Shelved: What I've Been Reading February (Part 2)

I could also call this post "So many books, so little time"

One of the latest episodes of the What Should I Read Next Podcast featured a discussion of the competitive nature of the online reading community, which I have totally struggled with lately. Now that I'm discussing my reading more I feel the need to always have new and interesting things to talk about, but that's a self-imposed pressure and not beneficial at all. I read what I like and sometimes it is deep and profound non-fiction and sometimes it is a light and frothy novel.

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

Ok, I don't know if I would call this a light and frothy novel, but after finishing Ghettoside I needed something that was more fun. Fangirl totally fit the bill. I have read it several times and opted for the audio version this time around. Even though I am *gulp* more than ten years removed from my Freshman year of college I still find something to connect with every time I return to this novel. The story of a girl who struggles with a penchant to isolate herself and exist in a fictional world of her own making is very relatable, especially now that I have the very real isolating circumstance of new motherhood.

The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker

I'm still not sure how I feel about The Animators. It was the pre-selected option for my February Book of the Month box, and the description intrigued me enough that I decided to add it on even though I selected The Possessions as my official book (seriously I still cannot stop thinking about that one). There was a lot in this book that I should have loved -- strong female characters who are friends and creatives, interesting world building, realistic portrayal of the rural South -- but it often just didn't quite click for me. Quite possibly because there was so much story that it was surprising when things fell into a rather standard formula. That is not to say that it is not a good book. It was. Just of a specific style. I will say that it was the book I was reading when I had the stomach virus and gave me a lot of perspective on how things could be when I felt like I might be dying.

Design Mom, Gabrielle Stanley Blair

An impulse library check-out, I may be purchasing a copy of Design Mom to have in my home library as Pasha grows older. This is intended as an interior design book, but I found it full of great ideas for parenting kids of all ages. Blair has experience on all ends of the housing spectrum and believes that practicality and beauty are not mutually exclusive as long as you approach your home with intention. The book is set up by room/area, so you can go to the chapter you need or you can do what I did and read the entire book in a day.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson

A friend gave me Furiously Happy for my birthday, and with a new publication on the horizon I decided it was high time I read Lawson's first book. I got the audio and found myself so charmed by Lawson's narration that I think I might need to get Furiously Happy on audio as well. I found the stories of love, parenthood, and mental illness to be particularly compelling because of my own struggles with PPD. I will issue a language advisory for the cautious, but if you are looking for a witty memoir I recommend this one.

Have you read anything fun lately? Tell us about it in the comments!

Shelved: What I've Been Reading February (Part 1)

I've still been reading a lot

It seems to be a theme for this year. Pasha and I just started going to storytime at the library, so our book exposure is only increasing.

Because of this and because it took me so long to write up my book list from January I'm going to try sharing my reading more frequently. Ok? Ok. Let's dive in.

The Trespasser, Tana French

I discovered Tana French while in my thriller / dark mystery phase during my pregnancy. I guess you could say I'm still in that phase a little, but I plowed through all five of the books that had been published and then promptly forgot to pre-order book six when it came out in October. In a way I am really glad because this means I only have a year and a half until the next one rather than a full two (provided she sticks to the same schedule. This book was a return to form after the narrative departure of the last book and I enjoyed French's continued ability to tease things out in such a way that I feel I am chasing the narrative. All of her books give me a sense of claustrophobia and frustration, which I'm pretty sure is totally intended. Also it may be my own personal bias, but I think her writing is strongest when featuring a female protagonist. I gave this one four stars instead of five but that was more out of irritation with the featured detective than any actual writing (Sorry, Tana).

Girl Meets God, Lauren F. Winner

I read this one on my phone, mostly in the middle of the night while nursing Pasha because, surprise, he has stopped sleeping through the night again. I was hesitant to pick this one up but it was a dollar on the Kindle at some point so I grabbed it as an alternative to the creepier books I read that really don't make for a calm 3am feeding. At some point I started just reading this all the time because I found Winner's discussion of marrying her Orthodox Jewish understanding of the Bible with that of Protestant America. I grew up in a church that encourages understanding the Jewish roots of our faith and I took a Jewish studies course in graduate school, so I appreciated gaining another perspective on Jewish culture. Some parts were a little odd, but I did love her story about an ill-advised hip tattoo as I too have a tattoo in that same location and I can attest to the problematic placement in relation to pregnancy and/or weight gain. Overall I found it a little frustrating, like she was not being as completely open as one expects from a memoir. This could just be the nature of reading an ebook on my phone or the fact that she combined and altered the people in her story rather than just renaming or changing their description.

The Posessions, Sara Flannery Murphy

So remember a few years ago when Girl on the Train came out and everyone was like "this is the next Gone Girl!" and then it wasn't quite as good as you'd hoped and you geniunely hated everyone? This is a book that should be getting that kind of hype. The longer I think about it the more it does fill that Gone Girl space in my life without being anything at all like it. I loved The Posessions so much I don't want to tell you anything for fear of spoiling the magic. It's not quite a thriller, not quite sci-fi, not quite dystopian, not quite romance. I described it to someone as alt-sci-fi and I think that's where I'll leave things.

Ghettoside, Jill Levoy

Before I can discuss Ghettoside I have something to get off my chest. I listened to the audio and while it was masterfully narrated, it was done by the same woman who narrates all the Rainbow Rowell books which I found rather disorienting. Ok, now on to the actual book. I really enjoyed this in as much as you can enjoy a book that does a deep dive into the problems surrounding homicide investigation in the South side of LA. Which is to say I found it very educational. I am a middle-class white girl, so the life of a young urban black man is not something I'm intimately familiar with. But I want to own my own privilege and be more informed about the lives of others so that I can do what I can to help. If you have any interest at all in learning more about this I highly recommend giving it a read.

Shelved: What I've Been Reading January 2017

I don't know what it is about January

but for the past several years I become a voracious reader around this time. It probably has something to do with the fact that my parents always made sure to include at least one book under the tree every year at Christmas. But this year I seem to be even more obsessed than normal. To put it in perspective, last year in January I read 3 books and this year I read 9. And yes, I had a job last year, but this year I have a crawling baby, so I feel like the stats are pretty comparable.

I've made some changes lately to the way I read. Over the summer I started listening to more audio books, and three of the books I finished in January were audio. When I'm running around with Pasha, cleaning, or driving I try to go for audiobooks before I turn on the tv or radio. I started reading more than only one physical book at a time. Our house has two floors, so I now have an upstairs book and a downstairs book. I'm also much more meticulous about tracking what I read. Instead of just putting them into Goodreads I am also logging my books in my planner every month and I'm tracking them here, at least for now.

Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood

This was my one real holdover from 2016. I bought it on my birthday back in October, but it took me forever to finish reading. Not because I didn't enjoy the book, actually the opposite, it was so good. I love Margaret Atwood. I think she's a genius. Her original fiction is amazing, but her adaptations have always been among my favorites. In her latest novel Atwood adapted The Tempest into a story about a theater director who has left his prestigious position and found work in a prison education program. As always Atwood's writing is unique and powerful, which makes for excellent literature but less than stellar bedtime reading.

Troublemaker, Leah Remini

Memoirs narrated by the author are one of my favorite categories of audio books. My mom watched Leah Remini's show about Scientology, and since I don't have cable I decided to look into the next best thing. Actually, based on reviews I've seen of the show I think this might be better. Remini is in turns hilarious and sincere while telling her story. The book is technically a memoir, but it is also a detailed history of Scientology. And the stuff about Tom Cruise? I finished this one in only two days.

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

The majority of my reading time this month was spent on this one, which is my entry for a book over 600 pages for the Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenge. I still cannot decide how I feel about it. I didn't like it as much as I wanted, but I also did not hate it. The story was not hugely riveting, but the layers of story rang very true as someone who went to graduate school for history. Much of the book I found myself thinking that it was a little like Indiana Jones with quality scholarship. At the same time I found myself a little bogged down in the details of fabricated history, so I might have skimmed a few passages.

Before the Fall, Noah Hawley

This is a book I wish I had read instead of picked up on audio.  The story is specifically centered around a male protagonist and the majority of the other characters are also men. Hawley's writing style lends itself to a superior male tone when read aloud by a male narrator. The book itself is engaging enough to read to the end and kept me guessing as to what happened the whole way. Since finishing I've started watching Fargo (I know, I'm way behind), for which Hawley is the showrunner, and his tone comes across a lot less abrasively on the show.

Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty

This was my other audio novel for the month. I listened to Big Little Lies a few months ago and was absolutely riveted both by the writing and the narrator. I was not as in love with this one, but it was the same narrator and the story was still fascinating. I don't want to say too much about the plot because the story centers around an event that everyone hints around but is the mystery that moves the action forward. All I will say is that the subject matter was much harder for me to listen to than the previous novel.

I Want My Epidural Back, Karen Alpert

This was my nursery book. Pasha (aka Chris) gave it to me for my birthday and the short essay style made it perfect to keep next to the rocking chair in his room. This book is hilarious. More than once I took a photo of a page to email Chris during nap time. Which I then felt a little bad about because the language in this book is definitely NSFW. But overall? Highly entertaining.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne

I don't know how I avoided spoilers on this one, but all I'll say on this one aside from the fact that it was a little long is #keepthesecrets

The Grownup, Gillian Flynn

January was my first month as a Book of the Month Club member, which is the only reason I even heard of this book though evidently the movie rights to it have been purchased. Which I found fascinating considering that the book is so short and does not really have an ending. When I was pregnant with Pasha I found myself reading a lot of dark literature, including Flynn's work. I wish this story had been a full novel because I have a feeling I would have liked it at least as much if not more than Gone Girl.

Girls in the Moon, Janet McNally

Girls in the Moon was my Book of the Month pick for January and the impetus behind my signing up. I was completely taken by the cover when I saw it online. The story is about a teenage girl who goes to visit her sister in New York City. The two also just happen to be the daughters of two members of a popular 90s band. The book alternates chapters between the daughters and flashbacks of their mother. I usually find YA books that take place in NYC to be a bit overdone, but despite the fact that a lot of the action takes place in Brooklyn, it felt like the New York I have seen on my visits to my Aunt's apartment rather than an episode of Gossip Girl. If you like Rainbow Rowell and Kate Raccula, give McNally a shot.

So that's what I read in January. What have you been reading lately?

Friday Favorites: Books of 2016

You guys know that I love a good theme

so for the month of January I will be doing a Friday Favorites series of my highlights from 2016. This week I decided to lead off with one of my favorite things ever -- books. I read a total of 42 books, which is just shy of the 48 I managed to read in 2014 and 2015. I enjoyed the majority of the books I read this year so this is not an exhaustive list (you can find that over on Goodreads), but just the highlights as I'm looking at them today.

Favorite Adult Fiction

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker

This was my absolute favorite book I read this year. It is not often that I rave about something because of how beautifully it is written (too much time spent around pretentious undergrads has soured that praise for me), but that is exactly what I go to when describing how much I enjoyed The Golum and the Jinni. It is an immigrant story, historical fiction, a bit of a love story, and fantasy. There is a sequel in the works, but part of me wishes there was not because the book was so magical I cannot imagine another could possibly compare. I hope to be joyously proved wrong.

Favorite YA

Bellweather Rhapsody, Kate Raccula

I love a YA novel that treats its reader like a thinking adult no matter their age. The story, a murder mystery, takes place at a high school music festival in upstate New York. It is smart and funny and full of fun references. I was on bed rest when I read this one so that really added to the claustrophobic feel of the story. If you like YA and have not yet read this please do. And then come back and talk to me about it.

Favorite Non-Fiction

The Caped Crusade, Glen Weldon

Full disclosure, I am not a big Bat-Man fan. In general I have not been a DC girl in my comic reading or my movie viewing. But that does not detract at all from this book. This really fed the history nerd in me. Weldon has pulled together so much information but his tone keeps it from bogging the reader down in dry names and dates. Instead he brings a lot of humor and levity to the analysis, not taking himself too serious but also not making it so light that any larger argument he makes appears absurd.

Favorite New Release

Talking As Fast As I Can, Lauren Graham

Really could I have picked anything else? I've spoken before about how weird it is for me that everyone is into Gilmore Girls now, but it also means that there is an audience for more of this. 
With the loss of Carrie Fisher I think we need more female role models to fill that cross-over role. Graham does not spend a large amount of time on Gilmore Girls itself, but what she does write is hilarious and full of fun behind-the-scenes tidbits I had not heard before. My favorite part of the book was her discussion of writing her novel while working on Parenthood and her process for writing. I have actually started to utilize the method she lays out with real results. It's also a short read which made it perfect for the pick up and go reading life I have these days.

Favorite Local Read

All the Missing Girls, Megan Miranda

I could also label this the creepiest book I read this year. If you have not already, don't read a lot of descriptions of this book. It is a thriller in the vein of Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, etc, but it is written in reverse. Sounds gimmicky but it really worked. I almost did not get this one because it takes place in a small fictional North Carolina town that was very clearly based on the area in which I grew up (the author herself lives only thirty minutes or so from my hometown). But I had a real desire to read darker literature right at the end of my pregnancy / first few months after I had Pasha (weird, right?) and this totally fit the bill. I will probably pick this up on audio this year as a reread.

Favorite Series

Dublin Murder Squad, Tana French

Now I have not read the latest in this series. I somehow missed preordering it and have not saved up enough spare change yet to pick it up from my local book store. However, I probably need to take a break anyway because I mainlined these books over the summer. The crazy part is that I already had the first book in my to-read pile but just had not gotten around to it. I picked it up at the used book store on a whim because the cover looked interesting and it took place in Dublin. Fast forward a few years, everyone is obsessed, and I have finally arrived at the party. I found the first book tremendously creepy but since then have not felt the need to hide under my covers with a flashlight. The change in narrator from book to book continues to pique my interest and is a great device to keep the series going beyond the point most traditionally structured mysteries would become exhausted.

Favorite Listen Fiction

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

This one came in right at the end. I loved listening to the narrator and the story so much that I've already queued up her latest book to listen to next. I don't know what about this book I liked the most -- the building of the timeline towards the pivotal event, the fact it took place in Australia, the choice of primary school moms as the cast of characters. You might have noticed that I prefer to go into books blind, particularly ones with any element of mystery, and this was no exception. It is being adapted for television as we speak, so if you care about such things read it soon.

Favorite Listen Non-Fiction

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein

I got completely lost in this book. I am of an age and region that a lot of the awesome 90s bands did not come across my radar until after they were well into their careers. Sleater-Kinney is sadly one of those bands and I am embarrassed to admit that I did not listen to much of their music before reading this book. Since reading it I have immersed Pasha and I in their back catalog and have immensely enjoyed it. But I also found her discussion of life as a female musician to be quite fascinating and highly recommend this as a supplement to any discussion of feminism in the modern era.

Was there anything you read in 2016 that you just loved? I'm building my reading list for the year and would love to hear your suggestions!

When Meeting a Chef is Like Meeting a Rock Star

One of the greatest things about being Pasha's mom is that I always have my best friend with me.

Yes, sometimes I am sick of having him constantly attached to my body or looking for my attention, but at the same time he is my favorite companion. I am determined to take advantage of this as much as possible before he decides that I'm not cool enough to spend time with. Last week mom and I took him to SAFF and Saturday we took him to his first book signing.

Recently I have rediscovered my love of cooking, mostly thanks to Vivian Howard. Vivian is the star of A Chef's Life, a public television program all about her life and restaurant in Eastern North Carolina. Last month she published a gorgeous cook book and this weekend her book tour brought her to my favorite local indie book store, Page 158 Books.

Mom is also a big fan, so we bought our cookbooks and tickets right away, and eagerly awaited the signing. Thank God the weather has turned because there were over 200 tickets sold and the line was LONG.

When Vivian arrived you would have thought a rock star had shown up. People started screaming as she got out of the car. There was a band outside who played her in. The excitement was sky high. We didn't even care that we stood in line for almost two hours, and Pasha was a trooper.

photo booth mandate -- none shall pass

photo booth mandate -- none shall pass

I felt so silly when we finally got to the table because I couldn't think of anything to say. This woman's work has helped me find new ways to enjoy being a stay at home mom, which while wonderful can be very monotonous at times, and I can't find a way to put my gratitude into words fast enough. "Hey, thanks to you I'm going to try cooking shrimp for the first time this week" just doesn't seem quite right.

For her part, Vivian was very gracious. She thanked us for coming and standing so long holding a baby. Every person who came through the line got a personalized autograph and a picture. I cannot imagine how much we all began to blend together, but she made us feel welcome and valued. It was a lot of fun and quite the baby's first book signing.

Now, to go tackle that shrimp.