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The Interdependency Series by John Scalzi (Threefer Book Review)

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency, #1)The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: the-shit, quantum-stuff, end-of-the-world, five-stars-means-I’ll-read-it-again, outer-space, futuristic, sci-fi

Now I want to be Kiva Lagos when I grow up.

Because Stephen King and George R.R. Martin have both broken my heart with slowly published series in the past, I now make it a rule to refrain from reading the first book until the last one is published. I’d been seeing rave reviews for both The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire, but refused to let myself get sucked in until The Last Experox was published in April 2020.  Then I joined the endless queue for a library copy of the first volume, but severe cases of both pandemic brain and trump fatigue syndrome coupled with a desperate need to read something non-depressing and utterly escapist moved me to just buy all three volumes for Kindle.

Brief recap: The Interdependency is a group of planetary systems connected by the Flow, a quantum phenomenon that makes interstellar travel possible. The first problem? The Flow is collapsing, leaving systems cut off from each other and the necessities each produces and trades and consigning all but one system to certain extinction. The second problem? Power games and political maneuvering. It’s kinda like Game of Thrones set in outer space, with rather less blood (and no twin incest, sorry).

Scalzi has said many times (he’s a good follow on Twitter, by the way) that the books were conceived and mostly written prior to 2016, but the parallels between series events and what’s going on in the U.S. as I write this in August 2020 are uncanny. You’ll never convince me that Nadashe Nohamapetan isn’t at least loosely based on Ivanka Stanka, which makes John Scalzi philosophy-lite wise, wryly funny with his own brand of snark, and psychic.

Pick these up; you won’t regret it. They went on sale for dirt cheap a week after I paid full price, and I wasn’t even pissed. Worth it.

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Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Flowers in the Attic (Dollanganger, #1)Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I clearly remembered seeing this ratty paperback being passed from one teenaged girl’s hand to the next when I was in high school but that can’t be right–I’d graduated six months before the book came out. So maybe I’m thinking of Carrie? Or Go Ask Alice? Something smutty and therefore taboo and enticing, but I dunno. ~shrug~

Anyway, I selected this as #21, a book published during my birth month (November), for my 2020 Reading Challenge. I started it in October, as Halloween was approaching, the weather was getting cooler and rainier and windier, and I was rattling around alone and anxious, cleaning out and packing up an entire household by myself after my stbx decided to torpedo our marriage and left, dumping literally everything on me. So, the timing and setting should have been ideal. Dismal weather, nerve-racking personal situation, spooky holiday–enter the gothic horror novel. Perfect!

Except, not so much.

I almost stopped reading at 33%, but virtually every other book I owned was packed. The characters are by turns flat and annoying, the writing style is that of a nursery story with endless details and egregious overuse of “golly” and the ! key, overwrought dialogue, the action and suspense were drawn out and lackluster. But I just wanted every sucky thing in my life to be behind me, including this book, and I didn’t have the spoons to deal with the library and having to pick something new. So I kept going.

The verdict: Worth it, I suppose. A lot of people loved it. I don’t regret reading it, but didn’t enjoy it enough to continue with the series, especially since I know that after her death, pre-Internet and therefore not splashed literally everywhere, “V.C. Andrews” books were ghostwritten with zero attribution to the actual ghostwriter. Cashing in and keeping her hidden is thematically on-brand, at least.

Bookshelves: creepy-horror-stuff, goth-lit, bad-dialogue, horror, ya, everybody-loved-it-but-me, reading-challenge

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The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Book Review)

The Ten Thousand Doors of JanuaryThe Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: fantasy, quantum-stuff, cover-love

I’m waaaay late publishing this, but this was my first best read of 2020. You know, before everything went to shit.

This fantasy is a delightful cross between The Golden Compass and Narnia. The writing is rich and lyrical, and I fell in love with the characters.

The cover is stunning.

Highly recommended.

Go on a magic journey with me on Goodreads

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The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne (Book Review)

The Two Mrs. GrenvillesThe Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, trashiest-trash, high-society, roman-a-clef, in-the-news

Another fun roman à clef from Dominick Dunne, this is not* the not-even-thinly-disguised story of the real-life uber-wealthy Woodward family. Prep schools, country clubs, banking fortunes, golddiggers, sex, the New York Social Register, drugs, scandal–it’s all here, including the power the real rich can wield to literally get away with murder.

Put on your comfies, pour a big glass of wine, and settle in for a solidly entertaining trashy read.

*Except that it is. After I finished this book, I googled the real story, and then put aside my never-read-the-unfinished-last-work policy and read Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, which purportedly inspired one of the real Mrs. Grenvilles to suicide.

Let’s discover more great trash on Goodreads!

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White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg (Book Review)

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in AmericaWhite Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If there’s a message beyond “hey, everybody, there’s a class system in America” (as a card-carrying member of the The Poors, I’m well aware of that, thanks), I will never find it. This might have been excellent as a collection of essays with the padding cut out. I was not aware of much of what I did get through and I enjoy learning new things, but even though I agree with the author’s (probable) politics, I found this too repetitive and dry.

It might well be me. I’m presently struggling to navigate my third cratered marriage and divorce, so it’s difficult to keep my mind on anything but the fluffiest fluff. I’ll try to read this again and will update accordingly. If you’ve read this, please share your thoughts!

Bookshelves: american-history, current-social-issues, non-fiction

Join me on Goodreads so I can see what you’ve read that’s better than this

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American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (Book Review)

American SpyAmerican Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: spy-vs-spy, history, africa, in-the-news, fictionalized-history, not-quite-a-romance, politics, racism, sexism

I’ve never been great about keeping up with world events, although I’ve gotten kinda (depressingly) better with the arrival of Der Trumpenfuhrer and my own fucking country mucking things up even more than they already are. So, while I had heard of the Republic of the Upper Volta, I had no idea it is now officially named Burkina Faso, and I certainly knew nothing of “Africa’s Che Guevara” and the coup d’état of 1987.

Multiple timelines work well here. The story opens when former FBI agent Marie Mitchell narrowly escapes a hit attempt and flees her home in the U.S. with her young sons to her mother’s home on Martinique. Between “current” (1992) events and flashback to the events of 1987 in Africa, Wilkinson makes strong use of the second-person voice as Marie writes a journal-style letter to her young sons, explaining her decisions, her ideologies, and her hopes for them, while preparing for her own final and personal mission to put it all to bed for good.

Do not mistake this for a spy thriller. There are no microchips embedded into human flesh, or agents desperately scrambling into an airplane as it’s lifting off the runway, and therefore I’m guessing it’s actually a lot more realistic than, say, The Bourne Identity.* To me, it read like the political and diplomatic story of an actual historical event at the heart of the Cold War with a “what if” added to it. The tensions of racism, sexism, family issues, and the mystery of a lost loved one add in to make an engrossing read with a strong, smart protagonist.

*I have not actually read any of the Bourne books, and after reading a few reviews, I’ve decided that I will not read them, since I enjoyed the three Bourne movies (and love me some Matt Damon).** I also see I’ve never actually read anything by Robert Ludlum at all  and I think I must amend that.

**I know there were actually five Bourne movies but I do not intend to watch the last two; reference Matt Damon’s own joke about “The Bourne Redundancy.”

I’ll also be reading Lauren Wilkinson’s next book, as I enjoyed this debut.

View all my reviews

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In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (Book Review)

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's BerlinIn the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I walked across the snowy plain of the Tiergarten—a smashed statue here, a newly planted sapling there; the Brandenburger Tor, with its red flag flapping against the blue winter sky; and on the horizon, the great ribs of a gutted railway station, like the skeleton of a whale. In the morning light it was all as raw and frank as the voice of history which tells you not to fool yourself; this can happen to any city, to anyone, to you.” — Christopher Isherwood, Down There on a Visit

Bookshelves: history, wwii, nazi-hate, current-social-issues, investigative-journalism, jewish-history, germany, sleep-with-the-light-on, non-fiction

Either you already know how bad trump is or you don’t want to know, so I’ll skip the rant. I did, however, make my highlights in this ebook public, which I seldom do. Read what I’ve highlighted at the Goodreads link below, if you want to see the obvious similarities between Hitler and the Nazi regime and our present administration and Dur Trumpenfuhrer. And keep in mind this book was published well before our current presidential debacle.

In the Garden of Beasts tells of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, with a lot of focus on his daughter Martha and her string of Nazi boyfriends, from his posting in 1933 until Hitler’s brutal consolidation of power with the Night of the Long Knives (Nacht der langen Messer, or Operation Hummingbird) in 1934.The book is not as gripping as either Isaac’s Storm or Dead Wake, and that is likely due to the angle from which it’s written. We see events through Dodd’s eyes, a man who seems woefully unqualified and shockingly ineffectual at whatever he might have been trying to accomplish. The action in the book felt quite passive to me, atrocities snowballing all around while everyone-not-a-Nazi is helpless and nobody listens to Cassandra. It’s easy to forget that Hitler may have been stopped before the horror was fully realized, had any other powers including the United States, Britain, or France taken a hard stance. And it’s easy to see how easily we can slide into a cesspool just like it if we’re not careful.

And what did it all come down to, at least for America? You got it–money. Germany owed a lot of money to rich and influential Americans, so God forbid we stand up to a fascist killer and his “Jewish problem,” because then Germany might get pissy and default on their American loans.

Fucking money. Fuck money. Fuck Hitler, fuck Nazis, and fuck trump and all his evil minions too.

Click here to see my review on Goodreads, with e-book text highlights.

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The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Book Review)

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For me, this book was kind of like when you splurge on a high-end chocolate bar and stash it for later, only to forget about it, and then you stumble on it later and you’re ridiculously happy at the treat you hid from yourself. This was the first non-Harry Potter book that J.K. Rowling published and I hesitated to read it, because I knew it wasn’t Harry Potter, and I adored Harry Potter, and I didn’t want to be disappointed.

(I did, however, read the Cormoran Strike–and you will never convince me that’s not the coolest name ever–whodunits Rowling wrote as Robert Galbraith, and I really enjoyed them.)

So I finally picked this one up, and I am suitably impressed. Many reviewers found it slow-paced, and I suppose it is, but it sucked me in and I tore through it in two (slow) work days. It’s not highly dramatic, no; it’s not chock-full of suspense or horror. It’s not a murder mystery, despite the death in the opening chapter. It is a brilliant character sketch with all the real-life grit of Peyton Place together with dark humor and a smidge of satire, not just of a large cast of widely differing and deeply complex people, but of an entire town. Humans and town both hide secrets and flaws, jealousies and fears, dreams and desires, abuses both inflicted and endured, all of which are stirred into the pot of a suddenly open seat on the parish council, and which come to a boil in a delightfully bittersweet brew of schadenfreude.

Excellent.

Bookshelves: suburbia, satire, grittiest-reality, schadenfreude, alternating-povs, dark humor, brit-lit

Hard as it is to imagine, there is more to life than Hogwarts

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: twisted-fairy-tale, futuristic, sci-fi, dystopia, ya, cover-love

This book was #6 and #27 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with a robot/AI/cyborg character and a book set in a city that has hosted the Olympics, respectively. Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella featuring Cinder the cyborg, set in Beijing at an unspecified time in the future.

I chose this back in December 2019 but didn’t read it until the Covid-19 pandemic had the U.S. tight in its grasp. Dystopia; sign me up. Futuristic/sci-fi/cyborgs; cool. Reimagined fairy tale; I love those. This cover; swoon. A plague; I can definitely relate. But a plague we are actively researching, tracing, and are working hard to protect people from?!? Sorry, I don’t know how to suspend that much disbelief. Not the book’s fault, and maybe a bit prescient.

Now I’m going to sound like a crabby old lady, and so be it. Here comes the “in MY day…” In MY day, books were better edited. If I found a typo or grammatical error (that wasn’t a colloquialism and therefore intentional), it was diary-worthy. The ones I found in this book included, and I paraphrase, “Her eyes surpassed Kai as she looked across the room” and using “treatise” instead of “treaty,” more than once. I do not think those words mean what you think they mean, with a nod to Inigo Montoya.

Those things aside, this wasn’t bad. The world is well-imagined and the original fairy tale is well-twisted. I found the contrivances and characters’ actions to be a bit juvenile at times (stamping one’s foot in anger is kinda three-year-old) but it is a YA book, so, okay. It gets lots of extra points for being something my brain could escape into during these anxious and uncertain times, which is something that several other, more “literary,” books have been unable to do. It was what I needed when I needed it.

The biggest disappointment for me is that it doesn’t stand alone with its cliffhanger ending. I may or may not continue with the series.

Find a great escape with me on Goodreads

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Redshirts by John Scalzi (Book Review)

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At the executive suites where I used to work, there was a woman who was often in the lunchroom at the same time I was. We enjoyed discussing various things, mostly the books we were reading. Then came the day I commented on the desirability of universal health care for the U.S. She looked at me in horror and said, “Oh, you’re a SOCIALIST?” And that was that. From then on, she avoided me. Because, you know, wanting sick people to get the care they need without ending up homeless makes me a totally evil person.

Whatever.

Months later her company downsized, she took a severance offer, and moved to Arizona (where they have some weird-ass politics that might suit her better than liberal Seattle). I was pretty surprised when she gave me a gift as she left, a book that I like but already own.* I mean, I thought she hated me. I used the gift receipt to exchange it, and got Redshirts, which I’ve been meaning to read forever but you know how it is: so many books, so little time.

I absolutely LOVED this book.

backspace meme

Star Trek crew in red shirts always get killed + this meme = this book. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s science-y and time-travel-y, but nothing terribly heavy–a fun and thought-provoking read. And I don’t understand why so many reviewers bitch about the codas. I loved the codas.

So, thank you, Dawn. I do miss our lunchtime book chats, even if you are a Trumpette. For that reason alone I’m not sure you would also like this book, but I sincerely wish you well.

*Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, which I also recommend.

Bookshelves: sci-fi, funny, the-shit, pop-culture, outer-space, time-travel

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians, #1)Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I tried. My issues are: 1) Too many people to keep track of, with too many interwoven family ties; 2) Too much telling, not enough showing; and 3) I’ve met the 100-page rule but it’s just not grabbing me.

Caveat: I tried to read this right as my husband decided to torpedo our marriage and I’m overwhelmed with starting my life over AGAIN at my age, for chrissakes, not to mention severe cases of both pandemic brain and trump fatigue syndrome. So, I’ll be kind and tell this book, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

For my soon-to-be ex, “It’s you, asshole.”

This book was #7 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with only words and no graphics or images on the cover.

Bookshelves: asian-culture, trashiest-trash, well-i-tried, pop-fiction

Help me find something I can actually tolerate in all this craziness

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The Power by Naomi Alderman (Book Review)

The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Um, wow.

The takeaway? That oppression is grounded in fear: The fear the oppressor has of the oppressed.

Imagine if you will, a world where women have a power that renders them not only supremely able to defend themselves against the oppression of the patriarchy, but able to flip said patriarchy on its head.

And imagine the world they will create when it becomes men who fear being assaulted and raped, who cannot walk alone in the dark, who have to toe certain lines to keep their jobs and their social standing.

Power has her ways. She acts on people, and people act on her.

This is a very uncomfortable book, even if you do embrace feminism, and thought-provoking in all the right ways. I myself go into burn-it-all-down mode whenever I remember that rape is the only crime where the victim’s story is routinely not accepted and the victim herself is put on trial. And if you don’t believe that’s inequality, then… ~shrug~ Those who do not want to know cannot be taught.

I am happy to learn this book is being taught in college curricula. Highly recommended.

Bookshelves: women, patriarchy, controversial, current-social-issues, literary-fiction, social-commentary

Someday, women are going to burn it all down

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Dissolution by C.J. Sansom (Book Review)

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake, #1)Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: historical-fiction, whodunit, period-mystery, murder-mystery, i-am-an-anglophile

This book is a delightful break from straight-on romantic historical fiction and standard mystery fare. I enjoy historical fiction and I enjoy whodunits, and C.J. Sansom nicely combines the two in this story of a commissioner of Thomas Cromwell investigating a murder (or three) at a monastery slated for elimination during the Henrician reformation.

Very well set in its time, this story serves as a window to Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church and the victims of that break, including heretic papists generally and Anne Boleyn specifically, while maintaining its focus on a locked-room-style murder mystery at the fictional monastery at Scarnsea. Our hero, the hunchbacked lawyer and ardent reformer Matthew Shardlake, is a pleasure to read.

Very well done. It’s the first in a series of several books, and that makes me happy.

Let’s find out whodunit together on Goodreads

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Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (Reading Challenge Book Review)

The Bonfire of the VanitiesThe Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was #8 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with one of the deadly sins in the title. (Note that I consider grounded knowledge of one’s virtues and strengths to be a different thing from vanity, but I’ve already read Pride and Prejudice more than once.)

There is not a single likable character in this book, not even the six-year-old, who isn’t even old enough to know better. You know she’ll be poisoned and grow up to be just another lemon tart/social x-ray. Wait, I take that back–young Henry Lamb seems to be a good person, but we never hear from him because he spends the whole book in a coma.

But that’s okay, because the characters aren’t supposed to be likable. They are despicable, because they are parodies, and very well done parodies. (I’ve heard that Tom Wolfe is famous for satire, but the only other book of his I’ve read is The Right Stuff, which I’ve read a few times and thoroughly enjoyed but for different reasons.) Essentially, we’ve got:

– Sherman McCoy, Master of the Universe bond trader on Wall Street, desperate to make the killing that will let him pay off the huge mortgage on his luxury apartment, always careful to position his face so his perfectly aristocratic jawline is at its best angle;

– Judy McCoy, Sherman’s wife, interior decorator and Social X-Ray;

– Maria Ruskin, Sherman’s mistress, gold-digger extraordinaire, married to a much older, very much richer man for obvious reasons (it is even suggested that while husband-hunting, she consulted actuarial tables);

– Larry Kramer, assistant prosecuting attorney looking to make a name for himself so he can get a raise and be able to afford a clandestine affair with a former juror, The Girl With the Brown Lipstick, because his magnificent sternocleidomastoid muscles might not be enough to impress her;

– Peter Fallow, a hopelessly alcoholic British journalist working in the U.S., desperate to get his writing mojo back and shamelessly manipulated by;

– Reverend Bacon, a black activist who not only promotes, but seeks to capitalize on, the cause celebre of the injustice done to;

– Henry Lamb, the young black man who is the victim of a hit-and-run in the Bronx.

Bonfire of the Vanities not only encapsulates the 80s and Wall Street excess (still relevant today, sadly), it lampoons WASPS, racism, sexism, keeping up with the Joneses, multiculturalism in general, law and order, use and abuse of privilege and power, and honor (or lack thereof) among thieves.

Highly recommend.

Bookshelves: modern-classic, satire, schadenfreude, dark-humor

Read to satirical excess with me on Goodreads

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I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg (Book Review)

I Still Dream About YouI Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: women, chick-lit, southern-writers, americana

I discovered Fannie Flagg after falling in love with the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. When I learned she had also written the screenplay, I figured the movie had to be pretty close to the book. I loved that book, devoured it in almost a single day, aided the summer windstorm that knocked our electricity out for about 36 hours so I had nothing else to do, and fortunately I’d bought a paper copy. Loved it.

Alas, I Still Dream About You, not so much. It was good, don’t get me wrong; 3 stars mean I liked it just fine. But I didn’t love it.

This is the story of Margaret Fortenberry, elected Miss Alabama the same year as the Birmingham race riot, and determined to win back some decency cred for her state. Problem is, forty years after the fact she just cannot get over herself having been Miss Alabama, and she’s a bit whiny. She’s also nice. Incredibly nice. I’ve never met anyone as thoroughly nice as Margaret Fortenberry. Maybe it’s a Southern thing. She is also, as it happens, planning her suicide, so meticulously that her body will never be found, very considerately leaving no mess for anyone else to clean up. Did I mention how very nice she is?

She is also determined that no one will have to deal with her possessions, so she gives them all away, but circumstances keep arising so that she has to push back the date at the last minute, leaving her with no clothes to wear as she deals with these various circumstances, not even an aspirin to take for the headaches they give her, and a “To Whom It May Concern” letter with the date whited out and rewritten several times. It gets comical.

Flagg deftly writes Maggie’s despondency and the dark cloud of suicide with a lightness that is not at all grotesque–it’s almost whimsical. The biggest problem I had was that the plot didn’t really thicken until almost halfway in, when things really heat up, helped by the discovery of a real live–well, no, dead actually–skeleton in the attic. Dressed in a kilt. The second half of the book moved right along.

Extra points for one of the best antagonists-you-love-to-hate I’ve ever read.

So no, it’s no Fried Green Tomatoes, but it’s still worth the read.

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Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose (Book Review)

Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America's Wild FrontierUndaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier by Stephen E. Ambrose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen E. Ambrose’s recounting of the Corps of Discovery is largely a biography of Meriweather Lewis, with lots of excerpts from his and Clark’s journals and from the letters exchanged by Lewis and President Thomas Jefferson. The casual racism and colonial high-handedness are appalling, although they accurately reflect the attitudes of the times. I was also disappointed that there was so little on Sacajawea, the only woman in the party, who kept up with all the men and sometimes outpaced them, with a newborn on her back no less. However, seeing pristine, largely unexploited country through the eyes of Lewis and Clark is a treat.

The primary goal of the expedition was to find a route by water from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across the brand-new Louisiana Purchase and beyond, to give America a firm foothold in trade across the continent. The secondary goal was that of scientific exploration, and Lewis’ vast notes, drawings, and specimens of hundreds of species of plants and animals, along with his surveying ability, make you see how dedicated he was to the adventure of discovery and the acquisition of scientific knowledge. When you measure the lack of technology against the expedition’s requirements, the scope–almost audacity, really–of the undertaking is freaking impressive.

It’s not a fast read, though; my library loan expired before I could finish the e-copy. Fortunately, I was able to download an audio loan immediately so I didn’t lose traction. I am almost impossible to please when it comes to narrated dialogue, hence most novels, but nonfiction is okay for that and the narrator was good.

Recommended for anyone interested in American History beyond the schoolbooks.

Bookshelves: american-history, mother-nature-will-kill-you, americana, biography, non-fiction, adventure, man-vs-nature

Be my partner in exploration on Goodreads

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Red Notice by Bill Browder (Book Review)

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for JusticeRed Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: politics, high-crimes-and-misdemeanors, non-fiction, memoir, in-the-news, fucking-russians, true-crime

I heard about this book when I was listening to the most excellent podcast Mueller She Wrote, partially to satisfy my admitted Mueller obsession and partially just for anything entertaining to listen to through the headphones I am forced into at work to drown out my office clerk’s incessant grunting and sniffling and burping and fake-coughing and sighing and growling, and my office neighbors’ incessant abuse of speakerphone, both offenses for which I believe death by stoning is entirely appropriate.

But I digress.

I’d only had the vaguest notions of what Russian sanctions were all about until MSW host A.G. and her co-hosts went into the Magnitsky Act in some detail and this book was mentioned.

Holy shit.

Author Bill Browder was a hedge fun manager who pioneered investing in the crippled Russian economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He learned of vast abuses and outright thefts from the Russian people, and himself was targeted by none other than Vladimir Putin among others, when he fought back and went public with the atrocities committed by government officials and the oligarchs who rose from the ashes like malignant phoenixes. The imprisonment, torture, and death of his Russian attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, were what led to the United States’ passage of the Magnitsky Act, which provides for sanctions against Russian individuals known to be involved in such activities.

THE GOOD: This is non-fiction that reads almost like an intrigue novel. High-finance shenanigans are described so that I, who feel rich if I am in possession of $3,000 all at the same time, could understand them. The writing is not Pulitzer-quality, but then, Browder is not a writer by trade, and it is still clear and engaging. The story packs punch after punch and pulls you along. I couldn’t put it down.

THE BAD: Browder comes across as quite likable, to the point that I almost forgot he is one of the capitalists who, in the long run, are not doing the world any favors. It’s all about making money, obscene amounts of money, more money than anyone could ever need, while ignoring the good that could be done for the world at large instead of indulging in $1200-a-night hotel suites at Lake Como and the like. He is quite self-congratulatory for his role, which was central, in getting what justice he could for honest, patriotic Sergei Magnitsky and bringing the Magnitsky Act into being, but glosses right over his own personal profiteering. Does one offset the other? I suppose. Maybe. But still.

THE UGLY: Russian government and oligarchs. Fucking Russians. I am even more appalled than I already was at the interference in U.S. sovereignty, and at the compliance of Americans who have or have not yet been named, may they all choke on their Beluga Gold Line.

Recommended.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (Reading Challenge Book Review)

An Unkindness of GhostsAn Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: love-the-title, fantasy, sci-fi, all-the-isms-and-phobias, current-social-issues, outer-space, reading-challenge

This was both #19 and #24 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with a title that caught my attention and a book written by a trans/non-binary author, respectively. I LOVE the title.

There was SO MUCH potential here, but I’m underwhelmed.

The world-building was phenomenal, with the story set on a gargantuan generational spaceship searching for a habitable world after climate change finally wipes out Earth. Culture is lushly painted, a theocracy ruling the ship, the upper decks reserved for the white elite and people of color relegated to the slum lower decks. I loved the rotating field decks on which crops are grown under the ship’s Baby Sun. The whole ship, so big that different decks have different languages, is a nice metaphor for our entire society, and issues of classism, sexism, trans- and homophobia, racism, ableism, and the myriad traumas that go along with those are included.

The characters are also fantastic. Our heroine, Aster, is a black woman who serves as a healer for her fellow slaves, nurturing healing plants and concocting curatives in her hidden botanarium while enjoying the personal friendship of one of the elites of the theocracy, the Surgeon General and nephew of the cruel reigning Sovereign. Aster is somewhere on the autism spectrum, perhaps with Asperger’s Syndrome (apologies, this isn’t my wheelhouse), and her viewpoint and voice are a delight. I loved Aunt Melusine and my heart ached for Giselle.

The writing is also lovely:

“In my language, there is no word for I. To even come close, you must say, E’tesh’lem vereme pri’lus, which means, this one here who is apart from all. It’s the way we say lonely and alone. It’s the way we say outsider. It’s the way we say weak.”

That’s where my praise ends, unfortunately. The plot felt a bit aimless to me. Things would ramp up for a chapter, then meander off into a flashback, then come back to the present with a different plot point or character point of view. Kind of all over the place. It all comes together in the end, but it felt almost like an accident.

I wanted to love it, and a lot of people do, but while I didn’t outright dislike it, I had to push a little to finish it. As always, your mileage may vary.

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A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Book Review)

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

1. Bridget Bishop was not a witch and neither were the Proctors. Fight me.

Understand, please. The Salem witch trials and the entire Inquisition mindset that made them possible were a horrific example of what happens when religion poisons government and misogyny is the order of the day. Despite that, I might be able to tolerate using the Salem huge-quoty-fingers witches as a poetic-license-jumping-off-place, except that

2. Too much telling, not enough showing, and

3. Mary Sueiest of Mary Sues.

When I’m this annoyed and I’m only at page 8, it’s best to bail.

Bookshelves: urban-fantasy, threw-it-against-the-wall, bad-history, abandoned

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Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones (Book Review)

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer (Unusual Chickens #1)Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a delight of a book! I think it’s aimed toward middle-school-age kids, but no matter. It doesn’t get much better than chickens with super powers. This story of twelve-year-old Sophie and her parents, taking refuge in the somewhat dilapidated farm her father has inherited and thankful to have it too, following her father’s layoff from his job, is a quick read, warm and funny and perfect for a rainy afternoon.

The epistolary format is one of my favorites and it’s even better when some of the letters are from…well, no spoilers, but this story and the way it is told is quirky and refreshing. The illustrations are delightful.

I appreciated the matter-of-fact inclusion of the juxtaposition between the haves and the have-nots. The depiction of life as a brown person in a predominantly white community, with their condescending assumptions and microaggressions, is timely. A circumspect shout-out to LGBT inclusion made me smile. Even if young kids aren’t living this stuff, the world is a diverse place and their literature should reflect that and this book gets with the program nicely.

Highly recommended, and I’ll definitely be reading the sequel. I hope there are several.

Bookshelves: ya, epistolary, coming-of-age, magic, supernatural

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My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray (Book Review)

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler HamiltonMy Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, thanks to my son Monster for the gift card. I’m not sure which was the greater gift, the books themselves or the opportunity to browse a bookstore, which I don’t do very often. Second, a huge thank-you for a historical novel that is actually about history and not just rapey romance crap.

I really, really enjoyed this one. While telling the story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, it also tells her husband’s story, beginning shortly before they met during the War for Independence. The crux is Alexander’s dedication to the formation of a great country and his meteoric rise from his birth as the bastard child of a woman charged with prostitution to his legacy as a gifted statesman and one of our founding fathers. Betsey/Eliza was there for all of it, often helping with his endless writings and playing the “woman’s role” as a lady of the state, friends with Martha Washington and Dolley Madison and heading countless charitable endeavors. Their marriage wasn’t perfect–no marriage is–but they faced their battles head-on; their devotion to each other and to their newly founded nation is clear.

I see that Dray and Kamoie have previously written another novel of American history, America’s First Daughter. Unfortunately, that phrase immediately brings Ivank-a Stank-a to mind, and I’m going to have to get over that. I love this team’s writing. I’m a new fan.

Bookshelves: american-history, fictionalized-biography, founding-fathers

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Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle (Orthe Duology Book Review)

Golden Witchbreed (Orthe #1)Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

Ancient Light (Orthe #2)Ancient Light by Mary Gentle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

 

Bookshelves: sci-fi, fantasy

Golden Witchbreed is the first not-Ash book by Mary Gentle I’ve read. I adore the Ash chronicles, so much so that for years I feared they would be ruined for me if Gentle’s other books didn’t enrapture me as much.

These books do not, in fact, meet the Ash standard, but that’s okay. I enjoyed them. Gentle’s created world is very real, the characters varied and well-developed, the culture and natural environment richly imagined. Golden Witchbreed is the story of human Lynne Christie, envoy from Earth to the post-holocaust, post-tech planet Orthe, where advanced technology is considered suspicious because of the super-tech once wielded by the now-extinct (or are they…?) and evil Golden Witchbreed. As Christie shares the skin tone of the ‘Breed and has advanced tech in her possession, her first-contact job is exponentially more difficult, and she quickly finds herself ensnared in political intrigue, fighting for her life.

The only issue I had was with the rather elaborate character names (examples are Sulis n’ri n’suth SuBannasen and Gur’an Alahamu-to O’he-Oramu-te; those are only two people) used interchangeably with the characters’ titles, so that combined with the sheer volume of them made it difficult to remember who was who. There’s a Cast of Characters in the front of the book, but I got tired of flipping back and forth. I’m lazy that way.

I liked the first book well enough that I bought the sequel, Ancient Light. My biggest gripe with that one was toward the end, it was draaaaaaging out soooooooo baaaaaad. I considered not finishing it several times – we’ll have a meeting here, now I’ll take a shuttle over here and have a meeting, while you take another shuttle over there and have a meeting, and Whosis can take a third shuttle for a meeting in that other place – on and on and on and on. But I’d invested almost a month reading these two books, and I had to find out what I happened, and I stuck with it. A great many other reviewers were angered by the ending, but it made sense to me. I mean, this is colonialism.

Neither book has a lot of action and both are heavy on descriptive passages, but the world-building is phenomenal and they’re worth reading just for that.

So while I liked these well enough, I’m not so much a Mary Gentle fan as I am a Super Huge Fan of the Ash books that happen to be written by Mary Gentle.

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Daisy Jones & The Six (Book Review)

Daisy Jones & The Six

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fun, totally escapist read. Sex, drugs, love, addiction, and rock-and-roll from the music heyday of the iconic 70’s, told in an oral history format (which I imagine might be even better as an audiobook).

It’s such a good read that I’m now a little pissed that this band is not real and that I cannot listen to the music. I settled for renaming my Fleetwood Mac playlist “Daisy Jones and The Six.”

Bookshelves: sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll, party-like-a-rock-star, nostalgia, pop-culture, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous

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The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (Reading Challenge Book Review)

The Island of Sea WomenThe Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was #30 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book recommended by a favorite online book club/chat group/whatever.

The sea, it is said, is like a mother. The salt water, the pulse and surges of the current, the magnified beat of your heart, and the muffled sounds reverberating through the water together recall the womb.

I loved this book, and have found a new author to devour.

More than chick-lit, this is grand historical fiction, the story of two great friends on Jeju Island, South Korea, from the end of the Cold War and Japanese occupation, through the Korean War and beyond. Most fascinating is the aspect of Korean haenyeo, literally “sea women,” who are the caretakers of the ocean and harvesters of its gifts, and the lush painting of the island’s matrifocal culture.

“You should be more careful out there,” the doctor says. “You have a dangerous job. I mean, do you see men doing it?”

“Of course not!” Young-sook exclaims. “The world knows that the cold water will cause their penises to shrivel and die.”

Warning: There are fairly-vividly described wartime atrocities, but there is so much more: Love, fear, sacrifice, hardship, friendship, community. This is a rich, delightful read.

Bookshelves: korean-war, asian-culture, women, historical-fiction, chick-lit

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Monica’s Story by Andrew Morton (Book Review)

Monica's StoryMonica’s Story by Andrew Morton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: #MeToo, in-the-news, feminism, politics, memoir, non-fiction, women

I was a gazillion months pregnant when this story was breaking, miserable and desperate for my labor to just start already, if for no other reason than to get away from the endless news coverage of what was, to general knowledge at the time, nothing more than a blow job. I mean, come on. The baby who finally decided to arrive has now reached legal drinking age and with #MeToo, maybe I should start getting caught up on stuff.

I am a fan of Monica Lewinsky. Not for her enormous, awful, unforeseeably life-wrenching choices at the tender age of 22, but for her ownership of those choices and the grace with which she has handled the unprecedented amount of public shaming and scorn. Ken Starr should be ashamed of himself. Linda Tripp will go down in history as the worst friend of all time. I’m still not sure about the bona fides of Andrew Morton, but Monica’s tale, told from her own point of view fresh from the au·to-da-fé, is engaging. Her experience behind the scenes was horrific and that she survived it with spirit and class is inspiring.

I do have some issues with recent claims of abuse of power. Just because Bill Clinton, a flawed human being like the rest of us, was the President of the United States, is he expected to be responsible for other people’s choices in interpersonal relationships? Yes, he was a philanderer and a cheater and generally a scumbag when it comes to women. That’s not the point. I doubt there’s a woman on this planet who hasn’t fallen hard for the bad boy, the player, the boss, the wife beater, the good-for-nothing, the married guy. That it wasn’t a good choice doesn’t invalidate the fact that it was, by her own admission, her choice. Is he supposed to think she can’t possibly mean yes, because he’s the president? Those making a sexual move have an obligation to assume no means no, absolutely. At no time should anyone ever presume that no means yes. But at what point is anybody expected to assume that yes means no? Any time one person is “superior” to the other? Two people are seldom absolute equals, especially in our misogynistic society. If we use relative power as the only possible yardstick for consent, no one is ever going to get laid again.

My point is this: Women have the power and the right to say yes as well as no. Stop infantilizing Monica, and I’d like it if she stopped infantilizing herself as well. In her own (very excellent) 2015 TED talk she said it herself, that she fell in love with her boss. I still like you, Monica, and I’m sure you have as much right to talk about #MeToo as anyone else, but please, no bandwagoning.

And my other, tangential, point is: Stop criticizing Hillary for staying in her marriage. If there’s any woman reading this who has never stayed with a man when every other woman on the planet thought she should have kicked him to the curb, then I’ll eat my left suede boot. It’s Hillary’s life, Hillary’s marriage, Hillary’s decision, and Hillary’s business. People need to give it a rest.

Worth the read, even after all this time.

Now let’s lighten up with the Buzzcocks, because we’ve all fallen in love with someone we shouldn’t have. We’re human that way.

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Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Invisible ManInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was #25 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with a great first line. “I am an invisible man.”

Well, I tried.

My reading tastes tend more toward the plebian, but I also like to consider myself a well-read person. Toward that end, every so often I pick up a classic, or a story with societal import, or both. Hence, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

I see the major aggressions and the micro ones, and (I think) I understand the racist evil as well as I can while being white, but I have two problems here. (1) The narrator seems wooden to me; I don’t FEEL him. I suspect a lot of this story is metaphor, and it’s mostly lost on me. See above re plebian taste; this isn’t for me. (2) I’m not big on lengthy, flowery description. Another reviewer put it well, and I paraphrase, when they noted that Ellison describes the living daylights out of everything, and then goes back and describes the descriptions. Slog.

I’m almost two-thirds through and part of me is insisting I should just finish it, but I don’t want to fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy. I didn’t expect this book to be exactly pleasurable, but unfortunately I’m not finding it even compelling.

When all apologies to the world of literature-with-a-capital-L, dnf-ing.

Bookshelves: literature-with-a-capital-l, everyone-loved-it-but-me, racism, couldn’t-really-read-it, classic, best-opening-sentence, social-commentary

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The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (Book Review)

The Celestine Prophecy (Celestine Prophecy, #1)The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: just-no, religion-sort-of, mysticism, spiritual, wannabe, ugh

I tried to read this book on my honeymoon several years ago. No snarky honeymoon jokes, now; you can’t boink all the time. We spent a beautiful week on the Snake River in Hells Canyon. We both enjoy rafting and hiking, but while my husband likes to fish by actually fishing, I like to fish by relaxing on the bank with a good book. Fortunately, the shade was cool and the breeze was divine and the flowing water was peaceful and the chirping birds were joyful and my husband’s cussing was inventive and entertaining, because the book was by turns eye-rolling and boring af.

On the way home we broke down in Wieser, Idaho, and took refuge in the only reasonably accessible motel, a creepy old place where we wore our flip-flops into the shower and my gallant bridegroom killed all the bugs we found in the bed with his bare hands. Then we enjoyed an intimate pillowtalk game of Guess How Many Corpses Have Been Chopped Up in This Bathtub. My husband slept well, worn out from driving and vanquishing insects. I kept feeling bugs crawling on me, some imaginary and some not, and slept for roughly 17 minutes. I tried reading to pass the time, but staring at the cracked and mildewed ceiling and listening for Norman Bates had more pull than this book did. It was a long night.

The next day, when our truck was repaired and we were back on the road, I tried one more time to read this book. I ended up leaving it on a badly sloping picnic table outside a liquor store/smoke shop/deli/bait and tackle supply/hair care center/shoe repair shop/authorized Sprint dealer in Jordan Valley, Oregon (pop.181).

If you are the one who found it, I hope it was everything for you that it wasn’t for me.

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Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Fleishman Is in TroubleFleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: unreliable-narrator, the-patriarchy, burn-it-down, chick-lit, eat-the-rich, suburbia, feminism, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, women, dark-humor, popular-fiction, everyone-loved-it-but-me, high-society, love-the-cover, social-commentary

This novel was #28 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with an upside-down image on the cover. I liked the cover. The book itself pulls off the rare feat of being well-written and insightful while annoying the fuck out of me at the same time.

TL;DR: This is a clever novel with deep insight and sardonic wit that I might appreciate more were I not a lifelong card-carrying member of The Poors.

There’s a lot here about every last damn thing the world expects of women, and what happens when we can’t, or won’t, or simply don’t want to, meet those expectations. There’s a savage edge to it in that we only see the women in the story through the eyes of an insecure, flailing-but-doesn’t-dare-show-it man – which is nothing new. The male gaze, it never ends.

So while I rolled my eyes a lot about how often Brodesser-Akner hit the nail on the head, I rolled them even harder at how unrelatable the characters were for me. Wealthy, social-climbing, pretentious, Lululemon-clad, well-massaged rich bitches all the way. Yes, I’m sure it’s stressful having to spend so much time and effort interviewing nannies and figuring which $40,000-a-year private school is best for your little darling. Yes, I can imagine the pressure of hitting just the right note as you decorate your weekend house in the Hamptons. You poor thing. Fuck you.

But here’s the rub. As I noted above, the women in this book, and most particularly Rachel, are all seen through Toby’s eyes. So, how do we know what’s the real story with Rachel, or with any of the 6,724 women Toby is banging and sexting with while angling his phone so his kids can’t see? I’m generalizing here, I admit that, but men as a rule are clueless when it comes to the never-ending, thankless work that women do to run the household, feed and clothe a family (someone has to remember to put butter on the shopping list and take little Mavis shopping for new cleats), supervise  the children’s educations and social learning (keep your elbows off the table, and is your homework done?), have their own careers (miss me with that women-don’t-have-to-have-careers shit; most families can’t live decently on one income anymore), maintain everyone’s social life as a family unit and as separate people (someone’s got to get the kids to soccer practice and “play dates,” and I hate the phrase “play date”), maintaining family relationships (guess who remembers to send Grandma a birthday card), orchestrate vacations and holidays (a nice Christmas is a lot of work), and feed and nurture the spousal relationship (I also hate the phrase “date night”). So, what Toby sees as bossy and domineering may well be Rachel doing what it takes to make sure everyone’s homework gets done and that they all have a festive Thanksgiving and clean underwear.

I mean, just the other day I had to nag at my husband for the 9,854th time to please please please clean up the crumbs and mustard smears after he makes himself a sandwich so we don’t attract ants; good god, you’d think I asked him to kill the Hydra. And I didn’t even mention his freakingly annoying habit of waiting until 15 minutes after I’ve cleaned up the kitchen (you notice that I’m the one who does that, even though I work full time and he doesn’t) before deciding he has to have a sandwich and leaving another fucking mess. So, this is what women deal with, all day, every day, and I can’t trust Toby’s word about any of Rachel’s so-called priorities.

But on the other hand, Rachel has the right to make her own choices. If she doesn’t want to settle for living on her husbands “shabby” 300K-a-year doctor’s income (oh, poor you again,) she doesn’t have to. There’s no reason she can’t be the ambitious, career-driven half of the couple while her husband pursues his calling as a healer and walks the kids to school in the morning. Gender roles, schmender roles.

But it was the wealth and privilege that seriously made me want to tell everyone in this book to go fuck themselves. I’d much rather read about women who deal with every damn aspect of the patriarchy while also working full time at normal-people jobs such as paralegal or teacher, and trying to train their husbands who also work at typical jobs, while also cleaning their own houses and mothering their own kids and trying to fit in some sort of fitness routine, and doing all of it on an actual budget.

I’m all about burning down the patriarchy, sure. But also, eat the rich.*

*It is perhaps worth noting that I’m writing this review while on lockdown as the COVID-19 pandemic is decimating the U.S. and we are seeing more clearly how relatively useless the wealthy really are.

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My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Reading Challenge Book Review)

My Sister, the Serial KillerMy Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was just, WOW.

I read the whole thing in about 5 hours. I couldn’t put it down. We’re talking about the stay-in-the-same-ratty-tshirt-and-pajama-pants-and-don’t-shower-what-the-hell-I’m-not-even-getting-out-if-this-fusty-bed-that-needs-to-be-changed kind of couldn’t put it down. I was only able to eat because I have a husband who will bring me stuff when I ask nicely.

Bonus: I know next to nothing of Nigerian culture, so included in that 5 hours are several side trips down various rabbit holes of fruit, lagoons and bridges, and recipes. I love rabbit holes like that.

The only bad thing, that is also a good thing, is that it made me remember my own sister, dead 23 years now (inasmuch as I can “remember” her given that I miss her every single fucking day, still), and the until-now forgotten fact that I once committed an actual crime to keep my sister from having to answer for her own. And I’d do it again.

Sisters, I’m tellin’ ya.

This book was #3 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book that passes the Bechdel test. I don’t buy many books because I don’t have a lot of space, but I bought this one, because there’s just something about waiting to board a plane that makes me want to buy a book. I usually donate them later, but this is one I will actually keep.

Bookshelves: reading-in-airports, africa, women, dark-humor, chick-lit, literary-fiction

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Girl at the Edge by Karen Dietrich (ARC Book Review)

Girl at the EdgeGirl at the Edge by Karen Dietrich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this title from Grand Central Publishing via Net Galley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

In a nutshell, this is a story about nature vs nurture. Our hero, Evelyn, is the teenage daughter of a mass killer awaiting execution, grappling with the enormity of her father’s crimes, the notoriety that has made her another of his victims, and the horrifying question of whether his capacity for evil is genetic.

Let’s get what I didn’t really care for out of the way, with my disclaimer. The writing style is what I’ve come to think of as “MFA style,” where every thought is uber described with lots of poetic analogies. That’s just not my favorite–I’m more of an Elmore Leonard girl. I do acknowledge that my failure to appreciate this style is far more likely a failing on my part, rather than the writer’s.

What I did like – virtually everything, even with a writing style that isn’t my favorite. Everything came together for a story I thoroughly enjoyed. The premise sucked me in and I liked Evelyn right off the bat. I was reading happily when things started to get darker and deeper, which made me even happier. The pacing was great with no dragging; I could feel the Florida humidity and smell the flowers and salt breeze; Evelyn’s voice was clear and true; the supporting cast was spot-on; and I appreciated the nod to LGBT acceptance. Although the narrator’s youth gave the story a YA feel–which I don’t mind at all, even as an old lady myself–some of the subject matter (substance use, somewhat explicit sex) makes me think this is for older teens and up. I stayed up too late on a school night so I could finish it, and I’m not sorry.

I see this is Karen Dietrich’s first novel and I’m hoping she writes more. If she writes them, I’ll read them.

Bookshelves: ya, current-social-issues, coming-of-age, grittiest-reality, lgbt-inclusion
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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Book Review)

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: goth-lit, psych-thriller, literature-with-a-capital-l, mystery, noir, classic, best-opening-sentence, brit-lit, creepy-horror-stuff, reading-challenge

I’ve been slowly cleaning up a Reading Challenge from…2017?…I’ve been not-great about that sort of thing lately, but I’d compiled a pretty good to-read list and my lack of focus is no reason to deprive myself of a good book. Because I am too lazy and unmotivated to look, I can’t recall what category this book was in. Probably a book with someone’s name as the title.

And this book is precisely why I do reading challenges – to step out of my comfort zone/rut/box and discover new things. I loved this book, despite wanting to slap the meek-as-milk heroine for roughly the first half. To du Maurier’s discredit, when published it was billed as a gothic romance while there is so much more. Oh, there’s atmospheric romance-gone-awry in there, but also: Psych thriller. Edgy. Goose-bump-y. Ethereal. Noir. One twist I saw coming, but a couple more I didn’t.

Bump up your Literature-With-a-Capital-L cred and check this one out. Now I’m going to watch the movie which I never have because, duh, I thought it was a romance.

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Reach, Grasp, Etc. (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“You left the goals section blank,” the peppy young recruiter says, handing Jane’s intake form back.

“I want a job.”

“But this isn’t just any old job placement office, honey; if we don’t know your goals then we can’t help you reach them, so we need to build your dream, find the career with your name on it, develop an education plan and set you up with productive life skills, get you set to take all the steps you need on your own road to success and fulfillment just waiting for you!”

Jane sighs. “I’m fifty and staring down the barrel of fifty-one, I don’t have a college degree, I’m arthritic and post-menopausal, I’ve lost everything including my retirement and I don’t even have a permanent home, that’s how over I’m starting over, and I’m exhausted, please understand that, and frankly a paycheck next week is a lot more inviting to me than some gauzy daydream career at the end of a road I can’t afford and just might die on, don’t you think, honey?”

MichaelGaida goal
Photo: MichaelGaida/Pixabay

Every week, Denise Farley at Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop. The rules are simple and few: 1. Write a story. 2. Exactly six sentences. 3. Use the prompt word. That’s it. Come join us! It’s fun! This week’s prompt was REACH.

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The Lost Girls of Paris (Book Review and Anachronism Rant)

The Lost Girls of Paris

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Tl;dr: dnf-ing at 30%.

First, I would think a book about female wireless operators and saboteurs helping the French resistance in WW2 would slam-dunk the Bechdel Test. And technically it does pass; the female characters do have conversations with each other about things other than men. But the letter of the law and the spirit of the law do not always agree. I can spot a hate-meet insta-love setup at 300 paces, and spotting two of them is painful. This reads like romance disguised as historical fiction. Not a Bechdel winner.

Second, I hate anachronisms. I’m no historian, so if I can spot them, they’re fairly egregious. Like, I seriously doubt anyone was watching a televised newscast on a TV hanging over the counter in a diner in 1946. But what’s really pissing me off are the nylons.

This conversation is from Marie’s training to be undercover in occupied France in 1944 and getting dragged about doing things the French way so as not to give herself away as English:

“And these stockings…” The colonel held up the pair she’d worn when she’d arrived the night before.

Marie was puzzled. The stockings were French, with the straight seam up the back. What could possibly be wrong with that? “Those are French!” she cried, unable to restrain herself.

“Were French,” the colonel corrected with disdain. “No one can get this type in France anymore, or nylons at all for that matter. The girls are painting their legs now with iodine.”

No. Just NO. Nylon stockings, soon dubbed “nylons,” were invented by an American and first produced in the U.S. in 1940. They were immediately and immensely popular, but they had seams up the back. Seamless stockings were rare anywhere even by the late 40’s and didn’t become popular until the late 50’s or so (confirmed by my mom and a friend’s mom, aged 81 and 88 respectively). When the U.S. entered WW2 in 1941, it diverted its nylon production to the war effort just as Japan did with its silk, resulting in a widespread and severe stocking shortage for women. During the war, women everywhere faked nylons/stockings by shaving and painting their legs with various substances, and many went further by drawing on “seams” with eyebrow pencils. The Great Google tells me that the British did have some nylons they used as recruitment enticement for the WRENS, but even if they were made of much-less-desirable cotton (and therefore not really “nylons”), they still would have had seams.

And after all that? Marie is later escorted to the plane that will drop her into occupied France wearing…her nylons. But I guess the nylons aren’t much of a risk since she’s the most birdbrained, blabbermouthed undercover saboteur/wireless operator imaginable.

Another character in a different timeline also has nylons that have apparently been torn in a one-night-stand with the chance-met best friend of her dead husband. I doubt she would have had a pair of nylons even in February 1946, given that only a month prior nylon stockings were still so scarce they were actually rioted over, and even if she’d taken a day off of work to participate in those riots and get a pair, they were precious enough that she would not have wasted them on a workday.

I never thought I’d read a book where nylons killed it for me, but the devil is in the details, as they say. I suppose I’m glad they aren’t pantyhose.

I could possibly put up with this if the writing was good, but the characters are cardboard, there’s far too much telling vs showing, and the contrivances show up like seams on stockings. Now I just read the part where Marie is thrown into proximity with her hate-meet romantic interest, because even though he’s the leader of the undercover British sabotage efforts in occupied France, he needs her with him (nylons and all) because he doesn’t speak French.

Nope, I’m done. The only reason I’m not throwing the book across the room is that it’s on my Kindle.

Bookshelves: abandoned, anachronisms-abound, historical-fiction, just-no, ww2

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The Carried Wife (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Becca reads the “Lifestyles” article about wife-carrying contests in Minnesota, then clicks out with a snort. That’s exactly the kind of thing Richard would have liked, manly and competitive and funny.

She’s walking past the plate glass window when the vastness outside it, the view itself, seems to knock her sideways. Not now, agoraphobia, she thinks, I have to go to work, but it’s too late. The room dips and spins and she drops to her knees.

The laughing wife in the article photo flashes. Yes, she could use a wife-carrier right about now. But Richard’s not coming back.

 

wife carrying
Courtesy of Charli Mills

I’ve been letting flash fiction languish, but I’m back! Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a carried wife.”

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The Donner Party (Twofer Book Review)

Bookshelves: american-history, americana, mother-nature-will-kill-you, non-fiction, man-vs-nature, survival, wild-wild-west

Both of these books are about the doomed Donner-Reed Party of 1846-47, a wagon train of 87 emigrants to California who started through the Sierras too late in the year and with only a meager food supply, were trapped in the mountains by twenty feet of snow, and had to resort to cannibalizing those who had already died of starvation.

Takeaway from both books: Generally speaking, women have more gumption than men. Of those left in the camps at Truckee (now Donner) Lake, men turned their faces to the wall and were ready to die long before the women gave up. “I’m sick, my gravel hurts, I’ve got a bad foot.” Waaaah. And of those who snowshoed out, more women attempted AND made it.

I’m pretty sure calling someone a pussy should be considered a compliment.

The Mothers: A Documentary Novel of the Donner Party

The Mothers: A Documentary Novel of the Donner Party by Vardis Fisher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was assigned reading back when I was in 8th or 9th grade. Clearly, it made an impression as I wanted to read it again, so I scrounged around online and found a used copy. This account of the Donner Party is touted as a “fictionalized biography” and a “novel,” although it sticks very close to the facts as I’ve learned them.

The story is well told as far as it goes, but the arrival of various rescue parties is–to me, anyway–only the beginning of the end. In this book, there’s no ending to the end. We are told of the Breen family (those who had not been taken out by the first relief party) refusing to budge during a snowstorm as they trekked toward Bear Valley with the second relief party, then being left behind and forced to cannibalism. That’s it. I’m left with the mental picture of a bunch of people sitting in the snow, gnawing on a human leg, fade to black. That’s not how it ended for the Breens. No spoilers.

No epilogue, no aftermath. I’m miffed that there is no source material listed. Yes, it was published as a “novel” in 1960, when all the source material may not have been available to the author, but the story was a well-known historical tale and there had to have been some archives he consulted. The writing itself is a bit stilted at times, and perhaps it’s just that the style is dated, but it’s still quite readable.

I do see why it moved me so much when I was a young teenager. It’s a decent read, if you like to immerse yourself in gory stuff like I do.

For a better read on the subject, in my opinion, check out:

The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest DestinyThe Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is more like it. Great stuff. Not only is it a very personal story of members of the Donner-Reed Party, especially considering its academic approach, it is a close and often scathing look at the arrogance of white America and the principle of Manifest Destiny. It’s a recital of facts, to be sure, but it is a suck-you-in story, never dry, never boring. The heroism and the ignobility, the generosity and the greed, the courage and the cowardice, the strengths and weakness of those who found themselves in a horrific struggle for survival, are all here. One of the more fascinating tidbits, to me, was that banished-party-leader-turned-rescuer James Reed was a good friend of Abraham Lincoln, who might well have been a member of the party had he not been married to Mary Todd, who most emphatically did not want to go to California. On such chains of events our destinies sit.

I contacted my son, who is a co-host of the Lax Historical Context podcast, to suggest a villain for him: Lewis Keseberg, no doubt the most–perhaps fairly, perhaps not–vilified member of the Donner-Reed Party, who went on to found Sacramento’s Phoenix Brewery and introduce lager to California before eventually dying a penniless outcast. Nope, kid was five or six steps ahead of me; Donner Party episode already recorded a couple of months ago. He also knew all about the Donner Party Porter I’d happened across, naturally.

Not only is this review a plug for the book, it’s a shameless plug for the podcast. If you like history, you should check it out: Lax Historical Context, wherever you find your podcasts. If you’re interested in the most infamous emigrant story of pioneer America, read this book, wherever you find your books.

Now, in 75-degree weather and with nary a snowflake on the horizon, I’m in the mood for a beer and I’m going to see if I can’t acquire some of that Donner Party Porter.

Join me for a beer over at Goodreads

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2020 Reading Challenge (I’m Gonna Do It This Time!)

Well, I mostly completed my 2017 Reading Challenge. I ran out of steam toward the end of that year, but I’ve recently picked up a few 2017 stragglers, including The Alchemist and Rebecca. Reviews to come. 2018 and 2019 were off writing years for me.

My Goodreads Year in Books for 2019 impressed even me, at 68 books for the year, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that I don’t count rereads (I’ve gobbled up a few Miss Marples and made it through M in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series) and I’m sure I missed several that I read on my husband’s library account. But as I look back on it, I was reading the same old stuff I always read. I love reading challenges because they take me to new places.

2020, let’s do this! And credit where it’s due, this is not my own list; I largely stole it from PopSugar. And to be further upfront, I cheat sometimes and combine categories.

ninocare
Photo: ninocare/Pixabay

(1) A book with a bird on the cover: The Bird King, a fantasy novel by G. Willow Wilson. Take a second and Google the cover. It’s gorgeous.

(2) A bildungsroman: I’m going to add to my Literature-With-a-Capital-L cred as well and read Great Expectations. I’ve read Bleak House, and I liked it, but I think I have to like at least two Dickens books before I can claim to be one of those people who likes Dickens.

(3) A book that passes the Bechdel test: Feminist me loves the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test originated in 1985 with Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, purportedly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own” in which Woolf observed that women always appear in books and cinema solely as they are related to men. The Bechdel rule for fiction is simple: there have to be at least two women, who have to have at least one conversation with each other, that isn’t about a man. Books like this aren’t so hard to find these days, but it’s still difficult for movies.

I’m going with My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.

(4) A book on a subject I know nothing about AND (5) a book with flora or fauna in the author’s name: I may regret this choice.

My maternal grandmother was a teacher through and through, even beyond her dying day. She willed her body to the university medical school where I was employed when she died, to be used for teaching purposes. One of my job duties, in the Public Relations and Development area of the Dean’s office, was to give tours of the facility to various Very Important People, of which the anatomy and pathology teaching laboratories were a high point. The lab staff were always considerate and made sure my grandma was nowhere to be seen if they knew I was coming. It was strange and unsettling, and they were very kind to me about it.

I have a morbid interest in true crime and forensic science. So, my weirdo pick here is Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. Blurbs say it is not only educational, but hilarious and “oddly uplifting.” I fervently hope so.

(6) A book with a robot/AI/cyborg character AND (27) a book set in a city that has hosted the Olympics: More sci-fi! I’m reading Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. It’s a retelling of Cinderella featuring Cinder the cyborg, set in Beijing. More cover love.

(7) A book with only words on the cover, no graphics or images: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. This looks like a great trashy read, with the plus of a different culture.

(8) A book with one of the deadly sins in the title: Riffing on pride, I’ve picked Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. In all these years, I’ve never read that one. I love satire when it’s done well.

thommas68
Photo: thommas68/Pixabay

(9) A book with gold, silver, or bronze in the title: I loved Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash, so now I’m finally going to pick up Quicksilver. See, I could smoosh another twofer here and also tick off (12) A 2019 award winner by reading Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver instead, which won the 2019 Locus award for fantasy and also sounds like it’s channeling Rumpelstiltskin. But I’ve been meaning to read Quicksilver anyway, and I could use a cyberpunk fix, so I’m going to read both of them.

(–) A book with a pun in the title: Everything I found online sounded stupid. Skipping this one.

(10) A book with three words in the title: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Described as the anti-Jane Eyre, which sounds delicious.

(11) A book about a world leader: Let’s spice things up with Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson.

(13) A book with the same name as a movie/TV show but that is not related to it: More sci-fi with Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. I watch very little TV and have no idea what show that title belongs to.

(14) A book about or including social media: Ah yes, the bane of modern culture (says the woman who tweets and Facebooks her blog posts). Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz looks interesting.

(15) A book with a book on the cover: I just downloaded Laurie R. King’s Touchstone, one of her novels that is not about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. I won’t get to it until after the New Year, so it’s not cheating.

(16) A medical thriller: Sorry; I’ve never cared for either Robin Cook or Michael Crichton, and I got burned out on Patricia Cornwell some time back. I’m going to feed my forensic and true crime addiction with more non-fiction, with Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.

(17) A book with a made-up language: Lord of the Rings is the obvious one, because who doesn’t want to speak Elvish, but that would be a re-read for the umpteenth time. My pick is Strange the Dreamer, a YA fantasy by Laini Taylor.

(18) A book set in a country that starts with C: Our Man in Havana, the classic spy thriller by Graham Greene.

(19) A book with a title that caught my attention AND (24) a book by a trans/non-binary author: How friggin’ awesome is the title An Unkindness of Ghosts? Is the unkindness a deed, like a bunch of ghost juvenile delinquents bullying somebody? Or is it the collective name for a group of ghosts, like a murmuration of starlings or a shiver of sharks? I am intrigued. Nominated for several awards, it ticks off the sci-fi, horror, LGBTQ, and dystopia boxes.

(20) An anthology: Two choices here. There’s Glimpses by various authors, or Apothecary, by Thomas Fay, both fantasy short story collections. Both are FREE through the Amazon Kindle app right now as I write this in the wee hours of December 29 (hi, insomnia!); I just snagged them both. The only thing better than books is free books. And sleep.

(21) A book published during my birth month: Tattered paperback copies of Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, published in November 1979, were passed around when I was in high school, but I somehow never read it. Time to amend that.

(22) A book by or about a woman in STEM: Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor, a picture biography suitable for kids but evidently adored by adults too, looks delightful.

(23) A book published in 2020: A story of migrants fleeing peril and poverty to seek safety and security in America (*snerk*), Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt looks to be heartbreaking.

(25) A book with a great first line: “I am an invisible man.” I’ve been on the waiting list for The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and it should be my turn in the next couple of weeks.

quote-i-am-an-invisible-man-i-am-a-man-of-substance-of-flesh-and-bone-fiber-and-liquids-and-i-might-ralph-ellison-57506 (1)

(26) A book about a book club: I can’t decide between The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Beatriz Rivera’s Playing With Light. I’ll surprise you.

(28) A book with an upside-down image on the cover: I found a lot of these with birds on them, interestingly enough, but I’d already picked my bird book. Then I stumbled upon the cover of Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

Many years ago I was dating, for several months, a guy who was openly losing his mind about turning 40. I’d already done it and assured him it was no big deal, but nooOOoo, don’t listen to me. He souped up the Mustang he already owned and painted it bright red, and not long afterward he ghosted me. My suspicions were confirmed a few weeks later when I saw a cute little blonde driving said Mustang around town. I ran into him a few years ago; he was paunchy, most of his hair was gone, and there was no cute little blonde to be seen (hi, Neil! Yes, you’re a walking cliche). And I am happy to report that, in shocking defiance of the gods and the odds, I happened to be dressed to the nines, lookin’ fine, with a handsome and attentive man on my arm. Bite me, Neil.

The book is described as witty, crude, and midlife-crisis focused. I hope it’s as funny as Neil was in retrospect.

(29) A book with a map: As a kid on road trips, I frequently overheard one adult saying to another about me: “Why has she been reading the road map for the last two hours?” “Well. She is a strange child sometimes.” I love maps, I decorate with them and have a favorite map head scarf, so I could happily read an atlas. But I’ve picked Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and I have just one question: WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF THIS DELIGHTFUL-SOUNDING BIT OF CHILDREN’S METAFICTION THAT’S AS OLD AS I AM BEFORE NOW?

(30) A book recommended by a favorite online book club/chat group/whatever: It’s a super-secret online book group formed for super-secret reasons with super-secret membership, but I can tell you the book is Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women. I can also tell you it’s taken me months to work my way up to #27 on the wait list at my library.

I think that’s enough structure. Happy Bookish New Year!

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A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester (Book Review)

A Crack in the Edge of the WorldA Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book should be titled, “A Crack in the Edge of the World: A Fairly Exhaustive Geological History of Planet Earth With Regard to Plate Tectonics and Continental Drift, and Tales of the Author’s College Days, Camping on Mount Diablo, and then Finally Two Chapters That Are Actually About the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.”

Seriously, dude. Too many tangents, and waaaay too much technical detail, at least for lay readers. I mean, I mostly (kinda) understood it, but don’t ask me to explain it. Part of me was sure there would be a test.

We meander from the Moon to Neil Armstrong’s birthplace to Iceland to the Gaia Hypothesis to Missouri to the sociopolitical history of California to Alaska to…oh, seriously. After getting sidetracked again, in South Carolina I think it was (my eyes were glazing over at that point), I skipped waaaaay ahead to the penultimate chapter, where Winchester finally gets around to the purported subject of the book: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Huzzah!

Those last two chapters were enjoyable enough, and probably would have been more enjoyable if I wasn’t already annoyed.

Not what I was hoping for.

Bookshelves: non-fiction; american-history; mother-nature-will-kill-you, couldn’t-really-read-it; disappointment

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Five-Star Book Review and a Bit of a Rant)

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

TRIGGER WARNING: If you are a native Seattleite, this review may piss you off.

Bookshelves: the-shit, satire, pnw, #seattlefreeze, suburbia, humor, epistolary, multiple-povs, chick-lit, five-stars-means-i’ll-read-it-again

Seattle is the only place I know of where this book actually had to be set. I loved a lot of things about this book, but I most loved the way it absolutely nails the insularity and snootiness of Seattle. And yes, I thought twice about saying that for fear of pissing off my Seattle friends. That second thought lasted about a millisecond, because although I moved to Seattle seven years ago, I don’t actually have any friends.* Bernadette would not have had the troubles she did if someone in Seattle had actually been goddamn nice to her. The setting is the whole basis for Bernadette’s continuing conflict, and without conflict you don’t have a book. So.

Decades ago, back in my home state of Nevada, I was the Soccer Mom the Other Soccer Moms Don’t Speak To. I’d say “hello” and smile as pleasantly as I know how and get looked at like I was a cockroach they found in their TGI Fridays potato skins**. I’d bring snacks to the game on my assigned snack week and get a look like I was some psychopath off the street trying to poison their kids with orange sections and granola bars. What was wrong with me, I wondered. Was it because I didn’t drive an SUV? Didn’t wear athletic garb on the street? Didn’t have my hair in a pert blonde ponytail or a butterfly tattooed on my boob? What was I doing wrong? One time, when my son got the wind knocked out of him, my identity was challenged when I went out to him as he lay on the field. “I’m his mother,” I snarled, “which I really think you should know since you see me here with him six fucking times a week.”*** I gave up after that, waited during practice in my car with a book and deliberately set up my private game-watching bubble at a distance. I did have other friends who are good folks and actually extend friendship to people, so, so what.

I thought that was bad. Then I moved to Seattle.

SCENE 1: There was a woman who had waited at my Metro stop every single morning for the previous six months. Daily contact, same time, same place, we lived in the same damned building. Several times I’d smiled at her. She just looked back down at her phone. One time I ventured to say, “Good morning.” That at least got her expression to change. Her eyes widened. Then she looked back down at her phone without a word. After that, when I joined her at the stop she looked studiously in the other direction. It took me several months to be truly repentant, when I finally grasped the depth of the insult I had inflicted upon her: I’d said “good morning.”

SCENE 2: This happened to me just last week. The front-desk women (both Seattle natives, coincidentally?…I think not) at the executive suites where I work frequently do me a small favor and I offered to buy us all lunch as a thank-you. Day scheduled, day arrived, restaurant selected, menu selections made, I ordered and paid to have it delivered and tipped generously. They immediately picked up their dishes and took them to their shared desk to eat, leaving me with nowhere closer than the conference table 50 feet away. I paid $60 for lunch for the three of us and ate by myfuckingself.

Welcome to Seattle.

As Audrey says in the book: “Within a four-mile radius is the house I grew up in, the house my mother grew up in, and the house my grandmother grew up in…My point is, you come in here with your Microsoft money and think you belong. But you don’t belong. You never will.”

No lie, Audrey, no lie. Because you are determined that we will not “belong.”

But I had to move to Seattle so I could work. To, you know, eat. I didn’t move here with Microsoft millions; I’m just another peasant struggling to pay my increasingly ridiculous rent (which Seattleites blame on transplants, the people who move here as labor force for Google and Microsoft and Boeing, instead of blaming it on the government and movers/shakers who brought those corporations in to begin with).

Google the “Seattle Freeze.” It’s a thing. Seattle is a great big bunch of Soccer Moms, albeit a bit cooler and with overall better taste, right down to the pretentiousness of wrestling their kids into the “right” kindergarten and judging a woman’s suitability to be a fellow school parent by her North Face vest and the fruit wash spray**** in her shopping cart.

And don’t get me wrong, there are good things about Seattle. The setting is exquisite and the climate is wonderful. It’s very eco-minded and the arts community is vibrant. In Seattle, nobody looks down on you for getting your clothes second-hand because it’s not about being poor or cheap, it’s lauded as upcycling (although you will be judged on the labels). Seattle maintains a very liberal and PC face, of which I also approve, but goddamn, people need more than superficiality. They need to connect. As people. Ask Maslow.

And yes, I’ve tried. I’ve extended invitations, which were ignored. I’ve joined book clubs and taken knitting classes, only to be snubbed. I do not say “the 5” or “the Puget Sound.” I know how to pronounce Alki and Puyallup and I have learned to bitch about the heat when it’s only 85. I do admit to using an umbrella and I don’t care if it makes me not cool. I don’t want my Donna Karan silk blouse ruined even if I did upcycle it.

OK, back to the book. Aside from rightfully pillorying Seattle as one great big cold shoulder, this book is a delight. It’s chick lit, but it’s good chick lit. I adore multiple points of view and the epistolary format when they’re well done, as they are here. It is a high-IQ, sassy, satirical romp.

My advice is to immediately read this book. And if you move to Seattle, embrace your inner introvert. You’ll need it.

*Well, I have one friend. We’re both transplants and were friends before either of us moved here.

**This was in the 90’s. In today’s parlance, cockroach in their kale salad.

***My kids learned to swear at home, where they’re supposed to.

****I googled it and good lord, there is such a thing. Like, hello, WATER?

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A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” by Marianne Williamson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was a gift from a boyfriend who hadn’t gotten around to divorcing his third wife, from whom he’d been estranged for 10+ years, not long before he ghosted me for two weeks and then dumped me with a flowery, blathery, meaningless email. (I’d already “accidentally” left the book in a coffee shop booth because I suspected it was trying to either give me diabetes or groom me for a cult.)

Says it all, really.

Bookshelves: anybody-who-actually-knows-what-the-fuck-they’re-doing-2020; abandoned; wannabe; shilling-for-jeebus

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The Safebreaker’s Daughter (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“…so then, they couldn’t figure how to break into the safe, so they got some dynamite and blew it up!”

Laughter.

“All that money, blown to shreds. My dad’s friend the cop said when they got there it was still fluttering around like snow. All that cash, just confetti.”

“Order now, kids,” the teacher snapped.

Jane had turned her head, feigning a deep interest in the bare trees outside the homeroom window. Thirty years later, her face still burned like fire at the memory.

Her father had gone to prison, and she hadn’t seen him since. The safecracker’s legacy.

safecracker

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the safebreaker’s daughter. Who is she, what did she do, and where? Go where the prompt leads you!”

 

 

 

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The Burning Bed by Faith McNulty (Book Review)

Burning Bed: The True Story of an Abused WifeBurning Bed: The True Story of an Abused Wife by Faith McNulty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: investigative-journalism, women, sleep-with-the-light-on, non-fiction, crime, social-commentary, as-seen-on-tv, in-the-news

A group of women I participate with was discussing a recent interview with Lorena Bobbitt, she of penis-ectomy fame, and remarking how deplorable it is that only now, decades later, is any focus given to what was done to her rather than to what she herself did. The movie The Burning Bed starring Farrah Fawcett came up, and it seemed to me it had been based on a true story. I checked around and saw that indeed it was, the story of how Francine Hughes got sick and tired of being beaten to a bloody pulp and having absolutely no help available to her, and during the desolate, desperate evening of March 9, 1977, she set her husband on fire to be free of him. It’s available in print but not as an e-book that I can see, and be careful–one Amazon seller is asking $69.81 for it! I found a used paperback at my favorite online used bookseller for about $5, including shipping.

Why do I read this stuff? I’m going to have to sleep with the light on again. This is a graphic, horrifying, and absolutely unfuckingbelievable story, not only of the emotional, verbal, and physical abuse one woman took, but the lack of laws or any kind of support that would help her escape him. Even if the cops came to the house, they couldn’t arrest Mickey unless they actually saw him assault her. Never mind that both of Francine’s eyes are blackened, her lips are puffed, she’s covered with bruises, the house is destroyed, broken dishes and furniture everywhere, children cowering and sobbing. Never mind that Mickey actually tells the police, on more than one occasion, that as soon as they leave he’s going to “break her fucking neck.” Our hands are tied, nothing we can do ma’am, so sorry, you try to stay calmed down now sir, ya hear? Repeat at least once a week, ad nauseum, for thirteen fucking years, and see what happens.

After her arrest for murdering her husband, even in the days before the Internet, Francine Hughes became a cause célèbre, and women everywhere owe…well, I don’t want to say we owe Francine anything. I’m sure she’d have given anything not to be the symbol she became, not to have had to do what she did, and the sense I get of her says she would not have wanted the label “hero” stuck on to her forehead. So I guess it’s to her defense attorney and the jury of her peers to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude, for seeing beyond the letter of the law and the norms of society, seeing deeper to the human beings our society is supposed to protect. Francine’s case shone a harsh light on the brutality levied on women every day, and helped to make things as much better as they are now. Francine Hughes did not have what we have now: Better laws, harsher consequences, protection orders, and shelters and assistance and education programs. It’s not enough, as violence against women remains a worldwide epidemic and will continue to be as long as patriarchal norms are maintained. But it’s a start.

The whole story is such a tragedy, and my heart particularly breaks for those children. (I found an interview wherein the oldest child said of her father, “I spit on his grave…He was a rotten son-of-a-bitch.”) As I read, I was trying to find a kernel of sympathy for Mickey Hughes’ family, empathy for their grief at losing a son and brother. And I actually had that kernel, right up until Mickey’s mother took the stand and said her son was a good and loving father and husband, that he had never hit her, that she had never seen him strike Francine, that Francine was always the cause of the trouble–all provable lies. I mean sure, it would have been wonderful if Mickey could have lived a full life in the loving bosom of his wife and children and parents and siblings.

You know what else would have been wonderful? If Francine Hughes had not had to endure more than a dozen years of endless shouting, name-calling, philandering, insults, oppression and repression, being the sole support of her children because their father was a lazy drunken piece of shit, almost daily beatings, and then having to live the rest of her life with the knowledge that she had deliberately taken a life, justifiable though it was. That’s what would have been wonderful. And at that point I lost any sympathy I’d had for Mickey’s parents. They created him, nature and nurture, and set the example, and he lived right up to it.

The takeaway: Mickey and Francine Hughes are but a single case study. John and Lorena Bobbitt are but another. This kind of shit still happens, everywhere, every day.

Added note: This book was considered a stellar forerunner in the genre known as creative non-fiction or literary journalism, which Truman Capote is generally credited for developing. It’s another shining example of a true story that reads like a novel.

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Nomenclature Counts (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“Jane,” says the social worker in a there-there-just-don’t-get-riled tone, “I know you’re frustrated with how long your situation has been going on, but I must ask you not to discourage the other members of the group, and remind you that you need to just relax and trust the process.”

Jane snorts. “Clawing your way up out of unemployment and poverty and finding people who will give you real, tangible help is not a process. The word process implies that something is happening, something is changing. So let’s call it what it is: a stagnation, or the Abyss of Bureaucracy and Judgment,  or a Sisyphean Task.”

The social worker flushes red as applause sounds.

intographics
Photo: intographics/Pixabay

Every week, Denise at Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction challenge and blog hop. The rules are simple: (1) Write a story, any genre. (2) Six sentences, no more and no less. (3) Use the prompt word. This week’s prompt was PROCESS. Fun sixes from other authors are at the link. Come join us!

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War Paint (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Caroline peers over Jane’s shoulder at Jane’s reflection in the mirror, her breath hot. “Why doll yourself up?” she says. “You’re not going to find a boyfriend here.”

Janes snaps the compact shut. “I’m not here for a boyfriend. I’m here because it’s my job.”

The restroom door slams shut as Caroline huffs out. One step closer to fired, Jane thinks.

It’s not a job, it’s a war zone. War zones require war paint. Magical protection:  It’s not blush, it’s a shield. Transformation: Look like who you want them to think you are.

Maybe she should buy some woad.

ivanovgood
Photo: ivanovgood/Pixabay

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves paint. It can be fresh, peeling or in need of a coat. What is being painted and why? Go where the prompt leads!”

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Exercise (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“You should ride along to the gym with me some time,” Michelle tells Jane, flexing her arms.

“I hate the gym.”

“That’s a terrible attitude,” Michelle insists. “It’s not good for you, just sitting in class and at work and studying all the time.”

Jane glowers. “I walked three miles to the bus stop this morning through snow and ice and lugging this backpack of books, and I’ll do the same thing going home, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got exercise down, thanks.”

Free-Photos walk
Photo: Free-Photos/Pixabay

Every week, Denise at Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction challenge and blog hop. The rules are simple: 1. Write a story. 2. Any genre. 3. Six sentences exactly. This week’s cue was EXERCISE. Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Come join us; it’s great brain exercise and a good time!

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Strawberries and Mint (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Becca sips from her garnished glass. “What is this?” she asks, surprised.

“Strawberry and mint,” Michelle tells her.

Becca sips again. “Not bad, for fancy food.”

“Fancy?”

Becca gulps. “New-fangled. Yuppie. Millennial.”

“New-fangled? My grandmother made this, like her grandmother did. It’s old-fashioned as the hills.”

Becca frowns, sips again, raises her glass to Michelle in appreciation. “I was raised by a mother who thought broccoli and eggplant were ‘weird food.’ Her only seasonings were salt and pepper. I learn something new with every meal invitation I get.”

“What shall it be next time?” Michelle laughs. “Saffron? Or lavender?”

manfredrichter
Photo: manfredrichter/Pixabay

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: ” In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes strawberries and mint. The combination evokes color contrast, scents, and taste. Where will the combination take you? Go where the prompt leads!”

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (Book Review)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, #1)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: mashup, spoof, satire, cult-classic, classic, horror

Note to men: Don’t be a Mr. Collins. Be a Mr. Darcy.

I was inspired to pick this up after I surprised myself by enjoying World War Z.

It is a riot.

You might get more of the jokes if you’ve already read the original P&P, but it’s probably not necessary. Perhaps 90% of this book is Austen’s original work (and she is given top billing as co-author), with the zombie bits worked in. It’s kinda brilliant, really. The warrior woman aspect adds a whole new kick. If you haven’t read the original this is a fun alternative, and you still get to meet the romantic hero who actually respects a woman’s autonomy by knowing how to take no for an answer. ~swoon~

Please note that I will not be watching the movie because THERE IS NO MR. DARCY EXCEPT COLIN FIRTH, but I can understand why you might want to. The visual is awesome.

ppz

I think I’m zombie’d out, though.

Let’s be friends on Goodreads!

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Aging Out (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“You need to hustle. You can only stay in this program for two more weeks,” the placement advisor says.

Jane’s stomach plummets; her veins ice over. Fear. Cut loose. Again.

“Why?”

Shrug. “It’s the rule. If you’re still here after three months, we make way for others who are actively looking.”

Jane bristles. “I am active. I’m here at least twice a week. I’m applying, interviewing. I want a job. I need a job.” Tears press.

Eyes drop. Silence.

“Just wait,” Jane says, “until you’re fifty, with all the skills and triple the experience, and nobody wants you anymore.”

geralt exhaustion
Photo: geralt/Pixabay

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: ” In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about growing older. It can be humorous, dark or poignant. It can be true or total fiction. It can be fine wine or an old fossil. Go where the prompt leads!”

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Gender Bender (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane holds up a flash card with a dress on it.

“La vestido,” Chelsea says promptly.

El vestido,” Jane corrects. “It’s a masculine noun.”

Chelsea blows out an exasperated breath. “Women wear dresses! How is a dress masculine?”

Jane shrugs. “I didn’t invent the language. Try learning the article along with the word, and don’t look for male or female quality about the object itself. A pen may look phallic, but la pluma is feminine.”

“Well, it’s stupid.”

Jane picks another flash card. “The test is tomorrow. Be glad you’re learning Spanish and not Polish. Polish has five genders.”

WikimediaImages
WikimediaImages/Pixabay

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about gender. It can be fixed or fluid. Explore the topic on your own terms and open your mind to possibilities and understanding. Go where the prompt leads!” Fun flashes are at the link. Join us; it’s fun!

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Contest (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“Jane, have you done this week’s supply order?” Michelle barks, snapping her fingers.

Jane feels that familiar ice creeping down her spine, and with Herculean effort looks steadily at her screen and keeps typing. “It’s on my list to get the supplies ordered as soon as I finish these court letters.”

Fingers snap again. “It needs to be done.”

Jane calls up a steely stare to meet Michelle’s molten one, and the contest is on.

 

When images of women giving that don’t-you-even-think-about-fucking-with-me stare come up, my mind goes straight to Game of Thrones. I couldn’t pick just one, so here are all of these intrepid ladies.

Every week, Denise at Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop. The rules are few: 1) Write a story in six sentences, no more, no less. 2) Any genre. 3) Use the cue word; this week’s was CONTEST. Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us!

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Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer (Book Review)

Calculating God

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: critters-from-outer-space, sci-fi, science, spiritual

An alien ship plunks down outside the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and an extra-terrestrial walks in to the reception desk and says, “Take me to your paleontologist.” How much better does a book opening get?

My bookish cousin Mem gave me this book for my birthday after I’d finished the futuristic YA sci-fi Earth Girl and expressed my disappointment at a single sentence referring to scientific proof of the existence of God. That was it, just a single throwaway sentence, with no follow-up. How do you say oh, by the way, we’ve proved God exists, and just leave it there like a wet towel on the sofa without another word?

Calculating God delivers the goods. Our alien friend Hollus has come to Earth to examine fossils, looking for information about previous extinction events to tie in with similar extinction events on other planets. Working with paleontologist Thomas Jericho, scientist-to-the-bone and card-carrying atheist, Hollus shares the evidence and deductions that prove other civilizations’ theory of intelligent design, by turns humorous and poignant and wise, and always fascinating.

This book was perfect for me. I consider myself quite spiritual; it’s organized religion that I have issues with. I enjoy parables and myths from religions around the world, but as allegory, not carved-in-stone fact. I also believe that our planet is considerably older than 4,000 years and think Darwin and Pythagoras and DaVinci and Einstein were sexy as hell. The circumstances for the book’s theory are fictional but the theory uses what is, as far as I can tell, accurate science as far as we know it, just detailed enough to be convincing without going completely over my head. The spiritual aspect is never smarmy or preachy or scripture-y.

And it’s fun.

This was a kick of a read. Loved it.

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