. And when she married the King of France, Eleanor brought much larger and richer landholdings, in Aquitaine and Poitou, to the marriage than did her husband.

Alison Weir's Eleanor of Aquitaine brings to life a remarkable (and remarkably long-lived) woman. She married two kings, and was the mother of three more. She went on Crusade. One of the kings she married was the son of a man she'd likely had an affair with before her marriage, and she was rumored to have been a little too close to her own uncle. Despite having been a desirable wife to the kings of both France and England because of her inheritance, she never really ceded control of those lands to her husbands. She actively encouraged her sons to rebel against and try to overthrow her husband, Henry II of England. This is some soap-opera level stuff.

Weir has quickly become one of my favorite historians to read, because she has a way of synthesizing lots of information into an easily readable and understandable narrative. She's open about when the scholarship is unclear, or there's more than one version of a particular event, and she tells the reader why she has chosen to take a particular position on what likely really happened. She knows that her reader isn't as immersed in the subject as she is and provides context for the events she relates...she finds a good middle ground between assuming her readers know too little or too much.

My only real exposure to Eleanor's story had been the movie version of The Lion In Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, which I saw several years ago and remember little of apart from Eleanor being portrayed as a ruthless schemer. Weir never stoops to that kind of caricature of the people involved in Eleanor's life, especially Eleanor herself: she was a political opportunist to be sure, but she also lived in an era that was especially skeptical of women in power and the accounts of her that survive reflect that bias. I've got quite a few of Weir's books on my TBR, and I always look forward to them and recommend them (including this one!) heartily.

Tell me, blog you have any family history in areas that have had changing borders? We found my great-grandpa's immigration records, and he's actually recorded as being ethnically Polish, but with Austrian nationality, because the area in Poland where we're from was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire!

One year ago, I was reading: Freakonomics

Two years ago, I was reading: All The King's Men (my favorite of that year!)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Month In The Life: November 2017

Well, somehow we're only like a month away from the end of 2017, which doesn't seem possible. Like most of us, I suspect, the winding down of the year usually inspires a look back, and while I'll probably get more fully into it next month, I suspect I'm going to feel like while this year had some high points, I'm ready to move on. But before we get into December and start winding it down, I've got a monthly update to share with you!

In Books...

  • The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter: I was worried this book was going to be just "sad lonely people being sad and lonely", but the writing is gorgeous and I found its themes around the human need to feel connected to and understood by others to be deeply touching. That a 23 year-old wrote this is incredible.
  • La Belle Sauvage: I tried so hard not to overhype myself for this book in case it was disappointing, but I shouldn't have doubted Philip Pullman. While it's not as amazing as The Golden Compass, it's a worthy prequel and I loved getting to spend time in that world again. 
  • The Underground Railroad: This was a super hyped book last year, and while Whitehead's writing was incredible and I appreciated the story he told, I never got as sucked in as I would have hoped. Very very good book, and an important one at that. 
  • A Vast Conspiracy: I was only about 10-12 when the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal was happening, so while I vaguely understood what was happening I didn't really get it. This was an interesting and informative perspective on that time and the nebulous atmosphere of scandal that seems to surround the Clintons. 
  • The House of Mirth: This treaded very similar territory to The Age of Innocence about the artificiality and coldness of "society" and how it stifles and represses people who do play by its rules and punishes those who don't, and but this one felt more like it was a social critique first and a story second, in a way. It's good, but not great.
  • In The Woods: I'd heard this first entry in the Dublin Murder Squad series was the weakest, so I went in with low expectations but I actually really liked it! It was a bit of a slow burn as it started but by the end I was racing through it to see how it all played out. I'll definitely be reading the rest!
  • The Hate U Give: This was one of the buzziest books of the year...and to be honest, while I enjoyed it and found it well-written and certainly very timely, I didn't think it was exceptional. I loved Thomas' characters, though, particularly Starr, and I'm looking forward to seeing what she writes next!

In Life...
  • The holidays began: While I love the family time and nesting that comes with the holiday season, I've been trying to make a concerted effort on the diet and exercise fronts and all the extra opportunities to eat yummy food make it hard on the waistline. I do love shopping for presents for my loved ones, though, so I'm excited to try to find something thoughtful for each person on my list!

One Thing:

Since we're all about to abuse our Amazon accounts ('tis the season!), it's time to remember to make sure you're starting your shopping trip through Amazon Smile, which automatically donates a portion of the proceeds from those dollars we're already spending to a charity of your choice. Personally, I have it set for Bikers Against Child Abuse, which pairs motorcylists with children needing support as they get ready to testify against their abusers. 

Gratuitous Pug Photo:

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week, we're looking the books we'll be reading over the next couple months. Winter tends to be my power-reading season (brrrr-y outside means it's best to stay in snuggled up with a book!), so hopefully I get beyond these books even, but here are the next ten on my list (not counting the yet-to-be-decided book club picks).

The Lady Elizabeth: I didn't love Alison Weir's debut novel about the life of Lady Jane Grey, but I'm giving her another shot since I love her nonfiction so much...this novel is about the youth of Queen Elizabeth I.

The Games: With the Winter Olympics (my favorite ones!) coming up a few months, I'm going to read this nonfiction about the history of the Games.

The Girl in the Tower: I LOVED The Bear and the Nightingale, so I am pumped to read my advance copy of the sequel!

The Lady of the Rivers: Back to English royalty historical fiction, this is yet another in Philippa Gregory's series on The Wars of the Roses, focusing on Jaquetta Rivers, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville.

The Power: I've heard some mixed reviews about this book, which posits a world in which women are suddenly given lethal power, prompting new gender relationships, but I'm intrigued anyways.

Rebecca: I've seen the (excellent) movie version of this gothic tale, but it's very popular in its original novel format as well.

Fourth of July Creek: This was a whim Kindle deal purchase (like, three years ago) that has gotten pretty good reviews.

Ghost Wars: I actually was originally recommended this book about American covert influence in Afghanistan in the 80s by my college boyfriend, and even though it's been a LONG time since we dated, I've always remembered and been curious and I'm finally going to read it.

An Untamed State: As much as I love her Twitter presence, I've never actually read any of Roxane Gay's books...time to fix that.

An American Marriage: I won a copy of this book, about what happens to a woman when her husband is unjustly convicted and she turns to a good friend for comfort, through LibraryThing's giveaways and I'm really excited to read it.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Book 104: The Paper Magician

"From her pocket she pulled a tiny snowflake, the one she had stowed there after her first day as a Folder. She rubbed her thumb over its tiny, delicate cuts, grateful she hadn't yet washed this particular skirt. The snowflake still felt frosty, just like real snow. Snow he had made for her. All of it had been for her in one way or another, hadn't it?"

Dates read: November 13-15, 2016

Rating: 5/10

When I was a child, like many other children, I desperately wanted magic to be real. From Tamora Pierce's Wild Magic series to the J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, the idea that people could have secret powers inside themselves, just waiting to be harnessed, was, well, enchanting. I kept waiting for my own magic to manifest, because of course if magic were real I was going to be special enough to get it. I think most of us longed for a world where we had extraordinary powers at some point, and that helps explain the enduring popularity of these kinds of stories.

It's not really clear in Charlie Holmberg's The Paper Magician if one needs to have been born with magic. Ceony Twill doesn't seem to have manifested any particular powers from what we learn about her life before attending Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined. But she does want to learn magic, and maybe that's good enough. In the world Holmberg builds, students take the classes they want and experiment and may aspire to a particular kind of magic, but ultimately are bonded to one particular kind of substance through which they can perform it. Ceony longs to be bonded to metal, but instead, because of a lack of paper magicians, she's sent to Emery Thane, to become his apprentice.

Ceony sulks a little but I was pleasantly surprised at how non-mopey she generally seems like characters like this are usually 100% pro-pity parties. But even though she wishes it hadn't been so, she dedicates herself to learning the craft of paper magic. She's settling into a mostly comfortable groove when suddenly she and Emery, on who she is starting to develop a bit of a crush, are brutally attacked by an evil magician, and although she's been forbidden to, she (of course) adventures to save him. She has to make a journey, both literal and metaphorical, through his heart in order to do so.

The journey through the heart is where most of the character development comes from. It's in a way a kind of blunt plot device...instead of having to learn things about her Emery's inner life organically, she's treated to highlight and lowlight reels of the most sensitive, defining moments of his life. But I think it works, mostly. It not only rounds out his character, but it makes her growing crush seem less like the oh-so-tiresome InstaLove trope. And the system of magic that Holmberg creates for her world is fresh and interesting. But at the end of the day, this isn't high literature. It's fluffy, and perfect for the way I read it: on an airplane. Or at a beach. It's pleasant and light and thinking about it too hard isn't recommended. There are sequels, but I'm not nearly invested enough to seek them out. If you need something to help pass the time, though, you could do a lot worse.

Tell me, blog friends...were you, too, convinced you had magic inside you as a child?

One year ago, I was reading: The Emigrants 

Two years ago, I was reading: Oriental Mythology

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I'm Thankful For

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic, with Thanksgiving in two days, is books that we're thankful for. This isn't usually how I think about books (I tend to think about good to bad, not more to less thankful), but I pondered for a bit, and here are ten books that make me grateful.

A Wrinkle In Time: For teaching me it was okay to be a prickly adolescent girl, and that I could still be the hero even if I was.

Anna Karenina: For teaching me that I didn't hate Russian literature (just Dostoyevsky).

Memoirs of a Geisha: For being a wonderful book, and then inspiring me to think more critically about own voices.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: For inspiring in me a lifelong fascination with psychology and the brain.

Lolita: For teaching me that the English language can be playful and unexpected.

To Kill A Mockingbird: For showing and not telling its lessons about injustice and being all the more powerful for it.

Gone With The Wind: For teaching me that sometimes the movie is better.

Harry Potter: For being magical.

The Hunger Games: For reminding me that reading outside of my usual genre lines can be very rewarding indeed.

The Handmaid's Tale: For making the misogyny behind male control of female reproduction blindingly obvious.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Dreamcasting: Sabriel

I'm back with another take on Dreamcasting, where I combine my love of movies and books by casting some of my longtime favorites. Today, it's Sabriel, a book that I've loved ever since I picked it up as a teenager (and passed on to my sister, who loves it as much as I do!). It's a fantasy adventure story, about a young woman who uses seven bells to cross into Death and fight necromancers who try to bend the Dead to their will against the living. There are two sequels in the original trilogy, with another two novels having come out since, but the original book is the one I've returned to most often.

Sabriel: Saoirse Ronan

She's actually a smidge old for the role (Sabriel should be about 18, Ronan is 23), but by Hollywood standards that's practically dead-on. She's done dark hair for a role before, she's played a bad-ass in Hanna, and she's a talented enough actor to play a lot of things just with her face...Sabriel's not a talkative character, so whoever plays her needs to be able to be subtle and I think she'd be just perfect.

Touchstone: Armie Hammer

He's gotten rave reviews for his portrayal of a romantic lead lately, and he's got the kind of warm attractiveness that would make it easy to understand how an otherwise-down-to-earth teenager like Sabriel would get a big crush real fast. But Touchstone isn't a one-dimensional character, and Armie has the range to give light to his dark side, too, I think.

Colonel Horhees: J.K. Simmons

Horhees is a military man who interacts with Sabriel early in her journey and plays a bigger role at the end, but still not a ton of screentime. But he's someone that we do need to connect with, and I think Simmons has the right mix of gruffness and warmth to make the most of it.

Mogget (voice): Tim Curry

If you love this book, just shell out the money for the audio version, which is narrated by...Tim Curry. His version of Mogget is so perfect I can't imagine anyone else doing it better.

Abhorsen: Ralph Feinnes

Sabriel's father is a relatively minor character and only has a few scenes, but because it's the search for him that prompts the entire story, he's an important prescence. He should have an almost-otherworldliness since he's been in and out of Death for his whole life, and even though he's unquestionably a good guy, Fiennes' excellent turn as Voldemort made me think he's been great in the role.

Kerrigor/Rogir: Benedict Cumberbatch

Since I think a lot of Kerrigor's non-flashback appearances would need to be CGI'd, I wanted someone with a distinctive voice that could be menacing...but was also young enough to appear as Rogir in flashbacks.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book 103: Invisible Man

"For the first time, as I swung along the streets, I thought consciously of how I had conducted myself at home. I hadn't worried too much about whites as people. Some were friendly and some were not, and you tried not to offend either. But here they all seemed impersonal; and yet when most impersonal they startled me by being polite, by begging my pardon after brushing against me in a crowd. Still I felt that even when they were polite they hardly saw me, that they would have begged the pardon of Jack the Bear, never glancing his way if the bear happened to be walking along minding his business. It was confusing. I did not know if it was desirable or undesirable..."

Dates read: November 10-13, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Awards/Lists: National Book Award, Time All-Time 100 Novels, New York Times bestseller, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

I've never been followed around a store by a salesperson. I've never been afraid when I've been pulled over. No one has ever treated me like I don't belong pretty much anywhere I've ever wanted to go. No one has assumed that I speak for all other people that look like me. These, and countless other indignities I don't have to suffer, are facets of my white privilege. I will never really know what it's like to live as anything other than a white woman, and in the interest of learning about what life is like outside of those confines, I've found myself more and more drawn lately to stories about experiences of people of color.

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man shouldn't be confused with H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man. While the sci-fi classic deals with literal invisibility, the unnamed black man who narrates his story in Ellison's novel is only figuratively invisible. We meet him at the end of his story, living in a New York City basement that he's lit up brightly by siphoning power from the utility. Ellison doesn't belabor the metaphor...right from the start, the narrator tells us that it's his status as a black man in mid-century America that renders him effectively invisible.

The novel is made up of his story and how he came to recognize his own non-entity status. And it hits you in the gut right away: the first incident he relates from his life is when he's awarded a scholarship from a prestigious philanthropic organization in the small Southern town in which he grows up. He's invited to a country club dinner to make a speech about his scholarship, but once he gets there, he and several other young black men are forced to fight each other and be humiliated chasing for electrified coins. Only after he's been degraded is he allowed to give his speech and receive the scholarship and the briefcase. It's a horrifying sequence, incredibly difficult to read, and the book is just getting started.

This experience, and the ones that the narrator has at a black college and then in New York are rooted in a fundamental denial of his humanity. He's entertainment, or a tool, or an experiment, or just disposable. He struggles and fights and gets up after being knocked down over and over again, but he can't escape the fact of his race and the broad social structures designed to keep him and other black men firmly in the underclass. And while things have gotten better today, it's maybe not as much better as we'd like to think.

This is a hard book to read. Not because of the quality...Ellison's writing is incredible. But it's heavy and dark and the unending awfulness of what the narrator is subjected to is a lot to get your head around. I usually try not to get heavily into politics on this blog, but I read this book right after the 2016 election, and it really made me think about the racism that persists in our society. Despite the "grab them by the pussy" tape that we all heard, and the many sexual assault allegations against him, a majority of white women voted for Donald Trump rather than the candidate who has worked on women's and children's issues for her entire adult life. And while there are lots of factors that motivated people to vote for him, he was an open bigot as well as an open misogynist. It's hard not to see that as white women "choosing" the interests of white supremacy over feminism. I'm not saying anyone in particular who voted for Trump is absolutely a racist or hates women, I think it's easy to underestimate your own internal bias or internalized misogyny, a lot of it works on unconscious levels. If I were a black person in America, I have to think that I'd feel pretty invisible (at best) right now too.

Tell me, blog friends...what piece of fiction has especially resonated with you lately?

One year ago, I was reading: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Two years ago, I was reading: Oriental Mythology 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Want My Future Children to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week, we're believing that children are our future, and thinking about what books we'd want our own kids, or nieces/nephews, or our friends' kids to read. I do want kids someday, and here are ten books I am going to stock on their bookshelves (arranged, roughly, in order from youngest to oldest).

Greek Myths: This book of Greek myths, rendered as comic strips that kids can understand, inspired in me a lifelong love of these classic stories.

Charlotte's Web: Although I don't plan on raising children vegetarian (I think it should be their choice to make), I would like them to understand where meat comes from and this book is gently upfront about raising animals for slaughter. It also was something that I remember being particularly helpful to me in gaining a more mature understanding of death.

A Wrinkle In Time: I loved this whole series and no matter what gender my future child(ren) may be, I want them to see a girl who doesn't play nice as being a hero.

Harry Potter: OBVIOUSLY.

Speak: Again, regardless of gender, this book explores sexual assault and its aftermath and how hard it can be to make the accusation, and that's something everyone should be aware of.

1984: This book made me question the way information is disseminated and the way the public is expected to consume it even as an eighth grader (even more so now).

Lord of the Flies: It's perhaps a dim view of humanity, especially in groups, but I haven't seen anything in my life to this point to make me think that it's not a fair one.

To Kill A Mockingbird: The lessons here about not judging people without understanding their circumstances are timeless and important.

The Lord of the Rings: This series has its issues (including a horrifying dearth of female characters), but it's a wonderful adventure tale and the basis of a lot of fantasy media.

A People's History of the United States: The version of history we're presented in school is a very sanitized one, and I hope my kids have the intellectual curiosity to investigate past the shiny surface.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Book 102: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

"A key ring gets left in your care and you reject all responsibility for it yet can't bring yourself to throw it away. Nor can you give the thing away- to whom can someone of good conscience give such an object as a key? Always up to something, stitching paths and gateways together even as it sits quite still; its powers of interference can only be guessed at."

Dates read: November 6-10, 2016

Rating: 6/10

I don't know about you, but I am inclined to get stuck in ruts. I have very firm opinions of what I like and what I don't like, and I tend to stick to those preferences very closely. Sometimes to the point of shutting out trying new things just because I'd rather stick to what I know. I'm bubbly and lively, so I think people assume I'm spontaneous and don't really realize the extent to which I am actually a die-hard clinger to my established habits.

This extends to my reading...I'm very reluctant to step outside my usual comfort zones of historical and literary fiction or nonfiction. Which is why the first book I read for my book club was a stretch for me: Helen Oyeyemi's What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a collection of short stories. At the time I read it, I didn't have a single other collection of short stories on my shelf, as it's not a format I generally enjoy. But we all benefit from a step outside the old comfort zone every once in a while, eh?

Honestly, I found the book more interesting than enjoyable. This is my first taste of Oyeyemi (although her well-regarded Boy, Snow, Bird is on my shelf, I haven't read it yet) and she's a powerful, talented writer. Most of the stories (but not all) are loosely interconnected...characters introduced in one have a way of showing up in others, but it's like a kaleidoscope in a way: the same pieces getting combined in different ways to create a whole new view. The boundaries of the world she creates in each story are all slightly different, so it doesn't feel cohesive despite the repeating characters and even the repeating motifs.

Possession and belonging, doors and keys, transition and fluidity are all over the stories in What Is Not Yours. Some of the stories really manage to develop these themes in interesting ways that feel complete, but for my money, this was maddeningly inconsistent. There was only one story I didn't like at all, but several of them felt unfinished and slightly underdone to me. Which is why I don't usually read short stories...when they're very good, they're amazing, but when they are anything less than great I find them mostly frustrating. I like immersing myself in the characters and setting of a book, so I find the constant change in setting and characters that short stories bring to be jarring. Most of the stories in this collection were good but not quite there for me...I wanted more from them, and from this book as a whole.

Tell me, blog friends: do you enjoy short stories?

One year ago, I was reading: this book!

Two years ago, I was reading: Kramer v Kramer

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Characters Worth Following

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week, we're looking at characters that would make great leaders, so here are ten characters that I think would be worth following.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter): The Harry Potter series would have been, like, one book long without Hermoine making sure Harry and Ron didn't kill themselves by accident. She is smart, capable, and I would be more than happy to follow her wherever she went.

Lyra Belacqua (The Golden Compass): Lyra's just one of those "natural leaders"'s no accident that when the Jordan College kids are fighting the townie kids, that it's Lyra that leads them into battle. Her natural charisma is obvious even on the page.

Gandalf (The Fellowship of the Ring): When the Fellowship sets off on their quest, it's the wizard that leads part to quell arguments between the races about leadership, but also because he's wise and thoughtful and anyone who's beloved in Hobbiton is someone I'd be okay trailing behind.

Madeline Mackenzie (Big Little Lies): After reading this book (I still haven't seen the show and I really need to!), I so appreciated Madeline's take-charge attitude that I'd have happily joined her book club (or anything else she wanted me to).

Charles O'Keefe (A Wrinkle In Time): While Meg is my favorite character from this series, she's too short-tempered to make a good leader. Leaders are most effective if they're liked, and who wouldn't like and line up behind Charles?

Emma Woodhouse (Emma): England in Austen's time didn't have a lot in the way of formal leadership roles for women, but clever Emma was clearly the queen bee of her social set, which is about as much as an upper-class lady could aspire to.

Mr. Wednesday (American Gods): There's a reason he's the one that goes on the journey to round up the old gods across the country...he's the one that's got the persuasiveness to get them to join up!

Achilles (Song of Achilles): He's a strong, true, and fair commander of his troops, who wouldn't want to follow him...and who would care that he's gay, for that matter?

Ned Stark (A Game of Thrones): Noble, brave, and always doing the right thing, Ned is pretty much the platonic ideal of a hero and a worthy leader.

Jean Valjean (Les Miserables): He spends most of his life repenting for a criminal act by becoming selfless and kind and the kind of man who gets elected to be the mayor of his town.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book 101: The Queen of the Night

"I wanted to eat and so I learned to sing. I am the same as the woman who on a winter afternoon roasts chestnuts from the Bois de Boulogne and sells them so she can buy her dinner. It took more than a witch to make a singer out of me. And if it was a gift from God that made me this way, it was the gift He gave us all, called hunger."

Dates read: November 1-6, 2016

Rating: 9/10

As an older millennial (I was born in 1985), I didn't grow up immersed in the digital world, but I also don't remember much of a world before computers. All my papers were written in Word, I've been doing research on the internet since high school, and I've had Facebook since it was rolled out to the first round of non-Ivies, the second semester of my freshman year of college. Sometimes I wonder what it must have been like to live in a world where our lives weren't so tied to the internet. Where you could move to a new place and be a new person because there wasn't a trail of easily accessible information following you wherever you went. It's kind of mind-boggling, honestly.

An ever-changing identity is the centerpiece of Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night. We're introduced to Lilliet Berne at the height of her fame as an operatic soprano in Paris in the 1870s. She's approached by a man who says he can give her the one honor that she hasn't attained so far: a role she can originate. The only snag is that the new opera is based on a novel that's clearly based on her own past, a past she thought she'd managed to escape from. There are only a handful of people who know her real life, and she determines to find out which one of them has betrayed her.

The book is a recounting of the story of her life, with one incredible circumstance leading directly into another: she grows up in frontier America and sets out to get to Switzerland, where she has relatives, once her entire family dies. In order to make it overseas, she joins a circus, from which she escapes to become a hippodrome rider, and then becomes a prostitute, and then a handmaid to the Empress of France, and finally an opera singer in training. She becomes an figure of obsession to a professional tenor and he dogs her steps, determined to possess her entirely, even while she tries to elude him and falls in love with another man. She does eventually find out who is behind the mysterious new opera and it seems for a while that she might even get a happy ending...but this is a story about opera, and operas don't usually have one of those.

If you read that plot outline and thought it sounds insane, you're right. IT'S BONKERS. But it's really good! I tend to be irritated by plots that require too many convenient contrivances, but with this book it's best to put logic aside and just enjoy the ride, because it is a fantastic, soapy trip that Chee takes us on. It's a bit on the long side, but it doesn't get bogged down might think that with the list of twists and turns that Lilliet's life takes, that it would feel cluttered or get hard to keep track of what was going on, but Chee is in control of his story and characters, and creates a vivid, lively world that was hard to tear myself away from.

This is one of those books that I kept promising myself I would stop at the end of the chapter to go to sleep, and was hard pressed to resist just one more after that before turning out the light. My one quibble would be that in a book full of evocative characters, Lilliet herself is a bit of a cipher. But, given the many shifts in her circumstances and role she is meant to play, too big of a personality wouldn't feel quite right either. Her most defining feature is her determination to matter what comes around the bend, she always manages to figure out a way to adapt and keep going. That's a powerful statement in and of itself. Overall, though, this is a very enjoyable read and I would heartily recommend it!

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever wished you could start fresh someplace new?

One year ago, I was reading: this book!

Two years ago, I was reading: Primitive Mythology

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 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'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 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.