Month: March 2022

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, 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 the tree was an Irish immigrant. On May […]

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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 husband for Jane…….or does it?

The book is solid, but not quite for me. I don’t like the virgin/guy who […]

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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 immigrants, with grandparents who marched with Mahatma Gandhi as part of the India independence movement. He was both picked on for being Indian, but also embraced by his Jewish friends (and found a […]

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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 Rex fire as already skeleton-faced souls trying to flee for the theater’s exit, and the 1978 Black Friday Massacre as rows of heads with blank, dead eyes. These images are searing, and […]

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Book 11 of 52: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

In my travels, I’ve accumulated photos in what I call the “Plants Where They Shouldn’t Be” series. They’re of weeds, flowers and trees growing in places that look uncomfortable: poking out of lava that’s OK to walk on but warm enough to generate steam, growing around a mile marker on the road, sprouting on the back of a parking sign – that kind of thing. On the cheesy side, they’re reminders that we can flourish in the most unlikely circumstances. On a more realistic end, they show that humans are constantly battling back nature, and that someday we’ll probably lose the fight.

I thought about those photos when I read book 8 of 52 Station Eleven (and watched the HBO Max adaptation), which show a world without 99.99 percent of our current human population. The story focuses on people, of course, but set them in a world where the things humans have created – electricity, internet, buildings, bridges, roads – are being taken back by nature. A Jersey Shore amusement pier owner once told me that anytime you build something next to the ocean, the ocean tries to tear it down. Same goes for plants, insects, animals, you name it, or else […]

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Book 10 of 52: Putting the Rabbit in the Hat by Brian Cox

When I first started listening to the audiobook of Brian Cox’s Putting the Rabbit in the Hat, I wasn’t sure why I was there. I’ve watched Succession, sure, where he plays the media titan Logan Roy. I enjoy it, but but I’m not obsessed with it (I watched most of the show while running on a treadmill).

But I’d listened to Cox do Wait Wait…Don’t Tell me, an NPR news quiz, and tell a story about how almost everyone at his first wedding got very drunk except for him, which was a bit of a problem since most of the guests were also starring in Romeo and Juliet, and they had a performance that night. Plus he and Michael Gambon (one of the drunk wedding guests ) also had a matinee performance of Othello. This might be worth giving him a few hours of my time, I thought, and then, when I was unsure about the book, worth sticking with it.

I was right. Putting the Rabbit in the Hat is the story of a poor kid from Scotland who became a working actor, and what he learned/saw along the way. A friend and I joke that all of British TV is made […]

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Book 9 of 52: The MacGregors: Serena and Caine

In my post about Station Eleven, I wrote about two groups of people, those who ran towards pandemic fiction at the start of COVID, and those who ran far away from it. I was 100% in the latter group. Reading wise, that meant delving into genre fiction: crime, thrillers, suspense, and of course romance.

You might think that these are different, and they are, except in one way: I know what’s going to happen at the end. Just like I know Detective Bosch in Michael Connelly’s books is always going to figure out who did it, I know that, in a romance, the two leads are going to have a Happily Every After (known in romance circles as an HEA).

I craved predictability in my reading, whether it was about solving a murder or matters of the heart (and in some romances, you can have both!)

Romance, as you might already know, is maligned despite it being a publishing powerhouse. According to an article in Fortune Magazine, romance made up 18% of adult fiction sales from March 2020 to March 2021, and was the second most popular publishing genre in that span (a share that, yes, grew during the pandemic). I […]

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