Beauty by Robin McKinley

23377543Beauty’s wealthy father loses all his money when his merchant fleet is drowned in a storm, and the family moves to a village far away. Then the old merchant hears what proves to be a false report that one of his ships had made it safe to harbor at last, and on his sad, disappointed way home again he becomes lost deep in the forest and has a terrifying encounter with a fierce Beast, who walks like a man and lives in a castle. The merchant’s life is forfeit, says the Beast, for trespass and the theft of a rose—but he will spare the old man’s life if he sends one of his daughters: “Your daughter would take no harm from me, nor from anything that lives in my lands.” When Beauty hears this story—for her father had picked the rose to bring to her—her sense of honor demands that she take up the Beast’s offer, for “cannot a Beast be tamed?”

Review:

McKinley is proving to be a “me” author.  I like her prose, I like her stories, and I fly through her books in record time.  I got through Beauty in one sitting during Dewey’s Readathon and it made for a wonderful morning.  I was surprised to see that this is McKinley’s first novel, released some 25 years before Sunshineas there’s little “hi i’m an early novel” awkwardness.

The cover says this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but I think it’s a straight up telling.  There’s nothing terribly new or exciting but the story kept me interested and engaged throughout. I was hoping that tropes would be pushed a little more than they were, though.

Case in point – early on Beauty ruefully says that for someone with her name she is rather homely looking.  Beast thinks her beautiful, though, and when she protests the point he says,

“You will find no mirrors here, for I cannot bear them: nor any quiet water in ponds.  And since I am the only one who sees you, why are you not then beautiful?”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!  Unconventional heroine!  Huzzah!  I was cheering until the end, where the castle’s magic gave her conventionally pretty looks and made her seven inches taller.  Ah, well.

I would have liked Beauty even more if I were a full on YA person, but even so it was an enjoyable ride.

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Nonfiction November – My Year in Nonfiction

NonfictionNovember-e1506979820517Week one is here, huzzah!  First up is a look at our 2017 nonfiction reading.  Out of the 88 books I’ve read so far this year 22 have been nonfiction, an even (…ly odd) 25%.  Despite the low numbers three out of my four five star books have been nonfiction!  Now to share some of them with you:

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

30347690I adore A Simple Story by Leila Guerriero.  It’s the rarest of the rare, translated nonfiction (well done rendering it in English, Frances Riddle!), and is a fascinating look at an Argentinian dance competition.  People practice for years in order to be the best malambo dancer, which includes the “honor” of never being able to complete again. Why do they train so hard to effectively end their careers?  Superbly written and unforgettable.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

29875902300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso.  It has a pull, and after seeing a couple of the aphorisms you just have to read the whole book.

“Worry is impatience for the next horror.”

“The first beautiful songs you hear tend to stay beautiful because better than beauty, which is everywhere, is the memory of first discovering beauty.”

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

I usually find a way to talk myself out of biographies – too long, too boring-looking, too old….

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

This is my first year doing Nonfiction November and I’m excited just to be participating!  I hope to meet a bunch of nonfiction lovers and have great conversations about books while growing my TBR.

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman

34802624John Hodgman has written a memoir about his cursed travels through two wildernesses: from the woods of his home in Massachusetts, birthplace of rage, to his exile on the coast of Maine, so-called Vacationland, home to the most painful beaches on Earth

Vacationland is also about Hodgman’s wandering in the metaphoric wilderness of his forties, those years when dudes especially must painfully stop pretending to be the children of bright potential they were and settle into the failing bodies of the wiser, weirder dads that they are.

Other subjects covered include the horror of freshwater clams, the evolutionary purpose of the mustache, which animals to keep as pets and which to kill with traps and poison, and advice on how to react when the people of coastal Maine try to sacrifice you to their strange god.

Short review:

Do you like John Hodgman?  Then you’ll like this book. Go get it!

Longer review:

You’ve probably heard of and like Hodgman already via This American Life, the “I’m a PC” Mac ads, or his podcast Judge John Hodgman.  I was lucky enough to meet him at a book signing years ago and can confirm that he is a stellar human being.  (He signed my book “I know you are not a villain”, so it must be so.)

I am I biased? Sure. But his awesome human-ness is what comes out in this memoir essay collection. And first up is that he recognizes his white, upper middle class privilege and calls himself out throughout the book.

I am grateful to be reminded at how vigilant I need to be about my skin and its thinness and the responsibilities both entail.

The essays range over the course of Hodgman’s life but concentrate on his second act, namely being a middle-aged, once-kinda-famous dad who vacations in Maine. Come for the stories, stay for the amazing writing, humor, and insight.  It’s very Ira Glass-y in that bits of story are followed by pulling back to get a wider view.

We said good-bye to our new friends, who seemed happy to leave.  I do not know where they went in their lives after that, but I have learned to be comfortable with that.

A turn away from his books of fake facts, the essays of Vacationland are funny and earnest and make you glad that there’s a guy like John Hodgman out there, sharing his thoughts with the world.  A must read for Jh fans as well as a starting place for those unfamiliar.

Thanks to Viking and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Hold Me by Courtney Milan (Cyclone #2)

24348034Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

Review:

I had such high hopes for this book but I didn’t like it as much as the first in the series, Trade Me. There’s still a lot to like, though!

The good:

  • The heroine is trans and that fact is not the reason for the novel existing. The focus is on the romance, as it should be.  Yea!
  • The hero is bi (or perhaps pansexual, no label is attached), there are more people of color than white, and the author is a woman of color.
  • Jay sees how he was a crappy ally of women in science and does a little work fixing that.

The not-as-good:

  • The lawyer-ly logical banter of the first book turns into science banter, and even though I grok most of it I don’t find it charming.  Your mileage may vary.
  • It’s a hate to love story, but instead of growing attraction Jay’s attitude changes on a dime depending on who he thinks he’s talking to.  It’s hard to know which Jay is real, the arse on campus or the sweet guy in chat.

I was hoping Hold Me would be in my wheelhouse, but sadly it is not.  It looks like the third book in the series will go back to the first couple… I’m curious to see how it goes but won’t be running out to get it.

Nonfiction November – Oh, the Possibilities

NonfictionNovember-e1506979820517I’ve been looking through some possible reads for Nonfiction November and holy cow, there is so much amazing stuff out there!  TBRs stress me out (“I promised to read it, I must read it… therefore I cannot get motivated to read it”, gah) so here’s a list of possibilities, instead:

More Recent Releases

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
Dangerous Boobies: Breaking Up with My Time-Bomb Breasts by Caitlin Brodnick
Born Both: An Intersex Life by Hida Viloria

Medical Nonfiction

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh
Crossings: A Doctor-Soldier’s Story by Jon Kerstetter
Letters to a Young Doctor by Richard Selzer

Backlist

The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Héctor Tobar

Japanese Nonfiction in Progress

ニューヨークのとけない魔法 by 岡田光世 (Under the Spell of New York by Mitsuyo Okada) – Two to three page essays about her experience moving to New York from Japan in adulthood. My spare moments read.

死にゆく患者と、どう話すか by 明智龍男 (loosely translated: How Do You Talk with the Dying? by Tatsuo Akechi) – A nursing school seminar in book form that I’m reading for work.

A question for you guys – I want to read Maggie Nelson (I’m sure I’ll love her) but have no idea where to start.  Which of her books would you recommend reading first? The Argonauts and The Red Parts are on my radar.

The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #2 & #3)

17347389Now that (spoilers happened) nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

17378508Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

Review:

While it took me a long time to get into The Raven Boys once I was there I was all in.  The characterization finally bloomed and while the plot was meh it was enough to carry me into the next book immediately.  Yup, I went against type and read book two, and then book three, in quick succession.  How lucky to not have to wait between books, I thought!  This is the ideal reading experience!

Until it wasn’t.  This is a spoiler-free review so I won’t get into details but I was more disappointed with each book.

The Dream Thieves is Ronan’s story and I feel like I’m out of step with other reviewers on Goodreads because he is my least favorite Raven Boy.  I still like the character well enough, but he doesn’t have Gansey’s pull or Adam’s development or Noah’s sense of mystery.  I’m just not as interested in his story, and this book is pretty much all his story.  The main plot gets advanced a few centimeters and we move on to Blue Lily, Lily Blue in a holding pattern.

It’s something like a thousand pages into the series and the characters are settling – Adam isn’t quite the loose cannon anymore, we know what makes Ronan tick, and all the aunts that live with Blue are the same as they always were. I’m normally a plotty reader but the lack of character development here made me sad, especially compared to the first two books.

So things happened, someone died (someone always has to die), and the finale is set up. I feel like the gothic wonder of the first book is completely gone now – the group knows that crazy shit can happen so they take anything and everything in relative stride. Maybe I’m burnt out after reading straight through but I need a break from ~waves her hands~ all of this.

Nonfiction November, here I come!

After enjoying Nonfiction November from the sidelines I’m going to join in the fun this year.  I’m so excited!

NonfictionNovember-e1506979820517

In a season that’s full of new and hyped fiction it’s nice to get back to this genre that I love.  Hosted by Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Lory (Emerald City Book Review), and Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), the event doesn’t have any strict challenges or goals outside celebrating the awesomeness of nonfiction.  Personally I’m aiming to read a lot more than usual and do posts for the weekly prompts while getting to know fellow nonfiction lovers in the comments.  It’s tempting to read nothing but nonfiction for the entire month… but I’m sure I’ll need a fiction release valve at some point!

My event posts will be on Mondays, starting with a TBR of sorts next week.  If there’s a nonfiction book you’ve read lately that I should check out let me know in the comments!

Take the Lead by Alexis Daria (Dance Off #1)

35832861Gina Morales wants to win. It’s her fifth season on The Dance Off, a TV celebrity dance competition, and she’s never even made it to the finals. Her latest partner is handsome, rippling with muscles, and stars on the popular reality show Living Wild. With his sexy physique and name recognition she thinks he’s her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up.

Stone Nielson hates Los Angeles and the fact that he had to join The Dance Off due to family obligations… but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to his bubbly Puerto Rican dance partner. Neither of them are looking for romantic entanglements, but as they heat up the dance floor it’s only a matter of time until he feels an overwhelming urge to take the lead. When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy.

Review:

I’m not a reality television fan but it doesn’t matter, Take the Lead is a fun contemporary romance that charmed me from the beginning.

The good:

  • Own voices romance with a Puerto Rican heroine, huzzah!
  • The story sucked me in, which doesn’t always happen when I read contemporaries.  I like my romances to be a bit separated from normal life and this fits the bill, with two celebrities falling in love while on a competitive tv program.
  • Both Stone and Gina know that tv people are kind of evil so neither one is caught off guard when producers push them into a “showmance”.  I appreciate that one character doesn’t have to school the other on how Hollywood works, keeping the couple on an even footing.
  • I was there for all the dance scenes, despite not being all that into dance.
  • The writing is solid, and I wouldn’t have thought this is a debut.  Well done.

The not-so-good:

  • While I was having fun the show season feels a bit long to me.
  • The story trades in secrets and miscommunication, not my favorite tropes.

I really enjoyed this book despite it not being in my romance wheelhouse.  So if you like celebrity culture, family secrets, competition, and a tiny slice of (fun!) crazy, this is the perfect book for you.

Thanks to Swerve and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #1)

17675462Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys but she is drawn to Gansey in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Review:

I am so glad I checked out what my Goodreads friends thought of this book before picking it up.  Among their four and five star reviews I found the line, “it is really slow to start”.  And it is. Very. slow. to. start.

The Raven Boys is character driven and Stiefvater takes her time setting them up.  The plot doesn’t kick into gear until page 100 or so, and even then it rarely does more than amble along.

What saves and makes the book is the characterization.  Each of the boys has a full back story that is only starting to unspool.  Characters have amazing insights about each other that are probably too deep and perceptive for high schoolers but they’re so wonderful you don’t care.  Relationships change and grow, and the multiple points of view let us see how peoples’ perceptions about each other shape their attitudes.  It’s extremely well done.

Do know going in that you’re signing up for a four book series.  While The Raven Boys ends after a significant event it only covers part of a much larger plot.  If I read this book when it first came out I’d be frustrated, but luckily the series is now finished so I can move on to the next one.

An easy recommendation for anyone into character driven urban fantasy… just bring some coffee and an open mind to those first one hundred pages.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

33395053As the country grapples with racist division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man’s voice soars above the rest with conviction and compassion. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed piece “Death in Black and White,” Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot Stop—a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted.

“The time is at hand for reckoning with the past, recognizing the truth of the present, and moving together to redeem the nation for our future. If we don’t act now, if you don’t address race immediately, there very well may be no future.”

Review:

A must-read primer to race in America, especially for people who are new to racial justice.  Aimed specifically at white people but readable by anyone, Dyson explains why history, police brutality, and white fragility matter.

Don’t be put off by the fact that the author is a minister – he’s not pushing a god on anyone, much appreciated by this agnostic.  Using the framework of a sermon Dyson goes through the stages of white guilt, the construction of whiteness, the specter of slavery, and more.  As a primer he avoids going overly deep, which is perfect for what he’s doing.  Other authors have covered the specifics elsewhere and he lists dozens of them if you’d like to read more.

What gets to me is that the people who need to read this most – whites with no grounding in racial justice – are the least likely to pick it up.  So read it yourself and put it in other people’s hands.  We need to get the message out.