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Book 31 of 52: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

And still we read on. I'm not going to pretend it's not shit right now, and that I'm not incandescent with rage. But I know that reading is one of the ways that I have become a better person, and that books can bring about a lot of good. They can impart information and education, build empathy towards other people, or just be a means of escape. We're need those things. We're going to need them, maybe even more in the future. And so, we read on. And I review on. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel is the follow up to wildly successful - and also reviewed here - Station Eleven . It's another overlapping, interweaving story, this time with a young woman named Vincent, whose mother disappeared while canoeing, at the center. Everyone in the book is linked to her in some way: her half brother who struggles with addiction; a Bernie Madoff-esque villain who uses Vincent as a prop when retaining and attracting investors; and the victims of his crimes. It's mor

Book 30 of 52: Baggage: Tales from a Fully Packed Live by Alan Cumming

I'm a big fan of taking long road trips. Since I flew to Texas to buy my 2002 Jeep Wrangler TJ and drove it home to New Jersey without really knowing how to drive stick - and didn't die in the process - I've found the appeal of taking a very long drive.  But those long drives are often boring. Music alone doesn't cut it for me, and NPR repeats itself after a while. In 2014, when I took that long Texas drive home, we didn't have as many podcasts as we do now. So before my flight, I went to my library and checked out a "book on tape," which was then a CD.  I was so intensely focused on trying to drive a new to me car in a new to me way that I didn't think I could concentrate on whatever the book was about (something historical, probably about English royalty). So I opted for whatever I could find on the radio to accompany me through my white knuckle driving. By the time I took a road trip to Asheville, N.C. a year later, I could (mostly) drive the car, a

Book 29 of 52: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

As I've written (many times) before, romance novels have a bad rap. Opinions are based on books from the 1970s, of bodice rippers with virginal heroines who find sinuous pleasure. That not all romance now, and wasn't even then. Instead, looking at the entire genre, there's everything from from "sweet" romances that don't even involve kisses to those that are all about kink and/or multiple partners. And of course there's queer romance. I can't say I'm an expert on this subgenre, but I have enjoyed the books of Cat Sebastian. The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes is the second in her "Queer Principles of Kit Webb" series, about a group of Robin Hood-esque thieves in Georgian London. In this entry, we have Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, who just shot her husband. Our hero is Rob Brooks, a highwayman and con-artist who had previously tried to blackmail Hayes because he knows that her (now dead) husband was a bigamist. After a series of let

Book 28 of 52: The Duke Goes Down by Sophie Jordan

I'm going to start a new category of book: aggressively fine. These are books you read even if you know they're not going to be the pinnacle of your literary experience. I read so many books, and am used to always having a book, that sometimes I want something I know is going to be OK and won't make me consider throwing my consciousness into a river. It's something to read to pass the time, not unlike falling into the familiar patterns of a cozy British mystery series, or Dateline . The Duke Goes Down by Sophie Jordan is aggressively fine. It's fine! It was small enough to toss into my backpack while hiking in Maine (hence this picture), and something I could read in snippets while I finished vacation, then came home from vacation, and then pouted that vacation was over. It does have some choice quotes though:  "Perry...had been in such a low state this last year, convinced a marriage of convenience was the only way to salvage his life. What a fool he had been

Book 27 of 52: None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio was not chosen by me, per se. It's on the  Vandegrift High School Banned Book Club  reading list. The group formed in response to the Leander Independent School District banning a whole bunch of books for ridiculous reasons. These students wanted to read the books and discuss them anyway.  None of the Above  was yanked by the school district because it features "sensitive topics" and "concepts of sex and anatomy," according to the Washington Post .  Yes, this book does such horrible things as recognizing that 18 year old ADULTS, who in Texas can buy assault rifles, might have sex. It's also cognizant of the very real fact that gender is not a pink/blue binary. The protagonist here is track star and homecoming queen Kristin Lattimer. After experiencing incredible pain when having sex, she's diagnosed as intersex . In Kristin's case, she has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), which means she looks traditionally f

Book 26 of 52: The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I'm not going to write a long review of Tina Brown's The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil  for two reasons. First, it's been hashed to death already, as anything about the royals is, by people who are far more invested in this whole thing than I am. And second, I'm in the frantic "do I really need a jean jacket AND a windbreaker" level of packing before a long trip. I can say that I didn't mind listening to this nearly 18 hour audiobook while the rest of the world is on fire, although of course they are not insulated. We can pretend that the Royal Family lives in a bubble, but they are enormously influential; touched by the same issues of race, class and gender; and Queen Elizabeth II is one of most influential politicians of modern times — and she is a politician, no matter what anyone says. Her death will be a global, cultural moment. Same thing with the Pope, on both fronts. I listened to Brown's  The Diana Chro

Book 25 of 52: Italian Neighbours: An Englishman in Verona by Tim Parks

How about a little travel to kick off the summer? I've been sticking to domestic trips lately for obvious reasons, but I'm hoping to go back to Italy in 2023 or 2024. I like it there. I've been twice, once to the Tuscany region, and another time to Rome with a jaunt to Capri, where I had sandals made for me, haggled in bad French with an Italian shopkeeper over a vintage Louis Vuitton bag, and bluffed my way into a nightclub that wanted me to pay a 40 Euro cover charge.  I've also been doing a genealogy project and looking into my Italian roots (yes, really, don't mind my last name), which was partly inspired by a trip to Ellis Island in December. I saw where my great great grandparents, Salvatore and Giuseppina, came into this country and, for better or for worse, you're all now stuck with me - for now. Who couldn't use escaping into another world, even if it's just through a book? Tim Parks, a writer, teacher and translator, moved to Italy with his wif

Book 24 of 52: Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

Sarah and Lauren have been best friends since they were 11 years old, even though that friendship started with a chip in it. Sarah is rich and goes to the pricey New York City private school because that's what people with that much money do. Lauren goes because her mother works for a doctor who tells her about it, and that Lauren could go there on scholarship.  What happens from there is the crux of Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam, with the story told around the planning of Sarah's wedding. It's about friendship and how sometimes we hang on too long to people just because they've always been there (during one of their many tiffs, Lauren asks: "Is this friendship or is this a force of habit?")  That can be interesting, but I found this book dull. Sarah and Lauren float through New York City life, they make up, they fight, they come back together again, but nothing really happens except they get older and gradually steer into becoming the people they said they

Book 23 of 52: Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

More romance? Of course! The world is on fire, and I can't ingest all the fires all the time. Sometimes I want to turn to genre fiction as an escape, even if an escape is into a patriarchal society where it's SCANDAL that a woman sometimes, when riding a horse, wears pants. Because of Miss Bridgerton is the first book in Julia Quinn's Rokesbys Series , which are prequels to her enormously popular  Bridgerton Series  (and now a  Netflix show ). These books are similar, of course, but instead being set in the Recency era of the 1810s, these books take place at the same time as the American Revolution (though still in England).  Here we meet Sybilla "Bille" Bridergton, who is stuck on the roof of a building because she chased a cat up there. She climbed up herself (scandalous woman!) but also twisted her ankle in the process, which is why she needs help to get down.  That help comes from George Rokesby. Their families are neighbors, and they've known each other

Book 22 of 52: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

In 2017, I took a four month road trip to see all the 18 states I hadn't been to yet. On my first day, I picked up a Passport to Your National Parks , a blue booklet that lists all 423 locations that the National Park service oversees - not just the big National Parks, but also the national seashores, battlefields, historic monuments, etc. Along that trip - and on many road trips I've taken since since - I've tried to visit as many of these sites as possible, collecting stamps at each one. It's a great way to figure out how to break up long drives - or pick targets, as I often plan trips around getting a few stamps. I'm scheduled to hit the upper midwest late this summer to do just that. I've been to more than 200 sites so far. This quest has of course lead me to see some beautiful places - Yellowstone! Glacier! Grand Teton! But it has also steered me to locations of some of the worst parts of our country's history. In Arkansas, I stood at a critical poin

Book 21 of 52: Miss Dior by Justine Picardie

I'm sure most people reading this book know Dior: the name, the brand, the fashion, the perfume, etc. But that's not what Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture  by Justine Picardie is about. After writing a biography about Coco Chanel , she considering doing one of Christian Dior. Instead, Picardie became much more interested in his sister Catherine. While Christian's creations have captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of people (including myself - I nearly wept when I saw the Bar Suit in December at the now closed Brooklyn Museum's  "Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams" exhibit , which is also where I found this book), Catherine was a true hero. A member of the French Resistance, she was caught, tortured, and imprisoned at the Ravensbr ü ck concentration camp , where the Nazis murdered at least 50,000 women. Picardie's challenge was that very little is know about Catherine beyond the facts: birth and death dates, position within the resi

Book 20 of 52: The Bond King by Mary Childs

I have a friend who likes to say that money is fake. Some sums are so big that they don't feel tethered to reality. Can you envision what a million dollars looks like? A billion? A trillion? Money is fake!  I kept muttering "money is fake!" while listening to The Bond King by Mary Childs, which is about Bill Gross, founder of investing giant PIMCO. Childs starts with him leaving the firm and the shock it sent through the financial world. She then meticulously shows how he gained his fortunate and his Bond King title, and then how he lost the firm he created, to the point that I'm not sure why it wasn't obvious to everyone that there was much strife in the house of PIMCO before he left.  Childs has had a long career in financial journalism and is now a co-host and correspondent on the NPR podcast Planet Money , which I listen to often, and is how I learned about her book . I had heard about Gross back when I was a living through and reporting on the Great Recessio

Book 19 of 52: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

After reading Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer last year, and the sequel P.S. Be Eleven for book 7 of 52 this year,  of course I was going to read Gone Crazy in Alabama , the third book in the trilogy about sisters Delphine, Vonetta and Fern and their adventures in Brooklyn, Oakland and Alabama in the late 1960s. In this book, they spend the summer in Alabama with their grandmother, Big Ma, who previously lived with them in Brooklyn after their mother left and moved to Oakland (hence the previous Oakland trip). After their father re-married, she moved back to Alabama to live with her mother, Ma Charles. They in turn live across the creek from Miss Trotter, Ma Charles' half sister, and the two are trapped in a bitter feud. Why? The book goes into all that of course - along with the usual "city girls in the country" doing things like collecting eggs and watching their cousin milk a cow, and the fights between the sisters. I'm one of four kids, and a lot of

Book 18 of 52: How to be a Wallflower by Eloisa James

Romance novels always involve some kind of conflict. Without it, why would we read the 300 or so pages about how the two leads get together?  There's usually some sort of external force the characters unite to fighting against. And while there's some of that in Eloisa James' How to be a Wallflower , it's not heavy. Instead, James focuses on the relationship between the leads: Cleopatra Lewis, who inherited and now runs her father's "commode" business (as in, yes, toilets); and Jacob Astor Addison, an American looking to poach London's best costumer designers for the chain of theaters he owns in the U.S.  The conflict? Themselves. Cleopatra's mother had engaged in a series of short affairs with actors (often married actors) and left her daughter to clean up the mess, and it's skewed her views of sex, marriage and love. Cleopatra also knows that if she marries, her business becomes property of her husband, which may sound ridiculous, but remember

Book 17 of 52: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is one of those books I knew about, but hadn't gotten around to reading yet. It received so much coverage (well deserved!) and won so many awards (also deserved!) and figured I'd get around to it eventually, which I did when I recently found a copy in a Little Free Library near my house. Of course, it's as good as everyone said, the story of Desiree and Stella Vignes, identical twin sisters growing up in Mallard, Louisiana, a community where light skin is valued, in the 1950s and 1960s. When they're sixteen and their mother pulls them out of school to work, they run away to New Orleans instead. Their stories split when they do, because Stella leaves to start a new life passing as a while woman.  I'm obviously not qualified to write about the racial issues of the book (and I know "issues" itself is not a strong enough word). Instead, I'll point you to this Vox Q&A with Alisha Gaines , author of Black for a Day:

Book 16 of 52: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris

I have generalized anxiety disorder and, on and off, dance with depression. I have done a lot of work to be able to not just function but live a full and rewarding life, including but not limited to therapy, medication, and running for hours at a time . However, in early 2020, COVID broke over those dams. I write about science and medicine, and I had panic attacks while interviewing doctors. That early March, I screamed at my dad to not get on a plane to Texas, and for my mom give up her tickets for the Philadelphia Flower Show - and then catastrophized when they did those things anyway. My friend said that I was a Casandra: shouting about the terror to come with no one believing me, until it was already here. In a gasp to find some relief, I tried meditation, first through the Calm app , and then Dan Harris book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self Help that Actually Works   (quite a subtitle). I would sit at my dining r

Book 15 of 52: Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

As I wrote last time, I picked book 14 of 52  because I wanted a book small enough to fit in my bag during a trip to New York City. I picked  Wishtree by Katherine Applegate for book 15 of 52, also for convenience: as a member of Libro.fm , I get one credit for one audiobook per month. I had four days until my next credit went live. What to listen to until then? Wishtree is about three hours long, and available for free as an audiobook through my library. And thus I found another great title because it happened to be the right book at the right time. Wishtree is a middle grade book about a tree (and birds and skunks and spiders) that can talk. This isn't relevant at first because they don't talk to people, but the fact that it's a wish tree is.  I thought this was made up, but no: wish trees, where people make wishes to a tree, is a thing in cultures around the world.  This wish tree, a 216 year old red oak, is of the Irish tradition, as the original owner of two homes by

Book 14 of 52: My Kind of Earl by Vivienne Lorret

Last year, I did a friend a favor and in turn she gave me some romance novels by authors I'd never read of before. I like regency romance (the era you see in Bridgerton , which is based on the also popular romance series  that I read early during COVID). So when I saw My Kind of Earl by Vivienne Lorret in the pile, I said sure why not. I picked it last week for a practical reason: I was traveling to New York City to run the NYC Half Marathon and wanted a book I could fit in my purse.  And...it's fine! It's about Jane Pickerington, an inquisitive single aristocratic woman working on a book about scoundrels. She meets Raven (yes just Raven) in a brothel because she snuck in for research. As you might imagine, they fall in love. Of course there are twists and turns along the way, including but not limited to Raven, an orphan, realizing that he may be the long lost grandson of an aristocrat and hence eligible to join "society." That would make him a candidate for hus

Book 13 of 52: You Can't Be Serious by Kal Penn

I first saw Kal Penn as many elder millennials did: as a supporting character in National Lampoon's Van Wilder,  and then as the co-lead in the much better and way funnier Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle . I heard that he'd taught at Penn and did...something in the White House? But that was about it. So I went into his memoir, You Can't Be Serious , skeptical about what I would learn. A lot, it turns out. This guy can be serious. The memoir is funny, of course, but it's Penn (whose real name is Kalpen Modi but uses Kal Penn as his byline, so I'm going with that here) retelling his Hollywood story, from growing up in a mostly immigrant community that didn't understand why he went into acting and not the sciences, to having a very real job with the Obama administration, to his baby, the series Sunnyside,  making it to NBC but getting kneecapped from the start.  Penn grew up in North Jersey, the son of Indian immigrations, with grandparents who marched with Mah

Book 12 of 52: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an author and graphic novelist who grew up in Iran and, as a tween and teen, lived in the country through  the Iranian Revolution before her parents sent her to Europe for school, and for her safety.  As an adult, she wrote Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood ,  a nonfiction graphic novel, originally in French. I read the English translation, which was published in 2003, three years after the original. It was a critical success, won a slew of awards, and became a movie . I haven't read the sequel, Persepolis 2 , but I hope to (you can also  buy them in a set . I found Persepolis  in a Little Free Library, or I'd have bought them combined).  In the tradition of Art Spiegelman's  Maus , which is about the author's father talking to him about the Holocaust,  Persepolis  is a memoir of trauma told through a mix of images and words that when combined, combust into powerful, beautiful and soul cracking art.  For example, Satrapi portrays the 1978 Cinema R