Book Roundup: March 2017

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 8. A bit of a slow month for me.

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: All ladies!

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: Technically 2 had many scenes set outside of the U.S., but since those two were set in 1) England and 2) various locations visited by an American, I don’t know if it counts. Whoops! What I DO like is a lot of the books I read – especially All the Ugly and Wonderful Things and Dreamland Burning – explore parts of America and its ugly underbelly in ways I did not previously explore.

RATINGS SPREAD: Four 5-star reviews, Two 4-star reviews, Two 3-star reviews. Good month!

 

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WHAT I READ: All The Ugly and Wonderful Things (Bryn Greenwood)

WHY I READ IT: On many Best of 2016 lists.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Incredibly challenging, hard to decide how I feel, but such a well-written slice of life that kept me compelled the whole time.

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WHAT I READ: My Husband’s Wife (Jane Corry)

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite lifestyle bloggers was reading it!

WHAT I THOUGHT: A fun read, but it could have used some structural readjustment to decide what kind of book it was going to be.

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WHAT I READ: The Diviners (Libba Bray)

WHY I READ IT: A podcast I listen to recommend this (and its sequel) as one of the Best Books They Read in 2016.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Totally scared the piss out of me (I’m very ladylike) and is definitively NSFchildren, but I’m pumped to dive into Book #2.

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WHAT I READ: Lair of Dreams (Libba Bray)

WHY I READ IT: See above!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Still totally scary, but I liked this one even more than the first. Too bad we aren’t closer to October and the release of the third!

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: I first read this book in 2015 and decided to give it a reread when I was sick and had little brainpower for anything else.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Ugh, I love this book SO much. I’m so glad I decided to give it a reread – it just hits everything I need in a book, AND it turns out the 3rd book comes out in early May so I had good timing in my reread!

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Mist and Fury (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: BECAUSE THESE BOOKS BLOW MY SKIRT UP AND I LOVE THEM!!

WHAT I THOUGHT: May 2nd cannot come soon enough. GIMME MORE!

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WHAT I READ: Dreamland Burning (Jennifer Latham)

WHY I READ IT: Book club!

WHAT I THOUGHT: An incredible and important re-telling of a deliberately hidden historical event. More to come next week.

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WHAT I READ: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding (Kristin Newman)

WHY I READ IT: Even though her name is spelled incorrectly in my opinion, I do like travel memoirs.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Well-written, albeit a little eye-rolley at times as all travel memoirs are, but I still slammed through this book and enjoyed reading it.

 

Need more thorough reviews? Goodreads, baby.

Grown-Up Fairy Tale

There’s nothing I love more than a spicy YA book, except possibly a spicy YA book based on a fairy tale, ESPECIALLY a fairy tale that coincidentally had a live-action movie retelling coming out at the same time I was giving it a read. Yes, folks, you read that confusing sentence correctly: I just reread A Court of Thorns and Roses and man, do I love that book.

In a nutshell, A Court of Thorns and Roses is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, except it’s gritty and violent and sexy and has less inanimate objects singing and dancing. I slammed through it in one long travel day in 2015, and read the equally-as-excellent follow-up A Court of Mist and Fury as soon as it came out in the spring of 2016.

WHAT I READ:

A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury (Sarah J. Maas)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 faeries, I give both books 5 steamy sex scenes.

#FirstFifty Synposis

Very human Feyre is out in the woods doing her daily task of hunting in order to feed her family (two lazy sisters and a disabled father). While out in the woods, she sees a giant wolf that she surmises must be a faerie – a magical creature that inhabits the land north of the wall, a creature that is supposed to stay in his land. She makes the decision to kill the faerie and sell its pelt – a decision that soon leads to a wrath-filled High Fae breaking down her door, informing her that she broke the faerie/human treaty, and that the only way to atone is to come over the Wall with him and live in his palace for eternity. (Real Beauty and the Beast vibes here, folks).

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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Last week, when I was sick and craving a familiar book, I decided to give these books a reread – and I instantly remembered why I loved them so much. (Especially since I haven’t read them since the one and only other time, there was a ton I didn’t remember!). AND, the third book comes out in 6 weeks. NEED I SAY MORE?! Why are you still here, reading this? You should be out reading these books!

Oscar Winners Watch Party: Vol. 1

Or, Not About BooksThat Time I Decided To Watch Apparently Good Movies

Although I do love my movies (particularly of the trashy genre), I have a tragic blind spot where award-winning movies are concerned. I’ve watched some of the newest award winners, but have missed even recent classics. And so, I decided to address that the best way I know: making an Excel spreadsheet. In a very methodical way, I noted down all the Academy Award for Best Picture winners (excluding ones I’ve seen, like Titanic, or ones I have no interest in seeing, like LOTR: Return of the King. SORRY NOT SORRY but LOTR is dull). I then tracked where I can find these movies online before I have to resort to renting them: Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc.

And so, I dive into my Oscar Winners Watch Party: Vol. 1! FYI, these are the movies I found on Amazon Prime.

Movie Reviews in 30 Seconds

American Beauty: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 

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No Country for Old Men: Blah Country for Bland Men. Too many dead dogs.

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Silence of the Lambs: Too scary for me to watch. Did not watch.

I also got too scared looking at the gifs to post one.

Terms of EndearmentShirley MacLaine is dope, Debra Winger reminds me of Emma Stone, their characters are basically a cross between Lorelai/Emily and Lorelai/Rory, and the ending should have been more sad but was mostly weird to me.

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Next up: Oscar winners on Netflix! (Maybe.)

Scary YA

I’ve talked before about how much I hate the “young adult” categorization, as I feel it often is used to denigrate a book: oh, it’s a YA book. It’s not a REAL book. And, often I feel that category is applied simply because the main character is a teenager, and not reflective of the themes or tone of the book (not that books targeted to young adults shouldn’t have adult themes…). All that to say, the books I read most recently are YA in name only, because they are scary as hell, and I loved it.

WHAT I READ:

The Diviners and Lair of Dreams (Libba Bray) (the first two books in the Diviner series).

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 overused 1920s slang, I give the first book 4 cat’s pajamas and the second book 5 Sweetheart Seers.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

We are in 1920s New York City, and a young girl looking to liven up a party pulls out a recently acquired Ouija board and suggests they try to contact the dead. They have some spooky messages from someone calling himself Naughty John who threatens to bring about the end of days… and soon forget about it. Meanwhile, our heroine Evie is banished from her small town in Zenith, Ohio, after pulling out her “party trick” to embarrass a prominent boy in town: she can sense people’s secrets and pasts by holding an object of theirs. She’s loaded onto a train headed to stay with her uncle in New York City, thrilled to be going towards some excitement and not knowing the mystery and horror that lies ahead.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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Maybe don’t read this one right before bed, but I dove into the next book immediately and liked it even more – the author gives us multiple main characters, and you get a really cool look at a lot of things in 1920s New York: interracial relationships, the challenges of being an immigrant, segregated neighborhoods, class divides. She did a lot of research, and it shows.

What To Do In Abaco

When my parents announced they would be taking their sailboat to the Bahamas in early 2017, I thought it would be a pretty solid trip: I’d get to see my parents, explore some beautiful (and lesser-visited) parts of the Bahamas, and probably not have to pay for much because, well, parents. (And it would be extra good because I swore I wouldn’t stay on their sailboat but would book accommodation on land, instead – 3 adults and a cat on one 35-foot sailboat is just too much for me).

In the leadup to my trip, I got almost daily emails from my mom telling me about itineraries they were putting together, new places they had explored that we should go, and plans for my arrival. I was pretty pumped to have someone else do all the planning for me, since that’s normally a role I reluctantly/not so reluctantly take on as the most Type A person I know.

The weekend had its ups and downs, but throughout it all I couldn’t deny that visiting the Bahamas makes for a beautiful long weekend.

And now, a not-at-all comprehensive list of things to do there!

Learn Whether It’s “Abaco” or “The Abacos”

Because I have no idea and cavalierly use the two interchangeably.

Sailing

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The best way to travel between the different cays, in my opinion, must be sailboat. Taxis are expensive and things are far apart. If you have to take a while to get there, might as well do it from the water!

Now, I have absolutely no advice on how to rent a boat or what tour companies to use, since I was able to take advantage of the sailboat taxi from the airport to my hotel gratis. All I can tell you is prepare to get slightly quesy if you aren’t used to being on the water for long periods of time. Also prepare for the captain and first mate to continually stress out about tides and having to leave at precise times.

Explore Underwater

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Once you’ve gotten your fill of life above the water, time to jump down and see what’s below. Our original plan to snorkel at Great Guana (featuring apparently amazing sealife and a beautiful reef) was scuttled due to intense waves. So, we went to plan B and snorkeled Mermaid Reef close to Marsh Habour. Definitely a fun way to see some very colorful fish and a couple of rays!

And, I got to try a full-face snorkel mask, which is 10000% better than the snorkel in your mouth, once you remember to breath like normal and not like you are being chased into a dark basement.

Treasure Cay Beach

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My absolutely favorite part of the weekend – relaxing on Treasure Cay Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. When I arrived to the Bahamas, my parents suggested we alter our original plans and cancel going to this beach and I threw a very big fit about it – and I’m so glad I did. Once we arrived (because I won the fight), I had first been planning to spend the morning on the beach, then the afternoon doing something active like going for a bike ride. Alas, the day was so beautiful that I spent the entire day down there. I cannot stress how blue the water is and how sugar-powdery the sand is. Just writing about it makes me want to go back. Truly, it made the other challenging aspects of the weekend all worth it.

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Things to know about the Bahamas: A bunch of U.S. airlines fly into the Bahamas and specifically to Marsh Harbour, but I flew JetBlue direct to Nassau and onwards on Bahamasair. I had read horror stories about Bahamasair, and did get delayed about 2 hours on one flight due to mechnical errors – but I concede mechanical errors happen, and they did a good job at keeping us informed. I would definitely recommend taking a morning flight since I could see later flights on that airline just get more and more delayed.

No need for a visa for a short-stay U.S. citizen, and USD is happily accepted (although you may receive Bahamian money as change). I went through U.S. customs in Nassau heading back to the U.S., which ruled since I didn’t have to do it after landing.

The Abacos are very sleepy and rural, so don’t expect a Sandals-type resort. But if you want the most beautiful beach you’ve ever seen, head here.

And I still don’t know if it’s Abacos or Abaco.

American Strangers

Part of my challenge this year to read more deeply meant picking up books I normally wouldn’t: namely, contemporary nonfiction. Most of the time I view reading as an escape, and nonfiction detailing exactly how and why the world is going to crap doesn’t particularly provide that.

But, I’m growing older and growing up, and added two well-regarded books to my TBR list. These books were chosen specifically because they were publicized as doing a good job at explaining the “rest” of America outside of my liberal coastal elite bubble, and maybe by reading them I could understand why we have a toddler in the White House.

This question still rattles around in my brain on a daily basis as he continues to rampage and tantrum his way through the Constitution, but at least I got to read some good books while everything goes to hell.

WHAT I READ

Strangers In Their Own Land (Arlie Russell Hochschild) and Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance)

SNAPSHOT REVIEWS

On a scale of 1 to 5 voting ballots, I gave Strangers 4 polluted rivers and Hillbilly 5 rust belts.

MY MUSINGS

Some of the most fascinating information I found in either book were the stats explaining the socioeconomic, cultural, or historic background of regions of the country existing the way they do. Hillbilly had less of that by virtue of it being a memoir, but Strangers did a fantastic job at tying in the rise of Trumpism with a variety of factors in America (in this case, Louisiana). The three reasons for the rise of Donald Trump, according to Strangers In Their Own Land (which profiled white, largely Christian, Louisianans) :

  1. They are on shaky economic ground
  2. They believe they are culturally marginalized and “held up to ridicule in the national media as backward.” The author paints a story of them standing patiently in line for the American Dream, and suddenly others are unfairly allowed to cut in.
  3. They believe they (white Christians) are on a demographic decline.

While I logically understand this point, emotionally I find it absolutely absurd that these privileged people (yes, they are privileged, regardless of their economic status) are getting so crabby because others are being given basic human rights like equal marriage, self-determination, and the essential right to your own body. It’s like being pissed because you were given a whole pie to eat, and then found out you actually have to share the pie. Sure, it sucks that you don’t get the whole thing, but if you don’t share, I get no pie. 

After reading Strangers, I wrote the following:

Despite the author’s best efforts, I still found myself unable to understand the ways in which the people she was profiling (white, Christian, heterosexual, many male) believe themselves to be unfairly culturally marginalized. I want to mull it over a little bit more and read other similar narratives like Hillbilly Elegy – I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to empathize with a privileged individual feeling marginalized just because others have more basic human rights, but perhaps I’ll be able to sympathize more.

Welp, I’m still not sympathizing more, but I remain intrigued to learn more about these cultures so different from my own, even though we are all American.

These books are excellent reads if you are looking to learn more about today’s American culture. Strangers is good if you want something more research-heavy (but easy to read), and Hillbilly is excellent for the personal narrative.