There aren’t a whole lot of books out there about Norway, nor are there books set in modern-day Norway (other than Nordic crime fiction, and I’m not a huge fan of mysteries and crime fiction in general). I’ve looked. But my search, done years ago, did turn up In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream by Eric Dregni (University of Minnesota Press, 2008), and onto my want-to-read list it went. The author and I both come from Norwegian stock (shoutout to Ole and Alfa, my great-great-grandparents, who came here from north of Bergen somewhere around the 1890’s, and to the relatives in Norway now that pop up on 23 and Me), and it’s always fun to read something by an author who has as much interest in his family’s background as I do.
Eric Dregni won a Fullbright Fellowship to study in Norway for a year on the same day he learned his wife was expecting their first child. Their sense of adventure packed in between their warmest clothes, the two of them headed off to his ancestral homeland so he could learn, study, and eventually write a book about Norway. It’s a definite change, to be sure. The people aren’t as open or outgoing as they’re used to, the language is a challenge (fortunately for them, most Norwegians speak perfect English), the cost of living is astronomical, the food is much different than they’re used to (gas station sausages, lutefisk, and rakfisk, oh my!) and the weather is…well, it’s Norwegian weather, so dress accordingly, like with spikes on your shoes so you don’t slide off the sidewalk and into traffic. And then there’s the colicky baby…
But there’s also the beauty of the mountains and the fjords, the joy of meeting long-lost relatives and discovering the places his ancestors once lived, the complete acceptance of children in Norwegian culture (even at their worst!), and the friends they manage to make along the way. Slap your skis on your feet and join the Dregni family for a year abroad in a country you probably don’t know much about!
In Cod We Trust is fun and informative. I had to giggle a few times at his stories of how the language tripped him up; the first time I ever saw Norwegian, it looked bizarre and unlike anything I’d ever seen before and now even the words I’m unfamiliar with have a certain familiarity to them (except for the more dialect-y words, and outside of Oslo, it’s all basically dialect!). His descriptions of the Norwegian landscape are stunning, and his recountings of the various surprising meals he ate there are…less than entirely appetizing, to be honest. Norway isn’t exactly known for its cuisine (if it’s white and made of cod, potatoes, or flour, they’ll eat it), but Mr. Dregni should definitely be applauded for his willingness to put himself out there and slurp down rakfisk. (Fortunately, no mention of smalahove- look it up if you’re curious.)
His wife is a pretty good sport, I have to say. I’d love to spend a year abroad, though I’m not sure I’d be willing to do it while pregnant (I’m an utter wreck while pregnant with the vomiting and constant nausea all the way to the end. My son put me in the hospital twice. Not great for international travel, even to places with great medical systems!). She seemed to take most of it in stride, or, if she struggled, Mr. Dregni kindly left that out. I admire her for being willing to follow him on this journey.
There’s been a huge amount of buzz about Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner (Atria Books, 2019), and, having read six of her other books in the past, I knew I’d eventually get to this one! And as luck would have it, it came up as a suggestion for PopSugar’s 2020 Reading Challenge for a book that passes the Bechdel test (wherein two women must have a conversation which is about something other than a man, and which was named after the cartoonist and writer Alison Bechdel, a fact I didn’t know about until just now!). This book passes that test in spades and is an all-around fabulous read.
Mrs. Everything covers the entire lives of sisters Jo and Bethie Kaufman, born in the baby boom of post-WWII America and coming of age in the turbulent 60’s as the world writhed and changed around them. Jo, the elder of the two, is athletic, always at odds with their mother, and understands early on that she’s different from other girls. Bethie, a people pleaser and their mother’s clear favorite, changes trajectory after the terrible aftermath of death of their father and struggles to find herself and her place in the world. The sisters’ relationship ebbs and flows, internal and external pressures playing a large part on how they relate to and support one another. This is an opus, a love letter to all the women out there who do their best and can only try, fail, and try again.
(Content warnings exist for molestation by a family member, rape, abortion, drug use, homophobia, disordered eating, difficult parent/child relationships, cancer, and death.)
There are a lot of themes running throughout this book, and one of them is the changing role of women in society over the years. Jo and Bethie’s mother had almost no choices in life; Jo and Bethie had more, but still nowhere near acceptable; Jo’s daughters have far more, but it’s still not enough, and the novel ends acknowledging that while women have come so far, it’s absolutely not enough, that men are given passes in parenting and the career world that women aren’t even thought of being granted. Jo makes an astute observation that both she and Bethie kind of fell into their lives, rather than making active choices to create the lives they wanted, and I have to wonder how true that statement is for women in general today. It certainly was for me.
There’s a lot of sadness in this book, as there is in everyone’s life. Jo, whose attraction to women can’t ever really be lived out in the open in her young adulthood, lives what feels like only a half-life, struggling to find a place for herself while taking care of her beloved children and the husband who, as time goes on, feels like less and less of a safe haven. Bethie’s entire self nearly disappears after being molested and raped, and she flits around the world, trying to both lose and discover herself and realizing she can’t run from her pain, nor can she force her sister to live more authentically. It’s all one step forward, two steps back for the Kaufman sisters, a tale as old as time and one that we’re still seeing today.
Despite the sadness, this is a view of two very different lives over a turbulent period of time, a time of growth and a time of difficult realizations. Jennifer Weiner writes with clarity and insight, and even when the subject manner is painful, her tone is light enough that Mrs. Everything is a comfort read, like hearing stories from your own beloved friends and sisters. This was the perfect book to follow up my last read, Dahlia Adler’s His Hideous Heart, an anthology of Poe retellings. I desperately needed something that made me feel hope again, and this fit the bill well.
Have you read this or any of Jennifer Weiner’s other novels? Are you a fan? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Hello, hello! It’s time for another post of mini-reviews, because my weeks are so full of homeschooling, cooking, and cleaning, that I can’t manage to get anything else written (with the exception of yesterday’s post excoriating It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, because that absolutely had to be done). Imma get all this out here in one post, just to see if I can catch up a little bit. I’m mostly only reading at night time right now after my daughter goes to bed, so maybe this will help get me back on track (she says optimistically). Let’s do this!
The History of Love by Nicola Krauss (Norton, 2005) tells the story of Alma Singer, a teenager who is struggling with the death of her father, her distant mother, her younger but over-the-top religious brother, and the mystery of the book her mother is translating, which is where Alma’s name came from. Leo Gursky is an elderly immigrant who, sixty years later, still can’t stop thinking about the girl he loved back in the old country, the one who inspired the greatest thing he’d ever written. There are twists and shocking conclusions, and what happened with Leo’s book is pretty appalling. This was way more literary than I normally venture, and for me, it was just okay.
Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Harold S. Kushner (Knopf, 2015) is a wonderful book about some fairly universal human truths viewed through the lens of Rabbi Kushner’s Conservative Judaism. Clocking in at only 171 pages, the book is small, but the content is huge, with a lot of discussion of how authentic faith translates into action that improves the world for everyone, and how doubt and searching can and absolutely should be a part of everyone’s faith. There’s a lot of wisdom packed into this book, as there are in all of Rabbi Kushner’s books, and eventually I’d like to read them all. This was my third of his, I believe.
You may be familiar with Anita Diamant’s other works; she’s probably best known for The Red Tent, the story of the wives of the Biblical Jacob and his daughter Dinah. (We’re also using her Living a Jewish Lifein my Intro to Judaism course, which is still taking place on Zoom!) Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship, and Other Leaps of Faith (Scribner, 2003) is a collection of her articles, essays, and writings about her life, her family, her religious practice. She writes eloquently about the realities and the struggles of marriage and parenthood and the ups and downs of being an active member of a close-knit religious community. I really enjoyed the essay about her dreams of opening a liberal mikvah (Jewish ritual bath), and am pleased for her that that dream has become a reality; she’s a founding president of Mayyim Hayyim outside of Boston. This was a pleasant, calming read.
I love Dahlia Adler, so I was excited to finally find a copy of His Hideous Heart (Flatiron Books, 2019) right before the library closed, a collection of thirteen retellings of classic Edgar Allan Poe stories by modern YA authors (including Ms. Adler). The stories are dark, dark, dark, but also beautifully inclusive; there are plenty of LGBT and non-white characters to give the stories a realistic feel. Though this may not be the best time to read something so dark- I really struggled to get through this, as I was reading it during our first week of being at home. If you enjoy Poe and horror in general, though, you’ll love this.
And there we go. I’m about to finish another book, but I’ll be able to get up a post on that, and I’ll have my usual monthly roundup in a few days, so I’ll talk more there about how we’re managing in this weird, weird time. Stay safe and healthy, friends!!!
So, approximately three million years ago, when I was naively and optimistically making out my lists for this year’s reading challenges (LOLSOB), I perused the suggestions for Book Riot’s 2020 Read Harder Challenge prompt for a romance starring a single parent. I didn’t find anything there that struck my fancy, but another group suggested It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Avon, first published 1994. Remember this). I’d never read this particular author, but I know she’s a big name in romance, so I figured sure, why not. I went into this knowing full well that romance has changed immensely since 1994 (THANK GOD), but also curious because my library copy was almost pristine. This book is still very much in print, to the point that new copies are being purchased and circulating. This is important to my review. Buckle up, folks. I don’t usually eviscerate novels, but this one deserves it.
(Disclaimer: This book, and thus this post, is chock-full of content warnings. The book contains mentions, often graphic, of molestation and rape by a family member, racism, misogyny, multiple uses of the N-word, fatphobia and comments on eating disorders that haven’t aged well, kinky sex roleplay that involves one partner pretending to be an underage girl BUT WITHOUT INFORMING THE READER THAT THIS IS ROLEPLAY UNTIL AFTERWARDS, emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, alcoholism, a mistaken abduction and sexual assault that briefly traumatizes a main character, a drunk driving death, and multiple depictions of Donald Trump where he’s portrayed true to life, being only too happy to help pull one over a main character. This is a tough time for all of us and we’ve all got far too much on our plates. I won’t be offended one bit if you’re not able to handle more and need to stop reading here. Be well, friends.)
It Had to Be You starts out with Phoebe Sommerville attending her father’s funeral in a wildly inappropriate outfit and holding her toy poodle, who then pees all over the top of the casket (yes, really), but before that unfortunate incident comes this line, which tipped me off to exactly the kind of mess this book was going to be:
Beads of perspiration from the midday heat glimmered on skin that ranged in color from a glistening blue-black to a suntanned white. Like plantation slaves, the National Football League’s Chicago Stars had come to pay homage to the man who owned them.
Uh, yikes. Followed by this super fun typo (how has no one noticed this in all the time this book has been in print?):
A Gold Coast socialite, who fancied herself an expert on small dogs, since she owned a shiatsu…
Let’s try this again.
Two very, very different things. If anyone’s looking for a copy editor, I’d make an awesome one! 😉
Dad, who was a disgusting Donald Trump-style blowhard misogynist creep, owned the Chicago Stars football team (located in, surprisingly, the county I live in, and about which the author makes some seriously puzzling statements about tractor pulls and religious crusades, by which I’m guessing she meant revivals? I can’t speak to those- there are sections of this county that can be pretty Christian [looking at you, Wheaton] so I can’t say what happened here in that regard in 1994- but I asked my husband, who grew up here, about tractor pulls, and he was baffled. Outside of county fairs, I can’t find any evidence of tractor pulls here in the past. So weird. We’re right next to Chicago, it’s not like we’re super rural), and has left the team to his daughter Phoebe in order to humiliate her. If she’s able to help the team win the championship, she’ll get it keep it, but if not, ownership goes to her rapey cousin Reed, her father’s clear favorite. Phoebe’s also left with custody of her standoffish half-sister Molly, who’s trotted out now and then as a plot device.
At first, Phoebe doesn’t give a crap about the team, but the head coach, Dan Calebow, a good ol’ boy from Alabama (I think) isn’t having any of that. How DARE that bimbo act this way! He’s furious, furious enough to use the word bimbo at least nineteen times throughout this book (although the actual count may be several more, because I think I started counting after having been irritated by it multiple times. And no, Ms. Phillips, tempering it by having Dan call her ‘my brainy bimbo’ doesn’t make it better). Dan is a total alphahole, a complete 90’s romance man’s man, misogyny and grossness all over the place. He and his Congresswoman ex-wife have a friends-with-benefits relationship going on, leading to an early scene where Dan picks up a teenager from a convenience store, follows her to her house, then proceeds to spank her and have sex with her in her father’s office. It’s only AFTER the chapter has ended that Ms. Phillips clues us in that it’s actually Dan and his ex-wife ROLEPLAYING here and he’s not actually engaging in statutory rape. I was DISGUSTED by this, to the point where my hands were shaking and I had to read the scene twice to make sure I was reading it right- was he SERIOUSLY having sex with a girl who told him she was 16?!!?!?!?- and should have put the book down. NOT COOL, SUSAN ELIZABETH PHILLIPS. NOT COOL AT ALL. Alas, I read on, because the world needs to know how terrible this book is.
Phoebe, who has put on a show of being a dumb blonde most of her life, and Dan are obviously on an enemies-to-lovers trajectory, but before we get to that, we have the problem of Phoebe’s hips. They’re nearly their own character in this book. I wish I were joking:
There’s a lot of weird imagery in this book as well, along with fashion that was never, ever in style (and definitely not on gay men in the 90’s, which is who was wearing this particular get-up). Consider, if you will, these following paragraphs (which have nothing to do with each other, but which both include a lot of wtf):
Blond, handsome, and bigger than life, he looked like a born troublemaker. Instead of a knit shirt and chinos, he should have been wearing a rumpled white suit and driving down some Southern dirt road in a big old Cadillac hooking beer cans over the roof. Or standing on the front lawn of an antebellum mansion with his head thrown back to bay at the moon while a young Elizabeth Taylor lay on a curly brass bed upstairs and waited for him to come home.
Ignoring the fact that a grown man is littering and howling at the moon (what even?!??), with the white suit, all I can think of is Colonel Sanders from KFC. But then there’s Phoebe’s gay male friend in this outfit:
He wore a fitted black silk T-shirt with camouflage pants, orange leather suspenders, and motorcycle boots.
I know the 90’s weren’t exactly known for great fashion, but come on!
And there’s a lot of weird, puffed-up masculinity and misogyny. For example:
“…Bobby Tom’s from Telarosa, Texas, and being forced to live in the state of Illinois for even part of the year challenges his idea of manhood.”
Viktor beamed like a proud father, fluffed Phoebe’s hair, and nudged her toward the kitchen. “Do your women’s work. We men are hungry.”
He turned to Phoebe and held out his hand. “Pass over the keys, honey lamb. There are certain things a man still does better than a woman, and driving a car is one of them.”
Dan grinned as he unlocked the driver’s door and reached inside to flip the automatic locks. “Climb inside, ladies. I’d open the doors for you, but I don’t want to be accused of holding back anybody’s liberation.”
For one, I don’t think I can take seriously any grown man who goes by the name Bobby Tom, so he can take his idea that having a penis is only valid within the state borders of Texas and cram it up his cramhole. And come on, Phoebe, you let your friends talk to you like that? Nah, girl. You can do better. Have enough self-respect to shut that shit down hard. And later on, there was this gem:
Didn’t she realize this was DuPage County? Women didn’t dress like this in DuPage County, for chrissake. They went to church and voted Republican, just as their husbands told them.
EXCUSE ME??? This is a deeply diverse area, of which I’m very proud, and we have women from all walks of life, from women who show plenty of skin in the grocery store to women who wear niqab at the library. And we’re all perfectly capable of thinking for ourselves, thank you VERY much. UGH.
At one point, Phoebe goes over to Dan’s house late at night in an attempt to confront him, only to get caught in the middle of what Dan thinks is a kinky sex game with his ex-wife. Phoebe, who has no idea what kind of weird things Dan does with his ex, thinks Dan is hauling her into the woods to rape her, and the whole scene is horrifying. And then there’s more of this:
Phoebe and Dan develop a physical relationship (Phoebe is, of course, playing the whore to the Madonna preschool teacher that Dan is also seeing but not touching), but their relationship is…uncomfortable to read at best. Phoebe has some serious and understandable baggage from being raped and molested by her cousin in the past, but Dan isn’t aware of this until later, and there are some disturbing sex scenes where she tells Dan not to stop no matter what she says, then freaks out when he doesn’t stop, which, as both a reader and a woman, is deeply insulting.
Phoebe works hard and inspires the football team by instructing them to picture the other team naked (which is endlessly funny to the team and pisses Dan off), and of course they start to win and win big. But at the championship game, the one that matters, the crazed father of one of Dan’s former team members kidnaps Phoebe and threatens to kill her unless Dan throws the game. What’s a coach in love to do?
To be honest, this entire book was insulting, from Phoebe’s faux pre-drugs Anna Nicole Smith act, to Dan’s toxic masculinity and misogyny, to the disgusting abuse hurled about in memories of her father, to the completely unnecessary trauma scenes. Part of this is that this book is pretty geriatric when it comes to romance. Twenty-six years ago is practically prehistoric when it comes to romance, and it’s obvious that the genre has come a long, looooooooooong way since then. But it obviously hasn’t come far enough. This book, with all its throwback, regressive attitudes, is still in print, and like I mentioned above, my library copy seemed fairly new, with no creased pages and a cover that showed no signs of wear. Meaning, of course, that…
This book is still in print, and what that tells me is that some romance publishers don’t necessarily think that women deserve better books, books where we aren’t called bimbos nineteen times throughout the pages and made to suffer rape and other forms of trauma in order to further the plot. I know that’s a bunch of crap, because I’ve read far better romance novels, where women rightfully give men who belittle them the middle finger and bestow their time and attention on men who prove themselves worthy of it. ACTUALLY worthy of it. Why should we be subjected to reading stories where women degrade themselves by falling into the arms of someone who, just pages ago, referred to them as a bimbo? Why does rape still continue to be a plot device in 2020? Why should books with abject racism and fatphobia still take up shelf space and space in our minds?
What I’m saying is that for those publishing companies still championing this kind of garbage by keeping books like this in print- you can do better, and your readers deserve that. This is one author I won’t be reading again. My time is worth more than that.
This month’s pick for the library book discussion group (which will be tacked on to whenever we meet next, whenever that is!). The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff (Park Row, 2019) isn’t something I would have picked up on my own. There’s something about it that just didn’t really appeal to me based on the premise, but I like the group and I’ll read anything they’re going to discuss. Plus you know how I feel about stretching and growing as a reader. 🙂
Told in multiple viewpoints, The Lost Girls of Paris is the action-packed story, based on a true story, of a group of women who worked as undercover radio transmitters in enemy territory during World War II, the woman who headed their unit, and the civilian widow trying to piece together the story of this group after the war has ended. After taking photographs from an abandoned suitcase she found in a train station, Grace is intrigued by them and sets out to find who these women in the photos are. To her shock, she learns the owner of the suitcase was the woman killed in an accident that waylaid her the day before, and suddenly she feels a certain responsibility to both that woman and the women in the photographs. Who were they? Why was the owner of the suitcase in New York City?
Eleanor Trigg has been placed in charge of a group of women she’s recruited to act as spies in dangerous enemy territory. Marie is one of her recruits, a single mother who’s accepted this job for financial reasons, along with a sense of duty. With the clock ticking and the Nazis closing in, terrible discoveries about the recruits’ expendability will be discovered. War truly is hell.
This was…pretty grim, to be honest. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t exactly an uplifting read, so don’t go in expecting a ton of happy endings (there is one, but a lot of the stories are pretty dark). There’s bravery and pluck, and a whole lot of grit from women who never saw themselves in a role like that before the war, but there’s also a lot of dismissal that leads to death (of which there’s also a lot of), and a lot of, “You’re women, why would you think you could do that?” attitude coming from the top. Historically accurate, but perhaps not the lightest read at a time like this.
Short review today; I’ve had this half-written on my computer for about a week and a half when crap started to hit the fan. We’re well-prepared here in my family and our state is on shelter-in-place orders starting tomorrow, which is basically the way we’ve been living for a week, but my time is spent mostly homeschooling my kindergartner, cooking everything we eat, and cleaning so that we don’t feel too stir-crazy in a cluttered home (seriously, clutter and mess is the #1 way for me to feel anxious and terrible, so keep your spaces tidy and this will all be a little more bearable!). I don’t know blogging will look like for me these next few months; I’ve barely had any time to read since I’m so focused on maintaining my daughter’s education, but I’ll do my best to pop in as I can!
The parent education series that brings authors, clinicians, speakers, and other experts to our area is one of my favorite things about where I live- at one of the last events I attended, the director let us know that they’d just confirmed booking Tara Westover, author of Educated, for next year! Super excited about that. But next week, young adult author Nicola Yoon will be here, and since I’m never one to miss out on an author event, I prepared by reading both of her books.
First up was Everything, Everything(Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2015), because I own a lovely hardcover copy which I snagged at a used book sale last summer (right after I learned she’d be coming here). Madeline is stuck in the house- literally and quite permanently, a victim of SCID, commonly referred to as Bubble Boy disease. Her mother, a doctor, cares for her with the help of a visiting nurse; the house is equipped with an airlock, a mega-air filter, windows never open, and almost no one ever visits. Madeline does her schoolwork mostly online and spends her days reading, until a new family moves in next door. Olly, the cute teenage son who catches Madeline’s eye, begins to awaken in Madeline the desire for a bigger life, a life outside her bubble, but the risks she takes will end up revealing some long-buried secrets and truths about the health of her family.
After I finished that, it was off to the library to grab their copy of The Sun Is Also a Star (Delacorte Press, 2016). In a novel that’s reminiscent in certain ways of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, two teenagers with different backgrounds and ways of looking at the world meet and fall in love in the twenty-four hours before one of them is due to be deported. It’s a race through New York City, a journey to the heart and soul of identity, family, culture, home, and what it means to fall in love and make yourself vulnerable to another person.
Between the two books, I preferred Everything, Everything, even though I called the twist pretty early on. Madeline is a sympathetic character, and I loved the premise of a character who isn’t allowed to live in the normal world. Carla, her nurse, was my absolute favorite; without her, the story would never have gotten legs, and her willingness to take a chance, to defy Madeline’s mother (and her exasperation with her teenage daughter!) made her complex and realistic. Olly’s situation lends even more credibility to the story, and the culmination of it all is nearly perfection.
The Sun Is Also a Star was enjoyable, but I didn’t love it quite as much. While I respected Natasha’s commitment to science and logic (and understood her reasons for doing so), at times, her denial of the importance of emotion annoyed me, and her constant chirping of science facts was tiresome. Daniel is pretty great all around, but just like Nick and Nora, I didn’t find the premise of the book to be entirely realistic. I’m well aware of and remember acutely from my own teenage years the huge emotions that adolescents are capable of, but having these two fall that hard for each other so quickly, when Natasha is trying to square up her family’s situation…I couldn’t *quite* buy that she’d have the mental space for that at that particular time.
So now I’m ready and prepared to listen to Ms. Yoon speak next week! (That is, if coronavirus or the stomach virus with which my daughter is currently plagued doesn’t take us all down…) I’m glad I got these two read beforehand, because once again, I’m so far behind in my reading. I do have these two books and my library book discussion group book done for the month, though, so there’s that, which is nice. 😉
Are you often able to attend author events? I used to go to them fairly frequently when I lived in the Nashville area, especially when the Davis-Kidd bookstore still existed and hosted them (*pours one out for Davis-Kidd, which was an excellent store*). There’s a local-ish store here that plays host to a ton of amazing contemporary authors as they pass through on book tours, but I haven’t managed to make it over there yet; most of the author appearances are at times when traffic would make it difficult for me to get over there. But one day… Most of the events I attend now are through this parent education group (anyone of any age is welcome to attend; it’s not just for parents), so I very much appreciate its existence!
Welcome to the latest stop on The WriteReads’ Super Awesome Blog Tour for Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) by Devri Walls (Brown Books, 2018, first published 2016). I’m happy to be a part of this! Urban fantasy isn’t my usual genre, but I’m always willing to challenge myself and read outside my normal box, and this was definitely outside- but in a good way.
Rune and Ryker are twins, but they’ve grown apart over the years, and Rune is bothered by this. She’s still there for her brother, who takes far too much delight in bullying Grey, the trenchcoat-wearing misfit from their hometown who ended up at the same college as them, but she’s none too happy with his recent behavior. Beyond that, Ryker has bizarre reactions to the supernatural just as Rune does- rage, mostly, and she can’t understand why.
Grey’s obsessed with everything supernatural and has been ever since that terrifying night years ago when he was attacked by creatures he’d never seen before. When they reappear in his life, just as Rune is starting to realize the two of them may have more of a connection than she previously expected, the two of them are whisked away to the safety- relatively speaking- of another dimension, where they learn the truth about their existence. Everything supernatural, every mythical creature and thing that goes bump in the night, is real, and Grey, Rune, and Ryker, who was kidnapped and taken elsewhere, are Venators, some of the last of their kind, a group once tasked with protection but overtaken by their own rage to the point of devastation of the world around them. The council demands their help, but there are serious games afoot, and Grey and Rune can never be sure who they can trust. Fairies, vampires, werewolves, goblins, shapeshifters, they’re all out there and they all have their own agendas. And where is Ryker???
ACTION. MAJOR ACTION EVERYWHERE. This isn’t one of those fantasy novels where the characters spend 90% of the book trudging through the woods (*stares in Tolkien*). Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) is high-stakes action and the pressure is ON. Grey (who is a fabulous character, an ugly ducking who becomes a swan and stands up for what’s right, even when it puts his own life at risk) and Rune are in the middle of it on every single page, fighting, running, jumping off cliffs (thanks to their newly discovered Venator powers!), sneaking through musty-smelling servant passageways to escape the castle in the dark of night. Ryker’s a full-on douchebag, but the novel isn’t focused on him; let’s hope he improves as the series progresses. I’m wildly curious to know his reaction when the camera pans to him in the next book!
I enjoyed the cast of magical characters: the terrifying, bloodthirsty werewolves, the manipulative fairies, the slick vampires, but my favorite character was Beltran, the shapeshifter who often appears in the form of a crow. He’s definitely got his own agenda, but there’s more to him than meets the eye, and I enjoyed every scene he appeared in. His appearance totally made the last major action scene.
Whenever I step outside my normal genres, I like to examine why I don’t read that particular genre more often, and I did come to some conclusions I hadn’t considered before while reading this- interestingly enough, it’s related to something my husband and I have been discussing recently. My husband is a very visual thinker; he’s a scientist and can usually picture exactly how any experiments he runs will work, because he can picture the mechanisms by which everything should function. This serves him well in computer programming as well. I can’t think in pictures like this. Even when I think something random like, “Okay, I’m going to picture a cereal box on the counter,” I can kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind of make a sort of mental picture, but I can’t hold it. I can kind of picture what my counter would look like if there were a cereal box on it, but only a brief glimpse. It’s fascinating how our brains work in completely opposite ways.
That said, I think that’s why I don’t read more fantasy (and it’s a genre my husband likes!): I can’t quite picture these magical creatures in my head, nor can I picture the settings that involve castles and labyrinthine mountain passes and forests. They’re not places I’ve been or creatures I’ve seen. With fiction, I can mentally set those stories in houses, in restaurants, in museums and shops and parks that are familiar to me and that I have a map of in my head. I can assign the characters physical traits of people I’m familiar with. Fantasy? Not quite so much; I can’t picture a green-skinned person in my mind because it’s not an image I’m familiar with in my everyday, boring life.
Isn’t that wild? I’ve never thought of it that way before, but I think I’ve got the answer as to why this isn’t one of my preferred genres, even though I LOVE seeing how excited other readers get over it! So it really does pay to step outside your boundaries now and then. You might learn something new about yourself. 🙂
If you’re into fantasy that doesn’t skimp on the action one single iota, Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) is worth a look- it’s a series, people! Devri Walls seems to be a wildly prolific author, so check out some of her other work as well on Goodreads.
I’m told that Ms. Walls will be answering questions in a video post after the tour, so if you’ve got questions, ask away in the comments! (Seriously, how cool is she for doing this???) I have a question! Ms. Walls, are you able to think in pictures and easily imagine all the fantastic supernatural creatures you write about, or does your brain work in a different way?
Thanks to TheWriteReads and Devri Walls for including me on this fabulous blog tour!!!
So, according to Goodreads, I’m the last person on Earth to read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (Harper, 2018). I read maybe a handful of true crime books every year; it’s not usually a section I wander through at the library, but if a case interests me for a particular reason or someone I know recommends something from this genre, I’ll pick it up. A ton of my friends read this last year; I finally picked it up based on a prompt for the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge: a book with gold, silver, or bronze in the title (this being an Olympic year and all…if the Olympics still happen, what with mass events like that getting cancelled due to coronavirus). Not being a huge true crime person, I went into this book almost entirely cold, which made for an interesting read.
Michelle McNamara was the wife of comedian Patton Oswalt. She passed away unexpectedly in her sleep from an accidental overdose in 2016, but in life she was a true crime writer and obsessively searched for the man she dubbed The Golden State Killer, a man who terrorized Southern California throughout the seventies and eighties. He was responsible for at least thirteen murders and more than fifty rapes (and who knows what other crimes haven’t been tied to him). Despite massive effort to pin him down, he always seemed able to slip through the fingers of law enforcement, to blend into the background and remain unnoticed.
Finding him was Michelle’s obsession. She dug through old evidence, interviewed witnesses, befriended investigators. From what it sounded like, she was as much a part of the investigation team as some of the officers and retired officers still at work on the case. She passed away before her book was finished, a heartbreaking ending to her story, and a devastating blow to her family.
SPOILER ALERT- not for the book, but for what came after:
I *thought* I remembered hearing things about this on the news recently, but I didn’t look it up while I was reading (and I wasn’t entirely sure if what I saw related to the case itself or to the book). It was only this morning, after I finished the book, that I allowed myself to Google, and sure enough, they found him, just as Michelle had so desperately hoped. His time had indeed run out, thanks to a DNA match that investigators were finally able to run through an ancestry site. With the help of a genealogist, suspects were narrowed down and a match was secured. The suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, will go on trial at some point for being the Golden State Killer. Science is amazing, you guys. Back when he was terrorizing the people of Southern California, he was nearly unstoppable, but science hunted him down. I’ve seen articles purporting that the age of the serial killer is over, or at least greatly slowed down thanks to DNA testing, and I pray that’s the case.
Two major emotions settled in as I read Ms. McNamara’s work. First off, fear. It’s nigh impossible to read real-life accounts of home invasion, rape, murder, and the type of terror that this man evoked and not feel at least somewhat vulnerable. Even in this age of heavy locks, security systems, doorbell cameras, and the like, do any of us ever feel entirely safe? This book definitely creeped me out (and made me thankful for my cats, who would never greet me at the door like they did this morning if there were a stranger in the house, as they’re kind of terrified of strangers and scurry off to hide under the bed if someone they’re not familiar with enters the house) and made me a little more aware of my surroundings and my safety during the time I was reading.
And second, sadness. It’s hard to read the master work of someone who passed away so young, not only before she had a chance to finish the book but before she had a chance to see the case come to fruition the way it has. Reading the scenes where she talked about her husband and young daughter were heartbreaking, because I read them with the obvious knowledge that they’re still here and she’s not. Life is so very, very unfair in so many different ways. I wish Ms. McNamara were here to see this monster finally caught and celebrate his capture with her investigator friends. I wish she were here to watch her daughter grow up and to live out her natural life with her husband. I wish she could have finished the book with its rightful conclusion.
If you’re into true crime, you’ve probably already read this, but if you’re like me and only read the genre now and then, it’s a worthy pick despite the aura of sadness surrounding the untimely demise of its author. Lots of information on investigations and police procedures, what happens when a case goes cold, and the history and growth of DNA testing in here, and that alone makes it a great read, as does Ms. McNamara’s own history and her explanation of her involvement with the case.
Now that the suspect is caught, my thoughts go not only to his victims, but his family members. His ex-wife, his children, his grandchildren. They never asked for this, they never asked for the publicity or to be related to this monster. My heart breaks for the family members because he turned them into victims as well. I so hope they’re getting support from their friends and community, because this has nothing to do with them as people.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is probably the most in-depth true crime study I’ve ever read, and I’ll definitely be following the trial much more closely than if I hadn’t read this.
Welcome to March! Winter and spring have been playing a bit of tug-of-war in these parts, with snow and icy winds on some days (although the monster snowstorm that had everyone freaking out ended up being a bust of about three inches total) and 50 degrees and rain on other days. I’ve been combating the cold by huddling under my heated blanket with my books on days I don’t have to be out of the house. It’s been nice!
That’s not to say I’ve had as much reading time as I would like- do we ever? Laundry and cooking and errands all still need to be done, kids need to be driven and picked up. I have a bunch of reading, both in the books we have for class and online articles, that I have to do for my class every week, so that takes up most of my Monday reading time. It’s been a busy but all-around pleasant month, I’d say.
14. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (no review, read as part of my own personal Read Harder Challenge)
15. Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) by Devri Walls (review to come, read as part of a blog tour)
Not a bad month, although I do miss the days where I was reading 20+ books a month! Some of the things I’ve been reading lately have taken more mental space, though, so I’ve been reading them more slowly and pausing to look up things I don’t understand or further delve into concepts that intrigue me. Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg, for example, was only 170-some pages and a small-sized book at that, but he’s such an intelligent author that I had to reread things, look things up, pause to write down full paragraphs of things I wanted to remember, etc. Fiction of that length, I could normally blow through in a day, but this book took me several days. Six books ticked off of various reading challenges; it was a much slower month for that.
Reading Challenge Updates
Major slowdown this month! S’alright though, I’m not in a big hurry this year. I’ve been overwhelmed a little with class reading and the stack of library books I brought home last month (I still have three left!!!) and my outside reading for class, plus a book I need to read for an author talk coming up and another one I need to read for a blog tour, plus next month’s book club pick. Throw me a raft, I’m drowning here, people!!!
Here’s what my challenges look like right now.
Slowly but surely!
State of the Goodreads TBR
OY. 109 books, people. I’M DROWNING HERE. I’m dreaming of a deserted island, just me, a source of water, food, and shelter, and my TBR. No responsibilities, nothing to do, muscle atrophy no longer exists so I never have to get up and move around again, just endless time to read. Can you believe my TBR was at a cool 81 books a few months ago? *lolsob*
Books I Acquired in February 2020
NONE, thankfully! 😀
Bookish Things I Did in February 2020
It was a good month for bookish things! I heard author Andrew Solomon speak about mental health midmonth; if you’ve never read him before, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity is incredible (he has others that I really want to read as well). And our monthly library book discussion group discussed In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park. It was a lively discussion and we were all pretty horrified by the living situations there. I came to the group having read several other books on North Korea, whereas this was the first for most members.
I also attended a lecture by Dr. Ross Greene, psychologist and author of books like The Explosive Child. He had a lot of really poignant things to say about kids with challenging behaviors, so at some point, I’m going to read his books for further information.
Current Podcast Love
Still listening to Unorthodox (and loving it!) and probably will be for a few months more, at the rate I’m going. Once the weather warms up, I’ll listen to it while I walk, which might help. I have a list of things to listen to next, but who knows when that will be!
Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge
So I thought maybe last month I’d let this go for a bit, but I ended up grabbing the copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez that had been lingering on my shelf for like fifteen years at this point.
I should have let it linger longer.
Not a huge fan of this one. I didn’t consider it any kind of epic love story at all, just kind of…a guy with a bizarre lifelong obsession with a woman who couldn’t really have cared less. Also, the guy ended up being a weirdo creeper who was sleeping with the teenager he was supposed to be a guardian of when he was in his 70’s, and there was a lot of talk about bowels (like this example sentence: ‘But the decisiveness of her message shook him to his very marrow, and when he walked into the cool shadows of the drawing room he did not have time to think about the miracle he was experiencing because his intestines suddenly filled in an explosion of painful foam.’), and a mention of liking the scent of one’s own asparagus pee.
So, you know, you can totally see why it’s a classic…
That said, I’m marking it down as the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge prompt of a classic you didn’t read in school. Done!
Not sure what I’ll read next for this; maybe I’ll actually take this month off to play catch up…
Real Life Stuff
Busy month! We attended my son’s school play, The Foreigner, which was hilariously funny. I seriously had tears during a few of the scenes. Part of it was just knowing the kids, but mostly it was because they’re so talented and played their roles so very well. If you ever get a chance to see this play, DO IT. It’s fabulous.
It’s been a busy month for my daughter’s Daisy scout troop, with a lot of different events. She loves it so much, and I’m glad that she’s enjoying it and that her troop is so active. I’m so grateful to her troop leader; I don’t think I could do what she does, so I need to tell her how awesome she is. 🙂
I’m still loving every second of my Introduction to Judaism class. It’s all so moving and resonates with me deeply. I’m getting to know some of the other members in my class and I come home each week invigorated, inspired, and proud of myself for making this leap. I’m so glad I signed up for this. We have a class Shabbat dinner, followed by services, in mid-March and I’m REALLY looking forward to that!!!
March in general is already shaping up to be ridiculously busy. There’s a documentary I’m wanting to see (I missed the one in February due to weather). I’m going to see a presentation on Anne Frank at the library, along with a presentation on Fleetwood Mac. My daughter’s school is performing a musical, so that should be cute, and the school also has what’s known as Heritage Night, where the students and families can share their cultural background via food, music, presentations, etc. Author Nicola Yoon is coming to my area mid-month, there’s a local library book sale (because I totally need MORE books to read right now!), my son has a choir performance, and my library book discussion group will be discussing The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff. SHEESH. Can anyone figure out where I’ll squeeze in time to read???
Here’s to the coming of longer days and good health (begone, corona virus!) for everyone in March!!! How was your February?