Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Review: Brood

Brood Brood by Jackie Polzin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

CW: Before the book begins, the narrator had a miscarriage, and it doesn't get mentioned right away so I don't want anyone to be surprised. (I knew from other discussion I'd seen.)

Small, internal, pondering books are my salvation in the last year.

This one reads like lyric essay or memoir, like Annie Dillard. It combines observation and real life with a few memorable characters, and like Moby Dick (facts about whales!) it is about chickens, but it also isn't.

I felt the weird sense of disconnect to humans and clinging to these chickens as something that makes sense, a weird sense of surreality in trying to make sense of what life will be now, what does living mean, a deep unknowing of the self (but wanting to.) Sometimes connecting to chickens is the one thing you have, so then what happens if they don't survive? The author uses the word brood about her chickens, her absent child, but also I think the way we use that word to mean agonizing contemplation - or as Google wants to define it, "to think deeply about something that makes one unhappy."

This won't be for everyone, but it was for me.

I had a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley; it came out March 9th.

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Review: The Ensemble

ETA: Apologies if you ever encounter what looks like a review without content in it. Goodreads seems to post content sporadically and I don't always remember to check.

The Ensemble The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my reading goals this year is to get through more of the books on my shelves with music as a theme. When I realized I had yet to do that and it's the 4th month of the year, I decided to start with the cheeriest cover.

Along the lines of An Equal Music or even Daisy Jones & The Six, The Ensemble is a very readable story of a string quartet that got together during graduate pursuit of music and how their relationships change over the years while still in the quartet. I loved that the author included specific works for each section, because obviously it's more enjoyable to listen to those pieces while reading. I felt some resonance with some of the ways musicians can be highly tuned in to one another and not be in a romantic relationship, but to people outside the group it has the same kind of vibe (I spent my undergraduate years in practice rooms by myself or accompanying others.)

Overall, the writing is straightforward but it leans on some overdone sentiments and it's too obvious when the author stops to try to say something poetic. But I would read her next book.

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Review: Nightwood


Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overwhelmingly, I read recent literature, usually the current and previous year. It’s not that I am not interested in older books, I just need more prompting. I found a challenge hosted by Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggy’s Bookish Ramblings where twice a year they select a year and the book bloggers who participate all read one book originally published in that year; some go crazy and read a bunch. (See their blogs for a roundup list!)


This week is 1936. I already had Nightwood on my Kindle, and it’s supposed to be “one of the first lesbian novels,” so I thought it might be interesting.

"Robin’s love and mine was always impossible, and loving each other, we no longer love. Yet we love each other like death."
The book originally had an intro by T.S. Eliot, who was its champion to be published. My edition also had an intro by Jeanette Winterson. Eliot focused on the language (poetry, he says) and Winterson focused on the precedent.
"The sleeper is the proprietor of an unknown land."
It’s short but doesn’t feel short because the writing is so dense and hardly straightforward. I would need to read it a few more times. The cast of characters is quirky and while there are a few women who love women in here, they are mostly offstage as one woman has run off with another and left Nora behind to wallow. The central character really seems to be this doctor who feels he should have been a woman so he sometimes wears a flannel nightgown while he waxes poetic about the people of the night. It’s a time period and place I usually like - Berlin in the time between the wars. There is also quite a bit of language and sentiment I would consider racist in 2021, including at least one use of the N- word.
"Though some go into the night as a spoon breaks easy water, others go head foremost against a new connivance; their horns make a dry crying, like the wings of the locust, late come to their shedding."
Side note - it has one of the few Jenny’s I’ve encountered in literature. I might have to make a shelf. I have a songlist in Spotify of songs with the name Jenny too.
"The places Jenny moults in are her only distinction, a Christian with a wanderer’s rump."
I'm not really sure what that says about Jenny.

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Review: The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga

The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first saw this book was coming out sometime last year and knew I hadn't read anything for Mauritania, and jumped at the chance. The author is the son of a Mauritian camel herder, but also the author of a memoir about his time held at Guantanamo Bay without being charged, until 2016 (Guantánamo Diary: Restored Edition.)

This tale feels more like a fable or parable. Ahmed goes after a missing camel that may have been stolen or just gotten lost. Along the way the reader learns a lot about Bedouin culture - the difference family groups, hospitality practices, how Islamic beliefs are wrapped into their traditions, and the ins and outs of camels. Ahmed talks about the camels by name so I got confused a few times, confusing camels with people.

Also in a weird pattern I've found in my 2021 reading - this is the third book I've read with random cannibalism. Not central to the story.

This book has connections to another book I've read recently - although I'm a different continent I felt some striking similarities between the difficulty of life in a hot desert to the Winter Pasture: One Woman's Journey with China's Kazakh Herders book with herding families in Kazakhstan. One of the threats to both ways of life is modernization of the world around them, whether that results in fewer people to trade with or climate change. Sometimes you really need that oasis in the desert.

I had a copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss. It came out February 23, 2021.

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Review: We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day

We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day by Ivana Bodrožić
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the embedded goals inside my Europe 2021 reading project is to better understand the conflicts between groups in the Balkans. That requires some reading in translation from authors with different backgrounds.

Ivana Bodrožić sets this novel in Vukovar, Croatia, and it is known but never named in the novel. Vukovar was the location of some of the first massacres during the Balkan wars, and only began it's reintegration in 1998. Now Croats and Croatian Serbs (aka Serbians) live tentative and segregated lives with a lot of violent history beneath the surface.

There are multiple characters in this novel dealing with violence in the recent past. Nora is a journalist sent to write a lighter piece about a teacher's relationship with a student and murder of her husband (ha, I know I said lighter, but it's the context that makes it so) - then there is the taxi driver, the school principal and mayor desperate to maintain control, and more. It took a while to keep the stories straight but only because of how many places and ways they connect, and how much of the context I'm missing as someone who didn't live through it. (I lived during but not through.)

The translator's note in the back is incredibly useful..she explains that when the book came out in 2016, people were very angry because of how it goes below the surface of things people don't want to acknowledge or deal with. This isn't a "good people on both sides" tale, it's rather the opposite, and it's hard to grasp the why's behind it. I've spent time searching for clarification - what is the difference between Serbian and Croatian? (Even in the realm of cooking, the YouTube comments to different versions of the same recipe are often territorial.) What took place in the 1990s? What is existed before Yugoslavia? It could take a lifetime to grasp it.

One thing that's becoming clear in some of the recent books I've read is that whether or not the differences "exist," many of the countries formerly known as Yugoslavia are working hard to create differences, whether that's linguistic (alphabet choice or even some interesting changes in pronunciation that are emerging), religious, and more.

I think it's important to note the author was born in Vukovar in 1982 and her family was displaced by the war, so it is personal and her point of view is necessarily from what I imagine is a trauma perspective. At the very least I don't believe she can be objective. Not that she needs to be for a novel, and she does allow for nuance even in the Serbian characters.

Also important to note that the English translation comes from an unapologetically political and dare I say left-leaning independent publisher, which certainly centers some stories more than others. I don't expect one book to hold all points of view but I personally don't know enough about it yet to weigh in on if she "got it right."

I had a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss, and it comes out April 20th, 2021.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Reading Envy 217: Lesson Plan with Kim

Jenny sits down with Kim, another new guest, who describes herself as having the opposite reading life from her host. From history to baseball, debut novels to space, we discuss books we've read and liked recently.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 217: Lesson Plan.

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Book covers for featured titles.

Books discussed: 

Anthem by Deborah Wiles
If or When I Call by Will Johnson
Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui
Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell
The Chicken Runs at Midnight by Tom Friend

Other mentions:

Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Revolution by Deborah Wiles
Nomadland (film)
Nomadland by Jessica Bruder
The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly
Blueberries by Ellena Savage
Currently Reading Podcast
Lori & Julia Radio Show
The Popcast
Sarah's Bookshelves Podcast
What Should I Read Next? Podcast

Related episodes:

Stalk us online:

Kim at Goodreads
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Kim is @buckeyereaderbookclub on Instagram and @kboltz on Litsy
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

All links to books are through Bookshop.org, where I am an affiliate. I wanted more money to go to the actual publishers and authors. I link to Amazon when a book is not listed with Bookshop.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown

Act Your Age, Eve Brown Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Highly anticipated, after loving the first two Brown sisters, and this one did not disappoint. I will always love a story that starts with a woman fleeing to a small town and immediately finding work at a bakery, or in this case, at a Bed & Breakfast. Bonus points here for clashing with the super hot owner - it's kind of an enemies to lovers trope but with a few spins that keep it more interesting. Autism is included in multiple ways and never as a problem to be dealt with.

I like how the other two sisters show up, but I also would like single volume romance novels about the grandmother Gigi, Jacob's friend Mort, his twin sisters, etc.

Like with the previous Brown sisters books, I laughed a lot while reading this one. I'm going to say Dani is my favorite; Eve is pretty chaotic as many youngest sisters are, but she is finding her own way.

I had a copy of this from the publisher through Edelweiss, and was looking forward to it so much I put it off. It actually came out in March.

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