BookRiot: Books by Journalists

It’s been Spring to me for two weeks now.  Finally.  It can be a little cold, no more fresh snow that lasts for more than a few hours, and my summer dresses are coming out of the bin and getting hangers again in the closet.  And my son had his first soccer practice last week, the surest sign that the warm season in here.

The momming changes with the seasons.  In so many ways.

I haven’t been focusing on longer books like I have other years because any reader of mine knows that I am trying to put in the time writing, but when I took my obligatory Spring staycation, I felt that I wanted to knock out a bigger book that I have been meaning to read as part of my BookRiot journey.  (We also know that I accidentally read a good part of In Cold Blood before I realized that Truman Capote was not in fact a journalist.  Even though the book was very journalistic.)

I found that I missed being consumed in a longer book, even though I can’t do it on a regular basis at this point. And even though I was consumed by it I was still able to write and send out some writing.  Ahh, staycation.

Glorious as it was, I missed my day job.  And I’m such a lucky person to love so many things about my life.  The luckiest I know probably.  How could I not be with the she shed post?  As I am writing this I am drinking wine in it for the first time.

But onto the books:

A Book Written by a Journalist or About Journalism:

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

I don’t know how much I need to recap the plot here, really, (being what, eleven years late to the game?) but a disgraced financial journalist, Mikhail Blomquist, accepts an offer to solve a fifty year old mystery of a disappearance of a young woman who was very loved by her uncle who is close to death and wants to know what happened to her.  As with any nearly 500 page tome, this book accumulates layers quickly, increasing complications for all involved.  Call in a hacker, Lisbeth Salander, with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, make her kick some ass against the system and mix her in with the charismatic ladies man protagonist, and they are a formidable force, solving the mystery and restoring Mikhail to his former standing in his magazine, redeemed in all ways.

I admit when The New Yorker didn’t like this I was a little scared off it. If I remember correctly the writer didn’t think Salander was likeable.  I very much rooted for her, which would make sense based on my work as a Psychologist with children.  Lisbeth, with her strengths obvious to anyone willing to take a few moments with her, was someone whose corner I rushed into.  And her story pulled me in much faster than the fifty or so opening pages discussing the financial world and setting up the libel suit that Blomquist loses to set him up for his tasks in the remainder of the novel.

Winter was on its last leg on the week of my staycation but it was still standing on it, and having a story so intensely wintry helped me appreciate the weather I was having.  I loved the atmosphere of Sweden, the family compound, the family drama. I found it transporting, even when I had to keep it together to keep characters straight.  I could get through the slower political parts because I liked the town, and I liked watching Blomquist cast his spell over multiple women, including (spoiler alert) the traumatized and standoffish Salander.  I liked seeing his magic on the ladies.  I love seeing people do what they do best, and these characters were strong and clear enough to allow for that.

And I didn’t expect the outcome of the disappearance plotline.  I liked the pleasant surprise of this.  I liked how the plots interwove to keep me guessing and worried that Blomquist was painted into a corner or there was some other nefarious aspect that was not accounted for. Can you tell I don’t even get around to movies most of the time?  Unless they are kids movies.  I love to snuggle with my kid while watching one of those.

There are a few other reasons I didn’t get to this right away: I knew it started slowly, in the novel gossip that floats ones way when a big book has been out for eleven years and you just have not gotten to it.  And when it becomes a movie and you still have not prioritized it on the TBR.  Ha.  Also I was just coming out of school and focusing on either classics or the more addictive modern novels to get myself back into hobbies when this book hit shelves.

I got this out of the library as a book and also borrowed the audio, and I loved reading a crinkly covered library hardback. I loved making progress on audio and flipping pages and holding a book open with my son during his reading time.  I am a big ebook girl, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get started on reading with the pleasures of a physical book with a presence.

I guess I assumed that since this was a trilogy the plots would be interlaced, but this seemed like a standalone, and I was interested enough to google what the caper would be in the next novel.  Which is a ringing endorsement coming from me.

It was a delicious experience to involve myself in a longer book.

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And When She Was Good, Laura Lippman

I feel as though more fiction and nonfiction is more available in my library than other genres.  If this is true and not a personal bias, I wonder if these titles just tend to get checked out more than literary fiction.  There were plenty of Laura Lippman books available on the shelves and electronically.

This particular Lippman tale is about a suburban madam, and the narrative weaves between how she got to be one in the first place, and then moving forward out of this complex corner into which she has painted herself.   I spent the time interested in how she got there and then how she was going to get out. At first I thought there was too much time spent in the narrative on the fact that she was a madam, but then I realized that that was the story.  And it was so well done, the details on how this was feasible in the modern world of taxes and accountability with business.

I would absolutely read another Lippman novel with her well researched ideas and this one had an intriguing crime plot.  Like, when the protagonist finally gets herself free it adds on another threat to her life that she has to resolve.  Such good stuff.

It makes sense that journalism can be complementary to fiction because the research needed for plots is already done in the journalism work.  It’s like psychology where every day I study and watch how people change and how they get better when they get what they need, rather than what they think that they want.  I have had to work on developing my motivations in my own writing, which isn’t as much of a stretch sometimes because of what I do.  Sometimes.  Other times I feel like I have to push to make my motivations come together.  Like I have been toying with the idea of at least outlining a mystery novel and I can’t come up with a motive for murder that I can hide behind other red herrings.  Not that I need another outlined novel.  Ha.

Novel edits are moving.  More will be written to send out to other presses to work on gathering some publishing cred.  And the dreaded months won’t be back for awhile.

Life is good.

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Historical Romances by Authors of Color

So I realize it’s Easter Sunday and I am posting on romances.  It was not intentional.

You can guarantee this Easter Sunday for me is mired in family, wholesome goodness.  A hidden basket and eggs filled with candy I have not quite managed to avoid snacking since I bought them two weeks earlier.

Jellybeans are really a weakness for me.  I like the Starburst and the Jolly Rancher sours.  How am I expected not to sample Jolly Rancher sour wildberry mix?  I’m only human.  One who is easily delighted by artificial colors and flavors.  Just like nature intended.

And as a funny aside, somehow the mysterious creature in my basement ate only my son’s chocolate bunny while the Easter edibles were stashed down there.  Not my husband’s required PB bunny, the peeps which were decidedly easier to get to packaging wise, or the pistachios that I know my hubs will be pleased to see in his prize pile.  I say pile because his basket is now my son’s basket.

Also:  my son has bought into the toys that you have to open to see which one you got. He’s so much my kid.

So BookRiot wanted me to read a historical romance by an AOC and since I have little background in romances I went for two classic historical romance AOC’s.   Not ashamed. They know what’s good and I can recognize expertise when I see it.  You really didn’t have to twist my arm to read either of these books.   I love novels in a historical setting, and each of the two balance the context and the romance differently, but there were some similarities, other than both heroines having dark skin and loving sex more than a typical woman in that time and place.

A Historical Romance by an Author of Color:

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Tempest, Beverly Jenkins

I don’t typically read books about the American West, but I am often intrigued when I do. It’s easy to forget how hard life was out there, how removed people were from the comforts and the action of the east.  Regan, the heroine, moves from her comfortable existence in Arizona to remote Wyoming as a mail order bride for a widower (Dr. Colton Lee) and his daughter.  She is nothing like her new husband’s first wife, not to mention the fact that he isn’t even looking to fall in love again, merely have a placeholder in his home.  Added to that is some drama with some stagecoach robbers on her way in that not only add a subplot but also set it up for a dramatic first time face to face meeting with her husband.  Definitely ideal.

I found that the romance in this story was more pronounced than the historical context. I didn’t realize until the notes at the end that the heroine’s backstory was the subject of two earlier books in the series, which is a credit to Jenkins for how well it stood alone.  I felt the background was discussed adequately in the course of the story for everything to make sense.  There is a decent amount of sex, especially sex outside the bedroom and then emotional conflict afterward over the doctor trying to keep his heart to himself, which of course he can’t.

There were times I felt the historical context was a little forced.  It starts off more with the romance, which had me hooked, but then it seemed like some of the parts about the Dr having to go help the victims of the railroad strike were added in kind of as a sidebar.  It slowed things down a little.  I felt the drama around the stagecoach shooting was more integral to the plot, especially when she was not able to testify in court due to her color.  And the part where there were some racial frictions between the people in the town, although the people out there probably had to work together a little more to survive and likely couldn’t really afford to be racially segregated.  And the part where Native Americans were even lower on the chain. The author clearly had more of the romance in mind on this one, especially in contrast with the next book in this post, another quintessential book in the historical romance genre:

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An Extraordinary Union, Alyssa Cole

An African American woman and a Scottish man are spies together for the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War.  Very cool premise and very much entwined in its historical context.  Of course they get together, as it is required of this genre, and their obstacles to getting together have to do with their color and their place in history.

This book was more evenly split between history and romance than Tempest. There is a lot of action related to the war that keeps things going in addition to the romantic tension and the lover’s quarrels.  I’m wondering if this is a popular novel because it uses the context so well.

I noticed a few glaring similarities between these books that I don’t think make them entirely historically accurate, which is the progressive attitudes of both the male and female characters.

For the male characters, they have some emotional awareness and take accountability when they mess up, mainly due to jealousy.  Now, I don’t think that this was expected of men/husbands to be emotionally aware and accountable to their wives in their historical context. In An Extraordinary Union, not only does he have to be open minded about her previous sexual experience (neither of these women are virgins and both male characters accept it eventually rather than treating their ladies like damaged goods and wanting to marry them anyway) he also has to be open minded about the fact that she isn’t white and of his class and how those things affect her and has an extraordinary talent that other men were threatened by.  There is enough of his past history to explain why his attitude is more open minded, but it still felt like a stretch.    In Tempest, Dr. Lee acts upset when he meets the man that his wife had a previous relationship with and is jealous about it too, even though he’s the husband, but eventually apologizes.

For the women, their blatant enjoyment and knowledge of sex seems unrealistic. Even when women did enjoy sex in their day they were not supposed to show it because they wouldn’t look respectable.  Both of these women were wildly sexual and neither of them had men who insulted them for it.  I don’t even see that consistently in this day and time.

Also, I noticed the words to describe the sex were carefully chosen words that were less likely to make readers uncomfortable.

All of these together and present in both books makes for, in my opinion, some anachronistic qualities.  I know the books wouldn’t have worked without them and heroines in this genre need to be spunky.  I know why it had to be that way.  I do.  But this might not be a go to genre for me just because it’s not consistent with the context.  They were good on the other parts I liked.  The sex was hot, the characters likeable and sympathetic and I liked the heroes.  Of course I liked the heroes, they were written to appeal to modern women. Even if the whole time I’m like, dudes weren’t really like that.

So I hope my readers have lovely Easter holidays and if they feel like something steamy in a historical context and can suspend a little disbelief that they will consider these reads.

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The Writing Nook

Even though A Room of One’s Own was penned 90 years ago this year, there are parts of it that still ring true today.    As a married woman and a mother I bring no scandal to my family (scandal, no, grief, maybe) by being a writer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want my own space and time in which to do it.  And headspace.

My husband built me a she shed more for the challenge and creativity of it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t move my happy butt in there.

Right now it’s mostly used for sleeping out in with my son on the weekends, even in the winter, because it has heat that keeps it warmer than the 40 degrees required for the sleeping bags that we use way more than I anticipated when I bought them. My husband likes to remind me that my solitary time will only increase as my son grows older,  increasing my time to enjoy the cabin.

And then he uses that to show me pictures of ATVs he wants to buy our son to play on.  Think of all the writing you can do if we get this expensive toy, honey!

I’m not the best photographer.  I got insta to help move the blog but this combined with the fact that I rarely read a physical book anymore, and I don’t get bookmail, makes me more obsessed with tiny houses and people’s dogs and nature photos.

I want to spend my time writing, not bookstagramming, at least not right now.   Although it looks fun and I’d love to cozy up to some of those book influencers when I need them.  I like especially when they post with pets.

Bearing with my bad photography, here is my beautiful space:

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Kitchen area, with microwave and mini fridge!  The lanterns are candle holders and yes that’s a small Christmas tree stashed!  I have winter woodland wonderland themed ornaments to go on it.  Coffee is made via french press and electric teakettle.  I have a lot of mugs for someone who doesn’t entertain much but I love them.  Also the tea towels get traded out for winter or spring.  The winter towels are cardinals and birds on winter trees.  These are the spring ones and they are ornamental due to my really wanting an excuse to buy bird towels at Joann’s because their spring decor line always takes my money.

Plus there is always wine handy and I have a margarita set in there that I got for my wedding but I have NEVER USED.  Damn, I spend too much time reading and writing.

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Just some knitted accessories and a teapot and the birdfeeder teapot I need to hang outside once I get another spot to hang things from the trees because birds and teapots? I love having the birds back this spring.  I missed hearing them this winter.

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My little table for two, or for writing, or dyeing yarn in a crockpot which is TOTALLY happening at some point.  Notice some books piled up on the side and there’s a spare notebook and pens because I had a pen crap out on me there one day and I had no backup and it was an unacceptable state of affairs.  It’s also where the tree goes during the relevant season.    Plus ruffly curtains.

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This is the view from the steps leading up to the loft.  Tons of natural light and you can see the deck and the fireplace.   The loft is a mess with stuffies that my son brings out with him and our sleeping bags and my lap desk.  It needs a screen door for air in the summer.

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A cozy reading spot with a quilt on it with kitties and birds that my friend made just for my space!  So I can sit and read here if I want to if I don’t feel like the table.

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The electric fireplace that saves us all winter.  And the candleholders I loved having an excuse to buy.  My pretty forest view, which is better in the summer but I didn’t want to wait to post.

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Bird detail on the stained glass window that you pass on your way up the steps to the loft.

I can update this in the summer with my summer deck accessories, as I have chairs and a garden table to hold plants.  My hubs might add a deck to the back too.   It has electricity and wifi and a fan for the summer.

A shed of my own!

I have been making progress on my writing.  I sent some projects out to be considered for publication so I need to try to put them out of my mind while I am waiting for a response from editors.  My fingers are crossed, but at least I’m doing the work.  It’s the only way stuff will happen is if I put my hat in the ring.

Did I mention I wrote a sonnet?  I wrote a dang sonnet for my 12 poems in 12 months group.  If you are a writer just looking to be more consistent and a forum for being experimental, definitely look at that site or 12 short stories.

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BookRiot: Trans and Non-Binary Authors

My world is a mass of muddy defrosting, dirty snow, and the excitement of the birds returning.  I love it when the birds come back out.  When the snow melts enough I will go back to putting cracked corn in the yard so I can have my duck friends visit.

I have to admit that vitamin D got me through the winter, taken on the recommendation of any local healthcare provider I speak with.  That’s my justification for complaining about winter is that even the healthcare providers tell everyone to keep up on their sunshine vitamins during the grueling months.

I like to use BookRiot’s recommendations for categories that have to do with someone’s ethnic background or gender preference/sexual proclivities.  Sometimes a google search leads me wrong and I feel voyeuristic combing author profiles for who they are and what they prefer.  Their perspectives are important and absolutely worth reading. Because their gender identity is something that has been salient due to their not aligning with their gender assignment, gender is considered in ways that someone like me, who is cis, never really thought about.  But that’s why we read harder, because those other perspectives deserve awareness and consideration.

But I’d prefer that BookRiot find them for me.  And even after they do, I don’t look into it further, like, are they non binary, or what were they born as, or whatever.

I also found that today’s choices could count for neurodiverse characters, and some other lists I have looked at have wanted to include authors from Africa.  These books push reading parameters in a number of ways.  And they were not easy reads, either one of them.

A Novel by a Trans or Non Binary Author:

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Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi

A young woman is a host to a myriad of spirits in this book, and story is told in the points of view of the spirits who inhabit her.  And before she learns that she is in control of them (sorry, spoiler alert), they control her extensively.  She gives herself up to them through most of the book, although, looking back now that I am finished with it I can see where she gains control of them along the way more clearly.  And the reason I am sharing what the end is because through the book, I was wondering where this was heading, where the plot was.  It is an interesting story but it was a tale of a difficult life and I wondered where it was going and how it would end up.  It does end up in something.  I wanted to keep reading, even though I wasn’t sure if it had a plot.

This book got a decent amount of attention as a debut novel, but some people who reviewed it on Amazon struggled with it.  I enjoyed this book, but it pushes a lot of boundaries and topics I have not typically come across in novels, so I can see where some people truly felt they did not ‘get’ it.  And I might only ‘get’ it because of the amount of my life I have spent studying psychology and thinking about spirituality/mysticism.  I think the writing is obviously beautiful, but the content at times can be difficult, with self harm and rape, a woman struggling with literally her demons, losing a marriage to someone who always stood out and was special to her, as much as she didn’t want them to be.  We all have that person who despite the turmoil they can bring are incomparable to anyone else at that time in their lives.  I have had those people.  I would have hated to lose them in the times they were still so special to me.

This is worth picking up, but I know it isn’t for everyone.  Most books that get a lot of attention really aren’t for everyone.  They have intense psychological themes that are just too much or unrelateable for some people, enough to where the beautiful writing would not be enough to get them through. Like, my educated and well read father couldn’t understand my love for All the Light We Cannot See.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

I guess in writing my reviews and looking up other people’s opinions on the internet I am really seeing how these two books today are about trauma.  (And honestly it worries me about if my own book ever comes to fruition all the well thought out and articulate ways some people will not like it.)  A lower class woman with autism, Aster,  is living in a spaceship with clearly delineated social strata.  Her mother allegedly committed suicide but Aster realizes that she left messages behind and all might not be as it seems.  As in usual dystopian books, she bucks the system.  I won’t say how it ends, but if you have not read it, you might be able to guess enough even from there.  Rape and injustice are commonplace, and everyone notes when discussing this book that the upper classes have genders while the lower deck people are less gender conforming, less constrained by the strict heteronormative rules of above.

Criticism I read of this book indicated that people did not like the ending or that they felt it was too lucky or Aster didn’t display enough agency in the ending.  I don’t know if I missed something because I don’t know how she could have done more in what ended up happening, or how a book set up like this could have ended otherwise?  I had more of an issue getting into it in the beginning.  There seemed to be a lot of information to wade through before my brain could make sense of all of it to move forward.  It’s a lot of world building, and that’s important. One reviewer said it’s a mix between Battlestar Galactica, A Handmaiden’s Tale, and Roots. Listening to it helped because the narrator changed up voices, but even then sometimes I needed to slow it down.  It took me time to get into it.  About 20% through was when I caught on enough to move forward.

And I was driving to work during the last like 55 minutes of it, trying to stop and get my Wednesday Speedway coffee during one of the most dramatic moments.  Kinda interrupts the flow when you’re deciding which pot of house roast looks best and being convinced you left your friend’s borrowed Prius “key” on the counter because you were talking with the sales associate.  I frantically emptied my whole purse on her passenger seat which is probably a breach of friendship unless I get my butt over to vacuum it before I return it, which I will. And then after all that I return to the book where it’s all going to pot.

I also really liked the characters.  Some people said they didn’t feel fleshed out but I felt they were.  I saw in the blurb that Aster was autistic and I set out to 1. see if it was consistent with someone truly not neurotypical and 2. if this tidbit added to the plot.  I wouldn’t have picked up right away that she was, which I actually think is a good thing, because sometimes autism is more subtle, especially in females, and I didn’t want her to be a caricature.  And it added to the plot because she worked through some of her deficits, like her social struggles. So I liked it when initially I was skeptical.  I also very much like the the surgeon, who even though he was higher class was not afraid to be himself and not a mindless part of the brutality more endemic to his class.  I mean, I love healers, and healers who can see through the external trappings to the inner good in someone.

I am getting lots of writing done, which is awesome.  I wrote my first sonnet. I can’t say it’s a great sonnet but it felt overwhelming when it was assigned and I took a few weeks to get through it, and I did, and it won’t be a total embarrassment to post.  And my first wattpad piece is up!  I am writing under Teigan_Blake if anyone wants to check out my re-telling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, renamed Those Twinkling Spirit Lights.

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Reading Harder: Space Books by Authors of Color

The last day of March! April’s promise of Spring is a lot more reliable than March.  Plus, it’s Easter, which is usually the first holiday of the year that I spend with my sister and her family.  My son is complaining that it has been too long since we saw them in October, and I agree.  He doesn’t yet understand how hard his cousin is going to beat the pants off him in Nintendo when we all play together.

Have I made the Northeast look appealing yet?

I’m pleased with how much reading I got done in the dead of winter.  Because of my overzealous reading I am not as far into the challenge as I could be, but the point is to read harder, not blow through the list like the gifted kid whose parents refuse to move him up a grade because he needs social skills.

Also, books about space. Not usually my favorite.  I read them in the interest of sci fi and understanding the classics and the genres, but it holds little appeal to me.  I get why we do space exploration, but I have no interest in going out past my atmosphere in a little tube.  Naw.  At least on an airplane we can make a landing without bursting into flame, right?  I like the ground.   I am much more excited to read historical romances by authors of color.  Those have been downloaded onto my Kindle since before this challenge came out.

A Book by an Author of Color Set In/About Space

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Binti, Nnedi Okorafor

(Winner of a Hugo and a Nebula, of course)

I know, I know, this is part of a trilogy.  Honestly the bits are so short I don’t know why it isn’t all one volume.  I love Dr. Okorafor after Who Fears Death and I chose to listen to one of her shorts as read on the podcast,  LeVar Burton Reads.  I was a Reading Rainbow kid back in the day and that’s something that never changes.  So, I guess I should say, I am a Reading Rainbow kid.  I think LeVar could even romance my six year old somewhat reluctant reader to watch.  (I say somewhat because dude is showing a solid interest in comic books.  Just because it isn’t my dreams of Roald Dahl doesn’t mean it’s not important.  In the books department, he’s not like his mother, but he’s not me in sports either and that’s a good thing).

My favorite in this short book is the narrator. She is a powerful female going after her dreams of going far away to study math and science, at Oomza University, despite her family’s pressure to stay home.  And even on the spaceship over she doesn’t fit in:  She is the only human from her tribe on the ship, but also then is the only one who survives the takeover of the ship by the Meduse, a race with a vendetta against Oomza University, save for the captain so they can get there.  She bridges the communication gap and works out of her comfort zone to heal their vendetta, and not only because it is to her benefit.

I love strong females with powers that they use for the ultimate good. Dr. Okorafor’s heroines are special women who beat the odds, and even when you put them in a less familiar settings, I can always get emotionally involved with them.  Also, Dr. Okorafor has Binti solve the issue relationally instead of just kicking anyone’s ass until they are too scared of her to bother her.  It’s a solution I can get behind.  She uses her brain and relationships.  She uses something special and unique to her culture that also helps a completely different race.  Very cool.

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Babel-17, Samuel R. Delany

This epic pulpy cover is way more interesting than the boring one on my Kindle/Audible app.  And it would have changed my expectations of the novel more than the geometric cover:

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Like two entirely different books, right?  I thought this book was way more literary/artistic than something pulpy.  It was one of those science fiction books with heavy philosophical underpinnings.  This one specifically was about how language shapes thought and vice versa.  I have been reading more pulp lately while I am learning to write it, and this was definitely not the content of the scanned in pulp mags I was reading. And is that supposed to be the heroine Rydra Wong on the cover?

This book is beautifully written, with poignant metaphors and description I don’t expect to encounter in sci-fi.  I don’t know enough about the time in which it was written to really talk about how it compares to the sci fi books of the time in this aspect, I just enjoyed the striking images as I read.

However, reading it was like dreaming: some parts were really lucid and were cool and made sense, and other times I was lost as to what was going on, or what was supposed to be going on.  I just kept reading or listening until I was back to a part that made sense.  The concepts I caught were very cool and a second read through would probably help.  Just because a solid half of the book escaped me doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book.  I don’t have a sci fi brain. Some reviews I read on Amazon suggested there are sci fi brains out there that caught it more than mine did.  I’d think that something truly pulpy would have concepts easier to access than these.

Also, another female protagonist, brilliant, fearless and still loved by her crew and equals, which is nice that a woman written in the sixties is powerful without being unappealing to men, but I didn’t connect with her like I did to Binti.   Rydra uses relationships too to outsmart the enemy instead of brute force, but I liked Binti as a heroine much better.   Maybe I was just jealous that Rydra could probably bust out the sonnet I am puzzling over for my monthly poetry group.

I keep telling myself I’m going to slow down on the novels and read writing books, material being published in magazines I’d like to be in someday, or my numerous collections of short fiction.  Or listen to a few of the Great Courses I bought for the sake of helping move my writing along.  They are difficult to slow down on, even when I am ahead on my posts, which I currently am. I still downloaded a novel on audio for a new category instead of my one on how sci fi works, which is more relevant to some current projects.  I still want to read more of last year’s prizewinners.  And this year’s when they come.  And there’s a new Han Kang short that looks a bit experimental but also well done.

I can’t.

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BookRiot 2019: Humor Books

I have to justify the exceptions I have made in this post to the I hate celebrity memoirs complaint that I have been blogging about for years.

I hate them, and I have talked about why likely on multiple occasions.  So then why, when I have to read a humor book, would I choose to read these?  There are plenty of funny books out there that aren’t autobiographies. But, there are plenty that are.  And not all of them are exercises in white privilege.

One of them I talk about in this post is, and one is most certainly not.

They were both mostly consumed via audio, as is always best with a humor memoir read by the author.

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Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

This audiobook was the highest-rated new book of 2016 and the best male narrator that year.  Very highly recommended by a friend of mine who, while very bright, doesn’t always go in for heavy books.  She has done her share of them, certainly, and when she tells me I need to read a heavier topic book I take heed.  I had to finally listen to this long time TBR surfer.

And it’s so not about white privilege and at times so very not funny that partway through the book I looked up the genre to be sure that I didn’t once again read something that I thought fit the BookRiot category but in fact did not once I had committed myself (The Friend, In Cold Blood, hopefully not etc). It’s the story of a man growing up colored (mixed race) in South Africa and apartheid.   Of course his brilliance is in finding a way to laugh at years of being a child who doesn’t fit in anywhere.   And the hardship afforded him by living in his place and time.  The lack of options. The struggle with not fitting in with the white or the black kids.

Essentially, his spicy mother, with her own rough personal history, steals this show.  This wouldn’t have been as brilliant, or as heartbreaking at times, without her.  She’s tough but she’s 110% heart, so even in her most desperate power struggles with her son and her most extreme parenting choices you can see her good intentions shining through.  Her constant efforts are always to get her kid into the kind of shape that wouldn’t participate in trouble and therefore go unnoticed for the darker forces in the world.  And even though she is tough, she is desperately loved and her son feels like a team with her against the world.  I love her devotion to God and her ability to survive and thrive despite all the misfortunes dealt her.  I even googled her face after reading this because I just had to see it.

So it is a credit to the other book I read that I could still get through it and care about the narrator despite the next universe level of privilege:

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Yes, Please, Amy Poehler

Also, a long time TBR lister, if that fact is surprising to you. It probably is.  The other memoirs I have read for past challenges were mostly not books I had been wanting and meaning to read.

But I had been meaning to read this because I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, and I wanted to read the other side of the comedy duo. I like Amy’s work with Tina.  And I liked this more than Bossypants, even though I feel that I have seen more of Tina’s work than Amy’s.

It was better because Amy’s brand of humor is not constantly self deprecating, like Tina’s is. Tina’s self deprecating humor is rampant in her show 30 Rock and her book is similar.  I had always thought that she was lovely and she talked about how fat and hairy she is in real life.  It can be funny, certainly, but it was in the teeth gritting amount of it. Amy made comments that she is short and has difficult eyebrows and her personality quirks, but they did not feel as central to the narrative.

The other reason I could stomach this after Born a Crime is the fact that Poehler emphasizes her luck throughout.  She openly acknowledges a life of unconditional love and support from her family and how she saw things a differently than people who didn’t have that experience.  And she has a whole chapter on mindfulness, which she states is time travel, which is an interesting way to put it.  Mindfulness is about taking more control of your feelings and thoughts, but she makes it even more evident by framing it as a way to control time.

Poehler is funny and poignant, of course, and she put in a lot of time to be where she is, which is a good reminder to anyone who really wants to make it in the creative world (and academic world, for that matter.  It took me over ten years to go from HS grad to licensed Psychologist) but she also takes the time to be grateful.  She talks about motherhood and those young years with no money but all the time in the world in ways I can relate to.  Because yes I’m privileged too.  I love how she talks about motherhood and her silly boys and the active decision not to answer questions in a way that could scar them for life.

One of the only things she wrote about that I couldn’t really relate to was doing drugs.  It’s never been super appealing to me and I mostly just drank during my youth, in amounts in college that were not healthy but a certain level of drunk was way more optimal then than it is in my sweet mom, full time job, chasing the writing/running thing life.  I like to sleep and too much alcohol ruins a good 9-10 hour go on the weekend.

I don’t expect the privileged to grovel for forgiveness in their privilege.  I certainly don’t have that kind of time.  But when you take a moment to breathe in the sweetness you have been dealt, and use your privilege for the improvement of the lives of others, that’s better than drinking yourself into ruin and lamenting your lost looks.  I mean, often washed up stars that end up like that have their own trauma and demons.

So I have my excuses, but I did enjoy both of these.  And I have been pleased with my TBR getting hacked into this year.  I’m probably reading too much long and should be burying my face in shorts because I have been writing those for submission.

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BookRiot: Nonhuman Narrators

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I met my husband at a St. Patrick’s Day party nine years ago, and no,  it’s not a sordid tale of debauchery.  Nine years ago it was in the middle of the week so there was nothing crazy going on, I was coming home from work when I stopped in and was going to work again the next day, so, nothing too interesting.  The first thing my oh so lucky husband said to me was “Do you want to try some of the wine I made?'”  I was like, sure, all the time thinking there was no way this guy is just hanging out single waiting to be snapped up.   But he was! And there were (obvs) no serious deal breakers involved.  Luck o the Irish, indeed.

We got married in an Irish pub and had an Irish band and I’m half Irish, but he isn’t any Irish at all, try as he may to emulate my fine people.

I also had some fun years in college making my own Shamrock Shakes with some festive mix-ins.  I never went to the parade when I lived in Scranton, although my friends came down one year and we went out when it was over and we got to see some guy’s bare rear end in the pub we went to.  Not the guy I married, I didn’t meet him for 4-5 more years.  He was past his ‘show your butt to strangers’ phase by then.  And no, the featured image is not the engagement photo that came a year after that fateful night.

Anyway.  The books I talk about in this post have nothing to do with the holiday, because I just didn’t plan it that well.   And this is a family blog!  Rated PG!  Maybe PG 13 sometimes, when I am talking about romance novels.

Somehow it turned out that both of the books I read for this category have not only to do with non human narrators, but also totalitarian governments.  They both felt surreal at times too, in their own ways.  And neither were cutesy in the least, despite some appealing protagonists.

A Book In Which an Animal or Inanimate Object is the Point of View Character:

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The Bees, Laline Paul

This has been waiting on my kindle since late 2015.  I’m really pleased with how the reading challenge has been helping with the backlist.

I love social insects. I took an Animal Behavior course in college and I spent the semester fascinated.  I did my project for that class on ants.  I love a novel that can combine science or history with story, use real research to create a plot and a character arc.  I loved how Flora 717, the lowly Sanitation worker, used smells and transmission of information via antennae and to receive the Queen’s Love.  Because Flora 717 can transcend her station, Paul also talks about what it is like to forage and collect pollen, dance out the coordinates for the other foragers, see the ultraviolet in the flowers that human eyes cannot detect, how to keep the hive clean, and what it was like to (traitorously) lay an egg.  She found a way to talk about most aspects of being a bee that could not normally be described with a typical single bee, one that operates within the typical restricted role.  The drones were believable pains in the butt. Then she frosts on the anthropomorphism to make their structure make sense to us.  Describing their emotional lives, the high of Love that binds them into a whole.  And sometimes, it was brutal and bloodthirsty, but I won’t give the details of those parts because they are well imagined and I am not a spoiler.

And the other bugs…the nasty wasps, the sneaky spiders, the bluebottle flies all add interest to the structure and lives of the bees.  Somewhat of a bee dystopia.  Or utopia?  Not sure.

This book felt surreal in parts.  Sometimes I needed to give it time to figure out what was going on, when she was exploring prophecies and given other roles within the hive by a priestess.  I missed it that she was a mutant, which allowed her to move into other niches.  Initially I was like, how is she being allowed to move between classes and roles?  This book was beautiful and well done, but sometimes it didn’t hold my attention well.  That could be my problem.  But it’s worth reading.   And anyone can comment if its a bee dystopia or utopia.

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Memoirs of  Polar Bear, Yoko Tawanda

I broke my rule that I struggle to stick to for this challenge and bought this book specifically for this challenge. It was intriguing, with its magical realist underpinnings, to read three generations of polar bears who are also, inexplicably, writers.  The grandmother and mother were stage performers, where the grandson was merely an exhibit in a zoo.  They all end up talking about their experiences as bears in different places and times with different roles.  it was interesting and beautiful in parts.  Bears loving their human masters.

But it could also be surreal and felt inconsistent, and Goodreads didn’t disagree. At times, when I feel like I might not ‘get’ a book, I look into what others had to say about it to see what I may have missed, and this time, people generally agreed that this book could be difficult to understand.

Some parts were interesting, like the sea lion who steals the grandmother’s writing and publishes it behind her back while telling her it’s nothing, and then other times, it felt inaccessible, like when the daughter was talking about her animal trainer, and I didn’t always know who was narrating.  Perspectives changed sometimes.  Sometimes they were too hot, being in the wrong part of the world, and they ate a lot more than humans, and they lived lives that could be sad.  People who liked weird books weren’t necessarily into this one, it seemed to resonate with people who liked a certain brand of weird.  I couldn’t decide if there was a plot or not, and what about the meaning of the celebrity cameo at the end of the last section.

But some felt it was hypnotic, moving, and metaphorical.  To each his own.

I’m absolutely open to what others thought of these books.  They were less accessible in places to me than some of the ones I have read lately, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the time to read.  And it seems weird that they are both in the context of rigid governmental structure.

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