Short & Sweet

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Running the Books by Avi Steinberg

This is one of those rare books that I found at the library, at random, rather than specifically seeking it out because it was on my TBR. This details the experiences of a prison librarian. Not too much stands out about it, but it was good. He meets some good, interesting people in the prison, he talks about the ups and downs, how it becomes stressful after awhile, particularly if you happen to meet a former inmate in the outside world. I thought he did a good job for the most part of not being too judgmental of the inmates. I couldn’t help but think of Orange Is the New Black and Shawshank Redemption for much of the reading…

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

This book was really moving. Our main character, modeled after the author (who, by the way, is GORGEOUS) is mixed race, black and white, African-American and Danish. Her dad sort of leaves, it’s a bit vague, and her mom is left with three children and a shitty boyfriend, and decides all their lives would be better if they were over, and jumps off the roof of her building with her children. Her daughter is the only one who survives.

Rachel has to deal with her past trauma, which she tries to ignore much of the time, as well as struggle with her identity. She discusses how so many groups of people feel she should choose a group to be part of – she must be black OR white – they don’t want to accept her as both, but neither group seems to want her entirely.

Despite that her dad left, she ends up in the custody of her paternal grandmother, since her mom’s family is in Denmark. This makes things hard for Rachel – there’s judgment from the family for her mom’s choice and the tragedy, yet her dad isn’t around either.

Using a teenaged girl, who is already going to struggle with identity, and throwing mixed race into the mix, and dead or missing parents – I found it wholly compelling.

Shine, Shine, Shine by Lydia Netzer

I’ve tried to explain this book twice, and have been really bad at it. I guess it’s just a book about being human, honestly.

You have this dysfunctional family – dad’s very detached and stoic, perhaps autistic, perhaps the product of an abusive childhood, perhaps both – he builds robots and goes into space. Mom, Sunny, was a star of a child, has a condition where no hair grows anywhere on her body, so she’s bald, and that’s a huge marker for her. After they get married, she adopts this suburban housewife persona, starts wearing wigs, hosting tupperware parties, that sort of thing. They have a 4 year old boy, Bubber, who is autistic. Mom is pregnant with Baby #2. Grandma, mom’s mother, took care of dad (Maxon) growing up, teaching him social cues, helping him go to school, etc, but never wanted the two to get married, nor does she want her daughter wearing a wig.

Grandma’s dying in the hospital, baby is almost due, dad’s in space, mom gets in a neighborhood car accident, minor, but her wig flies off and everyone sees. She decides she’s tired of the whole charade, stops wearing wigs, takes her son off his meds, pulls the plug on Grandma who’s only still alive because of machines. Then as if mom’s not going through enough, a meteor wipes out some of the ship’s equipment, so Maxon may not be coming home.

We’re basically dealing with Sunny’s development, her choices, how some were mistakes, and some weren’t exactly wrong, but she might have done better going the other way. She has to figure out a lot of things, including how much Maxon means to her.

In the end, it’s sweet, in an offbeat way. I think it would be neat to discuss in a book group setting, to see what others got out of it. I’m just not sure what the whole takeaway is, as it feels like a story with a larger point, that I’m missing.

Perv by Jesse Bering

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Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering

First, let me be immature and get it all out.

HAHAHAHA I read a book called PERV and it’s all about SEX and it’s hilarious and awesome and HAHAHA you’re probably wrong in your suspicion about why there’s a sheep on the cover HAHAHAHAHA.

Okay, now that we’re done with that… it was actually a little weird to carry this book around with me. I read it on the rail one day, with a little old woman sitting beside me. I kept trying to hide the cover, but then the pages were covered with all these words that jump out, so I just gave up. LET HER JUDGE. I’M EXPANDING MY MIND.

The basic message here is that people can do whatever sexual activities they want and have whatever fetishes they want unless what they’re doing causes excessive and nonconsensual harm to another living thing and we really shouldn’t judge, even though most of us are going to.

The book entered into a lot of fascinating territory, like how science is trying to figure out how some people have their fetish switches flipped – some of them do seem to have specific childhood events to point to, and some don’t.

Bering approaches the tricky topic of pedophilia – true pedophilia, being attracted to actual children, not teenagers, because that’s different, and how people can’t help how their brains are wired, only their actions. Most people are ready to judge immediately, but the truth is, people can’t really help what they like and don’t like – true pedophilias have a shitty lot in life, because they just have to keep their urges under control, but if their secret gets out somehow, even if they haven’t touched or harmed a child, they’re still outcasts.

He relates a story of masochism/sadism, where a man placed an ad looking for a partner to have sexual relations with and also, eat. And he found a willing participant! Who wanted to be 100% killed and eaten. Even the original poster wasn’t looking to go all the way in this manner, probably just wanted to eat a couple fingers or something, but his partner convinced him. The question becomes, with such a willing participant, did this man really commit a crime? The answer is yes, he’s a damn murderer, and even without the sex and the eating, you get in trouble for assisting suicide, if that’s what the guy wanted. But it does make it tricky! He should have said no, but his partner DID want it.

Bering also discusses an experiment, where lambs were raised with goats, and kids (baby goats) were raised with sheep. When they were old enough to reproduce, the males were only interested in the species they grew up with, while the females were less picky, and would copulate with sheep OR goats. …I sort of forget the point of this, but THAT is why there’s a lamb on the cover. You were probably thinking it had to do with bestiality, which is touched on, but not much. Winking smile

Lots of juicy info and discussion in this book. I really enjoyed it. The problem, I think, is that the people who would pick this up are already open-minded on this topic. People who are much more rigid and conservative would probably want to shoot lasers at the book with their eyes or something, which is unfortunate. For the record, Bering presents his information with lots of humor, including being able to laugh at himself and his life situations as a gay man, which gave the book some additional flavor, I think.

Short & Sweet

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This book was a long overdue read for me. I got my butt in gear after Angelou passed away. It’s a quick read, not because it is easy, but because it is engaging.

Angelou tells of her childhood, growing up some in the south, some in St Louis, some in San Francisco, with different family members each time. Unsurprisingly, it touches a lot on racial tensions, something that I never tire of hearing about – while it’s sad and sometimes disturbing, it’s an important, and still ongoing, part of our history and culture, and the stories are always similar but just different enough.

Angelou tells her story beautifully, without bitterness or anger, at least from my perspective. It’s a quiet acceptance. Yes, these things happened, but there are more important aspects of her life.

The book is often banned, presumably because of it’s depiction of her being molested as a child, though I’m sure some people cover up their issues with race by citing the sexuality.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

I listened to this one, perhaps the longest audiobook I’ve done so far. It was quite a trip! It was a rough trip, as this story centers on North Korea.

I was most certainly invested in the characters, namely the main character. My stomach was in knots, worried that he would get caught, in his plans to escape the Dear Leader, along with Sun Moon and her children. I also felt sick as the interrogation tactics were described. There was a lot to take in.

I would certainly recommend this book. It’s a lot to take in – this young boy, whose mother is gone, and whose father might as well be gone too, rising up in the ranks, until he’s in a position to potentially do real damage to the regime. It’s the sort of story a war veteran would tell, something you would sit down and listen to, and never want to move, not even to go to the bathroom, until it’s done. I can see it as a movie in my head, told in flashbacks, a la Life of Pi, or Titanic.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I’ve been wanting to read Oscar Wilde’s work for a long time. His quotes are floating around everywhere!, and he’s so clever! The problem is that I’m mostly a book girl, and this is his only novel! He writes all the other stuff – short stories/tales, plays, poems, essays – only one novel. But it’s a good ‘un!

When you stop to think about it. this story is actually crazy terrifying. Dorian Gray, this naïve youth, is illuminated as to how handsome he is, after a friend paints a portrait of him, makes some offhand wish about how cool it would be if the portrait grew old instead of his person, and of course, it comes true.

As he goes throughout life, he maintains his youthful appearance, but of course everything else changes. He becomes this unsavory man – I mean, to be blunt, he’s just a dick, he really is. And the portrait takes this all on, so his picture isn’t just showing wrinkles, but showing his true ugliness. And later on, as he commits more heinous sins, these also show in his portrait. Predictably, he comes to a bitter end, it was just a question of when and how, and boy, was I relieved when it finally happened!

It’s unsettling, in the best of ways – because I’m weird, and like books/stories that make me feel weird things. And of course, Mr. Wilde says lots of neat things in the course of the story, typically through characters’ conversations. Some of them are clever in a backwards way – he’ll say something that’s a commonly held belief, and he’ll say it in such an eloquent way, but it’s completely false, and the story will prove it so! It’s masterful. I’m glad I finally read it.

Love By Numbers by Sarah MacLean

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After reading Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels set (at least, what’s been released so far, still one more to come!), I went looking for her other books, and here they are!

We have more strong heroines here, always a good thing, and they’re strong in different ways. Callie’s strength in Nine Rules comes from her battling ideas about duty and respectability and her desire to have love and adventure in her life. Isabel in Ten Ways has fierce pride and stubbornness, born out of love to protect and serve those whom she loves. Juliana in Eleven Ways just doesn’t take shit from anyone. She’s young and fiery, and (mostly) unconcerned with her reputation, and she’s sassy as hell.

Not to do disservice to Sarah – her writing/storytelling is wonderful! – but her books, as my first real foray into the romance genre, really remind me of romantic comedy films. There’s always at least a little bit of formula there, but it works – it’s a formula that keeps us coming back. You set up your two lovers in their individual situations, they meet, there’s interest, and buildup – but then at least once, sometimes two or three times, they have to get pissed at each other and almost ruin everything. and once you know their situations, you kind of see what’s coming. For example, Isabel and Nicholas are obviously going to have a problem because Isabel’s whole life’s work is about keeping secrets, since she hides women who are fleeing from scandal and/or danger. So you know at some point she will probably lie to him, and he will believe her, and then she’ll regret it.

But as long as there’s some good humor there, and some heat, engaging characters, and it’s not always cliché or cheesy (a little bit of cheese is fine), I think the formula works. Maybe not for everyone of course, but the people reading this genre typically know what they’re getting into and what they’re looking for.

At the time of writing this, I’m taking a chance on another romance writer – so far Sarah MacLean is the only one I’ve read. I’ve started a book by Julia Quinn, who, if I remember correctly, I heard about from one of the Book Riot contributors, which is also how I got into Sarah MacLean, so I have high hopes!

Young Love?

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Recently I read two books that I’ve been hearing about for a long time, but never read in my youth, when I was apparently supposed to.

Judy Blume is a goddess of YA Lit, with a ton of good titles under her belt. Forever… is lauded, and rightfully so, mostly by us liberals who like that it depicts a teenaged couple, who has sex, responsibly, and doesn’t have something horrific happen to them, whether as actual punishment or as might-as-well-be punishment. I believe there are other YA books that do that now, but they’re still few in number, generally speaking, and, this one first came out in 1975, so it was groundbreaking.

It’s an easy, quick read, simply written. This is your average teenaged couple, borderline boring, honestly, if they were actual people. These are not the witty characters from more modern YA novels. But they are in love, and it’s sweet, and they’re responsible, using condoms at first, and later birth control. and their parents DO care about them, they’re just not overly strict, and they help their kids make their own decisions in a smart way. (At least, the girl’s parents do. We get very little from the guy’s parents, though we’re told they’re a bit stricter than hers.)

And, spoiler, though they are in love and they have sex, the “forever…” is trailing because they are young, and their lives take different paths, and it’s not happily ever after but it’s not the end of the world.

Now, Flowers in the Attic is a whole other ball game, kids. I knew that it wasn’t as wholesome as some other things, but I didn’t really know that much about it going in. It is all kinds of effed up, you guys. But that’s why it’s a compelling story!

Dad dies, leaves mom and four kids. Mom has been a housewife this whole time, has no workplace skills, and therefore, no way to support herself and her children (especially given the unnecessary luxuries they indulged in when dad was alive); grandparents are super rich, but mom’s been disowned/disinherited. The plan is to hide the kids while mom tries to get back into granddad’s good graces. Grandma is in on the plan, but Lord, if that woman ain’t psycho evil. Kids are locked up in, you guessed it, the attic, only it’s sort of an upper story bedroom with a closet and door that leads to the attic. Still, they’re shut up and shut out.

Grandma brings food every day, and mom comes to visit, every day at first, and then less frequently as time goes on. Mom provides tons of BS about why it’s taking so long for her to fix everything and get the kids out, though she keeps bringing them tons of presents and is always wearing nice new clothes and fancy jewelry.

Things escalate, mom hides a lot of things, but what you want to know is that the two older kids are, I believe, a 12 year old girl and 14 year old boy going in, 15 and 17 by the time they get out. They’ve got some budding urges, and no place or person to direct them toward. Well, no place or person APPROPRIATE.

So there’s that. It certainly draws you in. Even without that last bit, I think I would have been interested, but of course the scandalous nature makes it better. I’m unsure whether or not I will continue with the series – mostly just wanted to see what the fuss was about. Of course, it was all brought up again in the last year because I guess they made a TV movie of it? Probably won’t watch that one.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

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A series of three books, plus one e-novella, recommended to me by one of my favorite people ever, Lauren.

I suppose it’s considered YA, though I wouldn’t classify it as such, not quite. Definitely fantasy though. Angels and demons – demons, meaning chimaera (which is a hard word to spell, especially since there are various spellings), which sound BEAUTIFUL, like, hauntingly, awe-striking, scary sort of beautiful.

It’s an intense ride of a series – you will be invested in these characters, I promise.  For awhile, you’re not 100% sure who the good guys are, mostly because it tends to change, and so your allegiance and your emotions are shifting all over the place. It’s fantastic! Your heart will ache, ache, ache at several points in the story, which makes everything so much more satisfying in the end.

ADORING the fierce women characters. Zuzana is amazing, largely in that she’s one of few likeable human characters, but also because she’s a sassy little fairy of a girl. Also love Liraz, who is just a badass, and Naja, who, despite being forced to imagine her physical appearance which has serpent aspect, UGH, is just this quiet yet strong force, helping Karou. and of course, Karou herself. She makes me want blue hair, Katy Perry-style. The male characters are good too – lots of humor from Mik and Hazael, Akiva sounds super hot (sort of has a tendency to brood though, very vampire-like), and Ziri… oh, sweet, sweet, sacrificing Ziri… and don’t even get me started on Brimstone, who’s like, a minotaur combined with a teddy bear who seems like your dad, I don’t even know.

The writing is mostly wonderful; skews a bit cheesy at times, but in a way that totally works, because she’s presenting it as a sort of legend, and one must really sell that, in a “what if this were presented orally” way.

Book 3 seemed to move a little slower, for reasons I’m still trying to figure out – maybe it’s just there was more planning and talking involved, even though there is fighting, when Books 1 & 2 have a lot of backstory (which is completely necessary as it’s both gorgeous and there’s an amnesia-esque situation) as well as action. Also Book 3 brings in an entirely new perspective that you’re confused by at first, like, this girl is obviously important but damn if she didn’t come out of nowhere and her purpose is not immediately clear. So at first, every time her part of the story comes around, you’re thinking, girl, shhh, and tell me what Karou and Akiva are up to.

I also didn’t actually know what the term “revenant” meant until reading this series, so if that sort of thing interests you, there’s that too.

If you do read the series, I definitely recommend the e-novella too. It’s a precious account of the night Mik and Zuzana, our resident humans, got together, and it’s just really great.

Update!

Whew, you guys… things have been crazy. We are finally, mostly, moved in to our apartment in Dallas. Trying to get the Austin house sold and find myself a job before we start looking for houses up here. Prayers and/or references/recommendations on the job front would be AMAZING and quite appreciated!

We finally have internet at the apartment as of a couple hours ago, thank goodness (after way too long a wait on TWC). Much easier to job hunt this way, rather than using the sad computers at the local library (though the material selection is great, I’m happy to tell you) or paying for a drink at Starbucks so I can use Aaron’s ancient laptop there.

Also, of course, I can catch you guys up on all the wonderful things I’ve been reading. Smile Many reviews/discussions coming your way, if I can get focused. Also that blog change I was talking about… still tossing some ideas around about that, changing the name and focus and such.

Gotta prioritize though. Gotta try to put more job applications out before I do something fun, like, blogging. Also, there’s Puppy, who likes lots of attention when I’m home. He sleeps a fair amount though, which is helpful, and, you know, adorable.

For the record, Aaron, the husband, is LOVING his new job, which is just fabulous. It’s nice to hear him say “Good” or “Great!” when I ask how his day was, rather than “Awful” or “Okay” – which, “Okay” was the best we could really hope for at the previous job. He is so much happier, and I’m so thankful and PROUD!

We live in an interesting part of Dallas. Supposedly up and coming. Lots of construction near our apartment – looks like the rail line will be coming down our street at some point, which is neat, but we may not still be here when it’s done. Who knows. There are some slightly sketchy areas near us, but overall it’s okay, I guess. We’re very close to DT, so Aaron’s commute is short. The library is less than 10 minutes away, and I think I’ve found a grocery store that doesn’t scare me? I do miss HEB though.

Okay, enough of this. Back to job listings and applications, and if I feel I have time later, some book blogging. Smile