Jen Miller

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…

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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…

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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…

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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. [JEN NOTE on November 6, 2022: Here it is] But you can get a very good idea of what’s in the book via this recent New York Times piece that distills their research 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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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