Book Bites 2

I have got to learn to bake scones.

Scones seem to be a predominant theme in cozy mysteries, or at least in the ones I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks. First there was The Secret, Book & Scone Society, which features a bakery that specializes in “comfort scones” completely customized to each diner. Then there was Brownies and Broomsticks, whose protagonist regularly bakes cheddar-sage scones. Fortunately for me, Brownies and Broomsticks at least had the decency to include recipes in the back.

I’ve been curious about cozy mysteries for a while and liked the general idea of the genre, so I finally decided to investigate. And I can’t mince this: the writing really threw me for a loop. My judgement of books is generally predicated on the quality of their writing. If the writing is bad or typo-ridden, it’s very unlikely I’ll give the book a good rating. The fact that I gave the first two books I read four stars apiece is a testament to the addicting nature of the stories, and possibly also to my newfound ability to lower my standards. (Look, that tends to happen as you get older and more disappointed with the world. I’m not proud of myself, I’m just saying.) I had originally planned to give each book three stars because that was what I honestly thought they deserved until probably about the last quarter, when everything suddenly became fascinating and the endings turned out to be extremely satisfying. I don’t know how they managed to hook me in, because the writing was uniformly awful. The prose was dumb. The dialogue was bad. The first two books read like they were ripped off of Wattpad. One of the three seemed to have a typo every other word, either because it wasn’t proofread or because the proofreaders didn’t know what they were doing. Two of the three had at least one serious error involving a homonym. I get that we’re all human and there’s only so much we can do, but the number of errors I’ve found in these books is ridiculous. It’s almost like the publishers are cutting out the proofreaders so they can print these faster, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they were.

In any case the writing clearly hasn’t put me off yet because I’ve read two of these things and am working on a third, so I suppose we’d better get on with it.

Obvious obligatory warning: There are spoilers.

Theme of the week: Cozy mysteries.


To Helvetica and Back
Paige Shelton

I’m a graphic designer and a card-carrying type/print nerd, so To Helvetica and Back seemed like a great place to start. This was the one that most convinced me that proofreading is not A Thing anymore, because it has at least one major continuity error, the prose is repetitive, and it gratuitously dips into the pluperfect several times mid-scene for absolutely no reason. There were innumerable typos that I would consider common among native English-speakers on the internet, but which are inexcusable in a professionally published work. It also became clear to me that Shelton doesn’t know the difference between “discrete” and “discreet.”

The valley was spectacular though. You could see part of the monastery’s walls and a few discrete houses around the perimeter.

Generally I take it for granted that most houses are separate units, given that we’d be calling them townhouses if they weren’t, so I’m assuming the intention here was to describe the houses as unobtrusive. I weep for the future of English.

The trouble for me, at least as far as abandoning this book and my headache went, was that the story was irritatingly addicting and I needed to know what was going to happen because I’m nosy as hell. The narrator, Clare Henry, is a mid-to-late-twenties (I think?) dork who works at The Rescued Word, a typewriter repair shop owned by her grandfather, Chester. Her duties also include restoring vintage books, selling stationery, and supervising her 17-year-old niece, Marion, who handles the custom stationery orders. They have a resident cat named Baskerville, son of their first cat, Arial. This shop is fucking GOALS. The details are something that Shelton actually did really, really well, because the type nerd in me was screaming like a little girl and wondering why The Rescued Word couldn’t be real and in Maryland. (And then, like the type snob I am, I started thinking I would’ve named my imaginary cats Avenir and Aperçu. Go figure.)

Clare and Chester generally have a quiet time at the shop, but things turn upside down when they discover a dead body in the alley out back of the shop, and they get swept into a murder investigation. Along the way Clare discovers strange numbers and letters scratched into the bars of a client’s typewriter and meets a hunky geologist, Seth Cassidy, who asks her out after she restores his copy of Tom Sawyer. I normally don’t go for romance, but this one was unobtrusive enough that I didn’t mind it. It was an important part of the story, but it didn’t overtake the plot. Seth was adorably dorky and apparently makes a mean lasagna, and I actually really liked him, even though I was suspicious of him for half the book. Their relationship almost seemed to be going a little too smoothly, though from what I’ve seen from both Helvetica and Book & Scone that seems to be somewhat typical for the genre.

Overall this book was kind of a mixed bag. It was riddled with typos, the dialogue was clunky, and the prose was just cringey, which is a shame because the book was actually genuinely funny.

Jodie honked the horn, causing Seth to jump and turn toward us.

Jodie smiled and waved. Seth waved hesitantly, until Jodie pointed at me in the passenger seat. Then Seth smiled and waved back confidently.

“It’s a wonder anyone has ever wanted to date either of us,” I said without moving my lips from a smile.

JFC. This is what I meant when I said these books read like they were ripped off of Wattpad. I loved this exchange until I got to “without moving my lips from a smile.” That sentence should have ended after “I said.” If Shelton was really convinced that I, the reader, would not understand that Clare was joking without her help, then she maybe could’ve written “‘It’s a wonder anyone has ever wanted to date either of us,’ I said, still smiling,” or something similar.

My other major gripe was that the plot was pretty predictable. There were a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming, but the general shape of it isn’t hard to grasp when you see these numbers:

11111438802966NW

I’m not sure why everyone in the book had such a hard time figuring out what these were. I mean, come on, those are clearly coordinates. Even if you don’t know how many digits there are in coordinates – I didn’t – the NW should give it away, and did give it away in my case. Given that there were coordinates scratched onto the typewriter and given that somebody was murdered shortly after demanding said typewriter, it wasn’t a big stretch to figure out that those coordinates probably led to a treasure of some kind. (Spoiler alert: I was right.) It also seemed clear to me that Seth would be able to identify those numbers, which he was.

Despite all these problems, I thought this was a good first installment: it was interesting, it was funny, it was easy to read, and it introduced me to an engaging cast of characters. I love The Rescued Word and I wish I could live in it. I probably won’t be pursuing this series, because I read the synopses of the next two books and wasn’t wildly intrigued, but I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things during this quarantine and may very well change my mind about this.


The Secret, Book & Scone Society
Ellery Adams

I usually don’t buy scones unless there’s literally nothing else to eat in the bakery case. This book is going to change that because Merlin’s Beard I really want a scone right now.

The story is narrated by Nora Pennington, a thirty-something woman living in Miracle Springs, North Carolina. Miracle Springs is a healing destination, and Nora has established herself as the owner of Miracle Books, a defunct train depot that she bought and turned into a bookstore. Her store is packed with books and shelf enhancers (tchotchkes used to brighten up the bookshelves), and she also provides comfortable chairs and coffee for those who want to sit and read. She calls herself a “bibliotherapist,” which means she helps people overcome their private issues by recommending a certain set of books for them to read. When a prospective client is murdered, Nora is called in to give a witness statement and connects with June Dixon and Hester Winthrop, who also met this client shortly before his death. Despite their testimony, the death is ruled a suicide by the corrupt sheriff, and the three women form the Secret, Book & Scone Society along with Estella Sadler, who owns the salon next door to Miracle Books. Together they make it their mission to solve the case and ultimately succeed, sharing their most intimate traumas with each other throughout the course of the book.

Bad news first: The writing in Book & Scone was just as cringey as it was in Helvetica, and the dialogue was pretty bad. On the other hand, there weren’t as many typos, so maybe it went through some form of proofing, and the book overall is funny and interesting, though the characters tend to fall into archetypes more easily than they do in Helvetica. There’s the shy, traumatized woman who just wants to keep herself to herself and avoids men like the plague. There’s the “town Jezebel,” who dresses provocatively and dates whatever she can get her hands on but – surprise! – has daddy issues. There’s the one obligatory character of color, who literally seems to be on her own as far as diversity goes. There’s the former “good girl” who made a mistake and became estranged from her family. And there is, of course, the evil real estate agency whose leadership has been popping in and out of each other’s beds and defrauding  local townsfolk on a grand scale.

Honestly, I don’t mind the archetypes too much. The characters were still fairly engaging, even if they were a bit flat. I don’t really know what it is, but I didn’t get into them as much as I’ve gotten into others; still, they weren’t unsympathetic, and they didn’t ruin the story, though they could on occasion be irritating.

“If you threaten those things, Estella, he’ll be your enemy. And what if we’re not around to rescue you the next time he gets angry?”

“I’ve never needed rescuing. I’m no helpless princess,” Estella snapped.

Before June could reply, Nora performed a referee’s time-out gesture.

Gag. Personally I would’ve said “Nora made a time-out gesture,” but that’s just me. And the thing is, Estella did need rescuing. She baited a terrible man and then started asking him stupid questions like “Just how ruthless are you, Fenton? Would you pay someone to push your partner in front of a train?” What the fuck? I thought these women were supposed to be smart. It’s true that Estella was smart enough to make sure she wasn’t truly alone with this man, but luring an entitled prick to a pool at night, stripping naked, and asking him really unsubtle questions about his possible role in a murder doesn’t seem smart to me. What exactly was the plan if her friends hadn’t been there? Would she have been able to fight him off, or was she banking on her friends to save her? Did she have any plans in the event that he, oh, I don’t know, maybe came to her salon after hours and tried to assault her again? Fill me in, Estella, because I’m kinda lost. I’m a huge fan of the “I Rescue Myself” thing, but I really don’t think the poolside interrogation would’ve ended well if June hadn’t intervened.

Of course, none of this really matters, because I will be continuing with this series. I can complain as much as I want, but in the end I can’t resist a series based around a bookstore and a scone shop. There’s two more books after this one, so I’ll be all set when the fourth one comes out in January. Maybe I’ll even have learned to bake scones by then. We’re still in lockdown and you can learn a lot when you’re bored, so the sky’s the limit.


Brownies and Broomsticks
Bailey Cates

I’m only on page 123, but Cates writes better than Shelton and Adams and I’m a sucker for witches and bakeries. The story is narrated by Katie Lightfoot, a 28-year-old pastry school graduate who’s just signed on as the head baker at Honeybee, a Savannah-based bakery owned by her Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben. Aunt Lucy and Katie’s mother are hedgewitches, which means Katie is too, because it’s hereditary. Their powers deal primarily with herbcraft, which is why Katie has always had a green thumb, to the point where she jokes that she couldn’t kill a plant if she tried. While preparing for Honeybee’s grand opening, Katie meets Mavis Templeton, a grouchy old bitch who threatens to shut down Honeybee before getting her neck broken, most likely by somebody whose life she ruined. To be clear, I am 100% onboard with this. The back cover describes Mavis as “curmudgeonly.” This is an extremely generous term. I was picturing an endearingly crabby old man with a heart of gold. Mavis Templeton is a wealthy, entitled c*** who has no qualms about using her money and influence to shut down businesses, get people blacklisted within their industries, and just generally destroy lives. She can’t even be bothered to pay the full catering fee she agreed to in writing, and that kind of behavior infuriates me. She gets bumped off on page 32 and that’s still not soon enough because she is genuinely awful and I will be so pissed off if I get asked to feel sorry for her later. The book is kinda hinting that she might become more sympathetic later.

My overall impressions so far have been positive. I really, really really love the premise. I had a feeling going into this book that this might be the one cozy mystery series that really gets me invested in the genre, because it’s pretty much what I was looking for. It’s funny and easy to read, it’s not badly written, and it has a magical bakery and a little black Cairn terrier named Mungo the Magnificent, who might or might not become Katie’s animal familiar. (I figure it’s either that or he’s a human who crossed the wrong witch, but I’m okay with that as long as he stays a dog.) If you don’t know what a Cairn terrier is, look them up because they’re seriously adorable. There are amazing foods scattered liberally throughout the 123 pages I’ve read, including but not limited to fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, crab cakes, spicy rice and beans, and peanut butter swirl brownies. There’s a couple recipes in the back, which I fully intend to try because SCONES. There’s even more than one character of color.

My main problem is pretty major, but I’m not actually sure if it’s a problem. Shortly after moving to Savannah, Katie mentions that she only sleeps for an hour at night but doesn’t seem to suffer for it.

For a while I’d wondered whether I was manic. However, that usually came with its opposite, and despite its recent popularity, depression wasn’t my thing.

Okay.

Not gonna lie, I had a full-on “You wanna run that by me again?” moment with this one. I had to wait almost a full 24 hours to cool down. I don’t want to rush into judgement, because I know I wouldn’t want my entire character to be judged by one misfired joke. Cates is clearly trying to be funny here. I know a failed joke when I see one, and this one is a failure of monumental proportions if it means what I think it means.

The trouble here is that Cates is suggesting that depression is a choice. She is implying that people decide to become depressed because they think it’ll make them cool. As somebody who has been living with a mental illness and will continue to do so despite the large body of people who think mental illness is self-indulgent and can be overcome through sheer force of will, I find this incredibly offensive and patronizing. Depression is not suddenly “popular.” The fact that celebrities have been increasingly talking about their struggles with depression and other assorted mental health issues doesn’t mean that depression is trendy or cool. Depression has probably been around since the dawn of man. We just notice it more nowadays because it is becoming more socially acceptable to talk about your feelings. The stigma is by no means gone and it’ll take a lot of hard work and social change to improve general attitudes towards mental illnesses and the people who have them, but we’re sort of getting there.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily what Cates meant to say. I don’t want to assume ill intent from bad phrasing. Maybe she just wanted to point out that more people are openly suffering from depression than before and it came out more flippant and dismissive than she intended. Maybe she thought it would be funny and didn’t have the background to consider the full ramifications. Maybe she’s suffering from depression herself and this is how she copes with it. Maybe in the future Katie will meet someone with mental health issues and acquire deeper empathy. (That one doesn’t seem too likely because these things aren’t that deep, but you never know.) I don’t have the context to make this call. This is the first book I’ve read of the Magical Bakery series, and the first of Cates’ works. I don’t know her, and I don’t know her style well enough to say if she was poking fun at depression. She hasn’t mentioned it since page 8, so I’m trying not to let it ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the book. On the other hand, if she did indeed mean it exactly how it sounds, then she and this series can go to hell. She is of course entitled to her own opinion and she has every right to write what she wants, barring hate speech, but I have the right to choose not to read things that piss me off.

My only other problem so far has been the slightly old-fashioned attitude towards courtship (Katie meets two hunky-dunkies, one of them keeps insisting on opening the car door for her and helping her down from his truck), but Katie likes it and that’s all that matters since she’s the one being wooed. The book has a host of promising female characters who all have names and talk to each other about something other than men and the men have all been playing supporting roles, so I don’t really care about this one.


Final Thoughts

Overall I’ve been enjoying this new genre (which isn’t new to other people, but is new to me). Cozy mysteries haven’t really been on my radar until fairly recently, and, yeah, they’re silly and cheesy and kinda dumb, but they’re also engaging, addicting, and pretty fast-paced. I like that each installment is quick and doesn’t require you to pay too much attention. I like reading about all the foods these characters eat, particularly in Brownies and Broomsticks. Of course the problem with that is that it makes me hungry, but yesterday I was prepared. I feel like I’m going to end up pursuing the Magical Bakery series with or without my qualms because any book that gives me an excuse to bake brownies is all right by me. For some reason I was really in Kitchen Mode yesterday and I wanted glass noodles and brownies, so I ended up making a three-course dinner for myself and my parents. We started with tofu with pickled mustard greens, which I made with both silken and medium-firm tofu, then had spicy glass noodles with ground pork (ma yi shang shu [蚂蚁上树], “ants climbing a tree”). I know, weird names, but I swear they’re both amazing and they don’t have ants in them. After dinner I made the brownies and omg they were AMAAAAAAAAZING. 😭❤️ We usually don’t make brownies but I’ve been craving them recently, so my mom brought home the Ghirardelli chocolate chip brownie mix.

So good. ❤️❤️❤️

Quarantine Day 62

I realized today that it’s been three months to the day since my quarantine began. That would explain why I no longer know what year it is.

I’ve been watching a lot of Try Guys and GoT lately and it does things to your brain, which is why I decided I needed to draw Margaery wearing Blake Lively’s 2018 Met Gala dress at like 2:30 a.m. Overall I’m pretty pleased with how she turned out, even if I did get lazy with the details. Mostly I’m pleased that I actually can draw something other than fat little people in onesies. Maybe I’ll clean her up later, though to be perfectly honest I probably won’t.

I also suffered a rather rude shock when Rusalka referred to my duck as a goose, which led to some rather hysterical googling on my part, during which I (1) concluded that the duck was a duck and (2) ran across an article about a blind, bisexual, and polyamorous goose. Go figure.

But I digress.

Lately I’ve been rolling around between numbness and irritability, which I mostly figure is the quarantine’s fault, though this hasn’t exactly been a cheerful year. At the same time, it worries me when people talk about reopening because I really don’t want us rushing into the projected second wave. On top of everything else, Maryland got hit hard by The Pollening right after the May polar vortex (???), which means itchy eyes and marathon sneezing. I hate spring.

On the slightly brighter side, things have evened out a lot work-wise since my last quarantine update, which is good because four of my projects ganged up on me and decided they all wanted to be shipped this coming week. I also finished Empress Dowager Cixi, so I finally got to start on some new books!

May has been pretty slumpy so far, but I got my second wind after finishing Cixi and celebrated by jumping into three books I’ve never read before. I haven’t gotten too far in any of them, but omg The Book of Longings is so good!!! I peeked at the first page when it arrived and liked what I saw, and later found it really hard to put down. The writing is gorgeous and I love Ana, and I can’t wait to see where this goes.

The Map of Salt and Stars is another one I’ve been looking forward to – I put it on hold at the library but then we went into quarantine, and I finally lost patience and ordered it from BN. I’m not really sure how I feel about this one yet, but I’m only 25 pages in and it’s very promising so far. I also started To Helvetica and Back, which has been sitting untouched on my shelf for years. Helvetica is my first foray into cozy mysteries, which is a genre I’m fairly certain I’ll love, and I’ve mostly been enjoying it, but I also keep getting distracted by the plethora of typos. Are cozy mysteries not usually proofread? The mistakes I keep finding in Helvetica are things that should’ve been caught, and they’re making me seriously wonder if I need to read the rest of the Dangerous Type mysteries. I really really really wanted to love Dangerous Type, but if this is a typical sample of the author’s writing I may have to pass on the rest of the series. Either way, I’m at the stage where I’m trying to finish Helvetica quickly so I can get back to the more promising books. I’m currently four books short of my goal of reading 15 books by the end of May, so I really need to get my ass in gear.

In food-related news, I’ve been eating extremely well, which is one of the bright spots amid the general quarantine gloom. This helps both me and the local restaurants, so I don’t feel too bad about going out because I want these places to still be around when we reopen.

Taiwanese popcorn chicken was one of the first things on my list:

THIS CHICKEN IS SO GOOD and now that I’m looking at this picture I’m legit thinking about hotfooting it down to the Taiwanese joint tomorrow and picking up some chicken and maybe a mango ice smoothie oh no oh no 😭 Now that I’ve said that it’s probably going to happen because I have the self-control of a five-year-old.

Mother’s Day weekend was a particularly good time, because we finally had an excuse to visit the new(ish) Choong Man Chicken in Germantown. The curry snow onion chicken was exactly as amazing as I remembered, and the nice people at CM threw in a couple of tubs of pickled daikon. I have a severe weakness for pickled daikon, and this one was particularly good. If you ever want to bribe me, feed me pickled daikon. I wish I were joking.

Not pictured: maguro sashimi from our favorite Japanese place, fried chicken wings, rice, curly fries, Japanese potato salad, and EVEN MOAR DAIKON PICKLES. It was a really good Saturday. Then on Mother’s Day proper we had homemade chili burgers and the leftover CM curly fries, because my mom happened to find a recipe for a copycat Tommy’s chili. We’re not actually sure if this is an accurate copy because Tommy’s is in LA and we don’t exactly have access to LA, but we’ve all agreed it’s amazing anyway.

Celebrations in quarantine have been pretty good so far because we can still pick up nice treats, like these cakes I got for my dad’s birthday:

And the Lindt chocolates I grabbed while I was at CVS, because I’d just read that damn Chocolat book and it really made me want chocolate:

And these adzuki donuts and mini stroopwafels, which I picked up by chance because that’s just who I am as a person. I didn’t even know stroopwafels could be that small but they’re really good so you sure as fuck won’t see me complaining 🤣

Rounding out the post with more pics of the Senior Nap Manager, because obviously I don’t photograph her enough.

Good night, world. x___x

April Reading Summary

It seems like I’m always in the middle of a crisis. Yesterday the crisis happened to be my foreign language dictionaries, which were blocking my document organizer for a while because Past Karo thought that would be a really swell place for them to live.

Don’t ask, I have no idea. Long story short, I needed to get to the scrap paper on the middle shelf, got fed up, and found a new home for the dictionaries on an actual bookcase. If you’re ever curious about the kind of chaos that tends to accumulate around me, just look at my printer table. That printer doesn’t even work but it’s been sitting there for months while I keep forgetting to call Epson because that’s just how I roll.

Anyway, it is now May and I’m currently at 40/60 books, which is pretty respectable, even if I am still working off that manga credit. I’m also in the middle of a reading slump, which hasn’t been helped along by the mild insanity this week inflicted on me, but I have time again so hopefully things will pick up this weekend because I have one giant obstacle standing between me and all the new books I’ve ordered during quarantine and I really want to read them naaaAAOooooOOooOOWWWwwwWW.


April Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. Three Souls – Janie Chang
  3. Chocolat – Joanne Harris
  4. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
  5. Herding Cats – Sarah Andersen

Total Pages Read: 1,476

Ugh. Comparing my progress over the last three months, I’ve realized that my page count keeps decreasing from month to month. I’m insanely OCD about dumb shit like this, so if this doesn’t motivate me I don’t know what will. On the bright side, my goal of diversifying my reading list is going pretty well, even though it may not look like it yet.


April Highlight

I was going to recap all five April reads but then I cut it down to my three faves and then my thoughts on Purple Hibiscus gained sentience and ballooned out of control, so now we’re down to one. The rest will have to wait for a later post.

Warning: Heartbreak and spoilers ahead.

Purple Hibiscus
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

WOW THIS BOOK. 😭💔 The thing is, my timing was horrible. I read Purple Hibiscus before I was done being upset with The Dove’s Necklace, so it caught me at a particularly vulnerable moment, although to be completely fair I’m 99.99999999% sure it would’ve been heartbreaking even if I’d gotten to it after a more cheerful book.

Purple Hibiscus is the story of a 15-year-old girl, Kambili Achike, who was raised in a super strict Catholic household. Her father, Eugene, is a devout Catholic who uses his vast wealth to improve the lives of the people in his community. He gives generously to both people and organizations and is generally good to the community, but he also holds his wife and children to impossible standards and inflicts insane punishments on them when they inevitably fail to meet his expectations. Over the course of the book he beats his wife to the point of miscarriage twice, pours boiling water over his children’s feet, throws a missal at Kambili’s brother Jaja, and beats Kambili almost to death. He does all this not because he enjoys hurting his family, but because he believes he needs to keep them from going down the path of sin and takes extreme measures to get them all into Heaven. As the story progresses and his life grows more stressful and less controlled, they also become convenient targets. (Point of interest: I thought abortion was banned by the Catholic Church. Don’t the forced miscarriages count as a mortal sin?)

Living in constant fear of her father, Kambili grows up quiet and withdrawn, to the point that she doesn’t really know how to interact with normal children when she finally meets some. Her life takes a drastic turn when she meets her father’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma, and the cousins she barely knows. Aunty Ifeoma is an outspoken professor employed by the University of Nigeria, and she’s wonderful. She has no patience for Eugene’s controlling ways, and gives Kambili and Jaja a safe space to learn how to be children. She also tries to encourage their mother to leave Eugene, though this is ultimately unsuccessful. (And, yes, Aunty Ifeoma does slap her children, but never without a reason, and never to excess. As far as I can tell, they get one smack and then a lecture. They never get their feet boiled in the bathtub.) As Kambili and Jaja grow closer to Aunty Ifeoma and their cousins, they grow further apart from their father, who notices the distance and fights to maintain the control he’s exerted over them for the last 17 years, until he finally erupts and puts Kambili in the hospital.

The most heartbreaking part of Purple Hibiscus is not the steady pattern of violence, but Kambili’s continual desire to please her father. She doesn’t hate him; she loves him and wants to make him proud. If you take away the abuse, he actually is a caring father who loves his children and wants only the very best for them. Unfortunately, you really can’t take away the abuse and he’s still a controlling POS who can’t figure out how to keep his children on his idea of a Heavenly Path without resorting to violence. And yet, even after he puts her in the hospital, even after everything he’s done, even after her mother finally snaps and puts poison in his tea, even after he’s gone and is no longer able to punish or reward, Kambili still tries to behave in ways that would’ve made him proud. She is devastated when her mother tells her about the poison, and, though half of my heart was going “GOOD FOR YOU GIRL,” the other half was crying for Kambili, because she never wanted her father to be murdered. Even though I wanted Eugene out of their lives, even though I spent a lot of the book wondering how many of her children Eugene would have to kill before his wife finally left him, in the end it didn’t feel good when my wish came true. And that, for me, was the most powerful part of Purple Hibiscus: it never lost sight of its humanity. It never celebrated Eugene’s murder, but neither did it excuse him for the harm he had done to his family. It was just so, so good.

CliffsNotes: I love the story. I love the characters (except Eugene fuck that guy I hope he’s burning in Hell), I love Kambili and Jaja and Aunty Ifeoma. I love that Jaja always tried to protect Kambili from their father, and from unfamiliar social situations. Even if it never really worked out the way he wanted it to, he was such a good brother to her. The only (very minor) obstacle was the snatches of Igbo dialogue, which obviously I didn’t understand, but I didn’t need to understand it to follow the story. I’m going to go back through the book and make a list of all the Igbo words Adichie used and all the foods she talked about so I can look them up, and hopefully Google Translate is going to cooperate with me. If not, no big deal. 10/10 recommend this book, with or without accurate translations.


Current Reads

With nothing else to distract me, I’m currently working my way through this monstrosity:

It’s not really a monstrosity. It’s only 436 pages, which kinda pisses me off because it’s just shy of the Chunky Chunkster requirement (450+ pages). It is surprisingly readable, which I hadn’t really expected when I picked it up – it is, after all, a history book – and it’s very interesting. I like Chang’s style: it reads more like a story than a textbook, which is always a plus. So far Cixi has lost her son, survived an assassination plot, gone to war with eight countries, and pissed off both the Western Hemisphere and the Boxers, so there’s always something going on. (Full disclosure: I thought Cixi was the empress who chopped her enemies into pieces and stored them in wine jars, and was very disappointed when I realized I was confusing her with Wu Zetian, who came about 1,200 years before Cixi. Go figure.) I also had a bizarre dream I was telling my mom about the difference between the Pinyin and Wade-Giles systems of romanization, to which she said “Thanks, no wonder I was sleeping” when I told her about it the next morning because my mama savage af 🤣 It turns out my information was wrong anyway, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

I’ve been enjoying the book and am actually thinking about buying a copy after I finish it, but right now I can’t wait to get done with it because I’ve still got 156 pages to go and I have a long list of other books I want to read, such as this one that Rusalka just sent me.

I’ve seen this book floating around the internet but never really paid attention to it but it’s got a trash panda on the front so I don’t see any reason I won’t love it. 😍😍😍


Miscellaneous Reading News

I suckered out and signed up for a Barnes & Noble membership goodbye paycheck 😭 #whywasIcreatedthisway

February Reading Summary

BOOM BABY it’s March and I’m currently at 30/60 books!!!

Soooooo to be totally honest 25 of those are mangas because I spent most of February blitzing through Soul Eater, which I finally did finish. On the other hand, hooray I’ve read five books that didn’t have pictures!

For anyone who might be curious, here’s a brief timeline of my relationship with Soul Eater:

2010
My high school best friend makes me watch a few episodes of the anime. I get hooked and start collecting the manga.

2011 – 2020
I collect the entire manga but stop reading after book five or six for reasons I am currently not sure of but may have something to do with my pervasive laziness and declining reading skills.

January – February 2020
I get fed up and read the entire series over the course of 1.5 months.

Overall I enjoyed the series. There were some things I didn’t like and some things that made me go WTF, but I liked the premise and loved the ending, even though I’m still salty about Arachne. The only thing about the ending that’s got me scratching my head is Gopher and his 9,000 Noahs, (1) because I’m still not sure what the point of Resurrected!Noah was and (2) I’m not really sure that Gopher actually deserved a happy ending. Still, he’s probably going to spend the rest of his life getting pushed around and verbally abused by those 9,000 Noahs, so I suppose it evens out in the end.


February Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. The Merry Wives of Windsor – William Shakespeare
  2. The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
  3. Soul Eater 6 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  4. Soul Eater 7 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  5. Soul Eater 8 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  6. Soul Eater 9 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  7. Soul Eater 10 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  8. Soul Eater 11 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  9. Soul Eater 12 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  10. Soul Eater 13 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  11. Soul Eater 14 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  12. Soul Eater 15 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  13. Soul Eater 16 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  14. Soul Eater 17 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  15. Soul Eater 18 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  16. Soul Eater 19 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  17. Soul Eater 20 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  18. Soul Eater 21 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  19. Soul Eater 22 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  20. Soul Eater 23 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  21. Soul Eater 24 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  22. Soul Eater 25 – Atsushi Ohkubo
  23. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Books Abandoned:

  1. The Siberian Dilemma – Martin Cruz Smith

Total Pages Read: 5,103

About that abandoned book: I don’t plan to make a practice of abandoning books at the drop of a hat, but I really couldn’t get into The Siberian Dilemma. Maybe it would help if I had the rest of the Arkady Renko series as background – this was the first Martin Cruz Smith I’ve ever tried, so that might’ve had something to do with it. In any case the characters didn’t draw me in and the writing was very choppy and non-sequitury, and before I knew it the book was due back to the library. I tried to renew it but it for some reason was unrenewable (maybe somebody had it on hold?) and I refuse to pay fines for books I don’t like so back it went.

To be fair, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read. Maybe I’ll try reading Gorky Park and work my way back up to Siberian Dilemma if I end up liking the series, but otherwise I don’t see myself trying this again anytime soon.


Current Reads

With Soul Eater safely out of the way, I finally got to start some new books!

Eleanor Oliphant was wonderful and I will be buying the audiobook as soon as I get to work tomorrow. The only thing that pisses me off is that stupid little sticker they keep insisting on grafting onto the covers of random books. I don’t care if this book is part of Reese’s Book Club. I don’t care if it’s Oprah’s pick. Get that shit off my book cover or at least make it removable so I can take it off myself. 🤬

Also I might’ve gone a little crazy at the library after getting Soul Eater off my list, but, hey, we all do that, right?

Last Saturday we had lunch with one of my uncles, who mentioned he’s been reading a lot of Japanese books and named names. He specifically recommended The Great Passage, so I picked it up at the library.

I’m only on page 73, but Great Passage has been speaking to my soul on many different levels: it’s about a man who has dedicated his life to words and all their possible meanings; he has this really awkward apprentice who’s so deeply invested in words that he literally checks out for five minutes to analyze the difference between the words agaru and noboru (both meaning “to rise, ascend”) when the girl of his dreams asks him to go to an amusement park with her; these two men are trying to produce a new dictionary before their publishing company can shut their project down; and, possibly most importantly, they eat a lot of amazing food in between dictionary work and now I really want Japanese food.

More seriously, I’ve also made it a goal to read more books by writers of color, particularly Asian writers. I realized some time ago that, although I’ve read hundreds of books, comparatively few of those books were written by people of color. If this is something you’re struggling with too and you want some more diverse reading options, take a look at my writers of color shelf. I only have 133 books on this shelf so far and some of the authors are repeats, but I know I’ll find more. 133 may sound like a lot, but when you compare that with the 725 books I currently have on my Want to Read shelf, it’s rather sobering. Of the almost 800 books I’ve marked “Want to Read,” only 18.3% were written by people who were not white. I did okay(ish) with my reading list last year, but I just realized that if you take away the mangas and miscellaneous graphic novels, which I generally don’t count, my 2019 book diversity percentage goes down like a lead balloon. Looking back over the five books I’ve read this year that weren’t mangas, only one of them was by a writer of color. I need to get better at this. 😭

On that note, I’m really looking forward to reading my latest library haul, particularly The Dove’s Necklace. The only thing that’s kinda giving me pause about this book is that it only has 2.98 stars on goodreads, which seems strange to me, given that it won the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Hopefully the rating is just the result of angry bigotry and not actual valid objections, because the inside cover descibes the book as a “brilliant, funny, profane, and enigmatic fever dream…as gripping as classic noir, nuanced as a Nabokov novel, and labyrinthine as the alleys of Mecca itself,” and I already kind of love it even though I haven’t actually started reading it.


Miscellaneous Reading News

I’m only in one book club on goodreads. I used to be in three, but I left the other two at the beginning of the year because I hadn’t been participating in them and I wanted to focus on the Coffee Break book club, which I’ve been actively participating in since joining. I’m not really sure what’s so different about this group because the other two were perfectly nice, but for some reason this one really lit a fire under my tail, possibly because it was the first group I’d seen that did monthly reading trackers and my OCD had spent its entire life waiting for this chance. This was the group that got me to sign up for my first-ever buddy reads, and I’m actually starting to consider the possibilities of the Book of the Month threads. I’ve never done a Book of the Month read but this month they’re all reading The Girl in Red, which happens to be on my Want to Read shelf and looks fascinating.

Actually fuck it I just checked the library catalog and found out there are seven available copies so now it’s on hold and I’m doing a Book of the Month read!!! Wish me luck!!! 😍😍😍

Life Goes On

Welcome to adulthood. You get excited now when you use your day off to buy a new keyboard and go to the Korean market.

That keyboard was not cheap!!! 😭💔 Unfortunately I really needed a keyboard with a number pad, which makes life a lot more pleasant, and even more unfortunately my new computer did not come with one because Apple really knows how to soak you for every penny. Of course the real tragedy here is that I decided that I needed an expanded keyboard and immediately ran off to buy one but we won’t get into that ORZZZZZZ

Anyway, the reason I ended up at the Korean market was that I’d stumbled across a recipe for ganjang guksu (Korean soy sauce noodles) and wished to try it immediately but did not have somyeon noodles. My brother was moving home from Atlanta that weekend and our parents had driven down to help him move and I had the run of the kitchen, which is a polite way of saying I should probably never be left on my own ever because shit like this happens:

It was really good.

I was also left alone with Her Imperial Majesty Empress Zuri, who was Very Displeased with the snow that showed up around the same time as her late-night walk. It was only a few flakes, but she has spindly legs and almost no fur and overall it wasn’t a good experience for her.

On the bright side (for me), I caught her using the sleeping bag I bought her for Christmas! I’m not actually sure she knows what it is or how to use it – it took her a while to get used to it when I first put it out for her, but after a couple of hours she curled up inside it and we couldn’t get her out. Since then I haven’t really seen her use it, but suspect that she uses it as a substitute for a human lap when no human laps are available (i.e., when we’re all out of the house). Since that was its intended purpose, I suppose it’s worked out.

In this case she had to resort to the sleeping bag because I ran off for a few hours in the middle of the day and didn’t return until almost dinnertime. Everything always seems to stack up on the same damn days, and on this particular weekend Heather and I had already made plans to visit Historic Savage Mills, doggie or no doggie. I was mildly concerned that I might come back to find little doggie gifts on the floor, but luckily that didn’t happen and we still managed to see a lot of fun stuff.

This trip was a definite improvement over the last time I visited Savage Mills, (1) because I had company and (2) because we saw a lot more and also got food.

If you offer me a hot sandwich with ham and melted cheese, the answer will always be yes. :3 My favorite store (after the bookstore, of course) was probably the one with these rubber stamps, which took me straight back to the 90s:

I really wanted to buy stuff at this store but I’ve always been terrible at traditional media so there wasn’t much point. We also saw this hysterical sign outside a bridal consignment shop:

and of course it wouldn’t be a shopping trip if I didn’t pick up at least a couple of new books 😬


Reading Corner

YOU GUYS I FINALLY FINISHED A BOOK FROM MY TSUNDOKU SHELF OMG /flails

To be totally honest, I love reading, but I really, really love being able to obsessively track every page online and set actually realistic goals. On Saturday I finished Memory of Fire: Genesis, and today I remembered to remove it from the tsundoku shelf. I mean I’ve already added at least five other books to the tsundoku shelf, but still. PROGRESS.

Genesis was already discussed and extensively quoted in my last reading update and doesn’t need to be reanalyzed here, but it was really, really good. I highly recommend this book, both to people living in America and people with an interest in pre-Columbian history and mythology. (And, uh, maybe don’t read it while you’re in a good mood cus it’s gonna bring you waaaaaay down.)

On a slightly less progressive note, I have now read 23 of the 60 books I’m planning to read this year. Four of them were regular adult books without pictures. The other nineteen were mangas. This is mildly embarrassing because, even though mangas are books, the long-term plan is to be able to hit my reading goal without needing to include mangas. That’s in the future, though, and in the meantime I’ve had 25 Soul Eaters sitting on my bookcase for years and years and years. I think I must’ve gotten up to book five or six before I stopped reading them, but now I’m up to nineteen and am almost done with the series. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to look back on the series to date and say What the fuck?

I don’t know if other Soul Eater fans feel the same way, but one thing I’m noticing is that the conflicts don’t last very long, and it’s kinda starting to bug me. There are extended story arcs and side villains and Medusa is definitely still fucking around with her black blood experiments, but most (if not all) of the arcs so far seem to have been resolved very quickly and easily. The bad guy turnover rate is ridiculous. At the beginning of the series, there are a few minor antagonists who either get defeated quickly or turn out to be DWMA teachers in charge of remedial lessons. Medusa is introduced as main villain and puppet master, but is seemingly killed during the first major battle. She and her team manage to release Asura, who seems like he’s all set to become the next main villain, but he quickly fucks off to god knows where and hasn’t come back so far. Medusa later comes back by stealing a little girl’s body, which she inhabits while we are introduced to her sister Arachne, who also seems like a good candidate for main villain. Then Arachne dies a few books later and it turns out she was only a side villain and the other major villain is in fact Noah, only then Noah dies too and now I don’t know what the fuck’s going on.

This is what I’m talking about when I say all their problems get solved way too easily, because Arachne and Noah were presented as powerful antagonists but in the end went down with hardly any fight. The battle scenes were extremely short. I loved the idea of using Soul’s music to turn Arachne’s own web against her, but Maka should not have been able to defeat her as quickly as she did. It makes slightly more sense for Noah to be defeated fairly quickly because he was up against a handful of powerful Meisters and didn’t seem to have any fighting abilities of his own, but Arachne’s defeat was incredibly anti-climactic and disappointing. It was one of those defeats that had me going “I bet she’s got some other trick it couldn’t be that easy,” but she had no other tricks and it really was that easy. I suppose I can’t really count Noah out just yet since Medusa came back and all and Noah did have access to a lot of demon stuff, but now Gopher’s run off with the Book of Eibon and I wouldn’t put it past Ohkubo to make Gopher the new villain even though he couldn’t villain his way out of a paper bag.

I feel like I should clarify here that I actually have been enjoying Soul Eater and have also been rewatching the anime, but I’m not a fan of the villain situation and I wish Arachne had had more of a role because I really liked her and all she did was wait around and work on her magic before Maka chopped her head off. It’s also not really clear to me why everyone and their mom wants to absorb Asura, or what they hope to get out of it if they succeed. What is the long-term goal here? I’ll admit I’ve been reading these really quickly because, like I said, there’s 25 of them, so it’s possible I’ve missed things, but I wouldn’t mind some more clarity with the general plot.

P.S. Justin is pissing me off and he needs to go. 🤬

February Reading Update

If anyone is keeping track, I now have a bookshelf named tsundoku. This is specifically for books that I’ve either bought or received but haven’t read. In the spirit of Fulfilling New Year’s Resolutions, I borrowed two more books from the library, which I also so far have not read.

On the bright side, I finally organized my bookmarks. #headdesk

Before

After

Anyway…….

General Reading Update

My 2020 goal of reading 60 books got off to a rocky start when I failed to finish any books for most of the month of January, with the sole exception of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I started reading last October and finally finished on January 2. I have literally nothing to say for myself except that it’s a fucking long-ass book and I got hit hard by the Harry Potter doldrums halfway through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. If you’ve already read these books and you’re trying to marathon them as an adult for old times’ sake, all I can say is don’t.

Owing to the Harry Potter Fatigue (YES THAT’S A THING) and the general reading slump I’ve been in since last year, I fell about three books behind over the course of January and then quickly shot up to three books ahead by reading the first five volumes of Soul Eater in four days. I knew I’d have to pad out my reading goal with mangas, but I didn’t think I’d have to resort to them that fast. 😭

Currently Reading

I thought I’d start a New Thing here, which I’m naming Karo Reads It All. This tag will be for the posts discussing my current reads*, so please do come back if you’re a dork like me and you like to stalk other people’s reading lists! KRIA is the result of a thought I literally just had like a second ago, which is that I should make a specific tag for myself because I really love talking about what I’m reading to keep myself accountable and on track.

Update 3/25/2020: Karo Reads It All has been renamed Wyrd Bookshelf to allow more than one Wyrd Gurl to take advantage of it.

* Note: I will not be tracking mangas because I typically read those in one sitting, and I’m more concerned about my ability to finish books that don’t have pictures.


Memory of Fire: Genesis

The tsundoku quest got off to a strong start with Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire: Genesis, which I started reading on the train on January 18 while on my way to see a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (which, by the way, was excellent).

I spotted this completely by chance at my favorite secondhand bookstore and immediately knew that it had to come home with me because it’s quoted in the epigraphs in Cat’s Eye which is one of my most favoritest books EVERRRRRRRR yeah okay I’m a nerd but you knew that

When the Tukunas cut off her head, the old woman collected her own blood in her hands and blew it toward the sun.

“My soul enters you, too!” she shouted.

Since then anyone who kills receives in his body, without wanting or knowing it, the soul of his victim.

The quote came out pretty early in the book. I was excited. 🤩

Anyway, to be completely honest: I’ve been reading this book in stages because it is gorgeous, riveting, and absolutely inFUUUUUUUUUURiating. Never read this book if you’re in a bad mood because it’ll put you in a worse one and you’ll end up hoping in your heart of hearts that Columbus and Cortés and all the rest are upside down and inside out and burning somewhere in the deepest pits of hell.

I’m not saying don’t read it at all. I think this is a book that every American needs to read at some point. I can’t speak for its historical accuracy, especially as it is set during a confusing and poorly documented period of history (and even more especially as the author describes himself in the preface as “a wretched history student” and then goes on to say that he is a writer rather than a historian), but it still needs to be read because it offers a Latin American perspective on the creation of the New World. It also goes back through the history and mythology of some of the Native American tribes whose worlds were destroyed the minute Columbus set foot on American soil. Not gonna lie, some of these stories actually aren’t that nice. There seems to be a lot of kidnapping, murder, and theft. 🤣 This one is my favorite so far:

Resurrection

After five days it was the custom for the dead to return to Peru. They drank a glass of chicha and said, “Now I’m eternal.”

There were too many people in the world. Crops were sown at the bottom of precipices and on the edge of abysses, but even so, the food wouldn’t go around.

Then a man died in Huarochirí.

The whole community gathered on the fifth day to receive him. They waited for him from morning till well after nightfall. The hot dishes got cold, and sleep began closing eyelids. The dead man didn’t come.

He came the next day. Everyone was furious. The one who boiled most with indignation was his wife, who yelled, “You good-for-nothing! Always the same good-for-nothing! All the dead are punctual except you!”

The resurrected one stammered some excuse, but the woman threw a corncob at his head and left him stretched out on the floor. Then the soul left the body and flew off, a quick, buzzing insect, never to return.

Since that time no dead person has come back to mix with the living and compete for their food.

Some more quotes that stood out to me:

Sacrilege

The six are burning as a punishment and as a lesson: They have buried the images of Christ and the Virgin that Fray Ramón Pané left with them for protection and consolation. Fray Ramón taught them to pray on their knees, to say the Ave Maria and Paternoster and to invoke the name of Jesus in the face of temptation, injury, and death.

No one has asked them why they buried the images. They were hoping that the new gods would fertilize their fields of corn, cassava, boniato, and beans.

Moctezuma

Moctezuma has sent great offerings of gold to the god Quetzalcóatl, helmets filled with gold dust, golden ducks, golden dogs, golden tigers, golden necklaces, and wands and bows and arrows, but the more gold the god eats, the more he wants; and he is advancing toward Tenochtitlán, dissatisfied. He marches between the great volcanos, and behind him come other bearded gods. The hands of the invaders send forth thunder that stuns and fire that kills.

The Capital of the Aztecs

Emperor Moctezuma, who opens the gates of Tenochtitlán, will soon be finished. In a short while he will be called woman of the Spaniards, and his own people will stone him to death. Young Cuauhtémoc will take his place. He will fight.

“People Very Generous with What They Have…”

The Spaniards imagine that the Indians will cut them into pieces and throw them in the stewpot, but in the village they continue sharing with them the little food they have. As Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca will tell it, the Indians are horrified and hot with anger when they learn that, while on the beach, five Christians ate one another until only one remained, who being alone had no one to eat him.

Atahualpa

Before the iron tourniquet breaks his neck, [Atahualpa] weeps, kisses the cross, and accepts baptism with another name. Giving his name as Francisco, which is his conqueror’s name, he beats on the doors of the Paradise of the Europeans, where no place is reserved for him.

Don’t Try to Convert Me

This is one of the many, many things that’ve been making me mad while I’ve been reading Genesis, because I’ve never been down with the idea of going to another country and telling the people who live there that their religions suck and yours is the right one. While I support freedom of expression for every religion that doesn’t actively endorse harming other people, I draw the line at people who start trying to push their religion onto everyone else. It’s one thing to offer to teach someone who specifically expresses interest in your religious beliefs, but it’s another thing entirely to forcibly convert entire populations. Even just talking about it is making my headache worse so I guess this is as good a place as any to wrap up.


The Merry Wives of Windsor

As an antidote to the rage and gloom, I also started reading The Merry Wives of Windsor!

I started with the library’s copy but quickly found I didn’t care for that particular edition, which gave more room to the explanatory footnotes than it did to the play itself, so I ended up buying a different edition when I went to see the stage show.

I have to be honest: I’ve never been an avid Shakespeare scholar. It’s gotten easier to understand him as I’ve grown older, but a lot of his language and references still leave me in the dark, even if I’m able to follow the general gist of what the characters are saying. Case in point: I really struggled with the beginning of Merry Wives and wasn’t able to finish the play before I saw the show, but I’m actually really glad it worked out that way because the play is a lot easier to understand now that I have the context provided by the show. (Of course, I’m also having trouble motivating myself to finish this one because Reading Slump. Go figure.)

Buddy Reads

I tried out a handful of buddy reads for the first time last year. I’ve never tried them before and am not sure I’ll continue because one of them was successful, one of them was partially successful but later fell apart, and the rest of them turned into me reading the book/series and discussing my thoughts on the forum while everyone else read part of the book/series and then spent the rest of the time discussing the reasons they hadn’t finished it. The only buddy read I haven’t finished yet is my Harry Potter buddy read, which started with a group of us rereading the Harry Potter series and then slowly devolved to one of us reading the books and two of us offering excuses. To be clear, I am not that one because I read the entire series growing up and they’re pretty much lodged in my head. This is why it was a bad idea for me to join: I know the books too well, I’ve developed Adult Opinions about them, and I’ve found that I have a lot of problems with them, which may be a subject for a later post because I currently don’t have the energy for an in-depth analysis.

Also, to be very very clear, I still love this gorram series SO much. It formed a huge part of my childhood/teenage/young adult reading list, I know every story by heart (except maybe Order of the Phoenix cus that one was definitely my least favorite), and I find it shocking when I run across people who either haven’t read or don’t remember the series like what do you mean you haven’t memorized Goblet of Fire how do you even live with yourself 🤣

Final Thoughts

That’s all from my reading world. What’s on your nightstand?