Friday, July 01, 2022

June 2022 Book List

The end of this month was dire. I was DNFing like crazy and struggling with my reading after a stellar early month. Oh, well, it comes and goes in phases, I guess.

6/1: Penric's Progress (World of Five Gods, Penric & Desdemona #1-3) by Lois McMaster Bujold (library, 2020) - This series is absolutely wonderful to read. 5/5 stars 

6/3: Leviathan Falls by James. S.A. Corey (The Expanse #9) by James S.A. Corey (library, 2022) - A fitting end to an amazing series. 5/5 stars

6/4: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (library, 2022) - What an exciting debut from Garmus! Very good book. 4.5/5 stars

6/5: Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) by Louise Penny (library, 2007) - A reread of a book I've read before and I stand by my "meh" review. I want to read Louise Penny like everyone else, but I guess she's just not for me. 3/5 stars

6/6: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (library ebook, 2021) - Too long. Fine, but not great. 3/5 stars

6/8: Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron (library ebook, 2021) - Not my type of romance. 2.5/3 stars

6/10: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (library ebook, 2011) - Dystopian novel in which felons are "chromed" - their skin is altered to a different color - instead of imprisoned. Hannah is a Red because she had an abortion.  I have relatively few thoughts about this novel except that the pro-religious stance was too overt for the likes of me.  Interesting concept, though. 2.5/5 stars

6/15: A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher (library ebook, 2020) - Funny, smart. I liked it a whole lot. 5/5 stars

6/17: Take a Chance with Me (The O'Callaghan's #5) by Kristen Proby (Kindle purchase, 2022) - I am a big Proby fan, but this book was one of the most generic, boring romance novels I've read in a long, long time. Disappointing. 2/5 stars

6/24: Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1) by JR Ward (library, 2005) - A reread for book club. This went over surprisingly well with my book club members - everyone thought the worldbuilding was interesting and surprising. It's not the best book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, but a solid start. 4/5 stars 

6/27: When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen (library, 2021) - An interesting debut about what happens when a black woman returns to her hometown after a decade away to go to a wedding at a plantation. The creepy atmosphere was a particular strength. 3.5/5 stars

Total: 11 books
Average star rating: 3.6/5 stars

Did Not Finish:

The Road Trip by Beth O'Leary - I really loved The Switch and The Flatshare by this author, but The Road Trip was practically unreadable to me. All of the characters were mean, they weren't talking about what needed talking about, and I found reading it to be an incredibly frustrating experience. DNF at 45%. 

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry - There are a lot of players on a lacrosse team and the book starts at a lacrosse camp with multiple teams and there were so many characters and I was so confused and I actively started to avoid the book. DNF at page 30 or so.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon - I knew this was probably not going to work for me when the author's note mentioned rape and genocide and I was one chapter in and there had been domestic violence and attempted murder. The name should have been a tip-off that this was maybe not the right book for me. DNF after the first chapter.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron - I know this is supposed to be humorous, but it actually just made me feel bad about aging. DNF after the first two essays. 

Crosstalk by Connie Willis - This was like an incredibly confusing episode of Black Mirror and it was clear I was not a patient enough audience to get to the meat of the story. DNF at 8%.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Multiples Multiplying (Out of Control)

Elisabeth wrote about how, while she generally keeps the things she owns to a minimum, she has a lot of scissors. This actually encouraged me to think about the things I have a large number of (besides shoes, which I've covered in some depth). Here is my list of things I have multiples of and how I got to this place.

Scissors: A lot of these stories are going to start "I never could find X when I was growing up" and when I became an adult, I overcorrected. This is one of those stories. I think we only had one pair of orange-handled scissors in our house when I was growing up. They were stored with my mom's current knitting project and since that was a moving target, I never knew where the scissors were. By my count, we have a pair in the living room desk, a pair of kitchen shears, a pair in the downstairs bathroom, each of us has a pair in our desks in the office upstairs, there's a pair in the guest room where the wrapping paper lives, and I have two pairs in the sewing room (one for ONLY cutting fabric and one for cutting patterns and the like).  Eight pair by my count.  We also have a box cutter in the living room desk and a box cutter in the mudroom. 

Scarves: I'm a girl who likes scarves and wears them a lot. By a quick visual inspection of my closet, I have about two dozen.  More on scarves later.

Socks: When I was growing up, the frantic search for matching socks in the morning was always such a stressful time. There are two entire drawers of my dresser devoted to socks and I actually have a handful stocked in my nightstand, too. I never search for matching socks in my adult life. Also, people who love me KNOW I love socks and always send them to me as presents. I just hoard them and honestly can't stop. I also own dozens of pairs of tights, nylons, and the like. I'm just a hosiery kind of girl.

Lip balms: I love lip balm. I am an addict. I also am not the kind of person who loses them, so I go through entire tubes before throwing them out (my husband introduced me to two of his aunts by saying "she's the kind of person who uses the entire tube of Chapstick before losing it").  If I'm at a small boutique and I see some local lip balm, I'll buy it. There's one in every jacket, every purse, and there's a stash of at least a dozen in my nightstand. You can never have enough lip balm.  

Just from my nightstand. 

Greeting cards: I wrote about my greeting card box before, but it bears repeating. I have a box with my greeting cards organized by occasion and there are hundreds of greeting cards in there. 

Library books: I just don't feel comfortable unless I have a huge stack of books. This is definitely left over from the trauma of the library being closed in the early days of the pandemic and I only had four books, which, as I'm sure you can imagine, I read fairly quickly. Now, I try to be stocked in case it ever happens again.  

I have holds on eight more paper books and have maxed out my ten holds on Libby.

What do you have too many of?  Does it stem from not being able to find matching socks when you were a child? 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen

When the Reckoning Comes is LaTanya McQueen's debut novel.  Mira, Jesse, and Celine were best friends in a segregated town. They were all poor, but Celine's advantage was that she was white and Mira's advantage was that she was smart. After an incident left Jesse outcast in town, Mira went away to college and never returned until Celine invited her to her wedding. The wedding is to be held at a renovated plantation and the mood is somber and tense from the very beginning.

This is really a novel examining the haunting history that surrounds most of land in the United States (and elsewhere, really).  Sure, there's a gripping thriller happening, but just when you've settled into the creepiness of the tale, McQueen includes a flashback to what the lives were like of the slaves on the plantation where the contemporary action is taking place. Those flashbacks jolt you back into an awareness that not all is right.  

McQueen did such an excellent job of setting the mood. It was crazy that I felt dread from the first scene when Mira is just grading papers at her desk.  And that tension never let up. 

But the characters of Celine and Jesse were just not well-developed enough for me to give an enthusiastic endorsement of the novel. It's short, just over 200 pages, and I actually think that McQueen could have added more pages to build on the story and character aspects of the novel and it would have been an excellent book. As is, it's an exciting debut and I'm excited for what she does next. 3.5/5 stars

Lines of note:
What she'd tried to forget had always been there, this piece of her past, this history. Mira had tried, had spent a decade trying, but a person can't run away from who they are. Soon enough, what's been buried will rear itself again. (page 74)
I think this is so interesting. Our pasts shape us in ways that just can't be undone.

"Yet because of them you're having your wedding here. At a plantation, Celine"
"It hasn't been a plantation for over a hundred years, and it's not like my family owned slaves."
"What about its history? The suffering that built it. That's never forgotten. Isn't it always there?" (page 103)
This is the heart of it, isn't it? A good reminder that places like this should not be a place for celebratory occasions. 

"The building is still there but like a lot of things in town, there's only the ghost of what it was." (page 134)
When I drive through my hometown, the buildings just seem so sad and depleted. The population dwindles with each census and what was once a booming lumber town is now just a place people speed through to get somewhere else. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

Confusing the Advertisers

I don't actually notice ads most of the time. I'm sure I'm surrounded by them, but I rarely pay attention.  The only time I am really a captive audience is when I go for a run and I listen to Spotify. I'm too cheap to pay for a subscription, so I get ads.  

Here's the thing. I'm a married woman in my 40s who lives in a red county. I'm a homeowner in the Midwest. These demographics say something about me.  And so it leads to advertisements on Spotify about the following things.

1) Catholic education - This is wrong on so many levels. I do not have a child to enroll in a Catholic school. I am not Catholic.

(My husband did go to Catholic schools growing up. One of his friends from high school had a parent die and requested donations for either a pro-life charity or a Catholic education fund and Dr. BB sent one to Catholic education. If I had been in charge of this, I would have donated money to Planned Parenthood in the dead asshole's name, but I wasn't in charge and didn't even know my name was on this donation until it was too late. Also, fuck off if you're pro-life. Also, I'm getting so mad just typing this. I need to cool off.)

2) Diapers - I do not have children, let alone children young enough for diapers.

(Look, I can't figure out why I get this one. Maybe it's just age and demographics? Although, I'm a tiny bit too old for babies at this point.)

3) Laundry detergent, specifically Tide - For quite some time, I was getting ads that featured Aaron Rodgers, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Ice-T. I would actually find myself irate at Rodgers and his anti-vaccination, putting others at risk stance and turned off Spotify on these occasions. Recently, it's switched to a Tide ad about how much water is in traditional detergent versus Tide Pods. The thing is, we use a very cheap Era detergent because every single time we've tried to switch to other more environmentally friendly detergents, I've broken out into a rash. I'm never going to try Tide and this advertisement is wasted on me.

4) Taco Bell - I legitimately don't remember the last time I ate at Taco Bell.  I honestly don't know if I will ever eat there again. I used to get Nachos Supreme and it seems like that's been taken off the menu, so what's my motivation to go there? 

Where are my ads for low-cost prescriptions for expensive dogs, Spotify? Or ethically sourced fashion brands? Or local plumbers, electricians and contractors? Those are things I could actually use!

Do the advertisers have you figured out?  What's the weirdest things that's been advertised specifically to you recently?  

Friday, June 24, 2022

Snapshot of My Day, Edition #6, 6/23/2022

I got the idea for a "snapshot" type of post from Stephany who got it from Torrie over at To Love and To Learn. I'm a straight up copycat of their format!
Right now.

Time I woke up: Just before my alarm went off this morning at around 6:15. The birds were chirping and the sun was streaming in through the windows.

First thing I did upon waking: Stumbled over to my phone to turn off the alarm and then I went around closing upstairs windows to keep the cool air from overnight in during the day.

Today's weather: Mid-80s and sunny.  Clear blue skies. It's a pretty perfect summer day.

Today is Hannah's third Gotcha Day. We're so proud of our little nugget.

An out-of-the-ordinary thing that happened today: The neighbors have been working on their front porch, which is to say that they totally demolished it. Today they were pouring concrete for a new slab and footings and Hannah the Dog lost her mind at one of the workers. She has rarely been so excitable on a walk and it was not a shining moment in her training.

Last thing I read (not on the Internet): I'm reading Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1) by J.R. Ward because we chose it as our book club book for the month on my joking recommendation. I do not think this book series is perfect (the names all have extra letters in them! like Rhage! and Tohrment!, Ward can't resist name dropping designer brands all the time, and her constant use of the term "shitkickers" instead of shoes or boots is frustrating), but her worldbuilding is solid and in the later books she really dives into some of the difficulties of being in a long-term relationship which is not something you really see in romance a lot.  Do I sound defensive about this choice? It's because I am. I said it sort of jokingly, not expecting that everyone would jump on the suggestion. *sigh* I'll let you know next week how it went over with members of my book, but I'm guessing that the answer is not really well.  

Last thing I read (on the Internet): I read a long reddit thread about the scandal involving Billy Jensen, the former host of the podcast The Murder Squad.  I'm also slightly obsessed with why the McElroys are so abruptly ending their current campaign on The Adventure Zone and moving from weekly to biweekly and have spent more than my fair amount of time reading through threads about that, too. I love juicy podcasting gossip.

Last text I received: Reminder from the vet that Hannah has an appointment tomorrow. (Of course she does!)

Last text I sent: My BFF sent me a meme via text (above) and I texted back "Lolol. It's too true."

Last website I visited: A local two-year college's website to look at job postings.

Our grocery store stocks these in the summer months, so I eat one every night after dinner. I do not regret the extra 100 calories a day.

Last show I watched: I watched an episode of season two of Floor is Lava on Netflix after a particularly stressful job meeting. 

Last podcast I listened to: I'm relistening to Binge Mode Harry Potter as a comfort listen and I just finished the episode on the fourth movie.

Last thing I said: Hannah still won't eat her snack. I don't know how we're going to get her to take her afternoon meds. (I said this to Dr. BB in case that wasn't clear.)

Last thing I ate: Blue Diamond Habanero BBQ Almonds.

Things are crazy next door!

What I was doing an hour ago: Watching Floor is Lava.

What I will be doing an hour from now: Attempting to get Hannah to eat dinner. I suspect it will not go well.

Current whereabouts of the other members of the household: Hannah is sleeping in her bed in the room next to me, Zelda is on her cat tree in the mudroom, and Dr. BB is upstairs practicing guitar.

One thing I crossed off my to-do list today: I had one small assignment at work today to write a paragraph or two explaining something we're doing and I did it.  I procrastinated for far too long, but it was done, so that's that.

I'm only slightly mortified at what a mess my work space is. Only slightly, though.

That's a wrap. Is your desk neater than mine? Does your dog refuse to eat?  Let me know what crazy demolition is happening in your neighborhood!

Monday, June 20, 2022

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking is the tale of Mona, a fourteen-year-old girl who has a magical way with dough and baked goods. She finds a dead body in her aunt's bakery, is accused of the murder, and then proceeds to become an integral part of defending her government against an attempted coup.  But Mona never asked to be a hero.

T. Kingfisher is the pen name for Ursula Vernon, who writes children's books and comics. When she writes something that's a little unusual or a little dark or just doesn't fit the idea of what her Vernon persona would write, she publishes under the Kingfisher name. 

From the author's note at the end: Ultimately the problem was that it [A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking] was a fairly dark children's book and I, under the name Ursula Vernon, was a write of whimsical upbeat books. If a publisher bought it, they would need me to write about four other books first before they could slip it into the line-up, or else my brand would be in limbo.

I understand that this book has a bit of an edge to it, but I honestly would put this in my pile of sci-fi/fantasy books that make you feel good, like Murderbot and The Wayfarers series. Sure, there are scenes of violence and war, but the main takeaway is that everyone has a gift and everyone's gift is useful.  

Plus, there is a homicidal sourdough starter, killer gingerbread men, and an animate horse corpse.  I mean, what else could you possibly ask for?  I found this book to be extremely entertaining, the worldbuilding was top-notch, and there was plenty of humor. Huge thumbs up from me.  5/5 stars

Lines of note:

Problem was that, like yeast, the thoughts were growing. Pretty soon they'd overflow the edges of my skull, and I wouldn't be able to ignore them any longer. (page 67)

This is exactly how I feel 90% of the time.

Molly understood, though. When you spend most of your time with a dead horse, you learn to respect other people's weird pets. (page 82)

Don't question me about my pets' eccentricities. They're both weird little creatures.

It seemed like once you agreed that the government could put you on a list because of something you were born with, you were asking for trouble. (page 128)

This cuts too close to home.

If you have ever prepared for a siege in two days, than you know what the next few days were like. If you haven't, then you probably don't. (page 212)

I like this way to handwave doing exposition.  The author clearly wanted to show time had passed, but didn't want to go into excruciating detail about preparations. This was done with humor and I liked it. 

It is nearly impossible to be sad when eating a blueberry muffin. I'm pretty sure that's a scientific fact. (page 238)

True fact.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron is a reality show cooking competition romantic comedy.  Let's see how it shook out for me. 

Reena is in a rough state. She's been laid off for the third time, she has had a series of boyfriends and no relationships that last, but the last straw is when she learns that her parents are trying to arrange a marriage for her with the son of her father's business partner. It doesn't hurt that Nadim is attractive and has helped her out with an entry in a cooking competition, but she really doesn't want to just fall in line with what her parents want. She loves cooking and baking and wants to win this competition, but she and Nadim are going to have to pretend to be a couple to continue on.

Interesting characters: Hm. I am torn. On one hand, Reena and Nadim seem like absolutely normal twentysomethings going about their lives, dealing with work and family stress, and that's fine. But I sort of think that the Muslim representation here is problematic. We have pre-marital sex, drinking alcohol, gambling, and still we're expected to believe these are families in high standing in the Muslim community? Maybe that's right. But if I were a Muslim who was pretty stringent and I was looking for a romance novel that showed me that representation, this book would not do. 

Maybe it's fine that this book shares more about the culture of food and expectations of parents in MENA communities. But I think there are readers out there who were sorely disappointed and I get it. I am still on the lookout for a decent romance novel about practicing Muslims.  

Believable conflict: JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER FOR FUCK'S SAKE. I just...I can't handle it. It's not even miscommunication - it's just complete avoidance of huge topics, including family and WHAT YOU DID BEFORE YOU MOVED TO THIS COUNTRY. 

(Sidenote: I loved Toronto as a setting and wish Heron had done more with it.)

Emotional tension: I mean, they basically fell into bed right away, so there wasn't a lot of lead up. Since they refused to actually have a meaningful conversation, I thought the tension was inflated, but not for a good reason. 

Happily ever after: I was a tiny bit surprised by the end, to be honest. That's really hard to do in a romance novel, so good on Heron for that.  

There's a lot to like about this book. There's a character who has an interesting hobby (cooking/baking) and that actually comes through. The writing is easy, breezy and just what I want in a romance novel. Unfortunately for me, the bad outweighs the good in this one and I can't really recommend it. 

2.5/5 stars

Lines of notes:

Reena had endured much in her thirty-one years on the planet. As a short, middle-born, socially awkward visible minority, she'd had birthdays forgotten, been bullied at school, been dumped on the subway, and even once had an ex-boyfriend post a picture of her sated, after-sex face on social media - with a self-congratulating caption. (page 84)

This is not great writing. Just writing this out in a list form without showing any of these things just didn't work for me.

But if Reena was good at anything, it was ignoring the voices in her head that told her the path she was on was covered with snakes that would bite her in the ass one day. (page 239)

But then this writing shows up and it's so wonderful and precise.  Heron is a contradiction.

Things I looked up:

Boulangerie (page 3) - Bakery.