Read Harder 2018

Read Harder Challenge Update: How’s It Going?

Well, it’s mid-March and that’s a good enough reason for me to check in on the 2018 Read Harder Challenge! How are y’all doing with your individual challenges? I had planned the challenge around a lot of books I already owned and wanted to read already, which helped with accessibility; others were readily available from the library. At ~25% into the year, I’m at 11/24 of my RHC list. (Full list: Part 1, Part 2)

I’ve changed a few of my book choices as well. (Bolded books are ones I’ve read; Italicized are changed prompts.)

brighthour

#1. A book published posthumously | The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

Nina Riggs, a mother of two, learned she had a spot of breast cancer at 37. Though she underwent chemotherapy for it, the cancer was aggressive and spread, leaving her with a terminal diagnosis before her 40th birthday. This book was published after her death.

Her poet background really shone in this book, and though her writing was beautiful, it didn’t tear me up like When Breath Becomes Air did. Maybe it’s because I am not a mother, and the author’s worries about leaving her children behind are not something that I have ever considered. As a human with human emotions, I read her story and thought, Fuck, this isn’t fair, but life isn’t fair. She describes the unfairness of life so well, but it’s already something I feel familiarity with, so it doesn’t hit as hard. It’s more like an agreement: Yeah, shit sucks.

Many of my friends said they were leaking tears throughout their entire read, but I found myself quiet and introspective. I am curious how others felt about this book.

#2. A book of true crime | Death in the Air by Kate Winkler Dawson

Read my review here.

rebecca

#3. A classic of genre fiction | Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

HOLY MOLY. It took a week for me to read the first 30 pages and I was worried I wouldn’t love this book as much as some of my very vocal friends, but once I got over the initial hump, I couldn’t get enough of the story. This is some masterful storytelling; I keep thinking over parts that led me one way while the subtle groundwork for the impending swerve was being laid out behind it… the story that I thought I was going to get was nothing like the story I wound up getting, and I loved it. I devoured the last half in one sitting, up late into the night, and wanted to know the end but also didn’t want to reach the end. I will probably have to write a real review about this and the Hitchcock movie that I watched right after I finished the book.  Continue reading “Read Harder Challenge Update: How’s It Going?”

Best Of, Blog about it

Ranking My Book of the Month Picks

I’ve been a Book of the Month member for over a year now — I received my first box in January of last year — but have added enough books to each box that I’ve gotten over 20 books from them, so I thought it’d be fun to write a post about my favorite-to-least-favorite BOTM selections!

If you’re not aware of Book of the Month, it’s a book subscription service that you can buy 3-, 6-, or 12-months in advance. Each month there are 5 books, usually new releases, that you can pick from. While your subscription is for one book per month, you can add on more books for $10 each. They’re usually adult fiction, with at least one choice of YA and one choice of nonfiction.

They also offer “perk” add-ons — new releases by popular authors like Gillian Flynn or Stephen King; socially relevant books newly reissued in a BOTM jacket, like Roxanne Gay’s Hunger or Jeanette Wallis’s The Glass Castle — that are separate from the 5 main picks. I was able to get Turtles All the Way Down by John Green by its release day, and for only $10, delivered in hardback straight to my door; even Costco was asking $15 for it.

I still support my local bookstores (a lot. A LOT.) but I really like what BOTM brings to me. I’ve liked an overwhelming number of the books I’ve received from BOTM, and trust their judges more than I sometimes trust my friends’ recommendations.

Since my picks are only 20 of the 100+ picks, and there are so many permutations to what you can receive from BOTM (I have friends who are also BOTM members and their shelves look nothing like mine), this list is probably unnecessary. But I also thought it’d be fun. If you want to join BOTM, you can use my referral link and we both get a free book if you sign up :)

Here we go…  Continue reading “Ranking My Book of the Month Picks”

Non-Book Related, Random

Movie Review: Dance Academy

DA-2Yes, yes, this is a book blog, but I recently re-watched all three seasons Dance Academy, the Aussie teen soap concerning ballet dancers that ran from 2010-2013. (I wrote about my obsession with the show when I watched it the first time in 2014 on my photography blog.) The accompanying movie is now available to rent on demand (check Amazon Video!) or buy on DVD.

Caution! Some mild Dance Academy TV show spoilers ahead…

Continue reading “Movie Review: Dance Academy”

Read Harder 2018, Review

Book Review: Death in the Air

deathintheair

Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Winkler Dawson (Goodreads | Amazon)

Alternative title: Death in the Air: Regulations Are Good, and Help Save Us From An Untimely End. In a world where our (U.S.) current government is gleefully gutting regulations and oversight, claiming that they are “burdensome,” I point out to you the massive number of people who died due to the five days of black fog that enveloped London in the winter of 1952. Even after thousands of deaths, Parliament did not want to address air pollution, did not want to discuss it, did not want to study it, and definitely did not want to mitigate it.

This book was really engrossing, and a good “slice of life” from 1950s postwar London and all the problems that plagued it. While disturbing in many parts, I read on because I wanted to know how everything was resolved. (Semi-unfortunately, some threads could not be sewn up; just the nature of a nonfiction story, I guess.)

The book summary from Goodreads says: “A real-life thriller in the vein of The Devil in the White City, Kate Winkler Dawson’s debut Death in the Air is a gripping, historical narrative of a serial killer, an environmental disaster, and an iconic city struggling to regain its footing.”

This is totally like Devil in the White City by Erik Larson — so similar, in fact, that I wonder if Dawson used it as a blueprint for the way she wrote this. Two cities in the midst of an intense change (Chicago’s growth amid the background of the first World’s Fair in 1893, vs. London picking itself up after WWII and the death of their king) are hosts to creepy serial killers striking at home. But where Chicago was trying to better itself, London’s government seemed happy to just dig itself into the grave.

Dawson sets up the scenario for us: it’s just after the war, London had been blitzed to all hell, and the economy is struggling. Coal is one of the UK’s biggest exports, so they send the good stuff out and sell the smoky, less-effective stuff at home. As winter drives temperatures down on London, people are piling on more and more cheap brown coal to heat their homes, and the government encourages them to do so (removing rationing restrictions, even!). And the weather conditions turn just right, for a poisonous smog to settle over the city and not move for five days.

Londoners are used to fog; they call those days “pea-soupers.” But this fog was full of off-the-charts chemicals. People choked on it, sickened from it, died from it. The little bit we saw in The Crown season 1 was just the tip of the iceberg; hospitals were overrun, people died in their homes and couldn’t be moved for weeks because of backlog at the morgues, even coffins were on backorder.

smog of london

Originally, I thought that the story would be about John Reginald Christie striking in the black of the smog, snatching people off the streets and going on a murder spree within those five days. If this is your thought process as well, you’d be wrong. “Reg” is a slow killer, and murders people over the course of years. It’s just that the turning point of the smog, and Reg’s capture, coincide over the same time frame (which does make for a good story).

Dawson brings up a fair point: people are titillated by the thought of a man who murders five women without a second thought, but when it comes to capturing the national interest over a smog that kills thousands, most people would brush it aside. No matter if it killed someone they knew — “nothing can be done.” No matter if the government was complicit in the deaths due to their economic policies, and even tried to cover up the total number of dead in official reports. Why do people cram the streets to watch a single man’s arrest, but not show up to rage at the people who groomed a scenario that killed so many and won’t acknowledge their involvement or how to combat it?

The first half of this book is absolutely engrossing. The second half, which talks more about the government’s response to the smog disaster (and one MP’s tireless push to bring the mortality number to light — I hope Norman Dodds is altogether unproblematic because I was stanning for him in this book), was a little slower. And Dawson does something that a lot of historical writers can’t do — write history in a way that it seems alive, not dry. She doesn’t do it as well as Larsen, but it’s pretty damn close. 4.5 stars.

If you like this, may I also suggest: 

  • Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (book)
  • The Crown (Netflix original series)
  • The Bletchley Circle, season 1 (ITV original, found on streaming sites)

If you like my reviews, you can show appreciation by buying through my Amazon links, which give me a few pennies if you make a purchase of your own. 

Random, Watercolor

Pet Watercolor Paintings (info)

pow2
Our cat Powerfist as a Hotrodder from Fallout4… my husband asked for this

I debuted these watercolor paintings of my cats on Facebook/my Instagram earlier today and found a LOT of interest in me painting other people’s pets. I thought I’d post the information here.

I’m still organizing how to do these fairly (I really want to paint everyone’s pets!! I love all of your furchildren) while also getting compensated for my time, since every painting takes hours of my day. So this is the current way I’ll be doing it… with changes to come, if needed. Continue reading “Pet Watercolor Paintings (info)”

Blog about it, Young Adult

Favorite YA Reads for New YA Readers

I’m going to be honest for a sec: I used to “not get” YA. When I was an actual Young Adult I didn’t want to read fluffy stories about discovering love or understanding oneself. I wanted to read books about adults who already had their shit figured out (or were closer to that realization than I was at the time). So I surprised myself when I joined a YA book club a few years ago, at the suggestion of one of my wedding clients. If anything, I’d be reading more books and that’s never a bad thing, right? 😉 (Since then, I’ve joined an “adult fiction” book club, so I get the best of both worlds.)

It took a little while to get into YA books, but now I find them to be an invaluable part of my reading experience. YA can range from sweet and cute love stories, to burgeoning heroines in sweeping fantasy sagas, to books demanding social change and justice. (There have always been YA books that deal with these things over the years, but I had ignored them while growing up, or they’ve become more prevalent now — maybe a combination of both.)

So I’m sharing this post as a primer for those new to YA, who aren’t sure if YA is for them. Here are some books that changed my perspective of YA, and books I’ve really loved since reading more of this genre.

princess

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Goodreads | Amazon)

When you’re in the mood for… something wholesome, classic, and with a happy end

This is my OG YA read that I actually read when I was a kid. (I still re-read it every year; it’s one of my favorite books ever.) Sweet, intelligent, and rich Sara Crewe is left at boarding school in England while her father enlists in the army. When he dies in service, Sara discovers she is now orphaned and penniless, and the cruel headmistress of her school keeps Sara as a maid, mistreating her horribly all the while. Yes, Sara is a bit of a Mary Sue, and yes, this book has some dated references to other races that are a touch on the “exotic” side (it was first published in 1888), but for the most part it holds up really well. Who hasn’t had to use the power of imagination to keep one’s self-care up? I thought Sara was a resilient little woman with a good heart.

jellicoe

On the Jellicoe Road (or just Jellicoe Road, depending on what region you’re in) by Melina Marchetta (Goodreads | Amazon)

When you’re in the mood for… something that takes you on a tumble of emotions and you finish the book wishing there was more left to read

This is the book that made me realize, as an adult, that YA could be done well. Most YA books I’d encountered up to this point had been shallow, fluffy, and/or poorly-written, and I wrote off the entire subset of books until a friend recommended that I read Jellicoe. Taking place in an Australian boarding school, head girl Taylor has to figure out what happened to another boarder (and her old friend) Hannah. What struck me about this book was the complexity of the story and the characters (there are about 10 people to keep track of, and all of their relationships to one another, which was fairly confusing at first) and how tightly-woven the story is. I could feel the confusion of being 17 years old again; the imagination of teenagers still playing like kids, the excitement of blossoming romance, the heaviness of rough pasts, and a myriad of other feelings.

everythingleads

Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour (Goodreads | Amazon)

When you’re in the mood for… a sweet love story between two ladies

This is a book I reach for whenever the world feels really bleak. It’s instant comfort. Emi, a 17-year-old with an artistic eye, her best friend, and her on-again-off-again girlfriend intern as interior designers on film sets in Hollywood. When a prominent actor dies, Emi discovers a letter that leads her to a beautiful, mysterious girl named Ava. What I loved about this book wasn’t just the stuff about films and living in LA (one of my weaknesses), it was that Emi is gay and she knows it and she doesn’t struggle with it at all. Instead, the focus is on Emi falling in love with Ava. It’s sweet and realistic (as preposterous as the setup and background may be) and catapulted Nina LaCour onto my list of favorite authors.  Continue reading “Favorite YA Reads for New YA Readers”

Best Of

Favorite Reads of 2017

I read a lot. Someone asked me, “How do you keep up with all of this material?” and I had to answer truthfully: The good stuff sticks with you, and the rest fades away. I read to better understand our world; I read to forget it. I read when I’m anxious (soooo my book-count went up by 66% from 2016 to ’17 — no surprise there); I read when I’m bored.

In 2017 I read 126 books (that I counted; some re-reads or sequels were not tallied). Here are some of my favorites and why they counted. They’re not in any order, but I have separated them by adult and YA.

Adult fiction

exitwest

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Goodreads | Amazon)

My first thought when finishing this book was a simple “damn,” because Mohsin Hamid is absolutely amazing with words. His precise use of language, his ear for sounds that sound beautiful together, made every sentence gorgeous. The story, too, was beautifully done: two young lovers living in an unnamed country try to survive a war. Refugees can disappear into other countries via magical doors, and while I wasn’t expecting that bit of fantasy in an otherwise gritty story, I thought it was the perfect touch to add an extra dimension to Nadia and Saeed’s story.

evelyn

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Goodreads | Amazon)

A beautiful, aged movie star who is now a recluse. A story of a young Cuban woman’s move from NYC to LA, her transformation into a white-washed actress. The men she used to get to her goal of becoming a household name during the decline of big studio cinema era and the rise of the New Hollywood and its elites. Evelyn Hugo, born Evelyn Herrera, aka Evelyn Adler, Evelyn Cameron, Evelyn Girard, et al, describes to a surprised and somewhat reluctant reporter from Vivant magazine, Monique Grant, the last sixty years of her life. This book read as kind of a Hollywood version of The Thirteenth Tale crossed with Elizabeth Taylor.

While it’s a bit “fluffy” (interspersed with newspaper clippings of gossip stories), it does touch on some heavier topics without making it into an “issue” book. It’s a fairly quick read. Continue reading “Favorite Reads of 2017”