BEA · mini-review · stuff I read

Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much by Faith Salie

Summary from Goodreads:
From comedian and journalist Faith Salie, of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and CBS News Sunday Morning, a collection of daring, funny essays chronicling the author’s adventures during her lifelong quest for approval

Faith Salie has done it all in the name of validation. Whether it’s trying to impress her parents with a perfect GPA, undergoing an exorsism in the hopes of saving her toxic marriage, or maintaining the BMI of “a flapper with a touch of dysentery,” Salie is the ultimate approval seeker—an “approval junkie,” if you will.

In “Miss Aphrodite,” she recounts her strategy for winning the high school beauty pageant. (“Not to brag or anything, but no one stood a chance against my emaciated, spastic resolve.”) “What I Wore to My Divorce” describes Salie’s struggle to pick the perfect outfit to wear to the courthouse to divorce her “wasband.” (“I envisioned a look that said, ‘Yo, THIS is what you’ll be missing…even though you’ve introduced your new girlfriend to our mutual friends, and she’s a decade younger than I am and is also a fit model.”) In “Ovary Achiever,” she shares tips on how to ace your egg retrieval. (“Thank your fertility doctor when she announces you have ‘amazing ovaries.’ Try to be humble about it [‘Oh,these old things?’].”) And in “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me About Batman’s Nipples” she reveals the secrets behind Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! (“I study for this show like Tracy Flick on Adderall”).

With thoughtful irreverence, Salie reflects on why she tries so hard to please others, and herself, highlighting a phenomenon that many people—especially women—experience at home and in the workplace. Equal parts laugh-out loud funny and poignant, Approval Junkie is one woman’s journey to realizing that seeking approval from others is more than just getting them to like you—it’s challenging yourself to achieve, and survive, more than you ever thought you could.

I really like Faith on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me so I was expecting Approval Junkie to be funny (and she got the room laughing at the Adult Author Breakfast at BEA) but I wasn’t expecting this to be so poignant.  Chapters on saying “I love you” first, or what she went through fertility-wise to have her kids, or about the books her father gave her son, these were all very moving.  I think a lot of us can identify with that drive to get approval by “being the winner”, by trying to be what is expected in middle America.  Even as you’re laughing about how she talks about her “wasband,” you are also identifying with her on some level about a relationship you had that didn’t go the way you wanted and in hindsight should have been avoided.  Definitely a good summer read for those of us in the mid-life era.

BEA · mini-review · stuff I read

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

Summary from Goodreads:
Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of War and The Perfect Storm, takes a critical look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the many challenges today’s returning veterans face in modern society.

There are ancient tribal human behaviors-loyalty, inter-reliance, cooperation-that flare up in communities during times of turmoil and suffering. These are the very same behaviors that typify good soldiering and foster a sense of belonging among troops, whether they’re fighting on the front lines or engaged in non-combat activities away from the action. Drawing from history, psychology, and anthropology, bestselling author Sebastian Junger shows us just how at odds the structure of modern society is with our tribal instincts, arguing that the difficulties many veterans face upon returning home from war do not stem entirely from the trauma they’ve suffered, but also from the individualist societies they must reintegrate into.

A 2011 study by the Canadian Forces and Statistics Canada reveals that 78 percent of military suicides from 1972 to the end of 2006 involved veterans. Though these numbers present an implicit call to action, the government is only just taking steps now to address the problems veterans face when they return home. But can the government ever truly eliminate the challenges faced by returning veterans? Or is the problem deeper, woven into the very fabric of our modern existence? Perhaps our circumstances are not so bleak, and simply understanding that beneath our modern guises we all belong to one tribe or another would help us face not just the problems of our nation but of our individual lives as well.

Well-researched and compellingly written, this timely look at how veterans react to coming home will reconceive our approach to veteran’s affairs and help us to repair our current social dynamic.

Tribe is not a book I would have usually picked up on my own, but this was dropped in my lap (almost literally) at the Adult Author Breakfast at BEA.

I’ve never read Junger before but this is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking short book about community, social contract, and belonging and how that seems to be a major detrimental lack in modern Western society. He doesn’t have a lot of answers but surfaces a lot of trends and ideas to digest.  If you’re looking for a Father’s Day gift, this might be an idea.  For myself, I think I”ll bump Junger up on my list of authors to check out.

Romantic Reads

Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #9)

Summary from Goodreads:

Prim, proper, and thrifty, Eve Dinwoody is all business when it comes to protecting her brother’s investment. But when she agrees to control the purse strings of London’s premier pleasure garden, Harte’s Folly, she finds herself butting heads with an infuriating scoundrel who can’t be controlled.


Bawdy and bold, Asa Makepeace doesn’t have time for a penny-pinching prude like Eve. As the garden’s larger-than-life owner, he’s already dealing with self-centered sopranos and temperamental tenors. He’s not about to let an aristocratic woman boss him around . . . no matter how enticing she is.


In spite of her lack of theatrical experience—and her fiery clashes with Asa—Eve is determined to turn Harte’s Folly into a smashing success. But the harder she tries to manage the stubborn rake, the harder it is to ignore his seductive charm and raw magnetism. There’s no denying the smoldering fire between them—and trying to put it out would be the greatest folly of all.

I adore Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series.  Each book is distinct, yet they all link together through shared characters and families.  For some reason, I didn’t get to Sweetest Scoundrel when it came out last November – I had a DRC from Netgalley but I couldn’t get it read before it expired and then I just had other things to read (yes, I know my diamond shoes are too tight).  However, Duke of Sin is due out in just a few days so I knew I had to get this one read – that whole “I must read romance series in order” disease is a real drag sometimes.  (I jest.)

We first met Eve Dinwoody as she was being introduced to the Ladies’ Syndicate for the Foundling Home in Maiden Lane in Dearest Rogue.  It turned out that her half-brother, the Duke of Montgomery, had blackmailed another member of the Syndicate to introduce Eve so that he might have access to Lady Penelope Batten for his own reasons (which make sense only to him).  Now that Penelope’s brother, the Duke of Wakefield, has forced Montgomery to leave England due to the events in Dearest Rogue, Eve has taken over the management of her brother’s investment in Harte’s Folly (the pleasure garden that burned to the ground in Duke of Midnight and started rebuilding in Darling Beast – I told you the books link together).  When Eve thinks that the elusive Mr. Harte has overspent his budget, she pays him an eye-opening visit.

Mr. Harte is none-other than Asa Makepeace (as in an elder brother to Temperance, Silence, and Winter who have all appeared in their own books) and Eve has roused him from a very warm bed occupied by the pleasure garden’s star soprano.  The meeting does not go well.  Eve thinks he’s a dilettante wasting money, Asa thinks she’s a stuffy busybody with no appreciation for good theatre.  But a series of incidents – some minor, some life-threatening – cause Eve and Asa to warily join forces.

Asa and Eve are a really good couple.  Eve has to work through some childhood trauma to allow Asa to get close to her (this leads to a really well-written “no touching” scene).  Asa has to rid himself of the sizeable chip on his shoulder as regards his family – we are actually given an extended look at the Makepeace family during a party and I think that’s something we’ve all been looking forward to since Wicked Intentions (PS: for fans of Charming Mickey, he’s there!).  There are a lot of small details in this novel that are really sweet.  Her bodyguard Jean-Marie has a good story and I wonder if Hoyt might one day give us a novella about how he wooed Tess, Eve’s cook who is now his wife.  Eve has a small side-business painting miniatures.  There’s a sweet doggie, too, since Hoyt does pets really well.

However, I don’t think this is another slam-dunk entry in the series.  It’s really good but there’s so much going on in Sweetest Scoundrel that it sometimes overshadows the love story.  There’s all the action going on in the pleasure garden with construction, and staff turnover, and personal relationships among the performers, and weird accidents.  And there’s a B-plot involving the Duke of Montgomery’s blackmailing victims and his housekeeper Mrs. Crumb who is trying to recover the blackmail evidence for said victims and the possibility that the duke really hasn’t left England at all.  It’s too much extra plot, too much set-up for the next book (possibly the next three books if I read some of it right) so that when the resolution comes it feels rushed so that we can get a preview of the next book.

Now, given what Montgomery did in Dearest Rogue and that he has done jack-smack to make himself sympathetic to the reader, Hoyt has some work to do to rehabilitate Val in the upcoming Duke of Sin and turn him into the hero.  He’s dug himself a very, very deep hole.  There are bad-boys and then there’s Montgomery and I’m really looking forward to his book.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from NetGalley, but I wasn’t able to get to it so I bought a copy.

mini-review · music notes · stuff I read

Your Song Changed My Life by Bob Boilen

Summary from Goodreads:
From the beloved host and creator of NPR’s All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk Concerts comes an essential oral history of modern music, told in the voices of iconic and up-and-coming musicians, including Dave Grohl, Jimmy Page, Michael Stipe, Carrie Brownstein, Smokey Robinson, and Jeff Tweedy, among others—published in association with NPR Music.

Is there a unforgettable song that changed your life?

NPR’s renowned music authority Bob Boilen posed this question to some of today’s best-loved musical legends and rising stars. In Your Song Changed My Life, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), St. Vincent, Jónsi (Sigur Rós), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Cat Power, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Jenny Lewis, Carrie Brownstein (Portlandia, Sleater-Kinney), Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Trey Anastasio (Phish), Jackson Browne, Valerie June, Philip Glass, James Blake, and other artists reflect on pivotal moments that inspired their work.

For Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, it was discovering his sister’s 45 of The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn.” A young St. Vincent’s life changed the day a box of CDs literally fell off a delivery truck in front of her house. Cat Stevens was transformed when he heard John Lennon cover “Twist and Shout.” These are the momentous yet unmarked events that have shaped these and many other musical talents, and ultimately the sound of modern music.

A diverse collection of personal experiences, both ordinary and extraordinary, Your Song Changed My Life illustrates the ways in which music is revived, restored, and revolutionized. It is also a testament to the power of music in our lives, and an inspiration for future artists and music lovers.

Amazing contributors include: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia, Wild Flag), Smokey Robinson, David Byrne (Talking Heads), St. Vincent, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), James Blake, Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Trey Anastasio (Phish), Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Sturgill Simpson, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Cat Power, Jackson Browne, Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Philip Glass, Jónsi (Sigur Rós), Hozier, Regina Carter, Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, and others), Courtney Barnett, Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers), Leon Bridges, Sharon Van Etten, and many more.

This is going to be a very quick review, since the value of Your Song Changed My Life is in the reading.  I really enjoyed the combination of interview, musicology, and memoir that Boilen used to construct each chapter of the book.  He also got a nice range of artists, although I would have liked one or two beyond Phillip Glass who leaned more toward classical music (just my personal preference).  Boilen has a huge musical range – he would have to, given the sheer number of musical acts he sees every year – and he makes it all very readable.  Some of the artists’ inspirations are very surprising.  Definitely a great book for any aspiring musician.

Dear FTC: I started with a DRC of this book then bought a hardcover.

audiobooks · Bronte For All · mini-review · stuff I read

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Summary from Goodreads:

A reimagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer, from the author whose work The New York Times described as “riveting” and The Wall Street Journal called “thrilling.”

“Young Jane Steele’s favorite book, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, mirrors her life both too little and too much…In an arresting tale of dark humor and sometimes gory imagination, Faye has produced a heroine worthy of the gothic literature canon but reminiscent of detective fiction.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review

“Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

The first time Jane Steele was pitched to me, I was told it was Jane Eyre as a serial killer.  So I passed.  However, after reading several other reviews it’s clear JE is the inspiration for the story.  The book Jane Eyre has just been published and it just so happens to be Jane Steele’s favorite book with strange parallels to her life.  She’s an orphan, raised by a dreadful aunt, sent to a wretched school, and eventually becomes a governess to a mysterious man with a charming young ward.

Here the similarities end.

Jane Steele is a frank, no-nonsense young woman who believes herself permanently beyond rehabilitation after she commits a series of murders.  All in the name of self-defense or in defense of another woman – she doesn’t murder in cold blood – but given Victorian sensibilities taking a life seems fairly unforgiveable.  She supports herself by writing “gallows confessions” and surrounds herself with the colorful people around the theatre district.  Jane is smart and resourceful and such a great character.

Faye goes further by providing Jane with an equally memorable cast of characters.  Charles Thornfield, who is mentally scarred by what he has seen in the Sikh Wars; Sardar Singh, who provides Jane with an understanding of Sikh culture and history and a great deal so wisdom; Sahjara, Thornfield’s ward who is an adorable, cheeky, and bright little girl; and Becky Clarke, the girl Jane rescues when escaping from their horrible school and who turns out to be hiding quite a surprise.  Faye’s descriptions of the wretched boarding school and 1840s London cause the settings to become characters in their own right.

I listened to this on audio on the way to/from BEA – an excellent production.

(Edit: There was a bit more here where I said this was a really good book to read but apparently I erased them?  Dunno.  But I thought this was really fun and a good way to re-tell a story but do your own thing.  Plus, it’s more diverse than most Victorian literature.)

BEA · new books (yay) · too many books

I went to #bea16: Adult Author Breakfast and Buzz Panel!

My last BEA post, I promise (what? I’m still excited).

I got up early Thursday to catch the shuttle to McCormick for the Adult Author Breakfast. The food was convention-standard continental breakfast – rolls, muffins, fruit, coffee that could strip the paint off a car – but the entertainment was stellar.  After several industry awards were given out, the audience got to hear from four authors.  Host Faith Salie – whose new book Approval Junkie came out in April – warmed up the room with some jokes about things she had heard about BEA in the 1980s.  Then Colson Whitehead spoke about his upcoming book, The Underground Railroad, that I have had on my must-read-when-I-get-my-hands-on-it list since it was announced – I am fully ready to have my mind fucking blown with a genre-bending, historical novel about a black woman’s dangerous journey to escape the slave-holding South via an actual underground railroad (out September 2016).  Louise Penny spoke eloquently about her development of Inspector Gamache, who was modeled on her husband, Michael – there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when she related Michael’s struggle with dementia, one that he is losing (A Great Reckoning is out August 30).  Sebastian Junger finished up the presentations with his book Tribe, about how we as humans seek companionship and how sometimes those who have undergone a collective bonding experience, like combat veterans, find it hard to adjust to our current society that also places emphasis on individualism (out Tuesday, May 24).

Now, this is the craziest panel I attended – the BEA Adult Editors’ Buzz panel on Wednesday night.  On Jenn’s advice (and previous experience), Jenn, Michelle, and I were already planning to attend and then Riverhead tweeted out that they would have matching tote bags for Brit Bennett’s book at the panel.  And we knew we had to get there early (we did – we sat down front on the end near a book table).

So, books.  EVERYTHING at this panel sounds amazing.

1) Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge, out October 25, 2016.  This is a history of a single day in America – November 23, 2013 – and chronicles the lives of the ten children who were killed on that day by guns (on average, seven children per day are killed by guns).  A necessary and heartbreaking title.
2) Darktown by Thomas Mullen, out September 13, 2016.  A historical novel set in 1948 Atlanta when the police department is ordered to hire black police officers – who are not allowed to arrest a white person, drive a squad car, or set foot inside police headquarters.  When a black woman last seen with a white man turns up dead, the two black officers suspect a cover-up by white officers.  Recommended as a Walter Mosley readalike.  (I believe this is also based in historical fact regarding the police integration – or lack thereof – in Atlanta.)
3) History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund, tentatively scheduled for release in January 2017.  A fourteen-year-old girl, who lives in what is the last vestiges of a hippie commune in northern Minnesota, becomes entangled in a family’s life by becoming the babysitter to their young son.  And then shit goes sideways (basically – that’s not what the rep said in the pitch, but that’s what happens).
4) Little Deaths by Emma Flint, out January 17, 2017.  A true crime aficionado has written a historical whodunit set in 1960s Queens based on the real-life tale of a recently divorced mom, the murder of her two children, and the media storm that ensued during the trial.  Yes, will read, thank you.
5) The Mothers by Brit Bennett, out October 11, 2016.  Look at this gorgeous cover and matching tote bag.  The Mothers is a debut novel set in a contemporary black community in Southern California and follows grief-stricken teen Nadia and what happens after she makes a fateful decision.  This is narrated by a Greek-chorus of moms and aunties, from what I’ve heard, and it sounds so amazing.
6) The Nix by Nathan Hill, out August 30, 2016. A big, juicy debut with political overtones about a man who finds out that his estranged mother may not be the woman he thought she was with a hidden life.  This is set in Iowa (holla!) and Hill is an Iowan as well (double holla!).

And that’s it for BEA 2016!  It was great and I really hope to go again in the future.

BEA · new books (yay) · too many books

I went to #bea16: I found some comics!

I made sure to visit “comics row” (I think that’s the official term for it) – Image, Valiant, IDW, and other independent comics publishers were grouped in a row together.  Weirdly, Boom! was down on the end of a different row next to Moleskine (eh?).

I picked up some singles from Image (I had been interested in Black Science but hadn’t picked it up, yet) and their “Firsts” books (which I think I’ll take to the store to share once I finish reading through them).  I chatted with the Valiant rep for a bit – mostly about how much I love Faith and the upcoming trade and (squee!) ongoing series – and about some other trades.  He recommended The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage and I think I’ll really like it.

When I dropped by the Boom! booth I got lucky – the creator of Goldie Vance, Hope Larson, was signing issue one of the series.  Goldie is a sixteen-year-old living with her dad at a Florida resort in the 1960s – she really wants to be a detective and so when the real resort detective has a case he can’t solve Goldie steps in.  Hope says this will appeal to fans of Lumberjanes (awww, yiss) but there are 100% less lake monsters and supernatural foxes (rats).  The trade will be available in October.

And finally, I’ll just leave this here.  Berkeley Breathed, y’all.  New Bloom County.  What is life, even?

BEA · new books (yay) · too many books

I went to #bea16: Middle grade and YA books!

The hottest category of books at BEA seemed to be YA/teen fantasy and middle grade.  I didn’t brave the in-booth lines for Victoria Roth, Melissa de la Cruz, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Sabaa Tahir (which was crazy), and Tahereh Mafi (which was completely bonkers, yikes).  But I did have tickets for some signings in the autograph area (and found a few surprises).

High on my list of middle grade books coming out this fall was Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts.  I loved her memoirs Smile and Sisters and the novel Drama.  Ghosts follows a tween after her family’s move to the California coast for her little sister’s health (she has cystic fibrosis and the coastal air will be better for her lungs) and the possibility that her new town might be haunted.  It comes out September 13, 2016 – I paged through it briefly and the colors are just gorgeous.  (There were some super-cute #goraina totebags in the Scholastic booth later on, but I didn’t manage to snag one.)

I got to meet one of my literary idols at BEA – Ann Martin.  ANN freaking MARTIN.  She of the BSC and so many other books. I almost cried on her.  Ann (I’m just going to call her Ann) was there promoting her reboot of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series that follows Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s niece, Missy Piggle-Wiggle.  So I got to tell her how much I loved the BSC, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, AND that my nickname was “Missy” until college.  My Venn diagram is basically a circle for this book. *muppet-arms* Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure will be out on September 6, 2016.  (When Ann asked if I wanted it inscribed, I just blubbered that I couldn’t decide if I would like it inscribed to my nieces, who are ten, or to myself, because she’s ANN MARTIN and I lurrrve her – so she just wrote “Happy Reading!” *dies*)

I used my front-of-the-line pass at the Marissa Meyer signing (which meant I got to be about number 25 in line because a lot of us saved our passes for that one). This one was important to me because not only do I love the Lunar Chronicles series, I wanted to tell her how much teens and parents at my store love her books.  The heroines of the Lunar Chronicles are all smart and strong girls – they’re mechanics and farmers and hackers first and fairy-tale heroines second and everyone loves to read about them and root for them.  So much.  Marissa was signing ARCs of her new standalone, Heartless, which is a backstory for the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, and that will publish on November 8, 2016.  (Gorgeous ARC production)

I lucked into this next book.  Shannon Hale tweeted about Squirrel Girl ARCs so I pottered on over to the Disney booth to ask if they were doing a galley drop.  It turns out that’s what Shannon and Dean Hale would be signing that day!  So I hopped in the line (there were about 20-25 people already there) which led to the weirdest signing line wait.  The people who got in line behind me immediately started complaining about the wait (eh? it wasn’t bad or long, so I don’t know who peed in their Wheaties that morning), then they started complaining they didn’t know what the line was for, and then after I explained 1) who Shannon Hale was and 2) what Squirrel Girl was they said it sounded dumb and then stayed in the line.  WTF? I got busy reading American Gods on my nook before I tried to strangle them.  (Also, at the same time, there was a thriller writer at a small press hawking her book to those of us in the signing line and a self-help publisher trying to interest us in a book about conflict resolution in marriage…probably not much overlap with Squirrel Girl fans.)  But then I got to the front of the line and geeked out with Dean Hale about the issue of SG where she convinces Galactus not to eat the Earth and *high-fived* and got super-cute squirrel ears.  The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl: Squirrel Meets World is scheduled to publish on February 7, 2017 (*sad trombone*) but it looks adorable and I can’t wait to read it.

And this last one was truly a surprise – on Friday, I was taking a break to have a bit of caffeine intake and a scone and people-watch when I saw a few familiar faces heading to a little out-of-the-way table in the autograph area.  Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton and a rep with a stack of books. Eeek, I thought I had missed their signing.  So I quick gathered up my stuff and scampered on over to the table to be nosy – turns out that they were finishing their signing and had moved out of the booth area because of someone else’s signing (Leigh Bardugo’s?) being sort of nuts.  So I got completely lucky and got a signed copy of Tiny Pretty Things (and a pin!) and got to chat with two awesome authors that I tweet with online (spoiler: they liked my twitter handle).  The next book in their series, Shiny Broken Pieces, publishes on July 6, 2016.

Next post: comics!