Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell

So I didn't let it bother me that there was an "e" in the word "judgement" in this title, but as I'm writing this, it IS bothering me. It's a book written by someone in the UK, so I'm going to stop thinking about what the correct spelling is right now.

This book was weird. In the first two pages, Rendell tells us exactly who is going to get killed, who is going to do it, and how it's going to happen. So this isn't a mystery and it's not exactly a crime procedural, either. So I was sort of puzzled about what this book was going to actually be about. I found it on a list of great mystery novels and it clearly wasn't a traditional mystery, so... It's basically a commentary about the class system. The killers are lower-class and you see shame, anger, and defeatism from those characters. The family that is killed is a higher class (wealthier and educated) and you see the carelessness with which they are unaware of their privilege and their often unintentional mistreatment of their servants.  And I liked the pointedness of this conversation on class.

I didn't actually care for the writing, though. The author seemed to use language to obscure meaning.  I had to read the first two pages (when we learn about the crime, the victims, and the circumstances surrounding the crime) about five times before I could figure out what was going on. Some of that was because I just couldn't comprehend that the author told us all the main plot points at the very beginning, but some of it was because the writing was unnecessarily dense and circuitous.  I got into the swing of things and figured it out eventually, but I didn't really warm up to the writing style.  I did like the author's witty one liners, though.  One of my favorites, used to describe one of the murderers, was: One wonders what Joan Smith would have done with children if she had had them. Eaten them, perhaps.  Ha ha ha.

So I will recommend that you read this book if you enjoy the psychology of killers or snarky British narrators, but if you just want to sit down and curl up with a good whodunnit, this probably isn't for you. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Book Twos

Book two of The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks is The Blinding Knife.  I am really enjoying this series. The world building is fun and interesting. I still think the characters are kind of cookie cutter and stereotypcial, but Weeks really has thought about the world Gavin, Kip, and Liv live in.  I would recommend that you dig into this series if you're able to immerse yourself in fantastical worlds.
We read the first book in the Neapolitan Novels by Elana Ferrante series, My Brilliant Friend, for my book club last month. I really enjoyed it, but I wasn't entirely sure I was going to read more in the series, but then the ladies in my book club started reading the subsequent books and I just had to join in because I didn't want to be left out of future discussions.

I'm so very glad I read this book. It's even better than the first one. Our characters move into their early twenties. It's the story of all those ugly feelings of friendship - love, jealousy, anger, disillusionment, pride, wonder, and all the rest.  One friend gets married and struggles against losing her identity to her new husband and child. One friend struggles along with school, attempting relationships without an actual desire for the life that comes with being a wife. Each sees the other's life with something like envy, but at heart, they want what's best for the other. Or do they?

It's complicated in the best way possible.
And if I were Ferrante, I'd want to stay anonymous, too. Otherwise my best friend would totally be side-eyeing me all the time!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Garth! Partie Trois!

On Saturday, I went to the Garth Brooks concert in Columbus, Ohio.  I went with my fellow Garth Brooks-obsessed friend, The Angry Taoist. We went in September of 2014 in Chicago and February of last year in Detroit, but this time we were in OHIO which is like the best place to see a concert ever (sorry, Detroit). Seriously, Brooks has definitely upped his game since early on in the tour. He's in better physical shape now and he played for over two and a half hours. It was great fun.

Obligatory blurry concert pictures no one cares about but me!
The opener was Karyn Rochelle. She sang four songs: "Jezebels," "Better Off," "Red High Heels," and "Summers Like That." She's great - she has a fun stage presence and her music is good.  I'd go to one of her shows.

Then Garth came out. He opened with "Man Against Machine," which is apparently a song from his "new" album (which seems to be only available in strange places, like Walmart and his website) and, thankfully for all of us attending the concert, it was the last "new" song he played. The photo in the upper left is from this song.

The rest of the playlist:
"Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House"
"Beaches of Cheyenne"

(It was at this point in the concert that I realized that Brooks' songs are SO MUCH BETTER than anything on contemporary country radio and that I really, really can't get behind Luke Bryan and his ilk.)

"The River"
"Two Pina Coladas"
"Papa Loved Mama"
"Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)"
"Unanswered Prayers" - the photo in the upper right is during this song
"If Tomorrow Never Comes"
"That Summer"
"The Thunder Rolls" (complete with the third verse!)

At this point, Trisha Yearwood came out and Brooks and Yearwood sang "In Another's Eyes." I am not entirely sure I am 100% behind the Brooks/Yearwood relationship, but after a bad first note on Yearwood's part, this was very lovely despite any misgivings I might have about their personal lives.

Then Yearwood sang a few of her hits:
"XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)"
"How Do I Live"
"Prizefighter" (calling this a "hit" is generous, but let's go with it)

And then she sang "Purple Rain." I'm not a big Prince fan, but the sentiment was nice (although I will admit that it was at this point that I didn't know the words to a song and I was a bit sad). It seemed to go over well with the audience, although I was absolutely not the only one who didn't know the song. The photo in the bottom left is from this song.

She finished with "She's in Love with the Boy."

(I kind of wish she'd sing "Walkaway Joe" and/or "The Song Remembers When," but since less Yearwood means more Brooks, I'll get over it.)

Brooks came back out.

"Callin' Baton Rouge"
"Friends in Low Places" (which I wrote as "Roots" in my chicken-scratched list from the concert)
"The Dance"
"The Fever"

And then the band went away and Brooks took requests from posters around the arena.  He sang the first verse and the chorus of a bunch of songs, some album tracks that never saw the charts. It was just him and his guitar and it was awesome. I really loved this part of the show, mostly because it didn't happen in either Chicago or Detroit.

"What She's Doing Now"
"Every Now and Then" (never a hit, but a great song from The Chase)
"Learning to Live Again"
"Same Old Story" (probably one of my least favorite songs, but an album track from No Fences and it's pretty much been in my head nonstop for the last 48 hours)
"The Red Strokes"
"Alabama Clay" (an early song from his first CD - EEEEEHHHH - awesome)
"Ireland" (this is in all caps in my hand-written list - I LOVE this song - people in the audience were crying with this one)
"She's Every Woman"

Then the band came back out and they played the following three songs in their full lengths:

"More Than A Memory"
"We Shall Be Free"
"Standing Outside the Fire"

And then we went home, hoarse and overly excited.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

This is not a book I would normally choose to read on my own, but it was a book club book, so I got it from the library, set it on the counter, stared at it for a couple of weeks, renewed it, read the first nine pages, put it back on the counter, stared at it some more, and finally picked it up to read it about three days before our book club was meeting.  Despite lots of good press about this book, I couldn't really figure out how to motivate myself to read a book about a military guy on leave from the Iraq war. 

But, seriously, it IS a good book. It is overall depressing as hell, but there are moments of lightheartedness that makes it not as soul-destroying as you might think.  It was perfect for our book club because we'd had a bunch of seriously sad books in a row and this one fit in that mold, but all we could really talk about were the moments that made us laugh.

And how terrible we treat veterans in this country. 

Also, Fountain did this thing in which he wrote small poem-like passages to represent words and sounds that the narrator would sort of hear when he wasn't really paying attention, but letting his mind wander and the visual of this was key. Fountain didn't have to say "his eyes glazed over and he stared into the distance" because we knew that's what he was doing based on the way the sounds were represented on the page. It was an effective way of writing that he used several times throughout the book, but not so often that it became a gimmick.

It seems as if there are some people who rag on this book for being filled with cliches about war and young men who are involved in war, but I don't know if 1) those cliches are untrue 2) if those cliches are not worth examining in greater detail.  Only a small percentage of families in this country are sending troops overseas and most of us don't have an immediate family member or close connection to someone who has been to Iraq or Afghanistan in a military uniform and while it's easy to want to dig your head in the sand and pretend it's not happening, it's not fair those families for us to do so.  War time fiction is depressing as hell* and this is no exception. War time fiction is full of truths we don't always want to acknowledge as truth.  But sometimes we should force ourselves to look a bit deeper and this book accomplishes that.

*I think war time fiction is almost always universally depressing. But my husband tells me that some people find it exciting or inspiring. I don't know that I'm on board with that, but I guess I shouldn't just universally paint my own feelings on the matter to everyone in the world.  You may find this other than depressing, I guess.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Weeks is not a beloved fantasy author in my eyes. He tends to have weak female characters and all of his male characters are immature.  But damn it if he doesn't know how to create a setting and a political environment.  In this book, the first in a four book series, certain individuals have the ability to use light energy to create a substance called "luxin," which changes properties depending on which color your talent is aligned with.  But there's supposed to be one guy, The Prism, who can actually work with all the colors, and he's a political leader, but we learn fairly early on that there were actually TWO brothers who had this ability and their squabbling led to a war.  And chaos ensues.

I thought this was a neat bit of world building. I like that there are different properties of luxin, although I'll admit to having to repeatedly go back to the descriptions (blue is strong - use it to make armor! yellow is a liquid and hard to work with!) to keep things clear in my mind, but I thought it was a fun use of something everyone can kind of picture in your head. I even liked the political structure. It's always interesting to think about what an authoritarian government would look like if the autocrat in charge was somehow meritorious.  But then again, I guess it's not really that much different than hereditary monarchs in terms of being lucky to be born as Prism, but it somehow seems different in my head.


I decided to order the second book in the tetralogy from the library. Juvenile characters and weak women be damned.  I want to know more about this world.  Plus, I am holding out hope that the women situation will be fixed in future books. There's a plot point about "superchromates," who can see very fine gradations in color and they're mostly women. I have a sneaking suspicion that small plot point is going to be important in subsequent books.

Monday, April 11, 2016

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

We read My Brilliant Friend for my book club and I was kind of hoping that I would be able to get a copy from the library, but I was like a millionth on the list, so I broke down and purchased it about a week and a half before our meeting.  The first thing I did was start at the cover in disbelief.
I immediately posted in our Facebook group: I am greatly enjoying the book so far, but I must admit that having to look up a word that appears in a blurb on the cover intimidated me a bit.

For the record, the word bildungsroman is a novel dealing with one person's formative years or spiritual education.  It's a perfect word to describe the book, but I had never heard of it before. It made me a a bit nervous to read the book if the vocabulary was going to be like that.

This book reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I have a well-documented love for. I am not going to do it justice, but I'm going to try. There are moments in this book when the narrator is describing conflicting emotions about things that are so spot on, it's like living in a girl who is fourteen. She's describing how envious she is of her best friend and how much she craves her friend's love and attention, while at the same time understanding her own flaws and how her friend takes advantage of those flaws AND describing her friend's flaws with unerring accuracy and naivete.

It's like this scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

 "Well, obviously, she's feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying. Then I expect she's feeling confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry, and she can't work out who she likes best. Then she'll be feeling guilty, thinking it's an insult to Cedric's memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she'll be worrying about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry and she probably can't work out what her feelings towards Harry are anwyay, because he was the one who was with Cedric when Cedric died, so that's all very mixed up and painful. Oh, and she's afraid she's going to be thrown off the Ravenclaw Quiddich team because she's flying so badly."

A slightly stunned silence greeted the end of this speech, then Ron said, "One person  can't feel all that at once, they'd explode."

I kind of felt like I was going to explode the whole time I was reading this novel. It was like an explosion of emotions, but emotions that totally made sense and compelled me forward in a non-stop train of gut churning, ominous foreshadowing of something horrible about to happen at any second.

The book is a translation and one of the women in our book club was extremely worried about this. I have to admit that I wouldn't have even realized it was a translation if it were not for her concern on the topic. The translation is smooth and the sentences are constructed to be small works of art in their own right, independent of the character building they are doing in concert with one another.

So, yeah, I think you should read it.  And I promise you that you won't have to look up every other word.

Friday, April 08, 2016

My Beverage Profile (and Podcast Recommendation)

Are you listening to the podcast Totally Beverages and Sometimes Hot Sauce? You should be. I listen to HOURS and HOURS of podcasts each week, what with my aim of 10,000 steps a day and endless hours in the car and this is one of my favorites. Two guys, RoRo and JoJo, sit around and talk about beverages. Sometimes they have guests, sometimes they do not. Sometimes they do blind taste tests to see which beverages are actually the best and sometimes they do flights of strange beverages.  I love it.  I love it all.

If you don't know where to start with their backlog of episodes, let me point you to the Grapefruit Sparkling Water episode. Just do it.

When the hosts have a guest, they walk their guest through their "beverage profile," in which they ask questions about every beverage that passes through the guest's lips from the time they wake up until they go to bed.  And the hosts are INTO it. They ask so many smart questions. Is the water filtered? Do you change the filter? Is the water cold?  How cold?  Is it in a cup? A glass?  What's on the coffee mug? And it's fascinating EVERY damn time.

There's been some recent discussion about whether or not asking someone about their beverage profile is a good first date question on the podcast and I would LOVE to ask every person I know about their profile, so if you're on a bad first date, this is something you should consider.  Everyone can talk about what they drink, right?

My beverage profile: First thing in the morning, I roll out of bed, stumble into the kitchen, and slam a glass of water straight from the Brita filter in our fridge #(1). We have a Brita model that keeps track of the number of times it has filtered, so we change the filter when the light blinks red.  Then my husband makes me a mug of tea so it's ready after I'm finished showering. The tea is Celestial Seasonings Honey Lemon Ginseng green tea (#2) with a teaspoon of honey.  I also have a small glass of Langers Cranberry Lite (#3) with breakfast.

Then I reuse my tea bag from breakfast to make a thermos (#4)  full of tea (16 ounce Klean Kanteen) that I take with me to school. During the morning, I drink that thermos of tea and fill the thermos up one or two more times with water. The key is that I don't rinse the tea from the thermos, so the water is very faintly sweetened tea tasting.

With lunch, I have more water. Occasionally I stop at the local cafe and get a coffee or iced coffee (straight up, occasionally with a shot of caramel flavoring).

I drink a glass of water after I work out in the afternoon. After that, I stop drinking plain water. I drink water flavored with Crystal Light post-workout. I like the Black Cherry Lime (#5) and Berry Sangria flavors, although sometimes I get Raspberry Lemonade or Iced Tea.  Sometimes I treat myself to a sparkling water and while I really like the Nice! Black Cherry sparkling water (available at Walgreen's), I was recently inspired to try the Grapefruit flavored Perrier (#6) because it was on sale at our grocery store.  I would not recommend it.

With dinner I have a Diet Cherry Coke (#7).  The first sip of my Cherry Coke with dinner is probably the best moment of my entire day.

And then I drink more Crystal Lite flavored water until bed.

Please tell me what you drink during a normal day. Inquiring minds want to know.
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