Book Review: Keeping the House by Ellen Baker

23 Apr

keeping the house

Keeping the House by Ellen Baker

Dolly moves with her new husband to a small town in the conformist 1950s. As she strives to fit in with the local ladies’ group and please her ungrateful husband, she finds herself getting solace from cleaning a big, old house with a shady history attached to it. Dolly learns the story of the family who owned the old house, which reaches back to the 1890s. And boy. Is it a story! That family had a life that seemed to be awfully full of melodrama, romance and even mistaken identities…just as your best soap opera would be.

This book is nearly 600 pages long. I read it in three days in 100 page gulps.

Now, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. Obviously, I found it pleasant enough to swallow it nearly whole. It was perfectly nice and engaging. The chapters were short, which always makes me read faster since there’s always time for just one more chapter. But will I actually remember anything about this book? I don’t think so. The characters were just too generic, and the story was too silly. This book gets a very strong, “eh, OK” from this reviewer.

Unfortunately, I think I’ll have a few reviews like this over the next few weeks. I am preparing to move at the end of May (to God knows where! LIFE IS TERRIFYING/EXCITING), so I’m trying to read all the books that have somehow ended up on my bookshelves here but I don’t want to take with me. I honestly don’t even know how I have some of these on my shelves…but they must be read!


Homer Tuesday: Lazy.

22 Apr


I never feel lazy when Homer is around. He can outlazy absolutely anybody.

Friday Fun Day – 4/18/2014

18 Apr


Happy weekend from beautiful, beautiful Austin! Austin may be way too hot in the summer and pretty dreary in the winter, but it really comes alive in the spring. Everything is so green! I just can’t get over it. This view is on basically the best running trail ever. I will definitely miss this when I leave.

Happy Easter to those who celebrate, and happy egg-shaped candy time to those who don’t! I have a theory that all candy tastes better in when shaped like an egg. It must be some magical ratio or something.

What I learned

  • Those people who have been bugging me to watch True Detective? Yeah. They were all right. It hits so many of my favorite things – fantastic acting, truly great writing and a Southern grotesque literary feel. Um yeah. Into it.
  • A group of cats is called a clowder.  A clowder. I need to use that word more.


  • California Through My Lens gives some great tips about what to see in my home state. I particularly like this list of places to stop on the PCH. Word of advice though: If you go to the beautiful Little Corona Del Mar tidepools in Orange County and touch all the shells and whatnot, your hands may smell like rotting fish so badly that you’ll need to pull over at a McDonalds and wash them. Not that I know this from experience.
  • This longform NY Times article about the completely botched “investigation” in Tallahassee, FL of a rape by a FSU football player made me so angry I could hardly think straight. Consider this a trigger warning though, as this story has some disturbing rape allegations.
  • And on a completely different, frivolous note … Chocolate stout oat cake.
  • It’s bluebonnet season here in Texas, which is a big deal. And beautiful! Though this website is a bit tough to navigate, it does have some tips about places to go to find carpets of the flowers.
  • And if you need something to cheer you up after a long week, here are some squeaking baby sloths.

Book Reviews! YA! Fantasy! Sheryl Sandberg!

17 Apr

Yep. You’re reading that right. I managed to get through THREE books this week. This may be because I’m in full senioritis mode, and reading for fun sounds like a lot more fun than doing anything productive.

Here are my super short reviews, because now I have to actually get back to doing homework/work work. Whoops.

eleanor and park


Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

YA that doesn’t make me cringe. Girl meets boy, they hold hands (the description of holding hands was weirdly sexy, in a good way), girl’s family is deeply messed up, and boy tries to help her, although he’s 16 and doesn’t really get it. Although this could easily fall into the trap of being overly sentimental, Rowell keeps the plot and characters achingly REAL. These aren’t heroic kids. They are trapped by being too young, by having family responsibilities, and not even being able to drive well. The book  feels like high school, though certainly a bit more romantic. I read it in almost one go. Sometimes it feels so good to have a book that is just so readable and easy, especially when otherwise you’re reading a ton of dense, scholarly articles. Blergh.

natural history dragons

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

Recently, I have been trying to expand my reading horizons into genres I don’t usually read. I had seen this on a NPR list as the best fantasy of 2013, so I decided it would be a decent choice (and yes, I realize that by choosing genre books off NPR lists, I’m not stretching myself that far. It’s a start, ok?!). This is a “memoir” of Lady Trent, your typical upper crust woman from the 18th or early 19th century who is smart, but held back by social convention. Her obsession? Dragons. Soon, she’s off on an expedition to study them in the wild, leading to danger and mystery. Although I found the book started with a lot of promise, as soon as the focus became a trip to find dragons, I felt like it got super plot-focused instead of character-driven. I want to know more about Lady Trent herself, less about the dragons!

See. This is why I don’t do fantasy.

lean in

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Oh Lean In. I feel like it’s impossible to come to this book with a clean slate now. There’s been so many think pieces about it, so many opinions about Sandberg herself and so many spin-offs. There wasn’t anything of surprise in this book for me…but that’s also because I listen to feminist podcasts, read feminist blogs and am otherwise pretty aware of the current discussions. That being said, I would recommend this both younger women and definitely men who are unaware of many of the conflicts that come up with women and work. And yes, things are definitely easer for Sandberg. She can hire a nanny, she’s super privileged, etc etc etc, but that doesn’t mean that the issues she points out aren’t important or universal. I have personal experience with many of them in my own career. Believe me, when she said that women are more apt to just work really hard and expect to be given a promotion rather than ask for one, it hit home. It’s her solutions that are a bit tone deaf. Sure, lots of ladies would like to hire extra help or have the option of working from home. Many women don’t get any paid maternity leave (yayyyy America). But still, that doesn’t take away from her overall argument.

And since I’m job searching right now, I’m totally going to lean in and ask for more money. Cheryl Sandberg told me to!

Homer Tuesday — The Lazy Version

15 Apr


It can be hard to get anything done during the weekend when you have a cute cat lying on the bed. Another nap? Sure!

Friday Fun Day – 4/11/2014

11 Apr

Spring in Texas is really one of the most beautiful things ever. It almost makes the dreary winter and sweltering summer worth it.

What a week! I checked off some big academic milestones that are getting me ever closer to graduation, did my first reader’s advisory session with an undergrad student at the library where I volunteer (reader’s advisory = just recommending books to people based on what they like. It is AMAZING), and only half heartedly prepped for a 10k race I have on Saturday morning. I’m hoping this weekend will be half relaxing, half prep for the end of the semester, but it so rarely turns out that way. It’s more likely that it will be too much resting until Sunday, and then it’ll be a scramble to get ready for Monday. Story of my life.

What I Learned


Book Review: The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

10 Apr

the last picture show

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

I’ve now driven through West Texas five times, and every time I’m amazed at how open it is. How flat. How dusty. And I’m continually amazed that small, lonely freeway towns are there. Only now after reading The Last Picture Show, do I feel like I have any kind of insight to how it would feel to live in the middle of the Texas nowhere.

The Last Picture Show is set in a small North Texas town, where the teenagers are so bored that they find comfort in high school football, confusing, unsatisfying sex, shooting pool and drinking. Duane and Sonny are best high school friends who are trying to figure out what is out in the world after graduation, while Jacy, Duane’s girlfriend, navigates her own sexuality and its power over others.

McMurtry knows how to tell a coming of age tale, while still keeping an absolutely non-sentimental tone. This is not looking back at high school through a rosy lens, but rather with a sharpness and almost too harsh reality. This is not about high schoolers blooming, but rather them hardening into the people they have to be.

While Lonesome Dove, the other book I’ve read by McMurtry feels like a Western epic, The Last Picture Show is drama on a tiny scale, but not any less devastating.