Friday, April 16, 2021

Weekend reads, or being kind of overwhelmed

I don't have a book to talk about for today's #weekendreads post, although I do hope I'll get time to read.

We've had a rough few weeks: my wife's farm suffered a terrible fire earlier in March that destroyed the barn and killed 16 animals. It was demolished this week. Last weekend, we were in a serious car collision that totaled our car and has had us in-and-out of doctors offices and on the phone, it feels, nonstop.

Like so many of us, we've had lots of stresses during the pandemic that feel like they're coming to a head, and I'm just overwhelmed.

How are you doing?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Book Review: Victorine by Drema Drudge

I am La Parisenne, the notion of the representative Parisian woman; I am Paris. From the scores of paintings of me to this newest way of showing all a woman is. From fashion to action, I do as I please.

This debut novel joins one of my favorite genres of historical fiction, that of restoring personhood to a forgotten figure -- usually one associated with a famous white guy. In this case, Druge breathes life back into Victorine Meurent, a notorious painter now mostly remembered for modeling for Manet.

Victorine by Drema Drudge
Fleur-de-Lis Press, 2020
Digital review copy provided by author via France Book Tours

But as Drudge so deftly demonstrates, Victorine was more than a passive figure sitting around without agency. Victorine's voice is centered -- first person, present tense -- making it impossible to ignore her. Even more, her every action is driven by frustrated desire to make art. Capital A art, too, not, as she so aptly puts it, "paint[ing] flowers on a cup that someone is going to drink from without seeing."

Set in Paris in the late 1800s, Druge depicts a Paris that is both alluring as well as stifling. Victorine is not wealthy, so she has to scratch out to get the things she needs, but she has no shame about it. She's almost vicious in her pursuit of her artistic ambition and freedom, and it was so refreshing to read a heroine who was unapologetic about the pursuit of her genius (even though society hated her for it). She also has fierce opinions about art (I'm unsure if these reflect her actual thoughts or are the imaginings of Drudge) but through her, I got a small education in late 19th-century French art.

Each chapter focuses on a painting featuring Victorine, and often dives into the making of said painting; it means this book is a mix of history and art nerdiness combined with dishy drama of sex, gossip, and drink. Given Victorine's storied life, Drudge does a great job of focusing on a handful of key figures and relationships, making it easy to get lost with Victorine.

There's no Author's Note in the novel, sadly, so it's impossible to tell what is 'historical' versus what is embellishment. It's doubly sad as it appears Drudge did some significant research into Victorine Meurent and appears to be the first person to publish Meurent's self portrait outside of an auction catalog (all this learned from a fab post Drudge wrote for Art Herstory).

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Do we need six-hours on Hemingway?

I can think of dozens of other authors I'd rather see featured in a long-form documentary series, but maybe I'll be surprised by Hemingway from Burns and Novick.

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is 'Top 10 Books I'd Glad Throw Into the Ocean'; my list would just be hateful ones that used concern trolling to hurt trans*/nonbinary/gender expressive kids and other terrible books that don't deserve to be named. BUT I could be persuaded to smudge this topic a bit to say, Top 10 Authors I Don't Think Need A Six-Hour Documentary Feature.

 Do you plan to watch this? Who would you rather get a six-hour documentary feature?

Monday, April 5, 2021

Book Review: Near the Bone by Christina Henry

The creature roared again, and the person outside was screaming, screaming long horrible cries of pain that seemed to push inside her ears and press against her eyeballs and stop up her throat.

I think because I found Henry's Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook so brilliant and new, I had high expectations for whatever of hers I'd read next; and it turned out to be this book, which is a very fine horror thriller but nothing exceptional or stand out.

Near the Bone by Christina Henry
Berkley, 2021
Digital review copy

It's a creature feature, only there are two monsters: the one in the woods mutilating things and the one Mattie's married to who hurts her relentlessly. Very quickly, Mattie has to decide which monster she fears more, especially when surviving one monster exposes her to the other.

The book is a quick read, and has a very cinematic feel; it hews closely to the standard horror movie formula so well that I could anticipate the next beat. But the quick clip means there's not enough space to breathe into the story, so to speak, so while we get great insight into Mattie and her marriage, everything else is just landscape or tension. The insight, depth, and emotional horror that Henry evoked in Lost Boy is just missing here. It's entertaining and diverting, but on closing the book I felt like I missing half the story somehow.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Book Review: You Should See Me In a Crown by Leah Johnson

"I'd love to go to prom with you, Liz. We deserve good things too. No matter how we have to get them."

Never in ten thousand million years would I say a book about becoming high school prom queen would not only reduce me to a blubbering-yet-feel-good-mess, it would also likely be on my top ten reads of 2021, but ha! jokes on me because this book has done both.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Scholastic Press, 2020
Copy via my public library
Read Harder 2021 Task 17: Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain

I do not even know where to start in my squeeing.

I picked up this book for Read Harder 2021 Task 17: "Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain" but stayed because it was SO CUTE, so compelling, so bittersweet, so perfect.

Our narrator Liz Lighty is just ... omg, adore her. Her voice is so genuine, consistent, real, compelling, and human. She felt like a person on the cusp of (college-aged) adulthood, someone who had to grow up fast and has all the skills and scars that come with that. Liz's desire to become prom queen starts because of the scholarship it comes with, but as she begins the process of drawing attention toward herself, navigating that very painful and complicated journey of adolescent social interactions, and trusting that she deserves every happiness presented to her, the prize at the end of all this represents something else entirely. I have never been so emotionally invested in any prom, and it's all because of Johnson's writing.

The romance in this book is sweet and cute and bumpy -- I'm #TeamMighty forever -- but I just uh-dored Liz and Jordan's friendship. I have struggled with male friends growing up due to the way people treat male- and female-identified persons in high school being friends -- as in there can only be romantic and/or sexual desire at the root of it -- and seeing how Liz and Jordan rekindled their friendship was escapist and cathartic. I wept for the male-identified friends I lost in high school -- I'm still missing them! -- as I celebrated what Liz and Jordan cemented.

I started this actually via the audiobook, read by Alaska Jackson, and it was wonderful -- Jackson makes a fantabulous Liz. I only quit the audiobook to stay up all night to race to the end and I feared listening would prompt me to fall asleep in a way that holding the book and reading wouldn't.

So either way you want to consume it, this book is worth your time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Book Review: Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins

"Not happy with this falling-in-love thing. It hurts. Any idea how to make it stop or to stop thinking about him?"

I have so many things to say, but don't know how to be coherent. But this book gave me so many feels:

1) The cover. The. Cover!!! I love that Spring is wearing trousers on the cover, which is so in character for her. And while I would have loved to see her in the burgundy gown from the end of the book, this is so perfect.

Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins
Avon, 2021
Digital review copy from NetGalley

2) Our heroine Spring. I love the spiky-falls-for-lovable trope, and I esp appreciate it when it's grumpy gal and gentle guy. Spring has such a tragic backstory and it makes her spikiness completely understandable. Garrett's un-aggressive manner of being with her is the exact thing she needs.

3) Our hero Garrett. Even though he's a total marshmallow, he's not spineless or anything. He's handy and ethical, quiet and thoughtful, strong without any toxicity which he could understandably have. His own history, including his family background, was so ... another emotional gut punch after Spring's story.

4) The combo of Spring and Garrett. Spring is quiet, inwardly focused, not much for socialising. Garrett is in town doing interview for a newspaper, and he's a curious person. Their navigating each other -- giving when they can, stumbling when they can't -- was so cute.

5) The confession of love! Made me screech out loud with surprise and delight. It was totally unexpected but wholly in character and *chef's kiss*.

6) This could have easily turned into one of those James Michener-like multi-generational sagas because of the richness of the setting, era, characters. I'm excited to go backwards and read the books for the previous characters, and I desperately, desperately hope that Garrett's sister Melody has her own book soon.

7) CHILD FREE HEA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!4EVA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was sooo disappointed when pregnancy showed up in The Rakess because, I don't know, I want more romance novel heroines to reject the 2.5 and picket fence and all that. I loved that Spring was firm about it and it wasn't a 'for now' kind of thing -- it was 'no discussion' boundary and it didn't dissolve once she was in love. YES.

8) This was my first Western romance in addition to being my first Beverly Jenkins read. I loved reading a historical centered on Black people and other people of color. I read this book while listening to the new podcast Black Cowboys, and it's fascinating to learn the myths and stories of the American West from a non-white point of view. For Spring and Garrett, this translated into an additional challenge/tension throughout the entire story that was impossible for me to ignore. Their tender moments felt all the more vulnerable and special for happening within a world that didn't value them (even though their community of Paradise was mostly loyal and protective of them).

Friday, March 12, 2021

Weekend reads, or maple sugar life

 My wife has been doing 16+ hour days at the sugar shack, so we've joined here when we can. It's gone from freezing and snowy to muddy and 60s in the last week or so. I haven't done any reading really; but it's been nice to spend cozy time with the family at the sugar shack (even though the novelty does wear off after the first hour!). I'm hoping to get to return to my reading from last week!

What are you reading this weekend?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Top 10 Tuesday, March 9: Spring Cleaning - Non-Fiction I Own

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. Today's theme:  Spring Cleaning Freebie!

I've decided to interpret this as going through my bookshelf to pull out the non-fiction I own that I plan to read.

Top 10 Non-Fiction Books I Own That I Plan to Read *

* It seems I only pulled out 9 books. Oops!

9) Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Living Revision: A Writer's Craft as Spiritual Practice
8) Fran Hauser, The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate
7)  Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist
6)  Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

5) Crystal Marie Fleming, How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide

4) Dina Gilio-Whitaker, As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock

3) Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross, A Black Women's History of the United States 

2) Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race

1) John Buehrens, Conflagration: How the Transcendentalists Sparked the American Struggle for Racial, Gender, and Social Justice

Friday, March 5, 2021

Weekend reads, or plant-related heartbreak

My original post was all sweet about how much I'm enjoying Beverly Jenkins' newest romance, Wild Rain.

And then I discovered my cat has been using my seedling tray as her bed and I lost my ability to think.

I'm going to need this romance novel more than ever. (Which is wonderful. I don't read many Westerns and maybe have never read a Western romance, but I am loving our genuinely fierce heroine and her dreamy love interest.)

What are you reading this weekend?

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Top 10 Tuesday, March 2: Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. Today's theme: Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had.

Top Ten Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had

10)  John Rodríguez (aka "Control") from Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy): A different me would have to have this job because the shit going on in Area X is too petrifying for current me to handle. But it would be so interesting! Even though I'm a total wimp, I love weird conspiracy X-Files-y type ambiance (in fiction, not real life!) so I imagine there's a fictional me that would enjoy (or "enjoy") working at Southern Reach. All three of the books in this trilogy are gorgeous, and REALLY weird, and very creepy, and worth reading.

9) Millie from Mishell Baker's Arcadia Project trilogy): This is another one where I wouldn't want to be Millie, but I wouldn't mind a job at the Arcadia Project, which is kind of an agency that manages Earth / Faery Realm relationships and all that. Not that Baker's fairy realm is all fluff and fancy; it's deliciously, terrifyingly dark, and I'd like to be someone who could succeed there.

8) Kivrin from Connie Willis' Doomsday Book: In this book, academics do their research via time travel (the book is set in the 21st century) but medievalists like Kivrin aren't really allowed to travel to that era because of the dangers. Imagine how fascinating it would be to do on-location research in various historical eras? (Obviously, lots of ethical questions about academic 'observation' and judgment and all that, which I supposed I'd be wrestling with if I were a time-travelling academic?!). If you haven't read this wonderful book, add it to your TBR because it's also a pandemic thriller on top of fascinating historical novel and sci fi think piece.

7) Philippa from Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede: This book caused me to research becoming a nun and for a few weeks, I did some daydreaming about it. (Then I remembered all the problems I have with the Catholic Church and the ways I don't think convent life does much for the world.) Demi Moore's daughter is named for Godden, and this book launched my deep dive into Godden's backlist (which really varies from quality to trash). But this book reminded me of how I sometimes dream of a monastic kind of life (hello, Hildegard von Bingen...!).

6) Ginger from Mary Robinette Kowal's Ghost Talkers: First, our heroine here is an heiress, and I have to confess I'm shocked I don't have more heiresses on this list as I'm confident I would make an uh-mah-zing lady of leisure. Second, this is a historical fantasy in which Spiritualism is real and Ginger is a medium whose job it is to debrief soldiers killed on the front. It's a tender, terrifying job but one I'm kind of obsessed with.

5) Nix from Heidi Heilig's The Girl From Everywhere: More time travel! On a ship, too, and with a fascinating crew (save for Nix's terrible father). Heilig's novel is gorgeous and intense and beautifully imagined, and while I don't want Nix's precise journey (pretty much all my responses here are couched in caveats, oops!), I wouldn't mind being able to travel through time by way of historical maps...

4) Claudia from Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger: Claudia is a war correspondent and amateur archaeologist, and those were both pretty much my dream jobs when I was a kid. Add to that the romance of a World War II romance and all that, and yeah, this hits all my Martha Gellhorn-fangirl dreams.

3) Bathsheba Everdene from Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd: My wife would be rolling her eyes so hard right now but whatever, she's not the boss of me. In all actuality, being a farmer is really, really, really hard work so I am being quite precious for including this job on the list, but whatever, Hardy sold me on Bathsheba and her life (in the drama of it all and what not). Bonus if I get to look like Carey Mulligan as I do so.

2) Pauline from Tessa Dare's Any Duchess Will Do: I was telling my wife how surprised I was that more romance novel heroines weren't appearing on this list, and we easily imagined a half dozen I wouldn't mind being. But Pauline really rose to the top for a variety of reasons, mostly that she owns a bookshop, lives in Spindle Cove with some amazing friends, and has a pretty dreamy spouse (terrible past aside that we'll handwave away). 

1) Patricia from Charlie Jane Anders' All the Birds in the Sky: God, this book wrecked me. It's the story of a witch and a scientist, once childhood friends, pitted against each other as adults as they attempt to save the world. You know, ordinary challenges. So flippin' good. Patricia is the witch, and Anders' world-building here had me so desperate to attend Patricia's witch school. (It appears being a witch might be the thing I want to be the most, followed by heiress...) But this isn't a light or comedic story about nature versus science, and it's that deep emotional core that has kept this book with me. Patricia's ability to work right and wrong in a just and fair manner is Goals.

Okay, so there are my 10 -- any characters whose job you wish you had?