Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know that Neil deGrasse Tyson has been the new poster child of capital-S Science in the last few years, but I have lived in blissful ignorance. I didn't watch Cosmos, for instance. But I like astrophysics, the parts I can grasp, and have an admiration for people who can grasp the science and math and concepts enough to push our understanding forward.

This is a short book, and I will recommend the audio read by the author. He is very passionate and exuberant about his topics, and it still came across a bit sped up (which I felt it needed.) The different chapters are sometimes previous essays, compiled into this layman's overview of astrophysics - intentionally short, concepts boiled down to the core of where our understanding started, what we know now, and what we do not know. It's clear that the one thing we really have gained understanding of is all that we do not know!

I was least thrilled by the periodical table chapter, but I get it, the elements are not unique to earth, and that can be used as evidence for some things, mostly things I'm not super interested in the debate on. But I loved his cosmic perspective and where humanity fits as much as I loved his visual description of what the galaxies looked like in the past, and his questions about the things that we can never know we don't know because they are gone.

This is the best science book I've read all year, and possibly also the only science book I will have read this year.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Gather the Daughters

Gather the Daughters Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've struggled to review this title because I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I'm weary of the women-as-breeder trope so common in post-apocalyptic fiction. On the other hand, there are reasons this is so prevalent.

On the one hand, I find the child abuse in this, even though it is often "offstage," very disturbing. On the other hand, well. It's not unbelievable.

On the one hand, I was confused about the world building. On the other hand, the ending makes everything very clear, or at least provides reasons for it to be muddy. It is true that the daughters don't know enough about the world. That isn't a mistake, that's deliberate, both on the part of the author but also on the part of the men running the island they all live on. But would everyone feeling confused make it to the end?

I also very much like the rotating perspectives, always only the daughters.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title through NetGalley. Published July 2017.


View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Reading Envy 100: 100 Reasons Why

To my great amazement, this is the 100th episode of the Reading Envy Podcast! It has been such a journey to host and produce this podcast. I invited other readers to weigh in on the best ten books they read in the last ten years - just like a normal Reading Envy episode, they do not need to have been published in the last ten years. Some readers have connections to the podcast, others are people on my guest wishlist that I haven't been able to convince to be on the show. Some lists are recorded by the contributors while I have recorded lists submitted by others. I made my own list, and also include a list of the top ten things you might not know about Reading Envy. All in all, the lists add up to 100.  All books are mentioned below, as well as links to previous episodes by guests (if appropriate) and their various online presences.

Thank you for listening, and thank you for making Reading Envy what it is. And if you are feeling left out, I will be asking for contributions for the best books of the year episode very soon.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 100: 100 Reasons Why.

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
Listen via Stitcher

If you are interested in appearing on the podcast: FAQ

Reader 1: Jason Roland appears on Reading Envy about twice a year, and I continue to be influenced by his deep knowledge of southern writers.

The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins
My Struggle by Karl Ove Knaussgard
Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
All the Living by C.E. Morgan
Serena by Ron Rash
Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down by William Gay

Related Episodes: 014, 025, 042, 054, 073, 080


Reader 2: Claire Tristram, known as poingu in Goodreads. Claire and I co-moderate the Newest Literary Fiction Group in Goodreads, and I have long admired her ability to read deeply and thoughtfully.

The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
Of a Fire on the Moon by Norman Mailer
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
Oreo by Fran Ross
Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski
Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy by Paulina Chiziane


Reader 3: Sara Moore is a newer reading friend in Litsy with similar tastes to my own!

The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt
Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Bunt
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Related Episode: 088


***
At this point, I talk about the ten things you might not know about Reading Envy, but you have to listen to the episode to find them out.
***


Reader 4: Scott Danielson, co-founder and original co-host of the Reading Envy Podcast!

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Pavane by Keith Roberts
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Brother Astronomer by Br. Guy Consolmagno
Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould
The Odyssey by Homer
Beowulf

Related Episodes: 001-026, off and on, plus 052, 058, 071, 082


Reader 5: Robyn Andrews is a colleague I've been trying to get onto the podcast since I started. In lieu of that ever happening, at least I get to talk to her about books in person. And she agreed to share her list of ten books.

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Room by Emma Donaghue
Under the Dome by Stephen King
Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel
American Rust by Phillip Meyer
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Homer and Langley by EL Doctorow


Reader 6: Shawn Mooney. I first encountered Shawn in Litsy but we have become close reading friends. Since we are on opposite time zones I am never surprised to wake up to a book related message. Shawn recently started his own BookTube channel, Shawn the Book Maniac, so check it out.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
The One-in-A-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Related Episodes: 077, 086

 
Reader 7: Joni Tevis, writer and professor extraordinaire, is someone I am lucky to see around campus. I once audited her Writing Non-Fiction class and can only classify it as life-changing. She also loves to read, and I asked her for her list.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Beautiful Zero by Jennifer Willoughby
Dangerous Goods by Sean Hill
Swallow the Ocean by Laura Flynn
The Truant Lover by Juliet Patterson
Borrowed Wave by Rachel Moritz
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
Believers by Charles Baxter
The Book of Wanderings: A Mother-Daughter Pilgrimage by Kimberly Meyer

Related Episode: 029


Reader 8: Karen Acosta, a friend first in a virtual world before becoming friends in real life, we have been reading books together since we were only pixels. She is also the only friend I've ever had reading dates with. The last ten years have been the only years Karen read for pleasure in English, so this is a fun list!

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom
Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker
Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesay

Related Episodes: 004, 015, 051, 066


Reader 9: Me, Myself and I! This was such a hard list to make.

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Justine by Lawrence Durrell
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.
Stoner by John Williams
Ark by Ed Madden
Black Wave by Michelle Tea


Stalk me online:

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: Dark at the Crossing

Dark at the Crossing Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the only book from the National Book Award finalists for novel that I hadn't tried, so I sat and read this book this afternoon. It is about a man Haris, who is from Iraq, has achieved US citizenship, but is now trying to get into Syria from Turkey to fight against the regime. He ends up living along the border with refugees, where the story unfolds.

I feel like so much of the motivation of the main characters is never explained. Why would a person who has done everything to leave go fight against a regime that isn't impacting his own family? He is not particularly religious or zealous about anything.

On the other hand, there are some minor characters in the novel that really pop - Jim, who led the interrogations for the US army that Haris translated into English (in his past) and Marty, the American man-child who is starting an ice hockey team in the new Turkish settlement on the border. I was trying to figure out why these characters who are really only mentioned a few times felt like they had so much more energy than the characters filling more of the novel. It turns out the author served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he really had a grasp of how Americans living overseas, whether in the military or as contractors or entrepreneuers, would act and why. I'm not sure he really has drilled down to the same levels for the refugees and immigrants in this novel, and that is why I don't think it has as great of an impact as it could otherwise.

There is some commentary on war and grief that I found worth reading, such as, "...The fighting doesn't go on because of ideas. It goes on because of loss. If I was robbed of my daughter, I would be lost from this world. I'd take up arms and fight like a dead man alive, killing until I was killed."

(view spoiler)

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Book Subscription Plans (not boxes)

Some of my friends in the Newest Literary Fiction group in Goodreads have been hunting around for book subscription plans that we can read from together, after having some positive experiences in 2017. I can find a bunch of lists online of book subscription boxes with books plus fun extras, but I had a harder time finding a list of subscriptions just of books, just books, no filler.

Please comment if you know of others and I can post an updated list! None of these are a paid advertisement, by the way, although the link to BOTM does have my account linked to it should anyone subscribe from it.

Many of these are independent publishers, and a healthy amount of them are working in translated work, something I am particularly interested in.

This seems to be a new model many independent publishers are working with. Some offer bundles by season while others just send on a schedule. This can work well for book clubs if you are all going to get the same book in the mail anyway! Might as well read it and discuss it.

And Other Stories - "And Other Stories works with writers and translators to handpick the best international books for its subscribers and all lovers of fine writing. Subscribe for 2, 4 or 6 titles per year." Ships from UK but available worldwide, which is a feature many subscription services lack.

Archipelago Books - "A nonprofit press devoted to contemporary & classic world literature." Choose between a half-year or year subscription, and see the titles in advance. Pro-tip: The year-long eBook subscription (rather than print) is a deal!

Book of the Month - five popular books to choose from each month, plus add-ons that are older titles, and you can add additional titles for $9.99, hard to beat!. Good range of genre plus healthy inclusion of debut titles. Not ideal for my book club since we'd all pick different titles, but vary popular on the internet.

Coffee House Press - An indie press plus arts non-profit, they offer bundles by year. $100 gets you a season of books. The current season is Fall 2017 and contains 11 books. 

Dorothy Publishing Project - Not really a subscription but you can get all current titles in one bundle. I did this last January and just have a few left to read. All fiction by women, many titles translated, all with beautiful cover art.

Homeward Bound Paperback Originals - from Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, NC. "Hand-curated by the booksellers of Malaprop's, we'll pick a new paperback original every month -- fiction or creative non-fiction, a book we find to be notable for its literary quality and its appeal -- and mail it to your home." They also have a local version for slightly less money where you can pick the books up. This is a bookstore an hour from me, so I've been a subscriber for a while now, and can attest to the range of the books.

Milkweed Books Subscriptions - Milkweed just celebrated the first anniversary of their storefront bookstore, and now have several subscription options. "The original Read This Next! subscription (six books per year) features the most exciting new voices in literature. The Indie Spotlight subscription showcases the vital work of our fellow independent presses and the six books per year will introduce you to the most compelling and eclectic books we've encountered. The Long Live Books subscription combines the previous two." I'm tempted by Indie Spotlight myself.

New Vessel Press - "independent publishing house specializing in the translation of foreign literature into English." Their subscription goes by seasons, where you pay a set amount for a set of books. My favorite book from them is Some Day by Shemi Zarhin.

NYRB Classics Book Club - Each month, editors select a book from their newest titles (often classics or obscure titles being revived.) Annual membership is $150* for the twelve books, plus a bonus book—Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, translated for NYRB Classics by Richard Howard.


Open Letter Books - "newest and greatest international literature in English translation." Subscribe for 6 or 12 months.

Restless Books - "independent, nonprofit publisher devoted to championing essential voices from around the world, whose stories speak to us across linguistic and cultural borders." For $10/month, you end up with six of their titles in a year, one of which you choose from the backlist and the others are chosen for you. I have my eye on this one. They recently published four volumes of Cuban science fiction!

Two Lines Press - world literature in translation. 2017's subscription was $50 for 6 titles.

Ugly Duckling Press - "a nonprofit publisher for poetry, translation, experimental nonfiction, performance texts, and books by artists." Subscriptions are part of the support level for donations, so you can choose an amount and will receive books accordingly.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Reading Envy 099: Readalong of The Secret History

Our first readalong was so much fun that we had another one just a few months later. This time the vote was between four books by women, and this one swept the vote with almost 43% (see the chart below.) The book must have been in the air, because Book of the Month randomly offered it as an add-on (not a paid advertisement) and it felt like a bunch of people were reading it even before the readalong started. The book is 25 years old and still holds up, and we had a lot to talk about. I was joined by Carol Ann, Jeff, Ellie, Vinny (in text), and Sue near the end. What a great group with which to talk about this mighty tome!

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 099: Readalong of The Secret History.

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
Listen via Stitcher

If you are interested in appearing on the podcast: FAQ

Look at all the posts from the readalong in social media!


The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Books discussed, other than The Secret History:

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


Thanks to everyone who read along! Feel free to take the survey about the readalong if you have feedback or want to nominate a book for next time.



Related episodes:

Episode 081 - Reading Envy Readalong
Episode 090 - Reading Envy Readalong: East of Eden with Ellie and Jeff 

Stalk us online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Ellie is @elliedottie on Litsy
Jeff at Goodreads
Jeff on Twitter
Jeff is @jeffkoeppen on Litsy
Carol Ann is @thebookandbeyond on Instagram
Vinny is @billypar on Litsy

Friday, November 3, 2017

Review: The Voiceover Artist

The Voiceover Artist The Voiceover Artist by Dave Reidy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another book I only discovered after getting "Curbside Splendor" as my result in the Book Riot quiz, Which Indie Press Should You Be Obsessed With?" I had not heard of the publisher, and requested a bunch of interesting looking titles from interlibrary loan.

This book is a slow burn, and at first I read a bit and put it aside, but I slowly became completely wrapped up in the story. Simon has a stutter but dreams of working as a voiceover artist. The story starts with Simon as an adult but then goes back to his childhood, where a series of events lead him to quit speaking all together. The reader knows why eventually, but the reader does not necessarily get to see Simon get his voice back, which was a shame. The reason for this, though, is that the story is told through shifting perspectives, and not always from the central characters. So while these characters fill in pieces of the story, they don't always know everything. In the end I appreciated this incomplete picture because it seemed rather true to life. I also learned a lot about voiceover work! Who would have thought.

View all my reviews

Review: Sweet Bean Paste

Sweet Bean Paste Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a lovely little story about what gives life meaning, but it reads as heartfelt instead of didactic or cheesy. It stems from the author's experience of the Japanese sensibility that meaning comes from contributing to society, and wanting to explore other understandings of the meaning of life. The narrative manages to start with a focus on dorayaki (pancakes with sweet bean paste) and shift to a focus on leprosy communes, but it works. Only a few characters, with time to develop meaningful relationships, to allow them to connect and grow. Definitely recommended for anyone who enjoys stories about small but meaningful lives, well told.

I requested this book in Edelweiss based on the title and description, but now see there is a movie in the original language.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Read in October: Books 257 - 278 of 2017



Books pictured are 5-star reads for October 2017.

257. Hanna Who Fell from the Sky by Christopher Meades ** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
258. The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
259. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided **** (audiobook from Audible; my review)
260. Nobody Cries at Bingo by Dawn Dumont **** (interlibrary loan; my review)
261. Elmet by Fiona Mozley *** (personal copy; my review)
262. Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica **** (whodunitbymail book swap; my review)
263. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf ***** (library book; my review)
264. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado ***** (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
265. Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle de Kretser **** (library book; my review)
266. Another Place You've Never Been by Rebecca Kauffman **** (library book; my review)
267. Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni **** (book swap; my review)
268. Autumn by Karl Ove Knaussgard **** (library eBook; my review)
269. Sugar Town by Hazel Newlevant **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
270. Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
271. Hadriana in All My Dreams by Rene Depestre **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
272. Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
273. The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan ***** (personal copy; my review)
274. The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn **** (Goodreads giveaway; my review)
275. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn ***** (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
276. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury **** (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
277. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal **** (interlibrary loan; my review)
278. Juventud by Vanessa Blakeslee ***** (interlibrary loan; my review)

Total books read: 21
Review copies: 7
Audiobooks: 4
eBooks: 7
Print books: 10

2017 Borders Reading Project: 5
Man Booker Prize list: 1
National Book Award List: 1

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: Juventud

Juventud Juventud by Vanessa Blakeslee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another book I only discovered after getting "Curbside Splendor" as my result in the Book Riot quiz, Which Indie Press Should You Be Obsessed With?" I had not heard of the publisher, and requested a bunch of interesting looking titles from interlibrary loan.

This book kept me up late into the night just because I couldn't stop reading it. I can't tell you the last time that happened; I am old now and reading usually puts me to sleep. But not this one, I was up until almost midnight because I "only" had 100 pages left.

Mercedes is a privileged teen living in Colombia. She attends private school and has a driver. Her father is a wealthy land owner and her mother is an American who left when she was an infant. She has no contact with her. But the situation in Colombia is violent and unstable, and her father wants to send her to the United States to finish her schooling.

You don't have to know a lot about Colombia in the 1990s to fall into this book. Mercedes has been protected from understanding the political situation, so we as readers learn about it as she finds out more about the FARC, ELN, the drug cartels, and the desplazado, the displaced people within Colombia who have had to flee their homes due to fighting, but are trying to find work and food and shelter.

Then Mercedes meets Manuel, an idealist revolutionary, and falls in love. And so the book is not so much a thinly veiled history lesson but a coming-of-age novel, a romance, a tragedy, etc. While the end section of the novel is Mercedes returning to Colombia as an adult, trying to make sense of some of the events, the majority is Mercedes as a teen and what she goes through. I thought it was very well written and well researched, and while it isn't an "#ownvoices" story from a Colombian author, and sometimes Mercedes is far more reflective than a 15 year old might be, I still think this novel is excellent. I hope the author is working on her next project.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review: The Sarah Book

The Sarah Book The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read everything Scott McClanahan has published, and enjoyed Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place and Hill William. Most of his writings feel like memoir but are labeled as fiction, and I can only assume this comes from a connection to the long tradition of the accomplished telling of tall tales that perpetuates throughout the West Virginia zone of Appalachia.

The Sarah Book is no different in that sense, although instead of moving throughout a host of characters in a family or in a community, it is very much focused on Scott and Sarah, who are getting divorced. Scott is the narrator and is crass, frustrating, and pretty pitiful, but somehow in the writing it is easy to be on his side anyway. Whether it is Scott the narrator or Scott the actual person/author, he is able to speak so honestly, it manages to work. The writing itself feels like the author playing with the reader, or himself (haha, pretty sure he would approve of that.) For instance, within the story of how he met Sarah, he deliberately uses a cliche, acknowledged he is using a cliche, mocks himself for using a cliche, but yet it feels like they are the only words he has that can come close to understanding what has just occurred. And as the reader, I give him a pass.

View all my reviews

Review: The Devil Crept In

The Devil Crept In The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won this book through a Goodreads Giveaway but have only promised an honest review.

Although this is not my usual fare, I do try to read horror from time to time to keep an eye on the genre and get a bit of a thrill, especially in October. I did not know this author, but once the book arrived, I started seeing reviews of an earlier title, The Shuddering.

One thing that appealed to me in the description is the location -Deer Creek is an imaginary rural community in the woods of Oregon. Some of the action happens 30 miles from McMinnville, Oregon, and some of it specifically takes place north of there. I grew up roughly 27 miles northeast of McMinnville, in the woods, so suffice to say this is MY territory and it is easy for me to picture places where evil could linger unprotested in the forest.

While some horror is atmospheric, implied, and the events occur off-stage, Ahlborn writes blood and guts, visceral events, and true evil. So, well, consider yourself warned. There are two stories in the book that alternate, in two different fonts. In one, Stevie's friend and cousin Jude disappears, and Stevie starts encountering potential evil in trying to find him. But because he has a speech impediment (one that may be more indicative of mental distress than anything else) and previous injuries, nobody listens to him. In the other story, Rosie, a woman married to a German, suffers a few tragedies back to back and finds herself in an impossible situation. I don't want to say much more than that because the shiver potential of this book goes up the less you know.

View all my reviews

Review: Here Comes the Sun

Here Comes the Sun Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Lauren W. came on the Reading Envy Podcast as a guest for Episode 097, she brought this book to talk about. It wasn't long before I had to try it, and I'm so glad I did.

How did this book pass me by? It is a novel about three women, all related, trying to make their way in a small community in Jamaica. Delores is the mother and matriarch, working hard to make what money she can, completely dependent on the waves of tourists coming through. Margot, her older daughter, appears to work in the service industry for one of the top hotels, but as the story unveils the truth, you learn that she has been selling herself for money, and has been doing so within the context of her employment. She is saving her money for her younger sister, so Thandi can go to school, become a doctor, and escape this very hard life. But Thandi is more focused on a skin-lightening regimen and working on her art. Because she goes to private Catholic school with students who are above her neighborhood's income level, she walks a confusing line between poverty and privilege.

There are other things going on. The sex worker industry seems to be part of the hidden world of the most successful hotels and resorts, and Margot may not be able to work her way out of that the way she thinks. Not only that, a new resort is poised to move in on the land where her entire community lives, and she may play a role in displacing them. Margot is also in love, and with a woman who has already been shunned by the community, since being gay in Jamaica is still very much against the law and a punishable offense. Her neighbors call her a witch and children are afraid of her. The character of Delores ends up having more secrets than anyone, and I was so impressed by how that story was told, and also how she is pretty much unapologetic for what she has done. What choices do the women in this story have?

It is a very well written story, and asks the reader to confront their own role in these issues. I have visited some of these places mentioned in the book, and feel like I have met a Delores and not bought any of her goods. It raises the need for conscious travel, understanding whether your hotel pays local workers ethically, and whether they turn a blind eye to (or profit from) the trafficking of women and sex.

I listened to the audio based on Lauren's recommendation and was quite pleased at the nuance and performance of the narrator, Bahni Turpin. I will be looking for more of her performances for sure.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Reading Envy 098: Just a Bunch of Stuff that Happened

Jenny sits down to talk to Dr. Bryan Bibb, an associate professor of religion at the university where she works. We talk about horror and religion, mythology and ... baseball? Well. Jenny likes to have guests who read in genres not frequently featured on Reading Envy.

Warning: this episode is a bit longer than the average episode, and there may be triggers for sexual abuse and spiders.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 098: Just a Bunch of Stuff that Happened


Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
Listen via Stitcher

I am starting to schedule guests for 2018! If you are interested in appearing on the podcast: FAQ


Books featured:



It by Stephen King
After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones
Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Judges (the book of, from The Bible)
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Other mentions:

After Class Podcast
American Gods (tv series)
Insomnia by Stephen King
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
The Stand by Stephen King
On Writing by Stephen King
Stranger Things (tv series)
Ready Player One by Ernst Cline
Master of None (tv series)
Roots by Alex Haley
Charles Leerhsen
Dead Ball Era
Detroit Tigers
Cobb (film)
Cobb by Al Stump
Ken Burns' Baseball (documentary series)
Field of Dreams (film)
Texts of Terror by Phyllis Trible
A Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Baez
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity by Eva Mroczek

The Nomadic Text by Brennan Breed
Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Armada by Ernst Cline
Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby by Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden
Museum of the Bible
Everything's Eventual by Stephen King
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle de Kretser


Stalk us online:

Bryan at the After Class Podcast
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this series for the strong female characters, particular Constance the lady cop (technically in this book she is the deputy sheriff) who is big and strong and smart and doesn't fit nicely into a phone booth or a trolley bench. You can enjoy the story by itself, but I think it is most remarkable knowing how much of this is based on historical fact. Amy Stewart has done her research, from the characters to the scenarios to the legal situation. Young women are thrown in jail because their moral characters are in question, when it is more that they have decided to leave their parents' home and are daring to work and live alone. But they don't have many rights or access to counsel. Constance Kopp has been assigned to work directly with the women in jail, and is able to help them and advocate for them. Then her youngest sister leaves without permission to pursue her career on the stage, and her sisters are confronted with their beliefs.

I received a review copy of this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It lingered on my Kindle for a while and came out in the meantime, in early September 2017.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Review: Hadriana in All My Dreams

Hadriana in All My Dreams Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A new translation from Akashic Books left the translator with the challenge of finding more words for body parts! I enjoyed this completely bizarre novel set in Haiti with a corpse grandmother, sex-addict butterflies, and the central zombie bride. Voodoo and island traditions saturate the novel and the author communicates the story in three different styles. At first I was completely lost and had no idea what was going on, but just went with it and let it swirl around me.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy through Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: Everything Here is Beautiful

Everything Here is Beautiful Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first, I thought this was going to be an immigrant novel, and it kind of is, but that's more of a background element. Lucy/Lucia moves with her single Chinese pregnant mother to the United States as a young girl. But the story quickly jumps to her adolescence and her first mental disorders surfacing and requiring hospitalization. Her sister tries to help, and the sister relationship is a thread throughout the novel. What if your sister was the only person who knew your medical secrets but lives far away with her own life?

I feel like the author did an interesting thing here. The point of view changes so sometimes the pov is from Lucia, sometimes when she is lucid, but also when she isn't. And the moments that really stuck out to me were those where I was seeing the world from her perspective and her decisions seemed valid, and then it switches to an outsider and you realize that she is acting paranoid, delusional, potentially harmful to her child. It was quite the reminder that for a person suffering from mental illness, it's not that easy for them to see what others see, or to fully understand they need help or medication. I thought it was very effective.

Lucy's second husband is Manny, an undocumented Ecuadorian, and along the way I realized that there are no white people in this novel, pretty awesome. Lucy had spent time in Latin America and at one point they move back there with their child, and I thought that was an unfairly challenging environment for her mental health but adds another interesting twist to the story.

Thanks to the publisher for approving my request in NetGalley. This book comes out January 16th, 2018.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine the historical research approach of someone like David McCullough, and pull those details into a novel that takes place almost entirely in a graveyard, ghosts and all (picture The Graveyard Book), and you have this novel. I was lucky to receive a review copy of the audiobook from the publisher, because I think this is the preferred format for the novel.

Since George Saunders wrote the novel in 108 sections, with distinct voices, they decided to use 166 voices in the recording (Time Magazine did a short profile of the upcoming production, and you can listen to an excerpt on the publisher site.)

Nick Offerman and David Sedaris, along with George Saunders, are three primary voices (although I thought Sedaris was Holly Hunter until after I'd finished, despite having heard him narrate his own books) and a cast of friends, stars, and family fill out the rest. Some voices are heard only one time, reading a letter or fact from what sounds like real sources, and I imagine some are, some aren't. That is a bit confusing in the beginning, until you get into the rhythm of the novel. It's enough to know that you don't need to remember the voices in conjunction with their names, so they can pass through your mind.

Some of the time the multiple voices seem to just be providing context, but often they are playing with the narrative of context, some remembering a full moon, others remembering a cloudy night, others remembering a crescent, etc. These tiny excerpts are often followed by the narrator with an abbreviation I had not heard, so here's a hint: "Op. cit." refers to a longer bibliography or a previously mentioned citation. I wish they had left that out of the audio because I had no idea what it was for most of my listening experience. I had looked up opsit, opsid, oppsid, upsid, and every other combination until I found it. It's a minor thing but gets used so frequently with all the tiny bits, that it drove me to distraction!

Overall the novel is pretty fragmented, and I found I did better in comprehending it when listening for long spans of time, like the five hours I spent in the car yesterday. I am not sure what kind of novel I expected Saunders to write for his first published longer work, but I did not expect something quite so simultaneously historical and experimental!

The highlight for me has to be Nick Offerman though. He is an excellent narrator and now I want to go back and listen to more of his productions. More, please!

ETA: Changed my 4 stars to 5 the more I thought about it.

One more ETA: love or hate it, this sucker just won the Man Booker Prize!

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: Springtime: A Ghost Story

Springtime: A Ghost Story Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle de Kretser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this in October because the subtitle makes it sound like a ghost story. And while the character does encounter a mysterious creature, it isn't a ghost story in the traditional sense. It is an interesting tale that includes sometimes funny/biting social observations (but blink and you might miss them), the seeming culture war between Melbourne and Sydney (the clothes Frances wore in Melbourne are ALL WRONG in Sydney), and all the while Frances is noticing things. She notices the flowers and plants, and how different they are. She notices how people interact with one another. And she notices a woman in an old-fashioned dress....

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body and Other Parties Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I ordered this for my library but grew impatient and listened to it on Hoopla instead. It is one of the finalists for the 2017 National Book Award (USA.)

This is a book of short stories, all centering around the female body, as evidenced by the title. This would not be a book for anyone who shocks easily, as there is sex, a lot of sex, some of it queer sex, and some of it deals with the aftermath of sexual assault. Some of the themes are disturbing, and the insertion at times of supernatural or fantastical elements make many of the stories feel even more dangerous than real life, or maybe it's that they highlight the danger of real life. The writing is powerful and I would not be surprised to see this win the award, although I'm still slightly more on board with Sing, Unburied, Sing.

Story by story:

The Husband Stitch - This is a retelling of The Girl with the Ribbon Around her Neck, but somehow the husband is more domineering, and the lengthening of the story brings you more into her point of view.

Inventory - A list of sexual encounters inside the context of a world falling apart due to a virus. This might be my favorite!

Mothers - A disturbing story where I couldn't tell what was real and what was not. A baby delivered by her lesbian partner, told "this is your baby," But then she is running through the park after stranger babies...

Especially Heinous - I could not understand what was going on here, and had to stop and look up some info about the book. The author has taken every episode of SVU, the show that focuses on sex crimes, usually against women, and builds an alternative story where women have bell eyes and something supernatural is going on and I just didn't really get it at all. I'm sure if I had any familiarity at all with SVU the characters at least would make sense to me, but this was rough. And since it was in audio, I couldn't tell if this was a series of very short stories (flash stories) or what I was encountering, because the author keeps the title of each episode and then has a paragraph or a sentence after each. I wish it had an intro or something, at least to navigate the audio verison.

Real Women Have Bodies - If women really grew invisible....

Eight Bites - Well I'm not quite sure, but I think this is about weight loss surgery and the sacrifice of thin and what it does to our daughters? It's rather frightening.

The Resident - This one examines whether female writers are allowed to write about themselves the same way male writers are, what makes something art, how much autonomy do you have as a creative person?

Difficult at Parties - A woman has gone through severe trauma and starts hearing the thoughts of actors on film.. and in the background, a spouse trying desperately to help.

View all my reviews

Review: Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ever since Stoner, I have been on the hunt for novels about small but meaningful lives. I read Plainsong by Kent Haruf earlier this year and felt it did that pretty well. I still mean to read the following two books in that group, but when I saw there was a movie made of this one I skipped the line to read it before watching.

Addie and Louis are both older people in Holt, Colorado, living alone, and Addie invites Louis over to spend the night. They get to know one another in a way they never had (both were friends with the spouses of the other but did not know each other that well) and don't hide their relationship, but then the town and their adult children have opinions about it. Addie's grandson comes to stay with her for a while, and most of the events of the book center around this event.

The movie was decent - Robert Redford is a good Louis although I'm not sure I'd cast Jane Fonda as Addie (but now I can't picture anyone else.) There is a scene in the book that I wish they'd kept in the film because I would have liked to see Robert Redford navigate a situation where his body failed him, but in that way the book feels more intimate than the movie, a little more raw and honest.

View all my reviews

Review: Nobody Cries at Bingo

Nobody Cries at Bingo Nobody Cries at Bingo by Dawn Dumont
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I had Lindy Pratch on the podcast, she mentioned this book in passing as one of the books her book club had read and liked recently. I requested it from interlibrary loan on impulse!

This is a series of autobiographical fictions, not quite short stories that are self contained but a series of scenes from the life of the main character, who is largely the author. Dawn Dumont grew up on the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada, and most of this book focuses on her childhood, from having to accompany her mother to bingo to navigating the very complex social hierarchy of the playground. There are some very hilarious parts, in fact I can still laugh over the college visit in the cabbage sweater.

But to me what is most impressive is the very authentic voice - the naivete of a young girl who knows a lot about her world but does not really fully understand the external forces. She does her best and can be pretty stubborn at times, but I felt like I knew her by the end of the book!

View all my reviews

Review: Elmet

Elmet Elmet by Fiona Mozley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I saw this book on the Man Booker Prize long list, I ordered it from the UK. It sounded like just my thing and had a beautiful cover! My expectations weren't met, exactly, but I still think I would read whatever the author did next. Some of the observations she had other characters make, like when Vivien compares their father to a whale, were rather thought-provoking and unique.

The only other page I marked is a few chapters later, when the narrator is reflecting on the whale analogy after his father hugged him upon his return home (and this is a good example of the writing):
"As soon as he had shaken off his boots, his Goliath arms pulled me into an embrace and I wondered what it would be like to touch a real whale, and knew that despite what Vivien had said, Daddy was both more vicious and more kind than any leviathan of the ocean. He was a human, and the gamut upon which his inner life trilled ranged from the translucent surface to beyond the deepest crevice of any sea. His music pitched above the hearing of hounds and below the trembling of trees."
So that's beautiful writing, to be sure, but it also serves to slow down the pace substantially, and as such I found myself frequently setting the book aside to read something else.

I like how she describes places. I was less interested in the people, unfortunately. I kept getting confused as to the gender of the narrator, although later on in the novel that seemed more intentional maybe. I read the character as female until he started being addressed with a male name and then felt confused! Ha.

This kept reminding me of Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, although the tone of it isn't as ominous, but in a similar way where a father shapes a world for his children to live in, isolated from the rest of the world, their only reality. He builds a home for them on property he doesn't own, although that too is revealed later in the book to be quite a bit more complicated than this guy just being a hermit. And it isn't as if they are entirely isolated, so there is a tension between the life he would like them to have and the reality surrounding them.. he has to work, and is a fighter for money.

Ultimately I would be disappointed to see this one win the prize, because I never connected with it.

View all my reviews

Reading Envy 097: Blank Spaces with Lauren Weinhold

Jenny once made a friend on Goodreads. This friend read all the same books Jenny read. They met up in Baltimore at an interesting bookstore and could have talked for days! So we decided to meet up again to talk books for the podcast. I hope you enjoy hearing from Lauren, because I'm so happy for you to meet her.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 097: Blank Spaces with Lauren Weinhold

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via iTunes by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
Listen via Stitcher

I am starting to schedule guests for 2018! If you are interested in appearing on the podcast: FAQ


Books featured:




Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen
Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel
Ghachar, Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart

Other mentions:
  
Who's Allowed to Hold Hands? by Nicole Dennis-Benn (New Yorker)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Boxer Rebellion
Macarthur Genius Grant - Gene Luen Yang
Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge
This American Life
Filmish by Edward Ross
Rectify (tv show)
Kannada (language)
Anais Nin
Djuna Barnes
Jeanette Winterson
The Assumption of the Rogues and Rascals by Elizabeth Smart
Command and Control by Eric Schlosser
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Elmet by Fiona Mozley


Stalk us online:

Lauren at Goodreads
Lauren is @lw.flora on Instagram
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy