Thursday, June 23, 2016

Diversify Your Reading

Jenny over at Reading the End pulled together this list as part of a diversity in reading tag dealy with the following rules
The Diverse Books Tag is a bit like a scavenger hunt. I will task you to find a book that fits a specific criteria and you will have to show us a book you have read or want to read.
If you can’t think of a book that fits the specific category, then I encourage you to go look for one. A quick Google search will provide you with many books that will fit the bill. (Also, Goodreads lists are your friends.) Find one you are genuinely interested in reading and move on to the next category.
Everyone can do this tag, even people who don’t own or haven’t read any books that fit the descriptions below. So there’s no excuse! The purpose of the tag is to promote the kinds of books that may not get a lot of attention in the book blogging community.
So with that, let's take a look at some books that we should all check out to expand our horizons, shall we?

Find a book with a lesbian character
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Does it work if the work is nonfiction? And also a graphic novel? I assume so. Bechdel's memoir about coming to terms both with her  father's suicide and her own sexuality. But let's include The Hours by Michael Cunningham for good measure, which features 3 ladies in 3 different periods that are either possibly or most definitely gay.

Find a book with a Muslim protagonist
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson about a hacker in an unnamed country in the middle east. Deals with technology and religion and is a thriller and so good.

Find a book set in Latin America
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago is an autobiography about Santiago growing up first in rural Puerto Rico and later outside of San Juan before moving to Brooklyn.

Find a book about a person with a disability
Jenny said mental disorders count, so I'm going with Agorafabulous! by Sara Benincasa, which is a hilarious memoir about Benincasa's lift including her struggles with agoraphobia. Along those lines is Jenny Lawson's Furiously Happy which deals with her various struggles with mental illness and also hilarious

Find a science fiction or fantasy book with a POC protagonist
Octavia Butler's got you covered. Lilith's Brood/Xenogenisis trilogy. Or how about her  Patternmaster/Seed to Harvest series (though I haven't finished it)

Find a book set in (or about) any country in Africa
I am woefully ignorant when it comes to this selection (with the exception of ones like The Stranger and Heart of Darkness which feel like the wrong choice for this) so I checked Goodreads and came up with these books that are on my radar as ones I would LIKE to read, so let's go with Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Find a book by an Aboriginal or Native American
Tracks by Louise Erdrich is a pre-blog book I read, so I don't remember a huge amount about it other than I enjoyed it but it was intense.

Find a book set in South Asia (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.)
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai comes to mind. Another memoir/bio where she paints a picture of her life in her beloved home before being shot and winning all the awards.

Find a book with a biracial protagonist
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell with titular park being white and Korean. I have tried finding books with China Rican characters, but thus far no dice. Tom's people are not well represented. (His response: "there are dozens of us!")

Find a book starring a transgender character or about transgender issues
This was another I had trouble coming up with on my own but THAT'S OK because the internet told me I should check out the book Supervillainz by Alice E. Goranson about "transgender superheroes struggling to make rent" while making "enemies to a pack of Capitalist superheroes".  Sounds like good times, no?

So everyone should do this and then we can get diversified in our reading and all will be awesome.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Trick is figuring out which of us are ones and which of us are zeroes

Chuck Wendig books are always so much fun. He's one of those dependable authors. After a few successes* I'm pretty confident that whatever he writes I'll enjoy and don't really bother reading the summaries. He may not be my favorite author (though he might one run of my favorite blogs and overall seems like a lovely person), and I'm a bit on the fence about his latest Star Wars book, but that has far more to do with hesitations towards SW and not what he's written. Hell, the only reason I'd considering reading a SW book** is because he wrote it. Well that and the fact that he pissed off a bunch of homophobes by making one of the main characters (the main character? I dunno, for you see, haven't read it) gay and that is just swell.

But I did read his book Zer0s about government conspiracy and hackers and some sci fi-y elements and honestly when I picked it up I didn't really know anything about it beyond "hackers" (see above re: not even bothering to read summaries). It was just a fun book, one that I couldn't wait to jump back into.

I don't want to get too much into the plot because well, I didn't really know it before going in and I don't know if it makes a difference to go in blind or not, but I had fun so yeah, let's recommend that. But one thing I do want to talk about is the characters and how they are awesome. Because that is definitely an area where Wendig thrives. His characters are believable as characters. They appear to have actual, for realsies motivations, react to situations in ways that make sense for actual people (even when those situations are super crazy) AND in this book are diverse. Diverse without being stereotypes, which shouldn't be that difficult, but there are enough examples out there to prove that can be a sticking point for many writers. This is not a world populated by a bunch of white guys with maaaaaaaaaaybe one girl and/or one POC guy to claim inclusiveness.

Like I said, I won't go too much into the plot but I will give you a bit. A bunch of hackers are arrested for various online crimes and are given a choice: go to jail or come work for us for a year and have the slate wiped clean. This is how we get a country boy, an inner-city kid, an aging conspiracy theorist, a troll, and a social justice hacker shoved together, looked after by an agent who really does not understand this computer stuff. OF COURSE there are personality clashes and a shady government program, deceptions and alliances.

The book is fun (which I know I've said a few times but IT IS) and suspenseful and thrilling and funny and yes, sometimes violent and involves some creative cursing, because if you read Wendig you're going to get those things. Grade A work, Wendig.

Gif rating:
*Blackbirds, Mockingbird, Blue Blazes and I'm surprised there aren't more.
** I'm sorry, Star Wars fans. I know you are awesome and love the stuff and I don't think there's anything WRONG with it, it's just not super my thing.

Title quote from page 67, location 1396

Wendig, Chuck. Zer0es. Harper Voyager, 2015

Monday, June 13, 2016

There's always more to see, if you look

A successful Just The Right Book choice. While I say I like thrillers, apparently I am picky about them (or there are a lot of bad ones out there) and JtRB has been less on point with those selections. But this was more literary fiction and sort of strange and I enjoyed it very much.
Past or present? George says. Male or female? It can't be both. It must be one or the other.Who says? Why must it? her mother says.
George's mother has died and she's having a hard time with it. As one would. Her mother, a professor and artist, responsible for creation of subverts (subverting advertising), the type who would pull her children out of school for an extended vacation to go see a fresco but a practically unknown artist, Francesco del Cossa. Her father seems to be no help, nor does the school psychologist who either sits silently or just repeats back everything she says in the form of a question. Though she does make friends with a girl H who seems to provide some solace for what she's going through. And George begins for focus her attention on something to connect her to her mother: the fresco and a "friend" named Lisa that is connected in some ways to her mother's erratic behavior near the end (though said behavior is unrelated to her death). I realize this makes it seem like a very straightforward story but I want to tell you it is not. At all. There are musings on art and gender and music and loss. Within this narrative, time jumps back and forth between her mother in the year or so before her death and George's present day. Then there's the second narrative around the fresco artist.
The making of images is a powerful thing and may if care's not taken lead to breakage
The second half of the novel (or rather the second half in my version, because apparently there are versions that begin with this story) deals with the artist Francesco del Cossa. When George is at the National Gallery looking at some other work of del Cossa's the ghost of the artist somehow attaches himself to George, convinced he's in purgatory, which involves following this teenage girl around in this strange world. But most of the story is of Francesco's time growing up, also having lost a mother at a young age. I will hold off saying too much about this narrative since there are some possible spoilers here but I will just say that I liked this section better than George's, probably because very intelligent cynical teenagers (EVEN WHEN WRITTEN VERY WELL) annoy me.

As I said, some versions of the book started with del Cossa's narrative, though mine started with George's. The book doesn't have a typical structure and the ending is a little odd, if only because in some versions the ending is actually in the middle. It's a little strange but you just kind of go with it. Except some of the poetry stuff. Which I bet is beautiful and really adds another layer to the story but yeah, I skipped that part so I deem it acceptable to skip those parts as well. Perhaps I'll give it a try at some point in the future.

Gif rating:
One thing I wanted to say, that really has nothing to do with the book at all, but lets me use some of the Italian grammar I know and some of the book takes place in Italy, so. Anyway, at one point someone is correcting George's mother when she says buona sera instead of buongiorno because buona sera means literally "good evening". EXCEPT (because people corrected me on this many times) buongiorno is used to say "good morning" and then buona sera is used for "good afternoon" and "good evening". I ended up mostly going with ciao which has no time requirements.

Title quote from page 122

Smith, Ali. how to be both. Anchor Books, 2014

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

There's nothing so painful, so corrosive, as suspicion

I meant to write a post over the weekend, which is typically when I write these things because during the week my brain does not work so well. (BTW, coming up with "my brain does not work so well" took a good 5 minutes.) There's a lot of mental energy expended at work and when I'm done I want to do mindless stuff. But this past weekend (for those not following me on Instagram) we finally got a headboard (which is also a bookshelf!) and bed frame (which is also a dresser!) and I spent allllll day Sunday putting it together and my legs still hurt and I can't figure out what I did to them but they are ANGRY at me. What I'm saying is, this may not be the most coherent thing. ANYWAY The Girl on the Train. Perhaps you've heard of it.
Other than seeing it everywhere, I feel like I avoided the hype. I didn't know anything about it beyond the cover, which is probably the best way to approach this book. It's a thriller. It's suspenseful. There's an unreliable narrator (who knows herself to be unreliable, which is an interesting change). There are multiple POVs. And yes, there is a girl on a train.

Said girl on the train (who isn't a girl but an actual adult, but ever since Gone Girl all these books need to have "girl" in the title because if it worked once it will work a zillion more times! #marketing) is Rachel. Rachel rides the same trains to and from London from her place in the suburbs, passing by the same houses and making up stories for the occupants. Like the couple she's named "Jason" and "Jess", who seem to have a perfect, loving marriage. Until Rachel sees "Jess" kissing someone who is not "Jason". And then "Jess" (actually Megan) goes missing - the story is all over the tabloids - and Rachel feels like she has to go to "Jason" (actually Scott) to tell him what she saw. Maybe this mysterious person is responsible?

Here's the thing. Rachel has a bit of a drinking problem. More than a bit. She is an alcoholic, regularly blacking out and man, sometimes it was hard to read because I just wanted to shake her. She knows she's making bad decisions but she can't seem to help herself. Hence the highly unreliable narrator. Even Rachel isn't sure what she has or hasn't seen. You can't accuse Hawkins of worrying about making her female characters too likable (and PS, that is a good thing).

I don't want to say anything more cos really, I think the less known about the book the better. And it is a good and suspenseful and satisfying read. You never know who to believe. Between the times I wanted to shake Rachel (and Megan from time to time), I really wanted to know what would happen next. Which hey, isn't that everything you want from a thriller?

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 3494

Hawkins, Paula. The Girl on the Train. Riverhead Books, 2015. Kindle

Friday, June 3, 2016

It seemed a lot of kids dreamed about escaping childhood, of having power over their own destiny

I read this as part of a book club. I hadn't heard about it before it was picked out of a hat. Actually, I hadn't heard it come up after that either, but that's not the point. ALSO this Lake House is totally unrelated to the Keanu/Bullock Lake House. That caused some confusion when the book was first selected. It is also not The Lake House that Patterson apparently wrote. Man, there are a lot of lake houses.

The story is set in England not long after World War I. And also 2003. England around WWI (or WWII) is not my favorite setting but I do like multiple POVs and narrators, which we get here, so that's fun.

It's a mystery. Or really, a bunch of mysteries. Like, too many mysteries. Several mysteries could have been cut. Probably should have been. In order to keep things straight I kept a list on my phone. I got up to 17 mysteries of various sizes. That is too many mysteries and a list is necessary.

The primary mystery starts back in 1933 when the Edevane* family threw their annual midsummer party at at their lakeside estate, Loeanneth. You know it's a fancy place because the house has a name. Eleanor, the matriarch of the house, is busy obsessing over every detail to make sure the party is perfect. Her 16-year-old daughter Alice is a burgeoning mystery writer and cannot seem to make her mother happy. There are two other daughters, one older and one younger than Alice around doing...something, but it's been awhile and I can't remember what exactly. Father Anthony was somewhere, most likely his study. And then baby Theo was busy being adorable until it was time for him to be put to bed, before the fireworks started. All goes well at the party, but the next morning Theo is missing.

The story then jumps to 2003, with Sadie, a detective from London who is currently on leave from her job due incident. She's staying with her grandfather in Cornwall and comes across the overgrown Loeanneth property and decides she wants to understand what went down in this house.

There's a lot of people keeping secrets, or people jumping to conclusions and then keeping said conclusions secret. I won't get into any more plot details because of said secrets.

Some of the mysteries are good and they're interesting and the motivations make sense so things are satisfying. Others aren't bad, they just feel unnecessary and take away from the main story so you're spending mental energy trying to figure out (or just keep track) of everything going on.

There were also some issues I had with the writing.
Alice experienced one of her swift certainties then. She wasn't sure where they came from, these insights into other people's states of mind, only that they arrived unexpectedly and fully formed. She just knew things sometimes.
Unfortunately this isn't foreshadowing to Alice having some sort of mind-reading skills. Instead it just comes off as lazy writing. No, ma'am, I'm not just going to trust Alice's intuitions about people cos you told me to. You're going to have to do a better job making the other people's actions match their motivations and have Alice be right about this OR you're going to have to show Alice being super intuitive. Or whatever, make her psychic. But this? No thank you.

There were some good parts. The characters were more fleshed out than I initially thought they would be. They're given a chance to grow and change and actually make decisions that make sense. Or at least make sense for them. And again, the main mystery is an interesting one.

So overall, the book is fine. If you like mysteries and this setting is your thing, go for it. It's on the long side (like 600 pages) so be forewarned.

Gif rating:
*And I just realized as I write this that I called them "Evedeen" the entire time I was reading. Whoops.

Title quote from page 140, location 1722

Morton, Kate. The Late House. Atria Books, 2015. Kindle

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

May Reading Wrap-Up

May is past and by the end it FINALLY started feeling like spring. And then like a day later summer because I'm pretty sure we got like 3 (non-consecutive) warm-and-not-raining days before it jumped right up to the 80s and 90s but that is FINE because I'm tired of cool weather. I'm ready for some rooftop bars. I feel like May was a fairly successful reading month too, and surprisingly heavy on non-fiction, which wasn't intentional but not a bad thing either. Let's see what we've got!

Total books finished
Joyland by Stephen King (4 stars)
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda (5 stars)
Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa (4 stars)
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (4 stars)
Yes, Please by Amy Poehler (4 stars)

Total pages read
1,684 (which is 1 page more than April and officially the most pages I've read in a month so far this year)


Female authors
White authors

US authors

Book format
ebook - 50%
hardback - 17%
paperback - 33%

Where'd I get the book
chain bookstore - 17%
gift - 17%
indie bookstore - 17%
Kindle - 33%
NetGalley - 17%


Review books

Readalong/Book club books

Blogger reco


Books by decade
1990s - 17%
2010s - 83%

Books by genre
Lit Fic - 17%
Memoir - 17%
Mystery - 17%
Science - 33%
Theater - 17%

Resolution books
Hamilton: The Revolution written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (aka, not a white guy) and Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa (not white, not US AND a translation)