Wonder Women!!!

September 26, 2016

(If you didn’t read the title in the in the 70s TV show intro voice, I don’t know what to do with you)

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History. The title says it all. In this deceptively slim book, Sam Maggs introduces us to a bunch (there are actually more than 25) of badass women who fought against sexism, racism, imperialism (really, just all of the isms), etc. to do amazing things in any number of fields.

The book is kind of STEM (Science, Engineering, and Mathematics) -heavy, but since women are particularly underrepresented in these areas (despite making a lot of really important contributions — oh hey, Ada Lovelace, et. al!), it’s nice to see these women receive their (over) due. Maggs doest skimp though, she also includes stories of other inventors, spies, journalists, aviatrices (yes, tat’s the plural of aviatrix!), and globetrotters. I really enjoyed reading these mini-biographies because I love learning about women who kick ass and  take names while defying all norms and expectations.

Each profile is pretty short, yet packed with information. There’s just enough to give you the background to cite in a conversation, but it leaves you wanting more (my galley didn’t have the completed bibliography, so I need to do my own research). In addition to being super smart and informative, Wonder Women is also extremely fun and funny.

In addition to the profiles on historically kick-ass women, each section concludes with a short interview with a women who is currently doing the thing and furthering the cause. I loved these interviews mixed with the stories of women from history (it was also sort of encouraging to see how many women these days have more support…. and also discouraging how many barriers they still face). I kind of wish there was some sort of overarching conclusion to tie it all together, but I’m just picky like that.

My only concern comes from something that I also think might be one of its strengths: the language of the book is very familiar and kind of trendy. It uses a lot of slang that is popular right this second. I just worry that it will make the book feel like a cheesy relic a few years from now, even though the information will still be fantastic and inspiring for many years to come.

Overall though, I loved this. It was fun and informative and inspiring and I think everyone should read it. Read it yourself so you can learn about awesome intelligent ladies, then give it to your younger sister or niece or friend or whatever so she knows she can do whatever she sets her mind to.

Wonder Women is out from Quirk Books on October 4. Mark your calendars!

A Peculiar Giveaway

June 20, 2016

Hey there bookfans!

Remember Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? Think back to the awesomeness. It’s fine, I’ll wait…

Good? Good.

It turns out that the first installment of this delightfully creepy and fun and peculiar series was published FIVE YEARS ago.

To celebrate this momentous anniversary as well as the upcoming movie (coming to a theatre near you in September. Mark your calendars!), our friends over at Quirk Books are having a photo contest. They’ve commissioned a limited edition poster featuring fan art and photographs.

This is where you come in — you post your fan art, Peculiar-inspired costumes and photos, etc. on social media and tag it #5PeculiarYears, or go to quirkbooks.com/5PeculiarYears and submit it via the widget there. In addition to contributing to this fun, limited edition poster, there are also prizes! It’s also a great opportunity to show your creativity and your love and appreciation for the series.

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Check out this “My Peculiarity Is” tote. You know you want one…

Since Quirk is so awesome and completely embraces the peculiar, they sent me one of their glorious “My Peculiarity Is” tote bags (super on-brand for me, repping the peculiar and whatnot) AND another one to give away to my followers. So! Comment below or on my Instagram post with your peculiarity and I’ll pick a winner this Friday (June 24) and send you your lovely tote!

And don’t forget to send your fan art to Quirk! They want to see your creativity and peculiarity at work. Also tag me (@poindextrix on all the things) so that I can bask in your awesome, bookish peculiarity.

Sorcerer to the Crown Review

February 26, 2016

I kept hearing about this book. I kept meaning to read it. I finally got around to it. Now I get it.

Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown is the magical feminist fantasy novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s funny and fun and smart. Every time I thought there was something that was going to make me groan unhappily, it got flipped on its head. My only complaint is the continued use of “female” as a noun, and I think that might just be a pet peeve of mine.

The characters are strong and relatable and, occasionally, ridiculous. The plot is engaging and the writing is great. I wanted to keep reading — not only to find out what would happen next, but because it was an enjoyable experience.

Seriously, this book is delightful. It has something for everyone. I whole-heatedly recommend it. It’s the first in a trilogy and I don’t even care that I have to wait (OK, I care a little bit). I’m all in.

Yep, I’m jumping on that bandwagon and presenting you guys with my own list of best books of the year. Since I haven’t read anywhere near all the books (or even all the buzziest books) published this year, my list is pulled from the books I’ve read in the past year. Some of those are 2014 or 2015 books and some are super backlist.

These are all books I enjoyed or that made me think. There isn’t that much more of a method than that. So in no particular order…

2015 titles:

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina McLaughlin

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Slade House by David Mitchell

The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConick, Valentine De Landro, Taki Soma, and Robert Wilson

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee (OK, technically this is a 2016 book, but since this is a list of the best books I read in 2015, I’m counting it).

Backlist titles:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

Stiff by Mary Roach

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

 

Now I’m off to ring in the new year in (relative) style. Happy New Year to everyone and I’ll see you in 2016!

I’ve been meaning to write about Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night for a while, but I kept getting distracted. If the title sounds familiar, it’s possible that you’re a Book Riot fan and heard Liberty proclaim that she would eat James Patterson if this book doesn’t do well.

Well, I’m a lucky duck with *connections* and I managed to get my hands on an advance copy.

Guys, I think James Patterson is safe.

The Queen of the Night is so good. So. Good.

I love historical fiction and I love sort of epic, sprawling tales that follow characters through radically different stages in life. This book scratches all of those itches for me. I love how the protagonist is able to shift and adapt to new situations — she’s a strong, if somewhat selfish character. She is complicated and intense and I really liked seeing her story unfold. I also enjoyed how opera plays an ongoing role in the book. It added an extra sense of depth to the story. That being said, I don’t think that an interest in/knowledge of opera is necessary to enjoy The Queen of the Night.

I don’t want to say any more about it at this point (other than it’s fantastic and you should read it) because I want you to really be able to take it all in fresh when you read it.

It comes out in February 2016. Plan accordingly. Once you start reading it, you might not want to stop and it’s a hefty-ish book. But yeah, read it. Make sure James Patterson is safe.

Before heading up to NY for Book Riot Live (or book nerd camp for grown-ups, as I’ve decided to call it), I spent an evening at the Free Library of Philadelphia listening to a conversation with Patti Smith. She was on tour to promote her new memoir M Train, but spoke a bit about Just Kids as well.

I’d re-read Just Kids in a sort of semi-preparation for the event and was experiencing a flurry of mixed emotions. I loved Just Kids the first time I read it. I’ve proclaimed (often) that the book changed my life and when that thing about listing your 10 most important books was all over Facebook, you better believe that it was on my list.

And so, when I re-read it (with pen in hand to underline all the lines that changed my life) I felt a little bit let down. Much of the language is poetic, and I still find the evolution of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe beautiful and inspiring, but something was missing — I didn’t feel the same stirring in my soul as the first time I read it and I found this troubling.

Hearing Patti Smith speak was lovely, but the amazing (for me) moment came during the audience Q & A at the end. A woman stood up and said that Patti Smith had been a great role model for her as an artist, a mother, and a feminist and asked her what advice she would give to a young girl growing up right now. Patti Smith started talking and I found myself taking fevered notes on my phone:

  • Do the best that you can
  • Think for yourself
  • Don’t judge based on superficial things
  • Feel yourself as an individual
  • Connect with the world, but remember who you are [when] unconnected

In hearing this advice I was able to identify why Just Kids meant so much to me when I initially read it and why it didn’t hit as hard upon re-reading.

I will be the first to admit that I definitely don’t have everything figured out, but I can say with some amount of confidence that I’ve begun to figure myself out. I think reading Just Kids had a lot (though admittedly not everything) to do with that; it showed me the merits of embracing my “authentic self.” The process of being who I want to be — quirks and bizarre enthusiasms and all — began long before I read Just Kids and continued after, but I think that the book helped something click in my brain. And so when I began my re-reading, that switch was already flipped and the book didn’t feel as revolutionary.

Without this revelation, I’m not sure how I would feel about this book right now. In acknowledging what I took from it the first time, I feel like I can still call it a book that is important in my life. And it’s entirely possible that I’ll pick it up again some time in the future and have other, entirely different feelings about it. I believe that I have changed a lot as a person, especially in the last 5 years, so it makes perfect sense for the way I experience books to change.

I don’t have to give up books that meant a lot to me at the time just because I’ve grown and changed. And that realization has been particularly freeing.

I know that book nerd-dom comes in many varieties, but I’ve always felt that going to book events (assuming they’re available) was a good book nerd behavior. And so it’s embarrassing to admit that even though I’ve lived in Philadelphia for over a year, I haven’t gone to a single book/author event. Until tonight. 

Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be A Woman and How To Build A Girl, as well as comedian, columnist, TV/film writer and all-around awesome human being was at the Free Library of Philadelphia tonight. She was honest and raunchy and absolutely hilarious. It was a fantastic event.

After the talk/reading and Q & A she signed books upstairs. The line moved a little bit slowly, but that was just because she actually spoke to every single person, giving them hugs and taking pictures. When it was my turn I was a little star-struck, but she was just so lovely —thanking me for coming and saying all of these amazing things that I want to cherish forever — that I kind of just felt like I was talking to a friend. A friend who is hilarious and spectacular and makes me feel better about myself and the world.

Caitlin Moran comes across like a hella-awesome lady in her writing, and she really, really is. Her books are amazing, she’s amazing, my night was amazing.

And because I am that kind of book nerd, here are my pictures from the night:

The fabulous Caitlin Moran.

The fabulous Caitlin Moran.

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Reading from How To Build A Girl

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Close-up of Caitlin Moran reading from How To Build A Girl

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Seriously, she’s so nice and enthusiastic.

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We just had a little chat before she signed my book.

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Also, she’s super silly, and it’s fantastic.

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Love her!

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My signed copy. It has such a great memory to go along with an already fantastic book.

I have consulted numerous electronic and paper calendars and all of them have told me the same thing: it’s springtime! But here in Philadelphia, the weather doesn’t seem so sure of that fact. It seems like for every nice day we have, we get a week of cold temperatures, rain, and overall gloom. I shouldn’t complain too much since that is prime reading-with-a-cup-of-tea weather, but I’m ready for reading-on-a-picnic-blanket-in-the-park weather (I’m not saying I do this, but I want the option).

I don’t generally tailor my reading to the season because I’m just not that organized, but this super prolonged winter has me yearning for sunnier books.

So here’s my list for what to read when nature has betrayed you and continues with the cold, grey weather.

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. It’s a big, epic book filled with love and war and magic. It will draw you in and completely transport you to the mythical Macondo, which is in Latin America and therefore is a warm and sunny place at least most of the time.
  2. Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. I’m cheating with this one because it isn’t actually sunnier, but we’ll get to why I picked it. This is a dual narrative combining the fascinating story of the build up to the Chicago World’s Fair and the chilling tale of a string of murders committed by H. H. Holmes in the city around the same time. It is utterly enthralling and after reading about the creepy murders and how Holmes pulled it all off, you might not mind being cooped up inside.
  3. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by is bloggess Jenny Lawson’s sidesplittingly funny (mostly true) memoir. There are some serious bits interspersed with a whole lot of hilarity. I challenge you to read it and not be in a good mood afterward. I’m pretty sure it can’t be done.
  4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. This book is enchanting and whimsical. There’s mystery and adventure and it takes place in bright, sunny California (though often at night…).
  5. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. I’m looking out of my living room window and it’s all grey and I think it’s spitting rain and I can’t help thinking of that titular story with the wizened old vampire drinking lemonade under a Tuscan sun…
  6. iwanttogotothere

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are just a few of the books that might numb the sting of being betrayed by ole’ Mother Nature. What would you add?

 

Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist was mesmerizing and unexpected and exactly what I wanted without my even realizing it.

I’m a big fan of historical fiction and I really enjoy books set in less common time periods and locales. The Miniaturist takes place in seventeenth century Amsterdam, beginning when 18-year old Nella arrives in the city to join her husband Johannes and his unusual household.

Nella is excited by the prospect of her new life, but it isn’t what she expected. Soon after her arrival, Nella’s husband presents her with a gift: a luxurious cabinet-sized replica of the house. Nella contacts a miniaturist in order to furnish her cabinet and with that falls headlong into the web of secrecy and wonder surrounding the household, her new family members, and the city at large.

The Miniaturist is by turns spooky, beautiful, and heartbreaking. There is so much packed into this book and it’s just lovely. I’m so glad that I got a copy of it back a BEA 2014 and I highly recommend it.

I don’t even know what to say about this book other than it’s beautiful and amazing and everyone should read it.

The Book of Unknown Americans gives readers a glimpse into the lives of the Riveras — newly arrived from Mexico — and the Toros — Panamanian transplants— two families living and working in Delaware. The book is mostly about these two families, but there are a number of other colorful, enchanting characters who make up the greater community of Latin American immigrants in their apartment building.

There are parts of this book that feel, if not universal, at least familiar. The characters struggle with figuring out where and how they fit into communities and what the want from their new lives. They grapple with young love, familial relationships, and racial/cultural prejudice. The beauty comes in the intersection of these familiar struggles with the unique difficulties these characters face.

I loved it. Just go read it.