Saturday, September 14, 2019

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

genre: historical fiction romance 
Dreamy Corinithian Gareth Ludlow was quite young when his One True Love passed away.  Determined to create a future for himself despite his broken heart, he chooses to ask for the hand of nearly-an-old-maid Lady Hester.  Surely SHE could use a proposal, right?  But Lady Hester has a mind of her own and in short order, all on his own, Gareth is in a pit of trouble covered by a web of the silliest lies - all involving one pigheaded teenage girl and her crazy plans.  How WILL this all sort itself out?

Heyer's romantic historical fiction is always the thing.  Yes, I always want more romance at the end, her blunt endings are always a bit disappointing but also dependable so what can I expect?   Are her characters delightful and their exploits hilarious?  They really are.  This book entertained me and even with a few slow bits, I found myself needing to find out if Lady Hester and Lord Gareth ever WOULD find each other.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (audiobook)

genre: middle grade fiction

Aven was born without arms. That might as well be the first thing you know about her because if you saw her, chances are it would be the first thing that you notice. Moving halfway across the country would be hard for any middle schooler, but for her it feels like an almost impossible thing to ask. Turns out, though, her parents have only ever believed that she is capable of doing anything that anyone else is. Whether that is getting herself dressed, managing life at school, or even playing the guitar, Aven's parents are certain that not having arms will not stop Aven from living an exceptional life. Her new home IS a bit usual, however, a Wild West theme park Arizona is the backdrop of her adventures as she figures out how to make new friends at a new middle school and maybe even solve a mystery.

This is a delightful book.  Aven is unapologetically differently-abled, frustrated far more with how the world handles her than she is with her disability.  The friends she makes, the clues she finds and tries to process, her snarky love of drama and storytelling, all of these things help us as readers to see Aven as a whole person - yes, a person without arms - a person with a rich life who is full of ideas and dreams.  The mystery aspect was cute and while I had to stretch my disbelief a bit to believe it, I think the intended audience will find it just right.  The narrative moved right along and I enjoyed the ride.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Genre: adult fiction

Ivan Denisovich. Prisoner. Gulag resident. Builder of cinder block walls and Procurer of any useful object. For Ivan, life in a Soviet Gulag is about seeing what’s in front of you and giving your energy to only those things that you can at least try control: your place in line in the mess hall, making sure you keep your tools from being stolen, doing enough favors for your wardens that you might be able to get something later on. All the rest: your sentence, the horrible weather, the ridiculous expectations, are best to just let go of.

It’s not an easy read. It is slow and dark. We are frustrated FOR Ivan as he’s forced to do pointless tasks with too few materials and in the freezing cold. And yet, Ivan has gotten to the point where the barest of boons can make the difference between happiness and despair. You get to sit by a tiny fire for three minutes? You find a piece of scrap metal on the ground? You manage to bum the butt of a cigarette? The gulag will shift and distort your happiness gauge to the point where a day of hard labor with actual gruel and a slice of bread will be enough. Life, being alive, it alone can be enough.

I had to push myself to read it, but when I did, I found myself feeling for him, disgusted by the brokenness and horror of the Stalinist communist system. Prison life is like another world, like a dystopian horror film and yet, I kept remembering, people really lived this way. Countless thousands of innocent (and yes, some not so innocent) citizens lived and died in Soviet gulags and so this book is such an important piece of history.

Friday, September 6, 2019

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

Charlotte, working to help those less fortunate in Liverpool, made it through the Great War relatively unscathed, especially compared to so many.  When she's contacted by an old friend, old feelings begin to surface and while a new opportunity to use her voice for good is very satisfying, the past just will not Charlotte be.  In an England still trying to piece itself back together after the horrors of World War I, Charlotte's story is about the power of knowing what you want and being brave enough to make a difference, in whatever way you can.

I enjoyed this post-war story, it never digs TOO deep, it never asks TOO much of me, except that the hopping back and forth in time was a bit cumbersome.  For whatever reason, I didn't want this book to make me work so hard to figure out where I was in the chronology of the story.   But I like Charlotte's arc and I really liked that the story is far more about recovering from a war than being in one - showing us what is required from those that survive and how they had to struggle to move forward, especially those less fortunate.  The ending definitely tied up a bit too nicely for me but I was never bored and I would try something else by this author.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (audiobook)

11699349. sx318 Genre: middle grade historical fiction

Marlee knows all about what happened last year at Central High School, how people made a huge fuss about when black students were allowed to attend.  While she knew it was important, race relations in Little Rock seemed abstract until anxious and quiet Marlee actually becomes friends with the new girl, Liz.  What Marlee is going to learn from Liz is going to change everything Marlee thinks she knows about the world - and the people - around her.  And in a world where black and white is the literal dividing line, she's going to have to make a choice.

This book is a great introduction to the historical events in Little Rock during the tumultuous years of the late 1950s.  Marlee is a likeable character, flawed but earnest, loyal and realistically teenaged, with all the angst and drama that comes with that.  I found the book itself sometimes a little repetitive but I think the lessons it teaches, the foundation it gives and the clear message that people are people are people and should be allowed to live and love their lives in whatever color their skin, is such an important one.  I'd love for my kids to read this in school and really dig deep into how the ideas here are still relevant today.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

genre: memoir, non-fiction

I am not a black man.  And I do not have a black son.  I am a white woman and that's why it was so incredibly important for me to read this book.

Ta-Nehisi grew up in Baltimore, the child of parents who loved him and who taught him, from the beginning, that the world was not a safe place for him.  And as he grew, he learned this for himself in ways both powerful and terrifying.  Now a father himself, Between the World and Me is a letter to his own teenage son, on the cusp of manhood in an America that still, STILL, treats a black body as less-than.  Ta-Nehisi helps his son, and those of us privileged to read this book, understand today's issues in the context of the past and how the nuances of American pride were built upon the backs of an enslaved people.

This book made me uncomfortable, as well it should.  Anything that pokes at me and reminds me of my privilege SHOULD make me uncomfortable.  I should be uncomfortable about the state of race discrepancies in our country every day - because even THAT is a privilege, isn't it?  That I don't have to think about my race if I don't want to?  Coates' writing is SO BEAUTIFUL.  A quarter of my book is highlighted with ideas and imagery that struck me, that make me dig and think, that made me want to do better, that shined a new light on something I have NEVER considered. He is vulnerable, here.  He is real and although I felt like an outsider reading it, he also invited me to try.  TRY to get it.  TRY to imagine the life of a black boy and, my own thoughts led to, what can I do to try and make it a safer world for him?

I want my boys to read it.  Honestly, probably everyone should read it, if just to give these thoughts and ideas a spot to percolate in your brain, even if you aren't ready to believe it all yet.  Because believing it is scary.  If you believe him, then the way you have to look at your country shifts in a way that doesn't feel good.  But that doesn't mean it's not right.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

In the 1970s, Daisy Jones and the Six made rock and roll history.  The members of the band only achieved the epic heights they did because they were not only crazy talented, they also had to work crazy hard.  Of course, they played hard too, and in this rockumentary-type history of the band, we get to learn the ins and outs of the relationships, the strengths and the demons of these seven key players.

If you're going to read this, I highly recommend the audio on this one.  Yes, there is language (a lot of cursing) and mature themes.  It's not a story for everyone.  Drug use is rampant but the effects of their use is also explored in depth. But the tv show "behind the music" vibe of this book, with a full cast, totally kept my attention.  Yes, it's hard to watch people train wreck their lives.  Yes, it's uncomfortable to watch people be broken and try to fix themselves.  But there were some really cool themes throughout and I appreciated how we often got to hear about certain  situations from many different points of view.  The book really does make you think about memory and context, your own deepest desires and how even your own baggage will affect how you view circumstances.

Also, as a singer and just general lover of music, I liked how powerful music could be and it was enjoyable to watch the rise of a band and to get into the nitty gritty of how a record is put together.

While it isn't a pretty or super emotional read, I was incredibly entertained.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Tetris: the Games People Play by Box Brown

genre: pop culture history, non-fiction

To say my family was obsessed with Tetris for a while in the early 90s would not be an exaggeration. When I saw that there was a book about it's creation and history, I found myself interested.

Did you know that Tetris was created in Communist Russia?  I had no idea.  I had no sense of the legal battles that ensued either.  What I particularly enjoyed, beyond the actual creation of the game itself, was the look at gaming over time, at how humans have used games as ritual and as recreation. 

I had a hard time keeping names/faces straight.  The legal stuff at the end got pretty boring, but overall I liked the graphics and enjoyed learning about this piece of pop culture history.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Warcross by Marie Lu

genre:  ya litrpg

Emika Chen is a hacker.  A good one.  And in a world where the game of Warcross has transitioned from a hobby into a way of living, being a hacker can come in handy when you need to make some cash.  Her speciality is tracking down criminals and when a glitch during a championship Warcross game leads to a crazy job opportunity, Emika can hardly say no. It doesn't take long, though, for Emika to find out that the job runs deeper than it looks and getting it done isn't as straightforward as she'd hoped.

This one really grabbed me from the start.  Emika is a sympathetic character and I liked have a gritty(ish) and wicked smart female as the protagonist.  I liked the overlay of the Warcross game-world onto our world - the speculative piece of the story made it really interesting to me.  By the end I really wanted to know what was going to happen and I liked the cliffhanger ending. Fun book.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces by Michael Chabon

genre: memoir

Pops is a slim series of essays based on the childhood and parenting experiences of our author. As he reflects on what he has learned through his children, as well as reflects on his life as child himself and as a writer, we come to appreciate the intricacies woven into the parent and child relationship.

I chose this book completely randomly because its title fit the prompt of one of my reading challenges. I found myself surprisingly engaged and I thought the writing was thoughtful and sometimes quite poignant.   And while he sometimes comes off as a bit pompous, at the end of each day I found myself, by the end, appreciating how he tied ideas together.
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