Thursday, May 16, 2019

Three Quick Reads

Going through books faster than I can blog about them, but to be fair, two of these were thrillers and those always go fast.

Binti (by Nnedi Okorafor)

Afrofuturistic space adventure featuring an amazing lead character, Binti! Won the Hugo and I think the Nebula award. Read for the category "A book by an AOC set in or about space." This is a novella and was a quick but super great read. Excited to continue with the series!

What the Dead Know (by Laura Lippman)

A fun thriller, albeit with an ending I saw coming about halfway through. I wanted more twists (I really enjoy being surprised) but enjoyed the read overall. 

The Silent Patient (by Alex Michaelides)

Now this is what I'm talking about! This one had a great twist and was a total page-turner! The ending makes no sense if you think about it, like, at all, but I don’t even care, I devoured this.

(Note: in both of these latter two books I highlighted some fatphobic content. Often mysteries introduce a lot of characters that have to be memorable, fast, and a lot of times "fat and grotesque" is a shorthand for these types of characters. Ugh, why.)

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Frances and Bernard (by Carlene Bauer)

Read for the RHC category of Epistolary Novel, a genre that I really love. This is loosely based on the correspondence between Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, and is about two writers named Frances and Bernard who meet at a writing colony, discover a mutual interest in Catholicism and writing, and become correspondents. They develop a complex and emotional relationship that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel.




The writing itself is absolutely gorgeous, and I particularly fell in love with Frances, who has this beautifully drawn internal battle; she has to keep from setting herself on fire to keep Bernard warm. The ending is bittersweet and feels so honest and real. (I don't feel any closer to understanding Flannery O'Connor's Catholicism; I will confess that despite going to Catholic schools for 17 years and teaching O'Connor's fiction, I've never truly felt like I understood it.)

Definitely worth a read. 

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Monday, May 06, 2019

The Actor’s Life (by Jenna Fischer)

I hesitate over the tag "memoir" because although Fischer does go into a lot of depth about her acting career and experiences, the focus is really on practical industry advice for actors.

It found its way to my hold list because I was a big Office fan and like Jenna Fischer, but kept reading because I enjoy reading about "the Industry" as we call it in Los Angeles, from a point of view that I don't often see.  I recommended it to my brother too, since he is an aspiring actor and I truly think the tips in this book are a huge godsend for people trying to break into the biz.

Worth reading for a glimpse of the actor's life, and a glimpse into Fischer's as well.

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Saturday, May 04, 2019

The New Me (by Halle Butler)

This book popped up in my email ("the book you had on hold is ready to check out") and I had no memory of where I heard about it, what it is, or why I put it on hold. I decided not to find out, so reading it could be a delightful surprise! It turns out that this is the story of a depressed, cynical, and socially awkward temp worker, reminiscent of the wonderful My Year of Rest and Relaxation. 

Mordantly funny, compact, and avoids cliche as it really sticks the landing. If you enjoyed MYoRaR, you will like this too. (I'm betting a sentence like that is what got me to put it on hold in the first place.) In case you're still on the fence, here's a quote:

I think I’m drawn to temp work for the slight atmospheric changes. The new offices and coworkers provide a nice illusion of variety. Like how people switch out their cats’ wet food from Chicken and Liver to Sea Bass, but in the end, it’s all just flavored anus.

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Friday, May 03, 2019

The Fifth Season (by N.K. Jemisin)

This book and series have gotten so much buzz in the scifi-fantasy community -- the three books of this trilogy won the Best Novel Hugo Award in three consecutive years, among other accolades. So it's been on my list!

I love the worldbuilding Jemisin does here to give us a post-post-apocalyptic earth where some humans have evolved to control planetary movement, and are essentially enslaved by other groups as a result.  The story follows three characters whose stories intersect; two characters are written about in third person and one in second person, and as you slowly realize why, you appreciate her terrific narrative trick.

Hard things happen (including the deaths of children) and if I'd tried to read this a few years ago, as I did Game of Thrones, I probably couldn't have stomached it. But I bore with it and ended up really enjoying being immersed in this world. The second book is on my library hold list now!

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

This Week's Page-Turners

Yes, once again it's a two-for-one post, as I finished one book yesterday and the other book today, before I'd even had time to update this blog. So here we are. 

My Lovely Wife (by Samantha Downing)

This is a suspense novel in the vein of Gone Girl, narrated by a husband who is married to a lovely woman named Millicent. Their hobby? Murder. Without being graphic, this novel is incredibly suspenseful. Yes, the ending is somewhat ridiculous but I couldn't put this one down and found it wickedly entertaining. (I can't even write that word without hearing John Travolta's voice in my head. "The wick-edly talented Adele Dezeem.") Pulpy fun.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead (by Heather Armstrong)

I was disappointed in It Sucked and Then I Cried, and I was expecting this to be similarly glib and full of all caps annoyingness, but I still have vestigial interest in Dooce and her life so I wanted to read it anyway. However, I was so pleasantly surprised. The writing is more restrained (in the acknowledgements she gives credit to her editor, so well done editor) but it's also more detailed, more earnest, more honest, and more emotionally vulnerable than I was anticipating.  Everything that was wrong with that first memoir is right with this one. Truly good!

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Vacation Reads: PNW Road Trip Edition

Somehow a "vacation reads" post with only two books in it feels paltry, but I haven't finished my other two reads (Library Book and The Fifth Season) yet so here we are. Fortunately I'm the only person on earth who cares about the format of these book reviews.

Golden State (by Ben Winters)

I love the work of Ben Winters, even if his speculative fiction sometimes goes a bit off the rails, as it does here.  It's always interesting at the very least. This is about a near-future where truth is regulated and lying is punished by exile. A noirish detective story with a good twist and a strange ending. Didn't love it as much as Underground Airlines or the Last Policeman trilogy but I honestly will read whatever he writes.

An Extraordinary Union (by Alyssa Cole)

For the Read Harder Challenge category "historical romance by an author of color." This is about a free black woman posing as a slave to spy for the Union, and the man posing as a Confederate officer who becomes her ally. I'm not typically a romance reader but I really enjoyed this, found it well-researched and sexy. I loved the character of Elle and was thrilled to find she was loosely based on a real person. If you like historical romance you will probably enjoy this and bonus: it's the first book of a series!

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Monday, April 08, 2019

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (by Alan Bradley)

I had this on my list because of the "cozy mystery" category of the Read Harder Challenge, and even though I already checked off that category, I'd heard enough about the Flavia de Luce novels to think I might enjoy them.

Narrated by a brilliant, Sherlockian 11-year-old, this mystery involved post-war traipsing around the English countryside, stamp collecting, and an intimate understanding of chemistry. Even the nicknames of her sisters -- Daffy and Feely -- are so freaking English. I suspended disbelief about Flavia being 11 and enjoyed the atmosphere and the unfolding of the mystery. 

I'm not sure how Flavia is going to get involved in more mysteries but I'll definitely add the next novel in this series to my library list.

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Spin (by Robert Charles Wilson) and The Hating Game (by Sally Thorne)

I finished two books recently, both genre fiction, and my thoughts on each are relatively brief, so here's a two-for-one post.

Spin (by Robert Charles Wilson)

A long sci-fi novel with a fascinating premise and a drippy main character. The female characters are not rendered well. I should have bailed on this one but I was expecting the narrator to jet off to Mars any second now. (Spoiler: he does not jet off to Mars any second now.)

The Hating Game (by Sally Thorne)

A romantic comedy about two coworkers who really, really, really hate each other and are competing for the same job. I'm sure you can guess where it goes from there. The characters are delightful, especially our lead character, Lucy. The book is sexy and fun and seems quite popular on Goodreads. A cute workplace romance!

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Mini-Break Books

I took a very quick trip to Los Angeles to attend a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend concert,  and finished a couple of books in the process. Here they are!

 Autoboyography (by Christina Lauren)

 A young adult M/M romance that feels like excellently written fanfiction, especially the ending. The leads fall in love instantly, true love conquers all, etc. Definitely good moments but I definitely understand what my friend Jen talks about when she rants about straight white women fetishizing gay boys. I didn't feel that in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda but I definitely feel that here.

The Dreamers (by Karen Thompson Walker)

I LOVED THIS NOVEL. This is a story about a deadly "sleep virus" that infects a California town, and the novel follows various inhabitants of that town as they deal with the crisis, including new parents, a college student, two girls with a survivalist father, a doctor, and a college professor whose husband is near-catatonic in a nursing home. A bit slow paced, but it contains so many beautiful meditations on love and parenthood and really sticks the landing. One of my top reads of the year so far.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (by Gabrielle Zevin)

A very humane and lovely little book that also serves as a love letter to books and reading. It's interesting how my library usage has started impacting my reading -- in this case, I checked all four of my libraries (I may have a problem) to see what was expiring soon, saw that this expired in 19 hours, and decided to try and finish it. It's a short book so I finished it in an evening.

A.J. Fikry is an unhappy bookshop owner on Alice Island. His wife has recently died, and he's not coping super well. But when a baby is left in his store, his heart starts cracking open, letting in characters like the town's police chief, a publishing representative, and the aforementioned baby. It follows the next decade or so of his life and is ultimately heartwarming, a bit melancholy, and sweet.

Reminded me a bit of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in terms of the small town feel and flavor. Thank you Miriam for the recommendation!

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (by Hank Green)

I put Hank Green's novel on my library list ages ago, and it finally came through right when I was in the mood to read it! Unlike his brother John, Hank Green doesn't write young adult; his characters are in their early twenties.

The premise is fairly silly: strange statues appear in cities all over the world, a woman and her friend make a YouTube video, they go viral, the statues might be aliens. Clearly it's a way for Green to explore the headiness of "Tier Three fame" around a fun sci-fi framework. The sci-fi elements are definitely fun, however, I have some nitpicks. I can suspend disbelief about the alien statues, but not the way the government operates in this book.  Also, I can't believe a twentysomething woman would use the phrase "got you by the short hairs." A dead giveaway that a dude is writing this.

I like the character of April May though; she's not very sympathetic and she does incredibly dumb things but I like her honesty about her unsympatheticness. I am very invested in her relationship with Maya. Unfortunately the book ends on a cliffhanger and is part of a planned two-book series. I hate this. Tell me before I start the book that it doesn't have a satisfying ending. Ugh, this ruined Crazy Rich Asians for me too.

It's possible to have a satisfying ending and also be part of a series -- J.K. Rowling manages this fine! But you need to have some kind of closure and not just abruptly end out of nowhere. Anyway I'm still mad about it, but I'll definitely read the next one anyway,

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There There (by Tommy Orange)

The last Tournament book I read before the competition got underway, and it was a good one! Would not be sad to see this one win, as opposed to, oh, all the other books except My Sister the Serial Killer. 

It's a multi-character narrative of American Indian characters in Oakland, leading up to the big powwow (the Big Oakland Powwow) at the end of the novel. The characters are interconnected in interesting ways, and Orange provides a glimpse of contemporary Indian life through many facets of these many characters.

It has my least favorite kind of ending (I won't spoil it but maybe you remember what it is) and yet in this case it feels more earned and more interesting than usual. Looking forward to the discussion about this one next week!

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Friday, March 01, 2019

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (by John Carreyrou)

A riveting piece of journalism about the Theranos scandal; a Silicon Valley startup that spectacularly deceived investors and made its CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, briefly very rich and very famous. This is told by the Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the story, and he recounts Holmes's duplicity from the inside, and then how he had to deal with Theranos's no-holds-barred intimidation of him and his sources. Everyone from Joe Biden to Jim Mattis is implicated in this fascinating story.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (by Stuart Turton)

This is a very fun and original mystery. The premise is that an investigator gets plopped into a single day on a grand estate, and the day ends with a murder.  The catch is, he has to solve it by reliving the day eight times from eight different points of view, and he has no memory of who he really is.

It's quite intricate and well-done, but I almost quit when I got to the third point of view, when he's in the body of a fat man and is completely disgusted by it. The whole thing is an extreme example of how supposedly loathsome fat bodies are. (For one example, the man takes a bath, then walks across the house, and then has to take another bath because he now apparently smells so bad. It's beyond offensive.)

The mystery kept me interested and I wanted to find out how it turned out, so I finished it, but it's one of the most extreme and disappointing examples of fatphobia I've ever read in a novel.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Strong Poison (by Dorothy L. Sayers)

Recommended in the Goodreads group for the Read Harder Challenge category of cozy mystery, and I was excited because I love cozy mysteries! Also, this beat out Agatha Christie on the rec list, and I love Christie!

Unfortunately I did not love this. I enjoy being misdirected and surprised at the end of a mystery, and this solution was super obvious. I was a third of the way into the book and wrote it down: who did it, how, and why. I thought this must be a red herring because I never figure these out, and maybe there would be a good twist! Nope, it's all as obvious as it seems.

The characters are fun and the writing is witty, but the mystery itself wasn't fun. I've never read any Sayers before so am curious if this is how her books always are. If the plot were better, I would happily read more about these characters.

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Leviathan Wakes (by James S. A. Corey)

This was the last of my vacation reads, a big sci-fi space opera and the first book in a series called The Expanse.

Entertaining enough and very Scalzi-esque in terms of its humor, snappy dialogue, and slightly interchangeable protagonists. In this case both main characters were men and this was very man-focused, particularly so since one of the men had a creepy obsession with a woman throughout that (spoiler) ends up saving the universe. It has strong female characters but in a super male gazey way.  (One ends up sleeping with her boss, one ends up having a rape back story, etc.)

It's apparently a collaboration between two men, although the acknowledgements are written by seemingly one person? Probably I could dig into this more but eh, I don't feel compelled. I also don't feel compelled to keep reading. Entertaining enough, but the gender politics are off-putting. And that is definitely not Scalzi-esque.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Vacation Reads: Truckee Edition

Spent the long weekend in the snow, giving me lots of time to read books! I'm about halfway through a giant one, but in the meantime, I finished some others:

Looker (by Laura Sims)

Absolutely loved it. This was marketed as a Gone Girl-style thriller but it’s not that. Instead, it’s a character study about a woman sinking into obsession with her actress neighbor. The protagonist is an unreliable narrator (my favorite, always) who reminded me of none other than Charles Kinbote, King of Zembla. The author isn't afraid to go dark and I loved the ending. Top book of the year so far!

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (by Chen Chen)

Such a great poetry collection, read for the Read Harder Challenge, by a gay Chinese man who writes about his identity, among other things. Here's a snippet I highlighted:

I’m envious of the clouds who can from time to time fall completely apart
& everyone just says, It's raining,
& someone might even bring cats & dogs into it,

no one says, Stop being so dramatic or You should see
a professional. 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (by J.K. Rowling) 

I'm not into watching Johnny Depp do his weird Grindelwald thing, so I read the screenplay instead. Obviously a fast read, ended on a cliffhanger. The "fantastic beasts" part feels like such an afterthought to the overarching plot. Mostly I wish these were novels instead of movies and screenplays! 

Maid (by Stephanie Land) 

A compelling memoir about a single mother in poverty, albeit problematic in terms of white privilege. (She barely acknowledges it.)  Overall I feel like I would like a memoir of poverty from a woman of color, but given the world of blogs, it would be much harder for this hypothetical other woman to start a blog, and land a book deal. At any rate, Land's observations about the cycle of poverty and abuse make this worth a read regardless.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Pulp (by Robin Talley)

This young adult novel is about a lesbian teenager who discovers the amazing world of 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. It's told in parallel with a story about a girl from the 1950s who discovers it too, amidst the Lavender Scare of the McCarthy era, and the consequences of that discovery.

I loved this book more in concept than in execution. There was something didactic about it, something a bit told rather than shown.  It's impossible not to get sucked into the stories, though, especially Janet's in the 1950s, especially when you get a hint as to her eventual fate. It made me want to read a non-fiction book about this time period.

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Saturday, February 09, 2019

Washington Black (by Esi Edugyan)

Based solely on reputation, before I even started it, this was my pick to win the Tournament of Books this year. It's a twist on the typical slavery narrative -- Washington Black is born in Barbados, and although he serves a cruel master and the horrors of plantation life are addressed, he ultimately goes on to experience life as a free man -- all while trying to define what that actually means and come to terms with his past.

As improbable as I found the last third of the novel, I did enjoy the adventure, and Washington himself. I really enjoyed the revelations about his past in the final pages, and how that shaded the rest of the narrative.

However, I wasn't blown away by it -- I might still rank The Great Believers over this, and it wouldn't wrest my zombie vote away from My Sister the Serial Killer -- but I might not have read it except for the Tournament, and that would have been a shame.  This author is Canadian, and she's crafted a very original narrative and a wonderfully rounded character within a traditional coming-of-age novel.

I look forward to reading the discussions about this one for sure!

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Monday, February 04, 2019

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (by Nagata Kabi)

My first time reading manga, which I guess is the point of the Read Harder Challenge! Overall I really enjoyed this; it's super honest and charming, very raw and real as the author talks about her experiences with self-harm, feelings of worthlessness, and sexual confusion.

The only thing I didn't like was the artwork convention where the lead character's face looks like it's melting off or she's sweating or crying. Sometimes it's clear which it is but sometimes not. The idea is "she's in distress" and I get that, but it was distracting to me because I always interpreted it as "it's hot and her face is melting like a candle." That is a real nitpick though.

I found the manga style pretty easy to get used to once I got the hang of it, and I can see why this one has won so many awards. I will pass this copy along to a loved friend and definitely try to find the sequel!  

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Saturday, February 02, 2019

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit (by John Edward Douglas, with Mark Olshaker)

I haven't seen the Jonathan Groff series based on this book (which, why haven't I) but this is a nonfiction book by John Douglas, whose work on criminal psychology is well-familiar to true crime fans: he came up with the distinction between organized and disorganized offenders, and the idea of the "signature" of the criminal.

This is a bit of a true crime classic, although it's slightly outdated and Douglas comes off as a bit arrogant about the accuracy of his profiles.  (I wish he'd included a an anecdote or two about a time that his analysis was way off. I'm sure those existed.) His pro-death penalty tangents are a bit didactic for my taste too. But overall, a gripping and spine-chilling read for true crime fans.

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Great Believers (by Rebecca Makkai)

I finally found a book in this year's tournament that I loved maybe even more than My Sister the Serial Killer! Unfortunately, like the outstanding My Year of Rest and Relaxation, it didn't make the shortlist. What the hell is up with this year's tourney!?! I started The Great Believers at the same time as the shortlisted The Mars Room, which I gave up about 40% in. But this one I couldn't put down.

It's a story told halfway in the 1980s, about a group of gay friends in Chicago who are beginning to die, one by one, from AIDS.  The other half is the story of Fiona, the sister of one of the dead boys, searching in Paris for her daughter in 2015. 

My friend Wendy said that it reminded her of A Little Life, which was my thought exactly. Here's what I sent her in an email earlier today:

Completely agree about A Little Life. In fact I wished the whole book was set in the 1980s timeline since that was by far my favorite and was most Little Life-y. It also reminds me of that essay pointing out how Little Life works as an AIDS epidemic allegory. No wonder it feels similar! 

Side note: I recently got the chance to read through a box of letters sent to my biological mom in the 1970s. Gave me a window into her friendships with a huge circle of gay men. One was writing from San Francisco, where he had just moved, and was so happy to feel part of a community that accepted him for the first time. Of course, her entire circle mostly died of AIDS in the 80s. She was basically the Fiona. 


Loved this novel and really enjoyed it. Now that I've given up on The Mars Room I'm going to start on my pick to win the entire Tournament of Books, the buzzy and first-seeded Washington Black. Cross your fingers for me. 

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

George (by Alex Gino)

A book about a girl who at birth was assigned male and named George. She wants nothing more than to play Charlotte in her middle school's production of Charlotte's Web, and to be seen as she truly is: a girl.

This is a deeply moving read. It's impossible not to fall in love with Melissa (Melissa is the main character's preferred name) and sympathize or empathize with her struggles.  The use of the female pronoun throughout really emphasizes Melissa's identity. And the cruelty of some of the children in her class is a microcosm of what trans people face in the world today and how frankly ridiculous it is not to let people just be themselves.

Highly recommended for middle grade readers and beyond!

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The Kiss Quotient (by Helen Hoang)

The last book I read was one that I thought was part of the Read Harder Challenge, but wasn't. In contrast, this one I didn't realize qualified for the Read Harder Challenge, but it does, in the category of "book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse."

This is a romance novel, which is not usually my genre, but it popped up in my library list so I must have heard about it somewhere. It's about a woman who has autism and written by a woman who also has autism.  It's a sort of reverse Pretty Woman storyline: a wealthy Silicon Valley engineer assumes she's bad in bed, and hires a male escort to help her learn how to have sex. He is escorting to pay his mother's medical bills. Romance ensues!

This book is kind of wall-to-wall sex, framed by a cute story. The lead character, Stella, is delightful and you really root for her. If you're into romance, I definitely recommend it.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Stag's Leap (by Sharon Olds)

One of the RHC categories is "a collection of poetry published since 2014."

Originally I'd selected Dome of the Hidden Pavilion, a collection of James Tate's from 2015. I got through about half of it and gave up. I love James Tate's work, but this felt both formulaic (surreal scenario with surreal dialogue in a prose poem paragraph) and padded (it felt endless). Most of the poems are also more cerebral than emotional.

In contrast, Stag's Leap grabbed me by the heart immediately. It's a collection written about her divorce, which her husband initiated by leaving her for a colleague after 30 years of marriage. It captures the bond of marriage so beautifully that I've spent the past couple of days clinging to Ian and saying you can never divorce me! Divorce hurts so much and our love is too beautiful.  

Here's an excerpt from he title poem:

Stag’s Leap

Then the drawing on the label of our favorite red wine
looks like my husband, casting himself off a
cliff in his fervor to get free of me.
His fur is rough and cozy, his face
placid, tranced, ruminant,
the bough of each furculum reaches back
to his haunches, each tine of it grows straight up
and branches, like a model of his brain, archaic,
unwieldy. He bears its bony tray
level as he soars from the precipice edge,
dreamy. When anyone escapes, my heart
leaps up. Even when it’s I who am escaped from,
I am half on the side of the leaver.


As I'm looking this up, I notice Stag's Leap was written in 2012 and was awarded the Pulitzer in 2013 so it actually doesn't qualify for the RHC. But I loved it nonetheless and am grateful I read it.  

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

The House of Broken Angels (by Luís Alberto Urrea)

This is the saga of a Mexican-American family told via two events: Big Angel's mother's funeral and then, the next day, his last birthday party (he is dying of cancer). The characters are vivid, the writing is fantastic, the compassionate view of all aspects of Mexican-American culture is especially needed at this moment in time. So why didn't I love it more? I don't know. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for a sprawling family saga? It is genuinely a great novel but I didn't fall in love. Maybe the Tournament of Books discussions will add to my appreciation as time goes on.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book Wrapup: L.A.

I took a bit of an unexpected trip to Los Angeles last week because my father had to have triple heart bypass surgery. My reading was a bit desultory, as in times of great worry I could focus mostly on random online games and not literature. But I did finish a few books during the trip. And, best of all, dad is on the mend and doing well!

The Parking Lot Attendant (by Nafkote Tamirat)

My notes say: Kind of enjoyable, but ultimately annoying and not grounded in reality. Maybe I'm missing The Metaphor or maybe don't have the patience for it right now. Another ToB disappointment. WHERE ARE THE GOOD BOOKS? 

I would characterize this as an okay read, though I didn't fully buy the characters, and didn't enjoy the ending. Also aych and I just chatted about the Tournament and I now think my main issue this year is that the library wait list is the longest for the top seeds with the most buzz, particularly There There and Washington Black. I should get The Mars Room and Warlight fairly soon. I may end up -- gasp -- actually purchasing a book because I am currently either 99th or 694th on the There There waitlist depending on which library you ask. 

True Porn Clerk Stories (by Ali Davis)

This came up in a thread on Ask Metafilter, I believe. This was a 2002-era online journal that I remembered highly enjoying at the time, and enjoyed revisiting as a time capsule of the video store and VHS porn era at the turn of the century.  It looks like Ali Davis has more recently become a playwright, and I hope to see more of her in the future. (Also this was self-published, so it ticks off a box in the Read Harder Challenge as well. Kismet!)

Born A Crime (by Trevor Noah)

The drive to and from Los Angeles was a good twelve hours, and the Extra Hot Great podcast can only get you so far! Friends had recommended this on audiobook, plus the South Africa aspect would give me and my mom something to chat about during our time together, since she grew up in South Africa (obviously, in a white township).  Well-structured, well-told, and gave me an appreciation of Trevor Noah that I hadn't previously had.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Xenofeminist Manifesto (by Laboria Cuboniks)

Laboria Cuboniks is not a person but a "xenofeminist collective." I got this little book for Christmas and kicked off the Read Harder Challenge with it when I saw it had fewer than 100 Goodreads reviews (one of the categories).

Coming out of this reading experience, I think I would like xenofeminism if I fully understood it. I felt like I was back in grad school reading the words of passionate people with great ideas and inflated ways of conveying them.

What I got out of it in terms of principles: technology has the potential to create an egalitarian world but it needs to be created and maintained by someone other than a group of white men. Everyone has the right to speak without markers of race, sex, class until those markers are abolished.  Yay to both of those points and I would love to know how to personally work towards that! The book is written like this though:  

This non-absolute, generic universality must guard against the facile tendency of conflation with bloated, unmarked particulars -- namely Eurocentric universalism -- whereby the male is mistaken for the sexless, the white for raceless, the cis for the real, and so on. Absent such a universal, the abolition of race will remain a tacit white supremacism, and the absolution of gender will remain a thinly veiled misogyny, even -- especially -- when prosecuted by avowed feminists themselves.

This is one of the clearer passages but it gives you the idea. I would like to learn more about this movement in more actionable terms, but I'm not sure I can read a full book about the"autophagic orgy of indignity," "embedded velocities," or the "insurgent memeplex."

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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Year-End Book Wrapup '18

My goal this year was to read 50 books and to complete the Read Harder Challenge. (On last year’s post I said my goal was to read 70 books, but then I realized I wanted to prioritize my own writing goal and downshifted to 50. It doesn’t matter because I beat the goal either way and kicked ass on my own writing goal too. Yay me.)

You can see all my Challenge books here on last year’s wrapup. This year, I read 78 books: 47 by women, 30 by men, and one co-authored by both. I recently got a Los Angeles County library card to help feed my insatiable addiction to Kindle books from the library.  I now have four libraries to choose from!

Top five books of the year:

1. My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Still bitter this isn’t on the Tournament of Books shortlist. I adored this book. Maybe it was this year’s Version Control — a book where its quirkiness spoke directly to me and others didn’t love it as much. But I loved this. The author particularly nailed the ending, which isn’t always the case with litfic, I find. And it’s utterly absorbing and unique.

2. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Another book I adored; the main character is so prickly and unlikeable and yet you fall in love with her and root for her and are so moved by her. I am planning to re-read this one in 2019 just to have the experience of reading it again.

3. Homegoing

I put a plus sign next to a book on my list if it was particularly good; Homegoing got three plus signs. It was also the fourth book I read this year. Some of the books with one or two plus signs, I had to go back and look up to remember what I liked about them; Homegoing is indelible. An amazing novel.

4. My Sister the Serial Killer

I’ve brought this up every time I read a Tournament book because this was my Zombie vote and so far I don’t regret it. I’m a sucker for the unreliable narrator and the black comedy of this book. I also love its portrayal of modern-day Nigeria, although the characters and story feel universal.

5. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I had a lot of wonderful and very literary novels duking it out for the fifth place on the list but ultimately I had to give it to the one that I was so charmed by, I’ve already read it twice and watched the movie. I read quite a few great YA novels this year (including Jordi Perez, Foolish Hearts, and Emergency Contact) but this one was my favorite. Even though one of my friends is gonna be real mad at me if she sees this. Sorry, Jen!

Runners up: The Vegetarian, White Tears, Florence Gordon, The Bright Hour, So Much Blue, Goodbye Vitamin, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Eat Pray Love, Catherine Called Birdy, Stronger Faster and More Beautiful

Bottom five books:

1. Chaos Monkeys

Just on principle, I’m putting the one by the douchey tech bro at number one.

2. Inkheart

Ugh this one was boring and lacked stakes. Forced myself to the end because it was a category for the Read Harder Challenge, but I do not recommend.

3. The End of Eddy

A Tournament of Books novel I disliked. (This year I’m setting aside the ones I can't get into; so far I’ve given up on Call Me Zebra, and The Dictionary of Animal Languages might be next.) Just a world and a story I did not enjoy.

4. The Idiot

Boring. Elif Batuman is a super genius and a great writer but I needed a plot.

5. Love Warrior

A memoir that ultimately came across as insincere.

Next year my goal is to read 70 books (apparently it doesn’t cut into my writing time so this seems doable) and complete the Read Harder Challenge. As usual, I’ll be updating this post as I get through the challenge and use a label on my posts so you can follow along.

Here are the categories:

Total: 12/24

[ ]  An epistolary novel or collection of letters
[X]  An alternate history novel: Golden State
[ ]  A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018
[ ]  A humor book
[X]  A book by a journalist or about journalism: Bad Blood
[X]  A book by an AOC set in or about space: Binti
[X]  An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America House of Broken Angels*
[ ]  An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
[X]  A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads: The Xenofeminist Manifesto
[ ]  A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman
[X]  A book of manga: My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness
[ ]  A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character
[X]  A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse: The Kiss Quotient
[X]  A cozy mystery: Strong Poison
[ ]  A book of mythology or folklore
[X]  An historical romance by an AOC: An Extraordinary Union
[ ]  A business book: Bad Blood
[ ]  A novel by a trans or nonbinary author: George
[ ]  A book of nonviolent true crime
[ ]  A book written in prison
[X]  A comic by an LGBTQIA creator: My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness
[X]  A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009: George
[X]  A self-published book: True Porn Clerk Stories
[X]  A collection of poetry published since 2014: When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

I really like this year’s challenges! I love epistolary novels and cozy mysteries, and many of the other categories are intriguing.

I’m so excited for more booky, library goodness in 2019 — thanks so much for reading!

*I wasn't planning to count this because it's largely set in San Diego, but it's the first rec on the challenge page so I guess it counts.

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Monday, December 31, 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) (by Amy Spalding)

Sneaking one in under the 2018 wire! I picked this up last night for a bit of light reading before bed and ended up staying up until three to finish it.  Such a charming girl-girl romance, set in my beloved Los Angeles, with great humor and a wonderful, plus-sized main character.  A wonderful way to end the year of reading. Year-end wrapup coming soon!

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Christmas Reads 2018

This may be the last batch of reviews before my annual year-end wrapup. Here are the books I finished while on Christmas vacation:

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful (by Arwen Elys)

I get so many science fiction book recommendations via John Scalzi's Big Idea series, and this was one of them. It's a series of six vignettes featuring teenage protagonists, each dealing with the implications of genetic engineering. It starts with the idea of reconstructing organs via stem cells, and by the final vignette, humans have almost evolved into a new species.  It's really great; I particularly loved Milla's story and the final story, either of which could have easily been a novel on its own. Loved the way this is grounded in real science and also in the realities of these characters. Highly recommended for science fiction fans.

The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain (by James Fallon)

Premise: a neuroscientist is researching psychopathic brains as well as his family, and thinks he's gotten some scans mixed up. He hasn't: he has the brain of a psychopath. There's lots of scidency detail and not a strong sense of narrative. It's obvious Fallon is kind of a dick even if he's not a deranged murderer. And he mentions hiding some of his worst stories. But this is a completely unique perspective and he does attack it (seemingly) with candor.  As I said, definitely unique if you're interested in the science of psychopathy.

Census (by Jesse Ball)

A Tournament of Books entrant. It's a metaphorical novel about the author's relationship with his brother, told via the narrator, a father traveling with his son who has Downs Syndrome. (Although it's alluded to, not actually named -- neither are the other characters and places in the story.) They are conducting a mysterious census on behalf of a mysterious government with a dystopian feel to it. I was expecting some kind of revelatory ending about that, but instead the conclusion is as metaphorical as the rest of it, although quite moving. I didn't love it overall, honestly, but I'm still interested in reading discussions about it when the tournament begins. (When am I going to get to a Tournament book this year that blows me away? Still waiting...)

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Italian Teacher (by Tom Rachman)

I remember having hated The Imperfectionists, but looking back I seem to have kind of liked it? Apparently I was in the throes of new motherhood so really, who can say. (Also gift4gab recommended Kindle books through the library right there in the comments. Somehow it took me like six years to take her advice. Sorry, gift4gab, if you're still out there! You tried to tell me!)

Anyway, I ended up with a handful of ToB books to choose from once I dug into the list. I got about 75 pages or so into Call Me Zebra and disliked it very much, so I gave that one up and tried this one instead. This one I liked! It's kind of a tragicomedy about an incredibly frustrating sad sack named Pinch. (Yes, the names in this book are dumb: Pinch's father is named Bear.) Bear is a famous artist and womanizer who clearly doesn't care about Pinch; Pinch idolizes him.

The book is definitely about the art world and about Pinch (aka Charles) making his way through life mostly in the wake of his famous father. If you want likeable characters, do not read this; everyone is awful. But if you enjoy character sketches and don't need likeability, you may enjoy the story of Pinch: an ultimately poignant figure, very well-realized.

(Definitely does not unseat My Sister the Serial Killer for my zombie vote though.)

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