Book Roundup: November 2016

Weirdly enough, I didn’t do particularly well this month with number of books read, even though none of my books were particularly long. I’m hoping to get some more under my belt this month – I have two cross-country flights ahead of me, and a couple weeks of holiday relaxing to knock out some more pages.

STATS:

Number of books read: 8

Number of female authors vs. male authors: 2 males, 7 females (one book had co-authors)

Ratings spread: Two 5-Star, Four 4-Star, Two 3-Star

Want more? Goodreads, baby

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WHAT I READ: Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

WHY I READ IT: One of those must-reads of 2016

WHAT I THOUGHT: I liked it, but there was a bit too much dipping in and out of other character’s perspectives for my taste.

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WHAT I READ: Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

WHY I READ IT: #NastyWomen unite

WHAT I THOUGHT: Essential reading for every human. I learned SO much from it.

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WHAT I READ: The Sun Is Also A Star, Nicola Yoon

WHY I READ IT: One of those oft-loved YA authors!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Delightful, realistic, charming.

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WHAT I READ: The Trespasser, Tana French

WHY I READ IT: I LOVE Tana French and read all of her novels as soon as they come out.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Another fantastic addition to the Dublin Murder Squad for Tana – she’s great at writing compelling mysteries that also allow for character development.

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WHAT I READ: The Hating Game, Sally Thorne

WHY I READ IT: Some of my favorite bloggers lauded its praises.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I was thoroughly entertained – and loved their chemistry – but at times wanted a little bit more out of it.

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WHAT I READ: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

WHY I READ IT: It was in one of those displays at the bookstore: “If you liked A Man Called Ove, you’ll like this!”

WHAT I THOUGHT: A similarly delightful book about a grumpy Swedish old man, but went on a little too long for my tastes.

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WHAT I READ: Gemina, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

WHY I READ IT: I LOVED the first book, Illuminae.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Remarkable purely for its design, but the story itself is tightly written and compelling.

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WHAT I READ: Without You, There Is No Us, Suki Kim

WHY I READ IT: This book kicked up a storm in the past few years when the (female) author, an investigative journalist who went undercover at risk of her own life to write it, found out this book was designated by her editor as a memoir in the Eat, Pray, Love vein – even though it’s not a memoir.

WHAT I THOUGHT: As a piece of investigative journalism (which this is – don’t be fooled by the insulting “memoir” designation) this is a fascinating look at North Korea and compelling to consider what the author went through to collect this information. But, looking at it as a full-length book, I’m not sure there was enough new information throughout the book to insist upon so many pages. May have been better as a long-form article.

 

Gemina: Plot and Design

I read a lot of books for different reasons. Sometimes, it’s because I’ve read previous books by the same author and will always put them on the must-read list in the future (I’m looking at you, Rainbow Rowell and Gayle Forman). Sometimes, it’s because the book community/the world won’t stop talking about it (hello, Underground Railroad. I will read you eventually!). Sometimes, I just like the sound of it even though it’s not a super-praised book (most books I read).

I can’t remember why I first read Illuminae, but I vaguely remember hearing that it was a “different” kind of book in that it is told in a “dossier of hacked documents” (emails, diagrams, video transcripts, IMs). Interesting thought, but the execution is SO much more. This is a book that is designed to be read in real, hard-copy form (I’m curious how they design it for the ebook, though. I can’t imagine it translating well to your basic Kindle reader, but it might be okay in an iPad or Kindle Fire). I just loved the first book, as my review at the time showed:

DAMN. What a fascinating book! I went in knowing absolutely nothing about it, and am just swept away. Probably the most interestingly crafted book I’ve read just in terms of how the text is displayed and information communicated. At the heart of it, the plot could have been expressed in the “normal” way that books are written. But pulling the plot into a variety of communication techniques – IMs, video surveillance feeds, maps, even text art – just swept it to a higher level. I’m exceedingly pleased I got the book in hardcover and not as an ebook. I can’t imagine it would express itself in the same way on a screen as it does on the page.

Just when I thought the book was wrapping up nicely, they throw in a punch right at the very end to get us to the next book. I’m glad that the book had an actual ending for this plot (instead of a cliffhanger with the main characters), but it was smart to drop in the little nugget it did as I am very excited for book #2

So, OBVIOUSLY I had to pick up the second book (Gemina) as soon as it was available.

WHAT I READ:

Gemina, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 space parasites, I give this 5 confusing scientific twists.

#FirstFifty Synposis:

While this book does have pages, it’s so uniquely designed that to try to capture fifty pages would do it an injustice. Instead, here’s a sample of that unique design (during this point, a character is crawling through the vents) – not every page has to have just words, chums.

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HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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NEED MORE?

Ugh, don’t we all. More juicy deets over on Goodreads, and the third one is coming out at some point in the future?!

In the meantime, I just added these books to my “buy in real life, don’t just rent from the library” list which is HIGH praise indeed.

My Grown-Up November Books

Because I’m too lazy to craft full blog posts around these books, allow me to post some mini-reviews of a few grown-up(ish) books that I read!

WHAT I READ:

Commonwealth (Ann Patchett), Book #115 of 2016.

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 affairs, I give this 4 sleazy authors.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Bert Cousins is going to a christening for Franny, his colleague Fix’s new baby, when he meets Fix’s wife Beverly and forms an instant attraction for her – and they kiss. Decades later, adult Franny sits with her father as he goes through chemo and reminiscences on the past. By page 61, we’ve shifted decades again as young Franny and her sister Caroline struggle to integrate with their four new step-siblings in the mingled family of Bert and Beverly.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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Next!

WHAT I READ:

The Hundred-Year-Old-Man (Jonas Jonasson), Book #116 of 2016

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 grumpy Swedish men, I give this 3 inferior Oves.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Allan Karlsson is preparing for his 100th birthday party in his room at the Old People’s Home when he decides to simply step out of the window (more easily said than done when you are 100), walk to the bus station, and see where the money in his pocket will take him. As he’s in the bus station, a young man desperate for the bathroom asks him to watch his heavy suitcase; Allan decides to take it with him instead (hoping it maybe has real shoes in it, as he only has slippers). That trips off a series of events as Allan travels throughout Sweden with this suitcase and its mysterious contents. Meanwhile, we flash back to the beginning of the 20th century and simultaneously start learning more about where Allan came from.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

Ugh, my cute gif-maker isn’t working, so here are the words I would search to find the perfect gif:

  • Eyes fluttering with cuteness
  • Bored

(very complex emotions. YOU’RE WELCOME, WORLD.)

 

Crooked Kingdom

Sometimes, I read a book that everyone in the world proclaims is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING and NOT TO MISS and it turns out to be garbage (I’m looking at you, Eligible. Don’t believe the hype, people!).

Sometimes, you read a book that everyone in the world proclaims is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING and NOT TO MISS and it turns out to be 100% true.

For me, that book last year was Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. My entire review of the book (read by me in October 2015) was “YAS YAS YAS please make this into a movie, world.”

So, needless to say, as soon as the second book in the duology came out, I got my grubby little mitts on it (or, more accurately, as soon as the library hold came up, I collected it promptly).

WHAT I READ:

Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo (Book #110 of 2016)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 criminals with a heart of gold, I give this 5 elaborate capers.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Crooked Kingdom picks up where Six of Crows left off: Inej has been captured by Van Eck, Nina is suffering the aftereffects of the parem, and everyone is trying to figure out how to get the 30 million kruge they were promised for the heist. The first fifty pages are dedicating to breaking Inej out – and Inej trying to rescue herself. Of course, Kaz wouldn’t be Kaz if he didn’t have six other plans and scams formulating at the same time.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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NEED MORE:

I stand by my assertion with the last book: these two books would make amazing movies. They are just fast-paced, rollicking, plot-driven novels that are interesting from cover to cover. I also appreciate the character development that happens, even with so many characters to explore.

If you want something supremely entertaining, easy to read, but still juicy and compelling, this is the one.

I have a vagina and I’m mad

Originally I had titled this post something like “strong female characters are the worst,” because I truly hate when people praise a piece of media like a book or movie because of the “strong female lead.” Have you ever in your life heard the phrase “strong male lead?” No, because it is assumed when you say “male character” that said character will be strong, capable, probably handsome, and generally will save the day. (You only have different than the stock male lead when you specifically qualify it such as by saying “nerdy male character”) (and, of course, this in and of itself is problematic, because it is presuming that there is no overlap between nerdy and strong).

And yet. It seems to me, and to a lot of people on the internet that share my opinion, the stock female character is a simpering damsel in distress. If you say “female lead” more likely than not she will be a second to the (strong) male lead. You must specify that actually, your character is different from others because she is strong.

And that is bullshit. Thank you, Star Wars, for finally getting a female lead in your movies who is more than a princess, but everyone stop saying she’s “strong.” She just IS.

Anyway, other people have said this better than me, and I’m so enraged today I’d rather segue this into something else: people hate women. This is just a thing. Don’t be shocked. The evidence is there, and persistent, and pervasive, and tiring. (And I’m saying this from a relative place of privilege as a cis, straight, white, middle-class individual). Nowhere is this more evident than the 2016 United States presidential election wherein a misogynistic, jingoistic, racist, xenophobic, demagogic known sexual predator won over one of the most qualified presidential candidates in recent history who happens to have a vagina.

Don’t give me any bullshit about why you voted for the demagogue (“I’M not a racist! I just like people who are!”). I’m sure that is perfectly true for a wide swath of the population – at least, I have to hope so, because otherwise this country truly is going to hell – but the cold, hard, fact is that women are treated with suspicion when anyone has a hint at their strength. A female lead is supposed to be nurturing; a strong female lead is someone who doesn’t know her place.

I just finished Lean In and learned about the Heidi/Howard study and I can’t stop thinking about it. Harvard Business School did a case study in which two groups of students were given a description of a successful entrepreneur. One group was told the entrepreneur’s name was Heidi; the other group was told Howard. The students rated Howard more positively, saying he seemed to be a more “appealing” colleague, where Heidi was seen as selfish and not someone who you would want to work with. This was literally the same (fictional) person – the only difference was in gender.

I have so much more than I could say about this, but I’m trying to stop dwelling on why people hate women (or, in general, those who are a different color/religion/culture/gender identity/sexuality than “what a normal American is”) and focus instead on the future. I’m setting up recurring donations to women’s rights organizations and actively seeking volunteer opportunities with the National Organization for Women, NARAL, and immigrant/refugee support centers. I can’t do a lot, but I can do this.

Also, screw you if you say a book is good because it has a “strong female lead” but here are some awesome pieces of art that have/are written by just normal, strong, flawed, funny females. This is by no means an exhaustive list – just what I pulled from books I’ve read in the last year or so – so please comment with anything else  I should add to my TBR pile:

  • Lean in, Sheryl Sandberg
  • Shrill, Lindy West
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore girls
  • Parks and Rec
  • Some Kind of Happiness, Claire Legrand
  • Leave Me, Gayle Forman
  • Sea of Tranquility, Katja Millay
  • Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
  • The Thursday Next series, Jasper Fforde

The Other Side of London

As I bragged about last week, I was offline for part of October on a fantastic vacation to London with my gentleman. I’ve spent a fair share of time in London, having studied abroad there during college, worked there for four months after grad school, and visited a few other times. So, needless to say, I feel quite comfortable there and love any excuse to visit one of my favorite places in the world.

What I discovered on the trip is a really dumb problem: what do you do when you’ve seen all of the things, and are traveling with someone whose preferred method of touristing is skipping most of the museums? London has SO MUCH to do that I feel like we barely did anything this trip – even though we were almost constantly out and about. So, what did we do outside of the guidebook suggestions?

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Stayed in an awesome hotel

Thanks to my work travel and my slavish dedication to one hotel brand, I scraped together enough hotel points to get three free nights in the Sheraton Grand Park Lane (technically, it was only two nights at first, but we loved it so much we bagged our shitty AirBNB and came back for the last night).

The hotel had just gone through a massive multi-year renovation and we were there literally for the grand re-opening (attended by press, C-level British celebrities, and people walking Dalmatians on leashes for a mysterious reason I still don’t understand).

The best part for us was my Platinum-member (YEAH) access to the Club Lounge, which was stocked with a delicious free breakfast, snacks, and alcohol basically every hour of the day. MUCH free food was eaten, and MANY of those baby jam jars shoved into my suitcase. We know how to party.

Ate ourselves silly in the East End

Probably the best thing in the entire trip happened within our first two days: The East End food tour with Eating London Tours. We tasted eight wildly different food and drink items across the East End, including a bacon sammie, bread pudding, curry, and – of course – a beer. We couldn’t stop raving about the food, the street art, and the amazing tour guide. It could only go downhill from there, folks!

Traveled afar for a brewery and ‘za

Something my gentleman in particular enjoys is a good craft brewery experience; we actually did a brewery trail in New Hampshire a few months ago (and learned four breweries is a lot to handle in one afternoon). So, when my friend who lives in London recommended we check out Crate Brewery in Hackney, famed for its brews and its pizza, we jumped at the chance. One long Underground and Overground ride later, we were tucking in to the best cider I’ve ever had, and a Middle Eastern flatbread pizza. Will travel for noms.

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Other fun things? A very long day trip to Paris (less “fun” than “full of wine”)… a pub quiz with a good friend of mine… many walks around London… exploring the exhibits at the Tate Modern… and, of course, all the cream teas.

 

Austen Through The Ages

There may be no other author more (over?)represented in modern culture than Jane Austen. For someone who wrote only six novels (plus a few other novellas, etc), that b is everywhere you turn. In honor of the lady whose birthday is next month (honestly, I just came up with a flimsy excuse to post this now), let’s dive into my favorite representations of Jane Austen in modern day! In book, movie, and vlog format.

Kicking it off with my inspiration: one of the books I read in October.

WHAT I READ:

First & Then (Emma Mills), Book #107 of 2016

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 Darcys, I give this 4 Colin Firths in wet shirts.

#FirstFifty Synopis

Devon is starting her senior year of high school, maintaining her obsession with her best friend/massive crush Cas while adjusting to her 14-year-old cousin Foster living with her and her family. Turns out she and Foster share gym class with one Ezra, who is the All-American, aloof football star at her high school no one seems to no. Also turns out Foster is a genius when it comes to kicking footballs, and that Ezra may not be as aloof as he initially seemed…

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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OTHER AUSTENS

Hoo, boy!

Bride and Prejudice

Bollywood movie version of Pride and Prejudice. Need I say more? If you want awesome dance sequences, silly songs, and Alexis Bledel as an awkward Georgina, look no further!

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Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Potentially one of my top-five favorite Austens, the LBD is a Webseries that sets Pride and Prejudice in modern-day California, with Lizzie serving as a vlogger detailing her life. Stretching over 100 episodes (and some bonus eps!) these 5-minute videos are a delightful representation of the novel and do such a lovely job at bringing it to modern-day life. I LOVE IT.

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Eligible

One I DID NOT like and strongly do not recommend: Eligible. I read it this summer and can’t believe how much I didn’t like it, especially considering how many people did like it (including professional reviewers!). I found it sloppy, uninteresting, and really choppy. The author also felt the need to insert so many “hot topics” that it was overwhelming. Transphobia, racism, anorexia. All important topics but piled on top of each other, and barely addressed at all. With so many other delightful interpretations of Pride and Prejudice out in the world, don’t waste your time on this!