Sunday, June 25, 2017

Review: Modern Gods

Modern Gods Modern Gods by Nick Laird
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It didn't take much more than the mention of Papua New Guinea for me to request an eARC of this novel. I did not know nor did I care that Nick Laird is married to Zadie Smith, something I only discovered after reading.

I've always loved novels featuring anthropologists, linguists, or people struggling through similar issues. There is so much ripe for conflict when white people (or people from the developed world) go traipsing through the world to study or convert.

Some of my favorites:
-Mating by Norman Rush
-Euphoria by Lily King
-State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (up until the blue mushrooms)
-The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (yes aliens, yes anthropology)
-The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (hated it, loved it, couldn't decide)

So I was hoping for more of that. 25% in, the narrative was still in Ireland, focusing on the siblings in a family and their somewhat dysfunctional adult lives. Interspersed with that were profiles of people who had died in a shooting, which I was confused about at first. I didn't dislike the beginning, but it definitely was not what I expected when I started.

Eventually Liz, the older sister of the family, gets to New Ulster, an island off of PNG, and starts her work. She is more of a journalist and is there very briefly, investigating what might be the newest religion in the world, a female-led cargo cult. I think the author got a lot right about PNG from what I know about it through my own reading; the only thing I'm not sure about is how Liz (and her BBC crew) were able to connect so easily to Belef, the leader of the cargo cult. Anthropologists talk about the importance of trust and understanding the culture and still spending years gaining the kind of access her crew gets in under two weeks, foreign technology and being filmed included. That's a bit of a stretch. Not to mention that Liz, while trained in anthropology, learns much about what she knows by skimming a few books she's heard about on the long plane rides over.

The novel as a whole draws some interesting parallels. There is a storyline dealing with the aftermath of a shooting that happened during "the troubles" in Northern Ireland, questioning how people move on from that violence and form normal lives. In New Ulster, like most of Papua New Guinea, World War II was the first real connection they had with the outside world. Missionaries have moved in and started to insist the natives act a certain way, but these also seem to be puppets of the government and/or commerce, which is not good!

We really only see the natives through the lens of Liz, which is more fair than the lens of the missionary and his family. I would have liked an entire novel of Liz and Belef and the cargo cult and ghost children, and I'm still mulling over why the author chose to make over half of the novel about this other story.

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to the title via Edelweiss.

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Review: The Glittering World

The Glittering World The Glittering World by Robert Levy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost bailed on this one, not because of the fairy elements, which has been enough of a reason for previous bailings, but because the writing is so clunky at the beginning. Here's an example:
"Elisa settled on her sit bones in the passenger seat. She whipped out her vintage Konica—her constant companion of late—and shot a picture of her husband behind the wheel. Jason bopped his head and tapped his square, well-manicured nails....
I kept scowling at the page thinking, really, she settled on her sit bones? Why not just say she is in the passenger seat? And for much of the beginning, the author makes the mistake of spending too much time on the details that don't matter, to the extent that it is difficult to focus on what is important. Unless this is just some fae magic, I'm not sure. What I'm sure of is that this is a first novel, because passages like this give that fact away.

For some reason I picked it back up, giving it the benefit of the doubt, and found I somewhat enjoyed the story. The stakes seemed higher than in many faerie stories and I liked the complex relationships between the four major characters. I wanted to know more about Blue and I wanted to know about the "other folk" in the forest. I love the setting, Nova Scotia, so that may have saved it for me more than anything. Also this is one of the more beautiful book covers I've seen in the last few years.

I think if you are into urban fantasy or the fae, this will be more of a book for you than it was for me.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to the title through NetGalley.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perfect vacation or beach read, well-paced, about a Hollywood star confronting the truths of her life as she dictates it to a biographer. It asks questions about marriage and friendship and what you sacrifice for goals or love. The rest of it is better discovered by the reader.

Thanks to the publisher for approving my request through NetGalley.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reading Envy 089: Hodgepodge

Jenny had to postpone some guests so this is a solo episode. One round of book speed-dating, bookish beach adventures, and 5-star reads that haven't made it into the podcast yet.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 089: Hodgepodge.

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The first Reading Envy Readalong is trucking along!  If you have been reading along and want to participate in the online chat (which will become podcast episode 090), please provide your availability in this updated poll.

Book Speed Dating Round 5/26/17

The Loved Ones by Sonya Chung
After James by Mark Helms
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska; translated by Christina E. Kramer
Shot Blue by Jesse Ruddock
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
A Cowrie of Hope by Binwell Sinyangwe

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald
Fish Have No Feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson; translated by Philip Roughton
It's You by Jane Porter
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors; translated by Misha Hoekstra

Beachy Bookish Explorations:

Nye Beach Book House
727 NW Third Street
Newport, OR 97365

Squinting Books
1547 N Coast Hwy
Newport, OR 97365

Five-Star Reads not featured on the podcast (books I read in 2017, not necessarily published in 2017):

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
El Deafo by Cece Bell
In Praise of Defeat: Poems of Abdellatif Laabi
Rowing Inland by Jim Daniels
Satan Says by Sharon Olds
even this page is white by Vivek Shraya
A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Related episodes:
Episode 085 - An Acquired Taste with Thomas Otto 
Episode 086 - The Queen of Bailing with Shawn Mooney

Stalk me online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Books 131-151 of 2017

Pictured: Books rated 5 stars in May

131. The Fall Guy by James Lasdun ** (BOTM personal copy; my review)
132. Vertigo by Joanna Walsh **** (Dorothy Publishing personal copy; my review)
133. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers ***** (personal copy; my review)
134. El Deafo by Cece Bell ***** (postal book swap; my review)
135. The Protestor has been Released by Janet Sarbanes **** (personal copy; my review)
136. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
137. Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times edited by Carolina de Robertis **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
138. Bitch Planet vol. 2: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
139. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll ***** (library book; my review)
140. Creature by Amina Cain *** (Dorothy Publishing personal copy; my review)
141. The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutkzy ***** (library book; my review)
142. Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield **** (personal copy; my review)
143. Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enriquez **** (audiobook from Hoopla; my review)
144. Serenity: No Power in the 'Verse by Chris Roberson **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
145. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid *** (BOTM personal copy; my review)
146. Things to do when You're Goth in the Country: and Other Stories by Chavisa Woods ***** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
147. Notes on a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
148. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
149. Sourdough by Robin Sloan **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
150. Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
151. Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence ***** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Home is Burning

Home is Burning Home is Burning by Dan Marshall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm the kind of person who grasps for books to speak to what I'm going through, and memoir can be really good for that. This came across in one of the emails I get of daily book deals, and I jumped at the chance, because that very day I was planning the books I'd take along when I flew home to be with my family after my father entered hospice care. You might think I'm morbid, but despite the problematic elements of this narrative, I found it somewhat comforting to read the author's account of similar atrocities - becoming the caretaker for a parent even if you aren't 100% responsible, facing the fact that many of the people in your life will withdraw while you are going through it because it is too much for them to handle, trying to have humor in the face of death because, well, can it hurt? I mean maybe it can but will it make you feel better?

Dan Marshall and I don't have the same experience exactly. His mom has battled cancer almost his entire life, and suffered a relapse around the time his father was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that claimed his father's life rather quickly, and required Dan to move back home to help with the care for a year. My parents suffered cancer back to back - my Mom fought off three kinds simultaneously (and successfully, for now, knock on wood) 2014-15, and my Dad was diagnosed with a form of cancer that was always going to be terminal at the start of 2016. What joins us together is the reality of the emotional and physical trauma of dealing with serious illness for such long periods. Yes it effects the people with the disease, but the burden is carried by all the members of the family in different ways.

The tone of the writing won't be for everyone. I'm not sure it's even for me, but there were particular circumstances at play. Here's an example:
"I could just get wrist-deep in this dying-parents shit. Feel everything. Do everything. Roll around in the mud. Really experience the horrible reality of death firsthand. That would make me a wiser and better person, right? That would help me grow up, right? That would give me life experience that would put everything else in perspective, right?"
I'm not sure if you can tell from this passage but unfortunately the author is not overly likeable or mature. But something happens when someone is dying - it absorbs 150% of your energy and attention, while you're in the same room but also when you're away. At the same time there is no escape - the only way out is through. Several readers are critical of how the other children in the family are neglected, and it is troublesome, but one could argue that with a mother perpetually ill, they were already overlooked, something only magnified when the father is also out of the picture. The mother floats through the memoir in a painkiller and yogurt fog.

I put this book on hold for a few days, and in that time my father passed away. I returned a few days after that to read the end, and it's a bizarre ending where suddenly he tries to be poetic and describes a dreamlike death sequence. For a person who was willing to be upfront with the dying part, he seems less comfortable with the actual death. Like his brain could only speak of it in metaphor. Bizarre (and ineffectual.)

So the author is unlikeable. He's a rich white asshole, self-declared. None of these things give you privilege over death, nor do they prepare you any better for it. And no matter that death happens all the time, it always feels like your own unique and lonely experience. I think he captures this between the lines, in his painful jokes that aren't funny, in his desperate constant use of profanity. I think the fact this is present at all may be my own imposition and empathy, and a complete accident otherwise.

Ah hell this is really a 2-star read. But I'm giving it an extra for being there when I needed someone who got it. I'm not sure I recommend it. Your mileage may vary.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Reading Envy 088: Author Head Space

Sara and Jenny have been reading friends in Goodreads and Litsy for a while now. So which books will we end up talking about when we get together at the pub? We talk about books we've read and loved lately, how to tackle short stories, and more.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 088: Author Head Space.

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Or listen through TuneIn
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If you are interested in appearing on the podcast: FAQ

The first Reading Envy Readalong is trucking along!

Books featured:

Fair Play by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal
Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky
Manuscripts Don't Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov: A Life in Letters by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by J.A.E. Curtis
Things to Do When You're Goth in the Country: and Other Stories by Chavisa Woods

Other mentions:

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Ali Smith
Talking to Girls about Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield
Dreaming the Beatles by Rob Sheffield
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Book of the Month
Daniel Borzutzky reading some of his poems
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Eclectic Readers Mad Libs
Things to Do When You're Goth in the Country book trailer
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Short stories by Cecil Dawkins
Short stories by Flannery O'Connor
Toy Story (film)
A Constellation of Vital Phenomoena by Anthony Marra

Stalk us online:

Jenny at Goodreads
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Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Sara is @saresmoore on Litsy
Sara at Goodreads