sarahmichigan: (reading)
2017-07-20 11:48 am
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Books No. 39-40

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!

The other books I've read so far this year: )
sarahmichigan: (Default)
2017-07-07 09:37 pm
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Books No. 37-38

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: )
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
2017-06-22 03:44 pm
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Books No. 35-36

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: )
sarahmichigan: (reading)
2017-06-12 11:37 am
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Books No. 33-34

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: )
sarahmichigan: (reading)
2017-06-07 01:33 pm
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Books No. 31-32

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: )
sarahmichigan: (reading)
2017-05-27 12:40 pm
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Books No. 27-28

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: )
sarahmichigan: (reading)
2017-05-21 09:28 am
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Books No. 25-26

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.
The other books I've read so far this year: )
sarahmichigan: (reading)
2017-05-16 03:57 pm
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Books #23-24

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: )
sarahmichigan: (reading)
2017-05-06 02:13 pm
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What I've been reading: Books No. 21 & 22

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)
2017-05-03 09:10 am
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What I've been reading: Books No. 19 & 20

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)
2017-04-27 04:36 pm
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What I've been 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)
2017-04-11 10:32 am
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What I've been reading

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)
2017-03-31 11:52 am
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What I've been reading

"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)
2017-03-24 03:35 pm
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What I've been reading

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.
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
2017-03-16 11:26 am
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What I've been reading

"Foulsham," the 2nd book in the Iremonger trilogy by Edward Carey. The series is set in an alternate Victorian-era London, where the Iremongers are a family that lives in "The Heaps," a walled off part of the city that is home to London's trash, and all have "birth objects" that come from the heaps. Clod Iremonger can hear the voices of objects and knows something is not as it seems with his family and the surrounding city of Foulsham. In the second book, the servant girl Lucy befriends an odd character from the heaps while Clod determines he needs to be brave and stop his family from turning the poor people of the Heaps into objects that can easily be disposed of. This one ends on a cliff-hanger just like the first book. They're quirky and fun, and Carey's black and white illustrations really add to the creepy but fun atmosphere of the books. I'm looking foward to reading the conclusion soon.

and

"The Secret Place" by Tana French, as an audiobook. In the Dublin Murder Squad novels, the first book starts with Rob Ryan as the protagonist, and in each book afterward, a minor character in the previous book becomes the main character in the present book. She breaks the chain somewhat by bringing back two characters from an earlier book in Dublin Murder Squad #5. She also breaks with her tradition of having one first-person narrator. The chapters in "The Secret Place" alternate between a first-person narrative from Stephen Moran with a series of third-person flashbacks told from the viewpoint of the girls at an all-girls boarding school who are under suspicion of knowing more than they're telling about the death of a boy named Chris Harper from a nearby all-boys school. I thought this was another really masterfully-told tale by Tana French, althought I didn't necessarily care for the fact that she introduced some possibly paranormal elements into the story. It didn't bother me too much, because I saw it as a metaphor rather than taking it literally. I also, like other reviewers, thought it could have been tightened up a bit and the pace improved, but overall, I liked it. I am looking forward to getting a hold of the next book in the series.

My full comments on both books here.
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
2017-02-26 10:21 am
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What I've been reading

"The Intuitionist" by Colson Whitehead. The novel is set in an alternate universe during a time when elevators and the Elevator Inspectors Guild are a huge influence in big cities, when black people are still called "colored" and integration is still a novel idea. Lila Mae Watson is the first black and female elevator inspector. She only wants to keep her head down and do a good job, but she gets caught in the political intrigue of the Guild, largely a war between the "empiricists" who insist on checking every mechanical detail and "intuitionists" who use indirect methods including meditation and almost Buddhist-like ideas such as "feeling the elvatorness of the elevator." When an elevator that Lila has recently inspected crashes, both sides use the incident as a football in their machinations. About the same time, there's a discovery that the founder of the "intuitionist" school of thought had  left behind a blueprint for a "black box," or the perfect elevator, and Lila becomes involved in the search for the black box as well as clearing her name of wrongdoing. It's a compelling read that works as commentary on race and on disruptive technologies. I plan to read more by Whitehead.

and

"The Monster of Florence: A True Story" by Douglas Preston, with Mario Spezi. The story is, ostensibly, about a serial killer terrorizing young lovers in the countryside around Florence in the 1970s and 1980s, but it is as much about judicial and police corruption in Italy as it is about the murder case. Preston is an American who comes into the case late in the game, after Italian journalist Spezi has been working on it for nearly 2 decades. They both get arrested for obstructing the official investigation and Spezi is even accused of possibly being the monster or being in league with the monster. If you're interested in the case but don't want to read the whole book, there's a Dateline episode avaialable on YouTube. I do recommend the book, though. It includes a lot of context for the case and its implications for freedom of the press in Italy.

My full comments on both books here.
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
2017-02-12 10:23 am
Entry tags:

What I've been reading

"Heap House," the first in the Iremonger trilogy by Edward Carey. This is a fun, illustrated YA novel set in an alternative reality/fantasy London. The Iremonger family lives in Heap House, a mansion made of refuse and surrounded by monstrous "Heaps" of trash from London. Lucy Pennant arrives at the house as a new servant and encounters Clod, an Iremonger who can hear the voices of the objects. Together, they begin to unravel the dark secrets of Heap House. The illustrations definitely add a lot to the kooky-but-menacing atmosphere the novel creates. I liked it and am planning to read the rest of the trilogy.

and

"Air" by Geoff Ryman. Mae lives in a remote village in a fictional Asian country in the near future when it's announced that a new technology called "Air" will be made available to the whole world. A test that basically broadcasts the internet into everyone's head goes disastrously wrong and people end up hurt or dead. Mae is nearly driven crazy by it and has to fight both the country's bureaucracy and the superstition and suspicion of her fellow villagers to show them how the new technology will destroy their old way of living but might also possibly bring good, new things into their lives. You'll be rooting for Mae to succeed despite adversity. Highly recommended.

My full comments on both books here.
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
2017-02-06 12:07 pm
Entry tags:

What I've been reading

"Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored" by Mary Gabriel. Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first woman to run for president (with Frederick Douglass as her running mate). She was the first woman to address the U.S. Congress and to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street. She also came from a fairly shady family and was a spiritualist. Her focus wasn't solely on winning the right to vote but largely to lessen the misery of both men and women by making it easier for women to marry for love and to divorce if the marriage was abusive or just highly unhappy. Her unconventional views on romantic love got her maligned as a prostitute and con woman. She was far from perfect but also passionate about social reform and helping the downtrodden. I liked that the author lets the original source material speak for itself and quotes newspaper articles by and about Victoria and Victoria's own speeches at length. Highly recommended.

and

"Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home" by Sheri Booker. Booker, a sheltered child of a police officer father and a school principal mother, begins working at a funeral home in inner-city Baltimore at age 15, shortly after her beloved Aunt Mary dies, and ends up staying there for nine years. She learns about love and death, how not to cry, and the toll that holding back your tears can take. She talks about the ins and outs of the funeral business, and the rise of black-owned funeral homes. She tells humorous or scary anedotes about things that happened during her nine years at the funeral home. Her writing is NOT PC. There are a couple unkind cracks about fat people, and the way she talks about transgender women seems naive if not borderline offensive. However, this sort of unfiltered way of writing about her experience makes it feel like you're one of her girlfriends and she is gossipping with you over coffee about the weird things she encountered at work, and that's a lot of what makes it entertaining. I liked this a lot and recommend it.

My full comments on both books here.
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
2017-01-30 02:54 pm
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What I've been reading - first two books of 2017

My goals for 2017 are:
-Read at least 50 books
-Read at least 4 books from a list of "classics" that's culled from The Lifetime Reading Plan
-Make nonfiction at least 30 percent of books read this year
-Read at least 12 books by non-white authors
-Read at least 2 books by disabled authors
-Read at least 4 books by LGBT authors
-Keep my gender ratio of authors close to 50/50
-Investigate some reading challenges and use them to add books to my "to read" list

My first book for the year was the third and final installment in Cixin Liu's "Three-Body Problem" trilogy, "Death's End." I felt this was the weakest book in the trilogy, but fortunately, some of the weakness derived from Liu's ambition to write a truly epic series that spans the universe and all of time to boot! I'll take an ambitious novel with some weak spots over a slick novel that doesn't take any chances. In this installment, the Trisolarans have the upper hand and humanity is in deep trouble. The story follows Cheng Xin, a rocket scientist from our era, who is revived from artificial hibernation half a century in the future and who becomes a major player in several incidents between humans and Trisolarans. A special project of the government dreamed up shortly after the Trisolaran threat was first discovered has been forgotten but comes into play in the near future as well. I appreciated Liu's attempt to tackle a story on this grand a scale even when I feel he doesn't always succeed. This trilogy is well worth reading as a look into how other cultures "do" science fiction.

and

"Brat Farrar" by Josephine Tey. The prose is deceptively simple but dazzling in that simplicity, and Tey doesn't give two figs about the normal conventions of mystery writing, which make her novels feel fresh. In this novel, an orphan named "Brat" Farrar runs into a man who mistakes him for Simon Ashby. When the stranger realizes that Brat is the doppleganger of Simon, a young man who is shortly to inherit a fortune, he talks Brat into pretending to be Simon's long-lost brother Patrick. Brat decides to give the deception a go less for the money and more for the challenge of trying to pull it off, but develops deeply mixed feelings after he is treated warmly and kindly by all the Ashbys except Simon, who is the only one still suspicious of Brat's claim to be the long-lost brother. I really enjoyed this book a great deal and will be reading more by Tey.

My full comments on both books here.
sarahmichigan: (kitty)
2016-12-31 04:26 pm
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What I've been reading

My final book of the year, #89, was "Under the Tuscan Sun," a memoir by Frances Mayes. After the dissolution of her long marriage, she and her new boyfriend decide to buy an Italian villa and restore it to use as a summer/vacation home. She tells about the remodeling process, the history of the Tuscan country-side, and the best peasant dishes she learns to make.  I really enjoyed the sensual delights of this book, full of tasty recipes and descriptions of sun-soaked Italian olive terraces while reading it at the start of Michigan's long, cold winter. If you like books that give you insight into life in another country, accompanied by recipes, you might like this book a great deal. Don't judge the book based solely on the movie adaptation, either -- I haven't seen it, but it looks kinda cheesy.

My full list of all 89 books I read this year, plus an analysis of what I read and a list of my favorites is available here, at the 50 Book Challenge community.