Archive for the ‘Bookishness’ Category

I survived the Shorter Way Bridge!

June 4, 2021

Has anyone else developed a fear fascination with covered bridges since reading Joe Hill’s masterpiece N0S4A2? No? Just me? Huh.

While we were in Vermont, we got to explore the area around a covered bridge, one which perhaps wasn’t the Shorter Way Bridge that inspired the novel, but certainly created some vibes. We stopped to hike around the area, exploring streams, dammed up pools of water (where kids were happily splashing and playing as their parents kept watch), paths, shiny rocks, streaks of granite, pine trees, and (sadly) a lack of moose and bears.

But scary bridges? They had those in abundance! And by abundance, I perhaps mean just the one. Ahem.

It’s pretty, isn’t it? for all of its malevolent vibes. Everyone else thought it was quite lovely. That’s okay: I’m quite used to everyone thinking I’m bonkers. And to be honest, I’m quite grateful that it’s for “normal” things now. Nataly and I ran around having a blast looking for things that made our hearts happy – dandelion wishers to make the perfect slo-mo video, shiny rocks with bits of mica in them, pictures of the magic bridge that might help us discover lost things…

It was a fun trip! A tiny little excursion in the middle of the most relaxing, jam-packed three-day vacation ever.

And just to prove that the bridge isn’t even what I feared it might be, the superpowers to help Vic find “lost” things wasn’t working on Wednesday; I didn’t find my sanity or my girls.

So then that‘s alright now, isn’t it?

On the porch, in the rain, with the Concrete Rose.

May 28, 2021

Things you can do when you’re house-sitting for an aunt in a house with a covered porch that sits on a quiet street:

You can sit in the rain and read a chapter – that turns into the entire second half – of the book you’re reading, Concrete Rose, by the incomparable Angie Thomas.

The rain was pitter-pattering. Either it was thundering, or the trucks bailing from the Pike onto the main road just one house away sound just like thunder – just like Mum always used to say.

The wind was pushing the rain, too. But the magic porch kept it away, long enough for me to zip through the ending, wondering how Thomas was going to cover the jail thing with so few pages left. (My full review will be on Thursday, when I usually talk about my week in reading, but spoiler: she didn’t.)

You know when you read a really good sequel (or pre-quel, as the case may be) and you want to immediately go back and read the first book that got you hooked? Yeah, that. Only I waited til I went inside and found The Hate U Give already downloaded to my phone. Thank you God for small little miracles.

So, yes, today’s adventure wasn’t any further than my aunt’s front porch. But sometimes adventures are like that.

It just depends on how you want to look at things. Do you need the car keys? No. Not always. Are there still 43905834908 churches out there that I want to photograph? Yes. Are there a billion stories I want to share? Yes. Are there genealogy adventures waiting for me to untangle? YES.

And I can do all of that now. But today’s adventure was one Concrete Rose. And I think you should pick it up and make it your adventure, too.

(And then come tell me all about it.)

Godspeed. Stay safe and don’t get shot. And heaven’s to Betsy: enjoy what you have, right this minute.

Five for Friday.

February 26, 2021

Good morning highs, good morning lows, good morning elbows, and good morning hoes!

Yeah, I don’t know what that was either.

It seems that bits and tricks on Friday mornings are all I good for, so let’s launch and not think all those negative thoughts about why I can’t seem to summon inspiration, bravery, and grown-uppish-ness on all those other weekdays to just hammer one out. Shall we?

  1. It is a fact universally acknowledged that the morning you wake up without any of the head-and-chest congestion that left you miserable for days is the best morning in the history of modern times. No, no: it’s just a fact. The sun is shining (eh), the birds are chirping, and I almost don’t hate interacting with people today. Good times, my friends, good times.
  2. I’m feeling so good, in fact, that I’m not hating the weather. True, the world has righted itself and New England is no longer 60 degrees warmer than hell Texas. But [sprinkling anti-jinx dust around me for good measure], I’ve acclimated better than I thought. It’s been a balmy 30 degrees here most days, and most days I need to remind myself to take my jacket with me “just in case.” God, that was my Mum’s favorite sayings. Just in case! Just in case you get stranded by the side of the road! Just in case you make a left turn and end up in Canada instead of Uxbridge! Just in case the weather drops 40 degrees! …Okay, well, that last one might actually happen; it’s New England. No, no, it’s not the “If a jacket sits unworn in the middle of a forest, and no one wears it, is it still a jacket?” philosophical debate that has me glaring at the weather. It’s the havoc it’s wreaking on my skin and hair with winter’s insatiable thirst for moisture! I can’t lotion up my skin fast enough. My skin is responding very nicely, as long as I feed and water it and take it for long walks. It’s my hairrrrr. My stupid, beautiful, curly, winter-hating hairrrrr. One week after plopping myself down in these here wintry climes, my hair decided it was going to dandruff the frick out. I’ve tried Head and Shoulders. I’ve tried expensive boutique solutions. I’m on my hands and knees begging for your best solutions. Bring it! Because one day (soon-ish) I will feel like the time is right to start dating again and I’m not bringing this hair situation with me.
  3. Speaking of feeling better about myself, I think one of the first things I’m doing with my new salary and wage earnings is to splurge on a trainer. Because obviously ain’t no way I’m getting outta bed and working myself out. Wait – is that even grammar? Ahem. Erm. Well. Bodies! Yes, I would like to fit back into the buckets of clothes I spent buckets of monies to move up here. The first step is to actually do something about it. I’ve cut out the snacking. Now I need to cut in a healthy dose of cardio and strength training. I’ve done it before – after carrying my second beautiful baby to term, I worked off the 50lbs of pregnancy weight, and went down four more sizes just for “fun.” I can’t tell you how much confidence that gives me! The question is now: Do I do what worked then – “just” sticking to 20-minute work-out videos every week-day morning before work? Or do I get myself a trainer? A trainer would help out local businesses and give me extra incentive to Doooooo It! But the responsible thing during the pandemic would be to stay home. But! At home my father (who pays for everything. ergo rules everything) sleeps 7p-3a, and my brother (who takes care of the house and its occupants, ergo you don’t want to piss him off) sleeps 1a-10a. There isn’t a lot of time to seamlessly slip in a work-out routine. Nor can I just work out in my room with my earbuds in, because our house was built in 1898 and the floors are creaky as shit. So many excuses I could latch onto. For now, I’ll be happy to answer just one: What’s a good Denise Austin-esque general 30-minute work-out video that’s going to help me shed pounds?? Oodles of karma to the kind soul who comes up with the winner!
  4. Yeah, it’s a crazy schedule here at Casa de Padre, at least if you’re trying to be considerate since you’re rooming without paying a lot of board right now. If I don’t have interviews for a “forever job” that day, I try to spend at least an hour running errands or just driving around the city, re-orienting myself with landmarks and street names and where that one street over there comes out again? It makes my heart happy to see all these places of home and not be haunted by the fact that I have to leave to go to back Texas at the end of the week. Every single blessed afternoon, I get a feeling of coming home that I thought only existed in books and fleeting dreams. But at the end of those drives, when I’ve squeezed every adventure and back-road in that I could, and sung my way through half-a-dozen playlists at the top of my lungs, it’s back to Casa de Padre I go. Back to the job applications, the dinner dishes, small talk, and all. the. quiet.
  5. You know what quiet needs? BOOKS! A blessing and a curse, dear readers, a blessing and a curse. Any one who’s spoken to me for more than thirty minutes knows that I read quite a bit, and these days I do a lot of my reading online. Reading online is convenient; my ebook mountains are usually supplied by the growing e-library selection offered by the libraries I belong to across several states (book nerds unite!); and not only does that mean the books I want to read are available nearly instantaneously, but I don’t need to find a place to store them in my 8×10 cubby hole here at the house. Which brings me to my dilemma: there’s a book I want to read. [Audience gasps.] Deacon King Kong, by The waitlist at my libraries are all daunting – not that it stopped me from cheerfully adding my name. But the book is available, conveniently, at my local Barnes&Noble. Or I could pay the same amount and get the e-book. The e-book won’t have to be shoe-horned into some scrum of invaluable artifacts from my past life that just had to stay out of storage…but giving my money to Barnes&Noble would make my heart feel so much lighter. And I can’t help but add: so much nobler.(Sorry, sorry – I had to.) While I’ve read the sneak-peek of Deacon a few times, and I adore it, I’m nervous. I’m not usually a James McBride fan. I’m afraid the rest of the book will fade away and I’ll wonder why, exactly, I spent precious discretionary funds on this title, of all things. And normally it wouldn’t be no thing, I’d just wait it out on the waitlist. God knows I have 394530949 other books on my To Be Read list to tide me over. It’s just that Deacon is part of the March Madness insanity of the Tournament of Books. I have 4-ish days to get ‘er done if I’m going to care about spoilers. With a good book, it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. But can you imagine reading Gone Girl and knowing the twist? Still good; the execution was impeccable; but not the same as as yelling HOLY SHIT!! on a plane-load of people. Ahem.

So yeah, there you go! My five little points of madness, or of tiny little nothingness-es, or of whatever you’d like to consider them. Five little trampolines to bounce into the weekend. Because yes, Virginia, even in a land of loose structure, bound by a barely-there calendar, weekends are still the end-all, be-all, responsible for this giant smile on my face!

The one that dreams and schemes of reading the year away.

February 11, 2021

It’s no big secret – in fact, it’s not a secret at all – that every day would be Book Day if I had my way. Since a balanced approach is a more sensible way to go about things, I probably won’t be able to spend all day, every day reading, no matter how much I might want to. A twenty-four/seven reading-life would make it easier to find books to review every week, but something tells me I’ll find a way.

Some things will always be the same: I dream big when it comes to my reading life, and my reading goals for 2021 aren’t that different. 200 books. Heh, or maybe I should make it 221 books in 2021, just because I have a sense of humor. Half of which need to be new (to me) titles. That seems fair.

Another piece of the puzzle that doesn’t need to change: I want my reading selection to be varied. Diverse topics by diverse authors. Do you know one of the ways I ensure that happens? By reading harder.

This is the seventh (!!) year that Book Riot has published its Read Harder challenge, and every year I’m proud to count myself as one of the participants. Once a month I’ll share a blog update about how I’m doing, or you can also follow along on my Twitter or Goodreads account to see how my personal challenge is faring.

I might be six weeks behind in my first steps, but I’m excited to see what challenges lie ahead! Shall we?

  1. Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read.
  2. Read a non-fiction book about anti-racism.
  3. Read a non-European novel in translation.
  4. Read an LGBTQ+ history book.
  5. Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author.
  6. Read a fanfic.
  7. Read a fat-positive romance.
  8. Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author.
  9. Read a middle grade mystery.
  10. Read a SFF anthology edited by a person of color.
  11. Read a food memoir by an author of color.
  12. Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color.
  13. Read a book with a cover you don’t like.
  14. Read a realistic book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada.
  15. Read a memoir by a Latinx author.
  16. Read an own-voices book about disability.
  17. Read an own-voices YA book with a black main character that isn’t about black pain.
  18. Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader.
  19. Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist.
  20. Read a book of nature poems.
  21. Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability.
  22. Read a book set in the Midwest.
  23. Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness.
  24. Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die.

I can’t wait to see what this year has in store for me. Finding new favorite books has always one of of my favorite things. I can’t hardly remember what it was like before I had The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo in my life, or that exact moment in between chapters when I went from why do people like Pride & Prejudice, exactly?! to Ohhhhh, THAT’S why! Who knows what what the rest of 2021 will have in store for us. But I hope that I can look it in the eye, even if it’s just while I’m glancing up from turning the page of the book that’s inevitably in my hand.

Here’s to another year of good time, great books, and even better bookish discussions!

The one with elections, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and #NonFicNovember

November 5, 2020

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening – we no longer recognize time here at Casa de Katie, because I’m pretty sure it’s been Tuesday for almost 72 hours now.

But if it isn’t actually Tuesday the Third, then that means it’s Thursday. And on Thursdays, we review books we’ve read! And since I’ve been both blogging and reading when I haven’t been voting, let’s talk about books.

I’m not sure if #NonFicNov – or #NonFictioNovember in its longer form – is still a thing, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s still a thing in my heart. I never seem to wander past the New Releases section of my library, so designating a month for a concentrated effort in non-fiction is a good thing.

Since I’ve only read two books so far this week, I might dip back into recent reads for an extra review or two, but it’ll be recent, I swear. So let’s go…

Just the Funny Parts: And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club, by Nell Scovell (Dey Street Books, 2018, 320p). The thing is, right now I find Hollywood gossip very, very attractive. Or maybe I should say distractive. It’s helping me forget about the recession, and every job I interview for but lose out to someone else, and stress that’s piling up, and yes, even the election. Because I read it all on Tuesday afternoon when during what I call Project Being Patient: Day 1. Nell Scovell is obviously an incredibly talented writer, and she is aces at being funny. She’s so smooth with the transition, like all of a sudden you’re trying not to pee your pants and wondering where the hell that came from. She’s written for an untold number of hit shows on television – of which you’d all know most of the names – and sadly, she reports on the ugly underbelly that goes with all of the happy-funny stories. (Except for The Muppets. YES, she wrote for them, too!) I wanted to hear more of the “Funny Parts” – the account read like a warning for every aspiring Hollywood writer, and that’s fine. It’s an important story to be recounted out loud. I just wish Scovell had flipped tHhe title so I knew what I was getting when I sat down to distract myself, is all. (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death, by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf Publishing, 2017, 304p). I just finished this book this afternoon. I had such high hopes for it, and really wanted to read it every time I saw it on my TBR…but kept forgetting to actively seek it out. On my mission this week to surround myself with non-fiction, I found this gem at the library. Yes, I said gem. The book is divided into, as promised, 17 stories. A childhood illness. An encounter with a murderer (I’m not kidding). Incredibly poignant and vulnerable stories about her daughter’s own journey – and Maggie O’Farrell’s as her mum. It was hard to put it down. I mean, it was so good that I forgot about the election while I was reading. That good. O’Farrell’s writing is like if Cheryl Strayed and Anne Fadiman had a little story baby.I highly encourage you to seek this collection out. It’s philosophizing mortality and the goodness of a sunny afternoon while just, you know, writing a quick thing you might tell you dinner partner – honest, compelling, but not gushy or emotional. Gah! Just go read it. (5 of 5 stars.)

Uncensored, by Zachary Wood (Dutton, 2018, 272p, read Oct. 2020). This review makes me feel a bit uneasy. Imma just just in. I’ve read a lot of books about race relations, racism, classism, the politics of social constructs, the politics of America, memories written by minorities living in America, and African American culture. I have a minor in African American Studies. I’m not by any means saying I’m an expert; I’m no where close. I’m just saying, I’ve read a lot. So when I say I am not a fan, it’s not because I think Zachary Wood doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or his experiences aren’t valid, or that he’s a poor writer. Although, okay, yes, a little bit the latter. I’m just saying I have a deep pool of other reading experiences to which I can compare my reading of Uncensored. Here are my problems with the book. First, Wood has an incredibly inflated opinion of himself. Every person he met, talked to, wrote about – he explicitly compared every single one to himself, and found them all wanting. Not once did he self-critique or offer up vulnerabilities or ways he might need to improve. Similarly, while Wood constantly pleaded for others to not judge him – which, okay, valid ask – he always judged others around him! It was so omnipresent, it was painful to witness. Secondly, the tone was depressing. There was no mechanism to elevate himself (well, in a constructive manner, not speaking of raising his status as others’ see him, which he was interested in). He was always woe-is-me. He survived a terrible childhood, his home life wasn’t great, they certainly were poorer than poor. But like, here’s a good example: while his family was financially destitute, Wood opted to not seek a job to earn money for himself or for his family for the stated reason that he wanted to read more. To explore academic pursuits. It’s great to have dreams, baby, but that’s a luxury. And if you don’t want to see it as such, you can’t paint it as an example of how bad life is, and how broke you are. I was left wondering: So what? Yes, Wood certainly deserved to have had a better childhood, a better educational system, a better sense of supportive community, and it’s amazing that he was able to graduate from college given his experiences. But his writing never focused on any one thing. I honestly don’t know if even Wood knows why he wrote the memoir, unless the chief goal was to have a book – any book – published. The “so what” feeling at the end of a book is not something you want a reader to be left with, not if there was any other purpose. (1 of 5 stars)

So there you go. I know I used to have more, but three reviews is a lot more than I’ve been publishing on Thursdays as of late, so I’m going to quit focusing on my failures, and instead be grateful that I’m reading, grateful that I’m writing, grateful that I’m creating – and sticking to – structure in my life. (And also that it kept me from staring at a map for even just a little bit.)

Book reviews: The one with the delusional gunman, delusional grandmas, and a soldier who knew how to stand up for us all.

June 20, 2019

Just because I’ve been quiet lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. My goal is 250 books this year, and I might not make it, but so far Goodreads says I’m on pace. (Barely on pace, meh meh meh.) The thing is, it doesn’t feel like that because so many of the books I’ve read this year have barely made an impression on me. They’re bland. Or stupid. Or so not my thing.

Despite all my whinging, I’m pretty sure I can find a few to review for you.

A Small Revolution, by Jimin Han (Little A, 2017, 208 pages, digital, Kindle Unlimited). I’ll confess: the reason I was first drawn to Han’s debut novel was because it featured a shooter in a college setting; the way I process these atrocities is to submerse myself in fictional reiterations so I can play it through to the end and find the answers. It’s whack, I know. But it’s one of my solutions. This short, compact novel was both jam-packed with details, beautifully authentic college-aged vignettes filled with things two people of that age, who were in love, would say to each other. It examines the “third wheel” scenario in Yoona Lee and Jaesung’s love story, and why Lloyd – poor, delusional, cuckoo-in-the-membranes Lloyd – insists holding Yoona and three of her friends hostage is how to solve his problem. His problem? Dead Jaesung isn’t dead. It’s a lot of information, but Jimin Han handled the nuances with aplomb found usually not until the author is far more experienced. The way Han bounced between flashbacks of how the three (Lloyd, Jaesung, and Yoona) met in South Korea, and scenes of the tense stand-off led by the crumbling madness of Lloyd and increasingly terrified hostages. I ripped through the pages, rushing towards the present. Maudlin and tense, intense and beautifully care-free and innocent. And yet, full of violence.  4 of 5 stars.

Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press, 2018, 240 pages, paperback. Middle-grade readers). I picked this up during my Mother’s Day splurge because it had a beautiful cover. The barrette, like the ones my sister and I used, it sealed the deal. The plot: a girl (Louisiana by name) deserted by her Granny in a town off the map (but really in Georgia), somewhere between Florida (home, where Louisiana must return!) and Kansas, where their family’s curse originated and must be broken. Lousiana’s grandma sounded pretty YaYa, the way she stuffed Lousisana’s head full of colorful stories – like that her parents performed in the circus! and how they met and fell in love! and, and, and – only all of the stories Lousiana’s grandma told her turn out to be Not True. Louisiana had to figure out if this mattered and changed who she is – or not. DiCamillo poured so much magic and grace into her characters, and a bucket of spunk into Louisiana. Questioning who she is and who she wants to be is a question many kids handle – and DiCamillo snuck lessons into her characters’ adventures the way parents sneak nutrition into their kids’ food. The result is as wholesome, full of laughs and heart bumps along the way. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Formation: A Woman’s Memoir of Stepping out of Line, by Ryan Leigh Dostie (Grand Central Publishing, 368 pages, digital library loan). Wow. What a gut punch. I had to stop for a minute and just breath. Dostie’s memoir is proof of how women are punished severely for doing, saying, even looking at or like someone at the wrong time. We aren’t in charge. Not only are the assholes who are raping us sending this message home; it’s also the Chinese handcuffs set like traps throughout the system that men set up to report when men (or anyone else) stepped out of line. Dostie saw this. And was brave enough to step out of how she was supposed to act, yanked her finger out of the chinese handcuffs, and said to hell with this. I WAS RAPED. AND MY GOVERNMENT, MY COMMAND, MY POST, MY MILITARY – NO ONE CARED. No one stepped up to help her. She stood up. Helped herself. And spoke up. It was one way to help battle the PTSD she suffered from on the outs. No one seemed to be in her shoes. Reading about Dostie’s journey filled me with so many emotions – admiration, awe, shame, anger, anxiety, triggered, wanting to fight. Good stories do that, and Dostie’s narrative had me from the first page to the last. Trigger Warning, obviously for rape, for PTSD. But if you want to read a story about a soldier who deserves every bit of admiration and support – Formation is a damn good book to start with. 5 of 5 stars.

What books have you been reading? Send me your best recommendations – I’m feeling  a little antsy to mind my Next Great Read, something that will light me on fire the way YaYas did, or Evelyn Hugo did with all seven of her husbands. Tell me! And I’ll be back next Thursday to tell you about a few more of mine.

Read Harder 2019: Check-in Post.

May 30, 2019

On Thursdays, I write about books! If you guessed today is Thursday, well…I really hope you’re correct because I’m writing about books anyway.

I thought I’d do a check-in on my progress for the Read Harder 2019 challenge. For those playing along, you know the good people at BookRiot (Hello, Rachel – you’re lovely!) put together these challenges to encourage us to read outside our comfort zones. As such, if you need to tweak a prompt – go ahead and do it! If you’re not sure what it means, and want to interpret it a different way, or your way, or however which way – go ahead and do it! The world will not tilt off it’s access if you go a bit wobbly on one. I promise.

All right! Let’s dive in:

An epistolary novel or collection of letters: I was planning on reading Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing, a letter to his daughters. But then I tripped over a similar book, David Chariandy’s I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, a letter to his daughter about parent-kid wishes for who and how they’ll be, but also about what it means to grow up different in today’s world. Chariandy gorgeously balances infusing hope, happy, and stardust in with the warnings, tips, and survival tactics. But the happy outlives the woe. Reach for the Better. 5 of 5 stars.

An alternate history novel. I chose Dread Nationby Justina Ireland. Fantasy, alternate realities, anything Kindred-esque and I’m a brick wall. Not my strength, you guys. Fortunately I have a little black book stuffed with books I’ve heard about here and there. And one of them was Dread Nation. It’s a book about a slightly apocalyptic world, walking dead, you know – white people end of the world crap. And where young people elect to go to  training centers in Washington, D.C. instead of university. They learn to fight, defend – basic survival tactics. Picture Hunger Games, but with dreads, and zombies. Ha, ha! It’s the first in a series if it’s your bag. It was a fun romp, difference in a sea of sameness, but still not for me. 3 of 5 stars.

A book by a woman and/or AOC that won a literary award in 2018. I think everyone here knows, but in case they don’t – all of the books for my challenge are written by an  AOC. About half of what I read is written by an AOC. It takes a little more effort to find the books because publishing companies suck, but it’s definitely doable. And enjoyable. This was a fun category because it felt like a freebie. Still, I chose My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. MStSK was SUCH a fun book to peel back, layer by layer. There was the on-top discussion of sisters and hos-before-bros and what not. A YA blockbuster. Then you dig deeper and wonder if it’s not a toxic, dare I say symbiotic relationship. Soooo many things to discuss! But I don’t want to give any of it away. DM me when you’re ready to talk! 4 of 5 stars.

A humor book. I have to admit, dear readers – I have no plans for this category. Wait, wait, wait – that’s not quite true. I have a plan, I just don’t have a book. My plan is to go back through the Goodreads Awards selections for the past few years, and I’m sure to find one or two.

A book by a journalist about journalism. This one I thought would be a tricky. Tricky!, but enjoyable. Surprisingly, I found a book rather quickly. At the library, months ago, I stumbled across How I Resist: Activism and Hope for the Next Generation. And while Maureen Johnson, a white woman, is listed as primary author, the collection is co-authored by: Jacqueline Woodson,  Malinda Lo, Sabaa Tahir, and others. The essays are short, but powerful. Quick jabs of hope! Undercuts of joy! Their words implore us to write our way out of this prison! Vote our allies into office! USE YOUR VOICES! Yes!! 5 of 5 stars.

A book by an AOC set in or about space. I am straight-up stumped here. If you guys have any suggestions.

An #OwnVoices book set in Mexico or Central America. My choice, The House of Broken Angels, is narrated by Angel, the patriarch who grew up in Mexico, and moved his family from Mexico to Southern California. Angel is dying and he often thinks back to his Mexico, the place where he grew up. Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch to fit it in this category. But I loved this book with all my heart. It’s a modern classic, and I’m still upset it didn’t win the Tournament of Books! 4 1/2 of 5 stars.

An #OwnVoices book set in Oceania. This book popped into my mind as soon as I heard the category. Isn’t it funny how some books just do that? America Is Not the Heart, by Elaine Castillo. Another Tournament of Books entry, another protagonist, Hero, who grew up some where else (this time in a very violent Philippines), and then she came to America, because she was running out of lives to shed, and everyone, EVERYONE said America was the answer. Guess what her #ownvoice said?  Plot was great, but the story – it was too structureless for me. I had to do all the heavy lifting and I just couldn’t right then. 2 of 5 stars, but that just might be me.

A book published prior to Jan. 1, 2019, written by and/or translated by a woman. Ohhhh. This book! Andres Barba’s Such Small Hands. Translated by Lisa Dillman (check), and published in 2017 (check,check). Although I “cheated” a little because the book is written by an AOC, so the fact that the translator isn’t, is okay. And really, really is okay. Because: The book is billed as Shirley Jackson meets Virgin Suicides – and it lives up to the hype! It’s short, just 105 pages, so you can knock it out in a sitting. But be prepared to be chewing it for quite. a. long. time. 4 of 5 stars.

A book of manga. I don’t imagine this will be difficult to find; it’s just not a category I’m racing to prioritize

A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character. This is a GREAT category, and I can’t wait to see the selections, but I’m still looking at the moment.

A book about someone who identifies as neurodiverse: Again, GREAT category! Slaying it with stretching readers minds! I haven’t worked on this one yet, but I am so looking forward to the adventures of finding something! What have you guys read?

A cozy mystery. I hopped across the globe and tried Journey Under the Midnight Sun, by Keigo Higashimo. To be honest – and I feel a little ashamed confessing this – because I was unused to this cultures naming schemes, I had to use note cards to keep track of who was who. I felt like when I was reading Russian literature in high school, or that summer I binged Downton Abbey. Once I got past that part, the story was a straight up mystery, just like you order them. I like ’em enough to read them when they come my way, but don’t keep up with the latest. So take my taste into account here: 3 of 5 stars.

A book about mythology or folklore. I was going to use Call Me Zebra because the protag – who we never learn the name of – creates her own mythology. She thinks she’s a god and tramples all over the world to prove it. But there’s also Marlon James’s The Night Woman, a POWERFUL novel that explores the suffering slavery imposed. But from that pain, or maybe because of it, Lilith has this power, a reckoning kind of power, and Lilith taps into this mantle of connection, the African-American experience from the first ship of slaves, straight through to the last. There’s collective memory, explored like this in Beloved. But Lilith got it. No one can take it. And she can’t shake it. Oof. 5 of 5 stars. Wow.

An historical romance by an AOC. If you’re fulfilling the challenges in list order (I’m not), this is a soft, squishy place to land after the brainful of the mythology challenge. And you know what? I’m stretching the rules here, too. I haven’t ready it yet, but right now I’m planning on reaching A Bollywood Affair, by Sonali Dev. She’s a great write, and what I love is that this Bollywood romance series, you can pick up any book and just GO! if you want to. There are so few authors who do that any more. I can’t wait to sink into this book. There are so few romance authors who write for smart people., ya know?

A business book. Oh, this one I have no idea who I’m about to read, or about what. I’ll go and find it – unless you want to throw one my way?

A novel written by a trans or non-binary author. I’m going to sink my teeth into the YA thriller, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, by Kim Fu. I don’t know much about them, but I did a bit of research when I was trying to pick something, and everything I find out is YAAAAAASSS!!! And the first chapter of the book flew by fast! I can’t wait for the rest!

A book written in prison. I’m up for some suggestions, but right now it’s looking like Prison Letters, by Nelson Mandella, might be the winner.

A comic by an LGBTQIA creator. You all know my reading proclivities, and comics really aren’t on there. But read them I shall! for that is the point of this adventure!

A children’s or middle grade (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009. I just recently had the pleasure of reading One Half from the East, by Nadia Hashimi. I’ve read several (if not all) of Hashimi’s work. It’s solid, but I was waiting for this – the emotions broil over in this story and you feeeeeeel the characters! The youngest girl, Obeyda, longs to be a boy so she can climb trees, play in the dirt, be outside the house even! So she becomes Obeyd: a bach posh. “She’s” allowed to be a “he” and have all the freedoms a boy would. Hashimi finally climbed up into her own, as well.   4 of 5 stars.

A self-published book. Getting your book notices isn’t easy sometimes. Just because a book is self-published – isn’t that assigned the same label and “expectations” we’re trying to undo? I read After Disasters by Viet Dinh, surprising no one who knows me. It’s a compelling story about five different stories, five differing protagonists trying to help after the disaster, but also trying to repair the hurts in their own lives. 3 of 5 stars.

A collection of poetry published since 2014. Poetry also isn’t really my thing. Just like short stories aren’t; you can tell me more! explore the back stories! Luckily for me, I happened across Lin-Manuel’s collection of G’mornin’! G’night!:Little Pep Talks for You and Me that was brilliantly illustrated by Jonny Sun. I felt like I was reading Shel Silverstein, but for “grown-ups” – whatever those are. 5 of 5 pepped up stars.

That’s it from me, twinkletoes! Send me recommendations and send me on grand adventures!

The Easter Bunny has risen!

April 22, 2019

…and he left much chocolate.

Easter was a bit different this year. My two very grown-up childrens decided they were too old to color eggs. They were too old for Easter baskets. They were too old for staged photos (pffffft). And since I have to pick and choose my battles…and maybe because I didn’t want to crawl all through the attic looking for Easter baskets…I decided to let them have their way.

We were still doing Easter – just a more “grown up” Easter.

I decided it was time to start a new tradition: we would volunteer our time and help with service work. It is, after all, what Jesus would do. (That may or may not have been yelled at the girls when they were being whiny.)

So I found a service work through one of the missions nearby where we could help Sunday morning. I was picturing helping with a meal line of some sort, but it so happens that most of those places have a minimum age requirement. The one I finally found was willing to take our minor-aged teenagers and give us some work we could do: sorting through goods that had been donated.

So, Sunday morning we moan and groan at our waaaay too early get-up time, and keep pushing it back further and further. Finally it was so late that I had to call to warn them we’d be just a leeeetle bit late. I’m glad I did because the woman who was supposed to meet us had called in sick. Which is kind of a pain, but it turned into even more of a to-do because the woman who was called in to run the place in her stead had no idea we were coming, or what the lady was going to have us do. So our grand idea to give of ourselves ended in a big kerplunk. Not the Easter tradition I had in mind.

We tried to manage. The girls enjoyed their Easter “baskets” –

Bee-girl, my resistant reader, was the first one to find a book from the Easter Bunny this year – an American Sign Language book. She’s been pouring over it ever since! Gracie got the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. And I got….well, quite a few. Let’s see, my favorite is Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage. I also got Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay; Karen McManus’ One of Us Is Lying (Gracie has an eye on that, too); and Jeff Zentner’s Goodbye Days. Sooooo many good books! EB must have gotten a good deal at Half Price Books or something. Heh.

That afternoon, the girls and I got all dolled up to go to a nice restaurant as a treat. I picked Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse because it has steak so good it melts in your mouth, and enough seafood to keep Bee happy.

It was fun teaching the girls how to eat at a fancy restaurant, and the waitress we had was very cool with them (she told me later, during an aside, that she has a young daughter and has been thinking a lot about the teenage years, so that was why). It was just a fun time to eat food that was the best ever – we were all ready to pop! when we left!! The restaurant itself was gorgeous! And the service was impeccable. Gracie, especially, was crazily impressed by all the elegance. That’s her speed for sure! And me being me, I told her to keep doing well in school and that could be her everyday! (But I hope she remembers the service work, too.)

After our early dinner, we drove to Barnes & Noble to get a book Gracie needed. She and a friend went to see the movie After on Thursday night, and Gracie discovered it was not only based on a book, but that it was a series! And when we went into the bookstore…well…we sort of accidentally bought nine more books. Because it’s Easter! The book holiday!! We got The Librarian of Auschwitz (I picked it up, Gracie called second dibs); Interment by the brilliant Samira Ahmed; Gracie picked up Sadie (and I called second dibs); I picked up The Language of Kindness; Gracie picked up The Lost; anAt d I finally picked up The Woman in the Window. We couldn’t help ourselves!

It was a wonderful Easter, even if the morning didn’t go as planned. So many adventures at Casa de Katie don’t! But it’s okay. We take them as they come, because we are family!!


Book Reviews: The ones with suspects and prisoners, strippers and school shooting survivors.

February 28, 2019

Morning, peeps! (We should all be so lucky to be marshmalloy shapes covered in gobs of colored sugar…) Today I have quite a few books to choose from because: 1) I’ve been killin’ it with my reading pace lately, and 2) because I haven’t done my book reviews in awhile! So let’s get to it!

MarsRoomThe Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner (2018, Scribner, 338 pages, digital loan). I picked up The Mars Room because it’s a contestant in this year’s Tournament of Books, but I’ve read The Flamethrowers, which I remember hating the cover of, wanting desperately to love, and then putting down a thousand times because I just couldn’t quite enjoy the telling of. So you’d think once I remembered that, I wouldn’t have been so keen on Mars Room. I loved the cover, by the way, and fell just as hard for the pitch: unreliable narrator Romy Hall is in prison for two consecutive life terms, away from the city of San Francisco, which bound her in a way much different than her young son Jackson. The storytelling was smartly done: I loved watching Romy navigate life at women’s prison, broken and cursed. I kept thinking the fifth season of Orange Is the New Black meets Breaking Bad with the grittiness of a Leonardo DiCaprio or Jack Nicholson film. Only the difference here is that Romy got thrown in jail for being one of the other poorer characters, not Piper or Alex, but she navel-gazes like she was Piper. That could be a little distracting, I do have to admit. As much as I loved seeing the reality of prison laid bare before the readers, I loved even more – surprisingly – the way Kushner showed readers what a cursed dystopia San Francisco is to those who can’t keep swimming fast enough and are drowned by the tide. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

ParklandSpeaksParkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories, by Sarah Lerner (editor) (2019, Crown Books for Young Readers, 192 pages, paperback)
Parkland: Birth of a Movement, by David Cullen (2019, Harper, 400 pages, hardcover). I bought these books on their publication dates (just a week apart) because, like many of us, I was so strongly drawn to the lessons of hope and of activism these high school students have fought so hard to teach us. Ridiculously, this is what feels like the thousandth school shooting in collective memory because there is no clear cut answer – at least that the country can agree on. That’s where the argument seems to stall. The survivors of Parkland say that’s not enough. Parkland Speaks is catharsis bound between a beautiful soft jacket cover. Essays, poems, cartoons, artwork – it is the collective hope of the students, teachers, and others impacted by the tragedy, edited by Ms. Sarah Lerner, an English teacher who watched events unfold from an uncomfortably close perspective. The collection is intimate and gorgeous; one that will help us not just pinpoint the moment the revolution was born, but also reflect on our own losses as well as love those still around us.
ParklandParkland: Birth of a Movement was written by the same journalist who penned the go-to book about the school shooting at Columbine, giving him a unique perspective for his newest project. Whereas Columbine ushered in a horrifically new era and kind of mass shooting, you can’t help but feel that Parkland might usher in the answer for the same. The reason you feel that way is because of the hope these students embody, as the world has borne witness, but also a mighty, present kind of activism MSD students have rolled out with a roaring battlecry: NEVER AGAIN. If you think 400 pages of politics and activism sounds a bit thick, you haven’t read anything by Cullen; he captures the day-to-day – sometimes moment-to-moment – activities of the students and their families so closely, intimately, powerfully that you feel the wind of the carousel as it whips you around. How many times after a school shooting have you thought Stop this ride, I want to get off? Parkland convinces you these kids are going to show us how. 5 out of 5 stars; highly recommend as paired reading.

TheSuspectThe Suspect, by Fiona Barton (2019, Berkley Books, 416 pages, hardcover). I purchased this book as a Christmas gift for myself. So many good books were published in the beginning of January by authors I’ve come to love and rely on. Fiona Barton was one. I stumbled upon her debut, The Widow, at the library. I had no idea it was her first book. It’s your basic psychological thriller: the story is set up, you get hooked, there are twists and turns, and then BAM! the surprise ending. There are bad ones, and then there are good ones. Barton wrote very good ones. Maybe not Gone Girl good, her books are a little formulaic, but good enough to keep me guessing. I love the way the point-of-view shifts, and the way that even I, after alllll these books I’ve read in my life, can’t guess the big reveal. Ooh, and also that while the books are all linked through the reporter, Kate Winters, each book is truly a stand-alone. (I’m not kidding; there was such a gap between when I read the first book and the second that I forgot Kate had been in both til halfway through!) At least, that’s how the first two were. The third one – The Suspect – was set up the same way. Only this time Kate’s son is the title character, unfortunately. The dynamic is shifted a bit, and that was a bit muddy. I found it a bit confusing, along with all of the pov shifts that I normally love. And there was something about the story just I just couldn’t hook into. Normally I race through Barton’s books – that’s why I finally just bought the third one. This time, of course because I bought the hardcover, it failed to catch me. I kept checking the page count and found I was reading fewer and fewer pages each time I sat down. I finished it in the end, but I was very disappointed. Even the big reveal was a bit dodgy and meh. So. Would I recommend? Maybe not this book. But I’m definitely still watching for the next in the series. Barton’s allowed the sophomore slump…even if it took a bit to catch her. I have hope. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

So there you go – the books themselves are all over the place, from Cali, to Florida, to D.C. and across America, to London, and Thailand. But somehow we’ve all centered around crime. Crazy, huh? Reading is magical. And full of hope.

Book reviews: The ones without any hearts or snoogly faces.

February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine’s! Or not. There’s no snoogle bunnies or flying babies with harpsichords hanging out at my house today. On the other hand, I did get the girls very nice sterling silver necklaces with their initial on it. Ooh, and chocolates. But enough of that mushy stuff, let’s get on to the books.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh (2018, Penguin, 289 pages, library loan). I was a huge fan of Moshfegh’s debut Eileen. Her way to get inside a woman’s head and transform all of her onto a page, the living, breathing, mushy, uncomfortable bits – it was amazing. Rest and Relaxation does the same thing, only Moshfegh pYearOfRestAndRelaxationulls everything inside and slows it way. the f*ck. down. Slower. No! Even slower. Moshfegh shines a mothereffing brilliant bright spotlight onto her main character’s addiction to sleeping pills and benzos (and just about everything else, really) as a way of shining the light clear through her to society’s addiction to portraying women’s need to be perfect, and their addiction to society’s depictions of them. Yeah, it was just that philosophical. The way Woman is put up as a commodity is gobsmacking. We consume beauty products, wellness products, organizational gimmicks, magazines, commercials – wait, that’s it. Commercialization and consumerism. We’re addicted to the way they constantly pitch themselves at women. So Moshfegh fed them to her narrator and gave her a year off from work and a nice, dark apartment in New York in order to slow everything down to the most microscopic moments so we could see their effects on the narrator, her relationship with her best friend Reva (that’s a whole different bottle of Whoa Things Aren’t Right Here), and with her kinda sketchy Wall Street boyfriend. Moshfegh’s brilliance shines in both microscopic and macroscopic ways. Pretty much I want to give her Netflix and Sandra Bullock and ask her to do a story of my last five years and see how rich she makes me. If you guys are into Lit Fic, and you’re not in love with Moshfegh, you need to change that situation right the flip now. (4 of 5 very dark stars.)

The Golden State, by Lydia Kiesling (2018, MCD, 304 pages, digital library loan). This was a book I read for the Tournament of Books, and most probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise. Daphne is, essentially, a single mom. Her husband was forced back to his country of origin, Turkey, because of immigration issues. The forced GoldenStatereturn has put an enormous financial and emotional strain on Daphne, who then leaves her pretty good job (even though it, too, was crushing Daphne), takes her toddler, Honey, and heads for the hills. Literally – Daphne has a trailer home in the desert where she can collect herself. Only Daphne finds herself embroiled in one mess after another in what was supposed to be her calm new life. And see that’s where I would have abandoned ship – I don’t do deserts. They don’t appeal to me, even in the fictional realm where the analogies practically feed and water themselves. But Kiesling’s strong hold on language pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go. I wanted to know what happened to Daphne. I cared, even after just a page or two. That’s not so easy to do. Golden State offers sharp insight into big, human problems in one tiny 10-day window. I predict it’s the next big book club story once paperbacks hit the shelves. (3 of 5 stars.)

The House of Broken Angels, by Luis Alberto Urrea (2018, Little, Brown & Co., 336 pages, digital library loan). This might be my favorite to win the Tournament of Books. The ToB loves big, sweeping generational dramas, and you can’t help but fall in love with the Mexican- (not Mexi-can’t, as Big Angel would say) American de la Cruz familia. Big Angel, who rules the roost, is dying, and don’t you know his own mama steals his spotlight. His family gathers for a weekend of mourning, giving us an opportunity to peek in on everyone and watch Big Angel’s thoughts about hiHouseOfBrokenAngelss family slosh and spill about. Urrea has such a genius for pinning how big families really work, fighting over bathrooms and grumbling from the mouth but not the heart. I wanted to quote every single line in my book journal – as soon as the paperback hits, I’ll be underlining and highlighting like a college frosh. I had to laugh at Broken Angels, though – there are quotation marks, but no paragraphs! It because Big Angel’s importance and separation from his family is running out and getting all smooshed. Urrea’s wording and phrasing is gorgeous, like I said. All grown-up and plain, but evocative. I love the dual citizenry of the de la Cruz familiar rolled into one language, not in a YaYa way, but the way it truly would be spoken at home, spilling in and out of Spanish and English in the middle of sentences. Urrea perfectly captures family life, squished and compressed, but chock fulla love. Seriously, you guys: I’m in love. (5 out of 5 stars.)

That’s it for this week. My review for Darius the Great Is Not Okay will have to wait for next week. Til then, send me your recommendations on what I should read next once I finish the ToB shortlist!