Category Archives: Nonfiction

One for Now, One for Later

And boy, they couldn’t be more different.


One for Now: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

31451186This one is… it’s more sci-fi than I’m used to, let me start with that.  I’m okay about sci-fi, but I’m picky.  Borne was another book that was getting rave reviews at the NCIBA Spring Workshop and the concept is bizarre enough that I decided to give it a shot.

Basically, dystopian society in which our narrator (woman named Rachel) describes a world that was once ruled by the Company and is now actually ruled by Mord, a gigantic bear and one-time project of the Company.  Yep, you read that right.  Bear.  As in big furry mammal.  Rachel and cave-mate Wick (who are also occasionally lovers) hang out in Balcony Cliffs together until one day, while out scavenging, Rachel finds a little pod thing and names is Borne.  She carries it home, and eventually Borne begins to grow.  Rachel takes on an almost maternal role with Borne, and debates arise as to whether or not Borne is a person, what happens after death, and the usual existential crisis sorts of topics.  There’s also a woman named the Magician who pops up occasionally, and the Mord wannabes who try to kill people.

I’ll give you a moment to unpack what I just wrote.

There you go.

Not being a gung-ho sci-fi gal myself, I found it to be almost a little too far-fetched, largely because of how matter-of-factly people dealt with a gigantic flying bear.

Oh, I didn’t mention Mord flies?  Yeah.  Giant flying bear.

VanderMeer, author of the widely acclaimed Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), is a great writer.  The construction of the novel, told through a first-person narration with occasional disconnected thoughts or oddly broken sentence, works beautifully.  And the end did surprise me.  Not all of it, but enough that I sat there and actually said, “What?”  So that was a pleasant change.

My issues with the book are strictly personal preference — while I would love to say I enjoyed this wholeheartedly and would read it again, I can’t.  I can say that I’m very curious about VanderMeer’s trilogy and might just give that a shot.  As far as Borne goes, there’s a lot of good here, and if you had any interest in it at all, you should read it.  Even if you don’t love it, I think you can easily find something to appreciate about the work itself.

And on a completely shallow note, the cover of the book (U.S. edition) is really cool.


One for Later: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

41q0PArw2hL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I’m firmly of the opinion that Sherman Alexie is one of the greatest American writers ever.  Like, I’d put him right up beside my boy Fitzgerald.  Easily.  He doesn’t dwell on easy topics or obviously funny things, and he doesn’t make everything out to be pitiable or dark.  Instead, he blends light and dark, tragedy and comedy so beautifully together that everything he does is a work of art.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is a tough book.  After his mother died at 78, Alexie wrote 78 essays and 78 poems about their relationship, and it’s not an easy one.  But Alexie doesn’t shy away from the difficult, scary, horrible parts of life — abuse of all kinds, broken promises, health issues — but tackles everything with his truth.

And I purposefully say “his truth” because some of my favorite moments in the work come when he remembers something one way and is informed he’s mistaken.  The imperfection of memories, especially about those with whom you share an intimate collection, is faced as the best writer should: head-on and with a sense of humor about the bits that might not be completely accurate according to the rest of the world.

I think I keep emphasizing the humor in this book, but I wonder if humor is the right word.  There are a lot of moments in this where I laugh out loud, and there are a lot of moments where I think I’m a horrible person for laughing.  But that’s what I consider Alexie’s greatest strength to be in all his writing that I’ve had the pleasure to read.  Being a writer who only writes “serious” books or a writer who only writes “funny” books usually doesn’t amount to being much of a writer that I appreciate.  A writer who can make me smile in the midst of something terrible, or who can shock me with a funny story — that’s a writer who has a real gift.

I don’t mean to make this an ode to Sherman Alexie, but he deserves it.  Hell, he deserves a whole book of odes about how great he is.  But here’s what I’ll say about his new book: read it.  If you like him at all, read it.  If you’re interested at all, read it.  If you happen to be walking by a shelf in a library/bookstore/grocery store/Target/friend’s house/place on Earth and you see it sitting there, take it.  And read it.

Although I recommend checking it out/paying for it/asking politely if you may borrow it first, just because it seems most of society finds that more appropriate than just straight up taking a book.  But still.  Take it and read it.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is out June 13th.


Other notables before I sign off:

  • Rainbow Rowell’s delightful book Carry On comes out in paperback TUESDAY and the cover is gorgeous.  The book is also a complete delight and is probably one of my favorites of all time, so it just gets better and better.
  • I’m working on my first Daphne du Maurier, Frenchman’s Creek, at the suggestion of a friend and I’m loving it.  Swashbuckling and romance and Cornwall.  Can’t get much better.
  • Still staring at Washington: A Life as it takes up space on my to-read pile.  I WILL FINISH THAT BOOK.
  • I just realized that these two books both have a sort of mother-son relationship in them.  Needed a present for Mother’s Day?  You’re welcome.
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I’d Die for These Books (Figuratively)

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: TODAY IS THE DAY.

9781501144349I’d Die for You has finally been released.  And if you like F. Scott Fitzgerald as much as I do, you’ve got to read this.

I’m not going to say that it’s his best writing (in my opinion, “Babylon Revisited” will always be one of the finest pieces of American literature), but it’s delightful.  This collection of short stories consists of previously unpublished works that often have the beginnings of his other writings.  While the writing itself is lovely (and very telling of his state of mind in each piece), it’s the context that makes this wonderful.

Basically, look at I’d Die for You as a Fitzgeraldian Go Set a Watchman: worthy of reading based on its own merits, but even more delightful when taken in context of its composition and its place in the author’s story.  For Fitzgerald, it’s all down to the editor of the collection, Anne Margaret Daniel, who provides insight into the stories as well as scans of draft pages and pictures from the Fitzgerald collection.  As someone who hates reading introductions first because they can spoil the work, I appreciated Daniel’s statement early on that the reader should read the story first, then go back and read the introduction just in case she includes a spoiler.

And then there are the stories.  Honestly, I don’t have a favorite from this collection because there’s so much.  Daniel has included some of the Hollywood treatments and film ideas, as well as stories that deal with more mature topics.  Instead of having a bunch of cheery jazzy love stories, there are musings on divorce, torture (in the historical story “Thumbs Up,” which might be one of my favorites), and the darker parts of society.  I mean, this isn’t to say that Fitzgerald has never dealt with serious topics, but in these stories there were definitely some moments when I was surprised by how explicit the un-jazzy bits were.

But my goodness, I loved the whole thing.

And yes, I know the whole point of this blog is to be honest, but I also say that any review is totally biased.  This is one case where I know I’m going to be biased, and biased beyond belief.  Fitzgerald is one of my favorite writers of all time, but most definitely my favorite American writer.  As I told my sister, I wouldn’t have cared if it was the worst collection of stories in the world – I think Fitzgerald’s writing alone is worth reading any number of pages, and luckily this turned out to be delightful.

12792In addition to I’d Die for You, I’ve finished Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm, and I’ve got to say that it brought me great joy.  It’s definitely the kind of book I’d recommend to high school boys who want to go out into the world and make their own way.  My dad handed this one to me because one of my Reading Challenge 2017 books was “set in the wilderness” and the fact that this guy went as a college kid to live in the wilderness for a winter… I figured it counted.

Basic idea: Pete Fromm goes into the wild for the winter to watch a river where salmon are going to be hatching.  He does this to earn some cash and to live out his dreams of being a mountain man.  He quickly realizes that being a mountain man is difficult, and that all the stories are basically lies.  It’s funny, and also has a lot of tragic moments of his understanding of civilization and nature (namely that humans wait until spring when it’s easy to march in and hunt the animals who have been a part of his world for the winter).

As a twenty-something woman, I had to tell my dad that, much as I liked it (and I really did), I can’t believe anyone would volunteer to go live in the woods for a winter when he has no experience.  And then I pointed out it must be a man-thing.  (No offense to the male population, but I can’t imagine a woman in college happily volunteering to live in a tent for five months — I’d be happy to be proven wrong if someone has done this herself, but I’m not expecting to have an overwhelming number of comments telling me I’m wrong.)  That’s why I think it’s great for the young man in your life (or if you’re like me and just want a good outdoorsy book) — this is a real man vs. nature struggle, and it’s told with great humor and writing.

So today has been a day of gloriously different reading material: the delightfully dizzying prose of Fitzgerald and the funny but poignant wilderness story of Fromm.  Both two thumbs up, both on my list of books to read again.

Because it’s Tuesday and I was having a pretty garbage day until I got my Fitzgerald, I’m going to end on a piece of Scott’s wisdom.

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Keep testing your first-rate intelligence, and happy reading!

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1 Disappointment and 1 Delight

Two more books checked off the list, and they couldn’t have been more different.  Because I like ending on a happy note, let’s start with the one that’s a solid example of literary mediocrity.

30319963Nicholas Reynolds’ Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy chronicles “Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961,” according to the subtitle.  Basically, Reynolds (who is the Museum Historian of the Central Intelligence Agency and has a military background) found some interesting papers that may connect Hemingway to Soviet spying.  Being a fan of espionage and Lost Gen writers, I had to read it.  While Reynolds presents a basic thesis that the papers he (and some other scholars) discovered suggest Hemingway may have been a Soviet spy, I’m beyond skeptical.  Much of the paperwork, when detailed, is based on Russian information curated by Russian individuals who then passed the information on to “the West.”

I’m no espionage expert, but I don’t trust any paperwork that describes a connection of a famous American with the Soviets when that paperwork is a summary of Soviet paperwork created by Soviets.  (And I’m not actually anti-Russian, but if you look at Cold War politics, it seems ridiculous to assume that the information is completely reliable.)

One of my main issues with the book is that the Soviet espionage Hemingway allegedly committed has no real evidence.  Sure, Hemingway met with Soviets, but he was also of a generation that is coming out of WWI and living during a dangerous rise of fascism that culminates in WWII and then develops into the Cold War.  Hemingway knew lots of people, and just because you communicate with someone does not mean you share their ideology.  Being anti-fascist does not immediately make you pro-communist.  Being anti-fascist makes you anti-fascist, and it’s completely understandable when you look at the historical context.

There are some interesting moments in the book about Hemingway’s career through three decades.  His return to Europe, for example, being influenced by the one and only spymaster-writer-inventor-Englishman extraordinaire Roald Dahl — that’s awesome.  Unfortunately, Reynolds limits the Dahl story to one page.  And I understand, the book is about Hemingway, not Dahl, but that’s the difference between this book and other military espionage books I’ve read.  Often, in other books, the author spends time incorporating more of the human story, whether it’s the spies involved themselves or just aspects of their lives that may or may not have influenced what happens now.  Spying is, at its core, a personal thing — especially during the 20th century, spies aren’t just machines with algorithms, but humans who place themselves in dangerous positions to gain information and in order to achieve that goal, they must form connections with other people.  Expand on the connections between people and I’m in.  That doesn’t happen here.

If I’m just looking at the history of Hemingway during this time, Reynolds does a pretty good job at relaying what’s happened.  The writing isn’t stellar, but it’s good enough.  Trying to make the connection with the Soviet spying, though, that’s where it collapses.  The Soviets only pop up on occasion and there’s just not enough there to convince me that he had any significant communication with Soviet spies.  After good chapters on Hemingway’s adventures, having really roughly established connections to the thesis about spying just brings the piece down.  Overall, if you’re interested in Hemingway during this period, you could still enjoy it.  I just think the repeated stretch to making Hemingway a sympathizer to Castro and company is less than convincing.

34117218Now, on the other side, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry — it’s been a big hit in the UK and is coming to the US in June 2017.  And it is so worth it.  Basic plot: during late Victorian period, a newly widowed woman moves from London to small town in Essex where there have been mysterious incidents that make the inhabitants think the legendary Essex Serpent may be reappearing.  Of course, there are several characters whose lives are tangled together, and there may or may not be some romance…

The great joy of reading this novel is the writing.  Perry develops her characters beautifully, and evokes the feel of Victorian writers in her style.  I just don’t know what I can say about it other than, as a fan of Victorian lit, I loved it.  The reviews compare it to Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens (bleurgh) and Emily Brontë, and I have to agree.  There’s just something in the writing that you don’t find often in contemporary fiction, and when I can sit with a mug of tea and a book during a foggy day and feel like I’m on the Victorian moors, that’s a pretty great job.

[Just in case, this next paragraph might get a little spoiler-y, although I’m trying to avoid it, so SPOILER ALERT (?)!  …  Still with me?  …  Okay, here we go.]

The plot is also just gothic enough to make it enjoyable, and not so supernatural to make me feel like I’m being forced to believe the truth is out there.  There’s death and darkness and London streets, but there’s no witchcraft or truly inexplicable monster in the story.  One review put it really well, that it’s the same feeling about reading a book in which the Loch Ness monster is part of the plot — you already know it doesn’t exist, so it’s about what you do with it after that.  This book becomes more about the hysteria that comes about when something is a mystery, and there’s a bit about the darkness of what humans can be capable of.  More importantly (as a reader of the incredible Elizabeth Gaskell), there’s a lot of the book that reminds me of the “condition of England” novels of the time, focusing characters and chapters on how poverty affects families and what options are available to make life better.  Gaskell, who I consider a champion of the “social novel,” did a lot of the same things Perry does now, namely giving characters in low social positions names and voices and stories for other characters to interact with.  By giving the lower classes names and backgrounds, the reader is connected to their crises (because all characters should face crises) and sympathizes.  It’s brilliant, and Perry does it if not subtly, then skillfully.

[End of the potentially spoilery (?) bits.]

The only bit of The Essex Serpent that I’m not in love with is the ending.  The last 20 pages were the weakest bit of the book, mainly because I expected a neater ending, but it’s not that the conclusion was bad.  The writing stayed strong, the characters were still good, the bits of storyline that I wanted to end a certain way were satisfactory.  I’m more than willing to compromise with a novel’s okay ending if the rest of the book has been exemplary — and that was the case here.  I put the book down with utter satisfaction and have already passed it on to a coworker to take on during the next rainstorm (probably sometime in the next month).  If you like Victorian novels, or gothic-y stories, or social novels, or good writing, it’s worth the read.

There’s the update – now on to waiting for Scott’s story collection next Tuesday so I can binge-read!  Until then, happy reading!

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Woman Power

I realized, when I looked at my nightstand stack of books last night, that I’m moving into a male-heavy reading load.  And not that it’s a bad thing, but all the books I want to work on are either written by or about men.  The exceptions were two books I finished last night and this morning and one book that’s been slowly shuffled to the bottom of the stack (The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, which I’m excited to read at some point when I’m in the mood for learning about probable reasons why I’m kind of a wreck).  Because both books I just added to the list of successful completions deal with women, I figured they’d fit well together in a post.  And so…

LAST NIGHT: What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons61NocdqVeQL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_

So this is a book that I’m happy to give five stars to.  It’s short (only about 200 pages) and filled with more snippets than chapters of a young woman’s life.  In this case, the narrator is Thandi, who struggles to find a place between black and white, American and not.  Her mother is from South Africa, and the family ties there are strong and history-full.  Not only does Thandi try to navigate the liminal spaces of race and ethnicity, but she also faces changes in relationships with friends, lovers, and parents.

Honestly, there’s not much plot, per se, but I think that’s one of the great strengths of Clemmons’ novel.  Thandi experiences lots of plot points, but it’s not as though there’s an epic journey across the planet, nor does she find herself to be some universe-saving heroine.  Instead, Thandi’s story is a discovery of herself as a woman who exists between two planes and searches for a space all her own.  The exploration of Thandi’s relationships is well-crafted, but especially poignant in the mother-daughter relationship that influences every other aspect of Thandi’s life.

The greatest strength of What We Lose is Clemmons’ writing.  Some of the blurbs for this book say that it’s “arresting and unsettling prose,” but I think it’s only unsettling because it feels real.  It’s written by a young woman writing in the style of a young woman searching for something beyond what she has.

While I’m not sure I want to go out and buy a copy of the hardcover, that’s mostly because I have an ARC from work and it’s the kind of book that I want to lend out, that I want to be passed on for others to enjoy.  It’s beautifully written and especially worth trying because it is the debut novel.  Clemmons will certainly be an author to watch.

(And I’m a little biased because she was at the conference we went to last weekend and she was completely sweet, despite the fact that the ARCs hadn’t arrived for her to give out.  Based on the rep’s picks and our brief conversation, I wanted to read it and I’m so glad I did.  You go, Zinzi!)

THIS MORNING: Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Women_who_run_w-330Lord have mercy, I finally finished this book.  This was the March/April pick for Emma Watson’s book club (Our Shared Shelf), and since I’ve only missed one book so far in the required list (The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson – sorry, Maggie) I wanted to make sure I got through this.  IT’S 500+ PAGES.  So nearly half the length of Ron Chernow’s Washington (which is on the long list of books I’m going to finish, dammit).

Here’s my issue: it’s like reading a book by Dr. Frasier Crane about the female mind, except instead of Frasier’s Freudian approach, it’s Jungian.  (Wasn’t Niles a Jungian?  I’m pretty sure he was…)  Knowing very little of Jungian psychology, I didn’t mind explanations of how the myths and tales fit into the archetypes, etc., but I mind very much when there’s a whole lot of author blah blah blah bits instead of real analysis.

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The idea of this book (which was first published in 1992) is to help women reconnect with their “wild” side, to learn how to be her Self in spite of society’s pressures put on most of the female population.  In order to explain the pressures and how women can avoid falling into the traps, Estés chooses stories she can analyze to get her points across.

I am a literature major.  In both my undergraduate BA program and in my MA program.  The trouble I had with the book is largely because of her analysis of the stories.  It’s not that I don’t agree with some of her points, but it’s more that I find the lack of analysis to be frustrating.  Often, Estés repeats a summary of the story she literally transcribed two pages ago and then argues her point without delving too deep into the meaning.  Either that or she goes on and on and on and on about something that I really can’t believe because I don’t see evidence of her argument.

To spend 500+ pages expecting to read some of the classic fairy tales or common myths as seen by a Jungian psychoanalyst and explore the critique of such tales, only to be informed that the 500+ pages are mostly the author going on and on about her experience as a psychoanalyst, it’s kind of disappointing.  And hey, call me crazy, but I’m not 100% onboard with any sort of “psychoanalysis.”  I’m not saying it’s a bunk field — I believe psychology in general is pretty extraordinary and can be incredibly helpful — but the way Estés talks about her work with women and discovering the unconscious thoughts the women have… I’m skeptical at best.  I think there can be a lot of good work those in the psychology-related careers can do because we should care for our mental health as much as our physical.  I just don’t know that delving into the “unconscious” is a really reliable way to sell your ideas, especially because it seems that the unconscious can be manipulated.

So if you’re like me and you pick up a “bestselling” book that has accolades from about a thousand people (and probably dating to its initial publication in the 1990s) hoping that you’ll get a lot out of intense psychological analysis of the fairy tales you know and love and want to see read in a seriously feminist light, you’re going to be disappointed.  There were also a lot of parts that seemed like Estés was arguing the differences between male and female psychology that we’ve now pretty much (dis)proven with modern science.  Not that it’s really wrong, but it’s hard to take some of her arguments seriously when we have all sorts of brain studies or scientific research that makes the argument seem dated or incorrect.

Would I recommend this?  Maybe.  If you’re the kind of person who likes Jungian theory, or the kind of person who wants to read about women’s psychology, or the kind of person who finds 1990s “calls to the wild” books attractive, sure.  If you’re a woman who wants to learn to connect to her wild self, you could try it.  But if you’re anything like me, you’ll seek out the wild in this book and find yourself skimming a hell of a lot of pages trying to get to the good stuff.

This one was for you, Emma Watson.  Glad I finished it.  Now, on to my giant stack of manly man* books…

*Manly man books currently include: Electric Light by Seamus Heaney, Cricket Explained by Robert Eastaway, Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm, Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy by Nicholas Reynolds, Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow — I swear I’ll finish it someday — , A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  I think I should get double manly man points for Good Omens, since it’s written by two men, and, like, triple for Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy because it’s by a man about Ernest Hemingway and his secret spy career.  How much manlier can you get?

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Speed Round

In the time since the last update with Towers Falling, I’ve finished four books.  I’ve also made progress on three more, but they’re long (Women Who Run with the Wolves, Good Omens, Washington: A Life).  So I’ve only finished four.  And here’s the quick rundown on what they were.

9781473654068#1: Walking the Americas by Levison Wood — I’m a little bit in love with this man.  And by a little bit, I mean a lot.  This is his third book based off of his third BBC series (of which I have only seen the first, Walking the Nile, thanks to iTunes making the three-episode show a whopping $3.99 to purchase), and it’s great fun.  Walking the Nile was probably still my favorite of his, mainly because it’s intense and full of descriptions of places in Africa I would like to see but am frankly too afraid to visit in person.  Walking the Himalayas was still fun, and offered more of a focus on the people Wood meets and the politics of the area than, say, the wildlife.  Walking the Americas is a nice middle ground of Nile and Himalayas because there’s obviously lots of political background (walking Central America when Donald Trump has just been elected is pretty fascinating) but there’s also some critters along the way.  Wood’s great strength with all of these books is his ability to infuse humor and history into tales of his walking adventures, and I only hope that at some point I get to see the show itself.

TenDeadComedians_72dpi#2: Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente — A disappointment for me, I’m afraid.  I was sold on the ARC we got in at work because it said this was “a darkly clever take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and other classics of the genre.”  Now, say Agatha Christie and I’m interested, but say it’s somehow a take on ATTWN and I am in.  It’s my favorite Christie mystery and I love the variations you can get out of it.  But then… I guess I was just expecting more cleverness and more… just more.  Saying it’s “an homage to the Golden Age of Mystery and a thoroughly contemporary show-business satire” gives me high hopes.  What it felt like to me was someone who took ATTWN and put some comedians in the places of the same Christie characters and occasionally tucked in a “funny” monologue.  (I found few of the monologues funny, and since many of the jokes revolved around crude sex humor, I wasn’t particularly impressed.  Call me old-fashioned, but I love dry wit.)  I also have to say that whoever ended the blurb with “It’s also an ingeniously plotted puzzler with a twist you’ll never see coming!” should reconsider the wording.  Yeah, I was mildly surprised by the twist, but it wasn’t something I couldn’t see coming.  It was something that I considered briefly, then thought, “Nah, he wouldn’t go this direction.”  Maybe that’s the trouble with redoing ATTWN – if you’ve read the original, it’s tough to be surprised by anything because that’s the whole point of the mystery.  Disappointed, but mostly by the fact that it’s going to come out as a $20-something hardcover.  Worth considering if your local library gets a copy.

#3: Saga, Volume 7 by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan — I LOVE SAGA.  This volume comes out Tuesday and it is still so good.  Story, artwork, everything is on point in this series.  The only trouble is I devour these books and then I have to wait ages for the next installment.  Doesn’t matter, though, because I’ll keep waiting.  It’s that good.

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Sophie and Lying Cat from Saga

#4: The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss — Yes, that Mark Gatiss.  This is the first book in a 51nynW8O7AL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_series he’s written about one Lucifer Box, “gentleman” (to use the term very loosely), artist, and secret agent.  It’s fun and silly and is not meant to be taken seriously.  At all
.  At moments, the voice reminds me a lot of good old Bertie Wooster (except he’s actually capable) and the character names remind me often of James Bond (Miss Bella Pok, for instance, or his friend Christopher Miracle).  Basically, if you’re in the mood for something fluffy and easy to digest (and if you like Mark Gatiss), give Lucifer a try.  I don’t know if I’ll seek out the next one, but if it happened to find its way to my hands, I’d probably enjoy it just as much as this.

And there we are.  According to Goodreads, I’m currently 62% through Women Who Run with the Wolves, 17% through Good Omens, and 13% through Washington, so we’ll see how long those take.  Women is the Emma Watson Bookclub selection for March-April, so I’ll have to finish it by the end of the month, and Washington might just be hanging in there for a while.  Good Omens, which I’m fairly certain I’ve read before but I can’t actually remember, is just a nice filler for whenever I find myself incapable of serious nonfiction thought.

As always, thanks for reading this and remember to support your local indie!

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…One Year Later…

It’s hard to believe I’ve been away from this blog for a year.  Like, an entire year.  And when I say “hard to believe,” what I mean is “SO SO SO SO SO embarrassing.”  I thought I would keep up with reviews and insight and blah blah blah.

We see how that turned out.

So, as a recap of the last 12 months (!!!!)…

Personal life: not much has changed, and everything has changed.  Finished the MA program, so I’m officially a Master of Literature, which is pretty cool.  Other personal things have happened, but frankly nobody cares about that, so let’s just say that things have broken and things have been repaired and somewhere along the line I just kept going.

Professional Life: Am currently on the (halfhearted) search for a new job — have already received one rejection within 48 hours of submitting my application, which was a blow to the ego.  Onwards and upwards, though, right?

Reading Life: BUSY.  My last update here (ugh, it makes me so sad that I’ve been such a lousy blogger… this is why I’ll never get famous for my online presence) was about how much I’d read so far in my Reading Challenge 2016.  I was pretty proud of myself for being at about 15/63.  Um… I completed the challenge, no sweat.  According to Goodreads, I read 121 books last year.  To be fair, there were some graphic novels thrown in (all of Saga over the course of, like, three days and it was AMAZING), and some books were really short and fluffy, but I also read all of the Hogarth Shakespeare books that have come out so far, along with very popular picks (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Girl on the Train, the Miss Peregrine series).  My greatest success, however, was the completion of Ron Chernow’s incredible biography of Alexander Hamilton.  Yeah.  I read that.  And I was, and still am, very proud of myself for it.

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Seriously, I read so many amazing books last year, I’ve got to give a list of my favorites (and one quick sentence of why they’re my favorites) from the 2016 challenge.

 

cover-jpg-rendition-460-707The Shepherd’s Life and The Shepherd’s View, James Rebanks — Beautifully written books about the life of a shepherd in the Lake District; The Shepherd’s Life is nearly all prose, divided up by season and graced by the occasional picture, while The Shepherd’s View is a collection of photographs of a shepherd’s life with some stories attached — both are stunning.

 

The Miss Peregrine Series, Ransom Riggs — I mean, come on.  Read the books and see why I love them.  But don’t watch the movie and expect it to live up to anything the books created.

For the Glory, Duncan Hamilton — A lovely biography of Eric Liddell, the English Olympic runner made famous in Chariots of Fire — it focuses more on his life beyond the sport, but ties it all together with his love of running

22055262A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab — THIS IS MY FAVORITE FANTASY BOOK OF THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS.  Like, right up there with Harry Potter, no joke.  I started on a whim late one night because I liked the cover and was housesitting and I ended up staying up past probably 3 a.m. to finish because it’s so much fun.  And no, I haven’t read the second one yet (A Gathering of Shadows) because the third one (A Conjuring of Light) comes out later this month.  And I know I’m going to go through major withdrawals if I have too much of a gap between them.

A Wild Sheep Chase, Haruki Murakami  — Recommended by a dear coworker, this is fun and mysterious and a perfect introduction to Murakami — I definitely want to read more of him because of this.

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling — I don’t care if the format made people hate this, they’re wrong.  It’s charming and magical and I freaking love Scorpius Malfoy.  Period.

163560Commonwealth, Ann Patchett — If you read The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney and haven’t read Commonwealth, get on it.  The Nest was fun, but the story of a dysfunctional family is told so much better in Commonwealth, mainly because Ann Patchett is an incredible writer and has written enough that you can see the difference in the craft itself.  SO SO SO GOOD.

The Gentleman, Forrest Leo — Hilarious Victorian-era novel about a man who sells his wife to the devil and must adventure to save her — but with some twists along the way.  They sell it as a “Wodehouse/Monty Python” style novel, and they’re right.  Bertie Wooster would be proud of Lionel Savage.

Walking the Nile, Levison Wood — This man is a British Indiana Jones, no joke.  He’s wicked cool, smart, and funny, and his adventure to walk the length of the Nile is incredible.  Also, it’s available in paperback.

Saga Volumes 1-6, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples — Seriously, just read these booksthe_inquisitors_tale_cover.

The Inquisitor’s Tale, Adam Gidwitz — Cute, adventurous, thoughtful — it’s a great book for 10 and up.  Set in the 13th century, three children go on a quest to save copies of the Talmud from destruction in France, and they’re accompanied by a holy dog.  It has the flavors of Canterbury Tales, but with the magic and joy of a children’s book.

Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson — Funny and touching book about Jenny Lawson’s struggles with mental illness — but even when you know you shouldn’t be laughing, she makes you find the lighter side of the situation.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler — FOR THE LOVE OF HUMANITY, READ THIS.  Amy Poehler is so funny and so smart and so inspiring and I just love it.

My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell — Charming book about Gerry’s life on Corfu and his discovery of his love of animals.  It’s the basis for the PBS series The Durrells in Corfu and it’s utterly delightful.  Plus, Durrell wrote lots of books about his adventures with animals, so if you like this one, there’s more.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness — Heartbreakingly beautiful.  Just read it — it’ll take you, like, two hours.  And you’ll weep.

The View from the Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman — Neil Gaiman’s collection of nonfictions is enchanting.  Pick it up and read however much, then take a break and read one of his novels, then come back.  Or you can do adult things, like laundry and cooking and your job, before you return to another piece.  He is the man.

Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow — If you’re ready to commit to a seriously intense historical book, this is the one.  Chernow is thorough but not boring, and he brings the Revolution era to life.  I liked Hamilton so much that this year I’m going to read Washington because I trust Chernow’s writing.  Even though it’s another 900 pages.  You better be good, Ron.  (Don’t worry.  I trust you.  Really.)

Still Life, Louise Penny — A great first mystery set in a quaint Canadian village.  Gamache is a lot like Poirot, and Penny is excellent at crafting the mystery and the inhabitants of the village, and you can’t help but want to continue with the series.

Three Dark Crowns, Kendare Blake — Probably my most pleasant surprise from 2016, this teen novel is the first in a series and follows three sisters in a land where only one of them will survive to become queen.  There’s some romance and some teen clichés, but it’s fun and exciting and I’m actually curious about the next installment.  And that’s saying a lot, considering how few teen books I actually get through in a year.

So much for writing a sentence about each.  Sorry.  This is what happens when I’m away for a year!  I’m sure after wading through that flood of words you want to hear an update on this year.  Guess what?  Here it comes!

Reading Challenge 2017

So far I’ve gotten 22 books finished, not all of which will be a part of my official Reading Challenge log.  And, once again, I’ve read some graphic novels, which I count in numbers but not as real accomplishments because I usually devour them in a sitting.  What books have I gotten through so far, you may ask?  Good question.  Here are some highlights.

Thrill Me, Benjamin Percy — An amazing collection of essays on writing.  He’s funny and smart and full of pop culture references, which makes it more fun.


51lfrgkbh4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_Reality Is Not What It Seems
, Carlo Rovelli — From the man whose Seven Brief Lessons on Physics was so perfectly charming, this book was actually what he wrote first and is a longer explanation of physics.  I have nearly no brain for science, but I understood a lot of what Rovelli explained, and it helps that he is an expert writer.  You don’t have to be a physicist to enjoy either of his books.

This Savage Song, V.E. Schwab — I wanted to read this because it’s Schwab and I love her from the one other book I’ve read of hers.  Again, I stayed up way later than intended to finish because WOW.  It’s an older teen novel about monsters and destruction and love and it’s, like, freaking fantastic. I’m only irritated that the second book isn’t out yet because I just want to hide away and read it.  Can I also point out that I love that this “series” (The Monsters of Verity) is only going to be the two books?  That’s such a nice change from the usual teen series.  YOU GO, VICTORIA!

I Hate Everyone, Except You, Clinton Kelly — Yes, the What Not to Wear guy.  His essays are funny and sassy and even inspiring.  It just made me love him even more than I did when he was on TLC.

Home of the Brave, Katharine Applegate — Beautiful young reader book told in poetry, it’s the story of a boy from Sudan who comes to America and is faced with the challenges of being an immigrant in the land of the free.  Even though it’s a quick read, it sticks with you.

9781101904169Rogue Heroes, Ben Macintyre — I love Macintyre.  I love every book he’s done.  This one is a little different because it’s not about one specific person or operation, but rather about the creation of the SAS, one of Britain’s most elite military groups.  The first half is full of their adventures as desert pirates, and the second half becomes much darker as the men, who have already been involved in the war for so long, come to Europe and face horrors beyond what they saw in Africa.  So well written, and really an incredible story.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline — I was disappointed in how little development seemed to take place, but I enjoyed the adventure of a video game addict on the hunt for an Easter egg.  It’s the kind of book that had moments of clarity, but is mostly a good pick for teenage boys (sorry, boys!).  I would be interested to see if the movie that’s due out sometime soon will make it more fun.

Listen, Liberal, Thomas Frank — I don’t care what side of American politics you fall on, you should read this.  You want to know how the election of 2016 came to the conclusion it did?  Yeah, Frank tells you.  And the crazy thing is, this book was out long before November 2016.  It’s like nobody cracked it open and thought he had some good points.  Which he does.

Walking the Himalayas, Levison Wood — The next adventure installment of our hero of the Nile.  Wood’s books are meant to accompany the documentaries aired in the UK (and I think on Discovery Channel at some point), but the books on their own are both great.  Himalayas is a little more focused on the people he meets than the places, I think largely because he’s in more populated areas, but it’s still amazing.  And the things he goes through to achieve his goal is just unbelievable.  Great adventure read.

Dare to Be Kind, Lizzie Velasquez — A lovely book from a wonderful person (it comes out in June).  Lizzie’s story is often difficult, but her encouragement to be kind is something I think we should all be aware of.  There were moments when I was waiting for a more explicit connection to kindness in her stories, but it’s still well worth the read if you get a chance.

I’m Your Biggest Fan, Kate Coyne — Funny collection of Coyne’s (mis)adventures as a celebrity journalist.  Some stories are cringe-worthy, some sweet, all fun to read.  It’s kind of my guilty pleasure book so far.

the princess saves herself in this one, amanda lovelace — A wonderful collection of poetry told through four sections (princess, damsel, queen, you).  I say it’s a must-read for women between 18-30, and probably lots of people outside that demographic should read it, too.  Because it’s just a good collection.  And it comes out next week!

Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman — PERFECTION.  I love mythology, I love Gaiman, and the combination is heavenly.  He chooses great myths to tie together in a loose kind of novel, but manages to keep the humor and the complexity of a mythology together.  And it just came out today!

Whew.

If any of the books I’ve mentioned sound good to you (and I hope at least one of them does), be sure to ask about them at your local indie.

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The gorgeous edition I’m reading – part of the Penguin Galaxy collection.

This post is now getting close to the unmanageable length, so I’m going to try to wrap up quickly.  (If you’ve read this far, I’m sorry.  If you haven’t, you probably made a good decision.)  My goal this year is to be better about updating, so we’ll see how that works.  I also hope to stretch myself a little further in this reading challenge, because that’s what made last year’s so much fun.

I’m working on The Once and Future King (which I am so enjoying) and a few other little ones, so hopefully at some point I’ll have a reason to post again.  Until then, allow me to leave you with a quote from the forever-fantastic Terry Pratchett:

“If you have enough book space, I don’t want to talk to you.”

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Another Update

I feel like I’ve been making some serious progress on this Reading Challenge deal – although my thesis is still relatively un-done, but that’s okay… I still have two weeks to get a full draft of at least 80 pages completed… and I already have about 15… so that’s fine…

So, the update.  I’ve read:

  • something aloud to someone else (The Somethingosaur by Tony Mitton to my nephew, and then niece)
  • a middle grade novel (Pax by Sara Pennypacker)
  • a National Book Award Winner (Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me)
  • a book about religion (C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters)
  • a 20th century classic (The Color Purple, which was also Emma Watson’s bookclub pick for February)
  • a book set in my home state (The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mackenzie)
  • a book translated into English (Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue)

And it’s about these last two that I just want to take a moment.

See, on Goodreads, you can only give full stars.  Which is great on one hand and terrible on another.  Because these two books deserved (in my opinion) 3.5 stars.  So I rounded down and gave them both 3.  Giving a book 4 stars means I can confidently recommend it to everyone I know (that would be interested).  Giving a book 3 stars means I enjoyed it all right, but wouldn’t go out of my way to convince someone it’s the best book in the world.

The Portable Veblen is a strange book that takes place mostly in Paolo Alto and follows Veblen and her boyfriend-turned-fiance as they try to navigate crazy families and workplaces and what makes them what they are.  And it’s… fine…?  I think I enjoyed it.  But that’s the trouble.  After 100 pages, I thought I liked it.  At 200, I didn’t think I did.  At 300, I was pretty sure I didn’t like it, but I only had a little over 100 to go, so I finished.  And I think I liked it at the end.  The best part of the whole novel is the squirrel that Veblen talks(?) to that eventually gets a chapter of his own.  I told you it was strange.

It’s just a tough book to find a way to sell to someone.  Like, I’m really grateful I borrowed it instead of buying it because I don’t like it enough to pay $$$ for it.  But I’m glad I read it.  I think.  It’s just a little too off-center for me.  (There’s a reason I like my writers old and dead.)

Enrigue’s Sudden Death is, like Veblen, tough to sell, but I think I enjoyed it more.  It’s completely bizarre.  Like, seriously, try to read any reviews of it and people say it’s riveting, it’s great, it’s intellectual, it’s brilliant.  I found it strange and kind of great.  But it’s for a special type of person that I don’t think would appreciate the completely different nature of the work.  Basically, Caravaggio (yes, that Caravaggio) is playing a tennis match against a Spaniard and they’re going to “sudden death.”  But in between points, you get transported around time and continents, hearing a story about Hernán Cortés and then about Anne Boleyn’s beheading and the creation of tennis balls from her hair and then about the writer and his attempts to write this book and then some stuff about Caravaggio and you basically get wrapped up in a million short essays that are all united by this tennis match that Enrigue has constructed and it’s boggling.  There’s a chapter in there that I really liked that focused on translation and how it changes the meanings of works.  And, knowing that I’m reading a book translated into English made me read it differently.

So again, it’s a tough book to sell to just anyone because it’s pretty much a limited audience.  It’s good, and worth a read if this is your thing, but it’s weird.  And you might not understand what you just read when you finish it.

In non-challenge news, I also read Dear Pope Francis, which is wonderful because the Pope does not shy away from the tough questions children from around the world ask him, and The Warden by Anthony Trollope (which was for class, not pleasure).  I’m also working on Barchester Towers, another Trollope, and am going to have to finish it within the next two weeks because, well, it’s required reading.  It’s better than The Warden, though, so I’m finding it less troublesome than before.

In any case, I’ve lost count of my RC2016 success (I think I’m at 15/63?), but it doesn’t matter because I’m ahead of schedule and that means I have a chance to sit myself down and really get some schoolwork done.  Whoo.

As always, find a new book at your local indie – and see if they read Veblen or Sudden Death and listen to what they think.  I’m curious how anyone else has taken either, or both.

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The Art of Asking

theartofasking_imageSometimes there’s a book that I pick up because I like the author.  Sometimes there’s a book I pick up because I like the cover.  Sometimes there’s a book I pick up because I’ve heard things about it.

And then there’s Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking.  I looked at it first because the cover intrigued me.  And then I thought it sounded pretty good.  And then I thought, “Oh my goodness.  She’s married to Neil Gaiman.”

So if you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of NG.  Like, I think he’s easily one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever heard of.  Other than, like, Jesus, Pope John Paul II, Mother Theresa, and my parents.  Duh.  But he’s right up there.

Thus, finding out that his wife (who must be equally awesome because, NG) wrote this cool looking book about a meaningful concept meant that I was going to read it.

And let me tell you, it’s worth reading.

Palmer’s book is one of those books that, if you are female or a worrier or bad at asking or sensitive or artistic or a human being, you should read.  Mainly because it’s deeply personal, full of experience, and full of beauty.  The inclusion of her lyrics and photographs adds to her understanding of art and artists because she’s been there.  I mean, if there’s anyone who can say “been there, done that,” it seems like she might be the one.

And this is something we should celebrate endlessly.  I might not be someone willing to sacrifice everything for my art (because, frankly, I don’t know what my art is yet), but I have the utmost respect for those who do.  Because there is a level of bravery that they possess to which I can only aspire.

I’m counting this as my “self improvement” book because it inspires me to do something I’m really bad at: asking.  I think our culture generally does encourage us to be strong individuals and do things all by ourselves, which Palmer addresses, and I believe she is right to say that we all should be asking.  For help, for clothes, for encouragement, for love, for attention, for everything we need as human beings.

Asking is one of the scariest things you can do.  People can say no.  People can laugh.  People can make you feel insignificant.  But you’ll never know if you never ask.

So my goal is that, now that I have read The Art of Asking, I’m going to try to ask more.  Because I am human, and I need help.  And if I need help, I need to accept that sometimes only another person can give me what I need.

Conclusion: read this book.  It’s relatively short, incredibly good, and something from which we can all learn.  All the love in the world to AP, who has truly inspired me.

Now available in paperback from your local independent bookstore.

P.S. This makes me 9/63 on my Reading Challenge.  Whoo!

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Reading Challenge 2016: Update

Well, well, well.  Another day, another celebration of Harry Potter.  Having just survived a really fantastic (and completely packed) HP event at work, I decided I should show you just how far along in my challenge I am.  Spoiler: I’ve done 8/63.  Hooray!

  1. Eligible – see previous post
  2. Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (yes, that Ethan Hawke) – Wonderful book, sweet and insightful and meaningful.  You can read it in one sitting and just enjoy it.  Seriously, get this one.
  3. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem – The first pick for Emma Watson’s bookclub (Our Shared Shelf on Goodreads), this is pretty interesting.  It’s not thrilling, it’s not one that I necessarily think you should buy, but since I borrowed it from the library, it was worth reading.  As a young woman in America right now, it seems like one of those books I should read, even if I’m not sure I really needed to read it.
  4. King Edward III (allegedly) by William Shakespeare – Awesome.  I love the fact that this is one of those plays that people kind of think was written by Billy Boy because it fits his histories and it uses similar language.  I love pretty much all things Shakespeare, especially when it’s his histories, so I found this really interesting.  Also, who actually learns about Edward III?  Not me.  Fun, worth reading, short.  It’s a play, too, so occasionally it’s fun to read aloud to yourself…
  5. Lumberjanes (Vol. 1) by Noelle Stevenson – Fun comic series, lots of girl-power moments.  Love the illustrations and am interested in Vol. 2.  Maybe I’ll add that to another list…
  6. The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine – COMING FEB. 16TH.  One of my coworkers snagged the ARC for this book and said I’d enjoy it, so I borrowed it and will freely admit I read it in two days because it’s a fun teen read.  Redwine is retelling Snow White, and it’s in the style of Snow White and the Huntsman, but it’s how that movie should have been.  No mopey K-Stew. with her weird faces, but instead a legitimately badass princess who’s trying to save her kingdom.  Also love the prince in this (spoiler: he can turn into a dragon!) and how the fairytale is dealt with.  Worth a read if you’re in the mood.
  7. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson – While it’s not as charming as A Walk in the Woods (which had me howling with laughter just about every page), it’s still Bryson, so it’s still utterly delightful.  This time he’s going around Britain, trying to see the most he can.  He has such hilarious insights into the quirks of cultures and the utter strangeness of human beings generally, plus this time it’s British, so obviously I’m going to love it.  A fun book, and worth reading especially now that the “sequel,” The Road to Little Dribbling is now available.
  8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – One of my all-time favorite books, and the book upon which I am writing my thesis.  Obviously, I love it.  And I recommend it.  Because it’s delightful.  As is the BBC 2004 adaptation starring Richard Armitage.

So… 8/63.  Looking pretty good for it being only February.  Notice I have not yet attempted to take on the 500+ page challenge, nor have I chosen the book that “intimidates” me.  We shall see how this goes.

Meanwhile, I’m working on The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, the delightful wife of the completely fantastic Neil Gaiman (!!!).  It’s charming and meaningful and completely enjoyable.  It also makes me often want to say aloud, “I’ve so been there!”  I think I’m counting this as my “self improvement” book, because I’m feeling like if she’s done it, I can do it.  And by “it,” I mean survive the world in which we live.

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An Unexpected Update

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned – it’s been an awfully long time since my last post.  For those of you who were waiting with baited breath, I apologize that you’ve probably passed out by now.  For those of you who forgot this blog even existed, here’s my reminder.

Life has been too hectic to write down comprehensible reviews, but I have been reading and now I’m going to give a super fast rundown of the past several months.  (And please note that my goal is to resume fairly regular reviews now that it is SUMMER and I don’t have essays to write or articles to read!!!)

18773666A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre – As usual, Macintyre made me read through this entire book in one sitting.  It’s the gripping tale of Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge Five, and his role as a double agent during the Cold War.  I can’t even begin to tell you how good it is, mainly because I just want you to read it.  Absolutely brilliant tale, fascinating insight into the men Philby betrayed, and all wrapped up in incredible storytelling that only Macintyre could give us.  A Spy Among Friends is due out in the US in hardcover July 29th.

18667978The Devil’s Workshop by Alex Grecian – The third in Grecian’s series of the Murder Squad (following The Yard and The Black Country) is quite a bit bloodier than I anticipated but, to be fair, it is dealing with the return of the most notorious murderer of all time – Jack the Ripper. As a… I hesitate to say fan because that’s just sick… person interested in the Ripper, I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of gore Grecian details in this novel’s murders.  I’ve done the research, I know what the Ripper victims suffered, I don’t need a reminder.  That being said, it’s a compelling tale with some pretty interesting twists.  Plus, the last page leaves you really wanting more.  For those of you who enjoyed The Yard and The Black Country, and who have a strong stomach, I definitely recommend this one.  The Devil’s Workshop is available now in hardcover.

41WF-Zh5jOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements by David McCullough, Jr. – So this book is basically an extension of McCullough’s commencement speech, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.  McCullough addresses students, parents, and human beings in general in a sweet and funny collection of essays about the world.  As a student (and a member of a teacher-heavy family), I appreciated his commentary on students’ experiences in school now and the importance of accepting that not everyone is special, but that’s okay.  It’s funny, it’s poignant, and it’s pretty much perfect.  I’d recommend this one to every single person, just so that you can start to really accept that you are not special, and that’s what makes you you.  Available now in hardcover.

18170549The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – A posthumously published collection of essays and stories from a promising young woman, The Opposite of Loneliness was a pretty tough read for me, mainly because she was about my age when she was killed in a car accident.  But, thanks to family and friends, Keegan’s works are collected here and they remind us of how much potential she certainly had.  The writing is crisp and clever and, while the stories’ subject matter was not always to my liking (college life, relationships, drugs), I appreciated the style.  Keegan’s essays, however, were beautiful.  Her ability to analyze life with real emotion and connection was wonderful, and I only wish the world could have experienced more of her writing.  Currently available in hardcover.

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Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope and Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid – Here’s where I get excited: The Austen Project!  Basically, six famous contemporary authors are rewriting the Austen classics in modern times.  Now, before you get crazy and flip out and call me a treacherous heathen, how dare I blaspheme Jane’s name, blah blah blah, let me say this: it’s funny.  For Trollope’s offering, Marianne loves Taylor Swift and Elinor is studying to become an architect.  Just think about that for a moment, and realize how perfect that is.  In Northanger Abbey, there’s the overwhelming presence of Twilight vampires at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  These two books are fun, lively, and totally worth the read.  What I’m loving about the Project so far is that the treatment of the novels would, I think, make Jane proud.  To know that her works have become so popular that people want to translate them into modern pieces is pretty neat. (And for those of you who freak out about this and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – which was amazing – and all the other “updates” to Jane, let me point out that just about every single romantic comedy, BBC drama, and novel not based on Shakespeare is pretty much based on Austen.  Clueless, anyone?  So don’t think that this is a new concept – it’s not, and it’s been successful before and it’s doing well so far this time around.  And so endeth my rant.)

1618The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – The nice way to put this one is that I’m so behind the times it’s not even funny.  I don’t know how I haven’t read this book until now – it’s sweet, it’s funny, and it’s beautifully written.  I’m sure 99% of the population has already experienced the brilliance of this one, but for that 1% who missed it (like I did), just read it.  I’m not even going to try to summarize or explain.  Just read it.

 

9791A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – Another old one that I should have read long ago but now that I’ve finally gotten there, I’m so glad I did.  As always, Bryson brings his intelligence and humor to the subject of the Appalachian Trail as he and his friend Katz try to hike the ridiculously long thing.  It’s super informative, super fun, and made me laugh out loud while I read it under a tree on campus.  If you’ve missed this one (like Curious Incident), you’d better get on it.

 

2029177Sundays at Tiffany’s by James Patterson – This is the first Patterson I’ve ever read, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I mean, let’s be honest – this isn’t the novel that will survive the test of time, nor will I say that it’s my absolute favorite.  However, I would recommend it to a friend and I would probably read it again.  Basically, the little girl’s imaginary friend leaves when she turns nine and then he shows up again when she’s in her thirties and dating a real jerk.  It’s magical, it’s sweet, and, again, read it in one sitting.  Well done, Mr. Patterson.

 

12331767High-Rise by J. G. Ballard – So let me begin with a moment of honesty: I only wanted to read this because I saw that Tom Hiddleston was lined up to star in the adaptation of it.  Now, for further enticement, Jeremy Irons has been connected with it.  All the reviews I’ve read of it said it was brilliant, genius, totally worth it.  I say, meh.  Basically, there’s a high-rise.  And people live in it.  But there are three almost distinct levels – lower, middle, upper.  You see where he’s going here?  As tensions rise between floors, people start dividing up and warring with each other and everything is pretty predictable if you’ve read any dystopian/sci-fi/general fiction ever in your life.  I’m of the opinion that it could have been condensed down from about 200 pages to about 5-10.  That being said, I can understand how it will make a compelling film if it’s adapted well.  This will probably be one of the few times when I prefer movie to book – but we’ll just have to wait and see.

And so endeth the list of things I’ve been reading (and that’s kind of the best of the best list). I won’t promise to be better about updating, but I’ll try my hardest and let you know how it goes.  As always, if you’re looking for a new book, I recommend finding your nearest independent bookstore and simply asking one of the workers what they suggest – sometimes that’s how you find that one book that changes your life forever.

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