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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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Above them bright satellites transited in the darkening sky and the last hawks were returning to the rest of their nests and around them passersby did not pause to look at this old woman in her black robe or this old man with his stubble.

I was interested in the sci-fi element of this novel -- the magical doors -- and the political implications of it -- migration, borders, identity -- but what hooked me by the heart and left me in tears by the end was the beautiful, complicated, painful, oh-so-realistic relationship of Nadia and Saeed.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Penguin Random House Audio, 2017
Copy via the library

Hamid reads his own book in audio, and it was a delightful listen. The philosophical musings felt more organic and natural -- like being in Nadia's mind or Saeed's thoughts -- than when I read them, and the inevitability of Nadia and Saeed -- growing together, growing apart -- felt so much more poignant with someone telling me about them.

Nadia and Saeed meet in uni…

Interview with author Cynthia Ripley Miller

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I'm excited to share my interview with author Cynthia Ripley Miller; I've just started her newest book, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns, a historical novel that is giving me The DaVinci Code-meets-Outlander vibes. Set in 5th century Rome, it's a romantic thriller adventure with fascinating historical elements that have me hooked. If you're intrigued, check out the interview and enter the giveaway at the end of this post.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I prefer writing in the late morning continuing into the early evening. Depending on how much time I have, I'll take a break and step away from it for some fresh air, and then return a little later. When I walk, I listen to music. Often, the words or melody will trigger ideas that I may incorporate into my stories. I'll often write after the dinner hour as well.

Regarding rituals, in my office, I have pictures that represent how I imagine my settings and characters to look. I have talismans that ha…

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel

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I had never known anything but "up" in my career, had never received even one of those formatted no-thank-you slips that successful writers look back upon with triumphant jocularity. And I regarded with pity and disdain the short-sleeved wage slaves who worked in offices. I had no reason to believe life would get anything but better. I had no experience failing.

I'd grabbed this as a possibility for my Read Harder 2019 challenge 19, a book of nonviolent true crime. I ended up counting Bad Blood for it instead, but given the slender length of this book, decided to give it a try.

Le ugh.

What an unappealing person! I don't know what Lee Israel is like in real life -- she does admit she's hard to be around, especially during this period of her life -- but the story she details here wasn't funny or charming to me. I'm kind of judging the people who told her she had to recount these adventures.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israe…

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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I can love you and want you and still not want that life. I'm allowed, all right, and it doesn't me me a liar; it makes me a man with some infinitesimal shred of self-preservation, unlike you, and you don't get to come here and call me a coward for it.

I believe I'm the only person on the planet who isn't in swoons over this book. About a quarter of the way through the book, I found myself irritated as I read, but I couldn't put my finger on what, precisely, was getting to me since it had all kinds of things that should have been insta-wins.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
St. Martin's Griffin, 2019
Copy via my public library

It's weird to say this about a novel that is practically just wish fulfillment but I think this book had too much artifice and exaggeration for me to take it seriously. Everything in this book was extreme: the emotions, the language, the pace, the characters. McQuiston took an element and streeeeeeeeeeeeetched to the …

I am Mrs. Jesse James by Pat Wahler

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I've spent so much time praying marriage would be an anchor for Jesse. Do you think he'll ever abandon his wandering life and stay home with you for good?

I won this book in a giveaway last fall and had been meaning to read it as soon as it arrived; and then my wife broke her ankle and we moved and I hadn't unpacked this book until a few weeks ago. It was a perfect read for both of my reading challenges this year -- Historical Fiction and Read Harder's challenge 9, "a book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads".

I will confess to some apprehension ahead of starting this book, though. In this current political climate, in which neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists are getting mainstream platforming, I wasn't sure if we needed historical novels that offer empathetic views of people who were, and remained, problematic in their lifetimes. (I keep wondering if Melanie Benjamin's The Aviator'…

Supper Club by Lara Williams

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Those evenings, sitting on the living-room floor, laptops to our sides and an array of paper scattered across the floor, drinking wine and listening to music, were suffused with a warmth like nothing else I'd ever felt. I thought of it as the same feeling people get when planning their wedding. It felt enormous and essential and transitory: this papier-mâché beast that we were trying to carve into form.

Did I like this book? Or did I hate it? I'm going to split the difference and just say "yes".

Supper Club by Lara Williams
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2019
Digital review copy via Edelweiss

To stave off loneliness in college, our narrator Roberta takes up cooking. But this isn't one of those sumptuous, charming foodie novels that has your mouth watering; instead, there was something a little gross, slightly dank, and funky about the food. (Williams has our narrator observe that our appetites tip close toward revulsion.) There was an extreme focus on body that reminded …

The Snakes by Sadie Jones

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On bad days he missed her. He would sit on the train, desperate to be home, staring at his reflection and the other ghostly doppelgängers of his fellow travellers; their possible selves, and he would think of all the things he wanted, that he might never find.

If you want something that is a total beach read -- family dysfunction, a marriage challenged, tragic death, decaying French hotel -- but with a slightly literary style, this is that book. It's compulsively terribly irresistible.

The Snakes by Sadie Jones
Harper, 2019
Digital review copy from publisher

Our main character Bea comes from wealth (the level of which we don't discover until later in the book) but strives to live without any help from her family, whom she disdains (save for her beloved, troubled brother Alex). Her husband Dan came from poverty; he wants to be an artist but doesn't feel like they can afford for him to do so. On a whim, he pleads with Bea to take their savings and travel to Italy so they can …

Quick thoughts on Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

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Lying is a disgusting habit, and it flows through the conversations here like it's our own currency. The cultural disease here is what we should be curing...

I've been fascinated first, and horrified later, by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and couldn't fathom this book detailing anything I hadn't already read. HA. Carreyrou shares the details behind his fantastic Wall Street Journal reporting, including the shocking lengths Theranos took to silence him.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Knopf, 2018
Copy from public library
Read Harder challenge

Expanding on his exposé of Theranos, Carreyrou briefly details Elizabeth Holmes' background and her founding of Theranos. The sketchy details that mar the beginning of this endeavor are presented as they develop, and it makes this story even more astounding/horrifying. 

This book is very readable despite the science behind it (or science allegedly behind it, I suppose) although I was o…

Halfway through my reading year: a few thoughts

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I've had to increase my yearly reading goal three times already.

I'm just flabbergasted at that; pretty much since I was pregnant, so the last five years, trying to get in the reading I wanted has been a struggle.

Exhaustion when Unabridged Kid was a babe, and then the struggle to balance parenting and working. Slush-brain and mush-brain. Then, I don't know, disinterest. But unbelievably, this year, something switched.

Maybe it's just that the kid is a kid now, and I'm sleeping a little better; work is brisk and interesting and I've time to read and an interest in reading.

I've read 54 books so far, which I can't even believe.

I've done 16 of the 24 tasks for Read Harder 2019. (And, accidentally, accomplished 12 of the 26 Reading Women challenge).

I'm very, very behind on my historical fiction challenge, but I feel okay with that, because I feel like I can cram those reads in very easily. (I mean, along with romance, hist fic is my catnip.)

Unbe…

Wordless Wednesday, June 5

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Wordless Wednesday today is my working from home tableau. Yes, I use three lipsticks during the day so ensure anytime I'm on a web call, it looks like I have a mouth.

Weekend reads, or it's sunny, sunny, sunny!

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Hoping to finish this New Adult romance, Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. First Son Alex thinks he loathes British prince Henry but it turns out they maybe have the hots for each other. It's pretty cute and very escapist.

After something like 28 days of rain, we're finally promised a sunny weekend so I'll be doing yard work for infinity. (My front yard is such a jungle that a landscaper actually jackknifed in the road to give me their card so if that's not a sign from the universe, I don't know what is.)

What are you reading this weekend? Or, what else will you be doing?

Karen Russell's Orange World and Other Stories

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Her heart is breaking not to be with her daughter, just as Rae's is breaking not to be with her mother and her grandmother. The breaking is continuous - in the ouroboros of caretaking, guilt and love and fear and love continuously swallow one another.

Unbelievably, my first time reading Karen Russell. I see why she's so popular, though: dramatic, movie-like plots with narrative stylings reminiscent of Byatt, Waters, and Kingsolver.

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
Knopf, 2019
Digital arc by publisher/library copy

There are 8 stories in this volume. Only one I was truly meh about ("Black Corfu"); the rest were interesting to captivating. "The Prospectors" was like The Shining meets Carnivale -- it was creepy and moody and atmospheric, a historical horror that I could have easily inhaled as a full length novel. Two of Russell's stories take place in a world touched by extreme weather: "The Tornado Auction", in which tornadoes are …

Helen Hoang's The Bride Test

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What was he thinking about so intently? What was his story? Why didn't he smile for real?

This was my first Helen Hoang novel and you all: I. Am. Hooked. The Bride Test is such a delightfully cute, sweet, romantic read -- absolutely perfect for kicking off the summer reading season.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Berkley, 2019
Digital ARC from the publisher
Read Harder challenge

Hoang has been on my radar since her debut of  The Kiss Quotient: I'd been given a copy right at release and my book club ended up reading it (although I missed club that month and didn't get to read it!). My plan was to read it for this year's Read Harder challenge task 13 (a book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse) but I was granted an ARC of The Bride Test and the rest is history.

I honestly didn't know how Hoang would make this novel work. The hero, Khai, believes himself to be utterly incapable of feeling love toward anyone and has resigned himself to life without compa…

Melissa Broder's The Pisces

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...I was not about to learn to love myself here. It was as though they were each in competition with the other to see who could be grossest while simultaneously loving themselves the most. Is that what it meant to love yourself? To be repellent?

I've wanted to read this book since its release and it was just as delightful and as weird as I anticipated.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Hogarth Press, 2018
Copy from the library

It feels like the press about this book centers on the merperson sex and grossout earthiness which is not actually at the center of this read. (And there was far less gross body stuff than I feared; I was thinking it'd be Otessa Moshfegh level.)

I read this in about three hours so I was surprised with the depth Broder evoked: duality, absence, the stories we tell ourselves when the narrative thread of our lives is unclear, obsession, imagination.

Our heroine Lucy should be unlikable -- she doesn't do herself any favors -- but I found her endearing in he…

Sally Thorne's 99 Percent Mine

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You guys. You guys! Sally Thorne's The Hating Game was a favorite of 2017. I've already reread three, four times? I love it enough to say that I was wicked impatient for Thorne's next offering and to my utter dismay, it really, really didn't land with me.

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019
Copy via the library

Everything about this one just disappointed, from the characters to the plot. Our heroine's obstacle to her HEA? Her own twin brother (who we're actually supposed to like, I think).

Let me go back. Characters: super flat. Premise: kind of not there, and also, dreary. Sexual tension: really, nonexistent. I mean, we're told our hero and heroine are super into each other but since the characters are just these flimsy frames, whether they figure it out or not just didn't have emotional resonance for me.

And the whole Alpha Male thing with our hero -- who is otherwise a lovely human but turns into A Savage Animal for our he…