Sunday, October 31, 2021

A Month In The Life: October 2021


October is always my favorite month! It's the one with my birthday and my husband's birthday, after all. And, now that I live in Nevada, Nevada Day (which is technically today but we celebrate on the last Friday of the month to make a three-day weekend). Usually we can count on October for some lovely weather in the upper 60s and low 70s to enjoy the last of the long days, but once the heat broke, it plunged firmly into the 50s and 60s so it's definitely been a properly "fall" fall.

In Books...

  • Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth was the first child of Teddy Roosevelt, and his only child with his first wife, who died within days of her birth. She had a fascinating life, exerting a lot of soft power in Washington, DC, with her background as a First Daughter and wife of the man who would one day become Speaker, but dealt with plenty of darkness as well. This biography is competent enough and definitely provides a solid overview of her life, but has a hard time sustaining itself and kind of drags by the end.
  • French Concession: This was a noir thriller set in 1930s Hong Kong, and was the first book translated into English of a successful Chinese writer so I decided to try it despite not being a particular devotee of the genre. This was a mistake, I found it needlessly complicated with characters too thinly sketched to actually care about.
  • Land of Big Numbers: I think this is the last time I read short stories for book club, y'all. I just don't like them. This collection set mostly in China or featuring Chinese characters, written by a Chinese-American journalist who spent several years living in China, is fine. I found none of the stories interesting, either in a good or bad way. They were all just kind of there.
  • Uprooted: I had high hopes for this book, which I've had recommended to me several times, and they were mostly satisfied. It's a standalone adult fantasy (adult here in the sense of "not-young adult", not "x-rated") based in Eastern Europe, rooted in the journey of a young woman, Agnesiezka, discovering her magic under the tutelage of a wizard known as The Dragon, who finds herself having to fight to save her home and kingdom. There's a little too much plot here, I wish just a bit had been edited out to make room for a couple character moments to fully develop, but it's very good and I enjoyed reading it.
  • The Night The Lights Went Out: Drew Magary is one of my favorite writers on the internet, and I remember following along with reports on Twitter when he had a bad accident in late 2018 that it seemed like he might not recover from. He did recover, though, and wrote this memoir about his experience with traumatic brain injury and the long process of recovery. I found it strongest in the first half, but Magary's skill with words makes the second half (in which he tries to cope with the fallout of a loss of his senses of hearing, smell, and taste) work despite being often repetitious. It's definitely something to read if you like him/his work, but otherwise might not be especially compelling. 
  • Cleopatra's Shadows: This is an unusual take on a Cleopatra-era historical fiction about Ancient Egypt, in that Cleopatra herself barely features as a player in the drama. Instead, it concerns itself with the story of her older sister, Berenice, and younger sister, Arsinoe, during the brief reign of the former prior to the death of Cleopatra's father. I appreciated that it was a side of the story we rarely see considered, and it was written well enough to keep my attention and interest though wasn't more than solid-to-good. 

In Life...

  • I turned 36: Birthdays do get much less exciting as we get older, don't they? Turning 36 felt like the opposite of a big deal, so we just watched college football and ordered Mexican food take-out. This is the first major milestone where I keep thinking that the next time this one rolls around we'll have a kid!
  • I went to Skate America: My best friend and I love figure skating, so we went to Las Vegas for Skate America, the first major international competition of the season that will end with Worlds in March (though few but the hardcore will pay much attention once the Olympics are over). It was super fun, we got to watch some incredible skating from everyone from Russian teenage phenoms to 30something multiple-time Olympians. This was our second time going and we definitely want to make it a tradition!

One Thing:

I'm trying to stay healthy and at least somewhat active during this pregnancy, which feels increasingly important but also increasingly challenging as I approach the third trimester. I'm too paranoid to go to the gym and risk COVID exposure (at least until I get my booster shot in a week!) so I've been working out from home and really appreciate the workouts put together by BodyFit by Amy. She has a TON of home workouts for every kind of fitness need, but it's surprisingly hard to find good pregnancy-friendly workouts that I like so I especially appreciate her list of workouts for those of us growing tiny humans. I definitely intend to continue using her material even after I have evicted my passenger!

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Book 307: Princess Masako


"Here is an ambitious, intelligent woman who cannot bear the stifling constraints of life as a royal puppet; a woman from a family with a tradition of public service denied a real role in life; a woman with a Harvard education, a master of languages, who is denied meaningful discourse, and urged to amuse herself with pursuits such as the dissection of catfish or the study of medieval barges."

Dates read: April 3-7, 2019

Rating: 4/10

One of my guilty pleasures is royal-watching. I spend more time than I should reading about/looking at pictures of the world's royal families, analyzing their fashion choices, gazing longingly at their jewelry collections. It's not that I covet their lives, though I do covet many of their wardrobes, and just putting a tiara on my head once would be one of the highlights of my life. I've read the comments on the royal Instagrams, I've seen how nasty people are about the women in these families. It's just fun to imagine being one of them for a day, and then back to normal.

Though the British royal family sucks up most of the oxygen when it comes to coverage of royalty, it's not the oldest one. Not by a long shot. The oldest is the Chrysanthemum Throne, the seat of the Japanese emperors. Naruhito currently occupies that role, with his wife Masako filling the role of Empress. But like the women married to the British princes, Masako Owada wasn't born into nobility. She grew up in Russia, Japan, and the United States as the daughter of a diplomat. She herself even worked as a diplomat. But once she accepted then-Prince Naruhito's marriage proposal, her entire world changed. Unfortunately, as Ben Hill's Princess Masako explores, it hasn't always been necessarily for the better.

Allegedly, Masako didn't accept the first time Naruhito asked her to marry him. Nor even the second. She was smart enough to know that a life as the consort of the Crown Prince would require her to give up everything she'd earned for herself and accept a tightly circumscribed and entirely domestic role. It seems Naruhito promised her that they'd find a way to loosen restrictions and modernize, but those promises weren't able to be kept. Cut off from her former life and under immense pressure to get pregnant, Masako seems to have become significantly depressed. When she finally did become a mother, she faced a fresh round of criticism for having given birth to a girl instead of a boy, as only men can inherit the throne. Prior to her elevation to Empress, Masako basically became a recluse, appearing in public very infrequently.

There's a lot of (fairly educated) guesswork here, because sources about what Masako really thinks/feels aren't exactly forthcoming. Japanese media culture does not reward the sort of tabloid speculation that sells papers in Europe, and perhaps that is why it seems like Hill's sources were not as strong as one might have hoped. The people he talks to about Masako, who knew her before she became a princess, are either pretty far removed from their last contact with her or never knew her very well in the first place. A behind-the-scenes kind of book like this should feel rooted in firm reality with sources just remaining anonymous to protect themselves, but pretty much everything that's supposed to be revealing in here feels like speculation.

There's no sense of fun, either, which is half the point of picking up this sort of book. On the one hand, it's hard to imagine how this story could be anything but tragic, but on the other hand, letting that sense of sadness pervade the book makes the gossip-y tone feel like rubbernecking at a car accident. I did learn more about the Imperial Household Agency, the courtiers that control the royal family, and got a bit more context on the relationship between the Japanese people and their royalty, and the way it's changed in the post-WW2 era. But as a whole, the book never took off and I didn't feel like I got much besides a straightforward account of the biographical details of Masako's life. If you're really into the Japanese royals, then you might find something worthwhile here, but don't count on it for dishy intrigue. Otherwise, there's no real reason to pick it up.

One year ago, I was reading: Looking for Alaska

Two years ago, I was reading: Patron Saints of Nothing

Three years ago, I was reading: Seduction

Four years ago, I was reading: The Book Thief

Five years ago, I was reading: The Confessions of St. Augustine

Six years ago, I was reading: Primitive Mythology

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Horror Books On My TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week is a Halloween-themed freebie, and so I'm going to be listing ten books on my TBR list that are in the horror genre. I'm not much of a horror person generally (I don't like being scared!), and I know the definition of what qualifies as horror can vary, but I pulled these from Goodreads lists of best horror that happen to coincide with books I've already put on my list!




The Haunting of Hill House

World War Z

Swan Song

The Terror

The Passage

The Omen

The Other

The House Next Door

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Book 306: All The President's Men


"The August 1 story had carried their joint byline; the day afterward, Woodward asked Sussman if Bernstein's name could appear with his on the follow-up story - though Bernstein was still in Miami and had not worked on it. From the on, any Watergate story would carry both names. Their colleagues melded the two into one and gleefully named their byline Woodstein."

Dates read: March 27- April 3, 2019

Rating: 5/10

Lists/awards: The New York Times best-seller

I'm a bad liar. Which isn't to say that I don't everyone else, I do, but I make an active effort to do so less often than I could. Not because I'm more morally righteous than anyone else, but because being bad at lying means I'm more likely to get caught. It's just mentally exhausting to keep track of who you've lied to, about what, and the stress of how to handle it if two people who each know different versions of the story start to talk to each other is too much for me to handle. I'm more likely to keep secrets than I am to lie, but even that's dicey (I'm a compulsive confessor when I've had a beer or two).

It's hard to think of someone more closely connected in the popular imagination to secrets and lies than one Richard Milhous Nixon. On his way to virtually certain re-election, he just couldn't resist the urge to direct a break-in to the Democratic National Committee office, and the cover-up cost him not only the presidency, but his legacy forevermore. It was the reporting of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that really pushed the story forward, and their book All The President's Men recounts how they came to be major players in the scandal. The book is less about the underlying events than one might think, instead focusing primarily on the reporting process.

It turns out that the process of reporting a major story, involving many sources, is...kind of boring? Woodward and Bernstein try to track down sources, find them, talk to them, go back and talk to the same people again to try to get more information out of them, get referred to new sources, and then lather, rinse, repeat. The tension should build towards the next story, then the next, then the next, but it felt more like a trudge than anything else. I have to imagine that it often felt that way to report, little pieces fitting into a larger puzzle here and there, rather than a swelling towards a crescendo. But realistic or not, it doesn't make for very exciting reading. Especially when the biggest mystery of the book, the identity of Deep Throat, has been solved for those of us reading today.

I found myself wondering as I was reading if this story wouldn't have been better served by having someone else tell it. Obviously I understand why Woodward and Bernstein wanted to write the book about their own deeds, but either they're not particularly gifted at narrative-crafting or they're too far inside of it to see the forest for the trees. They recount giddily the editing that led the placement of sentences within a paragraph, making it clear that as reporters this was a fraught and tense process. But as a reader, it holds little excitement. A book that recounted their investigation and placed it in its context of what was happening at The Washington Post and in the Oval Office in a broader sense would be one I'd be very interested in reading. This one, though, left me mostly feeling like I'd really like to watch the Kirsten Dunst/Michelle Williams comedy Dick again, because if this was the real story the other one is much more entertaining. If you love newspaper/political reporting, or have a deeper interest in Watergate and the Nixon administration, this will be something you'll find it worthwhile to read. If you're looking for more dynamic nonfiction, this may be a classic but it is very skippable.

One year ago, I was reading: The White Princess

Two years ago, I was reading: The Line of Beauty

Three years ago, I was reading: Detroit

Four years ago, I was reading: Player Piano

Five years ago, I was reading: The Executioner's Song

Six years ago, I was reading: Through the Language Glass

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Online Resources for Book Lovers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about the internet-based things that make our reading lives better! If you know where to look, there is so much on the internet that is bookish!

Twitter: Book Twitter can be a mixed bag (some people get a little...intense), but finding writers and bloggers whose opinions you respect and agree with and not letting yourself get sucked into the drama can make it a really fun place to connect!

Book Riot: A one-stop internet shop for bookish content! Lists, links to cute merch, deals for e-books, thoughtful's one of my go-tos for sure!

The book blogosphere: To my eyes, it seems like YA and romance inspire the most blogging, but there is a blog for every sort of reader/genre out there if you look! I've actually discovered several blogs that I personally enjoy through checking out the weekly Top Ten Tuesday post round-ups, so it's a good place to start!

Goodreads: This is the elephant in the room...even if we don't love Amazon (who bought the company several years ago), it's hard to escape the dominance of Goodreads. It desperately needs an improved search function and upgrades to its user interface, but tbh it's functional and widely-used, so it's not going anywhere.

Italic Type: This is one of the two Goodreads replacements that I've been trying out lately. Realistically, this one doesn't seem to have taken off and is the one I like less so I'm likely to give it up, but it's worth checking out if you're looking for something super streamlined!

StoryGraph: This is the other Goodreads competitor, and I really like this one, y'all! I LOVE being able to track the books I'm reading against the prompts in various reading challenges, the content warning system, and the questions they ask of reviewers (like whether the book is plot- or character-driven!). It's functional for free but there is a paid tier and I regret nothing about paying for it!

LibraryThing: This is purely book cataloging for me. I have a huge collection and being able to scan them in and tag them helps keep me organized!

Audible: I know, again with the Amazon companies, but Audible is too good to give up. Yes, I know about Audible's sales and exclusives keep me coming back, though, and my library there is very large.

Chirp: Another place to find cheap audiobooks! There's no subscription needed here, just the deals.

Overdrive: If you have a library card, check to see if your library is on Overdrive (or its sister app, Libby, which I don't like as much as the original). SO MANY ebooks and audiobooks!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Book 305: The Rules of Attraction


"But I was running and I was running because it felt like the 'right' thing to do. It was a chance to show some emotion. I wasn't acting on passion. I was simply acting. Because it seemed the only thing to do. It seemed like something I had been told to do."

Dates read: March 23-27, 2019

Rating: 5/10

I was pretty sheltered in high school. I didn't party, I didn't drink, I didn't do drugs. I did my extracurriculars and then went home and did my homework, for the most part. So when I got to college, and had some freedom...I went a little bonkers. Nothing out of the ordinary, but LOTS of booze and the occasional marijuana cigarette. To me, this felt practically criminal, but when I hear some people's stories about college partying, I think it was all actually pretty tame.

It's a wonder that the students depicted in Bret Easton Ellis' The Rules of Attraction even have majors, because it's clear that the actual activity that dominates their lives isn't going to class. It's taking drugs and hooking up. There are three primary narrators: Sean, Paul, and Lauren, though there are some chapters from the perspectives of other people in their lives. The story begins literally mid-sentence, as Lauren recounts being drugged and raped at a Dress To Get Screwed party when she was a freshman. One might think this would be a traumatic event, but Lauren's recollection of it is distant, almost bored. The only thing she seems to have strong feelings about at all is her boyfriend, Victor, who took a semester off to travel. The problem is that we get his perspective as well, and he doesn't seem to recall having a girlfriend, much less think that he shouldn't be sleeping with whoever he might like.

There's a loose love triangle that plays out: Lauren used to date Paul, who is bisexual. Paul has a thing for Sean, a rich kid who has managed to find himself in debt to a local drug dealer. Sean is interested in Lauren, who likes him enough to date him for a while, but she's still too hung up on Victor to really get invested. And things might have happened between Paul and Sean...Paul recounts quite a lot of sex, but Sean's own versions of the same nights note nothing of the sort. Everyone's an unreliable narrator, their perspectives are warped not only by their constant drug use, but their own self-centeredness.

This is an odd book. There's a lot in here that I usually would hate: a plot that centers largely around unpleasant people taking a lot of drugs, characters that are difficult to tell apart (I often had to flip back to figure out if it was a Sean or Paul chapter, and struggled to remember which of them dated Lauren when, and which one owed the dealer). But somehow, despite the fact that I don't know that I could say that I liked it, I found it compelling enough. The constantly switching perspectives (including one from Sean's French roommate, entirely in French) keep it interesting, and the unreliability of the narrators made it so that I was always questioning the veracity of their viewpoints.

There's a kind of tenderness there, underneath the jaded exteriors of these students, particularly from Lauren, that drove my continued interest in the book. I'm sure there are those among us who haven't tried to mask pain or feeling lost under substances or experiences, but most people I know have done it at one time or another. The emotional immaturity of the characters is reasonable...they are, after all, quite young. At the same time, it wasn't exactly enjoyable to spend time with anyone in this book. It's not without redeeming qualities, but I'm still not quite sure how I feel about Ellis as a writer. If you're interested in his work, I'd recommend this, but if anything I've described sounds off-putting to you, it's skippable.

One year ago, I was reading: A Bollywood Affair

Two years ago, I was reading: Plagues and Peoples

Three years ago, I was reading: Prep

Four years ago, I was reading: The Blind Assassin

Five years ago, I was reading: Border Child

Six years ago, I was reading: Unbelievable

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Year 6: An Update (And Giveaway!)


It's my 36th birthday! And wow, a lot has happened since the last one! When I turned 30, I set some goals for myself for the next decade. One of those goals was to read at least 50 books per year, or 500 total, so I started the blog a couple months later to hold myself accountable and have a place to talk about all those books! Since my reading years begin and end on my birthday, I like to do a check-in post every year to look back on the year that was, both in books and life. Without further ado:

In Reading

Books read (this year): 69. My reading totals have been trending steadily downward since the blog started, though I am once again comfortably above my goal of 50. This year still featured a very healthy total, to be sure! I think part of it has actually been my transition to primarily working from home. I used to walk home and read after eating a small lunch, but now I don't really have a well-defined lunch hour so that time isn't really set aside the same way. And of course, I read a little less in session years.

Books read (total): 490. This total remains well in excess of where I need to be. Indeed, I will likely finish the 500 before the end of the calendar year. I've got LOTS of backlogged reviews! Which is a good thing because I have to imagine my reading will take quite a hit once the baby arrives.

Male/Female Authors: I read quite a lot more by women this year than I did by men. I made no deliberate effort to do so, but read 44 books by female authors and 25 by male ones. Over the long term, though, the totals remain very close.

Most Read Genres: I trended pretty close to my own usual results here, with just over 2/3 of my books (48) being fiction and a little less than 1/3 of them (21) being nonfiction. Within fiction, I read the most contemporary and historical fiction, with mysteries and thrillers in a close third. Within nonfiction, I read the most history, with memoirs and biographies being tied for second.

Kindle/Hard Copy: This year was pretty even, with 37 books being read in hard copy and 32 being read on my Kindle. The Kindle, as always, remains unmatched for portability and convenience, but I do love books in hard copy the most.

In Life

I became an aunt: My sister had her first child, a son, in December of last year. Because of COVID, I've only gotten to visit him once, but he's completely adorable and I am so excited to be his aunt! I was reading: Can't Even (review to come)

Beginning of my fifth legislative session: It's hard to believe that I've been working in government affairs for close to a decade now! Every session I learn a little more about how to do my job as well as I can, and they're never dull! I was reading: The Secret Life of Bees (review to come)

We bought a house: Buying a housing during the legislative session was...maybe not the best idea I ever had. And getting into the housing market when we did was definitely stressful! We made several offers, but we're happy that the one we made on our house was the one that was accepted. We love our place. I was reading: Endzone (review to come)

End of my fifth legislative session: It was a deeply weird session, seeing as how about 110 of its 120 days were ones I covered from my couch at home. But I did get some in-person time in Carson City there at the end. I was reading: Tooth and Claw (review to come)

I found out I'm having a baby: We actually found out I was pregnant pretty shortly after session ended! Obviously this was extremely exciting, we're very much looking forward to becoming parents! I was reading: The Death of Vivek Oji (review to come)

Fifth wedding anniversary: We've been married for half a decade now! I continue to feel very lucky in having found such a wonderful partner and someone that I'm happy will be the father of our child. I was reading: Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch (review to come)

Vacation to Michigan: This was only the second time I've gotten on a plane since the pandemic began, and it was wonderful to have a week back in the homeland to see my family, meet my nephew, have some time with my besties, and eat a TON of Michigan food that I can't get out in Nevada! I was reading: The Walls Around Us (review to come)

The Giveaway

Every year, I give away a copy of the book I loved the most out of the ones I've reviewed on the blog over the past 12 months. I reviewed some fantastic books this year, but the one that really stood out for me was Taylor Jenkins Reid's hit fictional oral history, Daisy Jones and The Six. If you haven't read it, and would like to, here's your chance! Just enter via the Rafflecopter below during the next week and this book could be yours! Apologies to my international friends, but this giveaway is US-only. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Book 304: Inside Edge

"Nearing the end, Boitano passed by the red hockey circle at center ice, which was a landmark to look for to make sure he was on the right path for the final triple axel. He began to hear strange noises in his lead. Please God, please God. They were getting faster and louder until he could barely stand it. As he launched himself into the air, he hoped that all those years of training would come through for him. Muscle memory, they call it. Only when that tiny blade swooped down, reached for the ice, found it, and held him upright did he know he was okay." 

Dates read: March 19-23, 2019

Rating: 5/10

The first team I remember loving is the Red Wings. They went on their Stanley Cup championship runs when I was like 10-11 years old, which are really the best time to hook a kid. I can still name the Russian Five without thinking twice. I love hockey, it's a great sport. But the second sport I remember loving is figure skating. The drama of the Lipinski/Kwan rivalry got me into it, and I've watched it off and on over the years ever since. The intrigue, the competition...and the skating itself, of course, have kept me interested and invested.

Growing up on a lake, I learned how to skate forwards competently enough, but I never took lessons or figured out anything else. I have never been especially well coordinated, so an activity involving razor-sharp blades attached to the bottom of my feet was probably a wise thing for me to skip out on. But some kids do have their skating dreams come true, and Christine Brennan's Inside Edge chronicles a year (specifically, the 94-95 season) on the figure skating circuit for all parts of the skating world: judges, coaches, and of course the skaters themselves. Everyone invests so much time and money and blood and sweat and tears into a sport where the tiniest slip of a blade can be the difference between that glowing moment in the spotlight or the breakdown backstage.

Though there are multiple perspectives wound into her narrative, Brennan does have several connecting throughlines, following particular skaters through the process of the season. There's precocious youngster Michelle Kwan, already poised and assured at only 15. And also talented-but-uncontrolled Nicole Bobek, who could win it all if she could stop sneaking out at night to hang out with boys. There's Rudy Galindo, toiling away and dreaming of reaching the heights of his one-time pairs partner Kristi Yamaguchi. Jenni Tew is an up-and-comer, dreaming of a spot at Nationals. And there are cameos from Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Katerina Witt, and Torvill and Dean for perspective from more established skaters.

It's been well over two decades since the book was published, years in which Christine Brennan has become a respected voice in coverage of the sport. Back then, however, she was fairly new to it, and that newness does show. The drama feels artificially heightened, there's an almost breathless/scandalized quality to it that reads more like gossip than actual reporting. Despite taking some time with a judge and getting information about the amount of (uncompensated!) time it takes to serve as a judge and the seriousness with which they take their responsibilities, there's a lot of aspersions cast at the judging system as a whole, with veiled and not-so-veiled insinuations that judges collude on the basis of nationality and engage in machinations to game the system in favor of particular skaters, no matter what happens on the ice. This was well before the judging scandal of the Salt Lake City Olympics that changed the entire way scoring works in the sport, so it was interesting to get some background on how the system used to be before I started paying more active attention to it.

But it's hard to not take that information, and all the rest of it, with a grain of salt. The tell-all tone, the obvious favoritism towards particular doesn't make a case for itself to be taken seriously. If you grew up in the Michelle Kwan era, though, and remember these skaters as some of the first ones you watched, it's an interesting read. It's a portrait, albeit a flawed one, of a time and place, and an environment that has changed so fundamentally that it's impossible to compare to the same world as it exists now. But of course, la plus ca change, and right now there are kids strapping on their skates and getting ready for practice, hoping to make it out there on the ice. I'd say this is a solid read for figure-skating fans, especially if you watched during the time chronicled, but there's not much to recommend it otherwise.
One year ago, I was reading: Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story
Two years ago, I was reading: The Overstory

Three years ago, I was reading: The Library Book
Four years ago, I was reading: The Royals
Five years ago, I was reading: Sophie's Choice