Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Month in Books - April 2014

April 2014 was a big month for me. I returned to book blogging after being mostly absent since November of 2008. If I was a GIF person, I would be a celebratory GIF here. Feel free to imagine one. In my mind, I think I see a dancing Carlton or maybe an Elaine Benes. 

Here is what I read this month:

The Good Lord BirdWinger (Winger, #1)The Art of FieldingLongbournThe Husband's SecretPieLexiconDreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)

It's hard to pick a favorite because I liked most of them, and they were all so different. Here are my quick ratings:

Relish - None
Read+ - Winger, The Art of Fielding, Lexicon, Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Read - The Good Lord Bird
Riffle - Longbourn, The Husband's Secret, Pie
Recycle - None

Other methods of sorting:
Books by gender: Male - 4; Female - 4. If I had to guess, I'd say this is a rare tie, I feel like I gravtitate toward female authors.
Diversity rating - 1/8. This is a little pitiful.
Books by reading level: Adult - 5; YA - 2; MR (middle reader) - 1

So that's that. Time to turn the page on a new month.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intro - Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah

Radiance of Tomorrow

"It is the end, or maybe the beginning, of another story.
Every story begins and ends with a woman, a mother,
     a grandmother, a girl, a child.
Every story is a birth . . .

She was the first to arrive where it seems the wind no longer exhaled. Several miles from town, the trees had entangled one another. Their branches grew toward the ground, burying the leaves in the soil to blind their eyes so the sun would not promise them tomorrow with its rays. It was only the path that was reluctant to cloak its surface completely with grasses, as though it anticipated it would soon end its starvation for the warmth of bare feet that gave it life."


So begins Ishmael Beah's first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow. In an author's note, Beah explains that he grew up in Sierra Leone and, in writing the novel, he seeks to capture their oral traditions and language. He tries to capture the expressive nature of Mende, his "mother tongue". He gives an example of the difference between English and Mende: "For example, in Mende, you wouldn't say 'night came suddenly': you would say 'the sky rolled over and changed its sides.'" (viii) You can really see this expressiveness in the opening paragraph. It is a little awkward for a native English speaker, but having read the first couple chapters already, I can say that it does get easier to read. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - 4/28/14

It's a new week! I am starting the Whole30 today, which hopefully won't cut into my blogging time too much as I have to prepare all meals. I am just tired of not feeling great all the time.

Anyway, on to the books! Some of my list hasn't changed since last week. I am still working my way through Emily Dickinson and listening to Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is still my nonfiction book. It's not very long, so there really is no excuse for how long it is taking me to read it!

The Complete Poems Of Emily DickinsonThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in DeathFlight Behavior

For fiction, right now I am reading Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah.

Radiance of Tomorrow

On deck, I have The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, which half the blogosphere has read and convinced me to buy.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

I'm also reading Prodigy by Marie Lu aloud to my son. This is a bit more boy-girl relationship stuff than he would like, but otherwise he loves this series.

Prodigy (Legend, #2)

And that sums it up. What are you reading this week?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

Max Barry

First line: "He's coming around."

As Lexicon opens, Wil Parke finds himself being assaulted in an airport bathroom. Two guys have cornered him and are injecting something into his eye while asking him weird questions in an attempt to ascertain whether he is the person they are looking for. It is an off balance opening, throwing the reader into the action in a world that sort of looks like ours but clearly isn't, and that off balance feeling continues for several chapters as the readers struggles to piece things together.

The second chapter introduces Emily Ruff, a girl who makes her living running a card trick on the pier. But when a trick goes wrong, Emily is left out in the cold. It turns out Lee, her mark, likes to ask the same questions as the guys in the airport bathroom, and through him she gets a chance to have a new life at a school in Washington, D.C., that teaches students to use words to manipulate people, to "compromise" them and make them do whatever the speaker desires. It is a trick that Lee tried on Emily and the bathroom guys tried on Wil. The idea is that by asking a series of simple questions, the speaker can make a preliminary psychological profile of you that allows him or her to identify what segment you belong to and how best to compromise you. To what end is unclear.

What I Thought: I liked it, but I really struggled to get into it. I like the idea that words have the power to manipulate, which they clearly do. However the words they use in the novel are not real words. They are powerful phonemes that activate different centers of the brain strung together. It reminds me of how people will sometimes post lists of their favorite or least favorite words (serendipity? moist?). Some words just sound wonderful and others do not. Some of it is meaning, but it also the way the sounds flow together. 

If you like science fiction or are looking for a different sort of literary mystery, you should try this book. It reminds me of Jasper Fforde. Also, read the Acknowledgements. You'll be glad you did.

Rating: Read

A couple quotes:

Every story written is
marks upon a page
The same marks
repeated, only
differently arranged. (Epigraph)

"I just read them for fun."
"That doesn't sound like fun. That sounds awful."
"Awful used to mean 'full of awe.' The same meaning as awesome. I learned that from a dictionary."
He blinked.
"See?" she said. "Fun." (p.321)

First 50 Friday - The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel

Elizabeth L. Silver

First lines: In this world, you are either good or evil. If not, then a court or a teacher or a parent is bound to tag your identity before you’ve had a chance to figure it out on your own. The gray middle ground, that mucous-thin terrain where most of life resides, is really only a temporary annex, like gestation or purgatory.
In the first 50 pages of this book, we meet Noa, Oliver Stansted, a young lawyer, and Marlene Dixon, the mother of the woman Noa was convicted of killing. In flashbacks we also meet Noa’s mother and some childhood acquaintances.

Noa P. Singleton is on death row for the murder of Sarah (and Sarah’s child?). It has been ten years since the murder.  She was found guilty and sentenced to death. Sarah’s mother, Marlene, spoke movingly at her sentencing about the need for the death penalty in the case. Noa does not seem particularly repentant. She seems like a hardened con. She has so far avoided giving an explanation for why she killed Sarah.
We also learn a bit about Noa’s upbringing. She was raised by a single mother, an actress, who was involved in a string of relationships. She has a half-brother from one of those relationships. They were a middle class family, living in California. Noa graduated salutatorian of her high school and briefly attended the University of Pennsylvania. She dropped out after an emergency abortion and partial hysterectomy during her first semester.

After the first 50 pages, I am somewhat intrigued about where this is going, but I also wonder if it is ultimately going to piss me off. I feel like a late plot reveal twist is coming, and I wonder how satisfying it will really be. 

I give the beginning 3 stars, but the more I think about it, the more I really think that I won't enjoy where this book is going. Fragmented stories and big plot reveals are quickly becoming a literary pet peeve. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - 4/22/14 - Top Ten Characters Who X

Top Ten Characters Who Piss Me Off

When I finally sat down last week and recommitted to getting this blog off the ground, I was excited about getting to participate in more Top Ten Tuesdays. I adore lists. Lists of characters though generally leave me cold, but I'll give this a shot.

These characters didn't necessarily piss me off while I was reading the book, but in retrospect I'm pretty mad at them.

Outlander (Outlander, #1)The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for GirlsThe Girl You Left BehindAllegiant (Divergent, #3)Defending JacobThe DinnerThe GargoyleBeautiful Ruins

1. Jamie and Claire from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - I know everyone just loves these books, but I don't. The whole premise is uncomfortable, and their relationship feels like a caricature to me. Plus the whole Jonathan (the equally over the top villain) looks like Frank thing creeps me out. What's that about anyway? Oh, and a pet name that sounds like Sasquatch? Not cool.

2. The camp director in The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani - I can somewhat forgive Thea because she's a teen, although seriously girl get a grip! How many lives do you need to ruin? To quote the movie Heathers, "your teen angst bullsh*t now has a body count". Congratulations! You suck!

3. The townspeople in The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes - I know that it's probably wrong to pick on people living under occupation, but guys, what are you thinking!

4. Everyone in Allegiant by Veronica Roth - The more I learned about the world portrayed in Divergent, the more pissed off I got. How did we get here? Seriously? I think sometimes less explanation is more, especially when the more sucks. The whole genetic experiment thing was a "Wait, what??" more than that other thing that happens that everyone likes to talk about.

5. The doctors in Defending Jacob by William Landay who did the genetic test because guess what, *ssholes?? An X-linked trait cannot be passed on to the son from the father. Dad gives baby a Y-chromosome and Mom supplies the X. It's eighth-grade science: Women are XX; men are XY. For a couple to have a boy baby, the mom supplies either an X or an X, and the dad supplies the Y. And Landay went to Yale, which just triples how pissed off I am because dude should be smarter.

6. The doctors in The Dinner by Herman Koch because...see above. To be fair here, Herman Koch doesn't say anything about chromosomes, but he does refer to some prenatal genetic test that supposedly can tell if your child is going to be a sociopath. Is this supposed to be science fiction then since your premise has a bullsh*t genetic test that doesn't exist? Bullsh*t is not provocative.

7. The guy in The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson because seriously what a dick (ugh, no pun intended). Congratulations on spilling vodka on yourself while driving and causing your crotch to burn up. I didn't make it past page 50 because I just really didn't want to be in that guy's head anymore.

8. The anachronistic female character in just about every historical fiction book ever. Hey, author, did you know that not every woman that lived in the past was a protofeminist, abolitionist/civil rights activist, early adopter of gay rights? Or are they the only ones worth writing about? 

9. Every character in The Dinner by Herman Koch. You're all jerks, except Faso, and maybe really we all are jerks. Kudos to Koch for really getting under the reader's skin and creating a compelling read despite the gut-turning unlikeableness of all of his characters.

10. Shane, Deane, Dee's son, Richard Burton, and probably some other people I've forgotten in Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Really I'm just including this book because I want to complain about how everyone else loved it while I was pretty lukewarm and just get more annoyed in retrospect. And actually Dee kind of pissed me off too because she was just kind of a victim and not particularly interesting. And Claire. So basically I liked Pasquale and Donner! the musical.

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - 4/21/14

Right now, I have several books going. 

I am almost done with this one.I think it's probably considered a genre book--science fiction, but it's more like science fiction-lite. It's not set in outer space. So far, it's not my favorite Max Barry--that would be Jennifer Government--but I think Max Barry deserves more recognition than he gets. He is one of my husband's favorites, and I enjoy his work also. 

The Complete Poems

In honor of poetry month, I am also trying to read 1-2 poems from this. I started late, so it will take me at least until mid-May to finish.

Flight Behavior

I am currently listening to this one on my way to and from work. I love that it is narrated by Kingsolver! She has a great voice, and I love her accent. I also love that I am still early enough in the book that I don't feel like I'm being lectured yet. 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death

I am also slowly working my way through this one. I am in awe of what Bauby accomplished, and I like that I am taking my time with it. I have another serious work on deck though so I really need to read it a little faster. It's not like I have to blink out each letter as I read!


And I have to start and finish this one by tomorrow! It's for the Mark Twain Book Club for 4th through 6th graders at the kids' school. Parents aren't required to attend, but I enjoy the book interaction with the kids.

And that's what I'm reading right now! I am not sure what is up next. I still have The Goldfinch staring me down from the bookshelf and a few 2014 titles. Then again I have a shelf of YA from last year's RT convention that are also begging to be read. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Salon - 4/20/14

Happy Easter!

Here it is not even noon on Easter and our holiday is over. The eggs have been found. The baskets have been plundered. There's no church to attend, no family to visit, no meals to consume. My husband's family celebrates Easter the night before. This tradition began as a way to make it easier for everyone to attend, but for those of us with only one side of the family to visit (sort of), it leaves Easter Sunday feeling a little empty. Maybe it's time to invent our own traditions.

We do have one Easter tradition of note. In our house, we hollow our eggs before we decorate them. I use a thumb tack to poke holes in both ends of the egg, stir up the innards with a toothpick to break up the yoke and make it easier to expel, then use a cheap basketball pump to blow them out. After that, I use an oral syringe with thin tubing attached to inject hot soapy water to clean it out, then I microwave the empty shells for 30 seconds to dry them off. I put them on a little cotton pad to keep them from spinning all over the microwave, then I put the line the egg carton with cotton to collect any additional drips.

These pictures are actually a few years old, but you get the general idea. We actually tried the shaving cream thing this year, and it was okay. The kids were not as enthusiastic as I anticipated. Just call them old school, I guess.

This week in reading, I finished two books.

The Husband's Secret

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty is this month's in-person book club read. Judging from the number of reviews on Amazon, half the reading public has already read it. If not, then I will just say that it is a great book club read. It is similar in theme to both The Dinner by Hermann Koch and Defending Jacob by William Landay, but with a less sinister, more character-driven sensibility (and no bad science!!). I did not love it, and I have my complaints, but I think lots of people will really enjoy it. Just maybe not men.


Longbourn by Jo Baker tells the story of the servants in the Bennet household of Pride & Prejudice. It was a bit slow going at first, and for me it lacked a lot of Austen's humor, but overall I enjoyed it. Longbourn focuses on Sarah, one of the housemaids, and her romantic travails. I think if you like Austen and books inspired by Austen and/or Downton Abbey, you will enjoy it. It did take an unexpected turn at one point that I didn't really care for, but it was necessary at that point to get to the ending everyone probably expects.

Friday, April 18, 2014

First 50 Friday - The First 50 Pages Project

When I decided to (re)start book blogging, I asked myself what I wanted to accomplish. What I wanted was simple: to share my love of reading. But when I delved a little deeper, I realized that I wanted to talk about newer books that got me excited. And that's when I found myself in a quandary. You see, for years, I have been on a book buying diet because I already own so many books that I have not read, and my shelves are pretty full. I feel like I should read more of these older books before I buy new ones. But what if I am no longer interested in xyz book? My solution is to apply Nancy Pearl's "Rule of Fifty" to my bookshelves and submit a short write-up for my blog.

The First 50 Pages Project

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Heidi W. Durrow
Winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction - 2008

First lines: “You my lucky piece,” Grandma says. Grandma has walked me the half block from the hospital lobby to the bus stop. Her hand is wrapped around mine like a leash.

This book is the story of Rachel, an 11-year-old mixed-race girl who has just moved in with her grandmother and aunt in Portland after her mother and brother’s tragic deaths. The story is told in shifting perspectives, including Rachel; Laronne, her mother’s boss in Chicago; Jamie, a Chicago neighbor boy.  In the first 50 pages, Rachel arrives at her grandmother’s house and begins school. Meanwhile her neighbor and her mother’s former boss try to make sense of what happened.

I do not feel like a lot happens in the first 50 pages. We meet Rachel and her family members and we see a bit of what her life was like before and what happened, but for me it just wasn't quite enough to pull me all the way in. 

I give the beginning a 3.5. I think I will come back to it. I think the fact that it won the Bellwether Prize is actually a deterrent for me. I worry about being bludgeoned with its social conscience. I am still a little bruised from my last run-in with Barbara Kingsolver, and I don't know if Durrow has the writing chops to get away with it.