Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wordless Wednesday, Jan 23

My Wordless Wednesday offering for this week: my newest read, Alyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union, which I've wanted to read for forever and it ticks one of the boxes for this year's Read Harder challenge. Woot!

Survived my first super snowy weekend in our new place, and I'm enjoying rural-y snowy views rather than my usual quickly-muddy urban slushy ones.

What are you reading right now?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Nancy Bilyeau's The Blue

If it were not for his love for me, none of this would have taken place.

Porcelain. Not what I thought would make for exciting reading, but in this fabulous book, it's a commodity that drives politics, espionage, and obsession.

The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau
Endeavor Quill, 2018
Review copy from publisher

I'm a longtime fan of Nancy Bilyeau's books: rich with drama and unforgettable characters, they are the kind of books that just sweep you up. Here, Bilyeau makes an industrial endeavor -- the 18th century passion for blue porcelain -- a captivating, dramatic story, centered on a winning heroine.

Genevieve Planch├ę is a descendant of French Huguenot refugees. A talented artist, she hopes to be mentored by William Hogarth, but her grandfather wishes her to work as a artisan at the Derby porcelainworks. Her rebellious childhood sweetheart leads her, instead, into a mystifying, increasingly deadly world of industrial espionage -- and us readers into a fascinating world where the scientific pursuit of blue glaze motivates nations and nobles.

I loved every page of this book, and my only complaint is that I felt it wrapped up a little too quickly. Genevieve is an intriguing character, one of those fiery heroines who feel authentic rather than overly modern, and she's faced with complicated challenges. (Honestly, there was a point where I was wishing we could have a novel where she sides with our 'villain' because their chemistry was just as delicious as hers with the hero.) Bilyeau evokes Genevieve's world without infodumping and the interpersonal drama is so good and so real.

Another winning read from Bilyeau!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Weekend reads, or finally a quiet weekend!

Finally a weekend that's almost entirely free of obligations! After almost eight weeks of busy weekends -- moving, holidays, family and friends, appointments, work -- I'm finally facing two days that are relatively open!

As part of Book Riot's Read Harder 2019 challenge, I'm starting my first manga this weekend, Kaoru Mori's Emma. I never thought manga would interest me, so it was a delight to learn there's a number of historical romance-y ones out there. I've got my coffee, a plush blanket, and this book. Bring on the weekend!

What are you reading this weekend?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Oyinkan Braithwaite's My Sister, the Serial Killer

Ayoola summons me with these words—Korede, I killed him.

Between the book's title and its opening lines, you know what you're going into with this read.

Happily, there's no gore. No horror. So if you're squeamish, no need to worry. It's just a darkly delicious read that verges, knife's edge, on being funny but is also just realistic enough, razor blade thin, to be chilling.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Doubleday, 2018
Copy from public library

Our heroine, Korede, is serious, responsible, deliberate. Her sister Ayoola is gorgeous, irresponsible, and unrepentant.

Recently, Ayoola's developed a habit of killing her boyfriends.

The deaths all seem accidental enough, but Korede is worried. Her family weathered trouble and all Korede wants is to protect her sister and mother, do her job, and find love -- hopefully with the dreamy doctor at the hospital where she works. So when Ayoola notices that dreamy doctor, well...

I inhaled this read -- which should be made into a miniseries immediately, by the way -- in about a day because it really is un-put-down-able. I couldn't decide how I wanted the book to shake out nor who I was rooting for -- everyone is awful and fabulous in equal part.

This is an absolutely perfect summery beach read for the middle of winter!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Sarah Perry's Melmoth

Oh my friend, my darling—won't you take my hand? I've been so lonely!

I told my wife this book reminded me, in a way, of the tv show, Hannibal. Not because of any actual plot similarity (Perry's novel is devoid of serial killers) but more in the opulent, baroque, and ominous style in both.

Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Custom House, 2018
Copy from public library

It's extravagant. Melodramatic. Wuthering Heights and mezzo-sopranos dying on stage. Tea-and-rainy-day moody. A bit like Byatt's Possession, only far more brief. It has all the atmosphere and setting of a book I love, so I'm especially crushed that I didn't love it!

Inspired by a Victorian novel about a man named Melmoth, Perry instead imagines that Melmoth is a haunted woman who sees people's sins and invites them to spend eternity with her. Helen, ex-pat in Prague and suffering self-imposed punishment, learns about Melmoth from a friend, who learns about Melmoth from a friend. An urban legend of sorts, only Helen is handed a variety of documents that describe interactions with Melmoth.

It was the stories within the novel that most gutted me, Helen's in particular (I don't think I'll be able to forget it). But I was expecting so much more from the novel the Guardian said was "one of the great literary achievements of our young century."

In the end, I can't say I understood why. Why Melmoth, of all the stories to retell? Why make Melmoth a woman? Why didn't she feel more haunting and scary? Why did it seem so easy to resist her? Why a barrister character that did no pleading nor arguing in a book that seemed all about right and wrong? (I've a few more whys but sharing them will spoil the plot!)

I expect I missed all that was brilliant and landed with all that was easy. Still, what was easy was interesting -- stay-up-late-to-finish compelling -- but not a favorite (unlike her previous, The Essex Serpent).

Friday, January 4, 2019

Weekend reads, or it's that time of year...

This weekend I won't be reading since my family will be attending the New Bedford Whaling Museum's annual Moby Dick Marathon, a weekend event where passionate fans read Moby Dick aloud.

Moby Dick is my wife's all time favorite book so when we discovered this event, it immediately became an annual affair for us. This is our fifth year going, and my wife is an official reader for her second year in a row. She's very excited.

I'm not a Moby Dick fan but I do love geeks, and it's impossible not to enjoy this when surrounded by passionate fans. The read happens at the museum, which only enhances the story, and there are all kinds of fun nods to the story -- there's a celebrity Ishmael to open the reading every year, the mayor reads the section of Ishmael walking thru Bedford, and the worship scene happens at the Seaman's Bethel, etc.

So, it's not my preferred read, but it'll do. What are you reading this weekend?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Top 10 Reads of 2018

It looks like I've read 33 books this year, which is five less than last year. But given the crazy amounts of stress and drama that hit me in 2018, I'm frankly delighted with this count.

Ten of my 33 reads were by authors of color. Six of my 33 reads were penned by male-identified authors. Nine reads were not novels: one play, three volumes of poetry, two memoirs, two collections of essays, and a graphic novel.

Three of my reads were for my book club (Things Fall Apart, Borderline, and The Changeling), which is embarrassing since we've done 9 books for the year and I run the club!

I achieved a wopping zero on reading challenges, which I aim to change in 2019. Mostly by committing myself to two (Read Harder and Historical Fiction) and really diversifying my reading. And reading more, you know, than I had this year. (Re-frame: This year I knit 8 items, which is a 2000% improvement over other years. So, small perk of reading less!)

And for this top ten...I'm actually really only able to commit myself to nine. They're a mix of delicious escapism and butt-kicking reality. (Sadly, I've only reviewed 3 of them, altho I do think I have kneejerk thoughts for each on GoodReads.) What made your top 10 this year?

PS: Just realized that 2019 marks 10 years of this blog! (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) (Ohmygod!) (!!!!!!!!!)

Unabridged Chick's Top 9 Reads of 2018

Mishell Baker, Borderline
Mishell Baker, Phantom Pains

Borderline was a book club pick, but I ended up inhaling all three books in the trilogy. The premise and world-building were great, but Baker's characters are the real hook. Seen as damaged goods, with a variety of mental health diagnoses depicted, the people of Baker's novels are impossible to ignore. Obsessed with these three!

Alma Katsu, The Hunger

What-if historical horror. Evocative and shivery. I j'adored every page. My review, hopefully, makes my love clear.

Susanna Kearsley, The Firebird

Hot tea in book form: Scotland, dreamy first responder, light paranormal element, historical mystery. Also, dreamy first responder is Scottish, too, so there's romance, dur, and it's perfect.

James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War

I snagged this audiobook as background for my novel, but I found it to be a remarkably timely listen for me in 2018. McPherson's essays illuminated small facets of the conflict that was eye-opening to me and translated into an understanding of contemporary politics, even (his chapter on how the Civil War has been depicted by Southern scholars gave me some real ah-has as to why the 'fake news' sentiment is so broad and easy for many to embrace). For someone who is a total dum-dum about the Civil War, this was an easy, fascinating listen.

Laura Purcell, The Silent Companions 

A catnip read for me: gothicky and creepy, haunted house-ish, possessed items, atmosphere and mood... I still get shivers thinking about this one!

Mitra Rahnema, Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry

I read this volume of essays as part of professional development, but the takeaways for me went beyond work and greatly helped me in shifting my thinking. While focused on Unitarian Universalists ministers of color (and one religious education professional), I suspect the themes and reflections shared would have universal resonance and implication for anyone interesting in dismantling white supremacy culture. 

Cat Sebastian, The Lawrence Browne Affair

2018 was my introduction to m/m historical regency romances, and thank goddess, because these were a balm when I was just unhappy, miserable, or at my wit's end. Sebastian has become an insta-fav in our house, and this book might just be my all-time fav of hers. Adorable leads, with a sexy, probable romance, enough historical detail to give it flavor and enough plausibility to make it seem real-ish without having to deal with homophobia and tragedy. Sexy, sexy fun.

Jeff VanderMeer, Acceptance

This final book in VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy was incredible. It wrapped up things as clearly as possible (as clear as VanderMeer offers) and presented some gorgeous, gutting emotional moments. It's so good I wanted to reread the series again.