Archive for the ‘Bookishness’ Category

Book reviews: Dithering romances, quickly approaching apocalyptic events, and different approaches to abandonment issues.

March 9, 2017

Morning, all! It was a decent haul of Books Finished this week, so let’s see what’s in our queue to discuss. (Yes, I’m rushing because: The 2017 Tournament of Books has begun!)

DearMrKnightlyDear Mr. Knightly, by Katherine Reay (2014, Center Point, 399 pages, ebook). This was a Deal of the Day purchase, which makes me feel slightly better when I think I only spent two dollars on it. Because my review basically goes: Nope. Our narrator has a rather unfortunate lot in life and to hide from it all, she fashions herself after the heroines of Jane Austen’s (and everyone else’s) novels. And in a rather remarkable coincidence, a benefactor offers to pay for our little narrator to attend a prestigious journalism graduate school in exchange for Sam writing to him of her experiences. And that could all be written off as wish fulfillment (it’s fiction; hello), if any of it were at all believable. But narrator Sam spouts off nothing but book quotes at the most inconvenient times, is supposed to be drowning in street cred (having grown up in the foster system), but has a meltdown over having to live in a crappy apartment when she matriculates out, runs into caricature after caricature (a black street kid who speaks only in ebonics, whom she befriends after challenging him to a race)… You guys, it was DNF kind of bad. Not a dang thing worked. Not even the cover art. 1 of 5 stars.

LearningToSwearInAmericaLearning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy (2016, Bloomsbury, 346 pages, ebook). This was a Deal of the Day that worked a lot better than Dear Mr. Knightly, thankfully. It was already on my official TBR when I saw the deal come up, and at a convenient window in my reading schedule. An asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and is threatening to destroy half the planet (“only” half) in 17 days. Russian prodigy Yuri Strelnikov, 17-years-old, is “loaned” to the U.S. to help destroy the asteroid. What we get is a wonderfully quirky and gifted novel about finding our people and place to fit in, only here it’s with a backdrop of doom and global destruction. The characters were unique and allowed to be multi-faceted. Not one felt boxed-in or tied to a certain, predictable trajectory. The book was never, ever about the science – or even the apocalypse. Except as handy plot machine. Definitely worth full paperback price and entertaining enough to keep you busy during an airplane ride. I’d say between 3 1/2-to-4 of 5 stars.

DaredevilsDaredevils, by Shawn Vestal (2016, Penguin Press, 320 pages, ebook). I was caught after reading the first chapter and plunked down full price for this story about a 15-year-old Mormon who is caught sneaking out to be with her “gentile” boyfriend…and so is sold into a polygamous marriage. The rest of the synopsis promises the book is about Loretta’s break for freedom, and so I spent a good deal of the time I was reading waiting for Loretta’s escape. Most of the story, however, focused on getting her ready for her break. She worked through her parents abandonment of her, of her boyfriend’s abandonment (for lo and behold, guess who shows up in disguise?) of the plan to help her run away, even her abandonment of herself because what if she’s too tied to her “family” and life to dare to take that first step? Once Loretta and her family reunite with the other half the book’s focus – teenage Jason, Loretta’s husband’s nephew, who has no idea at first that his uncle is living such an alternative lifestyle – things start to pick up. It was a fascinating read for me, well balanced in looking at the “what ifs” from all angles. Because it was all the “but…”s that I loved the most – those moments when Vestal let the characters take pause and get caught up in doubt and examination of the shades of gray. Because every life has those. Even every horrible situation has something about it (usually) that will make you stop and give pause, even if just for a moment. Jason’s ties to his land, his memories of his grandfather. Loretta’s ties to the innocent children who will be abandoned of all hope if she leaves. And then there’s the whole trip of the Eval Knieval character. When are you abandoning an ideal, and when are you cutting your losses and walking towards something new and better? Such a well-shaded examination. 4 of 5 stars.

EileenEileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015, Penguin Press, 272 pages, ebook). Oh, the Deals of the Day are my bread and butter these days! This was another one that lived on my TBR until I patiently (er, um, coincidentally) picked it up as the deal skittered across my desk. It’s interesting because it also plays with themes of abandonment and desires that live in dark, secret places. But whereas Daredevils seemed to live them out in the light (hiding them in the open of the desert air), Eileen was definitely about dark, winter, claustrophobic places, like small-town Boston prisons for boys in the 1960s. Eileen promised a crime by the long-suffering daughter of an abusive, delusional alcoholic. And I spent most of the novel waiting for that to play out, too. Here, though, the plot kept moving, and you didn’t realize that most of the book had gone by and you were still waiting for what you thought was the flashpoint. With Daredevils, it was light that hazy, heavy moment before the giant crack of thunder, when everyone was looking at each other, daring each other to make the first move. It’s reactionary. Eileen is more of an intense character study, as we watch one woman unravel, constantly reevaluating why as we get fed morsels of information. It’s wickedly delightful, I’m almost embarrassed to say. 4 1/2 of 5 stars.

So there you go! A good harvest of books for you guys to choose from. Just stay away from Knightly and no one will get hurt.

Book Reviews: Re-reads, Romances, Biblical throwbacks, and YA nerdpurr romances.

March 2, 2017

It’s been a while since we’ve done this! I’ve been busy hosting the plague and SuperTummyBug 2017 and also a wicked reading slump that certainly doesn’t help. I feel like my books are split 1/3 towards re-reads (which I usually don’t review again), 1/3 towards books so bad I can’t finish, and 1/3 towards books that are actually worth mentioning. Add to the smaller numbers of a slump and…well, you see why I haven’t been popping around for my usual Thursday soiree. But let’s pick it up again, shall we?

Far to Go, by Gina Ferris (1993, Silhouette Special Edition, 193 pages, paperback). I had to hunt down this used edition through Amazon Market (love the way they connect independent sellers) because I remembered reading the Family Found series one summer while I was in…what? Junior high? Early high school? Which maybe explains why I remember liking this book so much more the first time around. Yes, the premise is cute – seven siblings orphaned when they were young and now reunited a book at a time as their love story is told – but the writing is simplistic. I vacillate back and forth between thinking it’s simplistic in an annoying hey, try harder way and an encouraging hey, I could write books! sort of way. All in all, the book did its job in that it distracted me from the Trump Administration for another day or two. But it did kill my desire to read the last book in the series, even if it’s sitting on my shelf waiting patiently for its turn. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

The Lost Time Accidents, by John Wray (2016, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 512 pages, eloan). I found this one on the long list to this year’s Tournament of Books and since I was out of free reading material I could read on my phone in line and at red lights…well, I gave it a whirl. Even though it mentions both saloons and time travel in the summary, two things I loathe in a story. No Westerns. Super picky about my sci-fi. Everyone knows that. I thought maybe this room in Manhattan where the narrator was stuck, unmoored from time, the one that was jampacked with all sorts of trinkets and gizmos, inventions and gadgets, curiosities and all manner of things from all manner of ages – I thought that surely would be enough to win me over because that sounds like my idea of heaven right there, getting to explore an apartment like that! Unfortunately, as interesting as the device was, the narrator was of the Stuffy Old White Man variety and I just couldn’t. Also because my brain kept thinking how plausible the unmoored-from-time ploy really was, and, well, I came pretty close to calling for a straightjacket. So the plot wasn’t for me. The characters weren’t for me (the ones who weren’t the sounded so preposterous that I kept being reminded that I was reading). And the writing… I could see that the writing could appeal to some people. It wasn’t bad writing. It just wasn’t custom-ordered for me. And, well, that’s a problem because I was the one reading it. Yep, not for me. But, hey – I got more than just the “Nope” review I originally wrote. 1 of 5 stars.

Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine., by Diane Williams (2016, McSweeney’s, 131 pages, eloan). Another find from the Tournament of Books longlist, and one I almost skipped because I don’t do short stories. Short stories make me get invested. I get a bite of cheesecake, melt at how good it tastes, or intrigued at a new flavor, and go to investigate more with a second bite, only to discover…there’s no more dang cheesecake. I’d rather forgo altogether than resent everything that’s now left unresolved. And I don’t know what made me change my stance and give Fine a chance – I hadn’t heard a single word about either the collection or its author. But I did and…wow. Someone described the stories as “hammering like a nail gun” (I may be paraphrasing a bit) and I wondered how, but it’s because they’re so short that they wallop you and you’re catching your breath at what just happened before the numb wears off and you’re all OH MY GOD. They’re disturbing and poignant and funny and dry and all more than a little bit off. But that’s okay, because I’m pretty off-center myself. Maybe that’s why with more than 400 ratings on Goodreads the collection still rates at less than 2.75 stars whereas I’ve adopted it as a cult-favorite? I recognize that it’s not going to be for everyone, but with stories as short as just a few pages each, why not dash through a few and see if you find them as dazzling as I did? 5 of 5 stars.

Here I Am, by Jonathan Safran Foer (2016, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 571 pages, library loan). This was one of the books on my personal Most Anticipated of 2016 list. Foer isn’t quite as prolific as fans would like, and while Everything Is Illuminated was…a bit different for me…Foer’s other book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – the one I read firstabout a very young boy reconciling his grief over the loss of his father in the 9/11 attacks is one of my favorite books about 9/11 that I’ve read. It’s one of my favorite books about the loss of a parent told from the perspective of a young child. It’s incredibly vulnerable and walks the fine line of letting a kid be a kid as he processes all of these incredibly big life moments (moments we all were processing as adults), without losing the connection with the adult audience. Naturally I wanted more of that! But this…oof. This was a Nope review if ever there was one. It’s a biblical parable about how we juggle multi-tasking our incredibly numerous and demanding rolls without losing sight of who we are. Except. You know. In a What would Abraham do? sort of way. BECAUSE SO APPLICABLE TO MY LIFE. Yeah, no. Or, rather, Nope. 1 of 5 stars.

The Last of August, by Brittany Cavallaro (2017, Katherine Tegan Books, 336 pages, ebook). I actually bought the first book in the series, A Study in Charlotte, because it was the deal of the day and because I loved the stuffing out of it when I read it last year. The re-read held up incredibly well, thanks to the incredibly characters drawn by Cavallaro. The believable and refreshing new spin on the Sherlock Holmes saga – which, really, I didn’t think was even possible – was still fun, even when I knew whodunnit. I liked the romance. The chemistry. The timewarp back to early college days. But that was my happy re-reading of Study. That was all in prep for this month’s release of the second book in the series, Last of August. I was nearly cartwheeling with joy that the next book was out so quickly; I am not used to authors of my favorite series being so obliging. And while I loved that August still celebrated the geektastic smarts of overachievers everywhere, it felt like something was missing. Maybe because the second book felt like it had to create some tension between Holmes and Watson after the first book ended so happily? The old bring-them-together then smash-them-apart trick? Perhaps. I definitely wasn’t digging the tension. The easy cameradie and witty foil of the two playing off each other was what made the first book click. I don’t think it was burnout of reading the books practically back-to-back. It was just…eh. Something. Something elusive. Something I hope I figure out – and Cavallaro figures out – before the third book. Because this was a promising series I was excited to make my nerdtastic daughter read. It’s still good, it’s just not great. And with all of the available Holmes spinoffs, you have to be great to be worthy of being singled out. 3 of 5 stars.

Book Reviews: The ones with all the comfort and cheese.

February 2, 2017

It hasn’t been the red-letteringest day in reading for me. I’ve only puttered through a few books, and those I did get through haven’t been what I’d consider top shelf reads. Still, some weeks are like that, I suppose. Especially when current events are what they are and you feel like you need a lot of comfort food just to make it through. I’ve been going through this phase where I can’t read enough romance novels. Bodice-ripping, dumb-as-dirt romances. Talk about hiding in the middle of a world where you can forget all your worries!

One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich (1994, 320 pages, ebook). Don’t you hate when books were published so long ago that you have a hard time turning up any decent publishing information? I mean, am I missing the obvious? Was I absent the day they taught that real-world know-how in school? In any case, yes, I’ve finally joined the Evanovich picnic. I made a trade with a new friend, in which I promised to read this in exchange for her reading the Flavia de Luce mystery. I have to say, my lollipop seems a bit fuzzy – the writing wasn’t that crisp, the plot a bit stale, and the characters a bit muddled. Much more of a book I would have preferred to borrow, rather than buy, except for promises made. I suppose when you’re raised on Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, every other mystery seems a bit lacking, but this one went out of its way to be average. It’s like the Bridget Jones of the mystery world. Plain, ordinary, and appeals to everyone else a lot more than it does me. Lord, how I’ve spoiled myself. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

Hardworking Man, by Gina Ferris (1993, Silhouette, 283 pages, paperback). Here’s where I’m going to contradict myself, because even though the writing left a lot to be desired in this book, I still enjoyed it far more than I maybe should have. It’s the second in the “Family Found” series – seven brothers and sisters who were separated as children, and reconnected one book at a time. This isn’t the strongest of the series, and the heroine – detective Cassie Browning – was far too quick to cry and weep when being touted as strong and tough. But even a neat-and-tidy romance with character flaws is better than real-world politics right now, so it was a winner for me. 3 of 5 stars.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008, Dial Press, 274 pages, ebook). I accidentally read this. Yes, okay, how does that happen, you ask? Because it was the Deal of the Day and so I bought it in case I needed it as an option, and then I read just the “first few” letters, and, well…I couldn’t stop. So I did a quick re-read and I loved it just as much as I ever have. Sad things that happen still almost move me to tears, and I still remember when one particularly frustrating plot point made me beat my book against the steering wheel of the car the first time I read the book over several lunch breaks. Juliet Ashton – writer and war correspondent who enjoys a bit of fame from covering World War II adventures in London – happens into post-war correspondence of a different nature with Guernsey neighbors who happen to make up the titular society. Her unfolding friendships with the Potato Peel Pie Society still delight me, and none more than Kit. How is it that we’re made to care so much for a child who never gets to utter a single sentence? I try to puzzle it out every single time. Maybe that’s why I end up “accidentally” re-reading it so many times. I think I’m pushing 20 by now… 5 of 5 stars.

Moonglow, by Michael Chabon (2016, Harper, 430 pages, eloan). I read this for the Tournament of Books, against my will. I’m not a Chabon fan. His style doesn’t offend, I don’t get worked up and advocate against any of his books; I just don’t care for them. And there are so many stories to read, I just can’t see taking up any time with ones we know aren’t going to move us. Obviously, an exception was made so I could follow along with the TOB debate with a fully informed opinion. And I have to say – of all the Chabons I’ve read, this one might be my favorite. It helps that the premise itself is charming: Chabon traveled to visit his dying grandfather and heard so many stories never before been told. His life boiled down to these tales, a life collapsed into one week, that’s what we got here, albeit wildly fictionalized. And it worked. Not enough to make me a convert, but enough for me to be pleasantly surprised. This year’s TOB pile is overrun by horrible sports novels and monkey tales, so were Moonglow to win, I can’t say I’d be disappointed. I’ll take wartime shenanigans almost every time. Especially the ones suddenly confessed on one’s deathbed. 3 of 5 stars.

That’s it for me! I’m finishing up The Nix (so I can get it to Care as part of our book swap), and then I get to start Version Control (her part of said swap). Hopefully this book rut will be long gone in the rearview mirror come this time next week.

Five for Friday.

January 27, 2017

Are we sure it’s Friday? Because it feels like Tuesday. I keep expecting everyone to come in the door and laugh at me. So let’s get through our list real quick before it gets canceled!

1 I pretty much killed it with #Diverseathon this week! I read all three March graphic novels (and you should, too!), which are now being donated to Bee’s classroom (she said she felt like Willy Wonka, but with books, since she gets to end her book report with that news); I read Fish in Exile, which really wasn’t my thing, but the point is to read diversely, not things you’d usually read; and Rani Patel in Full Effect, which was painfully thin in some places (you could tell it was written by a psychologist whose day job is therapy, not writing fiction), but absolutely slayed at giving kids on the edges a place to see themselves represented. I counted more than a dozen groups that could claim representation in that book, from native Hawaaians, to Indian immmigants, to females with body dysmorphia, girls into hardcore rap, victims of sexual abuse, victims of physical abuse by family members (so, um, also: trigger warning). It was a powerful week, and I’m glad I saw Andi‘s post about it!

tearswecantstop

2 To cap off #Diverseathon, look at what I got in the mail yesterday! My sister bought two copies, one for me, and one for Andi the next time I see her. (My sister was hella impressed with how fired up Andi is and everything she’s doing for the Resistance.) The book was published by a friend of my sister’s friend, so she gifted them to us. Tears We Cannot Stop is the truth of black America, one every single person in this country should read. So that people feel heard, and so that we the privileged can listen better. The book is blurbed by Toni Morrison and Stephen King, and has been retweeted or amplified in some way by Beyonce, Isabel Wilkerson, and JJ Abrams. So don’t say it doesn’t apply to you or you can’t find a way in. It’s important. Find time and read with an open mind. Be honest about how you can stand up and make things better.

3 I’m back on the Great Chair Hunt. We thought we had a winner a few years ago – the chair from Target with the big cushiony bottom and back. But the legs wobble. No matter how tight you turn the screws, they come loose a few minutes later. The sound of the wobbling drives. me. bonkers. So that chair, which had been in Gracie’s room, has moved to the front room. (Hey! Seating!) Now I’m on the hunt again. Something cheap, something small (I have a lot of things stuffed into my bedroom and I need to be able to move around it when I get out of bed), and something comfy. The wooden kitchen chair isn’t gonna cut it much longer.

4 I think a Parks & Rec marathon is in my weekend outlook! Since rediscovering my crafty self, I’ve been neglecting the baby blanket I’m working on. And I’m pretty sure that baby is coming whether his blanket is finished or not. So I need to park my booty on the couch for a solid length of time and make pretty things happen!

5 I went to bed last night at 7p and slept all. night. long. It was glorious! Sleep, glorious sleep! I took a quick catnap at 5p, ran a bath to warm myself up, almost fell asleep while reading in the tub, and still was nodding off on the couch later when I moved myself to the living room. I’m not sure what was going on, but I was absolutely knackered. Thankfully, the girls’ Stepmom and Dad came to the rescue and offered to keep them for the night. They were running late because of Camp Gladiator, and the idea of staying up until after 8p seemed impossible. I hate being so wishy-washy with the girls’ schedules, but I’m trying to be better about knowing that a day or two off schedule is okay. We’re just rollin’ with everything now. Or trying to, at least!

So that’s it. Yes, kind of a slow week for me. But we need one of those every once in awhile, don’t we?

Mini-Reviews: The ones with all the diverse authors/characters/themes…

January 26, 2017

This week I’m participating in #Diverseathon, where I try to focus my reading on as many diverse authors, characters, and themes as I can because We NEED To Read Diverse Books. Why? Because our country is threatening to tumble backwards about 300 years if we don’t. Because it’s important to be that my children are exposed to as many different experiences and beliefs as possible. Because I want to live a multi-faceted life, as well. And because too much of any one thing just sounds boring.

This week, my reading life has been anything but boring!

hiddenfiguresHidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly (2016, William Morrow, 346 pages, e-loan). This satisfies my “Read a book about technology” challenge for READ HARDER, and paired well with Rocket Girls. I’ve always been a sucker for space exploration, ever since I was little and got for Christmas a book about mythology and constellations. I loved that even the stars had stories behind them. Then I won the citywide science fair in 6th grade with a report on the constellations. Exploring the constellations outside of paper has never been high on my list, but making sure those who did help us get that done got the proper credit, smashing glass ceilings and fences designed to keep us “in our places”, that is high on my list. So as much as I loved Rocket Girls, reading about these incredible women responsible for the science of the new frontier written by an author of color was important to me. #OwnVoices are so important. I am dying to see the movie, to see how well it was adapted, because the book scratched so many of my itches. 5 of 5 stars.

speakgigantularSpeak Gigantular, by Irenosen Okojie (2016, Jacaranda, 206 pages, digital). I picked this blistering set of erotic short stories for my micropress READ HARDER challenge (though it could also pass for the debut challenge), even though I’m not a short-story person. Erotic stories, though, very much my thing, especially when I’m both trying to stay awake and reward my way through the day. I’d read Okojie again, though her stories were uneven enough for her to land on pre-order status quite yet. There’s a lot of promise and I hope she continues to mature as she finds her voice. I like that Okojie wasn’t locked in to one lens; her narrators had as much fluidity in taking on different roles as did the  “back-up” characters. It spoke well of how highly the author placed a premium on representing different viewpoints and starting places. I highly recommend, as long as you’re open-minded for more than cis-het romances. (Don’t dream too big; I just don’t want it to come out of nowhere.) Strong 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

assocofsmallbombsThe Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan (2016, Viking Books, 288 pages, e-loan). This was a big week for READ HARDER challenges – this checked off “Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey.” I almost plunked it down in the “5,000 miles away from your location” category, but that seems broader, and I might need broad later. And so many characters spirit about. Truly, dazzling characterizations are where Mahajan excels; I haven’t felt this immersed and invested since I first found Khalad Hosseini’s kite runner of Kabul. Go! Read! Get sucked in by the guilt and narrative threads of everyone affected by the “small” and “inconsequential” car bomb, flash back and forth as you experience everything firsthand there with victims, the terrorists, and all sorts of shaded complexities as coping mechanisms and perspectives change. The language, the pace of the story as it unfolded…I loved everything. 5 of 5 stars.

luckyboyLucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran (2017, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 480 pages, digital). Yes, you guessed it, another READ HARDER challenge; this time the “…by an immigrant or with a central immigration theme” one. Soli is an undocumented worker, who smuggled herself into the country on top of a train after the man her parents hired to sneak her across two-timed them, demanding Soli rescue herself. Adaptability and choosing the lesser of two less-haunting evils are themes Soli returns to throughout after she falls in love with a fellow hideaway and gets pregnant before turning up on her cousin’s doorstep in California. Soli’s baby is pulled from her arms after she gets caught and hauled off to a detention center, and the titular child is adopted by a couple whose lives we’ve been following in parallel chapters, watching their marriage and their lives fall apart because they can’t conceive. HUGE triggers for adoption and immigration (documented or not). It’s hard to say whether I felt more for Soli’s story because I’ve single-mommed my way through so much of my grown-up life, or if it’s because so much of the story focuses on her life. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking Kavya and her husband have it “easier” because their immigration is sanctioned, their pregnancy issues a path they’ve chosen. But the truth is that there is no “easy” anything. Everyone loses. And the shades of gray that Sekaran uses to color in the story are brilliantly shaded. It was never an easy read, but gorgeously and hauntingly explored. So many good books this week! 5 of 5 stars.

marchMarch: Books 1-3, by Congressman John Lewis (2015, Top Shelf Productions, 564 pages, paperback). These graphic novel adaptations have been everything to our little rebel alliance at Casa de Katie. The three of us all read them during this past weekend’s readathon. It was just what we needed to break up the prose, especially considering Team Tangerine had just accused Congressman Lewis of being all talk and no action. We read his story of the Civil Rights Movement as a small act of honor, and we’ll be donating the books to Bee’s classroom. They’re smartly penned, holding my attention while at the same time still get-at-able for the 5th grade set; that sounds easy, but it’s not. The illustrations layered action and informed the story with nuance, as appropriate. Every reading list should boast these titles. They’re truly classics for all ages. 4 of 5 stars.

 

#24in48 Readathon: Mission complete!

January 23, 2017

I was going to write about how Gracie, Bee, and I watched the Patriots annihilate the Steelers to advance to Superbowl LI, but we still have to win the Superbowl, and I don’t want to anger the Football Gods. Because I really want Goodell to have to hand the trophy to Tom Brady on the podium.

So we won’t talk about that, because: laden with superstition. Instead, we’ll talk about our the #24in48 Readathon we participated in! We had a blast! The girls and I jumped the gun and started Friday night. We got three hours in, and I finished my first book – a smutty romance, which was just the thing to get my mind off of other things that might have been happening Friday. Ahem.

On Saturday, the girls and I went all. out. We all wore literary shirts (Bee had to borrow one of my short-sleeve shirts to wear over a long-sleeve shirt), and I passed out literary socks for everyone to wear. (Who knew I had so many?!) We were dressed to impress!

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[For those who can’t see, mine is a Hermione Granger quote that says “When in doubt, go to the library”, Bee is wearing my “Team: Don’t Read Crappy Books” tee, and Gracie’s is her new Alice shirt.]

Then we tucked in. I spent Saturday reading all of the March graphic novels by John Lewis. Bee finished reading The Gunslinger, although when I questioned her about it, the graphic novel seems a bit different from the novel. So Imma have to read it before I give away certain plot points. [Uh, like the No Traveling Alone rule.] And Gracie finished reading Taken, about a teen who’s kidnapped and locked in a trunk. And lemme tell you how glad I am that I don’t have a trunk because Gracie desperately wanted to see if she could get out of one. Sigh. Teens!

After awhile, I convinced the kiddos to come out of their reading lairs. Bee spent the day switching between her bed and the couch, and Gracie had made a nest in our Book Nook – the spot behind the lounge chair, against the half wall and near the fire place. It’s the coziest, nookiest nook in the house.

Eventually we went to the library, to break up the day, and left with piles of books. Naturally. Then we treated ourselves to an early sushi dinner, because we had forgotten to eat lunch. (Reading good books will do that.) Then it was back home to read, read, read.

I ended the day with 15 hours of reading (if you count the time carried over from the night before), and the girls 10 hours. Not bad!

Sunday I read a Janet Evanovitch mystery and then called an early end to our Readathon because the reading wasn’t doing much for my sinus headache. I was supposed to sneak in a visit with some friends of ours, but I just couldn’t socialize. Not even fake-socialize. So we grocery-shopped and watched football.

Final book tallies! Me: 5 books, 20 hours. Gracie: 2 books, 12 hours. Bee: 4 books, 12 hours.

I am so proud of my squinkies for hanging in there! I know an entire weekend of reading isn’t high up there on their favorite ways to spend a weekend, but they do like the clout of saying they joined a Grown-up Book Event. I like that I “tricked” them into reading and got to spend so much time with them. Good job, us!

Here’s to reading! And many more readathons in our future.

 

Readathon, here we come!

January 17, 2017

This weekend is the next #24in48 readathon, and I can’t wait! The premise is pretty self-explanatory: you have 48 hours (Saturday and Sunday) in which you try to read for 24 hours. It’s different from, say, the 24hour Readathon because you can, you know, sleep.

That being said, the rules are bendy! Because it’s a readathon! It’s designed to be fun and get you to read! So if you want to start on Friday night after work, like I do, go for it! You can make the rules be whatever you need them to be. If you don’t hit 24 hours? Hey, you read a lot! That’s awesome! So decide what you can do, what you want to do and have fun.

The girls are just as excited. They participated in the last one and didn’t come close to the #24in48, but they read for hours and hours and hours and it was so much fun! They like the atmosphere and the idea of participating in a “grown-up” event. Because of course my tweens do. They also love that I splurge on lunch – I order in sushi and treat ourselves because by that point we usually have been reading for at least 4-6 hours! We break up the afternoon by reading at the library, and then back home. We surge ahead, breaking up our evening with dinner, or a walk in the park. Sunday, we break up our reading by heading to our local Barnes and Noble for some cafe treats and some more luxurious reading. (The girls are scandalized by the idea of reading books at the bookstore that we don’t intend to read. They think it’s like dine-and-dash.)

The girls are usually tuckered out by that point, and I don’t push it. They can join when they like, and do other stuff when they need to. They like stacking up the books they’ve read. I post online what they’ve accomplished and that helps, too. They like the bragging rights. And I get that. I like being able to say how many hours, chapters, or books I’ve read. It keeps me going when my eyes are tired (or my ears, although audio is usually only if I have to get stuff done, or to break things up). However it happens and whatever we read, it’s a good time.

I have a shelf of books I haven’t read yet, and I’m going to get through some of them. I’m thinking Harry Potter and the Cursed Child finally, and that Freddie & Me graphic novel about Freddie Mercury? Definitely!

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The Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres memoirs would make for some good, quick reading. Oh, and when we go to B&N, I am definitely checking off my poetry challenge for READ HARDER. I can probably make it through a bunch of books, if I average three hours per book.

The girls have a few choices. I know they got almost an entire shelf for Christmas, but some seem to have walked off already (which is good! It means they’re being read…)

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Bee is most of the way through The Gunslinger graphic novel adaptation (HUZZAH!), so she should finish that. Gracie is reading the 13 Birthdays book in that series. I want her to read Heartless so I can send it to Kim. I know we’ll have the Kindles charged and I’m sure I’ll be convinced to buy a few e-books. Mama’s money gets thrown around just a little this weekend. Because: BOOKS!

I can’t wait to share it all! So keep an eye open this weekend. Or, you know, mute me if it’s annoying. It will be sad to miss the Women’s March on Austin because we have obligations Saturday, but we will be reading John Lewis’ March this weekend. All three of us. Mandatory reading. (Which is funny, because when I ordered it, all three of us were arguing over who got to read it first. Subtitled: DOING IT RIGHT.) So! yes! Happy weekend ahead! Hope you join us!

 

Book reviews: The week with all the balance – two must-reads, two huge misses.

January 12, 2017

Rumor has it that The Morning News is releasing their Tournament of Books finalists this morning! I tried working my rooster tee into my work ensemble today, but since things are kinda shaky at ThePlaceThatShallNotBeDiscussed, I decided to go a safer route. Which is to say you can imagine both my excitement (PARRRTAY!!!) at the imminent prospect of having a shorter list of books to focus on, and saaaaadpanda that the list wasn’t out when I started drafting my post. Instead of geeking out, I’ll tell you about the books I read this week.

shrillShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West (2016, Hachette, 272 pages, digital copy). I had been hearing good things about this book since long before it was published. Which is why I probably had such a hard time getting my hands on a copy. I jumped when I saw it come up as a deal of the day right around Christmas. (Merry Christmas to me! I got allll the digital books!) West has all the cultural criticism acumen of Roxane Gay and the creativity of Tina Fey, plus the whip smart advantage all my favorite people have of being able to call it like she sees it in such an undeniable way. For those who are seeking to empower their best selves, or maybe just looking for a little hope, a little cultural criticism right now, this is what you need to pick up. As in, I will be buying a full-price copy to loan out to everyone. THAT kind of No kidding, I mean it. 5 of 5 stars.

ihateinternetI Hate the Internet, by Jarett Kobek (2016, We Heard You Like Books, 288 pages, e-loan). I picked this up because it was on the TOB longlist. In many ways, it’s a novelization along the same lines of Shrill – speaking out against the needless hate and bigotry swamping our culture – but it focuses on the Internet as Vehicle Supreme, the inevitability that foiling it will fail, and, well, does it all in third person. I couldn’t find my footing. The entire thing felt hopeless. I have enough hopeless in Real Life right now, Kobek, I don’t need another heaping plateful. It felt gimmicky and cheap as opposed to a sardonic wake-up call that I think it was supposed to be. 1 of 5 stars.

abundanceThe Abundance: Narrative Essays, Old and New, by Annie Dillard (2016, Ecco, 304 pages, digital). This was another Deal of the Day grab, and I was so looking forward to it. Personal essays are some of my favorite indulgences; they can go in any direction and seem so much freer than any other writing – even fiction, at times. I’d read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and thought maybe I’d enjoy Dillard’s non-fiction more. So now I’m left hoping I like Dillard’s non-fiction about writing, specifically, because I still have one of those books on my TBR at home, and nothing else seems to be working for me. Her writing is sparse, and yes that’s a stylistic choice that can work…but not here, and not for me. When I read books about nature, I want to feel connected. It’s especially frustrating for me as a reader if I know the author was there, in that actual scene, and limited themselves to these few words. I feel everything and write so much of what first comes to mind; I have a hard time understanding why people won’t use 50 words instead of 10. Nature writing…that particularly seems to me like the point is immersion itself. How are we so understand the scene if what we get is “The hill was tall and bare.” So the subject matter was interesting, in a fashion, but Dillard’s writing style was rather frustrating for me. 1 of 5 stars.

uglywonderfulthingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood (2016, Thomas Dunne Books, 346 pages, digital). YOU GUYS. THIS BOOK. So many feelings! It’s not going to be for everyone, I get that. (There’s a bit of a Lolita angle that could be read in places.) But for me it was one of those magical reads that I couldn’t suck down fast enough. Greenwood created characters so believable and real that I just couldn’t get enough. It read for me as less Lolita and more of a Bone Gap setting, meets Constellation of Vital Phenomena heartbreak and spectacular, detailed characterization, and the survivory feeling of Homecoming. All some of my favorite books, so you can see how this just blew my socks off. My one hang-up was the way the Wavy-and-Kellen drama stalled a bit three-quarters of the way in. There was a lot of the same-old going on, and I needed either a bit to be excised, or some movement added. Kind of like how The Office was at its best when it was a comedy that used all of its talent for a variety of sketches, before it turned into the Jim-and-Pam show, I liked the story so much better when it showed the resourcefulness of Wavy as she faced all of her challenges, before it settled into the Wavy-and-Kellen show. Not that that kept me from reading as fast as I could, delighting in the sense of foreboding that never once left. 5 of 5 stars.

Okay, have I stalled long enough? Will the TOB brackets be posted…? And whose job is it to keep me sane until they do? HALP!

Challenge(s) accepted, 2017.

January 10, 2017

Everyone who knows me knows that the amount of reading I accomplish is directly linked to how healthy and stable my sanity quotient is. Now whether a healthy emotional outlook begets more reading, or more reading time brightens my perspective – that’s a chicken or egg question if ever I heard one! But I can say for sure that they’re related.

As I think about other challenges I have going on in other spheres of my life, and as other friends very purposefully on living better, stronger, healthier lives, I’ve been thinking about how I might be able to harness my reading for good. What reading challenges do I accept for this year? Can they make a difference?

Obviously I think they can. Very simply put, I think reading adventures let us practice our empathy systems, and prepare us for facing in “real” life the same challenges, situations, and characters we meet in the pages of the stories we explore. What we choose to read matters. Because I want as broad an experience as possible so that I can have as close to limitless opportunities to learn and grow as a person, I want to read big-big. I need to be mindful of that. Which is why I’ll be focusing first and foremost on two challenges meant to help me read more diversely. BookRiot’s READ HARDER challenge I’ve talked about before. It’s my third year participating in their challenge, and I love it more and more every year. It’s helped me get my reading diversification up to 25% by people of color, and that’s with an intense mindfulness about what I read; it’s why I go bananas when people say if they’re left to their own devices, they’ll read outside their comfort zone just fine.

I’ve also decided to join the 2017 Diverse Reads Books Challenge. I like that it’s more elastic than a concrete number of challenges offered by READ HARDER, and that it can grow (or shrink) with me as I read more (or less) this year. The trade-off is that I have to define it as I go along, and sometimes I need a little more direction than that if I’m swimming outside my lanes. (For those who think the same way, the co-hosts have posted a monthly theme to help you focus your story searches.) I also like that Diverse Reads asks that you not only consume stories, but review them, as well. If you’re gonna participate, go all out. Don’t “just” read without contributing. Lend your voice to the cause. Give back. And that, for me, is raising a few more questions. What will it mean for me, a CIS-gendered white woman, to review diverse books? Sure I qualify as #ownvoices for some of the categories – chronic illness, mental health – but I can’t say I’ve felt marginalized much in my life, and that makes me very, very privileged. So how do I walk that tightrope? I believe the point is that I try, and I do so very deferentially.

I will continue, though less fervently, my Great Stephen King Re-Read Challenge. I’ve gotten more than halfway through, towards what I think of his modern career (his adult life, when I came into the pack…somewhere around Insomnia) and not quite “post-modern” (when he un-retired). These are the books I’ve usually only read once, so it will be fun to revisit them.

I’ve decided to officially halt my read-through of presidential histories. Presidential history is – for me, right at this moment – incredibly painful and supportive of our most shameful selves. I literally just can’t right now, not when I could be giving my time to causes so much more worthy that need my time and support.

I am already looking forward to repeating #NonFicNov in November, because how else would I round out a reading year that gravitates so naturally towards fiction? All year I hoard non-fiction selections to binge on that month, and it’s a fantastic change of pace.

The last challenge that I’m tossing around possibly joining in a rather half-hearted fashion is the A-Z challenge on Litsy. With everything I have going on, I don’t really need another challenge. I’m like the kid burdened with so many extra-curriculars I’m gonna topple right over! On the other hand…I do read a lot, and so why not see if I can check off one more box? So I think this one might be a “if I get it done, great; if not, meh” kinda deal.

There you go: more challenges than I can shake a stick at! Now’s where I admit to the downside to such directional reading – having all of these challenges makes me want to stack up my reading in a hurry! So many challenges that I need to have more than “just” five books read!

And so off Katie disappeared, white-rabbiting her way through her 2017 reading lists, not to be seen for many, many months…

Book reviews: the one where I slay all the challenges.

January 6, 2017

Welcome to the first book review Thursday of 2017! I can’t remember exactly when I made Thursday my duly designated day for book reviews last year, but it seems to work out nicely, so I think I’ll try to stick to it for now. If it stops working, we’ll revisit the format. But for now, let’s press on!

Since the new year is still brand new, and because most of the past month has been spent festivity-ing with my sister, I’ve slacked a bit when it comes to spending quality time with my books. If I’m home, I tend to be cooking or talking or playing games with Kim and the fam. And if it’s time for bed, I usually manage to get in a page or two before my eyelids get very heavy. This is all an apology for “only” having two books finished to review for you. I’ll try to do better, boss.

difficultwomenDifficult Women, by Roxane Gay (2016, Grove Press, 260 pages, hardcover). I picked this up – okay, really because I’ll pre-order anything Roxane Gay publishes: fact. But also because it satisfies both the collected stories written by a women and the micropress challenges from BookRiot‘s READ HARDER challenge. Because my personal rules for the challenge mean I can only check-off one challenge for each book read, I chose the short stories challenge. (I have my eye on Irenosen Okoje’s forthcoming Speak Gigantular for the micropress.) Short stories usually aren’t my jam. If you tell me they’re linked – like these – you’ll get a much better chance of getting me to jump into the pool. Ms. Gay’s writing, as always, was impeccable. Voice might not be the most critical of the holy triangle [voice, characters, plot][which, uh, is there a MOST critical?], but if it was, you’d find me hard-pressed to find someone who could wield her instrument with as much precision and beauty as Gay. The stories center around women of difficult natures, nasty women if you will, and how they have earned their badges of honor. These women are survivors, all. Many of them have stories that will make you cry – one of them quite literally, and you figure out how to do that quietly at two in the morning. 2. a.m. So you should pick the book up, with a pack of tissues – and highlighters and pens and your most critical eye. Because stories like these are even more important right now. 5 of 5 stars.

sunisalsoastarThe Sun Is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon (2016, Delacorte Press, 348 pages, hardcover). This book, too, satisfies both the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge, and one of the ReadHarder challenges. Santa gifted this to me after he remembered how much I enjoyed (most of) Nicola Yoon’s debut novel last year. (That ending, though – so problematic.) This YA novel was certainly written a bit tighter; Yoon has grown into her voice and knew when to jib the plotline and when to jab. There were several decision points towards the end where her plot could have jumped the tracks and gone in bad, cliche places, but she saved it. It was satisfying to watch her avert the crisis. Because she is certainly a talented writer who knows how to make her characters jump into life, who isn’t afraid to play with stereotypes, and bonus points for all the hair tropes she touched on. Usually a novel with so many small, choppy sections with shifting points of view will bug, but it worked for me here. When more than a few side characters (and yes, inanimate objects and philosophical ideas, too) had had a turn narrating and we still hadn’t had any white characters, I started getting nervous every time I started reading a new section. I wanted so badly for this jewel of a book to smash it out of the park without a single one. And you know what? Yoon pulled it off in the most spectacular way. There’s a challenge for that in READ HARDER, for those who are playing along. Yoon is quickly becoming a go-to YA author of mine, and I can’t wait to see where she goes next. 4 of 5 stars.

What are YOU guys all reading this week? Is everyone’s reading energy all kickstarted from their holiday bookish haul, like mine?