Thursday, September 1, 2016

Month in Review: August 2016

Month in Review: August 2016

So, I'm back. Summer was summery. The kids fought too much, and I am delighted to have them back in school.

I read an astonishing 24 books in August, although at least one of them was very short. After a summer reading adult books almost exclusively, I got back into reading kidlit and YA to keep up with the Missouri state readers awards in those categories.  

Adult books (mostly fiction)

1. Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams - My first Williams novel. This was for my in-person book club, and it was just okay for me. As with most dual storyline novels, I felt like the storyline set more in the past was the stronger one and carried very little for the other narrative stream. My book group seemed to really like it though. 

2. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson - This was great, but not as great as Brown Girl, Dreaming. Seriously if I could get everyone to read Brown Girl, I would. My sci fi/fantasy-loving husband did, and he loved it too. But Another Brooklyn was good, and short. It leaves you wanting more. It is about a group of girls growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s.

3. Arrowood by Laura McHugh - This was pretty good. It is about a woman who returns to the Iowa town where she and her family had lived before her sisters' disappearance.

4. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn - Dennis-Benn's first novel is a powerful story about a family of women living in Jamaica. It is about the desperate pressures of poverty and getting by. This was one seriously messed up family.

5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - Another amazing debut novel! Also depressing. Two girls in Ghana live very different lives, and we watch as their families' stories continue to diverge through the generations. It covers 300 years of colonization and African and American history. 

6. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett - A wonderful novel about the reverberations of mental illness in a family and the medicalization of mental illness and how we treat it. Chilling. Also it gets bonus points for introducing me to kratom the week before it became a banned substance. I saw a story on it last night and was like, "Oh! Oh! I know what that is!"

7. March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell - Part two of John Lewis's graphic novel that follows him on his journey from college student to political activist and major player in the Civil Rights Movement. Book Two covers the Freedom Riders and the March on Washington.

8. Siracusa by Delia Ephron - Two couples travel to Italy together and come back changed. Not my cup of tea, but I knew that going in. I just wanted to be entertained. I wish it had come together differently. The big event that we learn about at the end was a major turn-off for me, and the teasing style annoyed me at times. 

9. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel - Honestly I finished this on August 1, and it feels so long ago. A sci fi novel. We discover something strange buried in the earth, and it goes from there. I am not sure what would be considered a spoiler, so I will leave it at that. I liked the characters and their interactions.

10. The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood - Another one that feels like I read it ages ago. A chilling premise that feels too possible in this day and age. Then I find out that it is loosely based on something that happened in Australia in the 70s! This one gets bonus points for its feminist themes. Feminism is my jam.

11. The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan - A sweeping saga about a man and his horse farm. Sort of. But also racism, family, and a powerful critique of our social structures. This felt overly long. The author tended to wax poetic at times, and it didn't always work for me. Morgan is definitely a talented writer, but WTH was that ending? 

12. The Story of My Tits by Jennifer Hayden - A graphic memoir about author's life with her breasts: starting with their development and ending with her battle with breast cancer and covering all of her life and relationships in-between. I picked this up partly because I know someone with the same name as the author, then that friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was good, not great.

13. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters - A novel set in an USA where the Civil War didn't happen, not only is there still slavery in a handful of states, but racism everywhere seems to be more overt. A slave catcher, a sort of undercover operative of the US Marshals Service, is hunting an escaped slave in Indianapolis. I thought this was very interesting, but it suffered in comparison to the next novel.

14. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - I am going to tell you right away that this novel is part historical fiction and part speculative fiction. I didn't realize that going in and was very confused until I learned to just roll with its anachronisms and inaccuracies and embrace the journey. It is a classic hero's quest story, and it is phenomenal.

15. The Unseen World by Liz Moore - A girl tries to crack the code of her father's mysterious past. This was a pageturner for me. Well, really, I listened to it, but I finished it in just 1-2 days, which means I listened at every available minute. It has faded a little since I finished it, but still a good literary novel with a hint of science fiction.

16. Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein - I took a huge break in the middle of reading this to finish things that had to be read right then, and the book suffered for it. Ultimately I would recommend this to anyone raising daughters. I have boys, but I read it because 1) feminism, and 2) I want to raise my sons to be good people who are respectful to women.

Young Adult books

17. Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway - A preliminary nominee for the 2017-2018 Missouri Gateway Readers Award. Emmy & Oliver are best friends, when Oliver is kidnapped by his father. He is returned 10 years later, and they struggle to reconnect. This was just okay for me. 

18. Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither - A girl's sister dies and is replaced by a clone, then the clone is involved in a death. Is it part of a larger plot? I found this one's premise more interesting than the previous book, but it was still just okay for me. Falls the Shadow is a 2016-2017 Missouri Truman Readers Award nominee. 

19. Some Boys by Patty Blount - Grace says she was raped at a party, but everyone at school seems to be on his side. She is bullied and made miserable, but refuses to hide or back down from her story. Does it matter that he used to be her boyfriend or that she was drinking and dressed provocatively? This was good. Some Boys is a 2016-2017 Missouri Gateway Readers Award nominee.

20. What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler - Kate went to a party, got drunk, and was escorted home by a male friend. After she left a girl may have been raped. This book focuses more on the people who stand by and do nothing. The girl that was raped is only in it briefly. The focus is on Kate as she struggles to figure out what happened and how it affects her relationships with her classmates. I found this more thought-provoking than Some Girls. What We Saw is a preliminary nominee for the 2017-2018 Missouri Gateway Readers award. 

Middle Grade books

21. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky by Sandra Dallas - A somewhat simplistic story about a girl whose family is interned in a camp in rural Colorado during World War II. This could be a good introduction for kids to a troubling episode in our nation's history. A 2016-2017 nominee for the Missouri Mark Twain Readers award.

22. The Lost Tribes by C. Taylor-Butler - A good middle-grade sci-fi adventure story about a group of kids who are starting to suspect that their parents are more than they seem to be. The book features a racially diverse group of kids. (Disclaimer: The author is a friend of a friend.)

23. The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry - A wildly implausible story about a group of eighth grade kids who suspect that the people sitting behind them on an airplane are up to no good and set out to foil their terrorist plot.

So many good books this month, but the standout favorite is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. So, so good it makes it hard to think about other books.

24. Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon - An easy read with lots of pictures good for a child that is reading chapter books. My boys both enjoyed Vernon’s Dragonbreath series, so I picked this one up to see what it was like.

**I am having huge problems getting images to copy into my blog right now, so I am skipping pictures of book covers for right now. I am not sure if it is me, or Blogger, or my new to me Mac. Anyway, I apologize.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

The Woman Upstairs

Claire Messud
A. A. Knopf

First lines: "How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that."

The next paragraph is actually pretty freaking brilliant and sets the tone for the book really well.

The Woman Upstairs is Nora Eldridge, third grade teacher and part-time artist. Never married. As Nora explains it, the woman upstairs is not Ralph Ellison's invisible man in the basement or Bronte's madwoman in the attic: she is "the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who always smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound" (6). She lives Thoreau's life of "quiet desperation". In her 37th year, Nora becomes entangled with the family of a foreign student, and it changes her. Or maybe not exactly changes her, but wakes her up and makes her no longer able to continue in the life she was living.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. I have seen people complain about Nora's unlikeableness, and frankly that is not a big concern of mine. I want characters who feel real. I think most of us have something unlikeable about us, and if a book was written, it might not be about my good side. We could write a book about Nora's years as a teacher, of caring for her ailing mother, of being a dutiful daughter to her father. But where is the fun in that? 

I would love to have a discussion with someone about this book. Why is Nora so angry? What do you make of the fact that Nora seems to have inherited her anger from her mother despite the fact that their lives turned out so differently? Or were they so different after all?

***I hadn't intended to write an actual review, but I had more to say than I realized! Back soon, with mini-reviews of the other books I have been reading...

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's Monday, May 16th! What Are You Reading?


It is a new week and time for the weekly Monday post. "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date that gives bloggers a chance to share what they have been reading and what they plan to read next.

Here is what I am currently reading:

The Woman Upstairs

I am listening to The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. This is one from my backlist must list. I have the physical book checked out also, so I imagine I will get through this one quickly.

The Lost Tribes

I am also in the middle of The Lost Tribes by C. Taylor-Butler. The author is the friend of the sister of my friend, and I'd meant to read it when it first came out last year, but I forgot. So far, so good. I look forward to learning more about another culture.

Other than Inkspell, which my son and I are still reading together, that is it for right now!

I still have a few on deck from last week, The Excellent Lombards, Big Girls Don't Cry, and Sunday's on the Phone to Monday. I have more audiobooks on deck than I can hope to get read before they are due, but my home fiction shelf has been winnowed down to things that I really want to read. Here is a sampling of what I have available right now.

Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American SoulGolden Age (Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga #3)Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
AmericanahMs. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thursday Thoughts, May 12th - Diversity

Armchair BEA

First, I stole this topic from Armchair BEA. Although I am not a participant this year, I am following along. Yesterday ABEA asked people to introduce themselves, then talk about diversity.

Diversity is pretty important to me. I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of my reading. In addition to title and author, I also track genre, format, source, year of publication, and the gender and nationality of author. I also have a somewhat fuzzy category that I call diversity. It is a simple 0/1 entry that I can then total at the end of the year/month/etc.

Initially it represented the author's race/ethnicity and sexual orientation, but I have started giving myself credit for other differences, like mental or physical disabilities. This is problematic. If the author doesn't have a disability, should it count? How do you know what connection the author has to a disability? I don't count books written by white people about African-Americans as diverse books, i.e., Sue Monk Kidd, Kathryn Stockett, or even Harper Lee. Why should I count a book written by a healthy person about a person with a disability?

Rarely is the answer easy. A good example of an easily categorized book is The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. The author is actually autistic. But what about Steve Silberman's NeuroTribes that looks at the history of autism? Steve Silberman is not autistic, but he's written a sensitive portrayal of autism. Should it count?

Even things that seem more straightforward can be confusing. Is an author Latina or racially mixed? Can you tell from an author photo? Do you read their bio? Is this a good use of my time? Sexual orientation can be even trickier. And transgender. The book Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt is in the same tricky category as Silberman's book. Or what about Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman which is a fictionalized account of his son's descent into schizophrenia and features artwork by his son? Shusterman is also Jewish. Does that count? Do they have to be practicing Jews or write about actively Jewish characters for it to count?

The diversity column is my least favorite column on my spreadsheet. I want to read diverse books, but how do I know which books are diverse?

What do you think?

Monday, May 9, 2016

It's Monday, May 9th! What Are You Reading?


It is another new week and time for the weekly Monday post. "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date, where bloggers share what they have been reading and what they plan to read in the next week.

I can't believe another week is over! I am not sure where last week went!!

Anyway, here is what I am currently reading:

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman is my first Backman. Initially I was overwhelmed by the sheer quirkiness of its characters, but it has grown on me. I am not sure if I will pick up more of his books though.

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

I had The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida on my one of my "It's Monday" lists last month, but now I have actually started it. It is pretty interesting. It was written by a thirteen year old Japanese boy who is severely autistic and largely non-speaking.

Tuesday Nights in 1980

I am listening to Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss. It's good. It centers on a handful of characters connected in some way to the art scene in New York City in 1980.

I have a few books on deck.

The Excellent LombardsBig Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American WomenSunday's on the Phone to Monday
The Serpent KingEvery Heart a DoorwayGhettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

What are you reading this week?

Monday, May 2, 2016

It's Monday, May 2nd! What Are You Reading?


It's a new week and time for the weekly Monday post! "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It gives bloggers a chance to share with they have been reading and what they plan to read next.

It's a new month! Happy May! Only 16 more days of school left for the kids.

Here is what I am currently reading:

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi is a book of short stories. I've only read the first 2 so far, and, while I prefer longer form fiction, they have both been very interesting.

The Memory of Light

I am listening to The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork, read by Frankie Corzo. After Vicki's suicide attempt, she finds herself in a state mental hospital. There she makes friends and tries to understand what drove her to try to commit suicide and how to get well. 

Maniac Magee

I am also reading Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. This is my first Spinelli. It won the Newbery Medal back in 1991, so it seemed like a good place to start.

And that is what I'm currently reading. Up next, I have a few books. 

On audio:

The PassengerThe Serpent KingPrivate Citizens

And in print:

All Stories Are Love StoriesEleven HoursThe Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo, #1)

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

(Tri-) Weekly Review, Saturday, April 30th

Wow! I have been putting off my weekly reviews for almost 3 weeks now, which means that I have 20 books to cover. It also means that since April 10th I have finished a book a day, which seems crazy. Tomorrow is the last day of April, and before I can summarize my month, I need to get caught up on my reviews. Sorry, these will be super short!

Out of DarknessThe Naturals (The Naturals, #1)The Monsters of Templeton

1. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez - YA historical fiction about the worst school disaster in U.S. history; also racism; 4 stars.

2. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes - YA nominee for Gateway Readers Award about a teenager who is recruited by the FBI to analyze cold cases but ends up in the middle of an active investigation; 3 stars.

3. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff - Adult fiction novel about a twenty-something woman who returns to her hometown of Templeton and spends the summer trying to sort out her life and figure out who her daddy is based on old letters and diary entries. 3.5 stars.

The NestInkheart (Inkworld, #1)Thousand Words

4. The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney - Adult fiction novel about a group of adult siblings who were relying on getting an inheritance when the youngest sister turned 40, but find out Mom spent the money on big brother, and they are left trying to figure out how to clean up the financial messes they are in. 4 stars.

5. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke - Juvenile fiction novel about a man who can read people and animals out of a book and is being hunted by an evil book villain because of it. 4 stars.

6. Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown - YA nominee for Gateway Readers Award about a girl who sends her boyfriend a naked picture of herself and ends up paying for it. 3 stars.

Ways to DisappearAlexander HamiltonAll Our Yesterdays

7. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey - Adult fiction novel about a woman who travels to Brazil to look for the missing author whose work she translates. She meets up with the author's children and misadventures ensue. It is both thoughtful and light. 3.5 stars.

8. Alexander Hamilton (abridged) by Ron Chernow - Adult nonfiction about one of the U.S.'s founding fathers. I checked out the audiobook from the library not realizing it was abridged until I downloaded it, but in the end I think it was detailed enough for me. 4 stars.

9. All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill - YA nominee for Gateway Readers Award about a girl who is trying to stop the creation of a time machine. 3.5 stars.

Gaby, Lost and FoundThe Rules for Disappearing (The Rules for Disappearing, #1)Rapunzel Untangled

10. Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes - Juvenile fiction nominee for Twain Readers Award about a girl whose mom has been deported to Honduras. 3 stars.

11. The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston - YA nominee for Gateway Readers Award about a girl in the witness protection program with her family, but they won't tell her why. 3.5 stars.

12. Rapunzel Untangled by Cindy C. Bennett - YA nominee for Truman Readers Award about a girl who is trapped in a tower (modern retelling of Rapunzel). 2.5 stars.

The Summer Before the WarThe Queen of the Night13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

13. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson - Adult fiction novel about a woman who is trying to make her living as a latin teacher in the town of Rye, England, at the beginning of WWI. 3.5 stars.

14. The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee - Adult fiction novel about an opera singer whose past has come to find her. 4 stars.

15. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad - Adult fiction novel that follows a girl who struggles with her weight into adulthood, meeting her in different stages of her life in each of 13 chapters. I thought it was a smart but uneven discussion of the body image issues that plague us. 4 stars.

All American BoysJane SteeleOne Good Turn (Jackson Brodie, #2)

16. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely - YA novel about police brutality. Very straightforward but still manages to tease out a lot of the surrounding issues. 4.5 stars.

17. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye - Adult fiction novel that re-imagines Jane Eyre as a murderess with a conscience. Not great literature, just great fun. 4.5 stars.

18. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson - Adult fiction novel in which Jackson Brodie travels to Edinburgh where he witnesses a couple crimes and encounters a lot of interesting characters. 3.5 stars.

Only Love Can Break Your HeartMargaret the First

19. Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington - Adult fiction novel in which Rocky grows up in a small Virginia town and experiences heartbreak. Also filled with interesting characters. 3.5 stars.

20. Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton - Adult fiction novel about Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), an English noblewoman during the interregnum and restoration, known for her writing and offbeat sense of style. That outfit that she wore to the theater! 3.5 stars.

Random spoilery thought: I was thinking about the book that Bea almost writes in The Nest because I knew it reminded me of something, and I finally figured it out: What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt. Hustvedt is married to author Paul Auster, and What I Loved is based loosely on something that happened to/near Auster's son from his first marriage.