Monday, September 18, 2017

Mini-Reviews: A Round Up

I realize I failed to post anything last week. I don't have a good excuse. I had a couple extra days off work for a vacation that didn't end up happening so I could have used that time. But instead I started playing The Sims again so yeah, that has taken some time.
Even right now I know I NEED to get to reviewing but that doesn't seem like it's going to happen today. So instead, let's look at the books I should be reviewing. Which I will get to. Eventually.
State of Wonder by Anne Patchett
Read as part of book club and it was...fine. I suppose. I woman travels to the Amazon to find out what happened to a colleague. There are a bunch of things set up that never actually go anywhere so that was frustrating.
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
A gift from a fellow blogger (who is super swell and wonderful, btw) this is a short story/novella* by Rainbow Rowell written for World Book Day and it is delightful. About a girl, Elena, waiting in line to see the new Star Wars movie. It's short and sweet and I read it twice in as many days.
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
This book has been recommended as a "let's try to understand wtf happened to this country" read and I was at a local bookstore and you can't leave those empty handed. I got some interesting looks on the subway while reading, including two women who stopped to ask me about it. They were BIG fans of the title. The book is a bit dense and she is not kidding when she says we're going through the whole 400 years. I don't know that I had any "ah-HA" moments while reading but it is an area I think we could stand to know more about.
I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
I was at the airport when I realized I didn't have a book with me. I think. Like I think I had some in a checked bag because I KNOW I had more than one book with me for this trip. But regardless, I didn't have a book right then and this seemed like a good excuse to get this. Because again, we CLEARLY need to do better. Collections of essays by hilarious women are my jam and this was no exception. It wasn't quite as serious as I expected, but that's not the worst thing.
Sex Object by Jessica Valenti
Feminist memoir that can be rough to read at times because she just deals with so much shit. She talks about how you shouldn't let it get to you cos then they win but man, it can eat away at you. Very good.
Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig
I will read pretty much any Wendig without knowing what the book is about** so this was no exception. Except I feel like there should be a spoiler cos a good amount of the book is about dog fights so things can get violent and surprise dog violence was not my fav. It's my fault cos it does mention this in the description I failed to read. All that said, I did enjoy the book. Maybe not my fav Wendig but still quality read. Also I love the cover. He has some great covers
The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales
An office of lady assassins, one of whom has a cyborg arm. Still not quite The Office crossed with ridiculous action (which I SUPER want to be a thing and have yet to find) but it comes closest and is definitely the best entry into that category. Story loses me a little as it goes on, but entertaining nonetheless.
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
Another book club read that was about as successful as State of Wonder. It is a very slow, very quiet book which is odd considering the topic is about a woman who is murdered. There are even multiple POVs and unreliable narrators and stuff I usually like but not in this case.
My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha by Jolie Kerr
It's a book about cleaning. And how to clean. And it was great. This is not like Marie Kondo's which was more a way of being with some advice that no, I am not thanking my purse every day. This is more practical instructions. Part of it is her tackling different projects (deep cleaning the kitchen, tackling clothing stains) and another part is her answering questions and she is SUPER nonjudgemental and will provide advice for cleaning your sex swing because dammit, cleanliness is important. Thank you, Glynis, for the reco.
One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
Another collection of essays by a funny lady. Perhaps not quite as successful as others in this category, but still entertaining, especially a story about the power clothing can give you and a particular skirt. I was expecting it to be a bit less memoir than it was but that's FINE and it was still entertaining.

So there we are. Some quick thoughts to keep me honest and maybe help me remember what I'm supposed to review. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go see how my Sim families are doing.

*I tried to Google the difference and it said "a novella is considerably longer than a short story but shorter than a novel" so. Thanks. That was helpful...
**Exception is the Star Wars stuff. Which, tbh, if I'm going to read any Star Wars stuff, it would be his. It's just that in general that is not my thang

Friday, September 8, 2017

Sociable: I want you to come up with a viral thing that goes viral

On my recent NetGalley jag, I got a copy of Sociable by Rebecca Harrington in exchange for an honest review.
I tend to request books from NetGalley if I'm already somewhat familiar with the book (thanks book-o-sphere) or I'm already a fan of the author. In this case I was drawn to the cover and the description seemed like something I could get into.

Elinor is living in NYC in a tiny, weird apartment (shower in the kitchen). She's hoping to get a job in journalism and finally manages to land a job at a startup Journalism.ly. Which is sort of like journalism. Think a BuzzFeed competitor (BuzzFeed exists in this book world.) She's not exactly tackling the tough topics like her boyfriend is, but she's had some pieces go viral, which is basically the only mission statement for Journalism.ly so that works. But her boyfriend dumps her and she doesn't really seem to get along with her co-workers except for two men who insist on mentoring her. Can she make it in this world? Does she want to?

Here's the thing. The book never really went anywhere. It was around 250 pages but it all felt like set up. It was a very quick read but I was watching the percentage counter inch closer and closer to 100% and wonder when is the story going to start? You know in stories like The Devil Wears Prada* where we're setting up all the problems and then there's a montage where our main character is starting to figure things out. Think Andy and all her fancy new clothes.
MONTAAAAGE
But we still have the whole second act to go.

This book feels like we're riiiiiiiight before that montage starts and then BOOM, the book is done.

We have the set up where Elinor has the crappy apartment with her boyfriend Mike who is a turdburger. He is just an emotionally manipulative shithead. She has a best friend she's known since college although she doesn't seem to really like her. It's more like, she's the only other person she knows.

She gets the job a Journalism.ly thanks to Mike's mom (someone Elinor desperately wants approval from) but it's not really what she's hoping for. There is no direction or management at Journalism.ly. There's no editorial oversight. She writes a piece about coffee that does well. I mean, I guess it does well. I mean, a few people say things about how the story really went viral, but it doesn't really go anywhere.

Most of the book is from Elinor's POV until we get a few sporadic chapters from the point of view of one of the senior members of Journalism.ly, J.W., one of the only "real" reporters at the publication. From him we learn things like the website is in financial trouble and he's having trouble finding companies willing to provide sponsored content.

One of the other senior members of the company, Peter, decides he's going to mentor Elinor. This mostly means he says "I am mentoring you" and then asks her to send pieces his way for review, though he doesn't actually look at them. Elinor is pretty annoyed at this cos 1) Peter is basically her age (they went to school together) and 2) that is shitty mentoring.

J.W. hears about Peter mentoring Elinor and gets into a dick measuring contest where he decides that he should be the one to mentor her. He follows Peter's mentoring method so nothing actually changes for Elinor other than two men randomly say "I am mentoring you" in her general direction.

At one point we're able to read one of Elinor's pieces, something she really opens up and puts herself out there. Her writing, it is...not good. There's no introspection (though she seems to think she's making a grand statement) and it's just not well-written. Maybe that's the joke? I have to think it has to be purposeful cos Harrington's stuff (i.e., all the writing around this piece) is better but I don't really know what the purpose is.

So that's the stuff we do get. What we don't get is the act two. We don't really get her actually being successful, even if it's just successful by Journalism.ly standards. I mean, her piece gets her on TV (but like, local TV, NY1) but it's not exactly what she thought. It's not really much of anything (sorry, spoilers, I guess. Not for the fact that she gets on TV, cos that's in the description but for the fact that it ultimately doesn't mean much). We get a few more scenes that really felt like they were going to be that turning point and then nope.

Elinor has no arc. There's no growth, no introspection, no anything. She basically ends up where she started.

Like I said, for the beginning I liked the writing.

I mean, OK, there were a few descriptions that made me go
Look:
Mike was propped up on his cylindrical arm
Note: Mike is not a cyborg.
He was wearing very dirty sneakers despite his old face.
Those are...unrelated things. Or maybe face age and sneaker cleanliness have some sort of correlation I am unfamiliar with.

But I could forgive these because overall the writing was entertaining. And sure, everyone is pretty insufferable (Elinor is super pathetic and also pretty self centered and as already established, Mike is an emotionally manipulative turdburger) but that's FINE. Or it would be fine if there was some growth from any terrible person OR if she really just leaned into the awful. It sometimes teeters on parody but never really makes it there. Which is too bad, I could have gotten behind this if it went there.

So yeah. I wish I had better things to say about this. I liked the start but as it became clear I wasn't getting an act two or any growth from Elinor (just LOTS of pining over Mike), I got more and more annoyed. It was a quick read. So.

Gif rating:
*Which, full disclosure, I have not read but I have seen the movie so I'm going off that. Also Meryl Streep is amazing. That is all.

Title quote from location 1045

Harrington, Rebecca. Sociable. Doubleday Books, 2018. NetGalley

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Artemis: No idiot-proofing can overcome a determined idiot

It has been a while so I was scanning through NetGalley to see what's new and I came across a new book by Andy Weir (aka the guy that wrote The Martian aka that book I love [well I mean, one of many BUT STILL, it's up there]), Artemis. So of course I requested it and was lucky enough to get a copy in exchange for a review.

First thing first, Artemis isn't The Martian. I mean, obviously. Different plot and all. But it's not an instant favorite for me like The Martian was. That would have been incredible if he could have pulled that off again. I was excited to start this but still tried to temper my expectations knowing I could easily set them way too high. I'm glad I kept that in mind because I did enjoy this book.

So with that disclaimer, here's what the story is about. I should also point out that I did NOT read a description before starting. I was doing jumping in and trusting whatever Weir did would be entertaining.

There's a city on the moon. It's sometime in the future (somewhere around 50-100 years from now. Maybe) and there's been a functioning moon city for what seems to be about 20 years. Jazz Bashara has grown up in the city since she was 6 and works as a porter, delivering packages around the city. And maaaaaaaybe some of these packages aren't exactly legal but what city doesn't have a least a little bit of smuggling going on. And it's not like the stuff is dangerous. No drugs or weapons. Just things like cigars for an eccentric billionaire. She's got debts to pay, don't judge.

Jazz is living in tiny quarters, keeping expenses down, and committing some light crime to save up some money. So when one of her clients offers her all the money she's saving for and more, for a little bit of sabotage, well, she can't pass that up.

Things don't go as planned (do they ever? Of course not, cos if they did you'd have no book), stakes are raised, conspiracies revealed, etc. etc. And there's science. A lot of science. Space science.

Weir should be commended for the cast he's created. It's not all white dudes. There's actually very few of those. Or I mean, few compared to other media where they are, just, all the people. If the cast had been mostly white men that would have stuck out. Artemis (the name of the moon city) is a global collaboration, headquartered out of Kenya. Jazz and her father are originally from Saudi Arabia and while Jazz doesn't seem very religious anymore her father is still a practicing Muslim. There are characters from Russian, Brazil, Norway, Kenya, Ukraine, all over. The characters seem pretty evenly split between men and women. Not all of the characters are straight (and those that are gay have more personality traits than just "are gay"). So WELL DONE THERE, SIR. He ever made sure in the acknowledgements to thank people who helped him when writing a female Muslim character from Saudia Arabia, a person he most definitely is not.

And beyond that, the story is interesting. I was engaged, there was SUSPENSE and some mystery. And yeah, a lot of science explanations that sometimes worked well and sometimes felt like a little too much exposition. But I skimmed over most of those because while I like the idea of that stuff in here, in practice I do not need the details explained to me. I believe you. That's not saying I necessarily think those should be taken out. This is a thing that works for him and there's definitely an audience for it. I am just not it, but I am able to enjoy the rest of the book.

Overall though, when compared to The Martian, it's just slightly less. There's less humor (though there are funny moments), the stakes feel lower, the danger less immediate, the science explanations a bit more shoved in. It's all still there and perhaps it's unfair to compare one book to another but too bad, I'm doing it anyway.

Overall, I liked. Would recommend and probably read again, although it unfortunately does not reach the same levels as The Martian which I will love forever and sort of want to reread again right now.

Gif rating:
(Is it mean to use a Martian gif for this? I only have so many space ones and this really captures my opinion on it. But I feel like this might be rubbing it in a bit. Oh well, too late.)

Title quote from location 1192

Weir, Andy. Artemis. Crown Publishing, 2017. NetGalley

Friday, September 1, 2017

August Reading Wrap Up

I didn't do a great job with reading this month. I mean, it's not a contest. Who am I even competing against? EXACTLY. But that said, I didn't get as mnay pages read as I expect to. Mostly cos I haven't been doing my normal commute to work. Penn Station has been a nightmare this summer while they do lots of track work. And my train isn't actually going into Penn so getting the office requires a train, a boat, and a bus and that is too many modes of transportation. I am very lucky in that I'm able to work remotely so I have been for the most part. Though that also means I'm missing a big chunk of regularly scheduled reading time. Which is a minor complaint and if I wanted to read, what else am I doing with my time that I can't just read then? (Twitter. I'm on Twitter alternatively laughing and being terrified of/for/by the world.)

So that was a whole paragraph excuse why my stats are as low as they are. Also I didn't really do a whole lot in August so there's also that.

OK stat time.

Number of books read
3
My Boyfriend Barfed in my Handbag...And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha by Jolie Kerr
The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson
One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

Number of pages read
769
Fiction
0%

Female Authors
67%

POC authors
33%

US authors
67%

Book formats
ebook: 33%
paperback: 67%

Where'd I get the book
Indie: 67%
Kindle: 33%

Reread
33%

Books by decade
1990s: 33%
2010s: 67%

Books by genre
Essays: 33%
History: 33%
Self-Help: 33%

Resolution books
67%
Mother Tongue was published before 2000
One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is by a Canadian POC author. Double whammy

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: It tastes empty

Remember roughly a million years ago (or like, 7, but at the rate things are going right now, it may as well have been a million) when everyone was reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake? Here I am, late to the party. Fashionably late, let's say, to make me feel better.

Anyway, a friend was downsizing her bookshelves (something I totally need to do) and among the books she was getting rid of was this one, which I thought "Hey, free book!"

For those who aren't familiar with the plot, a young Rose finds that she can taste the emotion in food of the person who prepared it. She learns this when her mother, who seems so happy, bakes a lemon cake for her birthday and it tastes terrible. Like depression. From here we have an insular story of a family that seems happy on the surface but is suffering underneath, something that it seems only Rose is able to see. Or taste, as it were.

Eating becomes a hassle because, it turns out, everyone who makes everything ever is super angry or depressed when they cook. She eats a lot of vending machine food which isn't to say it's made with love, but it is made by machines who don't drip their petty human emotions into the food.

Later she can determine where food is from which, I guess specific places have emotions? And the emotion is "This egg is from Michigan." Even though it would have been more interesting to get the feelings of the animal if we're going to go several layers down in this "tasting emotion" thing but whatever.

She tries to talk to her science-obsessed brother about this "power" though he's too wrapped up in his own world to pay too much attention. Joseph has his own stuff going on.

I liked the conceit better than the execution.

Stories about families that seem happy but have their problems is not, generally, my favorite genre (though shout out to Everything I Never Told You for being a kick ass book in this vein) but if it's done well I can get behind it. And maybe if the book had used Rose's gift/curse as a jumping off point to dig more into the family instead of focusing so much on what food outside the home tasted like or other magical realism/surrealism elements, I would been more on board. As it was, it felt like pieces of the family history and emotions were touched upon but we never got deep into them, as we were too busy with other magic. And really, I know it sounds like nonsense that I'm like "Less magic, more suburban ennui" but seriously, that's how super not into the magic I was. I liked the beginning with Rose and her magical tastebuds but the more we dug into it and other stuff, the more I wanted to back away.

I did like the writing. I appreciated Bender's descriptions (at times) when Rose would eat something.
I made my own pretzels! [her mother'd] announced at 4 p.m., turning off the oven, whipping her hair into a fresh ponytail. I had to taste them - she had presented a few tiny warm pretzels on a plate to me with such a look of triumph and hope - and it turned out to be the food that best represented her: in every pretzel the screaming desire to make the perfect pretzel, so that the pretzel itself seemed tied up in the tightest of knots, the food form, for once, matching the content.
So there were good features of the book.

There was another thing that I would say turned me on the book, but it's spoilery so, you've been warned.
Her brother turns into furniture. Yup. Furniture. Like he wants to get away from things and possibly it's depression so he will randomly become furniture and no one in the family knows where he's gone, just that he's disappeared. But we don't actually learn too much about him. Beyond, I guess, that he especially likes to become a folding chair that used to belong to his grandma.
Spoilers contained.

So yeah, I think it was an interesting concept that unfortunately got a bit too muddled.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 12

Bender, Aimee. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Anchor Books, 2010.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing: I will not sink her

I received a copy of Jesmyn Ward's latest book, Sing, Unburied, Sing back in March in exchange for an honest review. Normally I try to write these reviews right after finishing the book so my thoughts are still fresh. However, this book came with the request not to publish anything until around the time the book would be released, September 5th. And sure, I could have written the review right away and saved it (that would have been the responsible thing after all). So naturally I did no such thing and now it's August and I'm working on remembering the book.

Before I go back and skim through to get details and whatnot, I want to share my feelings as I remember them these 5 months later: this book was fantastic. It wasn't what I expected, but then again I didn't entirely know what to expect. I hadn't read anything of hers before, though she's been on my radar. But the book was touching and raw and haunting and involved multiple narrators which is one of my favorite things.

Our first narrator is Jojo, who lives with his grandparents, Pop and Mam, and his younger sister Kayla. His father, Michael, is in jail and his mother, Leonie, is a drug addict who left her kids with her parents, flitting in and out of their lives.

Jojo adores his grandfather and helps with much of the care and raising of his sister. His grandmother is dying from cancer and Jojo, only thirteen, has to grow up quickly.

Jojo's mother Leonie is the second voice we hear. It'd be easy to paint her with no redeeming values, abandoning her kids and deeply jealous of Jojo's relationship with Kayla. Seeing her perspective doesn't mean she's forgiven for the things she does, but it helps explain.

Leonie comes back into their lives when Michael is about to be released from prison, Parchman's. Despite her parents best wishes, she wants to take Jojo and Kayla to the prison to pick him up. The trip will take a couple days but she thinks it's best for them to be there to see their father, especially Kayla. Michael went to prison before she was born.

There are few other characters. Michael's parents. Michael is white, Leonie black, and his parents vehemently disapprove of the relationship and the children that have come of it. Leonie's friend who makes the trip to Parchman's with them. A few others.

There are also ghosts. Leonie's brother comes to her when she's high, both a blessing and a curse for Leonie. There's also the spirit of  Richie, someone Pop knew from his own time at Parchman's.

This multi-generational story touches on race, family, love, poverty, the ghosts from our past all set in rural Mississippi. Ward's writing is superb, touching and lyrical. One of the best books I read this year and definitely an author I will be reading more from.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 2821

Ward, Jesmyn. Sing, Unburied, Sing. Scribner, 2017. NetGalley