Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Carry On (by Rainbow Rowell)

If the words Drarry, Johnlock, and slashfic mean nothing to you, you may want to skip this review.

This is a Fangirl spinoff -- it's basically the story that Cath was writing fic about in Fangirl, Rowell's novel about fanfiction -- very meta.  And at the time I read Fangirl, Cath's fic read like Potterlock, aka John/Sherlock fanfic set in the world of Harry Potter.  Carry On still feels very much like Potterlock, except the world is fleshed out more, and so is the relationship between Harry and Draco John and Sherlock Simon and Baz.

The world is still a blatant Harry Potter ripoff, except with some twists on the rules of magic.  Plus, the identity of the bad guy is super obvious, lacking the classic Rowling twist where it's always the person you least suspect! And yet, I enjoyed reading about this world and these characters, especially Penelope and Baz.  Plus, the central relationship and romance was done well.

As a standalone, it works less well. It's like jumping into Harry Potter in book seven, where Rowell kind of handwaves a whole bunch of backstory that would have made this far more satisfying to actually read.  (I feel like actual fanfic writers need to get on this, since they could probably write books 1-6 pretty satisfyingly. And what's a few more extra layers of meta.)

So, I think this is pretty specifically for people who love Harry Potter and don't mind that this is basically a reimagining, but also with slashy versions of John and Sherlock plunked into it somehow.  This is a niche audience, for sure, but I'm definitely one of those people!

(Oh, and in case you think I'm reading too much into this with the Johnlock thing, I present Exhibit A, the cover. Also Exhibit B, Rowell reads both Drarry and Johnlock fic, as she has confirmed on Twitter. I rest my case.)

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Treasure (by Rebekah Weatherspoon)

A quick read for the "LGBTQ romance" category of the Read Harder Challenge.* A lot of the Goodreads group recommendations were books that were not quite romance, more literary fiction (like Sarah Waters's work or The Price of Salt). But I wanted to challenge myself to read actual romance, which is not a genre I normally read.

*I also think this might qualify for the "micropress" category, as this seems to be from a small press specializing in LGBTQ romance. (Also all the POV characters were characters of color, but I've fulfilled that category already.)

This was a fast, enjoyable read. I loved the main characters (Treasure/Tricia and Alexis) and their romance. The sex scenes were sexy. I loved the sex-positive attitude towards stripping. My only problem is that it ended too quickly; it could easily have been twice as long, as I think the central relationship could have been explored in more depth and I wanted to spend more time with the characters. 

Although romance is generally not my thing, Weatherspoon is extremely talented and I would happily read her work again!

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (by Cheryl Strayed)

This was such a bizarre reading experience -- having nothing to do with the book itself, but with the various formats I tried to read it in. First, I read Strayed's piece in The Sun Magazine about the death of her mother and was completely blown away. I found her writing as "Dear Sugar" overly mannered and precious at times, so I had always resisted reading Wild thinking her style was maybe not for me. But I loved that essay so much, I decided to dive in and read Wild.

I was also looking for a new audiobook, and this seemed like a perfect story to listen to. I was hoping Strayed had narrated herself, because I heard her speak at a Hillary Clinton campaign event (sigh) and enjoyed her way of telling a story. But it was a different narrator. And I can't even put my finger on why, exactly, but a few commute-lengths into the book and I was done. I hated the narrator's voice so much that I dreaded pressing play, and it was actually ruining a wonderful book. So then I bought it on Kindle instead.

Except then the Kindle version was the "Oprah edition," so every so often a paragraph would be underlined in blue text and there would be a "note from Oprah" telling you some banal thing like "oh, I would have been so scared of the frogs!" or "I really loved this sentence!"  Nothing against Oprah but who gives a rat's ass if Oprah is scared of frogs, I just wanted to read Wild. And it pulled me out of the actual words and story every single time

So I pushed through a lot of irritation, I'm saying, to get to the end of Wild. But it's worth it, because indeed it is wonderful, as wonderful as the essay that kicked off this thing. I returned the stupid Oprah edition on my Kindle though. Whenever I want to re-read it, I'm going back to nature, and buying myself a good old paperback.

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Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom Novel (by Deborah Yaffe)

I enjoyed this exploration of the fandom around Jane Austen -- it reminded me for the 100th time how much I want to do a Jane Austen-themed driving tour around England, because I was extremely jealous that she got to see Jane's cottage, a lock of her hair, and even Norland Park from the wonderful Ang Lee Sense & Sensibility. It also made me realize how long it's been since I've reread Northanger Abbey.  In addition to all the envy she inspires, Yaffe writes with erudition, intellect, and humor about one of my favorite authors ever. What's not to like?

"Austen’s work is not just a Rorschach test, a collection of inkblots with no meaning beyond the mind of the viewer. The rich diversity of responses to Austen captures something real about her—the depth and complexity of her writings, which, like diamonds held up to sunlight, reflect something different from every angle. Her stories are not blank canvases onto which we project ourselves; they are complicated, ambiguous pictures of lived reality. We all find ourselves in her because, in a sense, she contains us all."

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Big Little Lies (by Liane Moriarty)

I thought I was going to have a couple more books finished by the end of my trip because I'm halfway through them, but I picked up a paperback of Big Little Lies in the airport and of course I devoured it on the plane and train rides back home. Perfect airplane read, very juicy, twisty and satisfying. I knew some of the twists, saw others coming, and was completely surprised by a couple. Now I'm excited to see how the miniseries turned out.

(Also, by coincidence, this is set in Australia, over 5,000 miles from my home, and so qualifies for the RHC. Bonus!) 

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Business Trip Reads

I am halfway through my business trip but have already finished reading quite a few things, and I wanted to post about them before I get hopelessly behind.

Unnaturally Green (by Felicia Ricci) 

None of my theater-loving friends called to tell me this memoir existed and I am not sure I forgive them! This is a memoir of Felicia Ricci's time playing Elphaba as a standby in the San Francisco company of Wicked.  Tons of inside theater (and Wicked-specific) detail, and very well-written and edited. This was self-published but Ricci apparently majored in English at Yale, which may explain why she manages to be a talented actor and singer but also an outstanding, funny, engaging writer. Highly recommended for theater fans. 

The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South (by Bruce Levine) 

I was interested in reading about the Civil War after finishing Kindred, so I picked this one up. There are so many Civil War books, but I liked that this one focused on the disintegration of the antebellum south, specifically about the ending of slavery. It's a perspective on that war that I haven't read before, and I learned a lot from it. It is a bit too editorial for my taste -- Levine quotes some contemporary Civil War diaries from plantation owners and they are often described as "sniffing" or "sneering" their words. I prefer my non-fiction bone dry. But this lens on history was illuminating.  I'm moving on to the Autobiography of Malcolm X next, and fantasizing about teaching a literature class including these three books and The Hate U Give. Oh, the essays I could assign!

Also, this is yet another book I've read this year that makes Lincoln in the Bardo feel toothless.

Finally, two Read Harder Challenge books, an all-ages comic and a superhero comic with a female lead:

Princeless: Save Yourself (by Jeremy Whitley) 

This one was the all-ages comic. I don’t think I really “get” comic books. Graphic novels, I get -- they have a beginning, middle, and end. But comic books have a beginning and that’s it. Plus, I find them unsatisfying because it takes me maybe 15 minutes to read one. Is the idea that you spend some time appreciating the artwork and not just reading the words? Because mostly, comic art doesn’t really do it for me. (I did love the art in Fray, the Buffy spinoff comic.) So, I don’t know. I'm glad this exists and has a great message, and I will definitely save it for Mina. But I'll probably wait until there's a collection and not a single issue.  Such as...


Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal (by G. Willow Wilson)

This is a collection of the first five Ms. Marvel comics. Right away I found this more my speed, as the main character, a Muslim girl named Kamala Khan, has more complexity and and there is more of an overarching narrative. It does leave in a "to be continued" moment though, and it did read extremely quickly even though I tried to spend more time appreciating the artwork. Anyway, I really am glad Ms. Marvel exists, but I probably won't continue with the series until, again, there's a collected volume that actually has a complete story in it.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Upside of Unrequited (by Becky Albertalli)

Super charming YA novel seemingly designed to push all my buttons -- a witty chubby girl heroine,  nerdy love interest, lesbian interracial moms, an exploration of the bonds of sisterhood, progressive politics, a fun plot, an ending that resonated emotionally. Recommended to me by Jenfu, who knew it would be Mo-nip. Definitely loved it.

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Monday, July 03, 2017

Kindred (by Octavia Butler)

My "classic by a person of color" pick for the Read Harder Challenge.  The premise is that Dana, a black woman living in modern-day 1978, is somehow pulled back into the past of her ancestors by Rufus, a boy whose life is in danger.  (Whenever he is near death, Dana is "summoned" from the future to save him.) Rufus is the son of a slaveowner, and lives on a plantation, and as he grows up, Dana returns to him over and over again, trying to navigate life as a slave and among slaves, adjust to her changing relationship with Rufus, and not lose her modern sense of self or her relationship with her (white) husband.

Having read a lot of painful narratives of slavery lately, what surprised me most is what a fast read this was and how little Butler deals with the modern-day narrative. I expected much more about Kevin's and Dana's contrasting experiences in the past, and how it might pull them apart in various ways.  It definitely feels like a book written decades ago, in that sense -- it does not grapple with issues of race the way I feel like we are in 2017 grappling with those issues. Instead, it focuses on telling Dana's story of her experience in a complex and painful past.

Overall, it's a riveting story, well-told. Dana is a great character and the pace is unrelenting (she spends hours or days at home while in Rufus's world, years pass.) I couldn't put this one down, and really enjoyed it.

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