Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Really, the Mummy was becoming ridiculous!

I very much need to catch up on these book reviews. Or at the very least I need to start writing down all of my random thoughts about a book because if I don't all this time passes and I know I thought of super clever and witty things to say about a book, but too much time has passed and now I have no idea. Let's see what I can remember about Crocodile on the Sandbank other than I very much enjoyed it.

When Alice (aka Reading Rambo) came out to NYC we met up for burgers, as is the thing we (apparently) do and she said "Hey, I read this book, and it's pretty neat and also a very fast read so you should read this and enjoy." And I looked at this book from Mysterious Press (it's using whatever font you're currently picturing for their logo) and thought this doesn't look like my normal thing but I am all for reading not-my-normal-thing (at least not all the time) and so I accepted and eventually even read it. Everything Alice said about it was right.

For those of you that don't know already, this is the first book in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series. Amelia is every stereotype I know about a stuffy English woman, which I mean in the best possible way. She is no-nonsense and has zero problem telling people exactly what they should do, a woman who figures he's far too plain for love or marriage and is far happier traveling around. She is incredibly self-assured and has no problem smacking people around a bit with her umbrella if someone is getting out of line. So I guess she's the stereotypes that are more along the lines of Marian and you know how much I love Marian.
She is also very unorthodox for the time (late 1800s), what with her crazy support of women's suffrage and her love of archaeology and her general belief she can do pretty much anything.
I fancied I could amputate a limb - or at least a toe or finger - rather neatly if called upon to do so.
She's a gem.

So anyway, her dad dies and leaves her lots of money so she decides to travel the world and starts off in Rome. While there she sees this tiny waif of a girl faint away and everyone is freaking out but Amelia, takes chart of the situation (I'm pretty sure a couple people get swiped with her umbrella while she demands their coats) and she helps the girl. Turns out she is a ruined woman, because she ran away with man who later abandoned her when he found out her family cut her out of their will. Amelia thinks the whole ruined woman thing is dumb so she invites her to come along with her to Cairo as a travel companion.

While traveling up (down?) the Nile, they come to an archeological dig lead by the Emerson brothers, one of whom is pretty much Walter from The Woman in White (i.e., nice and boring; also his name is Walter) while the other is a lovable jerk. But mostly the jerk part. They're working on excavating a pyramid and it turns out Amelia loooooooooooooves this stuff. Who knew pyramids would so be her jam?

While Evelyn (ruined waif) and Walter are falling in love (obviously) and Amelia and Radcliff (jerk) are fighting a Scooby-Doo level mummy starts haunting the site, scaring off the workers, causing accidents, and they believe he's coming after Evelyn. BUT WHY? And what about her past? And is it really an ancient mummy? While the mummy provides the mystery to be solved it's really secondary to the characters.

The book is great because it is as much a parody of the genre as it is a loving tribute. Just as Alice said, it's a quick read and super fun. Anytime I want a light quick read, I'm going to look for more of these Amelia Peabody books. Plus Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters) had a PhD in Egyptology, so she actually knows her shit in that regard. I'm not saying pick up these books to learn about ancient Egypt, but fun fact.

GIF rating:

Title quote from page 197

Peters, Elizabeth. Crocodile on the Sandbank. Mysterious Press, 1975.

Friday, July 24, 2015

My current book selection process

I recently started reading The Engagements (which so far is excellent!) and I started thinking about my recent reading selection process. Which has been:

  • Read a review about a book
  • Think "Hey, that sounds swell" and put it on my Goodreads list
  • Forget about book
  • Sporadically remember the awesomeness of Booksliced and set up some alerts
  • Forget about alerts
  • 6 months go by and I get an alert for this book that I don't remember at all but, hey!, at some point I decided it would be good and it's super cheap now so I should probably buy it
Most of the time I just have to trust that past-me makes good choices. 

Lately I'd been reading more and more on my Kindle because of the whole moving thing and the whole trying-not-to-acquire-more-books-I'll-have-to-move thing. But now we're all moved in and I already got my next Just The Right Book so perhaps I'll be switching over to physical books soon. I'm also pretty sure have some other unread books sitting around, but I might have to wait for that whole book organization thing to happen before I figure out where those ended up.

I've never been good about planning my reading out. I always just go with whatever I feel like reading at the moment, but lately I've been doing far more reading-trust-falls, where I can't hardly remember what the book is about but I just sort of dive in. Sometimes it works (as I said, The Engagements is thus far a success)... 

and sometimes not so much (Men Explain Things To Me you were...not quite what I expected). 

More often than not things work out. I add books to that Goodreads list only if I think they're actually ones I'll read and that a trusted reviewer recommended. But really, how else do you select what book to read next?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Personality depends on context, just like culture

Book reviews. Remember when I wrote those things? I'm currently 8 books back but I'm working my way towards fixing that. So let's jump into Euphoria by Lily King.

This was the second book Just The Right Book sent my way and, I gotta be honest, when I read the summary I was...not super excited. I hadn't heard anything about the book and the line "a captivating story of three young, gifted anthropologists of the 1930s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and ultimately their lives" did not seem like my cup of tea. But I want to read out of my comfort zone, so I was going to trust the selectors over at JTRB and give this a go.

The story is "inspired by the events in the life of...Margaret Mead" but if you don't know much about Mead *raises hand, looks ashamed* don't worry, prior knowledge not necessary to enjoy. The main characters are Nell Stone, her husband Schuyler Fenwick (Fen), and their friend Andrew Banks, who harbors a maaaaajor crush on Nell.

The book starts out with violence, setting a tone for the rest of the book that, even when nothing particularly dangerous is happening, there's a tense fog lurking in the background. Nell and Fen are fleeing a tribe they had been studying. They're throw a dead baby at the couple. Fen has broken Nell's glasses. They're both dirty and covered lesions. They're both suffering from malaria. Things aren't going great. Their chapters are either told in the third person or Nell's journal entries.

Banks starts his chapter telling us that three days prior, he tried to kill himself. He filled his pockets with stones and walked into a river, but was pulled out by some members of a tribe he'd be been studying. Bank's chapters are in the first person, and he had most of the pages, so I felt closer to this character. He talks about his family, his past, he's loneliness, his worries, his love Nell.

He wants Nell and Fen nearby and works to find them a tribe to study near where he is, cos I guess that's a thing you can just do?

Fen is a jackass. I know, this is over simplifying the character, and a nice thing about King is her characters are complex and nuanced. He's not a one-note villain. He's not even really a villain. But he is a jackass. He's jealous of Nell. Her books are more popular, selling and making her a household name, while his work is going nowhere. He has a strange obsession with the violent characteristics of the tribes they study. There are moments when Fen is less terrible, usually when the three of them are working out anthropological theories. Nothing brings people together like coming up with a quadrant grid to map every human culture.

The "euphoria" of the title comes from Nell and the moment that she makes a breakthrough with the people she's studying. Her work is far less academic than what is expected. She focuses on the human aspect, which seems logical for someone studying other humans. Of course this goes against everything Fen has written and he's not happy with this. Banks's work was the traditional-style research though he's as much enamored with Nell's unique process as he is with her.

I can't say I'm going to run out and look for more books set in the 1930s featuring anthropologist love triangles, but this exceeded my expectations. King's writing did it and the fact that at no point did it feel like she was resting on cliches (something I worried about whenever "love triangle" is mentioned). Outside of my comfort zone and a success.

Gif rating:

Title quote from page 209

King, Lily. Euphoria. Grove Press, 2014.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Moving success: I have internet again

I'm pretty sure this is longest I've gone without posting since I started this blog.

As I mentioned last time, we just moved and I was probably going to be MIA while we did that whole packing and unpacking and getting internet and finding where the hell everything ended up (present me is so annoyed at past me for not being more organized) and this is clearly not a real post. It is a post to tell you that I got internet so I'm going to try to be back soon. Maybe I'll even post some pictures of the new place, though that might be down the line when we're no longer using beach chairs in the living room.
One thing I do need to consider is how to organize my books. I never really thought I organized them much, but it turns out that's a dirty lie. Because now they're not organized at all. My brother helped me unpack and he just put books on whatever shelf was closest which is FINE and what I told him to do, because I'm not that much of a crazy person. But it does mean that I have no idea where any books are. I do however know that all bookshelves (once we brought and built-ins) are filled and I still have a giant suitcase full of books hanging out in my mom's basement waiting for a home. Perhaps a purge is in order.
Or this
I do need to get to reviewing because, as per usual, I am waaaaay behind. So let's see what's to come, shall we?

Euphoria by Lily King - historical fiction based on the life of Margaret Mead, who knew this would be so good (many people, if reviews are to be believed)
Crocodile on the Sandback by Elizabeth Peters - well THIS I knew would be a good time cos it had the Alice seal of approval. And also she gave me a copy to read. So much fun.
Coronado & Other Stories by Denis Lehane - It's been awhile since I've read the guy and I'm happy to report he does short stories well.
The Dinner by Herman Koch - just people being the worst. Absolute worst.
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin - More Game of Thrones but almost none of the characters you've grown to love. (But still good. Still good.)
The Martian by Andy Weird - Did you know I love this book BECAUSE I LOVE THIS BOOK and that last post about my excitement for the movie meant I couldn't help but re-read this.
Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler - I feel a lot of kinship of how Tyler describes her ability to hurt herself in spectacular ways. Especially considering I'm nursing a few battle wounds from when I fell walking up some stairs while carrying pizza. (Don't worry, the pizza was unharmed, though a garlic knot was sacrificed.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Adventures in House Buying: The Finale (Oh man, I hope it's the finale)

You may have noticed I've been a bit quiet on the home front bit. That's because things were super stressful and not going as hoped and I mostly wanted to hit things. But now BOTH closings have happened so TAKE THAT!

So here's what's been going on with this whole fiasco.

Back in February we accepted an offer on our place in Long Island (yaaaaaaay!) with the plan that we would be closing on this place at the end of April. Once we got the contract with mortgage commitment (just meaning that not only are we accepting an offer cos we like they money they're saying they'll give us, but there's a bank to back up that offer) we started, in earnest, to look for a new place to live. And we found a place we loooooooove. After some (not so much) fun with negotiations, we came to a number that probably pissed off people on both sides, and we had a deal to close at the end of May.

You may notice, this is not the end of May.
Our current LI place (or actually our OLD LI place as it's not currently ours anymore) is a co-op. With either a condo or a co-op, the bank first takes a look at the buyers and makes sure they don't seem like the type that are going to jump ship on the loan. THEN they have to make sure that the management company that runs the co-op or condo is also a good investment. With a condo, that's it. With a co-op you are soooo far from the end. See, then the co-op board gets to decide if they like the new people who are buying.

For reasons I will never, ever understand, the management company at our LI place moved extraordinarily slowly. Like a process (sending over a questionnaire) that I feel like should take at most an hour, took 2 weeks. That's what the entire process was like with eeeeeverrrryttthhiiiiing. Now, it was mostly the buyers having to deal with that, but everything was taking so long that we blew right by that April close date. Which at first wasn't such a bad thing, because Tom and I were trying to figure out where exactly we'd live and put our stuff in that month between closing on LI and closing on NJ. But then we passed right by that May date.
Me, from May onward
Now the NJ sellers were getting pissed at us. Because you see, we bought the place on a contingency, meaning the closing date is contingent on us closing on our current place. (And them closing on their new place was contingent on us closing on this place, and so on and so forth down the row until lots of people are screwed in this transaction.) Unfortunately, there really isn't anything we can do other than ask the buyers "Hey, so, anything we can do to move this along?" and the answer was always "I wish but we're waiting on the management company." and calls to them about anything we could do to move things along were met with...less than friendly responses. Given it took them 2+ months to put our name on the gate so we could actually let people in, I guess I wasn't too surprised.
Me, when not screaming
Another month passed and tensions continue to rise until finally the management company gets everything they need, the new buyers fill out their application and interview with the board (none of which can happen until all the other stuff happens) and are approved and THANK GOD. I have to say, I've heard horror stories about co-op boards and ours is actually very chill. So now closing dates could be set.

But here's the thing. We figured we'd be moved LONG before this. So we had a wedding to go to July 3rd. In North Carolina. And since my dad is in South Carolina, and we weren't too far from Charleston, we made plans to spend a couple days down there to visit. Closings were happening right around this trip because of course. So we closed on our LI place, left for NC, went to SC, came back from SC, closed on NJ the next day. I'm exhausted.

Because things took so long and the people buying our place are just starting to sell their old place now, they said we could stay until time to move. I mean, we have to pay them for it, but they aren't kicking us out, which is within their right, so I thank them for that. Because what we are paying to stay here is significantly less than if we had movers store stuff for a couple days (because it's 1 month minimum!). So we'll be actually moving on Friday.
Unfortunately, this is also a very busy time at work, so by the time this posts, I'll actually be working on Thursday while Tom finishes the last of the packing.

So yeah. Buying and selling sucks. Co-ops just add several extra layers of pain to deal with. In the end it's worth it but you sort of have to get past all this so you forget about the stress and pain. I figure it's probably something like child birth.

That's why I've been MIA this week. Heads up, I'll probably be fairly MIA next week as well while we get unpacked and get internet set up.

So that's what I've been up to. How's everyone else doing?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June Reading Wrap-Up and 6 Month Check-in

Oh man, look at time just flying by. Half the year is already done. And I am all kinds of ready for a vacation. In terms of reading, I didn't get a huge amount done, but that is in part due to my decision to start reading another Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire book, and those are an estimated 50,000 pages each so it's taking some time. But I did manage to get some resolutions fulfilled so that's something. I also thought I'd take a look at how things are shaping up for the year so far.

Now, let's see how things look for June.

Number of books read
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
Coronado & Other Stories by Dennis Lehane
The Dinner by Herman Koch

Number of pages read

Percentage of fiction

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors
...100% dammit

Percentage of US authors

Book formats
paperback 100%

Percentage of rereads

Percentage of review books

Books by decade
1970s - 33%
2000s -66%

Books by genre
mystery - 33%
people being terrible. that's a genre, right? FINE, psychological thriller - 33%
short stories - 33%

Resolution books
Crocodile on the Bank  was written in the '70s which is before the '90s (I'm so good at math).
The Dinner was originally published in Dutch and the author is from the Netherlands

Not too shabby.
Now let's see how I'm doing year-to-date with these stats.

Number of books read

Number of pages read

Percentage of fiction

Percentage of female authors
67% That's not too bad. I like being in this area for the split

Percentage of white authors
94% This, however, is pretty pathetic

Percentage of US authors
61% I'm actually pretty surprised by this one. Good job, me

Book formats
ebooks - 44%
paperback - 50%
hardback - 6%

Percentage of rereads
0% - I'm currently re-reading The Martian so this will change soon. Also I've been re-listening to WWZ for the 50th time. But I'm always sort of re-listening to that.

Percentage of review books
6% - I didn't mean to give up on review books so much. But I feel like I've been reading less and especially with this resolution, I've been pickier

Books by decade
1850s - 6%
1970s - 6%
1990s - 17%
2000s - 33%
2010s - 39%

Books by genre
fantasy - 6%
health - 6%
literary fiction - 11%
humor - 11%
dystopia - 22%
essays - 6%
historical fiction 11%
classic - 6%
mystery - 11%
short story- 6%
suspense - 6%

Resolution books
50% - alright!
Of those resolution books (will go over 100% for all the books that check more than one of these boxes):
non-US author: 78%
translation: 33%
non-white author: 11%
written before 1990: 22%

The year is actually looking pretty good. Except with non-white authors. That's ridiculous and I really need to fix it. All of the other criteria have been easily met.

Let's see what the rest of the reading-year holds