April Discussion: These Shallow Graves

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That was something a little different! I really relished the murder mystery and the experience of Jo breaking out of the confines of her restrictive society. The juxtaposition of the high society life she had and the life she began to lead with Eddie was startling and really underlined how few options women had in those days. I know I’m way more grateful for the freedoms that I have now!

  • I totally thought it was Theakston who murdered her father. I mean, isn’t it always the butler?
  • The romance between Jo and Eddie was very realistically rendered. And Jo was such a typical teenage girl! “I saw him with another girl, instead of asking him about it, I’m going to get engaged to another man in a fit of pique. Whoops, that girl was his sister and now I feel like a fool.”
  • I loved all the gritty details of New York life in the late 19th century. Donnelly’s descriptions were so vivid, I felt like I was there.
  • The Tailor, though not a huge character, was certainly a convincingly drawn villain. The scenes with him made me quite anxious!
  • As Jo was telling her uncle about everything that she had discovered, I was quite concerned that she was going to end up in Darkbriar herself. And, lo and behold, I was right. There was no way that her uncle was going to just BELIEVE her (especially because WHOA he was the murderer). Donnelly did such a great job, too, of making me question everything up until that point: had Jo just made it up in the middle of a nervous breakdown? Why would Eddie and Oscar have said they never met her? Just to protect her, right? But maybe not! 
  • I love that Jo did her damndest to save herself. And that, when it came time, it wasn’t Eddie or Oscar or Bram or another man who saved her when her wits and wiles proved to be not quite enough. It was Fay. And then it was Jo herself who made the decision to come forward with the truth, to tear down her entire life, and start over. Freedom. It is the best thing.

What did you guys think? Did you guys enjoy this book as much as I did? It is my favorite that we have read so far, for sure. By far!

What should we read next month? 

April Discussion: These Shallow Graves

March Discussion: Across the Universe

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Well! That turned out to be a pleasant surprise. For the first, oh, three quarters of the book, I was banging my head against a wall, wondering why I was wasting my time. But then, around page 300, things started to pick up, and I raced through the last 100 pages quite happily.

There are so many things to talk about with this one! Let’s get started. Obviously, here by spoilers, so if you haven’t finished the book and you care about that sort of thing, maybe come back later.

  • I felt so bad for Amy when she realized that she was not going to see her parents again. On top of knowing that she would never see earth again. That is just cruel! Talk about leaving your entire life behind.
  • What do you think about the ethics of what Eldest did? The ethics of treating a whole population as though they were animals, keeping them as domesticated and docile as possible, even controlling their reproduction. The whole idea was so skeevy to me. (Also, I’m no prude, but the whole Season made me vastly uncomfortable.) And that they were called Feeders?! That is some next level creepy stuff. But do you think that there was some merit to Eldest’s methods? Elder seems to think so, and I am not sure that I entirely disagree. Their situation is a strange and precarious one: a population stuck on a ship, nowhere to go, no ending in sight. That’s tough. But I also wonder what would have happened if they didn’t know about Sol-Earth OR Centauri-Earth. If they just knew that this was their lives and that was that. Would that have been better?
  • Not to brag or anything, but I totally called that Orion was the previous Elder (just ask my mama!). I did think the cloning aspect was a bit much, but it does bring up some interesting questions about cloning and whether or not it is possible for a situation like that to arise, where three people with the exact same DNA turn out to be so different. I don’t know enough about DNA to even begin to make a hypothesis about it, but I am interested.
  • Harley. Broke my heart. That is all.
  • I actually think I might read the rest of the series! The me of even yesterday would be shocked, but there you have it. Across the Universe actually turned out to be as good as I was expecting, despite a really lackluster beginning.

AND NOW! Over to you guys. What are your thoughts?

(Also, vote for next month’s book selection here. Remember, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about what we read!)

March Discussion: Across the Universe

January Book Discussion: Life in Outer Space

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This was such a sweet book, and a fun, quick read. Set in Australia (it actually took me a little while to realize this…anyone else?)! I love trying to hear accents in my head, haha.

A few quick thoughts:

  • 150 bonus points for mentioning the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, which I think I have seen about 100 times and can probably still quote beginning to end.
  • I love that Sam watches horror movies with his mom. I thought their relationship was very sweet and I would have liked to have seen more of it, though I recognize that that was not really what this book was about.
  • Camilla was an interesting character who could have been a cliche but felt very fleshed out and real. I think all of the main characters were, actually. At first, I thought Allison was going to be kind of a cardboard cut out character, but she ended up having some depth and layers, too. I liked that Mike was gay but that it wasn’t “a thing.” He wasn’t “the gay character.” He was just a character.
  • What are your thoughts on what the title means? I didn’t notice any specific references to life in outer space (though I will admit that I read quite quickly and have a tendency of skipping over paragraphs that don’t look like they contain pertinent information. Yes, this does occasionally/frequently bite me in the ass). I think perhaps it is referring to the idea of becoming untethered from our normal way of thinking about things and being catapulted into a different perspective, but I don’t know. I’d love to know your theories!
  • I like that Sam was a writer. His obsessions were a nice framework and provided a good through-line that helped guide the book. It wasn’t just “my character will be a writer and this will have no relevance whatsoever.” The ideas of creation and creativity and genuine love for something are a major theme (Sam’s writing, Camilla’s music, Mike’s karate). It was a nice touch to have his writing tie in with his eventual realization of Camilla’s reciprocal love for him.

Okay, guys. Your turn. Thoughts in the comments!

PS. Pick the book for next month here

January Book Discussion: Life in Outer Space

Book of the Month: Big Magic

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Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my idols.

I first read Eat Pray Love about six years ago and I remember thinking, Ugh, why do some many people like this book? It is so self-indulgent and overdone and who does this woman think she is? I tossed it aside, thought and talked about it with derision for years. Something about it stayed in my mind though, and a few months ago, I began to think I should reread it. Then, when I lost my baby at the end of the summer, I felt like I needed something to lose myself in. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything, couldn’t seem to focus on a task or a book or a project, so I decided to try out audiobooks. (I had always thought of them with derision, too, like, Audiobooks aren’t really reading! Why have I spent so much of my time being so derisive?! What a waste!) I scrolled through the available books in the library’s digital catalogue and there it was, on the first page: Eat Pray Love. Like it was waiting for me. It was a sign. So I downloaded it. I lay there in the dark, listening to Liz Gilbert’s voice, and it felt, somehow, like she knew me. Like she had seen into the deepest parts of my soul, felt what I felt, and wrote it down on paper. I lapped up every word like a woman who has been deprived of water. At one point, as I lay listening one night and Bryan puttered around our room, he went still, listening too. Then he said, wryly, “Oh no, I don’t see why you relate to this woman at all.” 

After that, I completely revised my entire opinion of Eat Pray Love and Liz Gilbert herself.

When I heard that she had a new book out on the subject of creativity, I was intrigued. Being a writer, creativity has always fascinated me. Not just how to get more of it, but simply how it works. Why do we have it? What does it all mean? I knew that Liz Gilbert was going to have some interesting thoughts on the matter.

Boy, does she ever.

My favorite one is this: ideas are sentient little beings running around, looking for the perfect person to bring them into corporeal being. Inspiration may visit you, thinking you are the artist for them, only to be rebuffed in some way: maybe you think the idea is dumb, or you aren’t the right person for it. Inspiration may visit you, and then realize that you aren’t ready for it, or aren’t serious about it, and so it leaves you. And sometimes it inspiration visits you, and you are ready for each other, and it is a wonderful relationship that results in art.

I love this idea. I love the idea that we are receptacles for inspiration, that we are not wholly responsible for generating our art, that part of being an artist is communing with some otherworldly muse that bestows its gifts upon you, rather than dredging all your ideas up from the centre of your cells, which, after all, have to be a kind of finite supply.

Her book is full of anecdotes (the Ann Patchett one will blow your mind, seriously) and quotes and thoughts on how to live a more creative life but it is mostly this: permission to just be an artist. To just make whatever the hell you want to make, despite the fear, despite the critics, despite the outmoded and dangerous idea of the Tormented Artist. To accept the gifts that your muse is dying to give you. To live the creative life that you have always dreamed of. It is optimistic but not saccharine. It comes from a playful and light-hearted view of creativity (which is not to say that all created things should be light-hearted and playful, but that the process of making them should be enjoyable, rather than painful). There is a kind of wonderful mysticism in her ideas about creativity as well that I find glorious and inspirational.

If you are a creative person (and I truly believe that every single one of us is, in some way, a creative person) then I think you will find that many aspects of Big Magic ring true for you. Here are a few great ones for you to nibble on for now:

What is creative living? Any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.

Possessing a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet; if you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job to do – and you might not like the job it invents.

Your ego is a wonderful servant but a terrible master – because the only thing your ego ever wants is reward, reward, and more reward. Always remember this: you are not only an ego; you are also a soul.

Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome. And fear hates uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.

And there are about ten thousand more where that came from.

 

Book of the Month: Big Magic

November Discussion: Throne of Glass

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Housekeeping Note: I am getting rid of the forums. They aren’t being used, and I think they only serve to generate confusion as to where people should post. To solve that problem, I am going the easy route: everyone will simply post on the blog post itself. No need to create a profile, everyone can access it, and everyone’s comments will all be together. Bing bang boom. Sorry for making you create profiles for nothing. 🙁 First failed experiment, haha. Onward and upward, and onto the book discussion! 

To be honest, guys, I didn’t love this book either. D: I liked the plot well enough, and I thought Celaena’s character had real potential (a young woman who is not only a bloodthirsty killer but loves books and clothes? count me in!), but the writing really dragged the whole thing down for me. It felt so forced, so … juvenile, almost. I don’t know how many more times I could have heard about her smile/grin (vicious or otherwise) before I would have just thrown the book against the wall in utter exasperation. And can I just say: I am sick to death of love triangles. They are boring. 

I’m really hoping for a book I can enjoy for next month!

Anyway! I’m excited to hear what you guys thought. Did you love it? Hate it? Want to marry it? Tear it to pieces? Did it make you laugh? Cry? Swoon? Make you want to become an assassin? Here are some of my thoughts to kick it off:

  • I love how female-centric this story is, with Celaena, Nehemia, and Kaltain at its center. All three are complex characters with complicated agendas and desires, and that, in my opinion, is enough to make this book worthwhile, even if there wasn’t a whole lot else about it that I liked.
  • The whole thing with Celaena keeping her identity secret seems ludicrous to me. Did people really not know who she was? They weren’t even careful about not mentioning her real name! She sent a note to the Crown Prince and signed it Celaena Sardothien, for God’s sake. One of the guards addresses her as Miss Sardothien on her way to the masked ball. I understand that there is some tactical advantage to concealing her identity; as Chaol tells her, since the other Champions don’t know who she really is, they don’t pay any attention to her and don’t consider her a threat. Advantage. What baffles me is that Celaena can’t seem to see this. She complains about it all the time. She doesn’t strike me as a stupid girl and this isn’t exactly military genius levels of subterfuge here, so what’s the problem? Not only does she complain about it, though, she actively blows her advantage by doing things like flinging herself off of buildings to save other Champions. I don’t blame her for her altruistic impulse, but then why bother continuing to conceal her identity? The tactical advantage was kind of lost after that point. And I felt this way about many things that happened in the book: they seemed to merely serve a quick plot purpose and then cease to have any meaning at all.
  • I felt like there were no stakes! The competition was basically background noise that we revisited every few chapters for a page or two. Oh, I’m sorry, I thought Celaena was in a battle for her life and liberty here, or was I mistaken?! I barely cared about Celaena’s fate as it was (because we learn NOTHING about her as a person, her entire past is some shadowy secret that we only ever encounter obliquely), but with the competition seeming like such an after thought, and the murders of champions that we didn’t even know or care about anyway, and the fact that I just did not, for even one second, believe that Celaena was capable of being a deadly assassin…well. No stakes.
  • We are taken into a dream where this big huge thing happens (Queen Elena visits her) and yet, the full impact of that scene is lost because we have no idea who Queen Elena is until after the fact. If she had been mentioned before, even in passing, perhaps there would have been more punch to this scene, but as is, it fell completely flat because it was yet another thing that was just thrown into the story without any build up.
  • Anyone else think that Kaltain was the monster going around murdering Champions willy nilly? I think that would have been more interesting than the truth, which was, if you think about it, the obvious choice.
  • I want to know more about what happened to magic! It seems to be this really big, important thing that happened in their world, and yet we barely skim the surface of it. Why is the King of Adarlan so against magic? Why has he chosen to outlaw it? And why did him outlawing it make it magically (haha) disappear? Also, sidebar, the whole Yulemas religious ceremony sounded like a whole lot of references to magic to me, yeah? I want to know more!
  • Overall, I think this book had so much potential that was squandered on pointless exchanges between Celaena and two love interests that, frankly, she has zero chemistry with, and skimming over plot points that could have been huge deals! I felt like so many things were introduced and then never fully explored. The whole experience left me feeling like I’d just eaten a cookie that was only half-baked. And not in a good way.

I really hope that I like next month’s book more than I liked these first two. And I really hope that you guys enjoyed this one more than I did! I can’t wait to read your thoughts. Maybe you’ll have me revisiting my opinions. 😀

(PS. Make sure you vote on next month’s book selection here!)

November Discussion: Throne of Glass

Book of the Month: If You Find This Letter

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Wow, how is it already the middle of September? Time is sure flying.

Anyway, here is my book of the month for August, just a few days late (ha).

I stumbled upon If You Find This Letter by Hannah Brencher mostly by accident. I had heard her mentioned peripherally a few times, and I had watched her TED talk several months ago, while running on the treadmill at my gym. But as soon as I read what her book was about, what her organization does, I was hooked. I needed to know more.

Her book does not disappoint. It is a lovingly written portrayal of how she came to establish The World Needs More Love Letters. She talks frankly about the darkness that led her there, and her writing is so beautiful, so honest, so hopeful, I could not put it down. I wanted to be reading it every moment. Her story is inspiring and accessible, and soon, I found myself writing and leaving love letters of my own. It was like I couldn’t help it; I needed to be part of what she had started.

Honestly? This book changed my perspective on the world. It changed how I think about how I interact with the world. It changed how I think about my place in the world. It made me realize that it is not about me. I do not think that you could possibly ask for more from a book than to change your entire world view, do you?

(Psst, find the rest of my book recommendations here.)

Book of the Month: If You Find This Letter

Book of the Month: How to Grow Up

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Michelle Tea is like the no-bullshit older sister I never had, telling me the straight facts about life, pulling no punches, but with a soft hopefulness that makes it all easier to bear. This is why I love her.

I came across Michelle the first time almost two years ago on xojane.com, where she was writing about the process of becoming pregnant through fertility treatments. This immediately became my favorite series to read, and I would check back obsessively for new instalments. It was not a fun or easy process for her and her partner, Dashiell, and I appreciated how honest and raw she was about the whole experience. When I found out that she had a new book coming out, I was over the moon. On our recent trip to Vancouver, I took it with me, and savored the essays contained therein over several days. It is one of those books that you want to rip through as fast as you can because it is so amazing, but you also want to take as long as possible with, lingering over lovely sentences and chunks of jaded, shining wisdom.

Tea never shies away from the gritty truths of her life; she never glosses over her problems with addiction, or the less than adult decisions she has made. Her essays shine with honesty and openness, and I think that is why I gobbled them up so voraciously. From examinations of how her propensity for strange fashion affected her childhood to ruminations on why she lived, by choice, in actual squalor for some eight years of her life, Michelle Tea’s words are heartfelt and often very funny as she takes us through the many different places she has found herself in on her journey to adulthood.

That journey to adulthood is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. It has been on my mind a lot for a long time, actually. Though I am 26 years old (certainly not a geezer, but far from my bright-eyed, naive teenage self), I hardly ever feel like an adult. I feel like a child impersonating an adult. I bump up against struggles pretty much on a daily basis that force me to define how I am going to live my life, what kind of adult I am going to be, and the growing pains are sometimes pretty hard to bear. While reading How to Grow Up, I found myself writing down whole paragraphs as inspiration, so many rang so true for me. Despite the fact that our lives have been very different, I still found myself nodding my head in agreement on every page. Through her own experience, Michelle Tea has managed to hit on the fundamental aspects of our humanity.

And she’s just a damn entertaining writer.

Highly recommend. One of my favorites from this year, for sure.

(PS. Find the rest of my book recommendations here.)

 

Book of the Month: How to Grow Up

Book of the Month – Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

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Last year, I read a book called Difficult Men, which was all about the men (sigh, because it’s always men) behind some of the best TV shows, the ones that brought on a new wave of television (ex. The Sopranos, The Wire, and Mad Men). This book talked about The Wire and its creator, David Simon, extensively. In the midst of that discussion, a book Simon wrote, entitled Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, was mentioned. It sounded interesting, so I added it to my list of future reads.

Well.

This book is like nothing I have read before. The premise is this: In the late 1980s, David Simon, a reporter, gained no-holds-barred access to the Baltimore homicide squad for a full year. He followed them around on their cases, hung out with them, got into their brains, and then he wrote this book.

It is captivating, on so many levels. It is a fascinating look at the city of Baltimore, a place that has long been besieged by violent crime (it still is). It is an illuminating examination of the police force and how it functions, both as an independent entity and within the city of Baltimore. It is a searing and heartfelt portrayal of the men (because it is almost entirely men) who dealt, on a daily basis, with the most brutal atrocities that human beings can commit against one another. Not only how they dealt with the violence on a professional level, but, more importantly, and more interestingly, on a personal level.

Simon really gets under these guys’s skin. He gets into their heads. He understands them and the system that they work in in a way that is probably completely unprecedented. I was often appalled reading this book, many times disgusted and disgruntled and disillusioned. But I couldn’t put it down. (It is the reason I have started bringing a book to the gym, so I can read while I ride the stationary bike.) When it was over, I missed those detectives with a fierceness that surprised me.

I haven’t read very many books like this. It is, on occasion, very dense. But it is an extremely worthwhile read, whether you like a good murder mystery, or whether you are interested in psychology, or whether you’d just like some insight into police work in the 1980s. Do be warned, though: Simon does not pull punches when it comes to the gruesome and brutal nature of what the cops encounter. I can’t recommend this book enough, and I can’t wait to get my hands on his other book, which, ironically and, perhaps, inevitably, is about the year he spent on the other side of the law, getting in good with Baltimore’s drug culture.

Find other books I have recommended here

Book of the Month – Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

Book of the Month: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a mystery. Not only is it a whodunnit, but it’s a whodunnit to who?

What we know: At a school trivia night, someone is killed. Who and why are slowly revealed to us throughout the course of the book.

Big Little Lies is a pretty simple book on the surface, but it has many layers that make it a rich and rewarding reading experience. There are three main characters: Jane, a 24-year-old single mother of a kindergartener who may or may not be brutally bullying another child, has just moved to the area and harbors a secret that has been eating away at her for years; Celeste, who has a picture perfect life on the outside but conceals her own dark secrets; and Madeline, a feisty, vivacious woman with a penchant for drama that is coming back to bite her in the ass with her own teenage daughter.

As we wend our way through the intersecting lives of these three women, we touch on many secrets: What is happening in Celeste’s house? What happened to Jane that makes her believe that Ziggy might be capable of what he has been accused? What is going on with Madeline’s daughter? But the biggest secret of all, of course, is who died, and why. Moriarty builds the tension exquisitely. Each small secret and accompanying lie adds another twist to the screw, another torque to amp up the stakes, so that by the time all is revealed, it is a delicious, cathartic experience. An exhalation, a sigh of satisfaction, that says, “ahhhh..finally….”

Ultimately, Big Little Lies is about more than a murder and distorted elementary school politics, though those are, of course, fascinating in and of themselves. Ultimately, Big Little Lies is about the lies that we all tell to make it through our lives, and how those lies can either save us … or kill us.

What was your favorite book in March?

Book of the Month: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Book of the Month – The Raven Cycle Series

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Surprise, surprise, more young adult fare!

I picked up the first book in this series, The Raven Boys, on a whim. It was on the Staff Recommended shelf at the library, and I had a vague memory of reading somewhere that Maggie Stiefvater was a highly accomplished writer. So I thought, What the hell, and gave it a shot. Little did I know that it would lead down a dark path! The second I finished the first book, I put holds on the second and third, and waited with zero patience for them to arrive. (As always seems to be the case, the third one came in first. I went to the library three times in two days just to get my fix of Blue, Gansey, and the rest.)

Here is the premise: Blue comes from a big, cosy, enmeshed family of psychics, but she herself is not psychic. She is more like an amplifier; when she is around, everyone else’s supernatural powers are stronger. Every year, on St Mark’s Eve, she accompanies her mother to a particular church, where the spirits of those who are going to die in the next twelve months make themselves known. Blue never sees anything. Except, this year, she does. And his name is Gansey, and he is one of the supremely privileged boys who attends Aglionby Academy. He also happens to be on a years-long search for Glendower, an ages old Welsh king whom he believes is slumbering somewhere, waiting for the right person to come along and wake him up. Oh, and did I mention that every psychic Blue has ever encountered has told her that if she kisses her true love, he will die? So Blue is sucked into the magical, tortured, privileged lives of Gansey and his friends, Ronan, Noah, and Adam.

On the surface, the premise sounds ridiculous. I was not immediately sold on it. But whoever it was that put it into my brain that Stiefvater is a consummate storyteller, pat yourself on the back, because oh. my. God.

I love paranormal young adult fare. It is my bread and butter. But I got sucked into Henrietta, Virginia, and the world of Blue and her raven boys in a way that I haven’t since Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. I tore through those pages as fast as I could possibly go. I thought about them before I went to bed and immediately reached for my book upon waking.

And when I got to the end of the third one, I wanted to throw my book across the room, because it’s not a trilogy, it’s a fourlogy, and the fourth book doesn’t come out until September. 

This sent me into paroxysms of fangirl pain. My fourteen year old sister, who is pretty much the only other person on the face of the earth that I know of who gets as into fictional things as I do, received a very long post on her Facebook page about how demolished I felt that I would not get to know what happened to these people that I had come to care about so deeply until September. I have had a book hangover ever since. It took me three or four days to settle into another book at all, and even now, I am still thinking about The Raven Cycle.

It isn’t just a paranormal romance. There are so many layers to this book. There’s Welsh folklore and the verdant soil of divided classes (Adam Parrish, one of Gansey’s best friends, comes from a trailer park and works three jobs to make his way through Aglionby Academy); domestic abuse and forbidden romance; confused sexuality, feeling like an outsider in your own family, and what happens when you discover that your entire world is, quite literally, a dream.

Go. Read these books. I’ll wait here. Then we can talk for hours about all the little things we love and hate about it.

What are you waiting for?

PS. My favorite character is, of course, Ronan Lynch, the resident psychopath with a core of deep pain and love. Anyone who knows me well will have already guessed this. What can I say? I have a type.

PPS. My favorite book so far is the second one, because, surprise, it is Ronan-centric.

Book of the Month – The Raven Cycle Series