Tag Archives: books

Book Review: These is my Words by Nancy E. Tucker

30 Apr

these is my words

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories by Nancy E. Turner

Why do I own this book? Did I buy it because I’ve been trying to read more Westerns while living in Texas? Did it get recommended to me? It is currently getting a 4.37 score on Goodreads with more than 36,000 ratings (!!!). Maybe I heard about it there? I have no idea, and yet it’s been sitting on my bookshelves for the past year.

Written as a diary, this book details Sarah’s life as a pioneer in Arizona. Not only does she detail the day-to-day drudgery of the life, but she also matter of factly (sometimes too matter of factly) tells of  Comanche raids, stagecoach robberies, murders and attempted rapes. And, of course, there’s a love story.

I gotta say, I don’t understand the general Goodreads adoration of this book. It’s fine. It goes quickly. There’s always lots of general pioneer-y stuff happening. But does it really grip you? Well, it certainly didn’t with me. I find Sarah to be just a shade too unlikeable to really enjoy being in her head. The love story is aggravating as it seems so unnecessary, but maybe that’s just because I’m a grumpy lady. The diary style gives the author permission to just jump from event to event without ever having to put together a satisfying narrative.

I don’t get it. I think I’m in the wrong here…but meh.

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!

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!

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.

Book Review: On my Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary

2 Apr

my own two feet

My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary

On my 11th birthday, my grandma took me to Barnes and Noble to choose out any book I wanted. This was a big deal, because not only was this one of the very few times that we didn’t go to a garage sale or thrift store to pick out books, but also I got to pick out a hardcover! As a kid, I was insanely into Cleary’s Ramona books, so I decided to get her memoir about her young adult life.

I immediately loved this book the first time I read it. College was a far away, vague idea for me at the time, but Cleary made even the mundane things seem exciting. Living in a boarding house! Having a PE major roommate! Eating a ton of avocados from an avocado tree! The book quickly became one of the few that went into my permanent library, which has now moved with me a few times.

I decided to re-read My Own Two Feet because not only does it cover her undergraduate years, but also her time at University of Washington’s library school and her first few years as a librarian. Since I’m in library school now, I wanted to re-read it to see if things have changed all that much since the 1930s. I quickly found out that they have…and they haven’t.

The same:

  • Cataloguing isn’t always the most exciting class.
  • There is an intense fear of the “cheapening of the profession.” When Cleary was in library school, they were all instructed to not accept a salary of less than $100 per month to keep the profession valued. Today, we are obsessed with accreditation and the purpose of the masters degree. This may be a library science battle forever.
  • There is a weirdly fierce, passive aggressive battle for jobs. And having to relocate for a position is certainly still a reality.

The different:

  • Cleary had to briefly hide her marriage because there was a rule of no more than one married female librarian at a branch at a time. Yeah…not a problem now.
  • Cleary got a C in a class for not smiling enough, according to the professor. Whoa. I would fail so many classes.

Overall, reading this as an adult made me love Cleary even more. She gets the vibe of library school so right, and simply tells what is wrong and right about it. This isn’t a flashy read, but it always rings true. I’m so glad I’ve had it as a type of guidebook since 11. I could’ve certainly chosen worse.

 

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

26 Mar

goldfinch

 “Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?”

Alright, Donna Tartt. You wrote your first amazing novel while still an undergrad. You dated Bret Easton Ellis. Your latest book has already been optioned for a movie. This is all so annoying.

And yet, I can’t help but love everything you write.

The Goldfinch starts with a tragedy, as thirteen year old Theo Decker’s world falls apart when his mother and he are involved in a bombing at a NYC art museum. In the mayhem, his mother is killed, and he ends up with a famous painting in his possession. This event and the painting looms over the rest of this 800 page book, as Theo scrambles from one tenuous living situation to another, meeting both scoundrels and lifesavers in Las Vegas, NYC and Europe.

The Goldfinch is one of those epic, crazy long novels that spans more than a decade and has idiosyncratic, yet fully-fleshed out characters. Every reviewer wants to compare it to Dickens, which seems totally fair. It is squarely in the world of orphan children, horrible step-parents, and ne’er do well friends who basically live on the streets. The language is gorgeous, the pacing is generally quick for a book of this type, and there are enough larger themes of beauty, art and love to make the book more than just a snazzy tale.

As I read through the reviews on Goodreads, it seems that people are in two camps when it comes to this book. You either love it and think it’s one of the best books of 2013, or you feel that it is vastly overrated, too long and generally not worth reading. As an English major, wannabe Art History minor, high-falutin’ but still likes a good story type, I’m firmly in the first camp. This is a book that I’ll be thinking about for a while, just as I did with Tartt’s other two books.

And now I just get to sit back and impatiently wait another decade or so to read Tartt’s next novel. I’m sure the wait will be worth it.

A Bookish Women’s History Month

19 Mar

I am still in the middle of the very long, but completely engrossing The Goldfinch, so I don’t have a book review this week. I can’t leave you hanging though! To make up for the lack of a book review, I started thinking of March themes I could write about. Books about spring? Too expected. National Nutrition month related books? Way too boring. National Brain Injury Awareness Month? Oh so depressing.

NATIONAL WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH! In honor of that worthy holiday, here are a few of my favorite lady characters and authors. If you want your daughter to grow up to be a slightly dorky, library type, throw some of these books at her.

Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

wrinkle in time madeleine l'engle

 

Meg is the character that all bookworm tween girls identify with. She is awkward, sometimes angry, and different, but also smart, caring and brave enough to kick some disembodied, evil brain butt. Meg shows how smarts and love win over looks, which, although now not a very revelatory thought, was a very comforting idea when I was twelve.

L’Engle’s ability to write about science and philosophy in a way that entranced even the least sciencey of kids is unparalleled. She  never talked down to her readers; instead she respected kids enough to believe that they could grasp crazy theories. I would really like to thank her for my knowing the word “mitochondria” before I ever took a biology class.

Ramona Quimby in The Ramona Series by Beverly Cleary

ramona quimby beverly cleary and cat

 

Oh, Ramona. It’s so tough to be Ramona. No one listens to her, she is perpetually in some sort of trouble with her parents or at school, and she has a bossy older sister. Ok, so sometimes I identified with that bossy older sister more than Ramona, but still, who doesn’t have a little bit of Ramona inside…especially when you get the urge to make a crown out of burrs you find in a vacant lot. Gah. I want to do that.

And Beverly Cleary! I love this lady! Her autobiography about her college years and her library school experience (oh yes, homegirl was a librarian) has been one of my life guides since I got it for my 11th birthday. She’s relatable, but awesome enough that you want to be her. Yes. My whole life is me trying to be Beverly Cleary. I also love the way she handles a cat.

Laura and Ma Ingalls in The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

little house illustrationlaura ingalls wilder

 

Aw, the original awesome lady series. As a kid who had a weird habit of fantasizing about living on her own, I was fascinated with the lives of the Ingalls girls. They survived blizzards, clouds of grasshoppers and prairie fires, while still having enough time to make molasses snow candy and play with a pig bladder balloon. How is this not the ideal life?! When I re-read the series as an adult though, I was more into Ma Ingalls, Laura’s mom. Living in the wilderness while her husband seemed to drag them all over the place must have been tough, but Ma is always super on top of everything. If I end up being a quarter as capable as her, I’m calling it a win.

And it’s hard to tell where the character of Laura Ingalls ends and the real lady begins, but she was able to write a series of beloved children’s books AND twist sticks of hay into firewood to keep her family from freezing. That puts you in a very select company.

Any lady writers that influenced you particularly? Or female characters? Share!