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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel
Rachel Joyce
Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans' Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter
Ellen J. Prager

I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith Read about a third of it. Super meh.

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel I made it just over 100 pages in and I'm calling it. I didn't come to this book knowing anything about the players in it and it seems like there are just so many of them. Mantel drops us in without much explaining, which probably allows her to do some really cool things with her story, but it left me, who has never studied Henry VIII in any detail, feeling lost and disoriented. Her writing style doesn't help, either; it's not bad, but it's not engaging, eloquent, convincing, clever, mysterious/creepy, beautiful, or anything else I tend to like in writing styles; and in fact it seemed to me at times needlessly confusing. Add in the fact that I usually dislike Booker prizewinners, and I decided that this book wasn't doing much for me and would probably continue that way. I wanted to like it, and there were a few times where I felt interested, but she wasn't able to keep it up. As it is, I am still curious about the book because there is so much buzz and I do think it's a fascinating story to tell, but at the moment I think I'd be better served by reading the history, watching some movies/series, and maybe coming back to it after, if the curiosity lingers.

When We Fight, We Win: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World

When We Fight, We Win: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World - JOSE JORGE DIAZ, Dey Hernandez-Vazquez, Greg Jobin-Leeds The reason I didn't finish this one isn't a reflection on the book, it's just that I couldn't renew it. In truth, I found a lot of the writing to be lackluster, but it's made up for it by the inspiring stories and the art. I also realize that's it's hard to tell a coherent story of a whole social movement in 23 pages (and actually fewer, because of the art). Of course you're going to have to cut and condense.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things - Jenny Lawson Jenny Lawson might be funny in person, but I don't really find this kind of humor written out in a book to be funny. It just comes off like it's trying way too hard. She also seems weirdly judgemental. And she'll be like "ohhhh my god I am SOOOO wacky you guys!!" and give an example, only the example is not "wacky" in the slightest. Obviously there are a lot of people who love this book and this type of humor, so I'm glad there's something for them, but it's not really my thing.

The Victorians

The Victorians - A.N. Wilson I didn’t finish this book although I did think it was decent. There is some really good information in here, but it was kind of slow going and I had a lot of other stuff going on. My main complaint is that Wilson assumes the reader already know a lot of the figures he’s talking about. This would probably be the case if I was raised and went to school in England, but as an ignorant US citizen, I kept going, “Who? What’s that??” And then I would have to consult Google and it was very disruptive to the reading experience. If he’d just inserted little dependent clauses, like “John Potatohands, the Queen’s royal potato planter, was a man of letters,” instead of just being like “John Potatohands was a man of letters,” it would have helped me out a lot. It was a library book that I put down a while back, but soon after I picked it up again and started reading a chapter a day I ran out of renewals. I get the feeling that it is quite informative—I learned a lot in just the bit I read—and I would like to come back to it when I have more time/patience for its format and style.


Hild - Nicola Griffith So, I've been struggling with Hild: A Novel--or as I think of it, Hild: Nicola Griffith Did Her Research and She Really, Really Wants You to Know It--for almost a month now. I am only halfway through the thing. I've been thinking the whole time that, gosh, there are probably people who would love this book and devour it and celebrate its own unique intricacies, and how unfortunate it is that I am not even close to being one of those people. I do really love some things about the book--the political intrigue, the interesting and fascinating characters, and Hild's experiences most of all. At the same time, I would rather do just about anything than read it. I was finding any excuse to put it down, from doing my homework to taking out the trash to really tedious stuff like renaming files on my computer. Usually I read to try and avoid doing that stuff, which should tell you something about how Hild landed with me. The actual reading of it was pretty much not at all enjoyable.

To give you a taste, here is a random sample: "Two days latter, sitting in the meddaeg sun in the ruins of Broac, Brocavum that was, Cian was still lost in tales of Yr Hen Ogledd, this time of Ceneu and Gorbanian, the sons of Coel Hen, as told by Uinniau, Rhoedd's younger sister-son, who had ridden with them to the remains of the fort."

The whole thing is basically like that. There is so much detail but it's the wrong kind of detail for me. There seem to be lots of these types of sentences whose ostensible goal is to build some kind of authentic atmosphere, but so far they've all been dead ends; they're just window dressing. The way I read books is that I assume that what the author is saying is, you know, somehow significant to the story. You drop Broac, Brocavum, Yr Hen Ogledd, Unniau, Rhoedd and their younger sister-son, Coel Hen and his sons, Gorbanian and Ceneu on me all in one sentence, I am going to try to commit all that to memory because it could be important later. But it's not--at least it has not been so far. It doesn't matter if you know who Rhoedd is--so why mention Rhoedd and the younger sister-son and Broac-or-was-that-Brocavum at all? Meanwhile Hild's story itself jumps along without enough character development or information about her daily and/or inner life for my tastes. It is actually really really frustrating, because I am interested in what Breguswith is up to, and I care about Hild and her sister and her friends and her ~~wyrd~~ (it means FATE). But I can't read about the captivating Hild when Ms. Griffith is so aggressively pushing the "...half a mile from the tideland estuary full of oysters and mussels rounding into Streanaeshalch, the Bay of the Beacon, with its harbor that saw trade from Pictland and the North British, from Lindsey and the East Angles, and even the people of the North Way, whose narrow ships brought [blah blah blah]..." angle instead. She almost always sacrifices character development to this sort of super detailed history lesson (and I was at one point a history major, just so we're clear that I do actually appreciate history). Yes, it is thoroughly researched; I can't tell if Griffith was so enthralled by what she learned that she thought all her readers would be too, or if she was bored to resentful tears and wanted to inflict some of her suffering on us. So my eyes just end up glazing over and I'm like, "hey, I think there might be some grout in the other room that I can get on my hands and knees and scrub..." or, "you know what, there are some bills I need to pay," or perhaps my least favorite chore of them all: "time go buy ingredients at Costco." It was that bad, you guys. Ideally I would still like to finish it...eventually...but it's time to move on to something else for now.
Coraline - Neil Gaiman This book was a really quick read and also kind of irritating. It gets points for creepy--well done, really. But besides that I didn't like the writing much at all. It's very flat and kind of drones on. Coraline and her choices were hard for me to relate to. She didn't seem to have much personality besides saying things like "I'm bored." There's not much descriptive language and Gaiman's writing was evocative of nothing. We are told repeatedly Coraline is scared but it's hard to believe it. It felt like I was more scared than Coraline, and I'm an adult who was sitting in the safety of her warm comfy bed. There's no character development and the plot is really simple and lacking in any kind of stimulation for me. It was like one of those short Grimm's fairy tales with the cardboard characters and lackluster plot...only 162 pages long. So many things happened that didn't serve any purpose except making the story longer, and since I wasn't invested in the story, it was just frustrating.

Another minor annoynce: the "crazy old guy" in the attic. He's so crazy, am I right? Crazy crazy crazy. He's crazy. And then at the end we find out that wow--he's not just the crazy old guy, he has an actual name! Who would have thought! And Coraline is so glad that his name is funny and fun to say because crazy people, they are great for laughs.

Points for creepy and points for having a capable female heroine, but it didn't really work for me.
Long Division - Kiese Laymon Through ninth grade black Mississippian narrator City Coldson, Laymon takes on a lot here: race issues (and there are a lot of separate issues this book covers, inter- as well as intra-race ), but there are also strong themes of sexuality and gender--notions of masculinity, different types of love, homophobia--and he also covers religion and some other topics I'm probably forgetting. There are parts that are very funny (I don't often laugh out loud at things I'm reading, but in this case I did). But it wasn't just laugh-a-minute; Laymon had me feeling completely infuriated, helpless, and sickened on City's behalf (for instance, the first encounter with Pot Belly). All the chracters were pretty great; even the peripherals were drawn in a way that gave me a really good picture.

There's also the time travel element, which was an interesting device for comparing Mississippi race relations between the 1960s, 1980s, and 2010s. But the time travel story didn't quite add up for me, and it seemed to distract me more than I enjoyed it. Then again, I haven't read the book three times so perhaps, according to City's school principal, I haven't really read it at all.

Overall I really liked this book, I'd recommend it to most people. I really enjoyed City's narration and there is a lot to like here. I'll be keeping my eye out for more Kiese Laymon--in the meantime, his blog.
Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman 2.5 stars.

This book was a mixed bag for me.On the one hand, I pretty much dig the writing style and the mood that Alice Hoffman sets in this one. I tend to like magic realism, and this is the "chick lit" version. It was another seasonal fall read for me, and I was pretty receptive to what it had to offer. It seems like a good book for cooling weather & lengthening nights.

I also enjoyed the family element, and all the relationships between women. The book dealt (fairly compassionately) with issues domestic and sexual violence. So I wanted to like it, but...
- the emphasis it places on female beauty (basically: "Gillian is the most beautiful ever, she glows, it's painful how beautiful she is, she causes car accidents because she's so just beautiful, these women, they make men DIE for love, men just lose their shit and are moved to KILL THEMSELVES because these women are just so beautiful"...I am not exaggerating at all, and this is just a taste)
- the completely unrealistic romantic "relationships" (undying twu luv at first sight, that is somehow sustained even though there was a pretty substantial emphasis on sex sex sex but no such emphasis on other types of communication, honesty, working through problems, being there for each other, etc)
- despite the somewhat unstable nature of these romantic relationships, they seem to supercede all other relationships in these women's lives, or are supposed to be of paramount importance to them / the reader
- the fact that somehow women are the ONLY people ever to come see the aunts about love problems? ?????? ?? ????? ... ???
- how we are supposed to think Gary is some Awesome Fucking Dude for not raping Sally when he actually wants to
...all conspire to lower the rating substantially. There is probably more but I don't actually have the book on me so I can't look through the notes I made. Anyway... One of those things I'd be willing to mostly overlook, and if most were present in moderation, it wouldn't be so bad. But it got to the point where I was like "UGH COME ON." :|
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Washington Irving Fall is here--it's a dry & sunny 83 degrees. I used to think this was a pretty warm temperature but that was before I moved to Chico--honestly I'm sitting on my porch in long underwear and considering going inside for socks because my feet are quite cold. It's really very nice and fall is my favorite season here, so I wanted to do some seasonal reading. Since I a) am not very familiar with this story, and b) could get it for free at Gutenberg, I decided to go ahead and read it.

If I were rating it on writing alone, it would get 5 stars easily. I loved the writing. Why don't people write like this anymore? In one of my classes this quarter, the teacher posted a chapter for us to read from a book published in 1959 and apologized for the "dated" language. It was the best thing I've read all quarter, more fun to read and easier to understand than the "untextbook" we have, with more clearly and cleverly drawn points, and none of the clunky setence structure. It was awesome. Not quite as good, though, as the writing in this book (although the messages in Sleepy Hollow are not nearly as important to me). Peter also enjoys the writing of bygone years so I read some of it outloud to him too and he was excited.

But there's also the story to consider. It was pretty basic, nothing fantastic, but overall enjoyable.

And then there was, you know, the sexism and racism. Women, they're completely impossible to fathom and make men unhappier than the devil himself, don'tchaknow, even though at the end of the day they're just possessions! Black people, they have nothing but admiration for the people who look down on them. Blah blah blah I know it was 1820 but there were still people back then who managed to not broadcast that noise.

Anyway...I really really enjoyed the style of writing. I might read it next autumn too since it's so short, or maybe give one of his others a try.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie - Ayana Mathis This book is divided into sections representing Hattie's progeny. The first chapter takes place in 1925 and the last in 1980, so a lot of time is covered. The format shares a lot with the "short story" format, though there is enough continuity for it to be called a novel. While I was reading it, I wondered how the book would have looked if it were a family saga twice the length (I'm generally not a huge fan of short stories), but I like what Mathis did here. I can't really think of a better or more concise way to get the picture we got; so it turns out that what I initially thought was a weakness--looking at Hattie, the family, and the setting through each child individually--was a great storytelling choice.

A lot of topics are covered--racism, homophobia, poverty, mental illness, domestic violence and abuse in families, addictions, class, religion, self-destruction... there are probably some I'm forgetting... And even though none of them are handled too extensively in the 250 page book, it doesn't feel like Mathis really short-changes you on any of them, either. Although she doesn't spend a ton of time on the backstory, the feeling of completeness or full understanding is there.

Also, I really liked the ending :)
In the Woods - Tana French 4.5 stars.

I don't read much in the way of the "mystery" genre (although I do read some), so I'm not sure how this compares to your standard mystery fare, but I think it'd be favorably. It has much more to offer than just a mystery--and in fact, the mystery itself may be the weakest part of the whole thing.

This is a multifaceted story with a compelling narrator (who, yes, did piss me off at times). The writing was what drew me in initially--French is definitely a skilled writer. What really impressed me by the end, though, was the depth of the characters and the complexity of it all--commentary on relationships, memory, and habits. My favorite type of thriller/horror/mystery are ones that deal with a trust/mistrust (like Rosemary's Baby or The Thing). I was pleasantly surprised to find certain aspects of that theme here.

Although the story has obvious elements of violence, and covers especially violence against women in the form of domestic violence, murder, and rape, with a focus on the murder of a girl child, it does not sensationalize the violence.

Overall it was more than I was expecting and I'd be glad to read the next in the series.
Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love and Revolution - Luisita Lopez Torregrosa 2.5 stars. I think this book would have gotten in a higher rating if I had been more in the mood for what it was, which is basically about being a journalist. I saw it at the library and read the first page or two--really really gorgeous writing--and decided to go ahead and check it out (even though I almost always regret those decisions later--I have a huge to-read pile that I'm pretty selective about, and then I just waltz into the library and just stack the books into my arms without any kind of vetting first?! But I digress...).

As it turns out, I had little patience for it. The book is billed as "a memoir of love & revolution," but it's not really either. The Philippine People Power revolution of the late 1980s is dealt with very superficially, which is okay with me (it is a short book after all), so I was hoping to at least get a good love story/memoir. Reading about people falling in and out of love can be really poignant. But...honestly there's not much of that in this book either. When it is covered, it's done well--especially near the end. The breakup and the aftermath were high parts of the book for me, because there was finally some emotion and something I could relate to. But it's too little. I understand that it's a memoir so we're talking about real people, and even though Torregrosa used a false name for her partner, the person is still known to many and I can understand how certain things wouldn't make it into the book. But...I didn't...I mean, there is basically nothing in here about their relationship. It's just like "oh yeah it was passionate." And that's it. There's a lot of telling us how passionate it was but she doesn't let us in on shared jokes or romantic gestures, the comfort and acceptance relationships can give, or any real disagreements or fights. I never felt it and I didn't get it, and I wasn't emotionally invested at all. Which made it really hard to sit through THIS bottle of wine at THIS restaurant, THAT bottle of wine at THAT restaurant, THIS wine THAT wine, wine wine wine, travel travel travel, food food food, travel, servants, phone call, "passion," wine, travel, moodiness about writing, travel. I don't really care what wine you had to drink at what place in what month. I forgot that stuff before the sentence was even finished. And there was a lot of that in here.

Also: I don't romanticize journalism or writing, and it's pretty clear the author does. I could still have related to that had Torregrosa told us what it means to her, but she doesn't. And then there are things likes this: "It was a fear growing in me that our life was changing, that something--I didn't know or didn't want to know exactly what--was pulling us apart. We were becoming ordinary." Yes. Being ordinary is definitely what tore you guys apart, not your hectic & incompatible schedules, or refusing to understand each other or to be kind to each other. It was definitely the dread "ordinariness." If only you guys could have lived in a new country every year I'm sure you'd still be together. ???????????

Anyway. The writing is good--often times it's great, but unfortunately for me the subject discussed weren't all that interesting. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in journalism, though.
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson 4 1/2 stars. It took me a while to get through this book (thank you, work; thank you, school) and also a while to get around to reviewing it... It was an enjoyable read. I really liked Atkinson's writing style, her vocabulary, and most of all the way she draws characters. Although this book is over 500 pages long, it definitely didn't feel like it to me (it took so long to get through because I had so much other stuff going on, not because of any drag in the book!).

I kind of rolled my eyes at the opening of the book, a scene that depicts the of a murder of "the Fuhrer," thinking that the whole "go-back-and-kill-Hitler" thing would predominate. But it didn't, really. And actually I was quite relieved when killing Hitler wasn't the "end," that it showed Ursula being born yet again. I know other readers have expressed frustration--"what was the point?!" But honestly I'm more satisfied with the lack of a nice, pat little ending with a bow on top. I feel like if it had ended with killing Hitler, it would've been a little too...saccharine? Moralizing? How-awesome!!-also-it's-totally-Ursula's-responsibility-to-tailor-her-life-to-stopping-people-from-being-assholes-...-even-though-guess-what-bad-shit-still-happens-no-matter-how-much-a-single-person-does (but then I don't really buy into the "great man" theory). Also I just think it makes it a bit deeper to not have it end there--I mean, why should it? It never ended with any of her other deaths. Which of Ursula's lives in the "real" life? Will she ever be released from the endless rebirths? Are the other people living over and over again as well yet she's unique in remembering glimpses? If not, which of her takes is their "real" life? Readers would get any of those fun questions if Atkinson had just made it some hokey "your mission is to kill Hitler."

I also thought Atkinson did a pretty good job handling rape and its effects. In one of her lives, Ursula is raped and ends up pregnant and she blames herself, her mother blames her (and basically stops loving her/becomes nasty toward her), and because she's traumatized and withdraws afterward she ends up with an extremely violent abuser... I mean, I'm pretty nitpicky about this, so there are little things I would've changed, but overall it captures potential consequences of rape and who is and is not accountable--it's basically an accurate representation of rape culture, although I wish there was a bit more done through narration, plot, or characters' responses to disavow it. In another instance(s) that I thought were less well handled, a neighbor is raped & murdered and again we see the "oh it's all my fault" on the part of people whose fault it is not, and all these "what ifs" about if-I-just-been-five-minutes-earlier, if-I-had-walked-with-her, if-someone-walked-me-home, if-I-fought-him-off, and while I understand that these are totally normal reactions to the situation, I didn't feel like enough energy was actually directed to the root of it. Where was the what-if-the-murder/rapist-wasn't-a-murderer/rapist? Maybe Atkinson was trying to show that it really doesn't matter what the victim was doing, but it wasn't really the impression I got.

Anyway, overall I quite enjoyed it. It gives you a lot to think about--how the world we live in is just one of many possible worlds. It didn't completely blow me away (which is why I'm withholding the last half-star--jeez, I'm stingy!), though I do think Atkinson is worth reading again.
Virgin Soul - Judy Juanita Hmm. I really really liked this book starting out. But it kind of fell apart for me partway through. I'm not sure what the precise reason for this was, if the writing declined or if I was just more interested in Geniece's interactions with her family, herself, and the world in general than I was in hearing about the abusive guys she hooked up with, the potato salad she made for the meetings, how Bobby Seale was hiding from police, how many drugs she did...

Geniece was my favorite part of the book, and unfortunately Geniece gets kind of subsumed by the movement. I felt frustrated with that. I also felt frustrated about how female Panthers were sidelined the whole book and near the very end there is only one paragraph dedicated to any awareness or unpacking of that. We have some insights into why her personality might be mutable, but I still wish she had had more character devlopment, whether through internal thoughts/struggles or interactions with people. It didn't feel like enough to me...

Overall I liked this book but there were some choppy bits of writing, where I would scratch my head wondering why the author included a certain sentence, paragraph, or anecdote. At times I wondered if I would have understood more of what she was getting at I was black and/or older--my dad had a class with Huey Newton at UCSC, but all that stuff was definitely old news by the time I was growing up in the 90s/00s. Also, something just seemed...lacking. The spark was there for me early on but it didn't hold and I can't really pin down why.
What Alice Forgot - Liane Moriarty I have to say that this is not the kind of book I would choose to read. (I read it for a book club.) I haven't read a chick lit book in the last ten years at least. After I read the first couple of pages of this book, I wanted to put it down. It annoyed me quite a bit while I was reading it and I was thinking it would be 1.5 star material. I rolled my eyes through a lot of it--I've saw one reviewer use the word "hokey." Yes. All the "omg we're so happy" "omg aren't we charming" "omg so in love" "omg super secret finger caresses forever" was just... it didn't do it for me. I am half of a couple that probably comes off like this (I remember a few weeks after Peter moved in, we were talking and Peter was looking at me all adoringly and telling me how smart/funny/awesome/something I was and my best friend/our roommate was like "Take your lips OFF her ass..." loool) and just...shoving it in people's faces over and over and over is just kinda sorta...annoying? Boring? I mean, I get it, they were happy, I didn't 1483830494 bajillion memories of it. And after reading some slam-dunk, awesome, beautifully written books the last couple months (Plague of Doves, Americanah, Garden of the Evening Mists, Octavia Butler's Earthseed books), this one seemed (I'm having a hard time finding the right word)...childish? Insular? Indulgent? The message/moral is really obvious and spelled out in-your-face, no nuance or finesse. It pretty much clobbers you every three paragraphs. The ending is super predictable from page 1 (and I suck at predicting where plots are going, even when I try hard). For a minute I thought she was going to have Alice actually stay with Dominick and I was like, "Wow! Cool! Nick took the train to Garbagetown, after all." But...yeah. And of course it's all up to ~*~Alice~*~ to fix the relationship that fell apart because of Nick anyway, if ~*~Alice~*~ hadn't changed then the all-important ~*~marriage~*~ wouldn't have survived, because relationships are women's reponsibility to fix and stay in always, even when they are unhappy and/or their partners are totally negligent and borderline abusive. ...Which brings me to: there's a lot to critique here from a feminist viewpoint, but I'm really wanting to wrap this book review up.

That being said, I finished it yesterday and it's kind of grown on me since. Almost the entire time I was reading it I was thinking that I couldn't possibly give it two stars because "it's okay" is something I would say about a book that I would recommend and I really wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. But I don't know, it fiddled with my brain a bit and I would probably recommend it to someone looking to read chick lit. Mostly it's fluff, and I feel like it would have gained something by being shorter but it does give you some things to ponder over in the end.

On the plus side, I did like how stay-at-home motherhood is shown to be a valid, important, and difficult life choice.