Tag - books

Show us your Books – April 2019

Oh hey, I’m late to the books party. I was in warm, gorgeous (and gnat-filled) Savannah for a work conference and WHOOSH. Gone went the blog. Thank heavens I actually smartened up and wrote a lot of this as I reviewed each book, like so many on the linkup do. I am a SHINING example of a kid who was Talented and Gifted and ended up a completely average adult.
On to the books! I use the Goodreads reviewing system, which is:

  • One star: did not like it
  • Two stars: it was ok
  • Three stars: liked it
  • Four stars: really liked it
  • Five stars: it was amazing
The library stack plus Becoming, on loan from Mom.

Over the last few years, I’ve been striving to read more works by women and women of color. I’m not trying to exclude books by men, but some months it just works out that way.

Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting over — Nell Irvin Painter

Celebrated Princeton History professor Nell Painter retires in her 60s and decides to go to art school! It’s about as difficult as you can imagine, with professors who kept trying to tear her down and say she’d never be a ‘real artist,’ poor treatment because of her race, and classmates who practically shun her because they’re not comfortable with her age. The age thing is something I experience now at 46 — I can’t imagine how much worse it will be in 20 more years.

Nell, like all of us, is far from perfect. She’s willing to enter the art school world on the ground floor but expects the art school world to respect her past career. She disparages her classmates’ artwork, ages, body sizes, and fashion. Everything that’s slung at her, she slings at other people. Either she can’t see what she’s doing, or she gives no craps about it.

Complicating matters is the decline of her parents. As an only surviving child, it was 100% Nell’s burden to make sure her parents were taken care of. And as we all know, there is never a good time for a medical issue to crop up in the family.

Three stars! I enjoyed the memoir parts, but I really became bogged down by the art history parts, because I’ve never been interested in art history. She also LOVES New Jersey, and I’m proud to share a state with her.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant — Beatriz Williams

A lovely book with 2 stories told in parallel: Vivian Schuyler trying to become a magazine writer in 1964 and her great-aunt Violet Schuyler Grant trying to become a physicist in 1911. Hold on, let me get this out of the way…

The Schulyer Sisters

Had to.

This is a story of love and independence and passion and murder and whoa hey, war and espionage? That came right out of nowhere, but I loved it all. I had to reread the final few chapters just to make sure I got the espionage part down.

Four stars, with a trigger warning for sexual assholiness and what today we call rape but back in the 19-teens would be called men being men and women being loose. Consider Walter Grant canceled.

Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World — Kirsten Gillibrand

Saw this on display at the library, and thought maybe it won’t be a bad idea to read up on some of the candidates that aren’t getting attention because the media is in love with men-who-lost-their-Senate-races-yet-think-they-were-born-to-run-for-president.

This book was written long before she entered the 2020 fray, but is probably a part of her long-range plan to enter the race. Gillibrand comes from a strong local-politics matriarchy back in New York. She’s part of the private-school-and-Dartmouth part swath of middle class. She was raised Catholic which informs her desire to help and give back, but she’s very pro-choice. She used to have an A-rating with the NRA, but has shifted her views on gun control. (Being friends with Gabby Giffords helps.)

I enjoyed this book because she often touches on the human side of the campaign and political grind. She talks candidly about how hard it is to have young children and hold her Senate job. (Some of those senators are assholes.) She has a chapter about fluctuating weight. She touches on her difficult relationship with her father without flogging us with it.

Three stars. I wish her well and wouldn’t mind if she won.

Dear Mrs. Bird — A.J. Pearce

In WWII era London, Emmy Lake applies for a job at a publisher, thinking it will put her on the path to her dream job as a Lady War Correspondent. After an interview where Emmy fails to ask what, exactly, the job is, she takes the job and finds herself instead a typist for Henrietta Bird, an “agony aunt” at Woman’s Friend magazine. Mrs. Bird has VERY outdated and strict standards for what kind of questions she answers, and insists that Emmy throw out letters that don’t reach those standards. But the letterwriters are women Emmy’s age who are in very modern circumstances. What is Emmy to do but answer them herself, but as Mrs. Bird?

At the same time, she is trying to navigate a very sad and sticky situation with her best friend Bunty. I love that nickname.

I think what struck me the most is how regular life continued on as best it could while London was being bombed. People brought gas masks to work, couples still went to dinner, young people still went to shows. Four stars.

The Library Book — Susan Orlean

This is the kind of non-fiction book that I EAT UP. I know the phrase “this book is a love letter to…” is vastly overused. HOWEVER, this book is a love letter to libraries and the people who love them.

The main topic is the fire that burned the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986. It completely destroyed over 400,000 books and the smoke and water damaged 700,000 more I was a teen in 1986, but had never heard of the fire because the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened at the same time which stole most of the news coverage. Not knowing if nuclear winds were going to destroy Europe makes for a big story.

Orlean is an amazing writer, and weaves into her book the history of the Los Angeles Public library and its librarians (including the amazing Mary Jones), the services that libraries provide, her warm memories of the library visits of her childhood, the AIDS crisis, and how libraries are adapting to the future.

Five stars, it’s a must-read if you love libraries and I know many of you do.

Currently reading: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez.

All of my book lists and reviews are on Goodreads.

This a part of the Show us Your Books linkup from Jana Says and Life According to Steph. If you want to read more bloggers gush about the books they’ve read this month, click the button below and have fun!

Life According to Steph

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January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December

Show us your Books: March 2019

Another month, another Show us your Books post. I’m doing well with my goal, thanks to daylight rides home on the train and putting the darn mobile phone away. Oh, and refusing to exercise and falling out of practicing my guitar. (sigh)

Onto the books! I use the Goodreads system to rate books, which is:

  • One star: did not like it
  • Two stars: it was ok
  • Three stars: liked it
  • Four stars: really liked it
  • Five stars: it was amazing

An American Marriage — Tayari Jones

This book was available at my local library so I snagged it. I was reluctant to read it, because how could a story of a young couple torn apart when the husband is wrongly convicted of a crime and sent to prison for 12 years not depress the hell out of me?

But woven into the strong narrative of being Black in the present-day American South is the story of Roy and Celestial’s marriage. And of their parents’ marriages. And even though everyone makes mistakes, you know why those choices were made. Adulting isn’t easy. Marriage isn’t easy. And all marriages have gray areas; some at the start, some at the middle, some at the very end. You can so easily make the wrong decision because you believe in the right thing.

THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING. I read it in giant gulps, in about one 24-hr period of commuting and lunch breaks. I was one chapter from the end when I got to work last week and was rooting for a train delay so I could finish it before work. Instead, I took my lunch early to get that last chapter. I was sulky when I had to put this book down.

Five stars.

What We Do Now: Standing Up For Your Values in Trump’s America — edited by Dennis Johnson

This is a collection of “omg what now??!?” essays and articles rushed into publication between Trump’s election and his inauguration. I read it to charge myself up. Instead it was depressing. These articles were written with the tone of “Candidate Trump said XYZ, but surely, President Trump won’t dare do XYZ” and today it’s all “yup, he’s doing X and Y and trying to do Z and let me tell you about the L-W that’s going on too!” Oh you sweet summer children of November, 2016…you have no idea.

It just didn’t hold up. I read the whole thing except the opening essay from some unpleasant old man in Vermont, because he gets NONE of my time, not now, not ever. The highlight for me was this passage, because of the hate-on Allan Lichtman has for Nate Silver.

“Nate Silver is a CLERK,” the historian sputtered. *chortle!*

Two stars.

When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon — Joshua D. Mezrich

This book was on display at the library and not on my TBR. But I grabbed it, because why not? This is Dr. Mezrich’s memoir of what made him decide to go into organ transplantation (his affinity for kidneys is pretty adorable), interspersed with the ugly and failure-prone history of organ transplantation. Mezrich tells his own stories with pathos and humor. But he doesn’t shy away from ethical issues regarding organ transplantation. For example, should an alcoholic be eligible for a new liver?

It took me a while to get through this book because of the science and a bit of the sadness. Many animals and people died before the process was perfected. Many. But I’m glad I took a chance on this book.

Four stars. Are you an organ donor? Want to be? You can register here. I just did!

Belong to Me (Love Walked In #2) — Marisa de los Santos

Oh man oh man, I was so excited to read this because I gave Love Walked in five stars and it gave me all of the warm and fuzzy feelings I could stand. In this sequel, Cornelia and Teo move to a nondescript rich suburb because Teo gets a job as a pediatric oncologist in Philadelphia. And Cornelia … just hangs around. She talks of a grad degree, but she spends most of the book not doing much except being tiny. And then all of the secondary characters show up. So many characters. The snooty neighborhood wives lead by Piper and Elizabeth. And their husbands and kids. Mysterious single mom Lake and her son, Dev. And Dev’s friends from school. And Lake’s new boyfriend. And his daughter. And Clare from the first book. And Cornelia’s brother and his girlfriend.

Like the first book, the theme is family, biological and chosen. Where do you belong? Who belongs to you? Where this book pissed me off is that it stopped addressing the real, adult problems and turned into a KIDS FIX EVERYTHING book. You want a kid? You get a kid! Here’s a kid you didn’t know you had! Have kids? Here are MORE kids! Trying to resolve an awkard plot point? Fill it with kids!

At the beginning of the book, mean mom Piper insinuates that you’re not a real family unless you have children. I expected the book to prove her wrong, but it kind of proved her right.

Three stars.

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well — Meik Wiking

Such a cute little book, but very redundant. It probably could have been edited down to half the size. The best part was the end because after 200 pages of sucking you in with candles, cakes, and sweaters, Wiking drops a truth bomb. The reason Denmark is so happy, he claims, is because they have a strong social welfare system. Knowing you’re going to be taken care of if things go poorly makes people worry less. You’re able to leave your bike outside the bakery because it’s likely not going to get stolen because people don’t need to because there is a safety net.

Three candles, er, stars. And it’s HOO-ga, but it won’t stop me from calling it Higgy. Getting Higgy with it!

Currently reading: Old in Art School by Nell Painter Irwin. It has more art history in it than I was counting on, but I’m pushing through.

All of my book lists and reviews are on Goodreads.

This a part of the Show us Your Books linkup from Jana Says and Life According to Steph. If you want to read more bloggers gush about the books they’ve read this month, click the button below and have fun!

Life According to Steph

January | February | March |
January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December

Show us your Books: February 2019

oh, you know, just casually stacking up my books like so.

Happy Show Us Your Books day! I’m off today so I get to actually write this on the day it’s due rather than be smart and cobble it together as I finish each book. Someday I’ll be smart. Today … is not that day.

Gaming wise I pared my Wordscapes habit down to 1x/day – in the morning, after WM goes to work but before I have to start getting ready. It’s a finite block of time and that’s working well. I’m also back on the NYTimes Crossword Puzzles app – WM got me the yearly subscription which scratches the gaming itch PLUS makes me feel smarter. I kill the Monday-Wednesday puzzles, struggle on Thursdays, and usually can’t finish Friday-Saturday without help. Sunday’s a crapshoot.

Now that I got the gaming issue under control, how did the book reading fare? Much better.

8 of 55 books read

Onto the books! I use the Goodreads system to rate books, which is:

  • One star: did not like it
  • Two stars: it was ok
  • Three stars: liked it
  • Four stars: really liked it
  • Five stars: it was amazing

Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life — Emily Nagoski

Here’s some real talk: I had a very 1980s-era sexual education, consisting of the “period class” in grade school, a terrifying live birth video on one of the cable channels as a tween, high school sex ed taught by awkward gym teachers and Johanna Lindsey books that were smuggled into the cafeteria by others*, and occasional questions answered at home. I had a very small number of sexual partners and fooled around with only a few more than that.

That awkwardness out of the way, this book has a lot of hype surrounding it and I wasn’t sure if it could deliver. I bought the ebook and read it off and on over the course of a month because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t on a deadline to return it. I wish every girl in America could read this book. I am 46 freaking years old and learned things I didn’t know. My biggest takeaway: nonconcordance. Who knew?

Throughout the book, there are fictionalized dialogues with women that are amalgamations** of the many conversations Nagoski had through her studies and classes. And the science is written in a very approachable way for even Liberal Arts majors like me! Nagoski make it clear from the beginning that this book is aimed toward non-transgender women, becuase it dives deeply (ha!) into anatomy.

Five stars. If I had nieces I’d buy copies and put them away for them.

Hope Never Dies (Obama Biden Mysteries #1) — Andrew Shaffer

Barack put an arm around my shoulder. “How you doin’, Joe?”

The speed demon who’d been in my face stared blankly at the president. Then he glanced back at his friend, then to the president again. Barack had a sawed-off shotgun balanced casually on his shoulder.

“Where’d you get the hardware?” I whispered to Barack.

He nodded at the biker clinging to the pool table.

If reading the above makes you roll your eyes and laugh instead of just rolling your eyes, this stupidly fun book will be a good diversion.
It’s a state fair deep-fried candy bar on a stick. You can’t believe you’re consuming this … thing and yet it’s fun and decadent and you’re laughing your ass off that it even exists.

Four stars. It was a NYT Bestseller and the sequel, “Hope Rides Again”, comes out in July.

Homegoing — Yaa Gyasi

Esi and Effia are half-sisters born in Ghana in the 1700s. Effia is given to an Englishman as a bride and lives in wealth in Ghana. Esi is sold into slavery and is shipped to the USA. Homegoing is the wrenching story of their descendants. Effia gets a chapter. Esi gets a chapter. Effia’s son gets a chapter. Esi’s daughter gets a chapter. And so it goes down the two lines until we reach the present day. It’s a hell of a primer on the absolute SHIT HAND that was dealt to Ghanaians due to white meddling. But there are also threads of hope and resiliency. It’s gorgeous and gutwrenching and even though it was HARD for me to read I ran through that book. I was satisifed with the ending, contrived as it was.

Five stars. Trigger warnings for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; drugs, kidnapping, just everything. It was a real kick in the ass after the lightness of Hope Never Dies.

My Year with Eleanor — Noelle Hancock

This is one of those “I have tons of money and decide to spend a year doing A THING” books that I lap up like kittens lap up cream. Noelle is a writer at a popular website until she is laid off. Twenty-nine years old and reeling, she sees the Eleanor Roosevelt quote “Do one thing every day that scares you” and says “Okay!” Luckily, she made enough money to have an apartment with no roommates in Manhattan and has a savings account large enough to pay her bills and finance her adventures. She also has a therapist, a loving, long-distance boyfriend, sassy adventurous friends, and parents who have the ability to say “hey honey, we’ve decided to gift you the airline miles to go Kilimanjaro!” Her adventures are interspersed with parallel-ish stories of Eleanor Roosevelt conquering her own fears and challenges.

Two-and-a-half-stars rounded up to three. Its privilege was a real kick-in-the-ass after the gravity of Homegoing.

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North — Blair Braverman

ARGH! I follow Blair Braverman on Twitter and I love her writing and her dogs and her husband and I’m rooting for her to finish the Iditarod. This is her book about finding herself and living in Alaska and Norway and trying to find what life she was destined to live. Except…

I feel like Braverman wrote one piece of work, the publisher marketed the book as another and I really wanted to read the book the publisher said it was. Easily 85% of this book is stories about the fucked up men of the north (there’s a calendar idea) who Blair had to endure. The stories are well-written and her talent is completely evident but … I didn’t want to read their stories. There are sled dogs on the cover and rapey men in the pages.

Two stars. Trigger warning for rape and rapeiness. I still love Blair and her dogs and her husband and I’m still rooting for her to win the Iditarod.

And yes, that is an Eleanor Roosevelt bookmark.

It’s Up to the Women — Eleanor Roosevelt

I saw this book at the library as part of a display and even though it wasn’t on my TBR list I grabbed it. I thought it was going to be a timely series of essays by my girl ER about women pulling things together in grim political climates. Instead, it was ER’s very first book! It was written in 1933 and is ALL about how women can pull things together in grim political (and economical) times.

She was quite the visionary, with her “let women have jobs!” and “teach your sons to hold and change babies!” attitudes. This book has advice on how to create a budget and how to nutritionally feed your family and how you should be nice to your maids so that they are happier and are better maids.

And sure, Eleanor Roosevelt was never poor so some of her advice seems a bit tone-deaf. But overall the book holds up very well. I’m glad I took a chance on it.

Three stars and a $10 dress can be as pretty as a $100 dress if you style it right! (Actual Depression-era person: who the eff had $10 for a dress in 1933, Eleanor?)

The Bookshop on the Corner — Jenny Colgan

This is another example of publisher cover/title shenanigans, because there is no bookshop on the corner in this book at all. Jenny Colgan wrote the Little Beach Street Bakery books, which I enjoyed. This is her most recent book and I loved it even more!

Nina is a laid-off librarian who decides to buy a van and run a mobile bookstore. She ends up doing just that … in a rural village in Scotland.

THAT MEANS KILTS! I didn’t expect kilts!!!

What I liked best about this book was that instead of Nina having problems that the big, strong, (kilted!!!!) man solves, Nina solves other peoples’ problems. That’s nice in a book like this.

Four stars and I want to be Jenny Colgan’s friend. And KILTS!

Bonus book: The Effects of the Direct Instruction With Computer-Assisted Instructions in Reading for Students with Learning Disabilities — Arlene Dowd.

Bonus book: My Mom’s Masters Thesis from 2002, which I checked out of Rowan’s library last weekend. We had nev

My Mom’s Masters thesis from 2002. I checked it out of Rowan’s library this weekend because we had never seen it in its final, bound form. DNF – too academic for my poor brain. 😉

Currently Reading: When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon by Joshua Mezrich. Another book that was not on my TBR but was part of a library display.

All of my book lists and reviews are on Goodreads.

This a part of the Show us Your Books linkup from Jana Says and Life According to Steph. If you want to read more bloggers gush about the books they’ve read this month, click the button below and have fun!

Life According to Steph

*I learned about the risk of being kidnapped by pirates or angry Scottish clansmen long before I even heard of an STD other than AIDS.
** Crosswords, baby.

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