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Book No. 49 was "Two Serpents Rise" by Max Gladstone. I listened to the first in this series ("Three Parts Dead") as an audiobook a few years ago and absolutely adored it. It took me a while to get around to reading the second in the series in part because I kept hoping to find an audiobook of it (I didn't) and because my local library didn't have it and I knew I'd need to use inter-library loan (or buy it). I'm glad I finally got around to this one, because it's at least as excellent as the first in the series. It's set in the same world where gods, who are the embodiment of their believer's faith, compete with Craftsmen and Craftswomen, who are basically magical lawyers and MBAs. While the first book was set in what appears to be a North American city called Alt Coloumb, this one is set in a vaguely South American city called  Dresediel Lex (DL). Our main character, Caleb, works at Red King Consolidated, which manages the desert city's water supply through Craft, but his father is one of the last priests of the old gods. Someone is fucking with the city water supply, perhaps to screw up a proposed merger between RKC and another water-management concern. Caleb has to find out who is messing with the water supply and why, while also juggling falling in love and dealing with his outlaw father, who pops in and out of his life unexpectedly. The book combines magic, sacrifice, water rights ethics, parkour and more into a fun mix. I really dig Gladstone's writing and plan to read more in his "Craft Sequence."

Book No. 50 was "A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)" by Barbara Oakley. While this book is most obviously about math, it's really a primer on how memory and the brain work and lots of practical, down-to-earth tips for better studying and time management, no matter what field of study you apply it to. It made me wish I was taking an advanced math class so I could put more of the tips into practice, but I still found many tips and tricks that will serve me well as a freelancer, mainly concepts around why we procrastinate, how to get back on track, and how to manage time better generally. The book is very accessible, because it not only has practical tips from Oakley, but personal stories of people who put some of these tips into practice. Oakley herself flunked math classes throughout high school and college but decided when she set out to become an engineer that she had to make herself better at math, and this book is a culmination of the research she did with brain scientists, psychologists, professors and others. If you're taking tough math or science classes or know a teenager who is, I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book. (Here's a TEDx talk she gave on learning how to learn.)

The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book No. 47 was "Let the Right One In" by John Ajvide Lindqvist. This book and the two movies made from it (one Swedish, one made for U.S. audiences) experienced a lot of hype, but I have to say it is well deserved. It's the author's first book and I kind of hate him a little bit for how good it is! The story takes place in a boring suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, when Oskar, the school outcast who is bullied almost daily, meets the man and little girl that move in next door. He knows something is different about Eli and her "father" but he doesn't realize just what is different until they get to know each other and become friends. The book is ostensibly a vampire tale, but as with many pieces of speculative fiction, it examines problems with contemporary culture ranging from bullying to absent fathers to child abuse. I appreciated the fact that Oskar is not some saintly kid but has plenty of flaws of his own. I really loved this novel and think it is extraordinary.

Book No. 48 was "Revisionary" (fourth and final in the Magic Ex Libris series) by Jim Hines. My husband and I pick a few books every year to read out loud to one another, and this was one of our books for 2017. In the previous book in the series, libriomancer Isaac has revealed to the world that magic and magical creatures exist. In this universe, "libriomancers" can reach into books and pull out objects, and Isaac has taken it even further, able to decode and manipulate the magic in books more than most libriomancers. In the final book, he and his friends deal with the fallout of the knowledge reaching the world, as various parties jockey to take control of Isaac's magical research facility and the world struggles with how to deal with magical beings. I felt the pacing on this novel was a little slow in parts, but I enjoyed it, and it was a fitting end to the series. I love that Jim Hines makes an effort to include people of color, non-heterosexual people and even a polyamorous triad in his world building. Recommended for fantasy lovers.

The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book #45 was "Aurelia, followed by Sylvie" by Gerard de Nerval. Nerval is a French Romantic writer, perhaps better known for his plays and poetry than his prose. He struggled with mental illness for the last decade of his life. He fell into obscurity after his death, but the Surrealists liked him and sort of "rehabilitated" his reputation in the early 20th century. These two novellas both center on the same theme: the author's real-life infatuation with an actress named Jenny Colon and his other failed love affairs. "Sylvie" is the more traditional novella with more of a standard plot, and while it has some autobiographical elements, it is fiction. Our main character has a childhood sweetheart named Sylvie, and he is wishy-washy about her, doting on her, then focusing his attention on another girl, then coming back to Sylvie, and ultimately losing her because of his weakness and his preference for fantasy women over the reality of the woman at hand. Aurelia is more closely autobiographical and talks in detail about Nerval's periods of madness and hallucination. I've rarely read any description of mental illness as lucid and beautiful as Nerval's. It has fantastic imagery, like a giant woman's body being torn asunder, and a huge llama with wings being infused with molten metal to bring it alive (mystical steampunk llama!!!). This was especially interesting to read just after having read "Byron in Love," because I'm pretty well-versed in the English Romantics but knew very little about the Romantic movement in France or other countries. I enjoyed it, but I'd only recommend this to people who have some patience with experimental fiction or people who are interested in first-hand accounts of mental illness (probably either schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorder).

Book #46 was "Not My Father's Son" by Alan Cumming, as an audiobook read by the author. This memoir is about Cumming going back and exploring his childhood and family roots when he appears on a British show about genealogy called "Who Do You Think You Are?" He expects to find out some interesting tidbits about his mother's father, but as he prepares for filming, he gets a bombshell from his father, who tells him that he believes Alan isn't his biological son. Cumming goes back to explore the physical and emotional abuse he endured from his father growing up while simultaneously telling the story of what he discovered about his maternal grandfather during the filming of the show. Cumming doesn't pull any punches while describing his abuse, but he's so insightful and compassionate and sprinkles humor liberally throughout that it makes the tougher scenes bearable. I don't want to give any spoilers, but let's just say the book is an emotional rollercoaster. I really, really enjoyed hearing it read by the author with his lovely Scottish accent. Highly recommended

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Book No. 43 was "Byron in Love: A Short, Daring Life" by Edna O'Brien. I've read other books about Lord Byron and about the Romantics, so there wasn't a ton of new stuff in here for me, but I did like how O'Brien focused on Byron's love affairs - not just casual sex, but emotional relationships - and boiled it down to the "juicy bits." It reads almost like a novel and was highly enjoyable.  Any man who is "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" is going to be fun to read about. If you like reading about the scandalous love lives of the Romantic poets, you'll love this.

Book No. 44 was "Akata Witch" by Nnedi Okorafor. I'd read her novel for adults, "Who Fears Death," a few years ago. I liked it, but it was HEAVY, with themes around genocide and genital mutilation. "Akata Witch" is written for a middle school YA audience, so while it also has some heavy themes, it's quite a bit lighter than "Who Fears Death." It follows the story of Sunny, an Albino girl of Nigerian parents who spent her formative years in the U.S. When her family moves back to Nigeria, she discovers she has magical powers, and falls in with a crowd of other gifted kids and adult mentors, who prepare her to help battle an evil mass murderer called "Black Hat". This book is sometimes called "The Nigerian Harry Potter," and the parallels ARE there: young woman who is a bit of an outcast (for being albino) finds out she has special powers and learns about them in a school for magic in preparation for a final battle with evil. But the flavor of the book is totally different, as is the Nigerian folk magic in it. My only criticism is that there is a huge build up to the final confrontation, and it is over so quickly that it feels a bit anti-climactic. Still overall, I really loved this novel and would recommend it to young people who enjoy fantasy and want to learn more about cultures outside the U.S.

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Book No. 41 was "Carry the One" by Carol Anshaw. I'd read her book "Aquamarine" in a gay and lesbian lit class in college and always wanted to read more by this author. "Carry the One" is the story of three siblings: Carmen, Alice, and Nick. They all experience a tragedy on Carmen's wedding night that affects them for the rest of their lives. Carmen is the responsible one who doesn't see the problems in her marriage until it's too late. Alice is the lesbian artist who has a painful off-and-on-again relationship with a beautiful woman who isn't ready to come out. Nick is the designated fuck-up of the family and lives down to those expectations. Anshaw is one of those people who writes beautiful but not showy prose, can set a scene or paint a picture in half a sentence. Her characters feel real, and I love how she treats the subject of siblings, especially ones who have had to be each others' main supports because they have a dysfunctional relationship with their parents. Highly recommended.

Book No. 42 was "The Witch with No Name" by Kim Harrison, the final installment of "The Hollows," an urban fantasy series set in Cincinnati. There's a war brewing between the demons and the elves that could destroy the Ever After and all magic in the world, and a spell upsets the balance in the world of the vampires as well. Rachel Morgan has to figure out how to save magic and keep the different species from going to war, along with figuring out how to save her business partner and good friend Ivy from becoming a soulless undead. I felt Harrison did a lovely job of wrapping up the series, and I felt satisfied by the end. I don't read these books for the stellar prose, because it's actually quite clunky at times (she'll describe a character as "somewhat fat" instead of using "portly" or "fleshy" or "stocky" for instance), but she's pretty great at getting you invested in characters and in setting up set pieces that lead you along from plot point to plot point effortlessly. I enjoyed the series and recommend it if you like urban fantasy and need a bit of brain candy.

The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book No. 39 was "The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton. I'd read her novella "Ethan Frome" in college but nothing else by Wharton, though I've seen both this novel and "House of Mirth" as movie adaptations. Wharton received the Pulitzer Prize for this, and was the first woman to win the prize. I'm not sure it's worth *that* much praise, but I did enjoy Wharton's writing. The love triangle structure of the story is not new or innovative, but writing from 1918-1919 about the 1870s, you can tell she did meticulous research on the dress, social life, food, etc. of that period in New York City. The story follows Newland Archer who is engaged to marry May, a woman from a respectable NY family, when he falls in love with May's bohemian cousin, The Countess Ellen Olenska. Archer is very concerned with "form" and what society thinks of things, and yet he feels stifled by a conventional life and fears that his life with May will contain no surprises or adventures. "Society" becomes almost a character in the book as it passes judgements on the actions, good and bad, of many people in the book. If you're looking for a book with lots of action or sex, this will not fit the bill. But if you like stories that delve deep into characters and their motivations and writing that can convey whole conversations in one glance, this will be up your alley. I need to re-watch the movie (where I think Michelle Pfieffer is terribly miscast at the countess) and may need to read more by Wharton, probably "House of Mirth."

Book No. 40 was "What's That Pig Outdoors?: A Memoir of Deafness" by Henry Kisor. Kisor illuminates a part of deaf/disabled history in the U.S. that I wasn't that familiar with, even though I've read other memoirs by disabled/deaf authors ("When the Phone Rings, My Bed Shakes" by Philip Zazove covers some similar territory). Kisor loses his hearing at age 3, and his parents are adamant about mainstreaming him. He learns lip-reading rather than sign language, and his parents do their darndest to make him feel like any other kid. He goes to mainstream schools and figures out accommodations for himself in college and later on the job as a copy editor at newspapers and magazines, well before the Americans with Disabilities Act. Kisor is a liberal, but he's NOT PC in his take on many things, from gender relations to disability rights to race. He is somewhat controversial in the deaf community and sometimes pegged as a deaf man who refuses to "accept" that he's deaf because he doesn't know sign and interacts mostly with the hearing community. I found this really fascinating because his life was so different from other deaf writers I've experienced and because he was involved in journalism for several decades. The book ends in the mid-90s and feels a bit dated by this point, but I still found it fascinating. It unfortunately leaves off before Kisor goes on to write detective/thriller novels, so I do wonder if the reissue from 2011 adds something about that part of his life. If you're interested in either the history of journalism or of deaf rights in America, you may enjoy this book. You've got to love that the title of this book comes from a Kisor family story that involves a fart joke!

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Book No. 37 was "The Book of Strange New Things" by Michel Faber. It's the story of Peter, a liberal Christian minister sent off to be pastor to a flock of aliens on a planet called Oasis. While he's gone on his mission trip, things don't go well back home on Earth for his wife, Bea. I hate to say too much more about this book and spoil plot points, but I will say that though it's ostensibly about a Christian pastor's relationship with aliens, it's just as much about human relationships with each other. I cried a couple times and found this book affecting and beautiful. I'd like to read more by the author.

Book No. 38 was "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, as an audiobook. This book won a Pulitzer Prize but was controversial among critics, with some of them raving about it, and others criticizing it. It tells the long (26 discs on audiobook/500-ish pages in print) rambling story of Theo Decker, starting as he's a 13-year-old boy who loses his mother in the bombing of an art museum. The title of the story comes from his relationship to a painting, "The Goldfinch," thought lost during the bombing. I felt the earlier passages of the book were the strongest because Theo as a grieving young teen is immensely relate-able and sympathetic, so that carries you along through the story. Later, when the story jumps ahead to Theo in his 20s making a lot of the same mistakes his father did, my sympathy began to wear a bit. I really loved some of the support characters, particularly his mentor Hobie and his teenage best friend Boris. I think this book is imperfect but there's a lot to like about it. Recommended.


The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book No. 35 was "The Silence of Our Friends," a graphic memoir by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos, with illustrations by Nate Powell. Mark Long tells the story of how his family befriended a local black family in Houston during the Civil Rights era, and how Long's father gets pulled into a trial of 5 African American students accused of shooting a police officer during a riot. An interview with Long about the events that inspired the book can be found here. I liked the illustration style and that it carried a lot of the story, and I like that Long showed it through the eyes of a child watching what the grown-ups are doing. Highly recommended.

Book No. 36 was "Under the Udala Trees" by Chinelo Okparanta. The story follows Ijeoma, who comes of age in Nigeria during and after the Biafran war. During the war, her father dies, and her mother tries to protect Ijeoma and sends her to another town to live with a school teacher as a servant. There, Ijeoma falls in love with the wrong person - a girl, and not just any girl but a girl from the wrong tribe. The story follows Ijeoma through the 1970s and 80s as she deals with same-sex attraction in a highly homophobic time and place (homosexuality is still punishable by stoning in the northern part of Nigeria TODAY). I really liked the main character and was in fear for her throughout the novel. It is simply told and doesn't have a lot of literary flourishes, but it's beautiful and affecting. Another highly-recommended read.

The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book No. 33 was "Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want" by Nicholas Epley. This book covers the way we humans naturally "mind read" the thoughts of others, how we get things right, how we get things wrong, and how we can do a better job of understanding other people's viewpoints (not too surprising, "Ask them!" is a serious suggestion for better mind reading). I keep up with neuroscience findings and know that a couple of the studies he mentions about "priming" are problematic and findings couldn't be replicated, and I'm guessing/hoping he may have addressed that in subsequent editions of the book (I read the original from 2014). Other than that, I really appreciated this slim volume that comes in under 200 pages but which packs in a lot of information. Everybody should be more aware of the ways we get it wrong when trying to figure out what other people are thinking or feeling, and if just being aware that your "mindreading" skills aren't perfect is the only thing you get from the book, it's very valuable. Recommended.

Book No. 34 was "The Mistress's Daughter" by A.M. Homes. I'd read one of her novels "This Book Will Save Your Life" several years ago and liked it and always intended to read more by her. This short memoir (just over 200 pages) starts when her biological mother contacts her, setting A.M. off on a journey of discovery, digging into her biological parents' lives, her ancestry and genealogy back through the 1500s, as well as the history of her adopted family. The reunion with her biological parents is not the happy ending many adoptees look for. It's messy and emotional and complicated. Her biological father is a bit of a cad. Her biological mother is a bit unhinged. If you're looking for happy endings or even for closure, the book doesn't really provide it, but it's beautifully written, and A.M. Homes strips it all of sentimentality and writes with the raw, brutal feelings she experienced herself during these events. It's a powerful book, and I plan to read more of the author's fiction.

The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book No. 31 was "Elephants Can Remember" by Agatha Christie. In this Hercule Poirot novel, he teams up with novelist Mrs. Oliver to solve a decades-old mystery about why a seemingly happy couple committed a double suicide, or a murder-suicide. The couple's daughter, Celia, is grown up and about to marry and wants to know more about her past, as does her nosy mother-in-law, and they ask Mrs. Oliver to investigate since she is a crime novelist and Celia's godmother. Mrs. Oliver talks to old acquaintances about events in the far past that might be relevant, and Poirot talks with old police contacts, and together they find out the truth about Mr. and Mrs. Ravenscroft. I was in dire need of brain candy, and this fit the bill. It was just over 200 pages, swiftly paced, and an easy/fun read. I had several elements of the solution worked out at about the half-way point of the book. I haven't read any Christie in probably at least 20 years, but I can see why she is continually popular. Her novels are easy reads, and she rewards regular readers by referencing previous books (i.e. Poirot's previous cases). I was actually somewhat surprised by the terse description and the lack of transitional sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes she'll end one chapter by saying something along the lines of "We should talk to Mrs. So-and-So next" and the next chapter opens with the dialogue with Mrs. So-and-so in progress. Christie doesn't have a lot of patience for deep character development and scene-setting and is more about giving you a complicated plot at a breathless pace.

Book No. 32 was "The Shadow Hero," story by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Sonny Liew. The authors were intrigued by an old 1940s comic called "The Green Turtle" that only ran for 5 issues and was created by a Chinese American man named Chu Hing. Though The Green Turtle isn't explicitly portrayed as Chinese-American in the 40s version, there is reason to think that Chu Hing intended him to be. That element is made more explicit in this modern update, where mild-mannered Hank Chu, who only wants to run his father's grocery store, is spurred to become a superhero, at first by his mother's nagging and later inspired by gang activity in Chinatown. The book includes the entire first issue of the 1940s comic printed at the end as well. I found this graphic novel to be delightful and now I'm curious to read more by Yang. See a short clip where scenes from the graphic novel are animated on Yang's website.


The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book No. 29 was "Close Range: Wyoming Stories" by Annie Proulx. This short story collection is probably best known for containing "Brokeback Mountain." I wanted to read it because I loved her earlier novel, "The Shipping News." Proulx's writing is wonderful, with gorgeous and spot-on descriptions of how bleak and dangerous the landscape and climate of Wyoming are. She also knows how to craft a tale to keep you in suspense, or to introduce an innocuous line or detail early in the story that takes on more meaning later in the story. All that being said, the book was chock full of violent, unlikeable characters. There were very few I liked or identified with. Even though the emotion of "Brokeback Mountain" is beautiful, both main characters are violent and problematic in their own ways, as when Ennis threatens to kill Jack if he ever finds out Jack has been seeing other men. If you're just curious about the book because of the movie "Brokeback Mountain," I'd suggest reading that story and skipping the rest. If you're not put off by violent, flawed characters, then several other short stories were worth reading for how well crafted they were, including "The Half-Skinned Steer" (very eerie) and "The Blood Bay" (black humor). A few other stories kind of felt like filler or writing exercises (i.e. "Job History"). Proulx is a master at her craft, though, and I'd definitely read more by her.

Book No. 30 was "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien. I believe I ran across this title because it's a favorite book of Natalie Goldberg, who is one of my favorite authors who writes about the craft of writing. It is considered a short story collection, and sometimes creative writing classes assign specific stories, but it hangs together as a novel as well, because it follows the same troop of soldiers in the Vietnam War and the aftermath of what they experience together. It's just beautiful and masterful, as well as having a streak of black humor. I felt like I was holding my breath in the way you do when you stumble across a gorgeous landscape unexpectedly. His storytelling is just magic. Highly recommended.

The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book No. 27 was "Good Kings Bad Kings" by Susan Nussbaum. It's a story about physically and/or mentally disabled teenagers living in a care facility and the people, good and bad, who interact with them in the system. It features many viewpoints, with a few chapters per character, rotating through several of the kids and several of the staff members who care for or interact with them. The kids get radicalized and fight for their rights, with the help of some of the staff while other staff defend the status quo. It sounds like it could a well-meaning but clunky and didactic book, but it never is. This is helped tremendously by the fact that the voices of the kids and adults ring so true. It's also very funny. Nussbaum, herself a disabled rights activist in a wheelchair, does a great job with the complicated intersections of race and ethnicity (many of the kids are black or Latino) and class with disability in the novel. I really felt like I got to know the characters and cried toward the end. Highly recommended.

Book No. 28 was "The Night Gardener," a gothic YA scary tale by Jonathan Auxier. The hardcover of the book is an absolutely gorgeous artifact, with illustrations in the initial pages and a silhouette of blown fall leaves on the first page of every chapter. It tells the tale of orphans Molly and Kip who seek a job, only to be sent to an old house in the woods that has a spooky old tree growing up and around it. The orphans learn that the unhappy family there is cursed and set out to save them from a sinister figure who cares for the tree. I found the book a little predictable in a few places, but the atmosphere Auxier creates is nice and spooky, and I like the central legend of The Night Gardener quite a bit. This book would be fun for teenagers or tweens who like a scary book and an easy pleasure read for an adult.

The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book No. 25 was "The Golden Ass" by Apuleis, the earliest known complete novel in Latin, from around 150 or 160 AD. The story follows the adventures of Lucius, a naive young man who travels to another city with a letter of introduction to a family friend. While staying with the family friend, he hears tales about witchcraft, and trying to spy on witchy secrets, gets himself turned into a donkey. He gets sold and stolen and moves around from one terrible owner to another and hears many tales, some sad and some comic, as he travels around the countryside. He finds himself in peril many times and finally gets his human form back after a desperate prayer to Isis. This book is so fun and much bawdier than I expected! It contains adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, murder, banditry, witchcraft, and tales of gods and goddesses. I love the "many stories within one story" structure of the novel. I read the Sarah Ruden translation because I read her translation of "The Satyricon" a couple years ago and liked it. She does a great job of rendering Apuleis' switch from formal speech to slang and back again. My only criticism is that I actually would have liked some footnotes/endnotes to help with a few place and people names or incidents that are referenced. Even with a fairly sturdy amateur knowledge of Roman mythology, I know a few references went over my head.

Book No. 26 was "Ghetto Klown," a graphic memoir by John Leguizamo, illustrated by Christa Cassano and Shamus Beyale. This is an accompaniment to his one-man stage show of the same name and covers Leguizamo's childhood and his rise to fame on stage and as a movie actor. I knew some of the material already from having seen his plays "Mambo Mouth" and "Freak." (I also saw him give a lecture at Eastern Michigan University back in maybe 2001-2002). The book is funny and touching, and the illustrations are wonderful. I don't want to give any spoilers, but an awkward incident on the set of "To Wong Foo" is drawn in a truly epic style. I really loved it and recommend it. You can see a few panels from it here.
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Book #23 was "The sound the stars make rushing through the sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft," edited and with historical introduction by Robert Dale Parker. My regular readers know that I try to make sure my reading list each year is diverse and includes authors of color. I was especially interested a few years back in adding authors who are not only Native American but are from the Great Lakes region specifically, since that's where I live and it's the Native culture I'm most familiar with. This book is a gem in that regard: the complete writings of the first known American Indian literary writer, who was raised in Sault Ste. Marie. JJS was the daughter of an American Indian - specifically Ojibwe - mother and an Irish-American father, married to Henry Schoolcraft, an early Michigan politician. writing in the early 1800s, approximately around the same time the Bronte sisters were writing their novels, maybe a little earlier. Robert Dale Parker provides an 80-ish page introduction that includes a mini-biography of JJS and her family and some analysis of her place in literary history. To be honest, I liked the mini-biography and the folk stories she translated from Ojibwe better than most of her poetry. A lot of the verse is rhyming doggerel, though I really liked a handful of her poems, including "To the Pine Tree" and a couple poems she wrote about her son William who died when he was a toddler. Also, it's not every day you run across a poem written to console a family who has lost a son to cannibalism! This was an interesting chapter in history and I'm really glad I read it.

Book #24 was "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I wasn't a little hesitant about this book, worried it was a "classic" that you were supposed to admire but that might not be that interesting to read. I was pleasantly surprised at what a fun read this was. It has a lot of heavy themes, such as betrayal, and finding love again when you're elderly and think you're done with that part of life, but it is infused with humor, wonderful descriptions of animals, and a deep understanding of human nature. I really liked this story of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, two young lovers whose romance is ended before it really takes off. She marries a wealthy doctor instead of the poor poet, but he pines for her his whole life. Their lives intersect again after they are both very old and Fermina's husband has died. I ended up enjoying this a great deal and would like to read more by Garcia Marquez.

The other books I've read so far this year: )
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Book No. 21 was "The Sheltering Sky" by Paul Bowles. I saw the movie based on this book when I was a freshman in college and it always stuck with me. Later, I found out about the interesting literary marriage of Paul and Jane Bowles. I read Jane's book "Two Serious Ladies" last year, and was intrigued to read this book by Paul. It tells the story of a married couple, Port and Kit Moresby, who are traveling across north Africa after WWII with their friend Tunner. Port and Kit have been on the outs and the trip is meant to bring them together, but their marriage troubles continue during the trip, exacerbated by Tunner's attempts to seduce Kit and by Port taking ill. I won't say more because it would involve plot spoilers. The book is somewhat bleak but some of the descriptions of the desert and nomadic life are lovely. The language feels very simple but a phrase or a whole paragraph here and there is just breath-taking. (Fun fact: The song "Tea in the Sahara" by The Police was inspired by this novel.)

Book No. 22 was "Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond" by Kim Harrison, as an audiobook. J. and I have been enjoying Harrison's "The Hollows" urban fantasy series for many years, and this collection is full of short stories in the same setting, as well as some stories toward the end of the collection that are set in a different universe with different magical creatures and supernormal abilities. A few of these stories are so long as to approach novella length. I really liked the story where Jenx, the pixie, helps top elf Trent Kalamack with a heist. Some of the other stories felt unnecessary, including the one that gave a little bit of back story about the elf Ceri. I actually liked one of the stories not set in the hollows, "Spider Silk," the best out of the whole collection. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to someone who isn't into urban fantasy, but if you're a fan of Harrison's other novels, you'd enjoy these stories in her style.

The other books I've read so far this year: )
sarahmichigan: (Default)
Book No. 19 was "Ursula, Under" by Ingrid Hill. I got this used at a thrift shop knowing very little about it except that it was largely set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not many books are set in the place I grew up, so I knew I wanted to grab it. It opens with the story of Ursula Wong, a toddler who falls down a mine shaft in the Upper Peninsula. A bystander wonders why so much time and expense should be "wasted" on a "half-breed" toddler. The rest of the story explores the stories of Ursula's Finnish and Chinese ancestors from thousands of years ago up through Ursula's parents and grandparents, showing how Ursula, like each of us, is a little miracle that might not have been if one of our ancestors had died early or not married or done something different with their lives. I liked some of the stories of the ancestors better than others, but it is a beautifully written book, very sad in places, but ultimately very life-affirming as well. I thought it was lovely.

Book No. 20 was "The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World" by David Jaher. I saw this on a "best books of the year" list and knew I wanted to read it. I knew that Houdini was a skeptic, as many stage magicians are, and I knew that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a believer in spiritualism. However, I didn't know that the two knew each other or that they were both involved to some degree with a Scientific American contest trying to find incontrovertible proof that a spiritualist was truly communicating with the dead rather than faking. Their best candidate was a spirit medium named Margery, who defied the stereotype of the shabby grifter pretending to be a medium and instead was a high society housewife who charged nothing for her seances. I don't want to give any spoilers, but this book, though nonfiction, was as engrossing and suspenseful as a novel. Highly recommended!
sarahmichigan: (reading)
Sorry for any friends who saw this in rough draft form. I'm still learning all the ins and outs of DW and how to cross-post to LJ.

Book #17 was "The Story of My Tits," graphic nonfiction by Jennifer Hayden. This is, in some ways, a breast cancer memoir, but it more than that, putting the author's experience of breast cancer in context with her entire life, from wishing her breasts were bigger as a teenager, to dealing with her mother-in-law's and mother's own cancer diagnoses to deciding to have a radical dual mastectomy. The illustrations are funky and fun and complement the text. I really enjoyed this and recommend it to anyone who is looking for interesting, off-the-beaten-path graphic books.

Book #18 was "Long Black Curl," a Novel of the Tufa, by Alex Bledsoe. I really enjoy Bledsoe's tales of fairy folk living in modern-day Tennessee. This novel follows on the previous two Tufa novels and has some of the same characters but also introduces several new ones. Reckless lovers Bo-Kate Wisby and Jefferson Powell are the only Tufa to ever be banished from Needsville, and to boot, their ability to make music or find each other was taken away when they were banished. With Rockhouse Hicks maimed and much diminished from the action in "Wisp of a Thing," Bo-Kate sees an opportunity to come back and take over the entire Tufa clan. She somehow overcomes the curse and comes back to wreak havoc. Mandalay Harris, the head of one half of the Tufa, sends for Jefferson to see if he can help head Bo-Kate off. The fate of the Tufa hangs in the balance. It felt like coming back to old friends again to read this book. I liked it slightly less than the previous two books, but I still enjoyed it a great deal, and especially enjoyed the many old and new bluegrass and folk songs quoted in the novel. I recommend the entire set of Tufa Novels to anyone who enjoys well-written urban fantasy.
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
Like many others on my friends list, I will shortly be moving to Dreamwidth. I hope to keep my same name or something similar. I'll post it on LJ when I've made the move. In the meantime, this is what I've been reading.

"The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern as an audibook.  The atmosphere of the book is what drew me in and dazzled me. In a magical Victorian London and U.S., two old sorcerers are pitting their best students against one another in a magical contest. The unusual Night Circus is the venue for their magical duel. You meet many of the unusual characters in and around the circus and get to see how the competition between Celia and Marco plays out, turning out to be more of a collaboration than a competition over time. It's a lovely and magical novel. I adored it.

and

"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte, one of the lesser-known Bronte sisters. The book concerns a woman with a young son who begins living in the decrepit Wildfell Hall and the young man, Gilbert Markham, who becomes intrigued with her. Rumors start swirling around the woman, Helen, and Gilbert tries to defend her from the gossip but begins to believe it might be true when he witnesses her talking to a man he believes is her secret lover. The middle part of the book is Helen's diary, explaining who she is and how she came to be living under an assumed name in the country. I love Anne Bronte's descriptions of people and of nature, and her observations about family life. I appreciated that Anne doesn't shrink away from describing domestic abuse, alcoholism and other subjects very taboo in the Brontes' society. It's marvelous, and I recommend it highly if you have enjoyed novels by the other Bronte sisters.

My full comments on both books here.
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
"Everfair" by Nisi Shawl, a steampunk fantasy novel set mostly in the Congo during the time of King Leopold's reign (late 1800s to early 1900s). In our real history, Leopold was a monster, forcing native people to work for free harvesting rubber to enrich Belgium, kidnapping famlies to keep workers in line and punishing those who rebelled by lopping off limbs. In the alternative history of "Everfair," a group of black and white missionaries, both religious and secular, carve out a piece of the Congo as a respite for former slaves and other black folk who need a peaceful refuge. The story includes double-dealing by Leopold, spy missions and battles fought from air ballons. It also follows the personal relationships of Everfair residents, including polyamorous marriages, same-sex romances, and interracial and and cross-generational marriages. I found this book to be beautifully written but somewhat flawed. Because the narrative is spread out through such a huge set of characters, it's hard to care deeply about any one character. Overall, I liked it and would recommend it, but  it is a book that can take a few chapters to pull you in, and it requires some patience with a slower pace than many other fantasy novels.

and

"The Departed" by Kristy Cooper, the first in a planned trilogy also called "The Departed" series. The premise for the series is: "What if somebody tried to fake the Rapture?" The main character, Gwen, is a bookworm, and her friend Lana goes missing in an event that many people is a biblical event called The Rapture. Gwen finds some evidence that it is being faked to convince more people to join the True Believer Temple. She and her friend/crush Isaiah go on an adventure to find the truth. I found the writing somewhat flawed in places, but the plot pulled me in and kept me reading, so that's a big plus in its favor. I'm looking forward to the second installment, "The Sainted." See a book trailer for the series here.

My full comments on both books here.
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
Feeling a little sad that the orange tabby cat in my icon has now passed away. Maybe I'll have to make a new one where I'm reading with our other cat, Bitsy.

"Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga" by Pamela Newkirk. This nonfiction book follows the story of Ota Benga, a Congolese man of small stature, called "pygmies" at that time, who was either kidnapped or convinced to come to America, where he was exhibited first at the World Fair and later in the monkey cage at the Bronx Zoo. Pamela Newkirk does a magnificent job of researching the various claims about Benga (yes, he had sharpened teeth, but no, he wasn't a cannibal) and his history (did he come with explorer Samuel Verner willingly, or was he coerced?). She puts his exhibition in context by exploring the backgrounds of the men who put him on display and the tradition of bringing back sample humans from exotic lands to put on display in the U.S. Overall, a great, if sad, read.

and

"Between the World and Me" by Ta-nehisi Coates. I listened to it as an audiobook as read by the author and was blown away by it, consistently. It is a very brief (only 3 discs on audibook) book written in the form of a letter to Coates' teenage son, looking back on what it means to be black in America and talking about his hopes and fears for his son. This is so powerful. Just read it.

My full comments on both books here.

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