As soon as I found out that Maria Semple — author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and writer for TV shows including Arrested Development — had a new book coming out, I was overcome with a need to read it as soon as possible. It might have edged its way into obsession territory. Edelweiss to the rescue! As soon as my copy came through, I dove right in.

And Today Will Be Different did not disappoint. Semple’s clear eye for detail and sharp wit carry through this book delightfully. There are some similarities to Where’d You Go, Bernadette in that it’s another great observational critique of this one kind of community, but in many ways this is a horse of another color. Today Will Be Different is not as charming as Where’d You Go Bernadette. Eleanor Flood, our protagonist, is frustrating, if funny, and she is quirky, but not always as endearing. In some ways I think this book is more relatable. The (seemingly) promises one makes to oneself — I will shower and get dressed, I will make an effort with people, I will try — ring very true to my ears.

The struggles Eleanor face bring extra depth and dimension to a refreshing and funny read. There is history and feeling and art and connection in this book and I really enjoyed it.

Today Will Be Different comes out October 4 and you should read it if you like fun, funny books full of heart and hilarity.

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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!

I finished reading Mat Johnson’s Loving Day way back in the beginning of June, but I’ve held off on writing about it. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

The writing is superb, that’s not the issue. The characters are complex and interesting. And infuriating and discomfiting.

I am bi-racial. I am the product of an interracial, interfaith marriage. This is how I have always identified and I wouldn’t know how to claim any other identity.

The assertion that by claiming my bi-racial identity I am denying a part of myself or my history (or cultural history) offends me.

And so reading some of the ideas expressed by characters in this book seriously got under my skin. Yet the characters embracing their combined heritage also irked me. They seemed blinded by their rhetoric, unrealistically idealistic, and downright cultish. Basically, all of the characters said and/or did things that I found wrongheaded and upsetting.

And ultimately, that’s why I think that I might have liked the book. The reading experience was uncomfortable and sometimes difficult; it’s hard to hear unflattering opinions about a group with which you identify, but reading those things helped me think about the various kinds of racial identity in a different way. I haven’t changed my mind about how I identify myself, but I appreciate the glimpse into a different perspective.

 

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.

Poisoned Apples Review

February 19, 2016

Midway through 2014 I started hearing about a book of poetry entitled Poisoned Apples. Just a few comments here or there at first, but eventually the positive twittering turned into a roar of approval.

Christine Heppermann’s slim volume melds contemporary feminism with familiar fairy tales to produce modern, provocative poetry that speaks to the teenage experience. Fairytales! Feminism! Poetry! On paper, this book sounds like it was made specifically with me in mind.

And yet… I didn’t love it. Maybe it’s that it was playing to the YA audience, maybe it was a little too modern, but this poetry just did not do it for me.

The fairytale adaptations felt strained and gimmicky — like they were trying too hard to hit the feminism and wink at the story. I do think part of the letdown was that I had extraordinarily high expectations for it, and that is perhaps unfair.

In any case, it was a quick read and it was fun, it just wasn’t everything I hoped it would be. On the bright side, I think that reading this helped get me out of my reading rut, so that’s something.

Has anything you’ve read ever suffered from inflated expectations? I feel like I don’t read enough poetry, even though I love it. Leave your poetry recommendations in the comments!

Now that we’re firmly entrenched in 2016 (I say this as if we could somehow slip back in time…) I’m taking a moment to look back on my year in reading and figure out my 2016 reading goals/resolutions.

I use a combination of Goodreads and a variation on Book Riot’s ultimate reading spreadsheet to track my reading. It has been super helpful, but I’m often pretty bad at adding books to my spreadsheet in a timely fashion. I’m going to try to be better about this — mostly for my own sanity; it’s way less overwhelming if I add books as I go and not in giant batches every few months.

In 2015 I finished reading 112 books. 26 were by people of color. 71 were by women. 5 were in translation. There is clearly room for improvement here, so diversifying my reading is a main goal for me. In addition to people of color and works in translation, I want to read more books by and/or about people who are LGBT, disabled, and otherwise outside the “norm” as defined by mainstream publishing. I’ve added columns in my spreadsheet to cover “other author diversity” and “diversity representation” to try and track this (I know it’s flawed, but it’s the best I’ve come up with so far. I’m open to suggestions if you have them).

I’ve also been tracking where the books I read come from because I think that’s incredibly interesting (and/or I’m a colossal nerd). 34 of the physical books I read came from a library (I’m extremely fortunate in that I can borrow from both the public and university libraries). 26 of my books consumed were audiobooks and 32 were e-books (only 4 of which were not borrowed electronically from the Free Library of Philadelphia). I really started exploring audiobooks this year and it has tremendously enhanced my reading life, so I plan to continue that practice in 2016.

In addition to getting better at tracking, reading more diversely, and reading more in translation, I’d also like to branch out more when it comes to genre — especially comics. Maybe I’ll even go crazy and start a pull list this year.

And, of course, I want to blog more. I’m working on it, really. But I’m also all over bookstagram, so if you get too impatient waiting for me to post here about the stuff I’m reading, follow me @poindextrix for books, cats, and other random bits of whimsy.

Now I’m heading back to the Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow. It’s the book on which Hamilton (the musical) is primarily based (sort of). In addition to scratching that Hamilton itch, it’ll check off a few boxes for the Book Riot 2016 Read Harder Challenge!

What are you reading right now? Do you make reading resolutions? If so, what are they? Do you have suggestions for books in translation that I should read? Put ’em in the comments!

Happy reading, friends!

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.

Readathon In Review

October 14, 2015

I’m a bit delayed in this, but I’m finally sitting down to recount my Popepocalypse Readathon experience. I think it ended up going really well. It was nice to have a few days in which I decided to just devote the time to reading and relaxing. Also, the weather was great, so I spent a ton of time out on my balcony (did I mention my new apartment has a balcony? It’s fantastic and I’m kind of obsessed with it) and at the local coffee shop’s outdoor seating just enjoying the lovely weather with tea and books.

Yeah, yeah, I get it. I should stop blathering on about the weather and tell you about the books.

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First up was Woman Rebel by Peter Bagge. It’s a graphic … biography? (like graphic novel, but a biography. Can I just call it a graphic novel even though it’s a true story?) about Margaret Sanger, who is generally regarded as the mother of birth control. She’s was a bit of a complicated woman and remains a polarizing figure since she wasn’t super intersectional in her feminism, but I think that this was book was a fair representation of her. The art style of this wasn’t my absolute favorite, but I think that’s just personal preference.

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After that, I moved on to Peter Pan. I mean, it’s a classic. I don’t even have much to say about it beyond that. It’s a good deal darker and a kind of more bizarre than all the Disney-fied versions that we see these days.

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The next book I read was Bloggess Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy. I honestly recommend that everyone read this because it is touching and inspiring and hilarious and so many other things that I don’t even have words for. But careful reading it in public because after a while it becomes really difficult to stifle all the laughter.

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Then I moved on to Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older. This had been on my list for a while and I realized that this readathon was the perfect time to dive in. You guys, this book was so good and so much fun. So. Much. Fun. It’s part of the Bone Street Rumba series and I’m excited to read the other books that take place in this world.

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The book I closed out the readathon with was Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. Again. So good. This is one that I think I want to read again even though it’s only been a couple of weeks since I finished it.

I had so much fun doing this readathon and sharing pictures of what I was reading and my progress on social media (and if you’re not following me on Instagram, why not? You’re missing out on some awesome bookish pics. And random shots of food and my cat for variety). Can I just have a three-day weekend to do this every couple of months? That would be spectacular.

A couple of weeks ago, I got home from a packed weekend and took the following Monday off to sleep, rest my incredibly unhappy back, and read my copy of Go Set A Watchman. I finished it in a single day, but I haven’t written much about it until now (partly because I’ve been busy and lazy, but partly because I had a lot of thoughts and it has taken me a while to sort them out).

OK. So, initial thoughts: I kind of liked it. I liked seeing this older Scout and I think that even though much of this was rough, Harper Lee’s talent for creating complex characters is evident.   There were scenes in Watchman that really shined. Atticus is a complex man and this version of him is harder to love, but I think Lee makes him that way for a reason (though that hedging toward the end made me uncomfortable).

Watchman feels incomplete. Because it is. This was an early draft before an editor got involved and steered Lee in a new direction. The pacing is off and while there are great scenes, there are cringeworthy ones as well.

This does not detract from To Kill a Mockingbird for me. I don’t think it mars Harper Lee’s legacy, though I do think that the publisher has done her a disservice in publishing Watchman without a disclaimer of some sort indicating the circumstances of its publication (i.e. early draft, little-to-no editing, etc.).

I think that there are many interesting papers/books that can (and probably will) be written about the evolution of the treatment of race in these two books. Even though Scout is horrified by Atticus’s segregationist ideals, she’s got some of her own issues that rub me the wrong way.

All in all, this isn’t a great book. It probably isn’t even a good book, but the novelty of it and looking at it through the scope of TKAM has brought it up a little bit up in my eyes.

 

So first things first, I have a confession to make: I haven’t yet read A Dance with Dragons (the fifth book in the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series). At first I was waiting until it came out in paperback. Then, with no paperback release in sight, I caved and bought the hardcover. And now it’s just been sitting on my shelf. I think I’ve put off reading it because   I know that once I read it, I’ll be like all the rest of you schmucks waiting in agony for the new one. Also, have you seen this? It’s old, but it never ceases to amuse me.

All of this to get to my actual point: I’m still putting off reading A Dance with Dragons (though my resolve is weakening), but I wanted to read some sort of crazy fantasy. Enter Tuf Voyaging.

Originally published in 1986, Tuf Voyaging is a collection of linked stories by George R. R. Martin following the exploits of Haviland Tuf —trader turned ecological engineer— and his cats. Really, I think all you need to know about this book is that there’s a dude (who kind of reminds me of good ole’ GRRM) who flies around in space with cats. I could tell you more, but I kind of don’t want to. These stories are attention-grabbing, hilarious, and so much fun, with little bits of social commentary sprinkled throughout.

Each story chronicles a different one of Tuf’s adventures, so they can certainly be read in pieces, but I tore through this. It was such a treat and I just wanted to see everything that he got up to.

So yeah, if you’ve run out of A Song of Ice and Fire books, or if you just feel like it’s time for some other sci-fi/fantasy, definitely pick this one up.