Friday, April 29, 2016

Weekend reads and reading this weekend...

This weekend I'm reading The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell, a charming novel about the only living descendant of the Brontës.

Samantha, in her 20s, is at Oxford to study postmodern literature when she gets sucked into exploring her family's famous past. Sam is snarky and funny, and I'm having a little vicarious escape imagining myself studying at Oxford. (This book also has me pondering genre and publishing trends; I'm curious as to why this book isn't considered New Adult since it seems to have all the hallmarks of the genre. Anyway...)

I'm off to New York City tomorrow to meet up with my brother, who is there for a few days for work. We're hoping to get to a few toddler-friendly sites there -- maybe the zoo and the Brooklyn Children's Museum -- and I'm sure we'll work one literary stop in as well. If you have any recommendations for kid-friendly stops and/or great restaurants, let me know!

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Title: Sleeping Giants
Author: Sylvain Neuvel

First line: It was my eleventh birthday.

Review: I tend to manage about one sci-fi-ish novel a year; I'd been so desperately excited for this one and was thrilled when I landed a review copy.

In the end, this wasn't the oh-my-god-whaaaat?! story I'd hoped for, but it was an entertaining, light sci-fi/speculative-ish read that was quick, easy, and fun to consume over the weekend.

The premise is pretty simple: a young girl discovers a giant metal hand buried in the earth, and eleven years later, finds herself the head of the scientific team charged with unlocking the secrets of this massive, mysterious artifact. Unsurprisingly, figuring it out is more than just quiet research in a lab, and the search for answers spans the planet and causes international drama.

The story unfolds through "found documents" -- interview transcripts, articles, communiques, that kind of thing -- and through this we learn not just about the strange object, but the key people involved. There's just a small handful of characters we follow, from the nameless figure who manages the endeavor, the two military personnel who assist the lead scientist, to the brilliant linguist who is one of the keys to solving everything.

While the plot was fun, my big quibble was with the characters. There's a brilliant pilot who is admired and respected for her exception skills, but she's got the personality of a petulant, defensive teenager. Every interaction she's featured in, she's so bratty and combative it almost killed the story for me. She's got an immediate connection with the brilliant linguist, who ends up being the only one with any real back story, but he's so perfect it's hard not to read him as a Gary Stu.

This was originally a self-pubbed offering that got a traditional publisher after it was optioned for film (full story) and I don't know how much, if any, of the book changed between the self-published version and this one, released by Del Rey.

This is the first in what will be a trilogy (siiiiiigh) and it was fun enough I'll be keeping an eye out for the next book (I haven't seen any info about when that will be, sadly). Readers who like zippy, slightly creepy stories that mix a hint of science with a dose of mystery will enjoy this one. It's being compared to The Martian, which I haven't read, but if you liked that one, you might dig this one, too!

Genre: Fiction (Science Fiction / Speculative / Archaeology / Alien Technology / Romantic Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Del Rey (4/26/2016)
Source: NetGalley

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: The Jane and Bertha in Me by Rita Maria Martinez

Title: The Jane and Bertha in Me
Author: Rita Maria Martinez

First line: If I could, I’d save you., from "Letter to Bertha"

Review: In my ongoing (but entirely accidental) Year of Eyre, this collection of poetry fits perfectly. It has a fierce, unapologetic, and wildly imaginative nature, mixing feminist critique and pop culture with an unabashed love for Charlotte Bronte and her classic novel.

In this book, Martinez evokes the multitudes of Janes and Berthas that exist now: Janes that are heroines and Janes that are doormats; Berthas who are misunderstood and Berthas who need major therapy and meds. Undoubtedly, one can find a Jane or Bertha in this collection that echoes the woman one sees in the novel; the others will challenge and provoke (and undoubtedly polarize), and it's this edgy, reckless collage of personalities that I found most enjoyable.

There are more than 35 poems, divided into three sections. Some take on the "legacy" of beloved authors, like in her piece "Postmortem Lament for Charlotte":
You’re a commodity now. They will pillage your life.
They will raid the closets of your memory—
auctioning, trading, and stealing your correspondence
for posterity, entertainment, or several hundred pounds.
Everyone will know you had the hots for your French
teacher because his wife will salvage your ripped
scrawl from the trash and stitch the pieces together with cotton
and gum.
Others are more outrageous and button-pushing (and polarising!), as Martinez gives new voice -- and interpretation -- to the characters in Jane Eyre. From "Rochester Triptych":
At first it was curiosity, whim.
I wanted to know if she was a private
school girl with public school pizzazz,
fire and ice, you know the kind:
ankle-length skirts, panties optional.

Tenacious of life, eager plums,
these Lowood girls.
and "Blanche Ingram’s Bitterness":
Their engagement portrait and my modeling pics are smeared
across the tabloids like bird shit on a windshield.

That smug mug, Miss Hoytoytoy’s blotchy pinched face
makes me puke. Never trust anyone named Jane—

especially a loose tooth who futzes with her fork
and doesn’t know how to butter her bread.

Good riddance to him and his French freeloader,
says mom. You’re in the bloom of youth, honey bunny.
Martinez includes a "glossary" identifying some of the figures she quotes from or name drops in her pieces, which is helpful, as well as a Notes section with sources for her quotes or poetic inspiration.

As someone who doesn't love Jane Eyre, I appreciated the less-than-flattering reinterpretation of Jane and Rochester throughout this collection. Fans of the novel might take umbrage, but there might be something here that clicks as well.

Genre: Poetry (Inspired by Jane Eyre / Literary Criticism / Feminism / Romantic Relationships / Mental Health)
Publisher/Publication Date: Aldrich Press (1/2016)
Source: Poetic Book Tours

Friday, April 22, 2016

Weekend reads and sunny days...

It is supposed to be 80 degrees today. Bring. It. On.

I'm heavy in the throes of a book hangover, having just finished Lindsay Faye's deliciously delightful Jane Steele. So good. I'll be squeeing about it soon. (You might not be able to get me to shut up about it, frankly...!)

This weekend, I'm continuing my accidental Year of Jane Eyre with The Jane and Bertha in Me, a volume of poetry by Rita Maria Martinez that explores the women of Jane Eyre. Very fun so far, especially the snarky, anti-Rochester ones.

In addition to reading, I'm hoping to get a little writing in. For Mother's Day, my wife got me a life coach, so I'm going to have some help developing a regular, sustaining writing practice. I'm so excited and grateful, and have been returning to my regular tarot readings, too, to help me center myself. (I'm honored that Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses offered her Poetry Concierge services, and she provided a poetry recommendation to help me get out of my funky, creative-less rut!).

What are you reading this weekend?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Book Review: Clarina Nichols by Diane Eickhoff

Title: Clarina Nichols
Author: Diane Eickhoff

First line: On the morning of July 18, 1868, a train carrying the most famous man in American pulled into the frontier town of Manhattan, Kansas.

Review: Earlier in March, I finished Eva Flynn's fabulous historical novel, The Renegade Queen, about Victoria Woodhull, a woman I knew only as the first woman to run for president. (She was so much more! Someday I'll get to that review!)

Following that read was this Young Adult biography about Clarina Nichols, a figure totally unfamiliar to me --a smart, forward-thinking woman in the early 19th century who fought for abolition, suffrage, and freedom for all families. Somehow, Susan B. Anthony has become the figure most familiar to all of us for her transformative work, but women like Nichols were just as important in progressing the causes of freedom and justice.

Needless to say, Nichols, and this book, would have been exactly the kind of thing I would have gulped up in middle school.

Born in Vermont, Nichols was from a frugal but successful family that valued their smart, empathetic daughter. Clarina was given a "traditional" women's education, but her parents also encouraged her reading and writing, and obviously admired her moral compass and strength in framing arguments. As a child, she accompanied her father during his tenure as a "poormaster", a kind of judge/aid giver, and she heard first hand the horrific trials that the poor and disenfranchised experienced. With these seeds planted, Nichols aspired to use her gifts not only to raise a family but to also enact change.

Through a troublesome marriage, and a happy one, Nichols pursued her passions and used her gifts to sway the hearts and minds of her fellow neighbors and Americans, advocating for the right's of women and the abolition of slavery. Most daring, Nichols moved herself -- without her husband! -- to Kansas as part of the abolition movement to ensure Kansas vote against becoming a slave state.  When she realized the great changes she and her family could enact, she moved everyone there, and became a beacon there for liberty and freedom. (This is the setting of the historical novel I'm struggling with, so this book was an unexpectedly useful read for me!)

This book is actually a YA version of Eickhoff's biography on Nichols. I don't know if Eickhoff has experience writing YA but the tone of this read felt more middle grade to me than high school -- I would have loved this in the 5th or 6th grade. (By sophomore year of high school, I'd probably have attempted Eickhoff's bio.) Regardless, I greatly enjoyed and appreciated what Eickhoff offered in this read: she didn't shy away from some of the more depressing parts of 19th century life for women, and she offered great context for many of the events in the book. (Her explanation of mass movements on page 27, and in particular, the movement for women's suffrage, takes two paragraphs and is really stellar for articulating how and why some social movements bubble up, seemingly from nowhere.)

This book is loaded with photos and illustrations, and includes a brief history of the women's movement, detailed footnotes, and a comprehensive index. I read an e-book version which was wonderfully formatted with hyperlinking of footnotes that made "flipping" back and forth easy.

I was excited to learn that the publisher of this book, Quindaro Press, focuses on social justice and history for young adults, and I'm keeping an eye on their offerings as I know many young readers who will love their stuff (I certainly would have!).

A highly recommend read for anyone who has a YA reader in their life who is interested in justice, American history, and fascinating figures.

Genre: Non-Fiction (History / Biography / 19th Century / American /
Publisher/Publication Date: Quindaro Press (3/1/2016)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wordless Wednesday, April 6

It's Wordless Wednesday, and I'm cheating with both words and multiple pictures.

Even worse, one photo (top one) is from Tuesday.

!!!! (Sorry, but I had to share the food porn.)

All three photos represent my mood these days: books, emotional eating, wisdom from the oracles, and bright bling to cheer me up.

It's sunny and snowy here in Boston, but promises to be something like 60 tomorrow. I'm supposed to be on vacation tomorrow and Friday, but it looks like I'll have to work.


How's your Wednesday?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Weekend reads and ....

I'm juggling a few books this weekend, trying to find the right fit: there's the sci fi speculative Sleeping Giants; The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt, a favorite author on a favorite historical figure; and a YA non-fiction book about an early suffrage campaigner, Clarina Nichols (a nice follow up to my read about Victoria Woodhull!).

Stranger weather in Boston: 70ish and violently windy today, with a chance of snow this weekend. Lots of running around so I will have to work to find time to read -- and I need to, as I've been reading more this week than I have in a while, and it feels fab. I even kicked out a review without angsting over it, so victory!

What are you reading this weekend?