Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Books Read January 2018 - 1-24

Books pictured are this month's five-star reads.

  1. Two Old Women by Velma Wallis
  2. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks
  3. Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
  4. Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller
  5. The Dry by Harper, Jane 
  6. Woman at 1,000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason 
  7. Bear by Marian Engel
  8. White Tears by Hari Kunzru
  9. I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro
  10. Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
  11. Little Reunions by Eileen Chang
  12. Take Me With You by Andrea Gibson
  13. The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis
  14. Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
  15. Grief Map by Sarah Hahn Campbell
  16. The Wind Off the Small Isles and The Lost One by Mary Stewart 
  17. If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name by Heather Lende
  18. Large Animals by Jess Arndt
  19. Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
  20. Winter by Karl Ove Knasgard
  21. The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
  22. The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt
  23. The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
  24. Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams
Books read: 24
Pages read: 6071

Gender breakdown:
18 female
5 male
1 multi/other

PoC: 4

13 print
11 eBook
0 audio

7 personal copy
9 review copy
8 library copy

1 Book club
2 Monthly theme for Newest Literary Fiction ("Australia")
5 Tournament of Books (4 shortlist, 1 long list)

Reviews of all books I read in 2018 can be found in Goodreads.  This year I'm not going to link to each one when that information already exists!

Progress on Reading Goals for 2018:

1. Read Canada and Alaska
Wallis, Campbell, and Lende are set in Alaska; Engel is set in Canada.

2. Complete six book speed-dating projects
Haven't done this so will need to in February! I think I'll start with my leftover galleys from 2017.

3. Host two Reading Envy readalongs
No progress.

4. Reading challenges

Reading Women Challenge
I think I've fulfilled four items from this.

Unread Shelf Project 2018 (found in Instagram)
#theunreadshelfproject2018 @theunreadshelf @calsreads @katereadsbooks
I feel like my cookbook project is fun, and I'm sticking to that pretty well, but I'm not meeting my goal of 50% books from my own shelves, at least not so far. 

5. Keep book data outside of Goodreads
I'm having fun with this - planner, spreadsheet, etc. I need to turn off the Kindle functionality that changes a Goodread status to "read" because I almost missed a book from this list because of that. 

Review: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book after a quick bout of reading envy. Another reading friend posted about it on her Instagram stories and it reminded me that the essay I read in the Writing Non-Fiction class I took, "The Clan of One-Breasted Women" comes from this book. In that essay, Terry examines the facts of radiation fallout in the Nevada/Utah desert and the high occurrence of cancer in the women of her family. One of my closest friends just had a bilateral mastectomy last Friday, and I've had that essay on my mind. So when it came up again in social media, I knew I had to have it.

Last year, I read When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice, which is almost exclusively focused on Terry's mother, and the blank journals she left behind when she died from cancer. This much earlier book is also largely about her mother, during her last bout with cancer, but this also coincides with the Great Salt Lake's flooding periods, and the destruction of some of the bird habitats surrounding it. Terry is attuned to these issues because of her work. Each essay has the name of a species of bird found around the lake, the water level, and then may or may not have much to do with the bird.

So the essays are about birds and climate change. And about cancer and family. And about the decisions the author makes that aren't exactly what is expected by her family or religion, and how she navigates them. But in being about all of those things, it is about so much more than that, and I just kept coming back to it. And for a book published in 1991, it sure seemed relevant.
"We spoke of rage. Of women and landscape. How our bodies and the body of the earth have been mined."
Actually when I read the very first essay where the rage quotation i is found, I immediately emailed my colleague at U-Mass Amherst, who is interested in the intersection of climate change and mindfulness, and told her she should read this book.

And of course, books on grief have been following me around, or I pursue them. Her mother dies of cancer, but it almost walks the line of a holy, sacred experience. Or maybe that is how she needed to write about it. It's a little unreal, based on my own experience, but nice that her mother was at peace with dying (having battled cancer already once before) and all the things needing to be said were said. (Except we know that this isn't quite true, based on the more recent book, where Terry is desperate for more of her mother, and all she has are the empty notebooks. But sometimes we must grieve in stages.)

And sometimes the experiences with the birds and their changing habitat help her process the grief:
"When I see ring-billed gulls picking on the flesh of decaying carp, I am less afraid of death... My fears surface in my isolation. My serenity surfaces in my solitude."
It is fascinating how Terry finds parallels between nature's loss and her own. In "Redheads," she talks about California losing 95% of its wetlands over the last 100 years (1891-1991) and how 85% of Utah's wetlands had been lost in the last two (1989-1991), and how when wetlands go, species go, and so on. Then over in the "Meadowlarks" essay, she says,
"A person with cancer dies in increments, and a part of you slowly dies with them."
Definitely a link there.

This is a book I need to own.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reading Envy 109: Stuxnet Pancakes with Scott Danielson

Scott Danielson stops by to share some of his recent non-fiction reads, and Jenny accidentally has the theme of female power from different genres and eras.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 109: Stuxnet Pancakes

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I am scheduling guests for the second half of 2018! If you are interested in appearing on the podcast: FAQ

Books Discussed:

Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter
Other Men's Daughters by Richard Stern
Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson
Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis
Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry
The Power by Naomi Alderman

Other Mentions: 

A Good Story is Hard to Find (podcast)
SFF Audio (podcast)
Wired Magazine
Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
Gatekeepers (film)
Mr. Robot (tv show)
The Cubs' Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci
The Sweet Life in Paris by David Leibovitz
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Bailey's Women's Prize (now just the Women's Prize for Fiction)
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Broadchurch (tv show)
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
The Crown (tv show)
The Dry by Jane Harper
The Stones of Summer by Dow Mossman

Related Episodes:
Episode 014 - Flannery O'Connor with Zombies with Jason and Scott
Episode 052 - The Man with the Eyebrows with Philip and Scott
Episode 058 - Wishing for a Sequel with Scott
Episode 071 - Bad Priest, Good Priest, No Priest with Scott
Episode 082 - Reading Envy Envy with Scott

Stalk us online:
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Scott on Twitter

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Review: Need to Know

Need to Know Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written by a former CIA analyst in counter-terrorism, this quick read explores the idea of Russian sleeper agents, but inside a family. Perfect for fans of the best spy show around, The Americans. Although I could have used a bit more complexity, I still enjoyed the read.

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via NetGalley.

View all my reviews

Review: Winter

Winter Winter by Karl Ove Knausgård
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second volume in the four-season set of "Season Encyclopedias," where the author writes an essay about a one-word object/topic/concept, in one sitting. They vary in seriousness and theme, and I think the seasons sometimes effect the essays and sometimes they don't. Still, I started reading Winter when we had a snow day, because it seemed the closest I could get to Norwegian weather.

The object/nature/concept essays are interspersed with letters to his unborn/born daughter, because she comes at the end of January, which happens in this volume.

I found the best way to read this was a few essays at a time, in between other reads.

You may see my review of the previous volume, Autumn, here.

My favorites in this volume include:
Mess (about messy people and his messy house)
Winter Sounds (very beautiful passage about the forest in winter!)
The Local
Fish (talks about his realization of the connections between the water and island as a young teen)

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via Edelweiss. This comes out January 23, 2018.

View all my reviews

Review: Grief Map

Grief Map Grief Map by Sarah Hahn Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I snagged a copy of this when I saw it was set in Alaska and that fit within my reading goals for the year. What I found was a reflective look at a relationship that ended in a grief multiplied by several factors - mental illness, having to leave, and the death of the person left. That's a lot of things to work through!

The book is written in brief segments, sometimes they are more like memoir and tell the story of Sarah and Lia. Sometimes they are more like creative non-fiction, utilizing elements of physical objects like atlas keys and autopsy reports. Sometimes they are dreams, which serve to show the author working through the emotional and sub-conscious elements of grief and memory.

The story of the relationship itself is worth the read of this book. Both Sarah and Lia were married to men when they met, and the gradual realization of their love for one another is beautiful and painful. The sacrifices made by both and the struggle to form new identities within the other make the separation and death even more poignant.

There is also this Alaskan element, which really does figure into the narrative. Is there just something about the type of people who thrive in difficult climates? That survival instinct seems important here as well.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this backlisted title through Edelweiss. (Backlisted = it is already out.)

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Review: Idaho

Idaho Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I heard an in-depth examination of this book when I recorded with a guest on Episode 086 of the Reading Envy Podcast, and last year I feel like ever blogger, reviewer, and podcaster had glowing things to say about the book. I put it on the "reading envy" list for 2017, aka books I wish I'd read but didn't get to (full list
I think when people don't like the book, it often has to do with what their expectations are. There is a crime described in the earlier sections, but the book does not really explain the crime. People expecting the author to do so end the book frustrated and unsatisfied. Knowing that isn't what the book is, well, that helps. It strikes me as similar to discussion surrounding a different book from a different award list - Reservoir 13, which started with a missing child, also never solved. In that book, the author kept pulling back and showing the town - both its people and natural elements - in their cycles beyond that event. And here too, the author is focusing in on the people directly and tangentially related to the crime, as they live their lives. Because it is not linear and more information is revealed, it does at times feel like there is a revelation coming soon, but it just doesn't end that way.

In Instagram, I had a great conversation with another reader, whose thoughts really put it all in perspective for me. Kristin-Leigh says
"To me, if I had to say, Idaho is really about the question of what makes people themselves as individuals - is it memory, or trauma, or relationships to others, or interests, and what happens to that identity when those elements change?

Is Wade still Wade without his memories? "
... Etc. (You can read her entire review here.)

I think this is one of those rare books to fit into that category I'm discovering really works for me - where the author takes you somewhere you aren't expecting, and keeps you in the world of the book long after you have finished because of that. I think this is one of the better books in the Tournament of Books this year!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reading Envy 108: Venn Diagram with Yanira Ramirez

Yanira returns to discuss books with Jenny, where we end up talking about island literature and memoir, the perfect venn diagram of romance and witness protection, and other kinds of love. Since we recorded at the end of 2017, we talk a little about our years in reading.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 108: Venn Diagram with Yanira Ramirez

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via iTunes by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
Listen via Stitcher

I am starting to schedule guests for 2018! If you are interested in appearing on the podcast: FAQ

Books featured:

Down these Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
Augustown by Kei Miller
The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmerelda Santiago
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Other mentions:
Junot Díaz
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
The Exceptions by David Cristofano
Conquistadora by Esmerelda Santiago
The Turkish Lover by Esmerelda Santiago
Relief Map by Rosalie Knecht
Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knect
The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018

Related episodes:

Episode 070 - Words Like Weapons with Yanira Ramirez
Episode 096 - Not Without Hope with Yanira Ramirez
Episode 097 - Blank Spaces with Lauren Weinhold

Stalk us online:

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: Little Reunions

Little Reunions Little Reunions by Eileen Chang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The translator for this book had quite the task, because it isn't just the words needing translated, but also a complex family structure and intricate layers of meanings behind gestures and comments. But to read a "romance" of sorts set in Shanghai right before the Communist Revolution is a very specific capture of a moment in time. This is its first time in English, and although it was written in the 1970s, it was not published in China until 2009.

It is somewhat challenging to read because of the complex relationship trees, and reminds me of a 19th century novel of manners, but with a new setting, one I am less familiar with. One where loyalties are complicated, love is not always monogamous, and leaving is sometimes the best option. (That's where the title comes from, all the "little reunions" people would have when returning from exile/pilgrimage/escape.)

The central character of Julie shares some characteristics with the author, in that they both had to leave school in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded during World War II, and they both ended up married to Japanese sympathizers who ended up as traitors.

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The book comes out January 16, 2018.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: The Night Masquerade

The Night Masquerade The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would not read this without reading the previous Binti books, Binti and Home. So much of the detail in this story comes from the world-building in the first two, and reading the third is a much richer experience with that knowledge under your belt.

That said, this is an interesting exploration of a different type of conflict with species who can hardly communicate. Binti has a role to play although it is one she does not even understand entirely. She returns back to school, to a place that has demonstrated that people of all possible modes of communication and lifestyle can live in peace with a few simple accommodations and not only does it serve as a sharp contrast to her home planet, but to our world as well.

I don't want to say much more about it but this is a great conclusion to this imaginative trilogy. Don't forget your otjize on the journey.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title via NetGalley. It comes out January 16, 2018.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: White Tears

White Tears White Tears by Hari Kunzru
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of the books for which I had reading envy at the end of 2017, because I kept hearing good things and it ended up on so many year-end best books lists. So I cleared space for it in January after it was also shortlisted for the Tournament of Books.

This is an excellent read. It contains that rare element that I do look for, where the author takes you somewhere far from where they started. Although I had heard mentions of this being about music, and about race, I had no idea where it was headed, and it took me a few days to even wrap my brain around it.

The novel starts out focused on Seth and Carter. Carter is a rich white kid who befriends Seth over a shared love and attention to music. Seth is from a poor background but has true technological skills, and a good ear. He records what he hears walking around the city, then fragments and samples it in different ways. Carter pays for old recordings, going through phases of what he likes, and they build a library of rare sounds. They are working towards running a studio, something that Seth is more interested in. Carter has become obsessed with an old blues song that somehow ended up on one of the recordings.

Then the novel shifts. A series of tragedies twists everything around into a discussion of appropriation and ownership, creativity and race, privilege and power. The way I read it, probably because I'm a white person, I struggled to let go of feeling a connection to Seth, because of the way he is originally introduced as the underdog. I still feel a bit of a loss over the creative work he had done that he was cut off from by Carter's family.

(view spoiler)

So then there is the tangent of all the things I thought about after finishing the book. As an academic librarian, and as someone who has worked in a traditional music archive, full of recordings made by (mainly) white scholars of (mainly) non-white people groups, I started wondering about the role of archives and libraries in misappropriation of music. Especially in the 21st century where we spend so much time and energy putting obscure sound recordings online. But in the novel, much of what Seth and Carter collect and use comes from the dark corners of the internet, not just physical recordings. Are we doing the right thing?

And what would proper use of musical inspiration look like?

These are the big questions I still have.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: Woman at 1,000 Degrees: A Novel

Woman at 1,000 Degrees: A Novel Woman at 1,000 Degrees: A Novel by Hallgrímur Helgason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite my personal dislike of quirky old person narratives, I really found myself enjoying this novel. Herra Bjornsson lives in a garage where she is dying from emphysema, and is thinking back on her life. And what a life! She came of age in Iceland during World War II. I had never stopped to think about Iceland during World War II, and the book gave me the occasion to do so. Technically Iceland was ruled by Denmark at the time, but Denmark was invaded by Germany while the island of Iceland was occupied by the British. And in 1944, Iceland declared its independence in the midst of the worldwide chaos.

So what do you do if you are a young Icelandic girl whose father fights for the Nazis? Herra moves with her mother to the Danish island of Amrum where hundreds of people are taking shelter from the war, until they are forced to relocate. At that point she is sent to live with a family who is supposed to only take her in for a few months. But when her mother doesn't make the rendezvous point and Herra's father goes back to the front, she is forced as a young teen to attempt to survive on her own, taking her through areas of Denmark, Poland, and Germany. When she returns to Iceland, her father is ostracized and she can't forgive her mother, while her grandparents (the president of Iceland) have war-forgetting cocktail parties for the new wealthy class that profited from the war.

Between the chapters of this history are chapters from the "present day," which in this novel is 2009. Herra is bedridden but she has internet access and spends much of her time trolling people on the internet, including her daughter-in-law. One of her neighbors teaches her how to be a low-key hacker and this leads to other shenanigans.

The reference to 1,000 degrees is the temperature at which a body is burned for cremation, and one memorable scene has Herra making her own appointment at the crematorium.

I think without the balancing of the feisty old person Herra, the story may have seemed overly melodramatic. It did add a lot to the story to know where she ended up. And it isn't glamorous!

There is even more here - commentary on the Icelandic people, the discomfort of representing the great white ideal because of Hitler (her father was a professor of myth/history ... the line gets a bit blurred by the Nazis of course), the reactions of normal people to war and other atrocities, survival, and even sexual awakening (this last one makes me consider whether or not this is mild enough for a book club recommendation.)

There is enough humor to balance the stark realities, and Herra is probably the most kickass invalid you will ever encounter. I enjoyed it far more than I expected, and will seek out additional books by the author, someone who somehow escaped me in my year of reading Iceland. Shame!

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via NetGalley. The book comes out January 9, 2018.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Review: The Dry

The Dry The Dry by Jane Harper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of the books I had reading envy for, a book that everyone was talking about in 2017 but I didn't get to. It didn't take me long to fix that!

This is a pretty straight-forward crime novel, but what makes it great is that there is a complexity to the story (both a current day event and a past event), the landscape/climate play a major role and the author writes both well, and the author leaves enough space for the reader to formulate ideas along the way. Everything is well paced and I read the entire thing in a day. Sorry, husband, I don't want to watch a movie today, I MUST FINISH THIS BOOK. Huzzah!

I have been to Australia, but only the moist parts. This book tells a story of a farming area desperate for water, leaving the entire community poor and depressed (emotionally too.) The river has dried up, the fire danger is extreme, and people feel guilty for taking showers longer than 2 minutes. This creates a supercharged atmosphere for a crime to occur, and many levels of difficulty to wade through the suspects.

The other bit I really loved was perfect amount of Australianisms used in the dialogue. It isn't overdone but it's done just enough that you can't forget where the story is set.

I will definitely read another book by this author!

I'm also counting this for the Reading Women Challenge 2018, and the Newest Literary Fiction groups's January theme of Australia.

Book 5 of 2018

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Books Read December 2017

All my previous monthly posts were numbered, but somewhere along the line I messed up the numbering. I think I read 339 books this year; Goodreads thinks I read 346. Who knows for certain? But these are the books I read in December, in a vague order. Many near the end were a rush to try to finish all the ARCs I had from 2017. I didn't make it to the end of that list, even.

Pictured books were my five-star reads.

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest **** (library book; my review)
Vacationland by John Hodgman *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith **** (library book; my review)
The Book of Love and Hate by Lauren Sanders ** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Bonfire by Krysten Ritter *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash **** (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
Cartwheels in a Sari by Jayanti Tamm *** (personal ecopy; my review)
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson **** (interlibrary loan; my review)
Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin *** (library book; my review)
Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee **** (eARC from publisher; my review)
Sip by Brian Allen Carr *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong ***** (library book; my review)
Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood **** (personal copy audiobook; my review)
Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Adua by Igiaba Scebo **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda ** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
Artemis by Andy Weir ** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Wild Embers by Nikita Gill *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson **** (Hoopla ebook; my review)
Gratitude in Low Voices by Dawit Gebremichael Habte **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Other Men's Daughters by Richard Stern **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Augustown by Kei Miller **** (interlibrary loan; my review)
The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi *** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof **** (postal book swap; my review)
The Book of Dog by Lark Benobi ***** (personal ecopy; my review)
A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
The Power by Naomi Alderman **** (personal copy from Book of the Month; my review)