TSS: First Books of 2016

My first reads for 2016 show that I’ve definitely got a geeky side.

I read Volume 1 (issues #1-5) of Ms. Marvel this weekend in another attempt to see if I like comics. I’m still not entirely sure they’re for me but this was an interesting read and I’ve already requested the next volume. I know Ms. Marvel is important since the Marvel universe isn’t exactly populated by female, non-white, Muslim superheroes. Kamala Kahn is a teenage girl in Jersey City trying to balance American high school and strict immigrant parents when she suddenly finds herself thrust into the superhero role. I felt for Kamala as she is figures out who she is and how she fits into the world although I am hoping for a bit more on the origin story – what actually gave her her powers?

I also finished Armada on audio today. Armada follows a teenage gamer drafted into real war as aliens invade the planet.  Just like Ready Player One, Armada was a treat for my ears from start to finish. Wil Wheaton reading Ernest Cline is definitely one of my favorite narrator/author combinations. While Armada is not nearly as good as RPO, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve heard others were disappointed but I never wanted to stop listening.

What was your first book of 2016?

Recently Finished – Who Do You Love

I have been a Jennifer Wiener fan as long as I have been an adult. I’ve ready every novel she’s written, so naturally, I picked up Who Do You Love. And I loved it. I loved the way it was written, chronologically but not always. I loved skipping between Andy and Rachael. I loved watching them succeed and fail over and over. This was a beautiful novel.

Next up, some holiday reading.

Just Finished: A Window Opens

★★★☆☆

My first real-time-not-a-book-review book review:

I finished listening to A Window Opens this afternoon on my drive back to the office from Tampa. It was 1:30. I hadn’t eaten lunch yet* and I desperately needed to pump. Which makes my reading selection somewhat ironic. Or, perhaps, fitting.

I’d originally picked up A Window Opens when I saw it on a list of fall releases which claimed it was an excellent debut about a woman balancing work and motherhood.

I could relate a little to some of it, but mostly I found the book to just be okay. Maybe I need the millennial version of this story, where everyone finds harmony in their work-life balance and then they instagram about it. Actually, I could probably write that version.

I didn’t dislike the book as I was reading it, but I was not pleased with the way the book wrapped up.  For those of you who have read it and want to engage in a spoiler-filled discussion, I am happy to explain why it disappointed me.

If you’re a working mom, you may enjoy it. If you’re not, I think you’d probably find it a pretty boring.

________________________________________________________

*And I’d just used my lunch money to pay the $20 parking tab because Tampa apparently thinks it’s New York City now.

A Dangerous Place [Audiobook Review]


Title: A Dangerous Place
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Narrator: Orlagh Cassidy
Genre: Mystery; Historical Fiction
Pages: 320
Audio: 9.7 hours
Year: 2015
Publisher: Harper Audio
Source: Public Library
Book Rating: 4/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Publisher’s Summary:

Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way.

My Thoughts:

This book starts much differently than any other Maisie Dobbs book. There is a big time jump and we are given a quick timeline in correspondence form. I felt a little cheated that I didn’t get to experience all of these things, but I understand why it was done this way.

I enjoyed the change in scenery. This story takes place in Gibraltar (and Spain). But I missed some of the familiar people and I am hoping that the next book takes us back to England and familiar characters.

One thing I love about Maisie Dobbs novels is how much I learn about that time and place. This book was no exception. I even found myself doing extra research on the side.

I almost wish I weren’t caught up on this series. I hate waiting for the next one.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Orlagh Cassidy is excellent as always. I wouldn’t think about reading Maisie Dobbs any other way.

Landline | Bookish Thoughts

Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Year: 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Source: Public Library
Rating: 3/5

Summary:

Georgie McCool (yes, that is her name), a television comedy writer, is about to get her biggest career break yet, but her personal life is falling apart. Her husband, Neil, has taken their daughters to Omaha for Christmas, leaving Georgie home alone in Los Angeles to work. When she plugs in her old telephone at her mother’s house to call her husband, she finds Neil – in 1998 – on the other end.

My Thoughts:

So, I love Rainbow Rowell. But what I love about her is the way her books feel so real and this concept is so ridiculous and unrealistic that it just didn’t work for me. And, aside from the magic phone concept, how is it possible that Neil wouldn’t call his wife for an entire week DURING CHRISTMAS? And, why wouldn’t the plan be for her to fly in for Christmas day?

On top of all of that, the characters were not very likable.  I didn’t really like Georgie. I wanted to shake her, tell her to stop whining, put on some of her own clothes, and DO SOMETHING. And Neil needed to stop being a martyr and DO SOMETHING. Basically, I just wanted someone to do something and it took a really long time for that to happen.

But I’m still giving this three stars because even subpar Rainbow Rowell is better than most anyone else. I will not hesitate to read more of her novels in the future.

And she NAILS parenting with these two quotes:

“Having kids sent a tornado through your marriage, then made you happy for the devastation. Even if you could rebuild everything just the way it was before, you’d never want to.”

“Kids took a fathomless amount of time and energy…And they took it first. They had right of first refusal on everything you had to offer.”

The way she captures parenting in Landline is truly fantastic.

Fairest [Audiobook Review]


Title: Fairest
Author: Marissa Meyer
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Pages: 272 pages
Audio: 6.7 hours
Year: 2015
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Source: Public Library
Book Rating: 4/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary:

Fairest tells Levana’s story: how she becomes a wife, a stepmother, and, eventually, a queen. It takes place on Luna and prior to the events of the other books.

My Thoughts:

I usually hate these half-step series installments. This is one of my favorite series and I haven’t read any of the short stories that go along with it. But Fairest seemed a little more legit and a reputable friend recommended it.

Queen Levana is an interesting character to develop. She seems so cold and calculating in the other novels, but this one definitely gives her a little more complexity. I found myself slipping into pysch major mode and trying to diagnose her with various personality disorders. Her story is often sad, but at the same time, she makes terrible decisions that prevent readers from feeling too much empathy. This book was much more a character study than the others, which are much more fast-paced and plot-driven.

I’m now anxiously awaiting Winter’s release in November.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Rebecca Soler continues to do a fantastic job. I recommend this series a lot and I always recommend it in audio.

On Immunity: An Inoculation [Audiobook Review]


Title: On Immunity: An Inoculation
Author: Eula Biss
Narrator: Tamara Marston
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 216
Audio: 6.4 hours
Year: 2014
Publisher: Highbridge
Source: Public Library
Book Rating: 3.5/5
Audio Rating: 4/5

Summary (from the publisher):

Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear—fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world.

In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is a moving account of how we are all interconnected—our bodies and our fates.

My Thoughts:

I went into this one a very strong vaccine supporter, so I didn’t need convincing, but I found the history of the vaccines and the science behind it an interesting study.

I didn’t necessarily love her storytelling style, though. She approached this in a personal way, as a mother making her own decision to vaccinate or not to vaccinate. She then tries to relate to all mothers and very clearly has the universal mother in mind as her audience. I wanted something a little more…objective.

I also didn’t quite get what all of the Dracula references added. Perhaps that’s me being dense. Or tired.

This is a quick read and definitely a worthwhile one.

I don’t think this book is going to change anyone’s mind. The people I know who really believe that vaccination is a personal choice that doesn’t affect anyone else or that the CDC and “Big Pharma” are conspiring against us are not going to be persuaded by this book. It seems our society, or at least a not-insignificant faction of it, will continue to deny science, whether it be vaccines or climate change or a myriad of other things, despite insurmountable evidence backing it. This book isn’t going to stop that. But I applaud the effort.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Nothing much to say here. Tamara Marston does a fine job with this, which is all you really want in nonfiction.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? [Audiobook Review]


Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Author: Maria Semple
Narrator: Kathleen Wilhoite
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 352 pages
Audio: 9.7 hours
Year: 2012
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Source: Library
Book Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary (from the publisher):

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Quick Thoughts:

I want to thank whoever recommended this one to me. I know I’m behind the times, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.The characters were whimsical and the plot pushed the boundaries of reality. I was hooked early on and through all of its crazy antics, I just kept hanging on for the ride.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Fellow Gilmore Girls fans will recognize Kathleen Wilhoite’s voice immediately as that of Luke’s sister, Liz. She has an excellent voice for this novel, with the ability to portray both 14-year-old Bee and an array of adults.

Girls in White Dresses [Book Review]

TitleGirls in White Dresses
Author: Jennifer Close
Genre: Short Stories; Women’s Fiction
Pages: 304
Year: 2011
Publisher: Knopf
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 5/5

Publisher’s Summary:

Isabella, Mary, and Lauren feel like everyone they know is getting married. On Sunday after Sunday, at bridal shower after bridal shower, they coo over toasters, collect ribbons and wrapping paper, eat minuscule sandwiches and cakes. They wear pastel dresses and drink champagne by the case, but amid the celebration these women have their own lives to contend with: Isabella is working a dead-end job, Mary is dating a nice guy with an awful mother, and Lauren is waitressing at a midtown bar and wondering why she’s attracted to the sleazy bartender.

My Thoughts:

You guys, this book.

I haven’t so thoroughly enjoyed a book like I enjoyed this one in ages.  I would yell at you all for not making me read it sooner, but you all tried. Jen even sent me a copy. THREE YEARS AGO.

I thought this would be a novel, but this is really a book of inter-related short stories (along the lines of The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing). Which made it even lovelier. I love a good short story collection.

The characters were well-developed, realistic, and relatable. I wanted to be friends with them. It made me wish I had moved to New York City after college and lived in a crappy apartment and dated the wrong guys. It was like Sex and the City when Sex and the City was at its best.

If you’ve left this one lingering on your shelf, like I did, you are making a mistake.

****

What book did you wait too long to read? What book has been waiting patiently on your shelves for you?

Hemingway’s Girl [Book Review]

Title: Hemingway’s Girl
Author: Erika Robuck
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Year: 2012
Publisher: Thorndike Press
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 1/5

Summary (from publisher):

In Depression-era Key West, Mariella Bennet, the daughter of an American fisherman and a Cuban woman, knows hunger. Her struggle to support her family following her father’s death leads her to a bar and bordello, where she bets on a risky boxing match…and attracts the interest of two men: world-famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, and Gavin Murray, one of the WWI veterans who are laboring to build the Overseas Highway. 
 
When Mariella is hired as a maid by Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, she enters a rarified world of lavish, celebrity-filled dinner parties and elaborate off-island excursions. As she becomes caught up in the tensions and excesses of the Hemingway household, the attentions of the larger-than-life writer become a dangerous temptation…even as straightforward Gavin Murray draws her back to what matters most.  Will she cross an invisible line with the volatile Hemingway, or find a way to claim her own dreams?  As a massive hurricane bears down on Key West, Mariella faces some harsh truths…and the possibility of losing everything she loves.

My Thoughts:

So this book and I didn’t really get along. I wanted to love it, so I kept reading when I probably should have put it down. But I read it painfully slowly. And even put it down for an entire year with less than 100 page to go. Very odd behavior for me as I will usually either DNF a book pretty quickly or push through.

I swear I had notes lying around somewhere, but they must have gone missing during the year and a half I was reading.

I think the problem is that I didn’t connect with Mariella. I didn’t really feel the attraction between her and Hemingway (perhaps because they call each other “papa” and “daughter”). And I didn’t feel the love at all between her and Gavin.

It was also one of those books where I felt like things were over-explained. My rule: either tell me something or show me something, but don’t do both.

This book and I did not click. But some other bloggers I trust adored it. So check out their reviews before taking my word for it: Anita Loves Books (5/5 stars); Devourer of Books (Highly Recommended); Jenn’s Bookshelves (Highly, Highly Recommended).