2015 :: My Year in Books

2015 was the best reading year I’ve ever had in my life! I successfully read 25 books this year and even joined book/beer club called Titles on Tap, which has largely contributed to so many books under my belt. Taking the train every day and having 40 minutes of quiet time both ways also provided the perfect time for reading. Since I’ve read such a wide range, I decided to share the best and worst of the year, and what I hope to accomplish in 2016.

Best Reads of 2015

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel // This novel was on many “best of” lists this year. And rightfully so! It’s lyrical, haunting, and impossible to put down. There are a lot of post-apocolyptic novels out there, but this is the first I’ve read that really explored the things we take for granted in modern society. This was one of those books, that was truly an amazing reading experience.
  2. Horns by Joe Hill // I don’t know what it was, but I feel like I read this book at the perfect time in my life. The New England imagery, twenty-something year old ennui, themes of Catholic guilt, a healthy dose of magical realism; it just spoke to me. If you saw the terrible disappointment 0f a movie this was, don’t be dissuaded. I couldn’t believe how much they changed. It was practically a different story! But if you want a very juicy, dark tale, this novel will hit you.
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood // This is supposedly a work of fiction, but it is very much on its way to being a reality. With the upcoming election looming over us, this classic work is more poignant than ever. With it’s powerful themes and symbols, it’s easy to see why this book has become a must-read in everyone’s lifetime. You can read more of my thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale in my book pairings post.

Worst of 2015

I usually have more to say about books I don’t like…

  1. Dietland by Sarai Walker // Ugh. This book was so misguided. Many have praised it as Margaret Atwood meets that biddy who wrote the Something BorrowedSomething Blue books – the modern feminist manifesto. Well as we know, I adored The Handmaid’s Tale and Margaret Atwood this was not. I guess it had potential; I’m always down for women overthrowing the patriarchy, but this book had a serious tone problem. For an earnest attempt at satire, it lacked the necessary snark. The good? It is a voice out there campaigning for change. But is this the kind of feminism that we want? One that believes their way is the only way? One that has an extremely narrow view on mental health, body acceptance, and sexual expression? I implore that this book be kept out of the hands of baby feminists so they don’t make it their doctrine.
  2. Breed by Chase Novak // What an ill-written, hot mess. To be fair, it was for book club and I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise. The narrative style changed throughout, not a care was given for the characters, the story was figutatively and geologically all over the place, and for a horror novel, it was about as scary as your 6 year old neighbor with a sheet over his head. Snore.
  3. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn // Dark is right. I don’t know what disturbed me more: pedophilia and assisted suicide, or Middle America? At least it inspired my first Book Pairings Post!

2016 Reading Goals

  1. 24 Books! 2 Books a month. I think that’s a good pace.
  2. More non-fiction.
  3. Read the Cormoran Strike series.
  4. Try to dive into graphic novels.

Happy New Year, bookworms!

Book Pairings :: The Handmaid’s Tale

Just like a sommelier recommends the perfect wine for your meal, I am here to pair the ideal drink for your reading pleasure. Book Pairings is an unconventional book review that expresses my thoughts and feelings about a novel in terms of booze.

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The Book: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Booze: Red Wine. Any Red Wine.

Grab your red wine. Grab your red wine and hold it close, because there may be a day when all the simple pleasures in life are stripped from you. Every basic right you have—reading, writing, your own name—that you take for granted, can someday, in the not too distant future, be taken away. This is the fate that befalls the United States in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The distopian world left in its wake is that of the religious fundamentalist extreme. Women can no longer work or hold property, all carnal pleasures, such as sex, alcohol, and tobacco, are absolutely forbiddden, no one is allowed to read or write, money is no longer used, and an elaborate class system, distinguished by the color they wear, seperates those in power from those not even entitled a name. Our heroine, Offred, is the lowest of the low: a handmaid, who’s only purpose in life is to be a walking womb. Since no one’s allowed to have sex, someone has to be responsible for repopulation… other than old white men, of course. And because of her position, she is viewed as a whore and a savage, completely driven by physical appetite. It is amazing how the people of this new world have abandoned their sense of justice in order to selfishly protect themselves. But many, including Offred, remember their old lives and will try to reclaim it in their own ways.

Red is the color of the handmaids’ cloaks, the color that labels them a pariah, and red is the color of the wine you should savor while reading The Handmaid’s Tale. It doesn’t matter if it is a sweet pinot noir or a robust shiraz, if it’s been aged for centuries or a bottle of two-buck chuck you picked up at the supermarket this afternoon; it should be treated as a luxury no matter what. The handmaids go through their average day with only limited, pious interaction, but once in a blue moon, when one of them gives birth, they are allowed to congregate and speak freely among each other. Over a shared flask of wine, passed among the crowd, they can reminisce about the lost days and learn the whereabouts of missing friends and family. The wine is an important part of holding onto their identity.

Margaret Atwood’s novel is highly regarded as a feminist anthem, but it’s so much more than just that. It’s a beautifully written, and sometimes humorous, tale of perseverence, as well as a sobering reminder of what can eventually happen if we mix religion with politics and neglect the basic rights of all our citizens. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed this book! I was so lucky that a friend read it around the same time I did, becuse all I wanted to do was discuss the fate of the characters, draw parallels to today’s society, and argue whether we could muster sympathy towards those who created this world. Everyone needs to read The Handmaid’s Tale in their lifetime.

So raise a glass and toast to to those protecting the rights of women, both in real life and in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Book Pairings :: Trickster’s Queen

Just like a sommelier recommends the perfect wine for your meal, I am here to pair the ideal drink for your reading pleasure. Book Pairings is an unconventional book review that expresses my thoughts and feelings about a novel in terms of booze.

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The Book: Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce

The Booze: Rum Mangonadas with Chili

Hmm, I feel a little weird about mixing alcohol with a Young Adult book, but let’s get serious here, you’re never too old for a good YA novel and if you disagree, you’re in denial. I read Trickster’s Choice, the first book in the Daughter of the Lioness series ages ago and I don’t know what happened; I never picked up the sequel, Trickster’s Queen! Now, years later, I was looking through the stacks at the library and it jumped out at me. I remembered how much I enjoyed the first book, and was eager to see what happened where I left off.

To those growing up in the late 90s with a hunger for fantasy, the name Tamora Pierce should ring a few bells. She has authored numerous books and short stories set in the medieval and magial kingdom of Tortall, all of which follow badass young ladies wielding great power and destroying gender roles. As she kept on writing, Pierce has matured along with her audience; The Tricksters books are much longer and deal with darker, more sophisticated content than those of her first three series, The Lioness QuartetThe Immortals Quartet, and The Protector of the Small. However, fans are rewarded with allusions to past characters and the lore of Tortall. Both Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen follow Alianne, the daughter of Alanna, Tortall’s first lady knight, as she finds herself in the exotic, but tumultuous Copper Isles. Her wit and ambition have won over the favors of a cunning, umpredictable god who has decided to use her as a pawn to restore the rightful queen to the throne. At first she sees this task as just another game to play, but soon develops strong ties to the future rulers, the rebels, and an important ally, Nawat, a crow who has transformed into a man.

The first book, Trickster’s Choice, can run a bit slow at times, as it is primarily world building to set up the real action in Trickster’s Queen. The political history of the Copper Isles and its many lines of succession can get complicated and often murky, but our heroine Aly’s charm and romantic sideplots make it worthwhile. Once Aly has truly aligned herself to the rebels’ cause in Trickster’s Queen, does the story accelerate. It is here, that the rebels move to the capital city and Aly becomes their spymaster. I couldn’t get enough of the spy aspect of things! The romance, which is pretty cliche for a YA novel, also diminishes, while action and intrigue is turned to full throttle. Unfortunately, the can-do, sassy attitude that makes Aly attractive in the first book can get a little pretentious and overwhelming after a while, but all in all, I recommend the Tricksters series for an entertaining read.

I’ve decided to do something a bit different for the pairing this time; I’m giving you a recipe for Rum Mangonadas!

Trickster’s Queen takes place in the Copper Isles, a land that Pierce says was highly influenced by Indonesia. To experience the feel of a jungle paradise, the basis of our book pairing is a refreshing mango smoothie mixed with rum to harken to the ships coming in and out of Rajmuat’s (the trade center of the Copper Isles) harbor. Aly was in for a shock when she arrived here, as the food of the Raka, the native people, is dangerously spicy. If you’re a hot sauce fan like me, this sounds great! Add the spice of the Isles to your smoothie by garnishing it with chili powder. But that’s not all! Just like the protagonist Aly, everything hides a secret. She wouldn’t be able to help pull off a coup d’etat if she didn’t look like a sweet lady’s maid, of course while harboring deadly skills. Your mangonada is concealing a dollop of chamoy, a Mexican condiment that salty, sweet, sour, and spicy all at the same time. Much like our young spymaster. Your drink should end up looking like this…

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… unless you’re an idiot like me, in which case it turns out all mixed together.

Do I have you intrigued? If so, try making the following recipe while reading Trickster’s Queen, and be sure to let me know how it goes!

Rum Mangonadas with Chili

  • 2 cups frozen mango
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 shots rum
  • 2 tablespoons honey or agave
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Chamoy to taste
    • Can be found in the international section of your local supermarket, or you can make your own!
  • Chili powder to taste

First, dice the frozen mango and place it in a blender with the water, rum, lemon juice, and honey.

Blend until you reach a frappe consistency. If it’s not mixing well, add more water and mash fruit with a spoon. Add more honey or agave if not sweet enough.

Next, place the chamoy at the bottom of your glass and cover it by filling the rest of the glass with mango smoothie. You can add additional layers of chamoy and chili powder if you want.

Garnish the top with more chamoy and chili.

Serve!

(Check out the original, nonalcoholic recipe here)

Book Pairings :: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Just like a sommelier recommends the perfect wine for your meal, I am here to pair the ideal drink for your reading pleasure. Book Pairings is an unconventional book review that expresses my thoughts and feelings about a novel in terms of booze.

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The Book: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

The Booze: Mimosas

If you take a gander at any “Best Books of the 20th Century” or “Books to Read in a Lifetime” list, this particularly humorous memoir comes up everytime. You may have heard of its author as a regular contributor to NPR or an as an essayist in The New Yorker, and if you haven’t you should drag yourself out of that cozy rock you’re under and check him out. That author is David Sedaris, and that memoir is Me Talk Pretty One Day. Apparently I can die now, because I read it.

I was first exposed to him during a live performance of The Santaland Diaries, a sidesplitting account of his shortlived career as a Macy’s (or similar) elf. Although few can say they’ve been Santa’s helper, Sedaris’s talents come in his ability to find humor in the everyday experience. Which brings me to our book pairing: the perfect way to start your morning, a mimosa. This mix of champagne and orange juice takes an ordinary, everyday staple and adds a bubble to tickle your soul.

Part One: The Champagne. Sedaris has authored many many memoirs in his career, and he’s still going! This man has lived more lives than Captain Bluebear (13 1/2, for those who don’t know)! Despite having many outlandish adventures as a child, student, and adult, Me Talk Pretty focuses primarily on his life abroad in France with his ridiculously cool boyfriend (who when I found out they’re still together made me squeal with happiness). He struggles to learn the language, adjust to a foreign country, and avoids as much as possible to be seen as the stereotypical “stupid American.” Therefore, I thought the perfect drink for this book would be something inherently French. Champagne, by it’s very name, is that drink. You can drink sparkling wine from anywhere, but unless it’s made in the Champagne region of France, it is not Champagne.

Part Two: The Orange Juice. I first picked this book up at the library in its physical form, however, a few pages in I realized that I simply could not read a David Sedaris book. It must be listened to. These are his personal experiences and he’s just so sarcastic, that you’re missing out on the narrative if he’s not reading it. After downloading it on Audible, I soon fell into a routine of listening to a chapter or two as I enjoyed my morning. Nestled in my favorite chair, eating my breakfast with a hot cup of tea, this book has been cemented in my mind as breakfast food. That is why I simply had to make its paired drink the ideal brunching booze.

Although I wasn’t blown away by Me Talk Pretty One Day, it was a very enjoyable read. Whether you’re imagining guitar lessons with his perverted midget guitar teacher or spending time with his somewhat twisted family, you’ll be laughing away at his interpretations of his world. So mix yourself a mimosa and grab this or one of David Sedaris’s many other hysterical memoirs.

Book Pairings :: Dark Places

Just like a sommelier recommends the perfect wine for your meal, I am here to pair the ideal drink for your reading pleasure. Book Pairings is an unconventional book review that expresses my thoughts and feelings about a novel in terms of booze.

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The Book: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

The Booze: Keystone Light

On a drizzly Saturday night in early September, I stood in a dank, crowded basement with a group of girls whom I had only met a week ago. We weren’t really speaking; there was nothing to talk about. We were standing around in a pack cradling red solo cups that we had just received by a guy manning the keg. Most of the people I was with had already got to work depleting their nectar of the college gods. I, on the other hand, stared at its pale sudsy contents. Here it was, my first sip of alcohol. I’m about to be a big girl now. I brought the beer to my lips and took a sizeable gulp, letting the taste wash over my tongue. However, a sobering thought washed over my brain:

“Good god! I’m supposed to like this?!”

This disgusting excuse for a beverage was Keystone Light, and if Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places was to have an alcoholic doppelganger, it would certainly be it.

Dark Places is by no means the worst book I’ve ever read. In fact, unlike Keystone Light, I couldn’t put it down. Gillian Flynn’s sophomore thriller has her twisted stylings and unsuspecting turns that can be found in her other novels (seriously, what happened in this lady’s life that she thinks of this shit?!). Told through the eyes of the victim, the suspect, and a witness, the novel follow the search for truth to the gruesome Satanic massacre of an impoverish Kansas family. Enlisted by a group of amateur sleuthers that call themselves the Kill Club, Libby Day, the sole survivor of her family’s murder, goes down the rabbit hole of that dark day’s events to determine if her teenage brother Ben was really the hand behind the gun. Potential, right? I was constantly turning characters into suspects and eagerly awaiting the next clue. But just like Keystone Light is watered down beer, this novel had me craving more substance. It was a watered down version of what it could be. I wanted more depth to the characters, more motive behind the events, and quite frankly, with the novel’s undertones of devil worship, I wanted more supernatural.

Oh, but there are more parallels to be drawn! Anyone who has sipped cheap beer in a cold, frat basement knows that it doesn’t get better as it goes on. Likewise, the main characters remain unlikeable to the very end. The protagonist, Libby, is the first to call herself “an unlikeable child,” but she continues to be an unlikeable adult. Friendless, disgruntle, disgraced, a kleptomaniac, yet with an internal monologue of undergrad with a degree in creative fiction, it is hard as a reader to care about her. While it is absolutely understandable how she ended up this way (immense childhood trauma probably does that to a person), Flynn does very little with her growth throughout the novel. By the end, I didn’t really care one way or another what happened to Libby once the pages ended. Same goes for her brother, the convicted, supposedly demonic Ben. As much as rumors surrounding him are dispelled, he was introduced as a little shit, and being a little shit is what gets him in trouble.

Then there is the overall mood of the novel: depressing and desolate as the muted plains of Kansas. Flynn is clearly commentating on the correlation between poverty and choice, but it is just as much likely to simply decide never to step foot in Middle America again. It is easy to imagine Runner Day, Libby’s father, downing a can of American light lager on his way to see his kids, or Ben Day getting drunk in the woods off the Keystone thrown at him. To them, it is not so much the taste of the beer as it is how quick it is to get drunk without spending a penny. And to me, tasteless beer is depressing.

If you just want to drink something to get a buzz, pick up keystone light; if you just want to read something to wet your mind, pick up Dark Places.

Going Back to Hogwarts with the Harry Potter Re-Read

“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

Here it is; the incentive I need to stop being such a bad blogger. That incentive, of course, is Harry Potter (like all incentives should be). Since starting work at the most khaki wearing, cubicle dwelling job ever, the Harry Potter series have been on my mind a lot. While waiting to actually have a role here, checking out some small posts about new Pottermore content have led to perusing Potter Pinterest boards, listening to Potter podcasts, and even inspired a small, super nerdy fanfic (I’m really bored, ok?!). I’ve got Hogwarts on brain! So when I saw Book Journey’s Re-Read Challenge on Bitches with Books, I had to jump on board… even if it is a little late. In the next few months, I will be devouring all seven Harry Potter books, while trying to squeeze in my other readings, and blogging about any memories they have stirred up or new thoughts that they have inspired. Sound good? I thought so too.

Before I embark on my magical quest, I’ll let you know a little bit of my history with the series and what House I’ll be earning points for.

On my tenth birthday, my aunt came back from a business trip to London toting my present: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Instantly I was enthralled by their colorful covers depicting castles, flying brooms, and mystical creatures like unicorns, phoenixes, and a certain three-headed dog. The very same day I was playing pretend with my younger cousin, imagining a tennis ball was the golden snitch depicted on the first book, which I was under the impression was the titular sorcerer’s stone. After that, my life became entwined with Harry’s. I waited for my owl the following year, I “dated” my first boyfriend when he had a fling with Cho Chang, and I graduated high school when the Golden Trio’s last adventure was released. Basically, if I was to make a list of the most influential pieces of culture in my life, Harry Potter would be either first or second (he can duke it out with the Lord of the Rings movies). Since I have read all seven books at least once (and I believe six of them twice or more) I will be participating in the challenge as a seventh year. In all honesty, I should probably be a professor.

Additionally I’m in…

ta-da! Hufflepuff!

Every sorting quiz from Pottermore, down to shoddy Buzzfeed ones has placed me in Gryffindor (really, I’m flattered), but I know where I truly belong. It’s probably my thirst for adventure, travel, and willingness to try new things that have labeled me brave and noble, but god, I hate confrontation and wouldn’t want to do any of those things without my friends by my side. Power to the Puff!

So don your capes and get on your brooms; let’s get this Harry Potter Read-Along started!

Worst Book of the Summer: Memoirs of a Geisha

I’m ashamed of myself; usually I read dozens of books over the summer, but this time as September and its association with the end of pleasure reading approaches, I’ve only finished three books. I blame the Song of Ice and Fire series and their near a thousand pages each. But while I cannot think of a title to call the best book of the summer, I can certainly name the worst. Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha had been on my reading lists for years. I had heard the story was heartbreakingly beautiful, the language rich, and the movie rendition wasn’t too bad to boot. It also graced the list of Top 100 Books of All Time. Needless to say, I was eager to get my hands on it. As soon as I graduated, I was free; I could read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and not worry about writing a paper on it at the end of the semester. Memoirs would be my first novel as a free woman! Halfway through the book, however, my emotions turned for the worst. I was still eager alright, eager to finish the damn book. Frankly, it was a bit boring. For me the most riveting part was the main character, Sayuri’s, petty fight with a rival geisha that could have been taken straight out of the movie Mean Girls. Unfortunately, that problem was dealt with early in the novel, and everything else lacked the pace and excitement that had brought out my inner 14 year old. Although this annoyed me, it didn’t toe the line of enraging me like the next issue did.

I love a good cat fight.

Golden’s novel is often criticized for writing intimately about an exotic culture as an outsider. While I have no problem with this Western perspective on the Eastern world (in fact, I believe this makes it more accessible for readers), I do agree he is an outsider: an outsider to the secret world of women. Now, I’m in no way saying that men should never write through the mind’s eye of women or vice-versa. What I’m trying to get at is that when Golden tackles Sayuri’s emerging womanhood and loss of virginity, what should be an emotional rollercoaster and moment of deep revelation comes across insincere and even hollow.

Let me put it this way:

I was born and raised in a predominantly white Irish Catholic suburb. There I played trombone in an award winning jazz band that was comprised of students from the exact same socio-economic background. I don’t mean to brag, but we were a really good band. We could play the charts perfectly musically and technically, down to the slightest dynamic changes. Yet when we’d go to regional competitions, we always placed behind the inner city schools. But we were so good! What did we do wrong? We didn’t have soul, that’s what. We were stiff, calculating, and no better than swinging robots. When our mentor, an experienced jazz legend, coached us during jazz bootcamp, he would yell, “Loosen up! You play like a bunch of white kids!” But that’s what we were.

Arthur Golden is the pasty, privileged whited kid in a hard swinging world. Only instead of in the jazz circuit he’s in a woman’s world that plays by more intuitive rules. And in order to fit in (which he should be trying to so, since his novel is mostly read by a female audience) he should have got more in touch with his feminine side. Instead a life changing event is brushed over in a few sentences and the rest of the plot is devoted to an improbably and slightly creepy love story.

This is how sad Memoirs of a Geisha made me.

I am in no way revoking Golden’s artistic license, but your middle school creative writing teacher was right: a good author writes about what they know. And dude, a woman’s relationship with her sexuality is not one of them.