THIS IS THE BEST DAY YET. Continue reading “10 Day Book Blog Post Challenge #4: Book Cover Likes and Dislikes”
I have two difficult drafts that I’m working on that I keep editing and restructuring and sometimes avoiding, which is why I haven’t been posting as often. I need a break from the emotional energy required by those posts.
So on to books.
I am currently reading…
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman
This is a reread; I bought an awesome paperback edition of this classic on my last Powell’s trip and have been itching to revisit the story. I’m picking up on more of the humor this time around and the story is flying by. Goldman’s word choice and structure are so creative. I’m having a lot of fun.
- Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett
A quick Google Search of this author proved…unfortunate. So that’s kind of bumming me out. But I’m not very well-versed in matters of race and institutional prejudice. I want to be better. I’m trying to get woke.
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
This one may take me a while to get through, but I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would. I normally don’t like history – and Claire’s husband Frank is a history buff, which is the WORST – but the female characters in this book are so enjoyable that I’m loath to skip this adventure.
- The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
I’m a little horrified that “autism romance” is a genre…but I just watched a documentary about the diversity and progessiveness of romance, so I’m able to appreciate this story more than I might have a couple months ago.
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Woof. This might be going on the Books to Sell pile soon. I’m only a few pages in. My uncle talked it up so much – the author is a Christian, this book won the Pulitzer prize – so I want to give it a fair shot. All my Googling, though, shows there’s not much to the story: a dying pastor chronicles his life for his young son. I’ll try my hardest, but no promises.
I plan to pick up…
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I’ve honestly avoided this book since its release. My last foray into folklore-inspired fantasy became a drudge when an initially-interesting novel asked me to commit tons of worldbuilding details to memory. But people have been losing their minds over this book and I’ve heard the romance is reminiscent of Zutara. I saw it, I checked it out, here we are.
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I’m into bummer accounts of marriage these days. Ooh, a woman struggles to stay faithful after her husband’s imprisonment? Sounds like fun.
- Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
I followed a Youtuber’s recommendation and fell in love with the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. That Youtuber raved about this series and its romance, so I bought the first book.
I had to put down…
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Much as I loved the writing style, I wasn’t all that interested in the title character’s sad life. Just did a Wikipedia scan; I made a good choice.
- Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
I loved the first third of this book, but reading about her marriage for some reason kicked up my anxiety. I’ve decided family drama is too stressful.
- I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
I don’t think I like Forman’s writing as much as I once did. I revisited If I Stay recently and felt nothing. As soon as the first-person perspective started in this novel, I found I did not care.
- Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
WORST Spiritual Health book so far. de Bono comes across as an arrogant, small-minded asshat. His book opens with a claim that his method is the MOST IMPORTANT cultural change in the last three hundred years. Doooooooouche.
- My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
I knew this book would be brutal, but I couldn’t stomach the rape that occurs at the end of the first chapter. I tried my best, but that was too much for me.
- The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg
Berg writes a perfectly fine account of author George Sand, but the protagonist spends more time on her family history than I can honestly care about.
I’ll be spending lots of time with these books while I puzzle over my upcoming blog posts.
I hate historical fiction, but I’ll read historical books that try their damnedest to be interesting.
If a book adds a serial killer, say, or some girl power, I’ll come sniffing around.
Under a Painted Sky caught my interest.
Two women of color become unlikely allies and go on the lam together?
And they meet and fall in love with cowboys!?
I had this EXACT fantasy in the fourth grade!
The book starts out in medias res, which I like. I prefer to get right to the action.
And WHAT A START:
They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty Yorkshire thought it would strike with a scrubbing brush. [….] Does killing a man who tried to rape me count as murder?
WOW. SOLID beginning! I know just enough to want to know more. Until…
My mind wheels back to twelve hours ago, before the world turned on its head….
YOU’RE ALREADY LOSING ME, STACEY.
You mean to tell me you’ve just warded off an attempted rape by killing your attacker and your FIRST thought is to reminisce about the morning? I AM NOT CONVINCED. Any interest I had in the murder is dwindling.
Sammy, our protagonist, remembers being angry with her father that morning.
I strapped on the Lady Tin-Yin’s violin case and glared at my father, who was holding a conch shell to his ear. I thought it was pretty when I bought it from the curiosity shop back in New York. But ever since he began listening to it every morning and every evening, just to hear the ocean, I’ve wanted to smash it.
All right, we’re back on track. Sammy is mad at her dad and I want to know why. Is this a depression symptom? Does he lay around listening to the shell all day? I’d be mad, too.
Noisily, I stuffed a tin of peppermints into my case for the children’s lessons, then proceeded to the door. Unlike Father, I kept my promises. If a student played his scales correctly, I rewarded him with a peppermint. Never would I snatch the sweet out of his mouth and replace it with, say, cod-liver oil. Never.
Wait… Is this something you would actually do, Sammy? Is this a joke? Is this something your father would do? I don’t know enough about either of you to guess. Then again, we’re only two pages in.
Finally, Sammy gives some hint as to why she’s angry with her father:
“You said we’d move back to New York, not two thousand miles the other way.” New York had culture. With luck, I might even make a living as a musician there.
Wait a minute… Did you…not realize…where you were moving? I’M NOT CLEAR AS TO THE SITUATION. I’m imagining this girl traveling 2000 miles in the opposite direction thinking she’s headed to New York. And that makes me feel some REAL UNCHARITABLE THINGS.
Okay, we’re only on page 2. I’m sure I’ll get more context later.
Oh, it sounds like Sammy’s father moved to California for the gold rush. That gives me a LITTLE more information. But Sammy’s not having it – she leaves the house.
I want to jump in and mention that there’s an 8-hour time skip between this passage and the next. I mention this because I MISSED THE TIME SKIP, which greatly influenced my reading of the next passage.
Anyway, 8 hours pass and Sammy is walking home when she smells smoke. She runs home and finds her father’s store burned to the ground. Stacey Lee simultaneously describes the store as an ashy ruin and a wall of heat. I’m not sure what’s going on.
I would like to mention that, at this point, we’re only on page 4.
On page 5, a background character drops this bomb: Sammy’s father is dead.
This is where the time skip might have helped me.
I read this and thought, “SHE WAS JUST TALKING TO HIM TWO SECONDS AGO,” when, in reality, it had been 8 hours.
Then I realized that didn’t help the situation.
The father appears ONCE for TWO PAGES before he DIES. Oh, excuse me, BURNS ALIVE. And this in a novel that opened with a murder. TOO MUCH IS HAPPENING.
Sammy feels stabs of guilt:
I shuddered and then my chest began to rack so hard I could scarcely draw a breath. Smoke engulfed me, thick and unyielding, but the awful truth rooted me to the spot: after I’d given my last lesson of the day, I’d dawdled along the banks of the dirty Missouri, throwing stones instead of coming home directly.
Did you? Because I remember a fight between you and your father followed by the announcement of his death and NOTHING ELSE.
Oh, Father, I’m sorry I argued with you. I’m sorry I left with my nose in the air.
A little guilt is understandable, even without much context for the rest of their relationship.
Were you remembering that when the smoke robbed you of your last breath?
That’s a bit dramatic…
You always said, Have patience in one moment of anger, and you will avoid one hundred days of sorrow.
Oh, he ALWAYS said, that did he? I wouldn’t know; I only knew him for TWO PAGES.
My temper has cost me a lifetime of sorrow. And now, I will never be able to ask your forgiveness, or see your kind face again.
This. Is. Too. Much. We are only 6 pages into this novel. There’s not enough context for me to understand this relationship and not enough room for me to process what this death means to the protagonist. This whole premise feels beyond rushed.
The next chapter opens with several townspeople gossiping about Sammy:
“She’s been standing there over an hour,” a man muttered to another as they passed by.
COOL IT, BOOK. WE’RE ON PAGE 7.
The townspeople say some other horrid, racist things that STILL DON’T FEEL EARNED. Frontloading angst is a STRATEGY, but it’s not working for this book.
Sammy makes this reproach:
Fly, you crows. My father was not a spectacle. He was the greatest man I ever knew. He was my everything.
I WISH I HAD KNOWN HIM FOR MORE THAN TWO PAGES.
Things get far worse from here.
Sammy describes her astrological sign; she mentioned it once earlier, but now she goes into more detail:
A child born in the Year of the Snake was lucky. But every so often, a Snake was born unlucky.
“This is always true of Snake children…except when it’s not.”
Mother died in childbirth, a clear indication that my life would be unlucky.
OF COURSE SHE DID.
To counteract my misfortune, a blind fortune-teller told Father never to cut my hair, or bad luck would return. In addition, she said I should resist my Snake weaknesses, such as crying easily and needing to have the last word.
…did he do it? Have you been growing out your hair ever since? ARE THOSE YOUR ACTUAL WEAKNESSES? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS ASTROLOGICAL DIAGNOSIS?
Enough of that; time to introduce Sammy’s would-be-rapist:
“‘Tis a shame about your daddy,” said a familiar voice. Our landlord, Ty Yorkshire, shook his head.
I immediately pictured Norm McDonald as Colonel Sanders. Solid association.
When was the last time a book I read featured a Southern villain? Why do I have a bad feeling about this all of a sudden.
Oh no…I remembered. Now I can’t get Kady Cross out of my head!
“My best building, too,” he said in his rapid speech that caused his jowls to shake.
Oh. So not a fancy Southern drawl, as I assumed.
“Sometimes you roll snake eyes.”
I gasped. He knew my Chinese lunar sign?
This is what did me in. I can’t deal with stupid heroines. Still, I thought I could do one more page.
Scanning page 9, I found Sammy by the river about to throw herself in.
SUICIDE. ON PAGE 9.
This is way too much drama for me to care about. So long, female friendship. Thanks for nothing, historical fiction. See you never.
I’ve rejoiced my parents’ last day of school. I’ve purchased aloe for a terrible sunburn. I’ve broken out the baby powder for 80-degree days.
Summer is upon us.
That means it’s time to read. A lot.
If you’re looking for suggestions, I have TRILLIONS. I even organized them from fluffy to thought-provoking, with ample gray area for darker reads.
Here they are in list form. I’ll start with the fluffiest and get progressively more…mature? Serious? Literary? Whatever.
YA: Young Adult
CR: Currently Reading
TBR: To Be Read
- The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (YA)
A 14-year-old Manhattanite finds out she’s actually a European princess. I will never not recommend this book.
- When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (YA, TBR)
Two teens with clashing personliaties meet and presumably fall in love at computer camp. I will note that I bought this for $3 at a book sale solely because of the iced coffee on the book jacket.
- My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
An absolutely insane choose-your-own-adventure romance. Your choices include a sharp-tongued aristocrat, a half-dressed Scotsman, an intrepid explorer, and several fantastical creatures of dubious sanity. Rated NC-17. No, I’m not kidding.
- Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe (YA)
Forensics fanatic Jasmine Callihan, along with her colorful group of friends, tries to solve a mystery involving a cat, a severed thumb, and Kermit underpants. Hilarity ensues. This is the funniest book I’ve ever read, hands down, and the biggest influence on my writing style. Show some RESPECT.
- The Selection series by Kiera Cass (YA)
Published in the wake of The Hunger Games, these books ask an important question, namely: What if the monarchy participated in a “Bachelor”-style reality show to pick the new queen? THESE BOOKS ARE SO DUMB…but I own the entire series, including the spin-offs, which have made me weep REAL TEARS.
- The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman (TBR)
Good girl Rachel Friedman shocks everyone by buying a ticket to Ireland on a whim. I keep buying travelogues with mixed results, so we’ll see how this goes.
- Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley
An artist’s tale of her DIY wedding in comic book format. Includes recipes, photos, practical wedding tips, and pages soaked with my tears.
- Less by Andrew Sean Greer (TBR)
Author books whirlwind speaking tour to cope with ex’s wedding. I’m guessing he Finds Love and Learns About Himself…but the book won the Pulitzer prize, so it has to be good,
- The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna (YA, CR)
Sophie Sophia, like her father before her, has an active imagination. JUST KIDDING! She HALLUCINATES! Or does she…? A thoughtful look at mental illness in hot pink packaging.
- Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
Follows a New York writer as she falls in love with French cuisine. Includes many recipes I will never attempt and one for profiteroles I might.
- Dramarama by E. Lockhart (YA)
Small-town girl and her gay best friend navigate theater camp politics. Come for the amateur musicals. Stay for the smart handling of sexuality, race, and identity.
- Ship It by Britta Lundin (YA)
A slash shipper and an inexperienced actor go on tour following a PR slip-up. I thought it would be silly romp about shipping culture, but its deep dive into representation and belonging broke my stupid heart.
- The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (YA)
Bisexual bad boy Lord Henry “Monty” Montague takes a trip with sister Felicity and secret crush Percy that turns into a piratical adventure full of…frank discussions about race and sexuality? WHAT?
- If I Stay by Gayle Forman (YA)
Girl hospitalized following a car accident ponders whether she wants to keep living. This was THE book in 2009 and it made everyone cry. Think The Notebook for teens, only interesting and well-written.
- The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (YA)
Private school girl infiltrates all-male secret society. Alternate title: A Young Girl’s Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy.
- The Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore (YA)
Fast-paced, female-led fantasy novels with a feminist bent. Though all three books are excellent, Fire is my favorite.
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (YA)
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” That first line was all the context I had going into this book. I’ve read lots of fantastical forbidden love stories in my day; I don’t often get to read one this well-written. Also, winner of the award for MOST TRAUMATIZING DEATH SCENE. I READ THIS AT WORK. I WAS UNPREPARED.
- The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (YA)
Grimm’s Fairy Tales…IN SPACE. Series highlights: Scarlet falling for a terse streetfighter in Scarlet and all the characters joining forces to abduct royalty in Cress.
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (YA)
Six teenage criminals pull off an impossible heist. Don’t let the book’s thickness fool you – the plot moves fast. Contains multiple romances and a gunslinger(!).
- The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (YA)
Pyschic-adjacent Blue meets a band of prep school boys with an unnatural interest in Welsh kings. Home to THE GREATEST YA HERO in recent memory. The Raven Cycle? More like the RONAN Cycle.
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (YA)
Anxious teenager Asa Holmes joins her exuberant best friend in a money-making scheme that results in Asa confronting her issues with intimacy, as well as her waning mental health. Contains incredibly-accurate and validating depiction of anxiety.
- Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (YA)
On orders from her deceased aunt, Jane travels to the mysterious mansion Tu Reviens, where things get weird as hell. That’s all I’ve got.
- The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew
Alternate history exploring a modern-day Third Reich. Picked this up at a Blind Date with a Book giveaway. No regrets.
- Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew
Illustrator Mari Andrew reassures “unsuccessful” millennials with her own journey through early adulthood. Buy this for your sad 20-something friends.
- The Happiness Project, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
Chronicles Gretchen Rubin’s attempt to increase her happiness in 12 months with charts and research. Eat, Pray, Love for the left-brained set.
- Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Follows the life of a maid having an affair with a wealthy lord in the 1920s. It’s deeper than you would expect.
- You Can’t Touch my Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Humorous and thoughtful take on race relations in America. Contains one of my favorite passages on sidewalk rage ever printed.
- Would You Rather by Katie Heaney
Writer Katie Heaney comes out as gay after 28 years believing herself straight. This book came out in May; I’ve already read it four times. Will appeal to anyone who has moved to a big city, struggled with anxiety, or watched “The L Word.”
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Gay’s essays deconstruct “perfect” feminism, popular television, rape culture, and use of the word “girl.” Now available in pink!
- Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
Evans ties modern church pitfalls with her own experiences using the seven sacraments. Perfect for depressives dealing with a crisis of faith. (Meaning ME. IT’S PERFECT FOR ME.)
- Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill/Chemistry by Weike Wang
Two stream-of-consciousness novels about women battling mental breakdowns. These books are weirdly similar, but I love them both.
- The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
After her grandfather dies unexpectedly, a young woman traces his origins to a village that once harbored an escaped tiger. That sound you hear is my stupid heart breaking all over the pages.
- The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whitehead (TBR)
A novel about the Underground Railroad…except, in this story, it’s a literal railroad. Also a Pulitzer Prize winner, AND I’ve heard the author namedropped by my two favorite podcasters.
- Hild by Nicola Griffith (CR)
A novelist’s take on medieval warrior princess St. Hilda of Whitby. Called “one of the best novels ever.” So far my experience fits that description.
Good thing I minored in drama. (Only metaphorically. Just go with it.)
Which book destroyed my reading freedom like a terrorist?
WELCOME, FOLKS, TO JUDITH FERTIG’S THE CAKE THERAPIST!!
The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig
If you want me to like you, buy me books.
If you want me to love you, let me buy my own.
Graduating from college netted me cash and gift cards from various relatives, including my brother’s-in-laws. Because they don’t know me well, they sent me a nice note and a Barnes and Noble gift card.
I couldn’t wait to spend it.
With celebratory spirit I entered Maplewood Mall’s giant Barnes and Noble, skirting away from my aunt’s beloved used section to ogle the New Releases.
There I saw the perfect book.
An imaginary salesman popped up next to me as I drooled over the cover: “This book has EVERYTHING: rainbow cakes, magical realism, plot for DAYS…just LOOK at that cover!”
My aunt came over to squint at the price tag. “You could get FOUR used books for this price,” she muttered.
I ignored her and bought the book anyway.
I should have listened.
I’d purchased a similar book three years earlier called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (and I have a great story about how that book betrayed someone else…but now is not the time.) In it, the protagonist learns she can taste others’ emotions in the food they make, something she discovers after her dissatisfied mother bakes her a birthday cake. I read that book expecting it to lean into the magical realism and found a very different story waiting for me. Though the story’s magical elements play less of a role than I expected, they still serve a purpose in exploring the emotions of the protagonist and her outlook on the people in her life.
Long story short: the flavor ability functions as an exploratory tool rather than a gimmick.
Here’s how The Cake Therapist betrayed me:
Judith Fertig used an interesting premise to sell a boring 1940’s mystery.
Much like the character I described above, protagonist Neely can taste feelings in food. More interestingly, she can pinpoint the particular flavor someone needs to either incite or quell a specific emotion. I thought that sounded PRETTY NEAT, like this decade’s Chocolat. Right? RIGHT, JUDITH?
A look at the cover reveals specific uses for different flavors: cinnamon for remembrance, orange for wake-up calls, and plum for…pep, I guess?
Surprise! Those are the only three flavors discussed in the book!
I’d pictured Neely acting as a therapist in secret; she’d listen to her friends blab about their problems and make them a “pick-me-up” that, through unique flavor combinations and witchery, would tap into their emotions and make them feel better.
I was excited to see what flavors Fertig assigned to different personalities. DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW FASCINATING THAT PROSPECT IS TO ME, JUDITH? YOU ESSENTIALLY UNLOCKED A NEW SORTING HAT. IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES: VANILLA LOVERS LACK DISCIPLINE, RED VELVET EATERS NEED AFFECTION, AND SO ON AND SO FORTH.
Neely pulls the “therapist” act maybe twice, though I can’t remember in what context. She spends most of her time trying to remember a flavor she just can’t recall.
But enough of that noise; there’s a mystery afoot!
The novel kept jumping back in time to the 1940s to take a not-so-interesting look at a poor Jewish family living in Neely’s hometown. I knew the flashbacks had to have some importance, but I couldn’t figure out what this gritty historical tale was doing in a chipper magic cake novel.
At the very end, Fertig tried to tie the two stories together by having Neely solve a decades-old mystery with her magic powers. I felt gypped. Where was the cake therapy? Where were the flavor assignments? If anything, the “cake therapist” portions felt like padding for a poor man’s Brooklyn.
All along, Neely’s magical reputation was a gimmick. Fertig showed no actual interest in the idea beyond using it as a framing device for her actual plot.
How DARE you, Judith.
Oh, and the flavor Neely was trying so hard to remember? Cinnamon.
Girl, how could you not remember cinnamon!? What is wrong with you!?
Somebody solve THAT mystery.
For round 2, I picked:
Aaron Burr from Hamilton
Kylo Ren from Star Wars
Most know Aaron Burr as the man who shot Alexander Hamilton. In the musical, his personality boils down to strategic passivity and resentment at playing second fiddle to the brash, inelegant Hamilton.
Kylo Ren, the new trilogy’s polarizing villain, idolizes Darth Vader (like many Star Wars fans his age.) Vader possessed the presence, power, and certainty Ren lacks. Ren spends most of his time throwing tantrums and holding grudges. He also enjoys pointless one-on-one duels and failing to blow things up.
Both of these men can hold a grudge; I can see them spending many a night bemoaning their past wounds over pints of Sam Adams.
Both have wrestled with uncertainty and indecision before landing on a single course of action: attain power, no matter the cost.
Kylo Ren isn’t…the smartest of villains. His tendency to rush into situations guided by emotions leads to grand failures for the First Order.
Burr, on the other hand, has the patience to play the long game as well as the drive to take action.
Ren needs Burr standing in Hux’s usual spot at his shoulder, whispering, “Wait for it…”
Verdict: SHIP IT
For round 1, I picked:
Daine Sarrasri from the Tortall Universe
Alexander Hamilton from Hamilton
Daine Sarrasri, the lame follow-up protagonist to Alanna of Trebond, almost made me swear off fantasy. Daine represents everything I hate in female characters: she has the power to talk to animals, but is too incompetent to be of much use. She’s so pure and shy that the plot practically glosses over her. The Strong Female Character trope rose as a reaction to characters like Daine. Shyness, femininity, and empathy don’t have to result in bland, weak, useless characters, yet HERE WE ARE.
You either love or hate Alexander Hamilton, the fast-talking immigrant from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magnum opus. He outwits British armies! He fights political corruption! He stands up for his ideals! He cheats on his wife! A bunch! Enough times that his murder at the hands of Aaron Burr comes as a relief!
All arguments about his complexity aside, Alexander makes a TERRIBLE husband. He picks work over his wife every time, flirting with his sister-in-law through letters meanwhile.
Let’s say both Schuyler sisters are out of the picture. Would this arrogant founding father enjoy being eclipsed by a woman who has supernatural abilities?
“I’m a wizard with the press!”
“I’m a literal wizard.”
“I defeated the British armies with my tactical brilliance!”
“I deposed a king by storming his castle with an army of zombie dinosaurs.”
While Daine isn’t the one-upping type, no way would Alexander be cool with sharing the spotlight.
As much as I hate Daine, she deserves better.
Verdict: R.I.P. IT