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Showing posts from 2022

Book 40 of 52: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy by Alison Bechdel

This post starts with a book I haven't read: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and the Body in Healing Trauma  by Bessel Van Der Kolk, which I bought months ago and kept picking up and put it down. Earlier this month, I finally told myself "You're finally going to read it, damnit." I even painted my nails the same color as the stars on the cover, and took a picture holding the book. And yet. I've been thinking enough about trauma lately and couldn't bring myself, in this exact moment, to read about what it's done to me. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, a terrible tragedy I covered and told myself for a long time could not a big deal to me personally since I was safe and I didn't lose my home. I was just the channel through which other shared their despair and anguish, what's the big deal? I grew up in a "brush it off" household. I should have been able to brush that off too. Spoiler: I did not. And near

Book 39 of 52: Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh

I've put off writing a review of Mary Balogh's Someone to Wed  because I don't have much to say about it. I read her books when I want a pleasant distraction from whatever hellfire is consuming our politics/planet on that day. They're well written regency romances where of course there's a happily ever after, but without some of the tense plots these books can bring, like someone is going to die or be murdered if the two leads don't act promptly.  In this book, which is part of the Westcott series, we have Wren Heyden, heiress to a glass works company and fortune who is largely a recluse, due largely to a birthmark on one side of her face (and what previous people have said about it, which is revealed late run the book).  She proposes a marriage for very practical reasons to Alexander Westcott, who has unexpectedly found himself as the Earl of Riverdale for reasons that aren't really worth getting into here (but are a plot line through the series). He needs

Book 38 of 52: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

As I've mentioned before, I have a subscription to Libro.fm , which lets listeners buy audiobooks through an independent bookstore. With a subscription, I pay a monthly fee for one audiobook a month (plus I get discounts on additional audiobooks should I choose to buy more). Generally, one a month enough for me, but in July I found myself with a week between finishing a book and my new credit going live.  So I turned to the Libby app, which I access for free through my library, and decided why not: I'll give The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis a whirl. If I read any of the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, I don't remember. As a four hour audiobook, it didn't seem like a huge investment of time. And...eh? It was fine. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for a Christian allegory, especially not right now. I don't think I can add much to the discourse about it, but I can say that it wasn't a complete waste of time because I got to listen to the wonderf

Book 37 of 52: Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success by Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan

I read Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success  by Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan for work, so I'm not going to go too  much into it here right now. When the piece is out, I'll add a link to this post, and also write a new one so those of you who read this chronologically don't miss it.  But you can get a very good idea of what's in the book  via this recent New York Times piece that distills their res earch and data , showing via interactive graphics that a lot of the fear mongering about today's immigrants is just false. Instead, I'm going to share how a piece of this book is related to one of my side projects. For two completely different reasons (and no I'm not telling you those reasons), I've been working on histories of both sides of my family. I learned — as many people had through Abramitsky and Boustan's work — that what's been passed down to me isn't 100% accurate. In building a family tree, I found out th

Book 36 of 52: Murder, She Wrote: A Question of Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

In January, on my way to Key West, I stopped at Connie's Bookshelf , a wonderful used bookstore in Daytona Beach Shores. I picked up an assortment of paperbacks, including Murder, She Wrote: A Question of Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain. Yes, "Jessica Fletcher" the fictional murder mystery writer/murder mystery solver from Cabot Cove, Maine, is listed as an author. I, like many people, loved Murder, She Wrote . I'd caught episodes here and there when visiting my grandparents, then binged a few seasons at the start of the pandemic (at the time, I couldn't figure out how to stream the whole thing, though now all 12 seasons are on Peacock ). I liked the pattern of the show. I liked the familiarity. I appreciated that Jessica Fletcher was a runner, and that she dressed in a way that the kids today find cool . In 2020, I also read Angela Lansbury's 1999 authorized biography Balancing Act , where she shared many tidbits about the show, including that aft

Book 35 of 52: Where the Deer and the Antelope Play by Nick Offerman

I have so many thoughts about Where the Deer and the Antelope Play by Nick Offerman that I'm going to number them. 1. It's not uncommon for celebrities to partner with ghost writers for their books. I don't mind this — in fact, I think it's a good thing. A celebrity has a story to tell and hires a professional to help them tell that story in the best possible way means we get a better book, and a pro writer gets paid. However, that's not the case here. Offerman calls himself a "humorist" and is a pretty good writer. I listened to and loved Paddle Your Own Canoe  and also The Greatest Love Story Ever Told , which he co-wrote with his wife Megan Mullally ( Good Clean Fun , which is about woodworking, fell flat to me, though I listened to it while running a 24-hour race , so that vibe might be related to what I was doing at the time). I think I need to read his books in physical form. His voice? Fantastic, of course. But I love listening to celebrities read

Book 34 of 52: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

My plan to go back to Italy in 2023 or 2024 proceeds, as does reading books about Italy. So  Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes it is (or was since I finished the book last night). This 1996 blockbuster memoir is by Mayes, a professor of creative writing who takes her divorce settlement and buys an abandoned villa in Tuscany. Through the course of the memoir, she and her pal Ed (who eventually became her husband) fix up the place, and spend all their summers there ( which seems to be a thing that has only been disrupted by the pandemic ). It's a home renovation story, a second love story, and, probably more than anything else, a food story.  I've spent some time in Tuscany in early fall, which is when Mayes usually returns to San Francisco, but even after the rush of summer, the food is unbelievable. In 2008, I met up with my own "pal" at the time, who was there for work, and we at so much gelato that I thought I'd never be able to eat American ice cream again

Book 33 of 52: The Blue Diamond by Leonard Goldberg

How many more stories can we wring out of Sherlock Holmes & Co? Quite a few, it turns out. The Blue Diamond is the latest installment in Leonard Goldberg's "Daughter of Sherlock Holmes" series. Like the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, these books are "written by" by Dr. Watson, except this time, it's the son of the original John Watson, who is married to Joanna Watson, the daughter of Holmes and Irene Adler. Joanna and the Watsons live together at 221B Baker Street, in a household run by the same Mrs. Hudson. Together they - what else? Solve crimes.  Is this all far fetched? Or course it is. That Holmes had a daughter at all, and with Irene Adler, and that Joanna grew up not knowing it, is a leap. But whatever way Goldberg got to this arrangement of these characters, we're here. In this mystery, Joanna and the Watsons are investigating the disappearance of 3,000 carat flawless blue diamond, which turns out to be just the start. It's no

Book 32 of 52: Flying Solo by Linda Holmes

I'm a subscriber to a local weekly newspaper , and I always make sure to read the death notices. I'm nosey, but I also look to see if the parents of someone I knew in high school - or, sadly, sometimes a classmate themselves - has passed on. Unlike obituaries, which are staff written, death notices are submitted and paid for by someone who knew the deceased. Sometimes death notices are pretty rote: born, married, job, died. Other times, they include the person's favorite hobbies, where they traveled, and things they liked to do with the family that is now grieving, information about services, and where you can make a donation in their honor.  The ones that irk me the most those that point out the person wasn't married. Even in death, they're still getting shit from their families for being single.  This is a round about away of getting to Linda Holmes' Flying Solo . It's a novel about Laurie, a Seattle-based freelance journalist who returns to her hometown i

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 Life 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