Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reading Envy 108: Venn Diagram with Yanira Ramirez

Yanira returns to discuss books with Jenny, where we end up talking about island literature and memoir, the perfect venn diagram of romance and witness protection, and other kinds of love. Since we recorded at the end of 2017, we talk a little about our years in reading.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 108: Venn Diagram with Yanira Ramirez

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Books featured:


Down these Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
Augustown by Kei Miller
The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmerelda Santiago
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong


Other mentions:
  
Junot Díaz
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
The Exceptions by David Cristofano
Conquistadora by Esmerelda Santiago
The Turkish Lover by Esmerelda Santiago
Relief Map by Rosalie Knecht
Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knect
The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018



Related episodes:

Episode 070 - Words Like Weapons with Yanira Ramirez
Episode 096 - Not Without Hope with Yanira Ramirez
Episode 097 - Blank Spaces with Lauren Weinhold


Stalk us online:

Yanira is @notafraidofwords on Litsy
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: Little Reunions

Little Reunions Little Reunions by Eileen Chang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The translator for this book had quite the task, because it isn't just the words needing translated, but also a complex family structure and intricate layers of meanings behind gestures and comments. But to read a "romance" of sorts set in Shanghai right before the Communist Revolution is a very specific capture of a moment in time. This is its first time in English, and although it was written in the 1970s, it was not published in China until 2009.

It is somewhat challenging to read because of the complex relationship trees, and reminds me of a 19th century novel of manners, but with a new setting, one I am less familiar with. One where loyalties are complicated, love is not always monogamous, and leaving is sometimes the best option. (That's where the title comes from, all the "little reunions" people would have when returning from exile/pilgrimage/escape.)

The central character of Julie shares some characteristics with the author, in that they both had to leave school in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded during World War II, and they both ended up married to Japanese sympathizers who ended up as traitors.

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The book comes out January 16, 2018.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: The Night Masquerade

The Night Masquerade The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would not read this without reading the previous Binti books, Binti and Home. So much of the detail in this story comes from the world-building in the first two, and reading the third is a much richer experience with that knowledge under your belt.

That said, this is an interesting exploration of a different type of conflict with species who can hardly communicate. Binti has a role to play although it is one she does not even understand entirely. She returns back to school, to a place that has demonstrated that people of all possible modes of communication and lifestyle can live in peace with a few simple accommodations and not only does it serve as a sharp contrast to her home planet, but to our world as well.

I don't want to say much more about it but this is a great conclusion to this imaginative trilogy. Don't forget your otjize on the journey.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title via NetGalley. It comes out January 16, 2018.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: White Tears

White Tears White Tears by Hari Kunzru
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of the books for which I had reading envy at the end of 2017, because I kept hearing good things and it ended up on so many year-end best books lists. So I cleared space for it in January after it was also shortlisted for the Tournament of Books.

This is an excellent read. It contains that rare element that I do look for, where the author takes you somewhere far from where they started. Although I had heard mentions of this being about music, and about race, I had no idea where it was headed, and it took me a few days to even wrap my brain around it.

The novel starts out focused on Seth and Carter. Carter is a rich white kid who befriends Seth over a shared love and attention to music. Seth is from a poor background but has true technological skills, and a good ear. He records what he hears walking around the city, then fragments and samples it in different ways. Carter pays for old recordings, going through phases of what he likes, and they build a library of rare sounds. They are working towards running a studio, something that Seth is more interested in. Carter has become obsessed with an old blues song that somehow ended up on one of the recordings.

Then the novel shifts. A series of tragedies twists everything around into a discussion of appropriation and ownership, creativity and race, privilege and power. The way I read it, probably because I'm a white person, I struggled to let go of feeling a connection to Seth, because of the way he is originally introduced as the underdog. I still feel a bit of a loss over the creative work he had done that he was cut off from by Carter's family.

(view spoiler)

So then there is the tangent of all the things I thought about after finishing the book. As an academic librarian, and as someone who has worked in a traditional music archive, full of recordings made by (mainly) white scholars of (mainly) non-white people groups, I started wondering about the role of archives and libraries in misappropriation of music. Especially in the 21st century where we spend so much time and energy putting obscure sound recordings online. But in the novel, much of what Seth and Carter collect and use comes from the dark corners of the internet, not just physical recordings. Are we doing the right thing?

And what would proper use of musical inspiration look like?

These are the big questions I still have.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: Woman at 1,000 Degrees: A Novel

Woman at 1,000 Degrees: A Novel Woman at 1,000 Degrees: A Novel by Hallgrímur Helgason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite my personal dislike of quirky old person narratives, I really found myself enjoying this novel. Herra Bjornsson lives in a garage where she is dying from emphysema, and is thinking back on her life. And what a life! She came of age in Iceland during World War II. I had never stopped to think about Iceland during World War II, and the book gave me the occasion to do so. Technically Iceland was ruled by Denmark at the time, but Denmark was invaded by Germany while the island of Iceland was occupied by the British. And in 1944, Iceland declared its independence in the midst of the worldwide chaos.

So what do you do if you are a young Icelandic girl whose father fights for the Nazis? Herra moves with her mother to the Danish island of Amrum where hundreds of people are taking shelter from the war, until they are forced to relocate. At that point she is sent to live with a family who is supposed to only take her in for a few months. But when her mother doesn't make the rendezvous point and Herra's father goes back to the front, she is forced as a young teen to attempt to survive on her own, taking her through areas of Denmark, Poland, and Germany. When she returns to Iceland, her father is ostracized and she can't forgive her mother, while her grandparents (the president of Iceland) have war-forgetting cocktail parties for the new wealthy class that profited from the war.

Between the chapters of this history are chapters from the "present day," which in this novel is 2009. Herra is bedridden but she has internet access and spends much of her time trolling people on the internet, including her daughter-in-law. One of her neighbors teaches her how to be a low-key hacker and this leads to other shenanigans.

The reference to 1,000 degrees is the temperature at which a body is burned for cremation, and one memorable scene has Herra making her own appointment at the crematorium.

I think without the balancing of the feisty old person Herra, the story may have seemed overly melodramatic. It did add a lot to the story to know where she ended up. And it isn't glamorous!

There is even more here - commentary on the Icelandic people, the discomfort of representing the great white ideal because of Hitler (her father was a professor of myth/history ... the line gets a bit blurred by the Nazis of course), the reactions of normal people to war and other atrocities, survival, and even sexual awakening (this last one makes me consider whether or not this is mild enough for a book club recommendation.)

There is enough humor to balance the stark realities, and Herra is probably the most kickass invalid you will ever encounter. I enjoyed it far more than I expected, and will seek out additional books by the author, someone who somehow escaped me in my year of reading Iceland. Shame!

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title via NetGalley. The book comes out January 9, 2018.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Review: The Dry

The Dry The Dry by Jane Harper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of the books I had reading envy for, a book that everyone was talking about in 2017 but I didn't get to. It didn't take me long to fix that!

This is a pretty straight-forward crime novel, but what makes it great is that there is a complexity to the story (both a current day event and a past event), the landscape/climate play a major role and the author writes both well, and the author leaves enough space for the reader to formulate ideas along the way. Everything is well paced and I read the entire thing in a day. Sorry, husband, I don't want to watch a movie today, I MUST FINISH THIS BOOK. Huzzah!

I have been to Australia, but only the moist parts. This book tells a story of a farming area desperate for water, leaving the entire community poor and depressed (emotionally too.) The river has dried up, the fire danger is extreme, and people feel guilty for taking showers longer than 2 minutes. This creates a supercharged atmosphere for a crime to occur, and many levels of difficulty to wade through the suspects.

The other bit I really loved was perfect amount of Australianisms used in the dialogue. It isn't overdone but it's done just enough that you can't forget where the story is set.

I will definitely read another book by this author!

I'm also counting this for the Reading Women Challenge 2018, and the Newest Literary Fiction groups's January theme of Australia.

Book 5 of 2018

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Books Read December 2017

All my previous monthly posts were numbered, but somewhere along the line I messed up the numbering. I think I read 339 books this year; Goodreads thinks I read 346. Who knows for certain? But these are the books I read in December, in a vague order. Many near the end were a rush to try to finish all the ARCs I had from 2017. I didn't make it to the end of that list, even.

Pictured books were my five-star reads.



The Family Plot by Cherie Priest **** (library book; my review)
Vacationland by John Hodgman *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith **** (library book; my review)
The Book of Love and Hate by Lauren Sanders ** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Bonfire by Krysten Ritter *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash **** (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
Cartwheels in a Sari by Jayanti Tamm *** (personal ecopy; my review)
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson **** (interlibrary loan; my review)
Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin *** (library book; my review)
Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee **** (eARC from publisher; my review)
Sip by Brian Allen Carr *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong ***** (library book; my review)
Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood **** (personal copy audiobook; my review)
Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Adua by Igiaba Scebo **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda ** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
Artemis by Andy Weir ** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Wild Embers by Nikita Gill *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson **** (Hoopla ebook; my review)
Gratitude in Low Voices by Dawit Gebremichael Habte **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Other Men's Daughters by Richard Stern **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Augustown by Kei Miller **** (interlibrary loan; my review)
The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi *** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof **** (postal book swap; my review)
The Book of Dog by Lark Benobi ***** (personal ecopy; my review)
A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
The Power by Naomi Alderman **** (personal copy from Book of the Month; my review)