Mini-reviews: The one with all the girls.

May 26, 2016

Don’t you love it when you look back and every book you read during the past week was written by a woman – and not by design? It was happy circumstance!

I also passed the 125 books benchmark, but I’m a little sad. Have I told you this already? I feel like I have. In my book journal (I keep a hard copy and an online version), I make little hash marks after every 25 books. It’s an easier way to look back and total up the number of books. Well, I thought I was approaching the 150 book benchmark – something I’ve never done so early in the year, even at my velocireader speeds. I lived on that high for an entire day before I entered another book, looked back, and realized I was nearing the mark for 125, not 150. And then I was inconsolably sad. I know the record had never been mine to begin with, but dangit! I wanted it back! So then I read a lot of books because: spurned on.

Book124The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth (2016, St. Martin’s Press, 338 pages, library ebook). Things We Keep tells the story of a very young woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s, who is placed into a home. She, of course, meets a new love interest at the home, causing all kinds of scandal. A nurse, with drama of her own, risks all to help the two lovers create one last story. I did know going into it that this would be an all or nothing book for me. Sometimes the sappy romances work for me, and sometimes not. This one was a miss. Everyone acted exactly the way they were supposed to, and even the character shading was easy to spot way off. I’d recommend for fans of Kristin Hannah and Nicholas Sparks. 2 of 5 stars.

Book125We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014, Fourth Estate, 49 pages, ebook). Yes, I splurged and bought it on a Deal of the Day, but I have to say the published TEDx talk is worth they money at any price. One of my favorite authors talks about what it means to be a feminist today in her native Nigeria, in diaspora, in publishing, and in the world. It was interesting how Adichie tied in classism and racism (can we ever separate the three big discriminators?) and the particular examples she used to point out how institutionalized discrimination against women is. This was the first piece of non-fiction writing I’ve read by Adichie and I loved that her voice was just as sarcastic, nuanced, and unapologetically clever as her fiction writing. I would read anything by this world-class author. 5 of 5 stars.

Book126Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here, by Anna Breslaw (2016, Razorbill, 288 pages, library ebook). This YA story is about a high school girl whose favorite Twilight-esque show has been canceled, sending her from being a BNF (Big Name Fan) online back to her lonely Real World existence. So what does Scarlett do? She stops writing about her TV show online and starts writing about her real world peeps – her two (ahem: only) BFFs and her crush. The predictable happens and it all comes crashing down when she’s found out. Yeah – that predictableness would have done me in if the screechy, whiny voice of the teenagers didn’t do it. I get that there’s this backlash right now about making teenagers sound too grown-up, but that doesn’t mean we need to paint them so two-dimensional. This was painful to read, but could be a good way to pull in a tween/teen-aged reluctant reader, especially if their thing is more TV and fandom-centered. 1 of 5 stars.

Book127Girls on Fire, by Robin Wasserman (2016, Harper, 368 pages, ebook). Ms. Wasserman is turning into an author I will pre-order. Her previous novel The Waking Dark, is a five-star favorite of mine and should be read by every horror fan (especially of the Stephen King/Joe Hill variety). Girls pivots slightly away from the plague/horror genre and takes a giant step back towards the girls-centric young adult genre with this psychological thriller. But Girls is more than just psychological thriller; it’s as much about Lacy and Dex (formerly known as Hannah) and their blossoming obsession with each other. On the surface, it’s a story of good-girl-turned-bad-girl when she pairs up with a fellow destructive bad girl. They romp about town destroying everything in their path and wrecking havoc with whatever they will. But underneath is brilliant commentary on why we feel compelled to explore other sides of our self, why such friendships call to us, why we’re fascinated by and yet rush to judge these good girl/bad girl pairings. Girls is a very different novel that Waking Dark, and I can’t wait to see how many more sides Wasserman has to show off. 4 of 5 stars.

Book128Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt (2015, Random House, 279 pages, hardcover). I splurged and bought the hardcover during a Mother’s Day run to the bookstore. It was absolutely worth every penny. Nicole was so compellingly readable, that I found myself blowing straight past bedtime to get in a few more chapters. Amy Ellis Nutt had access to every diary, journal entry, school paper, and medical record the Maines family had, and it showed. This book was so well-researched that it transformed into a completely fleshed out story of a conservative, All-American family from West Virginia, upstate New York, and the Midwest who just happened to have a son who is transgender. Nicole was born Wyatt, one half of identical twin boys born to Maines’ niece while she (the niece) was a teenager. The Maines’, unable to have biological children, decided to adopt the boys. Very early on (from about age 2), Wyatt displayed confusion about being a boy and asked when his genitals would fall off so he could become a girl. He wanted to wear feminine clothes like dresses and skirts, would play with dolls, and wear a shirt over his head to simulate long hair. We are shown how the Maines family educated themselves about gender dysphoria and transgenderism, how they struggled to accept Wyatt for who he was, and the battles they fought for their child at school and in their community as Wyatt transitioned into Nicole. The book was impeccably researched and compassionately written. My only criticism is that I wish we got to know Nicole’s twin, Jonas, a little more. Because he accepted Wyatt as Nicole from the very first and didn’t have a transformation story from reluctance to acceptance, I feel we didn’t get to know his take on everything as much as I would have liked. 5 of 5 stars.

Book129The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi (2014, William Morrow, 452 pages, paperback). I know I’m in the minority, but I just didn’t love this book. I was hoping for the grand, sweeping narrative of Khaled Housseini, or the quiet lyricism of Jhumpa Lahiri, but I didn’t find either one. Pearl is about three young Afghani girls who treated ridiculously  by their worthless father. Rahima, our protagonist, creates a bit of hope through the tradition of bacha posh, in which she can dress and act as a boy until she is of marriageable age. This gains Rahima a bit of freedom, which turns into hope. See, it all sounds good, but the characters just never jumped off the page for me. They were only ever so many words on a page, never filled with warmth. It’s hard for me to get invested when that happens. 2 of 5 stars.

Book130The Life of Elves, by Muriel Barbery (2016, Text Publishing, 258 pages, library ebook). I had high hopes for a new novel by the author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but found this tale of elves and little girls and magic and the Saving Of The World to be a bit too hodgepodge. It felt unanchored, bereft of the magic they seemed to be shooting for. It was just not the book for me. Readers, I did not finish. 1 of 5 stars.

I’m glad I decided to finally think about planning and stuff.

May 25, 2016

Having a summer birthday is awesome. I loved it! It was warm and sunshiney and summer always makes you feel like you’re being hugged with warmth. You can have cookouts and even if you haven’t talked to your friends all summer, your entire class will still show up for a cookout.

At least, that’s how it was for me. Bee isn’t finding the summer birthday thing quite as amazing. Her friends drop off the face of the earth come summer. To be fair, some of them are legitimately out of town to visit their non-custodial parent. I can’t really get mad at that. The others? Not as in touch as we were in my small town (okay, it was a big city, but my neck of it had a small-town feel). The summers here are scorching hot, so you can’t play outside. And huge birthdays at the house? Not so much a thing now. Now, you rent a bounce house or a bowling alley or roller skating. But it doesn’t matter because no one’s around!

Bee and I have found a solution: we move up her birthday. Sure, the family still celebrates her birthday on her actual birthday with cake and presents and a birthday dinner at a restaurant of her choosing. But the party with all the school friends now takes place in May. Everyone’s still in school, Bee can pass out invites, and then many more friends show up. It’s much better this way.

And this year, I became Mom of the Year when I suggested having a party at the local community pool. We can rent a shaded pavilion for just $250 – that’s much cheaper than bounce houses or anywhere else. The area is reserved just for us and we’re allowed to bring in outside food. Plus, it includes admission for up to 50 guests! How fantastic is that?! So Bee is inviting her 10 friends, Corrie and John and the Redheads are coming, Gracie is inviting two friends to keep her happy, and a few family friends might come. It will be great!

The only problem is, I’ve had the party squared away for so long, I haven’t really been thinking about it. And you guys – the party is Saturday!! Which means I have to plan a cake (it’s gonna be decorated like a giant pool area), and then go on a massive shopping trip tomorrow night. We need plates, decorations, cake supplies, oh and maybe a gift or two for Bee? Thursday night I’ll bake the cake and cupcakes, Friday night I’ll decorate them, and Saturday morning I’ll run to Target to get the last few things we’ll need – snacks, sunscreen, bug spray. It’s going to be pretty insane. But thank god I thought of all of this now instead of on Friday night! Geez, Katie!

And because I can’t leave well enough alone, Gracie has been asking when we could dip-dye her hair (with Kool-aid). I made her research and show me the school policies to make sure she wouldn’t get in trouble. She told me other kids had done it, but I wasn’t taking that for the gospel truth. Then I made her research and present to me exactly how we’d dye her hair. It looked okay. Fairly easy and pretty cheap. And then Gracie asked if her two friends who are coming to the pool with us could come over to our house after and dye their hair, too. Because I’m kinda crazy – and because her friends are awesome and Gracie should feel like she can come up with these adventures – I said yes.

YOU GUYS. I’m going to be exhausted after three hours outside in the sun, being “on” for company and now I’m going to “dip-dye” three tween girls’ hair. And then drive them all home later. I’m either completely insane or really awesome, I can’t decide.

Guess I better add Kool-aid to the shopping list. And plenty of wine.

Top Ten Tuesday.

May 24, 2016

Because I seem to be in a big of a blogging fog – where either everything going on is fantastically mundane or completely unbloggable – I thought it was time to post a Top Ten list.

Today, it’s the top ten books I’ve read this year. In no particular order:

  1. The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson. Because Nelson can draw grief like no one else. And the families she creates remind me an awful lot of mine.
  2. My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman. Because this is magical storytelling of the highest order. Like Ya-Ya type magic. I’m sad that these characters don’t really exist type of magic.
  3. The Book of Aron, by Jim Shepard. Because Shepard absolutely nails the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto. It’s a testament to Shepard’s mastery of character development that he has two books on my list.
  4. The Royal We, by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan. Because sometimes you need a silly doorstop-sized romance that makes you cancel plans to find out what happens to the fictionalized William and Kate couple.
  5. Girl at War, by Sara Novic. Because the cover art is effing gorgeous. And because war orphans from Croatia and identity crises are my jam.
  6. H Is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald. Because no one has written about grief and obsession and lyrical madness quite like this.
  7. We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson. Because I shouldn’t have liked a book about aliens abducting a teenage boy and asking him whether to push a button and save the human race or let it die. I refused to like it. But then I loved and devoured it.
  8. Project X, by Jim Shepard. Because only Shepard could make me understand and sympathize with why two brutally bullied middle school boys would want to shoot up their school.
  9. You, by Caroline Kepnes. Because it said it was the next Gone Girl and actually pulled it off.
  10. Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt. Because everyone should understand the ins and outs of transgenderism, and because everyone should have an ally, like Jonas, and people willing to change their minds for you, like Wayne.

What are some of the best books you’ve read this year? Send them my way!

Five for Friday.

May 20, 2016

Huzzah, we made it to Friday? I’m glad to put this crazy work week behind me, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about how tantrum-y certain five-year-olds were going to be this weekend. How said is that, that I’m afraid of my weekend? Moving along…

1. Only one more “real” week of school, and then a few days the following week. You can betcha booty I’m excited about that! As much as I love the structure of the school year – especially during years when Bee-girl isn’t struggling – I’m about done in with the constant signing of notes and re-upping of lunch account balances and permission forms and concerts and last minute requests or notices of projects. A nice, steady summer schedule is what we need.

2. Someone broke into Jeff’s car in the driveway last night. And by “broke-in”, I mean opened the unlocked door. Not Jeff’s fault – he should be able to park his car in his driveway and expect people not to steal stuff – but, still. Downside: that oogy feeling when someone has been rifling through your things. Upside: uh…the burglars are idiots. They might have taken some loose change, but left the garage door opener (I was glad I thought to check for that right away) that they could have used to steal from the garage later today, or even get into the house. They also left the video players that are just strapped onto the back of the headrests. Not sure what they were looking for if even DVD players didn’t make the cut.

3. The weather here is killing me. I know I shouldn’t complain – in another month, it’s going to be one hundred and eleventy degrees. But low 60s in late May? In Texas? I get all these cute summer clothes from StitchFix and then can’t wear them because it’s decided to be wet and cold and fall-like outside. Or like March in New England. (Except without the snow because I would love some snow. Naturally.)

4. I found some cute blankets from Dresslily.com that I got and stashed away for Christmas. A multi-colored mermaid tail for Bee to curl up in – she might think she’s too old for it, but something tells me she’ll adore it. The other is a shark with big, fat, giant teeth for the Xman. They were only $15, with free shipping, and that’s a steal for something fun for under the tree.

5. Is it just me, or are there not a lot of fun summer tunes this year? My plans for this weekend include spending a chunk of time playing music and ignoring things that might bring me down and I realized there isn’t a lot I need to add to my library. Or maybe I’ve been so much time doing things lately that I’ve missed all the fun new stuff? What gives?!

Okay, guys. Go forth and weekend! Have a good one!

Mini book reviews: the one with all the paranoia.

May 19, 2016

Morning, all! It’s a stormy, rainy Thursday here, which means it’s the perfect weather to curl up with a book. If you can’t do that, the next best thing is to talk about books, so let’s see what books I’ve finished reading this week…

Book123A Fierce and Subtle Poison, by Samantha Mabry (Algonquin, 2016, 288 pgs, ebook). I found a deal and splurged on the ebook last week for Bout of Books because I still needed a horror story by a person of color for my Read Harder challenge. It might also be technically considered Young Adult, but I found it crossed over very nicely, mostly because of the way it played with local myths and legends in PR, turning the tale into an environmental scifi ghost story. One that’s quite readable, too. The ending wasn’t quite as satisfying as the set-up – the book definitely started out at 4 stars. Still worth curling up with it for an afternoon. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book122Putting Make-up on the Fat Boy, by Bil Wright (Simon & Schuster, 2011, 219 pgs, ebook). I started reading this hilarious YA selection at the tail end of Bout of Books and thought it was extremely promising. Unfortunately, as soon as I wished out loud that it didn’t devolve into a puddle of classist and racist stereotypes, that’s exactly what happened. There was enough of the story strength left to get me through, but I wish we could have had a story about a high school gay man of color who plays with gender roles while storming a job at Macy’s make-up counter without reinforcing all the negative crap that’s already out there. I’ve read those stories and those characters. I was hoping Carlos Duarte would be as refreshingly different as first promised. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book121Project X, by Jim Shepard (Knopf, 2004, 176 pgs, paperback). I sought out a copy of this and found a good deal on a used book in great shape (my favorite kind of book rescue), and also talked about it at length during Bout of Books. But there’s still the ending to discuss. What happens to Edwin and Flask’s plot to shoot up their school? Can they avoid bullies and trouble enough days in a row to pull it off? Will they go through with it? As I mentioned last week, Shepard accomplished the impossible and made me actually empathize with these poor beat-upon kids who chose the path of monsters. Who does that?! The ending fit perfectly, though it caught me a bit by surprise. I kept waiting for Shepard to stumble somewhere. He doesn’t. The psychological assessment of these kids and their supporting characters was as pitch perfect through the ending as it was during the setting of the story. Remarkably so. One last word of caution: even knowing the content of the story didn’t keep me from becoming mired in a funk while I was reading. 5 of 5 stars.

Book120Don’t Look Behind You!, by Peter Allison (Nicholas Braeley, 2009, 240 pgs, ebook). Okay, yes – not my typical read. But I needed a light-hearted palate-cleanser after so many heavy books. This collection of stories from the bush by safari guide Peter Allison was just the thing. It wasn’t as quality as his other collection, Whatever You Do, Don’t Run! – in fact, I’d bet most of these tales were culled from the first collection’s drafts – but it still kept me entertained. There are more stories about camp life (mechanical issues, political issues, staffing issues), but still enough stories about being stalked by lions and chased by elephants to keep you flipping pages. 3 of 5 stars.

Book119You, by Caroline Kepnes (Atria Books, 2014, 422 pgs, paperback). A bunch of my readerly friends from home tore through this a few months ago, and I remembered them raving about it. I read the first few pages and marked it down as To Buy Later. Right before our last 24-hour Readathon, I bought it in case I ran out of material. As in, I paid full price for the trade paperback. I (almost) never do that. You guys – you need to do whatever it takes to get your hands on a copy. Everyone calls this book and that book and 80 other books “the next Gone Girl“. I’ve grown tired of hearing it. But this book, this book actually has come closest to achieving the honor. It’s a mindtrip! I couldn’t devour the book quickly enough! The story kept getting turned on its head and it’s just…twisted! Twisted in a good, smart, deliciously written kind of way. There is one small plot twist near the end that felt a bit off, and the ending itself was so far off the mark from what I thought would happen, but it still fit the story. I finished the book completely emptied and satisfied. Even if I had shelled out full price for a hardcover, I still would have felt satisfied. It’s easily one of the three best books I’ve read this year. The only thing working against it is that now I’m paranoid that everyone is stalking me, knows my private emails, is plotting to kill me, and, you know, everyday things that won’t drive me bat-house bananas before long. 5 of 5 stars.

So there you have it! I’m looking forward to plenty of new books to tell you about next week, too. I’m half way through the excellently written and researched Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt, and I have new releases from Robin Wasserman and Joe Hill to dive into. Should be a good reading week!

The StitchFix with all the green shirts.

May 18, 2016

You know what’s even better than a StitchFix delivery day? A StitchFix delivery day that you had forgotten about for most of the day until you got home and found the package waiting for you!

If you’ll remember, my last two StitchFix boxes were kinda hit or miss. There was the one with all the shoes, where I kept the fabulous black fancy pants and the gold heels (and almost kept the top and the blue sandals but they were made of real gold and unicorn feathers or something because PRICE TAG). The one before that I practically already owned (and was lazy because of the same dress, whatevs). So I had sort of decided in my mind that if this one was another bust, I was out. It stops being fun when you are legit depressed because no one listens to you, or because the company simply doesn’t mesh with your tastes as well as you thought. This time I left clear directions (shirts in kelly green! shorts in fun summer colors that will fit my curvy bottom! something from my Pinterest boards!) and crossed my fingers.

As soon as I picked up my Fix box from the porch, I knew I had a pair of shoes. Shoes are the new dresses: guaranteed to be one in every box! They were a pair I had pinned, and didn’t cost a month’s rent:

I love the black and white polkas! They’ll go with so many things I own! I’ll wear them so often! And…so cheap! The problem is that I have really wide feet and these “bridge” shoes (or whatever they’re called) that aren’t supposed to show except the toes and the back of the heels make my feet feel naked. They feel awkward. But I can’t quite decide if it’s awkward because I’m not used to wearing this style, or like they don’t fit because fat feet. Jeff wouldn’t give me a straight answer about whether they looked weird, and Bee couldn’t decide. I love the way they look off my feet; I just can’t decide if I like the way they look on my feet.

Then I almost lost my shit – I saw jeans. Blue jeans, not colorful jeans like I had asked. Remember all the fuss about not sending me any more jeans? Then I realized these were jean shorts, so I bit back all the cursewords because technically I haven’t told my stylist I don’t want jean shorts. I thought I was clear when I said colorful shorts, but maybe she didn’t have any that fit curvy bottomed girls. (Pffft.) They do fit nicely, but I have a couple pairs of jean shorts that fit. I decided I’d keep them if it made sense money-wise (sometimes it costs more to send an item back. Math is weird.).

For my picture, I paired the shorts with one of two kelly green shirts. My stylist took the time to explain she didn’t have much in that color right now (then why tell me it’s one of the It colors this season?!), which at least made me feel heard and like she had tried.

Stitch1g

I’m not a big fan of the billowy waist – I think I look better when the shirt hugs my curves rather than making me feel like Mother Cluck from Disney’s Robin Hood. But I like the detail on the shirt and that it’s work appropriate. It’s basic enough that it will go with a bunch of different things, but not so basic that it’s not worth the money. Also: I look great in this color.

The other shirt was…well, confusing. It had three arm straps. I wasn’t crazy about the pattern. And after fifteen minutes of fighting with it, I eventually had to look at the pictures of it on the stylist cards to see how the hell to put it on.

Stitch1f

See what I mean about the pattern? I look much better with solid kelly green. But this is at least patterned – something I don’t naturally gravitate towards. The neckline is a bit weird, but I like that the shirt is a little more form-fitting than the other green shirt. It would come down to what else I decided to wear and how it fit in the math. I would wear it to work with lots of outfits, but I didn’t need it.

My last item was one I had been looking for forever: a black blazer that was stretchy because it was made of a cotton pajama-type blend with romantic ruffles and lace at the back to fancify it. I am going to wear this with everything!

Even the green patterned shirt looked better with my magic jacket over it! This jacket is definitely a keeper.

So now I’m not sure what to do! I was tempted to keep it all – after a few pricey boxes that got sent back (in part for those reasons), my stylist kept this one cheap enough that I could buy the entire Fix. I could keep the jacket and the shoes. If I keep even one of the shirts, it’s cheaper to keep all five items.

So tell me – do any of these items NOT work??

A few words from the step-parenting front.

May 17, 2016

I couldn’t write yesterday. I was so defeated by my weekend, and so depressed about the reason why; nothing else presented itself as even an option. I could only write about that one thing, but that one thing seemed…well, sort of unsuitable.

The tricky topic? Parenting my boyfriend’s son, who lives with us every weekend.

If it’s anything less than a wonderful time, a fun family adventure, or a brand new braggable accomplishment, I feel like I can’t approach the story no matter which lens I use. If I’m honest, feelings will be hurt. The things I say will embarrass Jeff, hurt and anger the Xman’s mom, and that’s before we get to the part where we wonder what will happen when the Xman is old enough to read it himself.

And so I clam up. I hold the words inside of me, rather than pick through the landmines. The problem with choosing to say nothing, though, is that it sort of feels like a lie of omission. If I just pick up with a happy topic today, or even a neutral photo-heavy post, aren’t I offering a fictional front? Presenting a version of what’s going on that isn’t even anything close to reality? I know that not everything is my story to tell, but the truth is: I am really struggling here. I am not okay right now, to the extent that I feel like ignoring the topic completely is dishonest to myself and to others who might be struggling privately, too. I can’t write about what happened, but I can’t not say anything. And so I’m stuck, glommed down in the mud of ethical parenting and writing in a public space vs. being honestly, un- occasionally apologetically me.

I’ll say this: Parenting is hard. Co-parenting is incredibly hard, especially when some of the children involved are not your own. It’s tough when you agree on parenting styles and specific techniques, and it’s unfathomably difficult when you don’t. I have yet to meet a couple – even the ones who did it right and have stayed together – who didn’t say step-parenting was the hardest thing they’ve ever done. It was a win for us that the frustration and anger this weekend was directed at the stubborn little boy who was causing all the disruption. Yes, it was because he was a 5-year-old acting like a 2-year-old, as they are wont to do sometimes, but that still doesn’t make the behavior okay. Just to be expected, and corrected.

Be a team. Make decisions together. Be consistent. Remind each other of the rules of the house and the reasons you’re parenting the way you are. Communicate. And not just decisions – it’s okay to verbalize your frustration with the situation, too. Parenting is hard and step-parenting is ridiculous; you have to have a way to vent some steam or you’ll pop your top. Have a bestie to confide the things you won’t say to your partner (and there will be some, believe me).

The Xman won’t be three five years old forever. These weekends when he spends very nearly the entire weekend in timeout (I wish I were exaggerating) won’t always be the norm. We won’t always have to cancel plans and embarrass ourselves in front of our friends, or ignore our other children because one is going for gold in extreme tantruming. If we put in the work now, the Xman will learn the rules and turn into a terrific kid, and we won’t any of us dread the weekends the way we do right now. If there’s an “us” left at the end of the war.

Bout of Books: Day 4 recap.

May 13, 2016

It’s FRIDAY!!!! Thank god. And I don’t want to hear any bologna about it being Friday the 13th and bad luck and blah blah blah. You make your own luck in this world, and I choose to believe mine is good. Also: books! Books are awesome!

I usually do Five for Fridays to close out the week, but #boutofbooks is still going on, so let’s do that instead.

BoutOfBooks

One thing that’s happened this week is that I’ve busted out of my reading slump. This slump, it isn’t so much that I haven’t been reading  – I read five books last week, which is pretty much my standard pace. What’s been so slumpy for me is that I haven’t read very many books that make me want shout about them from the rooftops and then buy copies for friends, family, and perfect strangers. Usually I average one or two favorite books a month. Recently I had Snowblind back during Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon, and before that, I had to go all the way to the beginning of March when I read We Are the Ants and H Is for Hawk. I’ve been hitting a lot of “okay” books, average books, ones that make me turn the last page and sort of shrug my shoulders. This week, there have been great stories again, and I’m so thankful, I could weep!

One of those great stories needs a little explaining. I almost finished Project X last night. I could have gulped down the last bit of it, but it’s a book with (yet another) Columbine-style school tragedy and I really didn’t want that to be the last thing I thought about before going to sleep. The book has really been one I’ve thought a lot about as I read along. I’ve moved away from these type of tragic stories – I don’t want to glorify them or be a tragedy tourist. But what I really appreciate about Project X is the uncanny ability Shepard has to remind us of how awful it is to be bullied, to be a teenager at the bottom of the social ladder, to feel hopeless. I’ve gone back and forth between empathizing with the victims/perpetrators to wanting to shake them until their eyeballs fell out. Could even thinking of such a crime ever be understandable? This book comes closer than any other I’ve read to making me understand. It’s been an philosophical exercise that I’ve…enjoyed? God, that seems like it should be the wrong word. I’ll finish the book tonight, and barring anything that completely derails my experience, it’s earned all five stars.

I also started reading Bil Wright’s Putting Make-up on the Fat Boy, about a (yep) fat, poor Hispanic boy who has a phenomenal talent for applying make-up. He dreams of attending to celebrities, but will settle for working the make-up counter at Macy’s til he finishes high school. I’ve barely started it, but Wright’s voice is hilarious and engaging enough that I can overlook the occasional stereotype. I hope the book continues strong and madcap adventures ensue. I’m definitely keeping an eye on this one for my Beyond Harry Potter: A Reading List for T(w)eenaged Boys thing that I’ve been updating.

I haven’t had any time for Kepnes’s You, but I hope to later today. I reached that critical point when all I want to do is immerse myself in the story. And for all the books out there proclaiming themselves the next Gone Girl, this one might really be it.

What about you guys – any good books in your sights?

Bout of Books: Day 3 recap.

May 12, 2016

BoutOfBooks

Good morning, all! I fake singsonged that because I? Did. not. sleep. I did, however, fare better with the reading of the books yesterday.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The girls were at their dad’s house, so I didn’t get to read our Traveling Pants book out loud. That was missed much more than I would have thought, given that we’ve been so spotty with reading after dinner.

You. I got through another chunk of Kepnes’s You, and I don’t want to spoil too much, so how can I describe where I’m at? It’s still relatively early. Ah! I know. I can talk about the two punches of pop culture. The first came as a chapter cold-opened with something along the lines of I hope the world understands by now that the world’s best poet is actually Prince, or something to that effect. The exactly words aren’t important (HA! did everyone laugh at my little joke? Of course words are important! I just don’t have them in front of me.); what is important is that the sting of Prince’s death is still every where for me. Even, it appears, in my creepy!scary thriller, where it sucker punched me in the doctor’s waiting room.

The second pop culture shout out, and perhaps a more accurate bookmark, is Stephen King day. Our protagonist goes on and on, lambasting the reading masses who only buy ebooks…unless it’s a book by their precious Mr. King. It’s really a clever riff, watching Kepnes parade loathing and disgust for the sheeple via a diatribe against Stephen King’s writing, while at the same time lauding Uncle Stevie’s with and against attitudes for his fan base. It’s nuanced and complicated and lovely. And in any case: I’m at the part of the story just after Stephen King day.

I also finished off A Fierce and Subtle Poison. I very much enjoyed the modern fairy tale, and can’t quite decide whether I should call it YA or not. You experience the book through the adventures of a 17-year-old privileged white boy, as he attempts to best his father, a detective, and the cursed girl’s father. So…yes? But the bigger picture of the book, the fairy tale feel, and the weight of the thing kinda tip me towards…not necessarily. Whichever category the story “properly” belong to, it’s a crossover book, so what does it really matter. I wish more time had been spent on character development, particularly with the missing girls, and the Greek chorus of the senoras of the village. I found them fascinating. Still – a solid 4 of 5 stars from me.

Project X. I was able to sneak in some reading before bed last night, just long enough for Flake and Hanratty to get into a fight with the entire soccer team. I felt bad for them – I mean, they were brutally beaten! – but I have to admit, in a tiny, tiny voice, I thought to myself, But they went out of their way to antagonize the soccer team. They practically dared them to start whaling on them! So…why? Was it a measure of maintaining control over their situations rather than admit they have absolutely no control over anything? Nothing excuses the violence…but how much ownership of it must the two antagonists claim?

Not easy questions. I did pick excellent books for my #bout this week! Now I just have to go out there and find another one to take Fierce and Subtle‘s place.

Bout of Books: Day 2 recap.

May 11, 2016

BoutOfBooks

Yesterday’s reading wasn’t all I had hoped, you guys. Because, well, see there was this rotating wall cloud over my house last night, and then when THAT drama was just about over, the electricity went out. And stayed out until 1:15 a.m. I can only do so much reading my flashlight until I give up and go to sleep. So!

Books read yesterday:

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares. I read a few chapters to the girls last night by flashlight light. Reading when the lights go out is the best! We got maybe 50 pages done, which is awesome! We’re still at the beginning-ish, but the girls are getting sucked into the story. I love when you can see them tip over from doubting whether the story is worth their time into the place where the story owns them and they have to know what happens.

Project X, by Jim Shepard. I only read a few pages (also by flashlight) before sleep grabbed me. I haven’t gotten sucked in yet, mostly because I don’t care that the boys are being bullied [I am a horrible person, I know], but I’m still very optimistic that I’m going to enjoy the book. [Is enjoy the right word, when what we’re talking about is tragic? Eh…]

You, by Caroline Kepnes. As I said yesterday (I think?), I grabbed this because my readerly friends from back home all highly recommended it to me. It’s twisted, but catchy, they said. Hoo boy, are they right! Our protagonist is stalking this flaky chick who bought something in his bookstore, and is convinced she’s in love with him. I’ve learned enough about Crazy Stalker that I am basically never making eye contact with anyone ever again, but I can’t say I like Flaky Chick enough to care what befalls her or the demented douche of a guy she’s hopelessly chasing. The action has picked up and I’m sort of annoyed that I only got to read 50-60 pages while waiting at my daughter’s orthodontia appointment.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison, by Samantha Mabry. I got through a goodish chunk yesterday and I’m irrevocably addicted! It was on my TBR to begin with, but it moved way up when I saw it would satisfy my “Read a Horror Book” requirement for the Read Harder challenge. [All of my authors for the challenge must be people of color.] A high school boy summers in San Juan with his hotel tycoon father, and has become obsessed with the cursed house at the end of his street – and especially with the cursed girl whom the locals whisper about, the girl with green skin and grass for hair. The girl who is now sending Lucas mysterious notes. Oh! Also! Missing girls keep popping up dead and the local detective isn’t so keen on Lucas. So there’s that going on.

Okay, so it might not have felt like I got a lot of reading done this week, but turns out I did better than I thought!


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