Monthly Archives: May 2015

Not a Short Story Sunday

There’s no story this week! I write these posts weeks in advance, so I could have scheduled one, but right now I am (if my past-self is right about this) in a hotel in Charlotte wrapping up my trip to ConCarolinas.

Also, I’m turning thirty. Right now.

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Yep, it’s my birthday! So I hope you will excuse the lack of story this week while I go hunt down some cake. I’ll try to find a gem for you guys¬†next week ūüôā

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Books I Plan To Have In My Beach Bag This Summer or Ten Books I Think Make Great Beach Reads.

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I miss Key West…

 

I’m not a huge beach reader. If I’m at the beach (which never happens often enough) or by the pool (which happens a little more often but still not often enough) I want to be swimming. Or at the very least sitting in the water with a margarita. Plus I’m really dependent on my glasses, so once they’re off, they’re off, and I’m blindly muddling around for the long haul; I don’t want to be groping around for glasses that then get wet and sandy. But in theory, beach reads should be fluffy and light, so here are some of my favorites of those.

1. The Mediator (Shadowland is number 1) by Meg Cabot. First, Meg Cabot books take like two minutes to read. Second, bright California sunshine. Third, hot cowboy ghost.

2. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Landline is a Christmas book, Fangirl & E&P give me too many hard feels, but Attachments is just the right balance of slightly-creepy/slightly-adorable RomCom for a beach book.

3. Unclaimed by Courtney Milan. As much as I love every single thing Milan writes (and, oh, I do), this is the one I would pick for a fluffy read. Cause Mark Turner.

4. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs. I’m really due for a reread of the Mercy books one of these days. Can’t beat a fun UF at the beach.

5. I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee. I’m not a huge fan of celebrity memoirs/humor essays, but this collection is light, fast, and fun.

6. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters. Remember when every out-of-copyright classic under the sun was getting the mash-up treatment? Thank god that moment of insanity is over. However, this one made me laugh and also: beach. Sea Monsters. Ta da. I am so clever. Speaking of…

7. Maplecroft by Cherie Priest. I actually haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, but it is LIZZIE BORDEN AND LOVECRAFTIAN HORRORS FROM THE DEEP. Yes, please.

8. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu. Every vacation-reads list (I’m officially changing it to vacation-reads halfway through the list and you can’t stop me) needs a big honking doorstop fantasy epic. This is the first book of that kind I’ve really wanted to read since A Dance With Dragons stomped on all my hopes and dreams a few years ago.

9. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. It’s summertime. You don’t want to overtax your brain, but maybe you still want to learn some stuff. Enter Bill Bryson, who always manages to teach you more than you ever thought you needed to know.

10. Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood. This one is not fluffy. It is not particularly light or fun. But it is the latest Atwood I’ve read and it is pretty much a masterpiece; plus, short stories are good for vacation reads because you can digest them in little bites.

That was…hard. Oh well, I won’t be making it to the beach this summer anyway, so I won’t need to pack a book bag. But does anyone have light and fluffy book recs for me? Cause clearly I need some.

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Review: The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin

372117Title: The Summer Guest

Author: Justin Cronin

Rating: 2 stars

I’m finally being forced to own up to why so many books from my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list have been lingering on my shelves for so long. It’s because they’re boring. So, so, so very boring.

I powered through The Summer Guest because I love Justin Cronin’s post apocalyptic vampire nightmare The Passage. I wish I hadn’t. Cronin has the bona fides and is¬†an artist with prose, but I¬†just¬†spent two weeks (two weeks!) on a book about white dudes waxing¬†poetic about war, manhood,¬†mortality, and fish. A book this size should have taken me four days, max. But¬†it felt like¬†it took me an hour to get through a single page, sometimes.

The Summer Guest is told in a number of different perspectives circling around a fishing camp in Maine. Harry Wrainwright, dying of cancer, is there to catch one last big one before he dies. He’s also bought the camp to bequeath to Jordan. Jordan’s in love with Kate, the daughter of the current owners, Joe-a draft dodger-Lucy. Except- and here is the big secret that the novel takes three hundred pages to tell but is obvious from the first page- Kate’s father is not actually Joe, it’s Harry.

That’s it. That’s the book. A lot of long, lingering, awful deaths (Harry’s, his first wife’s, his infant son’s, and Joe’s dad’s), a secret that’s not a secret, some really tepid romances, and fishing. Excuse me while I go inject myself with caffeine.

Look, Cronin’s a great writer. The man can craft a sentence. If philosophical novels set in the countryside in Maine are your bag, you’ll dig it. But it’s just the kind of literary MFA class bullshit that I am so tired of. There’s exactly one black person in this novel.¬†I think he was an bellboy. He was mentioned in a single line. Everyone else is white and, despite vague differentiations of class and gender, they all sound exactly the same.

The Summer Guest might have been better served by a short story format, or by a third-person point of view, or by not having so many fucking fish (How. How did I ever think I would enjoy a book featuring fishing? This is the real question I can’t get over). I don’t know. All I do know is that I kind of want my two weeks back, please. And that I really need to go through my tbr pile to really be sure that everything on there is something I actually want to read.

 

 

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First Impressions: Walter Mosley and Easy Rawlins

20342538It has been a ridiculously long time since I’ve done this feature.¬† I’ve been sticking to mostly-familiar authors for a while now. But I finally found a First Impressions book and author worth talking about, so here we go. A well-established author who is totally new to me. Let’s do this thing.

When I started tracking the diversity of the authors I read, I found that black men are among the most under-represented on my shelves. Walter Mosley is an incredibly prolific author, and I’ve been meaning to check him out for a few years now. So when I saw Rose Gold come across my desk, it seemed like the perfect time to jump in.

It’s 1968, and black power radical Uhuru Nolice has kidnapped Rosemary Goldsmith, the (white)¬†daughter of a prominent weapons manufacturer. Or at least, so it seems. The FBI, the State Department, and the LAPD each turn to Easy Rawlins to track down Nolice, but Rawlins finds himself untangling a mystery that goes deeper than a simple kidnapping.

So I have to start out by saying that it probably wasn’t the greatest idea to start on the thirteenth book in a series (the first Easy Rawlins book, Devil in a Blue Dress, was published all the way back in 1990). I didn’t need those previous books to understand anything that was going on in the plot. Mosley makes plenty of references to earlier adventures–perhaps too many. But I know that by jumping in so late, I’ve missed how the character has evolved, and some of the depth of his relationships.

That didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, though. Rose Gold is fairly simple as mysteries go–what complexity there is in the plot comes in from the fact that Rawlins is spinning so many plates in the air at one time. But the style of the book was great. Rawlins was an interesting character. A philosopher-poet one minute, powerfully violent the next. I never quite knew how he was going to respond to a given situation. It was interesting to find out.

Stylistically, there’s an obsession with color in this book, and I don’t just mean race. One of the things that struck me most was that when Easy walks into a room, he notices the colors of everything, every scrap of clothing, every bit of upholstery and furniture and paint. It was exhausting, in a way, but it was an interesting trick to convey that he is a detective:¬†his constant notice¬†was clearly part and parcel of his profession. And when it did come to race, I have to say that I admired Mosley’s descriptive style. It can be exhaustive and reductive to read skin colors described with “food words” (chocolate, cinnamon, coffee…trust me, whether you notice it or not, you’ve seen it a million times). Mosley avoids all that almost entirely. Rawlins’ corner of L.A. is full of different cultures, and the people are tawny. Bronze and copper. Sand. Pink. And, yes, rose gold. There are food words here and there, but they’re judicious, and it was a breath of fresh air to see race described in a different way than the usual. The only complaint I sort of have¬†regarding race is that there’s an American Indian character who is almost fetishized in the narrative.¬†¬†It’s a fine line, and Mosley played a little too close to the “noble savage” trope for my taste. But otherwise, this book is very much about¬†a clash of cultures, class, and race at¬†a turbulent time in American history.

It’s also a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same; most of Rawlins’ uneasy and interactions with police and white people, unfortunately, ring as true in 2015 as they did in 1968. It’s sad that this is the case, but it’s a mark of a good writer that an historical character can read as true as a modern one.

I’m inspired enough by Rose Gold that¬†I would like to go back to the very beginning. I’ll certainly be reading more of Mosley in the future.

 

 

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I Want to Meet

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Authors I REALLY Want To Meet.

The correct answer to this is: none. I do not do well with meeting my heroes. In fact, meeting regular, everyday strangers, something I am spectacularly un-good at? A cake walk compared to meeting someone I admire. But, if I was a normally social person, capable of articulating actual human words in the presence of people I admire? Then these are the people I’d love to meet.

1. Lynn Flewelling- she’s been one of my favorite writers since I was sixteen, and just seems like an all-around nice person.

2. N.K. Jemisin- I am obsessed with the worlds she creates.

3. John Scalzi- I was at a reading of his last year but I missed my chance at the signing line. But he is the guest of honor at a con I’m going to later this month, so perhaps I will get another chance.

4. Dan Chaon- my college writing professor was always talking about how great Dan Chaon is, to the point where I feel like I’ve already met him.

5. Bill Bryson- Bill Bryson could talk about tax code and it would be hysterical. I’d love to meet him.

6. Tana French- I’m in awe of her writing style.

7. Rainbow Rowell- Rowell seems like such a fun person, probably 75% of which comes down to the fact that her name is Rainbow.

8. David Mitchell- teach me how to use words, please.

9. Courtney Milan- and then I would completely geek out.

10. Margaret Atwood- and then I would be struck dead.

 

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Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

20312462Title: Jackaby

Author: William Ritter

Rating: 4 stars

Fun reads have been in short supply for me this year. I’ve read books that affected me deeply, beautiful books, books I wanted to wrap myself up in, but very few of them have been¬†fun.¬†And sometimes you just need that. So I was really happy¬†to find¬†Jackaby, a fast-reading, slightly silly detective¬†story.

In 1892, Abigail Rook steps off a ship in New England looking for adventure and a job. Within a day she has found herself the assistant to Jackaby, an eccentric investigator of supernatural crimes, and in the middle of a search for an active serial killer.

Jackaby¬†is billed as¬†Doctor Who¬†meets¬†Sherlock, which…yeah, that’s about right. The detective’s mad escapades put me in mind particularly of the Eleventh doctor, and Abigail the plucky companion.¬†¬†Luckily, Eleven’s my favorite, and Abigail, as narrator, had way more depth and character building than most of the unfortunate companions are usually allowed.

Humor is subjective, but I for one found Jackaby¬†to be hysterical. I haven’t laughed out loud at a book in a while, but this one got me a few times. There’s a fun cast of characters, including a duck, a ghost, and a weredog who is most definitely¬†not¬†a werewolf. There are all sorts of supernatural creatures¬†from all over the world clashing in one little New England town; something I love about books like this set in America is when every immigrant has brought¬†over their own stories and they’re made real. And the ending was kind of sweet and heart-warming.

Plus: That. Cover. Ya’ll.

Jackaby is marketed towards a YA crowd, but I think it’s the type of book that would appeal across a wide range of readers. It definitely didn’t have the usual YA teen love triangle shenanigans. It would be fine for middle grade readers if they are able to handle prose that’s a bit more challenging, and it was fine for this adult reader, too. I care less about reading levels and labels when I am able to get pulled¬†into a story, and¬†Jackaby¬†certainly pulled me in. I look forward to the next adventure.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Won’t Read

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Books I Will Probably Never Read. Because let’s face it, you can never read them all.

250748501. Paradise Lost by John Milton. I’ve tried to read Paradise Lost at least three times. I can never make it.

2.¬†The Martian¬†by Andy Weir. This book has great reviews, and I gave it a go for a few pages, but I just really wasn’t feeling it and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back.

3. Twilight, etc. Dear God in Heaven, absolutely not. Although I will admit to liking the soundtracks to the movies (which I have never, and will never, watched).

4.¬†Fifty Shades of Grey, etc.¬†See above. Add to that the fact that I work in a public library; seriously, the copies of these books that I’ve had to handle make me wish desperately for rubber gloves.

5. Anything written by Nicholas Sparks. Nicholas Sparks is just a vile, gross person who disdains the core audience that makes him millions of dollars. His books are sentimental trash. I will not ever pick one up.

6. Anything written by James Patterson. Patterson actually seems like a pretty cool¬†guy and people really love his books. But he (and his ghostwriters) just writes so damn many of them. (Again: public library worker. JP has at least one adult fiction, nonfiction, young adult, or middle grade title out every month.) I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where to start, nor do I want to get sucked into that kind of reading commitment.

7. The Girl in the Spider’s Web¬†by David Lagercrantz. Look, I¬†loved¬†the Millennium Trilogy, flaws notwithstanding. If Steig Larsson was still alive I would be eating those books up like ice cream every year or two. But he’s not alive. The series actually ended on a fairly fitting note. I have no desire to see Lisbeth Salander again, as much as I loved her. It reeks of desperation to eek every last penny¬†out of this series. Not for me.

8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I mean, I already know how it ends.

9.¬†A Little Princess¬†by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is a weird case: the 90s movie version is one of my favorite movies ever, and¬†The Secret Garden¬†is one of my favorite books (and I love the movie too!), but somehow when I was young I missed out on actually¬†reading¬†A Little Princess and I can’t really think of a way to revisit it without a time machine to make me 9 again.

10. Harry Potter. Sorry, Harry, I’m too old for you. (I was too old when I was 11. I never understood the whole Harry Potter thing–still don’t.)

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Review: While I’m Falling by Laura Moriarty

4994116Title: While I’m Falling

Author: Laura Moriarty

Rating: 3 stars

I’ve had While I’m Falling on my bookshelf for years, which made it the perfect candidate for the TBR Pile Challenge. (This is book five! I can’t believe I’ve stuck to it this long.) My brother picked it up for me at a library book sale, and I meant to read it, but life kept getting in the way, and when I looked at the blurb I had the sneaking suspicion that I probably wouldn’t like it very much, anyway. Well, it turns out it’s not terrible, but it’s not really the book for me, either.

Veronica is a twenty year old pre-med student whose life is falling apart in spectacular fashion. First, her parents get a divorce that no one saw coming. Then, in rapid succession, she struggles with her chosen major, crashes a near-stranger’s car, wrecks his apartment during a large party, sort-of cheats on her boyfriend, and faces general calamity. Meanwhile her mother, Natalie, struggling to pay bills during the divorce and to find relevance and career security after being a stay-at-home mom for almost thirty years, ends up homeless and saddled with an elderly, ailing dog. She winds up at Veronica’s dorm, and the two characters have to face the mess of their lives together.

I enjoyed Moriarty’s The Chaperone, mostly because it subverted so many of my expectations and didn’t feel as “Woman’s Fiction/Chick-Lit” as I anticipated it being. It had shades of that, but still surprised me. But While I’m Falling is very Chick-Lit. That’s not to say there’s not relevance to be found in Chick-Lit, but for me it felt quite shallow. Very sentimental. I knew, almost exactly, the arc the story would take and how it would ultimately end. If I had embraced the characters or the writing, that would have more than made up for it, but the characters annoyed me and the writing had a weird structural choice that threw me off.

I didn’t like Veronica. This is a problem as she was (for the most part) the narrator. There were a few reasons I didn’t like her. For one, she didn’t seem twenty, outside of her naivet√©. She mostly had the internal life of a much older woman. For another, she never once was conscious of her privilege. “Poor” means Dad made some bad investments and they had to cut their country club membership. “Hardship” means–horrors!–she has to work as an RA to help pay for college and doesn’t have a car. Of course this serves a purpose, leading to conflict when her mother ends up homeless, but even when things hit the farthest rock bottom, she is still a woman with plenty of options, well-off family members, a boring boyfriend who’s going to make plenty of money down the road, a job, a place to live, no real student loans. I just wish that once, instead of complaining about having to bum rides (like every college student ever) or live in a dorm, or knit Christmas presents instead of buying them, Veronica would acknowledge that she was not that bad off, all things considered.

Natalie was Veronica plus thirty years and one divorce. The book didn’t really distinguish her more than that. I even kept mixing up their names. (Veronica was a first person narrator, and every time I came across her name in the book I thought, “who?”) Natalie gets two third-person POV chapters in this book, randomly interspersed with Veronica’s narrative, which was really distracting. If you want to have multiple POVs in your book that’s fine, but please, let there be some structure.

Even at it’s most dramatic (Natalie getting picked up by a dubious trucker, Natalie getting drunk at the house party she shouldn’t be throwing and kissing a guy who’s written much more interestingly than her actual boyfriend), While I’m Falling is meditative, quiet, kind of boring. All in all, I’m about as ambivalent to this read as I was for the last one of the challenge, Graceling. I really need a book to come along and wow me, quick.

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April Round Up

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April has been interesting. Not least because I managed to not buy a single book. None at all! Why am I bragging about this on a book blog? Well, I decided that it was irresponsible of me to keep spending¬†money on books when I have so many sitting on the shelf¬†being ignored. And¬†while I didn’t make a huge dent in the pile,¬†my bank account is happier with me than its been for a¬†while.

Of course in May that’s all going to go to shit, but I tried.

Reading

I finished 11 books this month. Two were nonfiction, one was for the TBR Pile challenge. My favorite for the month was Station Eleven. 

Reading Diversity

I read one male author and ten female authors this month. Two authors (to my knowledge) were WOC and two of the books were in translation.

Writing

Guys. I’m writing Novel of Doom again.

I don’t quite know how it happened. I do know that somehow I spent four freaking months away from this book. But out of nowhere, I suddenly wanted to go back to the world. So I did.

I’ve crossed the 40,000 word mark which is…not a lot, but it’s probably the most words of one thing I’ve ever written, and is actually, coherently novel-shaped (at least, I think). From where I’m at now I’m projecting that I’ve got about 30 or 35 thousand more words left in it. But I’m pumped. I feel like I’m actually getting somewhere. Even if nothing ever comes of it in the wider world, this is a story that has been in my brain for most of my life, so seeing it take actual, rational, coherent shape is amazing.

Short stories have been less cooperative this month. Some random flashes floating around, and on the bigger stuff I never can seem to write a decent ending. Ho hum. Novel thing #2 is shelved for a bit while I ponder research I must do for it. I think I’m going to have to¬†visit Boston. Good job, self, setting a novel in a city you hated living in.

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TV Junkie

ORPHAN BLACK IS BACK. I am so, so excited! Only two episodes in so far, but it has been fantastic.

My TV habits have actually paid off¬†extraordinarily well this month.¬†Better Call Saul,¬†The Americans¬†and¬†Vikings¬†all¬†went out on strong notes.¬†Mad Men’s¬†swan song is making me get out of bed each Sunday,¬†Scandal¬†is…look, can we please just make it the Mellie Grant show already?, and¬†Call the Midwife¬†is back, too.¬†Call the Midwife¬†has succeeded in making me cry at least once per episode for four ¬†seasons now. It turns me into an emotional train wreck. And yet I can’t stop watching it.

And then there is¬†Orphan Black.¬†I rewatched the first two seasons before it came back and it was even better than I remembered. And with each new episode, they are definitely pushing things, and I love it so far. I’ll stay vague like that for the time being except I have to say one thing that might push your spoiler boundaries if you’re sensitive so look away now-ish…Alison trying to become a¬†drug lord is probably the most Alison thing she’s ever done and I love it. Out of all the awesome stuff in the past two episodes, that has been my favorite development. Team Hendrix and their ample stones all the way.

About the only thing I’m missing right now is¬†Game of Thrones.¬†But I’m already a season + behind, and I’m starting to think that I’ll wait for the show to reach its end before I go back to finish it.

And that is April. May is going to be a super busy month, with book readings and a convention to attend. And then in June I’m seeing The Decemberists and Newsies in the course of like a week. Busy, busy little bee over here.

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