January 2018 Wrap Up

January 2018 Wrap Up

And the first month of the year is done and February is just along the way. I loved reading this month. Although I did have to catch up on a ton of books, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot. I was able to read all the ARCs I received from NetGalley to put me back on a good track with them. I was able to try a new regime with a lot of failures. It’s been a pretty trying month and on top of that, I turned 33!

But let’s go into the details.

I read 9 books

This is a new record. I don’t think I’ve read this many books in a month in my life except for maybe college. I wasn’t sure how much I read in college, but it was enough to burn me out at the end of it.

I’m finally going to start reading some books that interest me and approaching books that come my way thoughtfully. I think I’ll have to write a blog post about it because it’s been a process and a lot of telling people “no,” which I don’t do very well.

Without ado, here’s my list of reads from January 2018:

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer –  will be continuing this series soon, but I just wanted one fun read for myself this month!

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking – This was a super quick read, but super informative. I’m so obsessed with the hygge lifestyle that I wrote about it in a post for Book Riot.

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller – This was an ARC I received from Simon Books and it was a pretty interesting fantasy novel! I can’t wait to read the next book in the series and see how Robert will continue to fight against the Trenchers.

Haikantwithyou by Nicole Best – This was a pretty quick little poetry book about the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship. So many of the haikus in this book were so poignant and made me reflect on some relationships I had as a kid.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko – This (as well as the next book) was one of the big reads for January. I loved this book and its dive in Native American culture, the experience of being Native American, and how this world needs to accept and nuture instead of turn people away.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender – This one came in my Capsule Books box and was quite honestly the strangest book I ever read. While I wasn’t a true fan, I’m currently reading the second book from this box and I’m definitely seeing a theme here. I’ll chat about that more next month.

Indecent by Corinne Sullivan – This was another egalley that I was reading for review. While this wasn’t my favorite book of the bunch (and my first serious 1-star review in a really long time), perhaps there is something redeemable in the story that I missed. I was bored. I didn’t want to finish it, but maybe you will!

Catalina by Liska Jacobs – This was my final egalley to read for January and I loved it. I think I might have missed some bigger points here about drug abuse and depression, but honestly this read like some rom com or a dramedy that I’ll see adapted into a movie later this year.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao – This was the last book I read this month and it’s the one still clinging to the spaces in my brain. I couldn’t put this book down and the way they describe the strength of the female friendship will make you wonder if your friendships are as strong as theirs.

I started life as a full-time blogger

January has been such a transition from being a full-time office worker to a full-time blogger. While I’m not making any money off of this (yet), I’m enjoying spending my time reading books and writing reviews and sharing my thoughts with you all. I do hope to get more done in the coming months.

I feel like January was the test month. Don’t commit to creating anything until you’ve got this whole staying at home and creating something for nothing down. I’ve been adjusting and re-adjusting to life living and working from home and being my own boss. It’s been tough. There’s a certain obligation to always be working, but some days lack inspiration and I feel like doing nothing. Some days I would rather watch TV or play video games than talk about the book I just read.

But after a month, I feel like I’ve put together a plan that will allow me to work and not have that sense of obligation to do work. I believe that I am able to generate enough work for myself to be busy all day long.

It’s easy to fall behind or become prey to procrastination. I’ll probably struggle with this my whole life, but I also carry within me the ability to stay strong and keep moving and strive forward.

I will be better. I think that’s the best I can do right now.

I hope you enjoyed this! What did you end up reading this month? Anything worth sharing?

Capsule Books Unboxing

Capsule Books Unboxing

This is my first time unboxing a Capsule Books box. I thought the idea was quite an interesting one and I definitely wanted to get my hands on one to see what it’s all about.

Capsule Book boxes take on reading in a different way. Instead of thinking of themes between books, you can pick your box by feelings. For the winter, the choices are Roar of the Fireplace, Alone at a Party, and Frozen Over.

I chose Roar of the Fireplace, because it’s the feeling of sitting at home with a big glass of wine and thinking about all those little things you might have messed up. It felt like this was right up my alley in terms of lifestyle. I love ruining a cozy moment with my crazy brain. You can read more about that box here.

Each box comes with three books, a little note going deeper into your box choice, and a few little extras. For this box, I also received a little bookmark as well. The box also includes a pre-stamped envelope for you to send the news about Capsule Books to a friend. It’s not even just a postcard, but a little notecard in a kraft envelope. So cute!

Here’s a little bit more on the books I received in my box:

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

A grief-stricken librarian decides to have sex with every man who enters her library. A half-mad, unbearably beautiful heiress follows a strange man home, seeking total sexual abandon: He only wants to watch game shows. A woman falls in love with a hunchback; when his deformity turns out to be a prosthesis, she leaves him. A wife whose husband has just returned from the war struggles with the heartrending question: Can she still love a man who has no lips?

Aimee Bender’s stories portray a world twisted on its axis, a place of unconvention that resembles nothing so much as real life, in all its grotesque, beautiful glory. From the first line of each tale she lets us know she is telling a story, but the moral is never quite what we expect. Bender’s prose is glorious: musical and colloquial, inimitable and heartrending.

Here are stories of men and women whose lives are shaped–and sometimes twisted–by the power of extraordinary desires, erotic and otherwise. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt is the debut of a major American writer.

SPHINX by Anne Garreta

Sphinx is the remarkable debut novel, originally published in 1986, by the incredibly talented and inventive French author Anne Garréta, one of the few female members of Oulipo, the influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints, and whose ranks include Georges Perec and Italo Calvino, among others.

A beautiful and complex love story between two characters, the narrator, “I,” and their lover, A***, written without using any gender markers to refer to the main characters, Sphinx is a remarkable linguistic feat and paragon of experimental literature that has never been accomplished before or since in the strictly-gendered French language.

Sphinx is a landmark text in the feminist and LGBT literary canon appearing in English for the first time.

The Universe of Us by Lang Leav

Lang Leav presents a completely new collection of poetry with a celestial theme in The Universe of Us.

Planets, stars, and constellations feature prominently in this beautiful, original poetry collection from Lang Leav.  Inspired by the wonders of the universe, the best-selling poetess writes about love and loss, hope and hurt, being lost and found.  Lang’s poetry encompasses the breadth of emotions we all experience and evokes universal feelings with her skillfully crafted words.

So far, I’ve only read The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender and I’m already blown away by how awesome this box is. This book, one of which I’ve never heard of in my life, is able to better encapsulate the feeling of being inadequate and insecure with yourself while trying to love someone else. It’s an incredible collection of short stories and I can’t wait to get into the two others. I’ll be sharing what those are below.

With these boxes, you only get three books every season, so it’s not too much of a burden on your TBR if you have a lot of  books to read. Also, you can take 15% off your first box  by using SIMONE15 at checkout.

Simone and Her Books is affiliated with Capsule Book boxes. This is an advertisement post, but the opinions and reviews of these books are completely honest and my own thoughts. Capsule Books doesn’t have any influence on the posts written about it.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

I kind of went into this book blindly. Because a friend was doing a challenge to read books by Native American authors. With very little knowledge of what this book is about, I read it. I could write a whole dissertation on the different themes of this novel. It was surprisingly short and compact for what it was conveying and I loved it.

First, let’s talk about what this book is about

Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats the most virulent of afflictions—despair.

I really regret not looking into this one some more because while it was really interesting to read, it was pretty dense writing. It was also stylized in a way that made it quite confusing in the beginning. Once I finally got a grasp of what was going on, I approached the book more cautiously.

The story is told in flashbacks, in present day events, and in the ceremony to help Tayo heal from the atrocities of his life and the war. There weren’t chapters in the book, but each section was determined by the crazy indentation the paragraph starts with. The one thing I loved from this method were the poems. Every few pages, Leslie Silko included some stories written in a poetic-style about a hummingbird and a fly trying to bring water to their draught-filled land. The lengths these animals were going was a direct reflection of Tayo and his struggle.

Despite some strange stylistic choices the author made, there were tons of themes going on in this book. I think the easiest way to explain them all would be to list them and cite how the book tackled it.

Being a war veteran

Of course there are the themes of being Native American and how that’s affected Tayo and the Laguna people, but something else I thought might be interesting to explore is being unaccepted by America, but fighting a foreign war for them. Don’t you find it a little hypocritical to fight a war for a country that doesn’t even acknowledge you as a citizen? Force you to live on land in the middle of the desert with nothing to grow or harvest. I digress.

For Tayo, the horrors of his time in the Marines were not only met with having to kill a soldier, but also watching your cousin die, being a captive of Japanese army, and facing a point of insanity. When he returned from WWII, he struggled with finding himself. Who was he when his cousin and his uncle were both dead? Who was he before the war took him? He would vomit and sleep and imagine his uncle and his cousin, Rocky, were somehow present after they had died. He was hallucinating and struggling to stay sane when the tribe’s medicine man suggested he visit another medicine man that lived high in the hills. There he performed the ceremony to help him rid the “witchery” holding him hostage.

The best part of this novel that I found intriguing was the “taste” of being American. Emo, another Laguna native who went to the war, found the experience to be enlightening. While he spent his days in the bar, he would talk about how great the war was, how people treated him for wearing his uniform, and how all of that disappeared the moment he returned to the reservation. For Emo, the American life was something to be desired, but difficult to grasp because of the color of his skin. He built resentment for being Native American and resented anyone who didn’t appreciate the American life. I think this also contributed to Tayo’s frustration with figuring out who he was.

Being bi-racial

There was a lot of discussion about Tayo’s background. His mother was Native American from the Laguna tribe he was born into, but he didn’t know who his father was. I think there was mention of him being part white and part Mexican as well as part Laguna. They do go into his mother’s background a little more in the book, but because of the choices his mother made, the family he lives with doesn’t accept him. He’s not accepted by the other Laguna people, and he’s considered a half-breed who’s mother sold herself out to please white men.

I don’t know what it’s like to be bi-racial, but I do know what it’s like to be both American and Asian. Being flung between two cultures and trying to be accepted by both is not an easy task. You want to be loyal to both sides, but when one tribe doesn’t like you and the other doesn’t accept you, where do you go? Not white enough to be white. Not Native American enough to be Laguna.

I think Tayo never talked about this with himself. He never explored what made up his background and this contributed to the feelings he had when he returned from the war. He fought a war for Americans, but then returned to that same reservation he grew up in. No one applauded him for being a veteran and everyone outside of the reservation just saw another “Indian.” I think this ultimately contributed to him going slightly insane.

Returning to your roots

There’s probably other themes that I’m missing here, but I don’t want this post to get too long. The final theme I wanted to chat about was returning to your roots. While be chastised for being born a numerous number of races, I always felt like there was one that will always call to you. You’ll gravitate towards it and you’ll find peace there amongst the people who love you for who you are.

For Tayo, this journey began when he returned from the war. He enlisted to fight in a war for a country that doesn’t even accept Laguna as citizens of the country. However, he and many other Native Americans enlisted for the opportunities. What they found was a place of respect. People loved him because he was a soldier, not a Native American. They received the best because of their uniform.

But what I think he lost was his own sense of self. He struggled with it his entire life by the ridicule of his family and his friends. He was never accepted and now he was about to fight in a war for a country that didn’t accept him. When he returned, it only took the power of the ceremony to help find who he is and dispel him of the frustration of being a fringe human being. He found love in a woman who also was half and she helped him find peace and growth through her love.

This book was an interesting story about a man who had no idea who he was, what he stood for, and what really made him the person he is. By returning to his roots, he was able to find pieces of himself again. He was able to contribute and help grow the land and the people around him. Of course he didn’t get rid of the people who didn’t accept him, but what he did find was a way to keep those thoughts away from who he truly is.

 

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

I’ve always been worried that if Hogwarts was a real place and people could get into it that I would be one of the unlucky people who wouldn’t get in. Let’s also keep in mind that I’m American and that already disqualifies me.

But what if magic was studied instead of inherited? What if you stumbled across a sigil while playing in the sandbox and you realized you have a predilection for something called “empirical philosophy?” What if you were a man and you realized that this is a very female-centric area of study? What would you do then? This is one story from one man who answered all of these questions for himself.

A little bit more about the story

Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is a practitioner of empirical philosophy—an arcane, female-dominated branch of science used to summon the wind, shape clouds of smoke, heal the injured, and even fly. Though he dreams of fighting in the Great War as the first male in the elite US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service—a team of flying medics—Robert is resigned to mixing batches of philosophical chemicals and keeping the books for the family business in rural Montana, where his mother, a former soldier and vigilante, aids the locals.

When a deadly accident puts his philosophical abilities to the test, Robert rises to the occasion and wins a scholarship to study at Radcliffe College, an all-women’s school. At Radcliffe, Robert hones his skills and strives to win the respect of his classmates, a host of formidable, unruly women. 

Robert falls hard for Danielle Hardin, a disillusioned young war hero turned political radical. However, Danielle’s activism and Robert’s recklessness attract the attention of the same fanatical anti-philosophical group that Robert’s mother fought years before. With their lives in mounting danger, Robert and Danielle band together with a team of unlikely heroes to fight for Robert’s place among the next generation of empirical philosophers—and for philosophy’s very survival against the men who would destroy it.

I honestly and truly wished I loved this book. I felt like there’s a lot of potential for it being a great series, but after only reading the first novel from both the author and the series I wasn’t all too excited. This was definitely more like Harry Potter where magic (also known as Empirical Philosophy) exists alongside the very real world. This “magic” is not inherited, but learned and anyone can basically pick it up. It requires the use of sigils and specific minerals. For example, using a particular sigil with cornmeal will help you to fly and how you write your sigil will determine how well you fly. It’s a practiced art and you don’t need a certain birthright to do it.

I will say that the story did hold my attention and there definitely was some practical use of the philosophy. But a lot of what was happening in the book felt like a direct reflection of what’s going on today. Women being the dominant gender to use Empirical Philosophy, Robert Weekes is one of only three men at his college. He’s constantly teased and talked down to because men just don’t do Empirical Philosophy. It just feels like a role reversal for what’s happening nowadays; women being overlooked because they’re women.

The bad guys in this book are called “Trenchers.” These dudes remind me of the extreme right movements in America right now. They are constantly fighting against Empirical Philosophy and trying to make it illegal. They think it’s unnatural and the women kill their babies. It’s against God and the Bible and people who study it are abominations. They’re out trying to kill philosophers so that their numbers dwindle and they disappear. It really reminds me of the news and everything that’s going on recently. There was even a march where philosophers went down to Washington DC to march for their rights to use this philosophy.

I think this really bothered me the most in this story especially since it’s fiction and really could draw from anything and it’s just a reflection of what’s going on today.

Being that this is the first fantasy novel, I feel like a lot of this story was just explaining the universe as well. There was a lot of history that coincided with the very real United States history. The wars being fought are also fought by philosophers. There was a lot of explaining the philosophy, what it does, how it works, how it can be manipulated. I feel like I was in a class listening to a lecture about Empirical Philosophy than actually seeing it in action.

When you do see it in action, it’s great. The fighting against Trenchers and even The Cup was fun to read. However, reading passage after passage of Robert learning how to fly at a certain speed, his training regiment, or reading about him carry 100-lb bags for practice all just seemed to keep the story very still. The pacing was pretty slow and even though every few chapters had headers with how much time went by, it feels like no time at all.

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I get with new fantasies there’s a lot of groundwork to cover. There’s a lot of creating how each sigil worked and how the transporters moved and how flight paths can be determined. I don’t want to discredit this novel because it’s the first and the first always shares some of that knowledge. I just wish there was more excitement or something to move the story forward.

Reading about a young country boy going to college in a big city for the first time is basically all I’m getting from this story. Aside from the fact that he can practice philosophy which is uncommon for men, it really just reads like someone’s first adventures being alone and falling in love and learning new skills that he wouldn’t have learned before. There’s definitely growth for everyone and everyone miraculously knows what they want in life, but it took a long while to get there and a lot of reading.

We learn a lot by the end that will probably set you up for the next one, but really it could have happened right in the middle of the book rather than the end. Honestly, at less than 100 pages left in the book I was worried that nothing would happen at all and that I’d have to wait for the next book. Perhaps then we’ll see a lot more action for Robert and can chalk up this first book to first-time jitters.

I’m going to be looking out for the second book in the future. I really want to like this book and that’s why I’m rating it with three stars. The book kept me interested albeit a little wobbly at times, but I did find the whole Empirical Philosophy thing to be interesting and the battle with the Trencher party compelling. I hope I’m just as compelled in the next one.

I received this book from Simon Books in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the method I received this book and I was not paid to write this book review.

Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

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Wow. I sat down with this book over the past few days and I couldn’t put it down. Honestly, I would try and use the bathroom and hold it for an hour only succumbing to the excruciating pain of holding it for that long. I’m lucky it’s the beginning of the year and there wasn’t much going on because I think both Cinder and Scarlet has cemented my love for this series. I legit just went onto Amazon and used my Christmas money to buy the other books.

Here’s a little more about the book

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. 

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

My thoughts

If you’re into books with a lot of adventure and action, then this is the book for you. While it does expand a little more on what will happen next in the Lunar Chronicles, I think this book just cements the predictions we all made at the end of Cinder. I won’t give those away, but let’s just say that the rumors were true.

I think the most significant part of this story is the wolves. I was impressed by how Marissa Meyer was able to take the wolves and Little Red Riding Hood and connect that back to the moon and Luna. It was a really interesting way of wrapping together two stories into one.

Similarly to Cinder, if you’re looking for the old fairy tale, you’re not going to find it. Yes it has the hooded girl and the grandmother and the wolf, but to say this is Little Red Riding Hood is an insult to both the authors. This is not that fairy tale and I’m so glad that it isn’t. It would make way more predictable.

What I loved the most about these stories (and hopefully in the other books in the series) is the strong female characters. They’re not damsels in distress and they’ve been touched by a lot of tragedy in their lives to waste away as some helpless person. They’re fighters and thinkers and stronger than their male counterparts. It makes you feel alive and wonder if you’re capable of that kind of strength.

The best part is that it’s not completely high fantasy. There’s a lot where you can relate to these characters and nothing feels forced or pushed on them by some hidden agenda with the author. They all have faults and they all have strengths and it makes the characters all feel real in this made-up world.

I think at this point in the series, I want to see what happens next. I couldn’t put this book down and I’m pretty certain I won’t be able to put down the rest. I feel like I’m right at the top of the hill and ready for my rollercoaster ride down to the end. I can’t wait to read the next books in the series!

  • Paperback: 452 pages
  • Publisher: SquareFish
  • Rating: 5/5 stars
  • Buy Scarlet on Amazon

Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.

November 2017 Wrap Up

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November seemed to go quickly, but also jam packed with news, articles, and great reads. I had a blast this November and here are some of the highlights.

Thanksgiving at my in laws

I’ve never had Thanksgiving at anyone else’s house before. I’ve always had it with my family with the same meal and the same sides to be expected. The same guests too! But this year, I got to explore what other people observe for their Thanksgiving.

If you ask my friends, I always bring up how Thanksgiving is one of those meals that is the same for everyone but different as well. We all have the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Coming from an immigrant family, many of my Thanksgiving included things like kimchi and rice and even a little lasagna.

I have this great pic from a feast like this many years ago and there, right in the middle of the table, is a pan of lasagna. I’m not sure who brought the lasagna, but it really isn’t Thanksgiving without it on the table.

So this Thanksgiving, I was thankful to have a place to go and share a meal with my other family. The food was slightly different than what I would see, but there were some subtle differences. Like my family never watches football…ever. Also, we don’t have the adults fighting over the desserts. Most of the adults passed over dessert making room for a cup of hot tea.

It was fun to hear family stories and laugh with people who welcomed me into their home. I think it was the most American Thanksgiving I’ve ever seen!

Alright, enough chit chat, let’s hit the books.

Books I read

Links from the Internet

This is probably my favorite part about the entire post! I get to share the articles and essays I found this month and LOVED! Make sure to definitely check these out when you have a chance!

I found this really great article from 1995 about what Little Women was really about. I was doing some research on an article about women and literature and I was just enamored by this detailed article about Little Women. Definitely check it out!

My favorite thing this month was reading this article about Colin Kaepernick and how GQ found him his own team while he still is banned from playing in the NFL. It must be really difficult to follow your dreams only to be thrown out from your dreams because of what you believe in. How do you manage to do both? Are they mutually exclusive? I don’t know, but this article was great to read!

This is a reminder for myself that I need to pick up I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez because this interview really blew it up for me!

I feel like I should mention this, but I’m super sad that The Mindy Project is done. However, I found this wonderful article about how great the show was and how it really appreciated the romantic comedy genre.

Continuing my work to become a better writer, I found this wonderful essay in NY Review of Books about writing memoirs especially after a family member has died.

I’m such a nerd because Mara Wilson aka Matilda wrote this article for Elle magazine about young female actresses and how they’re sexualized at way too young an age. It also dives into Millie Bobbi Brown and the controversy she didn’t mean to cause, but did because she’s 13 and yeah, that makes sense (eye roll).

I couldn’t be more happy for my friend, Maggie, @mugandnook for opening up and sharing her personal story about being a human with a disability. Thank you so much for sharing, Maggie!

I am so happy that people are seeing Lena Dunham for what she truly is and writers like Zizi Clemmons are taking a stand against her backhanded, racist comments. Take a look at the official statement in this article.

I love me some great essays lately and this one from TheMillions.com talks about how we shouldn’t forget that a walk in the woods in a book shouldn’t replace a real walk in the woods. This was a pretty interesting read!

I love Sophie from Main St. and Maple and how candid she is about her struggles to find work in a very male-dominated career. Good luck! I know that something will find its way to you and don’t give up! Come out to the coasts where women are totally wanted to help break down those barriers!

This was one literary piece from Electric Lit about how women turn themselves into trees when approached by unwanted desire. It’s moving and poetic and makes you want to tear the years of bark growing over you.

That’s it! Thanks for reading my blubber about the Internet. Honestly, I love sharing these articles with you!

Until next time!

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

 

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I’ve only tried to make bread once in my life and while I did have a tasty loaf, I can’t say if it was the best bread in the world. However, I have an inkling that Lois can.

SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan is the story about a woman named Lois Clary who arrives in San Francisco with a computer science degree. She begins to work at a small tech company building mechanical robot arms to help people do ordinary things.

As a newcomer to the city, she didn’t have many friends so she spent many of her nights at home ordering food from the local restaurant called Clement Street Soup and Sourdough. Every night, she would order the same delicious spicy soup with their famous sourdough bread. And as she ordered, she became friendlier with the two brothers who owned the restaurant.

That was until one day the boys had the move back home due to immigration reasons. Before the two boys left, they gifted Lois with their starter for sourdough bread. It’s an ancient starter that has been passed along generation to generation. The boys left the starter with Lois to keep providing that she takes care of it everyday and makes sure to feed it.

As the skeptic that she is, she goes ahead and does what the boys say, but little did she know that this starter is about to take her on an interesting journey.

San Francisco tech and sourdough go together like peanut butter and jelly. These two things are so synonymous with the city that it makes sense to put together a whole book about it. It was an easy read with an interesting story, but it wasn’t a wow for me. It was good and I liked it, but I wasn’t thinking this could be the best book he’s ever written. What I liked in reading a story about carbs also lacked in some other technical things.

The story is kind of set up like little pockets of time. Each chapter represents one story and the entire book is a culmination of all those stories. It didn’t have the same beat that your average book would have, but each story spoke along the same lines. It’s about bread.

You see Lois get the starter and try to bake her first loaf of sourdough bread. She’s never baked or cooked anything in her life, but she was somehow magically able to bake a loaf of sourdough bread. I know that bread isn’t easy and from the people I know who have tried to make it, no one has done it perfectly.

Yet, you see her bake a loaf and her reaction seemed like this was easy and doesn’t really require much. I understand if Robin Sloan was trying to use the starter as the reason for all the great baking, but I don’t know if you can bake great bread right from the get-go without considering that maybe it’s the starter?

Lois immediately catches the baking bug and start not only making bread for herself, for her friends, for her office, for everyone. One person suggests that she try and sell it and thus begins her story to really make something from the bread. Throughout this, you get little hints and clues as to what might be the cause for her success and you see the magic of the starter. It’s like reading someone’s diary on how they got started with baking bread and all the different things they did to get the bread they wanted. It was more telling than it was showing which made it kind of dull for me.

Then all of a sudden, the sourdough changes on her and about three quarters of the way into the novel, the story really picks up. I was kind of confused by why this didn’t happen much earlier in the novel to help really push the reader along. I really wanted to see what happened with the dough, but even the ending was wrapped up into a neat little bow. I just wanted a little bit more, just another taste of that delicious bread rather than being told.

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However, the book did keep me interested because I did end up finishing it. I think it had something to do with the starter, finding its origins, learning how to hone it, figuring out where all of this leads. You get to read about all these things through the email correspondences Lois has with Beoreg, the guy who gave her the starter. It almost feels magical and alive and that was more intriguing to me than listening to her figure out how to make more bread. Like well kneaded dough, these pieces were sprinkled in like bench flour to keep you from getting stuck.

My favorite part is really the descriptions of the bread. The fluffy and doughy centers where people slabbed butter on top and I wish that this story was more about that than learning how to double the bread output Lois was making everyday.

I think what really drew me to the story was the idea that Lois was going into a vocation that she was good at, but not passionate about. Then, you see her start to make bread and become obsessed with creating a beautiful loaf that pleases a lot of people. She questions her job, she questions her motivation, and then she finally figures out what she wants. I think that’s a story that a lot of people can relate to especially when you work in a field that you’re not a fan of. You just want to see Lois succeed because you want to succeed and that’s a resonance I know far too well.

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

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After hearing that @kathareads and @literaryjo loved Emma in the Night, I had to check it out for myself. I bought the book back in September with my Book of the Month Club subscription, but it took me two months to pick it up. However, I can’t believe I didn’t pick this book up before. It was really an incredible read and I’m not a fan of thrillers!

Emma in the Night is a psychological thriller about two girls who go missing one day after an epic battle with their parents. After being missing for three years, one girl, Cass, returns to her parents home with a story to help lead them back to Emma.

The story takes place in two separate points of view. The first is from Cass, Emma’s sister, who disappeared with her that one night. Cass’s perspective is in the first person POV lending to the emotions and memories Cass has of growing up with a narcissist. The second comes from Dr. Abbey Winter. She’s a forensic psychiatrist who was assigned to the missing sisters case three years ago. She has also written papers on narcissism and knows personally what Cass may have lived through.

Abbey speaks a lot about personality disorders especially those linked to narcissism. She firmly believes that Emma and Cass’s mother was a classic textbook case. I think this is what really drew me into the book. I’m a fan of psychology and reading about the brain’s reaction to certain events and moments in someone’s life. There was definitely a lot of the “psychology” of psychological thriller here.

I don’t know much about narcissism and I’m glad that I don’t know anyone who exhibits those traits. However, I feel bad for anyone who does and the way it almost follows a family like cancer or diabetes. Mothers who suffer from narcissism then suffer those traits onto their own children.

It made me wonder about all the people in this world who aren’t cognizant of their own personality; people who walk around completely clueless that their behavior is diabolical. How their behavior imprints on their kids creating an endless loop of disorder not easily detectable.

It was like knowing there’s the facade, the person who wants to be the best looking and have the best personality and is the smartest and the quickest and all of that. But deep down, there’s this little ball of insecurity hiding behind all of those physical attributes.

It felt like I was reading two stories here and maybe that was Wendy Walker’s point here.  There was the main story, which is finding Emma, but then there’s this story about a family who put up a huge front to hide the dark and sinister personalities. As the story unfolds, you read more about what happened with Emma that led to her leaving and what does happen to the girls. I honestly feel like I can’t speak about this book without giving stuff away!

All I know is that it took me three days to finish this book. Most books take me a week because I love my downtime and rather watch TV than read. But this book was so captivating that I wanted to continue reading it. I didn’t clean the house. I didn’t cook dinner. I just read this book and the book is short enough to be a great weekend read.

I’m not a thriller person, but this didn’t feel like your typical thriller. You didn’t start off with a murder, just a disappearance and the mysterious return of one of the kidnapped victims. From that point on, it was like playing a game of clue and you’re fed these breadcrumbs of info that will eventually lead you in the wrong direction. I was surprised by the end. I held my jaw shut with my hand as I finished reading the final pages. Even the wrap up included pieces of info I didn’t imagine would be mentioned. I’m pretty sure this is the first book where I liked the ending!

Alright, I won’t say anymore without giving too much away. I will say that if you’re into a thriller that isn’t too heavy on death and murderous psychopaths, I would highly recommend it. It was compelling and suspenseful without making you keep the light on at night.

 

How reading diverse novels changed me

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It started a little over a year ago when I picked up Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi for the first time. I wasn’t looking for diverse reads then. I was just looking for a good read. I don’t even know how this book got into my hands, but I decided to go to the library and pick it up. Perhaps it was my subconscious telling me that I needed diverse books in my life. Perhaps it was the universe saying that this will change the fundamental ways I think about things.

The idea of having a family one day and then being completely separated by fate and by design shocked me. I found myself wanting to learn more about my own family and my own ancestry and see if there was ever a time when my family lineage broke apart. Was it left to some distant grandmother to recreate a family from scratch?

That’s what I got out of Homegoing and reading about the experience of another culture through the eyes of someone who’s looked into this for themselves and had the bravery to write a fictional novel about it; I honestly felt more woke than I ever did in my life. Homegoing basically changed everything that I knew about African American, about family, and about the triumph of the human spirit.

From that point on, I wanted to read more. Bring me more African American authors writing about their experience. Bring me more Asian authors writing about what life was like moving to an unknown world. Bring me more LGBTQ authors writing about coming out. I wanted to read more and understand more about the diversity around us and I felt like I found it in books.

Reading diverse novels filled a void I didn’t know I had. I wanted to read more cultures and more subcultures and more about the people that inhabit this world. It’s so easy to fall prey to the books that are easier to read and fun, but for me I wanted to push myself with knowledge. I didn’t want to be ignorant anymore and I found some understanding in fiction.

What I didn’t expect is that reading diverse novels would actually change the way I see, think, and live my life every single day. Suddenly, I found myself listening to conversations and interjecting with something that I’d read in a novel.

I would overhear conversations being African American and living below the poverty line and inserting the points brought up in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I would listen to folks chatting about choosing to be gay and think about books like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz Alire and how it’s not a choice.

Every conversation I heard led back to a book I read. My conversations would start with “I did read this book about…” trying to add my two cents in about a topic. I never saw myself as an expert in , but I felt that the fiction I was reading were relevant and poignant and g

I found myself looking for books only written by women and by people of color. I would search authors online to see what they were about and what they were trying to portray in their novels. I wanted the authentic experience of what it was like to fit in their shoes.

I only read stories that challenged the status quo. I wanted to read from the people who work hard to fight for their own civil liberties; stories from people who know how I feel about growing up in America and feeling different.

It had gotten to a point where I was so burnt out on diverse reads that I wanted to head back to the other side. However, it was too late for me and the side where you could read some random mystery didn’t feel as satisfying as knowing the experience of other people.

What got you was the interconnection between you and the story. When you’re reading any novel, you find ways to map what you experienced with the experiences of the book. Even if you can’t relate to being African American, or Asian, or struggling to find your gender identity, there is always something that draws you into the book. Be it love or family or human strife, the language speaks to you and gain a little more awareness.

It’s the human experience that you find there. And you find that you connect with that experience a little bit more even in the smallest iota of connection. And you wonder to yourself why other people can’t see what you see. You ask yourself why we all can’t get along because we’re all one in the same; we’re human.

I’m grateful for the books I’ve read and the people I meet. I’m happy that I read these books and seek out more books like it. It’s almost like traveling to another country; your perspective of the world changes because you’re experiencing a life outside of the one you own. There’s no turning back from this point. All I can do is move forward.

November 2017 TBR

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I’m pretty proud of my list this month. First off, it’s a manageable list of books that I personally want to read. I know that this month (like every month) will have its random reads and books that need reviewing, but they’re unseen and unpredictably arrive. Whenever I choose my TBR for the month, I think fully and heartily for myself.

This month, I’m trying to catch up with my Book of the Month Club books. I actually skipped this month because most of the books (4/5) I already own and have either already read or will read in the future. It’s a sigh of relief to know more books aren’t coming my way for a little while. I love getting and buying books, but my book stacks are starting to reflect my mounting anxiety levels. I need to catch up.

Also, it’s November. There’s only two more months before the end of the year and I want to clear my shelves for 2018!

So here’s my book choices for November 2017. What will you be reading this month?

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

32920226Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

29864343When Nicholas Young hears that his grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed, he rushes to be by her bedside–but he’s not alone. It seems the entire Shang-Young clan has convened from all corners of the globe, ostensibly to care for their matriarch but truly to stake claim on the massive fortune that Su Yi controls. 

With each family member secretly fantasizing about getting the keys to Tyersall Park–a trophy estate on 64 prime acres in the heart of Singapore–the place becomes a hotbed of intrigue and Nicholas finds himself blocked from entering the premises. 

As relatives claw over heirlooms, Astrid Leong is at the center of her own storm, desperately in love with her old sweetheart Charlie Wu, but tormented by his ex-wife–a woman hell bent on destroying Astrid’s reputation and relationship. Meanwhile Kitty Pong, married to billionaire Jack Bing, finds a formidable opponent in his fashionista daughter, Colette.

WARCROSS by Marie Lu

29385546For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

33916024Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.
Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.  Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show. 
When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

33574211One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.