July Reading Summary

Holy shit that month was long. On the other hand, now we know what happens when I have a month-long involuntary vacation: I go crazy and read about four books a week. There was also a regrettable adventure obtaining an SSL certificate for this blog, but the point is it’s secure now and the logo is no longer broken. In any case I’ve been looking forward to writing this post since about two weeks ago, when I thought July should have ended, so you’re gonna get a text wall. Sorry.

July was a landmark month in a number of ways: I had the highest monthly page count I’ve seen since February; I read my first ARC; I finished my 2020 reading challenge; and I finally outread my 26-manga credit!!! More importantly than any of these, I also started using the Kindle Paperwhite I bought in May. (Fun fact: I originally wrote that I’d ordered the Kindle several months ago, but a quick fact check revealed that it hasn’t actually been as long as I thought. Also I think I must’ve bought mine just in time, because the model I chose went out of stock almost the second I ordered it. Go figure.)

At the beginning of the year I would have let myself be boiled in oil before I stooped to reading eBooks, but then the quarantine happened and after a couple of months those Kindles started looking awfully cute. I was thinking about getting the cheapest one on offer, but I read a lot and I figured “Go big or go home,” so I ended up getting the one with the most storage space and no ads. It was more expensive, but in the long run this was the right decision because I don’t plan to trade this thing in anytime within the next decade. I’m not even sure why I decided to take the plunge and order a Kindle, though it may have had something to do with my desire to (1) borrow books from the library and (2) read the Discworld series without having to buy the 50 or so books that comprise it. As of this writing I have used it for neither of these purposes, but I have read a whole book on it with no trouble, which seems like a victory. Also I’ve always been a sucker for pretty packaging and the Kindle gave me an excuse to buy a cute cover, so I can’t really complain. 🙃

If you’re looking for a super cute Kindle cover or any other kind of cover, I highly recommend Hello Journal Shop over on Etsy. The cover arrived about a month after the Kindle did (it shipped from Australia) but it’s well made, and, unlike other Kindle covers I’ve seen while browsing around Etsy, it doesn’t make you slap a velcro sticker on the back of the Kindle. To be completely fair, the velcro stickers aren’t supposed to leave a residue if you change your mind later, but I’ve never liked the idea of putting stickers on my devices, so the cover I ordered was perfect. It does have a funny smell, which I tried to blow off it with a fan, but a month later the smell is still there so it may be the material used to make the cover. It’s gotten better over time, so I’m hoping the smell will go away with repeated use of the Kindle. Either way, it’s not a huge deal. Plus the case came in this really cute package. Like I said, I’m a sucker for cute packaging.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with that little box, but it doesn’t matter. I still have it, and I’m sure I’ll find a use for it.

Just one tiny complaint…

One thing that I did not anticipate was that page numbers are not always A Thing with eBooks. I’m not sure how prevalent their use is or is not because I’ve only read one eBook so far, but this was an issue I ran into when I was reading The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True. I suspect the page numbers were missing because it was an ARC – the pages were labeled differently than I was expecting – but, since I rely on page numbers to track my reading, I ported the file into Kindle Previewer, which laid out the pages in rows of three, and counted the number of rows and multiplied them by three to come up with a rough estimate because I am a frightening little person and sooner or later I usually find a way to get what I want. Of course, it was only after I’d estimated the page count that I found out that a page count was provided on the book’s Amazon page and that my count was off by seven pages. That’s what you call ironic. #headdesk

On another note, I’ve finally remembered that I need to start using my three-month Kindle Unlimited trial membership, which came free with the Kindle and will start charging me on August 20. This seemed like a good idea when I first bought the Kindle, but I’m currently kicking myself because I’m the biggest fucking procrastinator you’ll ever meet and I’ve basically wasted two months’ worth of free books, which I am now going to try to make up for in less than a month. Wish me luck. 😭💀 (And also pray with me that the Discworld books are on Kindle Unlimited, because that would save me a lot of trouble.)


July Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. Heart Berries – Terese Marie Mailhot
  2. Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  3. Miss Iceland – Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
  4. The Forest of Wool and Steel – Natsu Miyashita
  5. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins
  6. Dune Messiah – Frank Herbert
  7. Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson
  8. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
  9. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
  10. Girl, Serpent, Thorn – Melissa Bashardoust
  11. Children of Dune – Frank Herbert
  12. God Emperor of Dune – Frank Herbert
  13. The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True – Sean Gibson
  14. Conjure Women – Afia Atakora
  15. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  16. The Butcher’s Wife – Li Ang

Total Pages Read: 5,417

This month was more diverse than previous months have been, but it still wasn’t up to my standards because the Dune chronicles and the Hunger Games books got in the way and fucked up my diversity count. That won’t be an issue moving forward, however, because I have made the decision not to continue with Dune.

It took a while to sink in, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not a Dune fan. I’ve never been invested in the world of Arrakis at any point. I don’t care about these characters. Dune itself was a good read and it got me interested enough to read the next three books in the series, but I didn’t enjoy any of them. Dune Messiah and Children of Dune were boring and annoying, and God Emperor of Dune had one amazing chapter that the rest of the book never lived up to. I feel like this is the part where Dune zealots are going to come out of the woodwork with asinine comments along the lines of “Well, you missed the point, then!” Maybe I did, but maybe the point wasn’t made very well to begin with.

While the books were generally readable, there were definitely moments where I felt like Frank Herbert was trying too hard. This is what I mean when I say that the point wasn’t well made, because whatever points were made were often obscured by layers of oblique dialogue and rambling passages. There were nonsensical snatches of internal dialogue that seemed to use uncommon words just for the sake of using them. There were exchanges between certain characters that made no fucking sense because they were spoken in a particular tone of voice that carried a very specific subtext, which means their true significance was never actually explained. (See above: TRYING TOO HARD.) My biggest problem was Herbert’s reliance on the “Plots within plots within plots!” and the “If he knows that I know that he knows that I know” themes, which I’ve never liked. This series did not change my mind because these same themes cropped up over and over again in every book, and with every fresh plot it seemed like the House of Atreides grew less and less sympathetic.

One of my least favorite aspects of the series was the gradual loss of humanity in each successive generation of Atreides. Dune introduced Duke Leto Atreides I, the head of a Great House, who was forced into an impossible situation that ended with his death. He was survived by his children, Paul and Alia Atreides, and then by Paul’s children, Leto II and Ghanima, and eventually by Ghanima’s thousand-times-great-granddaughter, Siona. The Atreides were, if not exactly heroes, at least the primary protagonists. Duke Leto was ruthless and clever, but he wasn’t so caught up in the larger picture that he started to devalue the lives of the men who served him. Later generations of Atreides got lost in their overarching plans for the human race, and they started to make decisions that, though theoretically beneficial to humans as a whole, were detrimental to the people alive in that present moment. Duke Leto sacrificed rare equipment to save the lives of men he’d never met; some 3,500 years later, Siona sacrificed a bridge full of people, including her own father, to assassinate Leto II. I liked her at the beginning of God Emperor, but I didn’t by the end. Overall I was disappointed with the handling of the women: Dune ended with a handful of strong, promising female characters, but by the end of Children of Dune they were all dead, insane, and/or completely stripped of all agency. I realize these books were written in the ’60s and ’70s, but damn.

Moral of the story: read Dune but don’t bother with the rest of the series unless you really, really get invested in the first book because it’s a long hard slog through the rest. I have zero interest in the plot of Heretics of Dune, which just sounds like more of the same, and Chapterhouse: Dune seems to be all about the Bene Gesserit and I don’t like the Bene Gesserit so that’s definitely a no-go. I might change my mind if I get bored enough and if all the other books in the world suffer a fatal catastrophe before the movie is released, but for the time being I have discontinued the series and have no plans to pick it up again.


August Reads

I’ve been looking forward to this for a week: Now I get to pick out what I’m going to read this month! My reading slump was vanquished by my reading schedule as much as by my habit of reading 100+ pages per day, so I’ll be continuing both practices. I think I might also start reading one short, one-sitting book (e.g., 200 pages or less) on the first of each month, because I started July by reading Heart Berries in one day and it gave my motivation a solid kick in the ass. With that in mind, here’s my August must-reads, in the order in which I will most likely start them (and not including the other books I’ll probably pick up at random throughout the month):

Physical Books

Monsieur Pamplemousse on the Spot
Michael Bond
This’ll be my Day One boost-my-ego book, which I will read sometime tonight. It sounds cute and it’s only 160 pages, and that’s pretty much all I can say about it. I don’t know too much about Monsieur Pamplemousse, but he’s got a great name (pamplemousse is French for “grapefruit”) and it’s all about food, so I’m game.

The Year of the Witching
Alexis Henderson
I’m SUUUUUUUUPER excited about this one omg 🤩 It was published eleven days ago, and is about a young mixed-race woman who lives in a puritanical society but somehow meets a group of witch spirits. SIGN ME UP.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors
Kawai Strong Washburn
I’ve seen the cover for this one in the bookstore before, but I’m not sure why I didn’t pick it up the first time because it sounds amazing. This one is about a Hawaiian family facing supernatural challenges. Also it’s got an upside down shark on the cover, so how can it possibly be bad?

The Book of Night Women
Marlon James
I’ve heard good things about Marlon James and I’m always up for a good story about rebellious women, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold
C Pam Zhang
I ordered this probably back in March or April but have not yet read it, which is a real pity because it involves history, Chinese symbolism, and a sibling story rather than a romance.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass
Melissa Bashardoust
I just read Girl, Serpent, Thorn and it made me want to read more of Bashardoust’s work, so here we are 🙃 I am slightly hesitant about this one because it sounds like it’s full of the kind of character fights that drive me nuts, but we’ll see what we see!

The African Trilogy
Chinua Achebe
Achebe has been billed as the father of modern African literature, so I couldn’t go without reading his books. The African Trilogy is a bound volume comprising Things Fall ApartArrow of God, and No Longer at Ease, and starts with the story of Okonkwo, an Igbo man who clashes with missionaries. I know it won’t end well for him, but I hope he gives ’em hell.

Mockingjay
Suzanne Collins
I’ve been doing a Hunger Games buddy reread with Lori and even though I swore on my ancestors’ graves that I would never ever ever read Mockingjay a second time no sir you must be crazy I’ve somehow gotten curious if I’ll hate it as much a second time as I did the first time around. (My money’s on yes, but I guess we’ll find out.)

Kindle Books

A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea
Masaji Ishikawa
This is one of the books I found through my dying Kindle Unlimited trial, which I will be squeezing as much as I possibly can to make up for the last two months of forgetfulness and deliberate neglect. Ishikawa is a half-Korean, half-Japanese man who moved to North Korea at 13 and escaped 36 years later. It sounds excruciating, which is why I’m reading it first.

Opium and Absinthe
Lydia Kang
Opium and Absinthe is the story of Tillie Pembroke, a bookworm and laudanum addict whose sister may or may not have been murdered by a vampire. It sounds great. 😈

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
Meg Elison
Apparently I borrowed this one from Prime Reading a year ago? Like, literally to the day? I thought there was a mistake when it said I’d borrowed it on August 1, 2019, but whatever. It’s about post-plague survival and it sounds interesting, so I’ll give it a try.


Reading Goals

I hit my 2020 goal of 60 books when I finished Children of Dune, which by my reckoning was the only good thing about Children of Dune. With my yearly goal out of the way, I’ve set a stretch goal of 86, which will balance out the 26 mangas I used to pad out the first 60 books. (And, yes, mangas are real books, but they’re also 99% illustration and sound effects and I’m generally more concerned about my ability to read books without pictures.) I established a habit of reading a minimum of 100 pages per day during the month of July, and intend to keep it up for as long as I can. There were a couple of days where I had to stop before the 100-page mark, but, given the reading slump that’s been plaguing me since the end of last year, I’m really pleased with the amount I read in July.

That being said, I’m slightly worried about my ability to retain what I’ve read, because I’ve fallen lately into the habit of anticipating the thrill of finishing a book more than the book itself. This means I’ve been blitzing through my reads and missing some of the finer details instead of taking the time to appreciate them properly, which is something I want to work on in the coming months.


Random-Ass Book Flex

I don’t like Gilmore Girls, but I couldn’t stop myself from (1) watching a Rory Gilmore readathon vlog and then (2) taking this Buzzfeed quiz. For the record, no, I am not as well read as Rory Gilmore because I’ve only read 37 of the 339 books on the list, which apparently is still more than 67% of quiz-takers.

Of course, it would be more fair to say that I’m differently read than Rory, rather than saying that I’m not as well read. I can name 393 books that I’ve read and I know for a fact that I’m missing a lot of childhood books from that list, which is how I justify it seeming so short even though the real reason is that I spent several years hoarding but not actually reading.

I was actually mildly impressed with Rory’s list: I’d thought it would be all Western classics (again, I don’t watch the show) and I was mostly right, but there were also some hidden gems, such as Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie) and Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi), both of which are now on my TBR.

Rory Books I’ve Read

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  2. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  3. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
  4. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  5. Beloved – Toni Morrison
  6. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  7. Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
  8. The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  9. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
  10. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  11. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  12. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  13. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  14. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  15. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling
  16. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
  17. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  18. How the Grinch Stole Christmas – Dr. Seuss
  19. The Iliad – Homer
  20. The Jumping Frog – Mark Twain
  21. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  22. Macbeth – William Shakespeare
  23. Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
  24. The Merry Wives of Windsor – William Shakespeare
  25. Night – Elie Wiesel
  26. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
  27. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  28. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
  29. The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien
  30. Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare
  31. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  32. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  33. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  34. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  35. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
  36. Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett
  37. The Wizard of Oz – Frank L. Baum

A lot of these I need to reread because I barely skimmed them when I had to read them in high school but we won’t discuss that 😬


The Adventure of the SSL Certificate

I recently installed an SSL certificate on a client’s website, which made me think it’d be really swell to install such certificates on all of my own websites, including this blog. The installations went smoothly until they got to WyrdGurls, where the SSL system apparently choked on the number of installation demands I’d made of it and broke WyrdGurls for two to three days until I finally pounded on DreamHost’s door and made them fix it. I’m still not sure what happened with the certificate, but at least the connection appears to be secure now and I’m hoping it stays that way. Satan give me strength.


Checking In With the Senior Nap Manager

EDITING BECAUSE I COMPLETELY FORGOT TO ADD THESE GDI

June Reading Summary

I’ve got the worst fucking impulse control. The library book drops and the Barnes and Nobles reopened this week, which means I got rid of a stack of books and bought even more books and also a couple of new bookmarks because I buy too many bookmarks.

Also, BN had this sign in the SF section. I died.


June Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. The Book of Longings – Sue Monk Kidd
  2. The Girl with the Louding Voice – Abi Daré
  3. SPY X FAMILY 1 – Tatsuya Endo
  4. Dune – Frank Herbert

Total Pages Read: 1,528

If I hadn’t been reading Louding Voice with Jennicorn, I’m not sure I would’ve kicked the reading slump that carried me most of the way through June. Fortunately, since we were buddy-reading, I had greater motivation towards the end of the month and even managed to finish Dune, which I spent most of June avoiding. It didn’t actually take me a month to read it; I zipped through the bulk of it during the last three days of June because I went on a mental health staycation on July 1 and didn’t want Dune hanging over my head during my break.

I’m not really sure why I had such a hard time motivating myself to read Dune, because I actually liked it despite the long rambling chapters that Paul, Jessica, and Liet-Kynes spent lost and hallucinating in the desert. (For the record, those were super fucking long and not a lot of fun to read.) I didn’t really know what to expect from the book and it had some of the hallmarks I would expect from a book written in the ’60s, but overall it held up pretty well mostly because of Chani and Alia my god I need a book that’s just about them being the total badasses that they are. Also I fell hard for the sandworms because they’re nosy and unintentionally destructive and now I really want one for a pet so I can feed my enemies to it.

Next up: Dune Messiah. All of the Dune Chronicles books except for Messiah average 500-700 pages and I have no idea why they have to be so long. My mom’s already told me God Emperor of Dune is the next best after Dune and that’s fourth in the series, so I’ve got a ways to go. Good thing the movie isn’t coming out till December. 😖


Current Reads

I’m currently at 331 pages for July, helped along by my staycation and the week-long readathon I’ve been participating in, both of which have greatly boosted my motivation. I also learned that I’ll be off all of next week as well, which I was less pleased about, but, hey, more time for reading!

Last night I decided I’d start trying to read 100 pages per day, at least for the month of July, which hopefully will help speed me through the rest of the Dune series and keep me from falling into any reading potholes. July got off to a strong start thanks to Heart Berries, which was beautiful and excruciating and short enough for me to finish in one day, and I really want to keep the momentum going for as long as I can. I think it’ll help if I establish a book calendar and don’t waste time dithering over what I’m going to read next. I’m at 50/60 books and have a good shot at making it to 75 if I stay on target, so let’s do this thing!!!

Reading Now

  1. Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  2. Miss Iceland – Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Not to break my arm patting my back, but my reading choices this year have been spot-on so far. There’s been some ups and downs, of course, but I haven’t read anything that I would say was truly awful, which makes a nice change from last year. Last year ended with me slogging through The Amber Spyglass, which – along with The Subtle Knife – was some of the worst crap I’ve ever read. I made it through the His Dark Materials series out of sheer spite, which is really a pity because I loved The Golden Compass. Unfortunately for me, I also read the Chronicles of Prydain right before His Dark Materials, and it was so. Fucking. BORING. I feel like I might have enjoyed it at least somewhat if I’d read it as a kid, but even that I kind of doubt.

Anyway.

2020’s reading choices have been a lot better than the ones I made at the end of 2019, and my current reads are no exception. Homegoing starts with two half-sisters born in Ghana in the eighteenth century and then follows their descendants as they make their way to America. The book is structured as several interconnecting short stories; each story follows one character through one defining moment in their life, after which their story ends, unless they appear in another character’s chapter. You’d think there wouldn’t be enough time to get attached to the extensive cast, but you’d be so wrong. I’m planning to finish this one tonight, because it’s endlessly fascinating and almost impossible to put down. (I also really appreciate the inclusion of the family tree at the very beginning, without which I might be slightly more confused.)

Miss Iceland has also been good to me so far, though I made the same mistake I made with Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and assumed Miss Iceland would be lighthearted fun. It’s not. However, since it talks about LGBTQ rights, I’m not inclined to complain. (I also managed to snatch the only copy on the shelf at BN when I went looking for it. Coincidence? Fate? Either one works for me.)

Miss Iceland is the story of Hekla Gottskálksdóttir, a young woman in early-1960s Iceland, who was named after a volcano and wishes to become a published writer. To that end, she packs a copy of Ulysses, a typewriter, and her first manuscript and takes the bus from her family’s farm to Reykjavík, where she moves in with her queer friend Jón John. So far she’s encountered sexism, harassment, and homophobia (against Jón), and if she doesn’t get published by the end of this I’m going to scream.

I’ll admit that I don’t love the writing. It’s full of things that normally drive me crazy, but I’m not sure if that’s specific to the author or if it’s a general style among Icelandic writers. Despite my issues, however, I really love this book so far, and it’s making me want to read Ulysses. It’s also making me want to investigate traditional Icelandic literature, which the characters reference frequently.

Reading Next

  1. The Forest of Wool and Steel – Natsu Miyashita
  2. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins
  3. Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson
  4. Conjure Women – Afia Atakora
  5. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’ve had The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes on my shelf since it arrived in May and I haven’t heard amazing things about it, so I kinda wanna get it over with because it’s kind of a chunkster and there’s a lot of other things I want to read. Wish me luck, I’m hoping it’s not too disappointing. If it’s at least better than Mockingjay, I’ll be satisfied.

I have much higher hopes for Americanah: I read Purple Hibiscus back in April, so I already know I like Adichie, and I’ve also heard good things about Conjure WomenThe Forest of Wool and Steel was totally random, but I fell in love with the cover because I do judge books by their covers and I like Japanese literature, so I had to order it. Monkey Beach I’ve already read, but that was about 12 years ago so I figured a refresh couldn’t hurt.


General Life Update

This week has been a lot better than most of June, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise me because that’s generally what happens when I actually take time for myself. I honestly thought I’d just be vegging on the couch this week, but I’ve actually been surprisingly productive. So far during this staycation I’ve gotten rid of my library books, visited the bookstore three times, gone to the beach, eaten in an actual restaurant that served the best crab cakes I’ve ever had, gotten a pile of reading done, and bought a new shoulder rest for my violin. Vera’s gotten into a bad habit over the years of ejecting my Kun shoulder rest, which is why she now wears a girdle.

TRY EJECTING THAT ONE, VERA. (Which, now that I’ve said that, she probably will. 😞)

In other news, I finally watched Hamilton for the first time! (Yes, really.) I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t pay hundreds of dollars for a Hamilton ticket because I wouldn’t spend that kind of money on any ticket, but I love the production streaming on Disney Plus. The smackdown between Jefferson and Hamilton was hands down my favorite scene, and I’m looking forward to the DVD. The only trouble is that now I’ve got fucking George III’s fucking song stuck in my head gorrammit 🤬


Random-Ass Brain Fart

I bought reusable face masks yesterday. This was not the brain fart.

The brain fart happened when I walked into the Arlington CVS and came face to face with racks of wine and for a hot second thought that Virginia really was a different place until I realized that I was in fact standing in a Target that happened to have a CVS in the back. #headdesk

On the bright side, my masks were accompanied by this hilariously misspelled sign, which made me feel somewhat better about myself.

Book Bites 3

Happy Sunday!

I’ve realized recently that I have a tendency to fall into reading slumps the minute I finish whatever book I’ve been reading. I finished two books this week, but I’m trying not to get hit by a double dose of the reading doldrums because so help me I am going to finish Dune before my vacation time starts on Wednesday. I’ve been trying to motivate myself to read Dune for the better part of a month, and I refuse to have it hanging over me during my staycation.

As a side note, I seem to have gotten into a pattern of reading heartbreaking books with beautiful writing lately. However, since all of the heartbreakers I’ve read this year have been amazing, I’m not inclined to complain.

Obvious obligatory warning: There are spoilers.

Theme of the week: Books that broke my fuckin’ heart.


The Book of Longings
Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longings tells the story of Ana, wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth, and her life before and after her marriage. She begins as an impetuous fourteen-year-old, educated and ambitious. Guided and encouraged by her incredibly badass aunt Yaltha, she grows into a fearless writer, a feminist far ahead of her time, who strives to tell the stories of women who have been silenced. After her first marriage falls through, she marries the twenty-year-old Jesus against overwhelming odds, and joins his family in Nazareth. Over the course of the book she makes friends with a goat, sets animals loose in a temple on a whim, and finds ways to save her writing from her arson-minded parents. In case this wasn’t obvious already, she’s really fucking cool, and I want to be like her when I grow up.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the characterization of Ana and Jesus. She calls him “Beloved”; he calls her “Little Thunder.” They are literally the cutest couple. Ana is fierce, hilarious, and iron-willed. She makes impulsive decisions, but she’s not stupid. She’s strong and resourceful, and she finds ways to get what she wants. Jesus is kind, hard-working, and loving. He sees Ana exactly as she is, and he loves her for it.

“I’m unsuited for you,” I said. “Certainly you know this…I have ambitions as men do. I’m racked with longings. I’m selfish and willful and sometimes deceitful. I rebel. I’m easy to anger. I doubt the ways of God. I’m an outsider everywhere I go. People look on me with derision.”

“I know all of this,” he said.

“And you would still have me?”

“The question is whether you will have me.”

Unlike other men of his era, Jesus delights in Ana’s spirit. He never orders her to be demure or ladylike. He encourages her to write and supports her use of birth control, despite his own desire for children. When Ana’s herbs fail her and she becomes pregnant, he celebrates with her; when their daughter is stillborn, he grieves with her. Though they don’t talk about it much, he later tells her he would’ve called their daughter “Littlest Thunder,” which broke my heart into a million tiny pieces. Throughout the course of their marriage, Jesus frequently goes away in order to find work, but he always returns to Ana.

Unfortunately, their peaceful life cannot last, and after several years Jesus starts to feel he is being called to a higher purpose. After a brief stint with John the Baptist (here referred to as “John the Immerser”), Jesus begins to spread his own teachings, gaining a huge following of people who name him King of the Jews. This puts him at odds with Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea, who feels he is better suited to the title than Jesus. After warning Herod’s first wife that Herod intends to kill her following his second marriage, Ana flees to Alexandria to avoid arrest, and spends the final two years of her marriage separated from Jesus. During her second year in Egypt, she and Yaltha find refuge with the Therapeutae, a religious sect with whom Yaltha had previously lived. Eventually Ana receives word from her adopted brother Judas that it is more or less safe for her to return to Galilee, but her journey suffers multiple setbacks, and she arrives in time to find Jesus being paraded through the streets on his way to his crucifixion.

The rest of Jesus’s life should be fairly clear to anyone even vaguely informed on his general life and times, but Ana’s story doesn’t end with his. After his death, she returns to Alexandria to live with the Therapeutae*, eventually becoming their leader, and dedicates the rest of her life to her writing. At the end of the book she buries a copy of her writings to save them from possible future destruction, and leaves the secret of their location with other members of the Therapeutae, to be handed down from generation to generation. I didn’t really know going in what to expect from this book, but that ending was absolutely perfect. If you haven’t already, add this book to your reading list, because everybody needs to read it.

*Just to be clear, the Therapeutae live on the shore of Lake Mareotis, backed by cliffs and with a clear view of the water. They spend their mornings in engaged in the work that keeps them all alive (farming, animal care, etc.) and their afternoons engaged in spiritual work (reading and writing). I have no words to explain how jealous I am. I feel like I could live with the religious angle if I were allowed to spend all my time reading and writing.


The Girl with the Louding Voice
Abi Daré

I am a word snob. My opinion of a given author’s facility for words will make or break my opinion of the book itself, regardless of its actual story, so I want you to take my full meaning when I say that the broken English employed in The Girl with the Louding Voice did not bother me. I don’t know how Daré did it, but the language she used was so beautiful and so well done that, even though it didn’t fit within English grammatical norms, I never struggled to understand what she was saying. Everything she wrote made perfect sense, and it used the language in ways that would never have occurred to me. Jennicorn and I read this one together, and we were both blown away.

The Girl with the Louding Voice tells the story of fourteen-year-old Adunni, who lives in Ikati, a village in Nigeria. Her first language is Yoruba, but she and everyone else typically communicate in rudimentary English. Adunni wants nothing more than to go to school in order to get a good job and develop a “louding voice,” a voice so loud that people will listen to what she says, but she is forced to stop school when her mother dies and her tuition money runs out. Even faced with these obstacles, Adunni continues to study on her own and starts teaching her eleven-year-old brother, Kayus, as well as other children who haven’t had the chance to go to school. All of this ends, however, when she is sold to Morufu, a twice-married taxi driver old enough to be her father. I mean that literally, not hyperbolically. His eldest daughter is Adunni’s age. He already has two wives, Labake and Khadija, but the minute you get to his compound and you see his four daughters you know exactly why he wants a third wife. Morufu is not shy about his reasons; he tells Adunni that he fully expects her to give him a son, and he also tells Khadija that if her fourth child is not a boy, he will send her back to her father’s house and let them all starve to death.

Adunni endures several months of torture, both from Morufu and Labake, but Khadija is a kind-hearted woman who befriends Adunni and helps her to survive, even helping her with her homemade birth control. Things abruptly take a turn for the worse when Khadija dies, and Adunni goes on the run, knowing she may be executed for Khadija’s death, even though she had nothing to do with it. She eventually ends up in the hands of Kola, a man who makes his living selling young girls as maids to wealthy families, and is sold to a woman named Big Madam, in whose house she suffers horrific abuse. While working for Big Madam, she learns that the last housemaid, Rebecca, was raped and groomed by Big Madam’s husband before going missing, and she begins to worry that she’ll share Rebecca’s fate, which is an entirely reasonable concern. One of the more troubling patterns in the book is the ways in which the women are screwed over by the men they know, which I’ve enumerated below.

Adunni’s Father
Adunni’s father marries her to a man so old he already has four children and has to take drugs before he can get it up.

Morufu
Morufu frequently threatens his wives with beatings, starvation, and death. He makes Khadija so desperate for a son that she conceives her fourth child with Bamidele, the man she originally wanted to marry, whose family produces mostly boys. He also marries his eldest daughter, Kike, to a significantly older man in order to get rid of her.

Bamidele
Bamidele tells Khadija that the women in his family have to bathe in the Kere River before giving birth, and that the ones who didn’t have all died. When her baby starts to come a month early, Khadija goes to Bamidele, believing he will help her with the bathing ritual, but he instead runs away and leaves her to die on the riverbank, presumably to keep everyone from finding out that he had an affair.

Kola
Kola tells Adunni he will collect her wages for her and bring them to her after her first three months, but predictably absconds with the money. When Adunni brings this up to Kofi, Big Madam’s chef, he tells her that Kola did the same thing to Rebecca.

Big Daddy
Big Madam’s husband, Big Daddy, is a useless alcoholic fuckboy who spends his days chasing after other women while Big Madam does all the work and makes all the money. While Big Madam is in the hospital visiting her sister, Big Daddy watches TV and demands cupcakes from Kofi. When Big Madam calls him out on his bullshit, he beats her. He also raped and groomed Rebecca prior to the events of the story. He got her pregnant and convinced her he was going to marry her, but gave her a drug to make her miscarry at four months, after which Big Madam kicked her out of the house. He attempts to groom Adunni as well, offering her money to try to win her over, but finally snaps and tries to rape her. Big Madam so resents his courtship that she treats Adunni more harshly than she treated any of her previous maids.

Dr. Ken Dada
While working for Big Madam, Adunni meets Tia Dada, who is kind to her and later becomes her tutor. Tia’s husband is infertile but doesn’t see fit to share this information with her because he believes she will never want children. As a result, his mother pressures Tia into a fertility ritual that is supposed to be a bath but actually turns out to be a vicious flogging intended to drive out “the evil of childlessness.” Adunni, who encouraged Tia to go through with the bath, is horrified and guilt-stricken at the brutality of the flogging.

I want to ask why [Tia’s husband] didn’t come too. Why didn’t he come and get a beating like his wife? If it takes two people to make a baby, why only one person, the woman, is suffering when the baby is not coming? Is it because she is the one with breast and the stomach for being pregnant? Or because of what? I want to ask, to scream, why are the women in Nigeria seem to be suffering for everything more than the men?

Good questions, Adunni. I wish I had answers. And yet, even with everything that Adunni has been through, even after everything she and the other women have suffered, the book isn’t completely without light. Adunni is smart, hard-working, and feisty as hell. The morning after her wedding night, she has this to say:

The knife make me wonder evil a moment. Make me think, if I take that knife and keep inside my dress, then when Morufu want to rough me this night, I just bring it out and slice off his man-areas.

Upon learning that Kola will run away with her money, this is her first thought:

“You mean he will be running away with my moneys?” I ask, feeling my heart begin to climb up and down, up and down. “Because I swear I will be finding that man and knocking his head with this too-big shoe on my feets.”

Good Lord, I hope she never changes. I seriously doubt that she will; she has a strong personality, and, despite the number of people who tell her to sit down and shut up throughout the story, she persists in asking questions and learning as much as she can. Though she initially sees herself as unworthy of attention, owing to a lifetime of dismissal and abuse, she spends the book learning to see herself instead as a person of value, a person who deserves to live her life the way she wants to, a person who can help strengthen Nigeria. She never loses sight of this goal, and, with help from Kofi and Tia, she eventually wins a scholarship and manages to leave the world of servitude behind, hopefully forever.

This is what I mean when I say that I seem to have gotten into a cycle of heartbreaking books, because Louding Voice broke my heart so many times and in so many inventive ways, both happy and sad. I am now officially that person who cries over books. Like with The Map of Salt and Stars, I was and still am abjectly grateful that Louding Voice has a happy ending, because it wasn’t always clear that it would. I was expecting Adunni to win the scholarship, but the story could just as easily have gone the other way. It could have made Adunni lose everything. It could have turned her into the next Rebecca, and I’m so glad that it didn’t.


Final Thoughts

Both of these books were amazing and I want to read them again, which is why I now have them in audio form as well. I’m a borderline obnoxiously fussy reader but I had no problems with either of these books, which should really tell you something. I only had one tiny gripe with the cover of Louding Voice, which is a gripe I have with the publisher and the industry in general rather than with the book itself. Please stand by, I’m going to have a quick tantrum…

WHAT IS THIS CRAP ON MY COVER?

Dear Publishers,

You seriously need to stop putting this shit on my book covers because it is pissing me off. I don’t give two shits who recommends this book. I’m still going to read it anyway. I’d read it even if Margaret Atwood said she hated it. I’m a grown-ass woman and I can decide for myself if the book sounds interesting or not. I don’t care about this “Read with Jenna” nonsense. I had to Google that to find out which fucking Jenna you were talking about. I’m mad that it’s not a sticker and I can’t remove it. This cover is so beautiful and so perfect and there’s this stupid little “Read with Jenna” circle messing it up. I’m also mildly annoyed that the author of American Dirt is quoted on the cover. I refuse to read American Dirt, which pirates the work of better writers with minimal effort, and I feel like it’s already received more than enough air time without crawling onto other writers’ books.

I told you I was fussy.

Obviously, none of this is the fault of either the author or the book. My reading was not stained by this dumbass permanent sticker on the cover. With or without the sticker, The Girl with the Louding Voice is an absolute must-read.

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.

*UPDATE 8/7/2020: I’ve downgraded them to three stars because, in retrospect, they really don’t deserve four.


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’s 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

March Reading Summary

I know. I’m late.

I had the foresight to summarize my February reading on the first day of March, but now we’re halfway through April and it only just recently occurred to me that I hadn’t yet made a March reading post because this quarantine has been kinda killing my motivation. While I don’t object to the idea of staying inside and never going anywhere, it’s actually made me less productive because the TV’s always on and there’s Pokémon to be caught and a huge backlog of Forged in Fire episodes to watch. Look I’m not proud of myself okay 😭

Anyway: today I happened to be unusually motivated, partly because it’s the weekend but mostly because I decided I was going to support my favorite sandwich shop, which makes the best tuna sandwiches I’ve ever had.

This was a very good decision, because it motivated me to clean up the hideous black holes that my bookcases had become, not to mention all the random-ass books that were scattered around my desk and on the floor.

Apparently it’s been a while since I’ve dusted the black bookcase, because two of my bookends left prints on the shelf. I was amused.

I was originally going to go through my books and see if I wanted to donate anything to make room for all the new books I bought but haven’t read, but then I realized that I haven’t read probably about 90% of the books on my shelves and I didn’t actually want to give any of them away, so I ended up opening up a new shelf on another case and moving all the anthologies there. This somehow turned into me pulling all the books off their shelves, dusting the shelves, and putting all the books back in alphabetical order by author. I mean, it’s not like I’m going anywhere.

OMG I ACTUALLY HAVE SPACE……………………..FOR MORE BOOKS

I even had extra room on the new anthologies shelf for my library books, so now they’re not blocking the children’s section anymore!

Unexpected hazard: I kept knocking my duck off her shelf and just narrowly catching her. I’ve really gotta find a better home for her.

Bonus: I actually did manage to find a pile of books to donate.

PROGRESS. 🥳


March Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. The Great Passage – Shion Miura
  2. Snow & Rose – Emily Winfield Martin
  3. The Lake – Banana Yoshimoto
  4. The Girl in Red – Christina Henry
  5. The Dove’s Necklace – Raja Alem

Total Pages Read: 1,531

My March page count is significantly lower than my February page count, but February was padded out by twenty 200-page mangas, which really added up fast. In February I only read three books that I would consider “real” and in March I read five, so I’m pretty pleased with my progress. Even if it doesn’t happen within the next year or so, I want to eventually get to the point where I don’t have to rely on mangas to meet my reading goal.


And now, a moment of silence for my expectations.

The Dove’s Necklace
Raja Alem

Warning: Spoilers and a lot of confusion.

March’s crowning achievement was the completion of The Dove’s Necklace, which was………really something. I’ve never been this upset by a book, not even when I was slogging through The Amber Spyglass. The last time I wrote about The Dove’s Necklace, I thought I was going to love it because it was supposed to be “nuanced as a Nabokov novel.” The main difficulty that I for some reason did not anticipate is that I usually don’t understand Nabokov novels.

I think part of the problem was that I just didn’t get this book. I know absolutely nothing about Arabic history and culture, and I kinda get the feeling that the book would’ve made more sense if I’d been better informed. It didn’t help that the prose did indeed remind me of a typical Nabokov novel, in that it was so intricate that I spent most of my time trying to figure out what the author was saying. I hated all the characters, didn’t always recognize them when they popped up, and ended up doing a blitz read just so I could finish the book without getting hung up on the prose. I skimmed through the five-page character monologues and neverending emails/diaries so fast that I might as well have skipped them, but I think I caught most of the major points.

I missed a lot of finer details while I was blitzing, but the gist of the story is that a young woman is found naked and presumably murdered in the Lane of Many Heads, a low-income neighborhood in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The case is assigned to Detective Nasser al-Qahtani, who learns that the victim may be either Azza or Aisha, two young women who grew up in the Lane of Many Heads and recently went missing. Over the course of his investigation, Nasser reads the extensive love letters Aisha has written to her German boyfriend and gradually becomes obsessed with her. In a parallel storyline, Azza’s childhood friend and adoptive brother Yusuf learns that he is descended from a family that had something to do with the key to the Kaaba, most of whose history I have forgotten.

As far as I can tell, the dead woman in the alley was Aisha. I’m 99.9999999% sure that Aisha jumped off the roof following the stillbirth of her illegitimate child, and that Azza, who was secretly seeing a wealthy property developer named Khalid al-Sibaykhan, took advantage of her suicide to fake her own death and run. Azza briefly alludes to Aisha jumping, and also has disturbing memories of helping Aisha both deliver and bury her child. The other possibility is that Aisha was murdered by her runaway husband, who found her naked and video chatting with her boyfriend, but she seems to have fought him off and I’m not sure if he went back after that. Either way, Azza runs away to become al-Sibaykhan’s mistress and doesn’t directly appear in the story until the last third of the book, when she is introduced as Nora. I wish I could say she’s happy and fulfilled, but she is in fact trapped in a deeply unhealthy relationship with a man who thinks nothing of selling her into prostitution as a punishment for running away from him. And, at the end of the book, nothing changes: though Azza turns out to be a talented artist and starts putting on exhibitions of her work, though Yusuf unexpectedly appears and tries to get her to run away with him and she almost makes it out of the parking lot, she balks when she realizes that Yusuf is accompanied by Nasser, who turns out to be al-Sibaykhan’s personal assistant. Her story ends with her walking back into al-Sibaykhan’s office, with the understanding that she is going to be punished, while Yusuf is incapacitated and either arrested or killed by Nasser.

This was what pissed me off more than anything, because I struggled through 500 pages of Arabic philosophy to end up in exactly the same spot. Azza is back with al-Sibaykhan, Yusuf is back in jail, and al-Sibaykhan is still going to bulldoze the Lane of Many Heads. I understand why Azza went back. I understand that she had nowhere else to go and would probably not have been safe from al-Sibaykhan even if she had found somewhere to hide. I understand that she had nothing of her own and would not have been able to live off her art. It’s certainly a realistic ending, but it also means that after a 500-page slog there’s zero payoff. The other major obstacles for me were Yusuf’s articles and Aisha’s babbly emails, which extensively quoted D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love and often came with several multi-paragraph postscripts. I’ve never been a fan of the Character Writing Letters device, and this book did not change my mind.

This isn’t to say that the book was bad. I would call it upsetting rather than bad. The prose, though hard to follow, was (when I understood it) lovely and often funny. My favorite part was probably the Lane of Many Heads, which was treated as a character unto itself and often served as a narrator. I may not have been able to appreciate this particular book, but I’m definitely going to look up other Middle Eastern writers. My reading list to date has been very homogeneous, but that’s going to change. I’m tired of visiting only one part of the literary globe.


Miscellaneous Reading News

I’ve told myself all along that I wouldn’t make an Instagram just for my books, which is why I now have one. 😬 I decided this week that I wanted a dedicated bookgram so I could spam everybody with gratuitous book pics connect with the reading community on Instagram without random junk pictures getting in the way, so my book photos will be posted on bookycnidaria moving forward. If you know any good bookgrams I should follow, please let me know. My follow list is rather sparse at the moment.

Quarantine Day 27

Well, here we are.

It’s been 27 days since the office shut down, 21 days since my last post, 12 days since Maryland was ordered to shelter in place, and 10 days since I last wore shoes. Today it occurred to me to mark the first day of quarantine in my work planner, you know, for posterity or something.

Don’t come after me if they don’t get better, I’m just speculating.

I can’t say the quarantine has drastically altered anything that I’d normally be doing, since I have no life and weekend staycations are my jam and I’m that person who makes up excuses to avoid going out, but I do start to go slightly bats when I can’t drive off whenever I want, so I now have planned excursions every couple of weeks. This week Jennicorn and I took advantage of Krispy Kreme’s Be Sweet Saturday and went halfsies on a box of donuts, because we’re adults and we make excellent decisions.

I have no idea who needs to hear this right now, but Krispy Kreme is running a quarantine deal where if you buy a dozen glazed donuts on a Saturday you get a second box for free. Jennicorn agreed to split the cost of one box, so we each ended up with a dozen donuts for five bucks. I also got to see Jennicorn face to face when I dropped off the donuts at her house, which was really nice. As a card-carrying modern-day suburban hermit who was social distancing way before it was cool, I sometimes forget how nice it is just to hang out, even if you’re six feet apart and separated by a door.

Other than the quarantine, life has been going pretty much the same as usual. My main hurdle so far has been learning to telework, which I’ve honestly never done because I’ve never been essential enough or permanent enough to be trusted with company equpiment. I normally wouldn’t be teleworking even in this job, but in this case we had no choice, so I’ve spent the better part of the last month trying to figure out how to balance work and life without getting them tangled, and it’s been a trip. The biggest problem was that it took a while to get used to the idea of being barred from the office, because my first day of telework was an unqualified disaster. Everything in my life seems to like to stack up at once, so the week we went into quarantine was also the week I was telecommuting for the first time in my life, setting up my new work laptop, trying to figure out how to get the server to work, and shipping three difficult projects, none of which seemed to want to die a quiet death. I’d pulled all my files off the server and loaded them onto the laptop beforehand and thought I was ready, but then I actually got started and realized that between the server, the volume and complexity of the edits, and my wi-fi speed, there was no conceivable way to ship from home. This did not have a happy ending: it ended with me running to the office around noon on Monday after spending thirty minutes trying to open one file, and then staying at the office till 10 pm and getting in the cleaners’ way. Then on Tuesday I told myself I was going to stay home for the whole day, but my resolution cracked like an egg when I realized I’d completely failed to package a crucial InDesign file while I was in the office on Monday. Since I’d been allowed to go in on Monday, I sneaked back in on Tuesday afternoon and got in the cleaners’ way again. On Wednesday I finally figured out how to get around the wi-fi problem and stopped going into the office for every little emergency, which means I’ve been pretty much camped out here for the last month.

I still haven’t completely figured out the work-life thing, partly because there are currently zero degrees of separation between my bedroom and my office, but mostly because I had eight projects shipping during the first three weeks of quarantine. This past week was much more relaxed; those eight projects all got shoveled out the door, so I was able to slow down and take it easy for a bit. It’s a lot easier to balance work and life when you’re not working late every night and I get to wear sweatpants to work and have a nice lunch if I feel like it, so things aren’t too bad right now. I’ve also gotten to spend more time with my new coworker, the Senior Nap Manager.

Teleworking isn’t always the greatest, but the Senior Nap Manager keeps me on track and reminds me to take every day as it comes. As frustrating as work can be, I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have a steady job that lets me work from home. I can’t imagine what kind of trouble I’d be in right now if I hadn’t found this job, if I’d been working at Papyrus up to the day it went bankrupt. As much as I complain, I’m still glad to be here. I’m glad to be part of a team that works hard and doesn’t mind when I prank them on the team forum, which I did last Wednesday. It took a little while for the joke to sink in, but they got it eventually. 🤣

PSA: Always check your pockets. I left my violin in my pocket on laundry day and she shrank in the wash. Worst. Day. Ever. 😭😭😭

And now, since I’ve run out of things to say and I do kinda miss going out, here’s a couple of pics from the last time (I think?) I was in a restaurant:

……….I really need to clean out my phone.

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!!! 😍😍😍