mini-review · stuff I read

The Unicorn Whisperer by Dana Simpson (Phoebe and Her Unicorn #10)

43821537Summary from Goodreads:
Welcome back to the hilarious and heartwarming world of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, where readers of all ages can always find a friend to lend a magical helping hand — or hoof.

For 9-year-old Phoebe Howell and her sparkling companion, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, every day is an adventure. In this latest installation of Dana Simpson’s award-winning Phoebe and Her Unicorn series, Phoebe navigates the challenges of school life with a little help from her unicorn friend, who is always ready with the perfect spell for the occasion. But as the magic spells mount up, both Phoebe and Marigold find themselves wondering if sometimes they might be taking things just a little too far…

87ecd9ed-80f5-4038-8ef0-e35d1c5cc151Another adorbs collection of web comics from Dana Simpson. I love the relationship between Phoebe and Marigold and the way the fourth panel in a strip has an excellent stinger. This collection also has some really great strips with Phoebe and her hipster dad, so cute. There did seem to be an odd jump at one point where all of a sudden Phoebe and Marigold needed to return Dakota’s boots without any previous mention in this volume of Dakota’s boots as a plot point. So I do wonder if we’re missing a strip or two.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book. Gotta have the whole set!

food · mini-review · stuff I read

Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers edited by Natalie Eve Garrett

43835491Summary from Goodreads:
This collection of intimate essays by some of America’s most well-regarded writers explores how food can help us cope in dark times―whether it be the loss of a parent, the loneliness of moving to a new country, the heartache of an unexpected breakup, or the fear of coming out. Luscious, full-color illustrations by Meryl Rowin are woven throughout, and accompanying each story is a recipe from the writer’s own kitchen.

Lev Grossman explains how he survived on “sweet, sour, spicy, salty, unabashedly gluey” General Tso’s tofu after his divorce. Carmen Maria Machado describes learning to care for herself during her confusing young adulthood, beginning with nearly setting her kitchen on fire. Claire Messud tries to understand how her mother gave up dreams of being a lawyer to make “a dressed salad of tiny shrimp and avocado, followed by prune-stuffed pork tenderloin, served with buttered egg noodles” for her family. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie remembers a childhood friend―who later died as a soldier in Nigeria―with a pot of fragrant jollof rice. What makes each tale so moving is not only the deeply personal revelations from celebrated writers, but also the compassion and healing behind the story: the taste of hope.

Eat Joy is a charming, and sometimes heart-breaking or heart-warming depending on subject, collection of essays and recipes from respected authors like Alexander Chee, Porochista Khakpour, Lev Grossman, Carmen Maria Machado, Anthony Doerr, Edwidge Danticat, and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. Some recipes are definitely new to me and I want to try them – Mira Jacob provides a chai recipe, Rakesh Satyal has one for pie (I have yet to master pies) – but others are just something simple that brought comfort at a tough time, like Dina Abu-Jaber’s pita+yogurt+z’atar (one is literally boxed brownie mix, that’s it).

This would be a perfect addition to a cooking-themed holiday basket you might be planning.

Dear FTC: I read a review copy sent to me by the publisher. Thank you so much to Catapult pitching it to me.

mini-review · stuff I read

In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

42188604._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A startling, moving, and innovative memoir from the National Book Award Finalist for Fiction.

For years Carmen Maria Machado has struggled to articulate her experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship. In this extraordinarily candid and radically inventive memoir, Machado tackles a dark and difficult subject with wit, inventiveness and an inquiring spirit, as she uses a series of narrative tropes—including classic horror themes—to create an entirely unique piece of work which is destined to become an instant classic.

In the Dream House is a phenomenal work of memoir, both in its unique construction and determination to shatter cultural myths about domestic violence in queer relationships. Machado chose to use second person as a point of view to show how her relationship with her “dream woman” slowly devolved into terror, a choice that both allowed space between herself and the incidents and also invited the reader to make those horrible situations personal, make them universal. In between these short vignettes/chapters are small essays about the recognition of domestic abuse in queer relationships and how, legally and culturally, it is still very hard to contemplate from a cis-het-patriarchal worldview.

I was privileged to hear Machado read over the weekend (and in conversation with Garth Greenwell) and she’s such a wonderful speaker and thinker. In the Dream House is both a quick (lots of white space) and slow (there are some incidents with her “dream woman” that are truly terrifying and give you pause) read but very much worth the time you spend on it.

Dear FTC: I read a galley that I requested from Graywolf Press. Thank you so much, Graywolf, for sending it.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

38362811Summary from Goodreads:
A brilliant and incisive look at how patriarchy, intolerance, and misogyny have conquered not just politics but American culture itself.

What do Adam Sandler, Donald Trump, and South Park have in common? Why are myths like “reverse sexism” and “political correctness” so seductive? And why do movie classics of yore, from Sixteen Candles to Revenge of the Nerds, make rape look like so much silly fun? With Lindy West’s signature wit and in her uniquely incendiary voice, The Witches are Coming lays out a grand theory of America that explains why Trump’s election was, in many ways, a foregone conclusion.

As West reveals through fascinating journeys across the landscapes of pop culture, the lies that fostered the catastrophic resentment that boiled over in the 2016 presidential race did not spring from a vacuum. They have in fact been woven into America’s DNA, cultivated by generations of mediocre white men and fed to the masses with such fury that we have become unable to recognize them as lies at all.

Whether it be the notion overheard since the earliest moments of the #MeToo movement that feminism has gone too far or the insistence that holding someone accountable for his actions amounts to a “witch hunt,” The Witches are Coming exposes the lies that many have chosen to believe and the often unexpected figures who have furthered them. Along the way, it unravels the tightening link between culture and politics, identifying in the memes, music, and movies we’ve loved the seeds of the neoreactionary movement now surging through the nation.

Sprawling, funny, scorching, and illuminating, The Witches are Coming shows West at the top of her intellectual and comic powers. As much a celebration of America’s potential as a condemnation of our failures, some will call it a witch hunt—to which West would reply, “So be it. I’m a witch and I’m hunting you.”

I so enjoy Lindy West’s writing and The Witches are Coming does not disappoint. I snort-laughed in public often. This collection doesn’t have as much range as Shrill, which drew from all parts of Lindy’s life and felt very personal, but has more focus on cultural commentary – good commentary, and yes, that Adam Sandler essay because I have never understood why people thought he was funny. Her excellent Goop Health piece is included here.

(1. That cover. 2. Whee, Shrill S2 drops in January!)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book. Although I might have to exchange it since we’re going to get signed copies for the holidays at the store.

mini-review · stuff I read

Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books by Nina Freudenberger and Sadie Stein, photographs by Shade Degges

44641671Summary from Goodreads:
A visual delight and an inspiration for every bibliophile with a growing home library, this dream-and-drool design book features some of the most jaw-dropping book collections of homeowners around the world.

Interior designer Nina Freudenberger, New Yorker writer Sadie Stein, and Architectural Digest photographer Shade Degges give readers a peek at the private libraries and bookshelves of passionate readers all over the world, including Larry McMurtry, Silvia Whitman of Shakespeare and Co., Gay and Nan Talese, and Emma Straub. Throughout, gorgeous photographs of rooms with rare collections, floor-to-ceiling shelves, and stacks upon stacks of books inspire readers to live better with their own collections.

Bibliostyle is a gorgeously assembled and edited book of drool-worthy pictures of personal libraries of artists, writers, and editors (the only photographs I did not like were the ones of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s multiple, overflowing cups/ashtrays of cigarette butts, yeccchhh, gag-inducing). Aspirational book collecting at its best since each of these collections are working collections: books that are read and shared rather than shelved solely as objects or decoration. Shout-out to all those books stacked everywhere other than shelves. Your owners are my people.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro by Christine Féret-Fleury

43263671Summary from Goodreads:
In the vein of Amelie and The Little Paris Bookshop, a modern fairytale about a French woman whose life is turned upside down when she meets a reclusive bookseller and his young daughter.

Juliette leads a perfectly ordinary life in Paris, working a slow office job, dating a string of not-quite-right men, and fighting off melancholy. The only bright spots in her day are her metro rides across the city and the stories she dreams up about the strangers reading books across from her: the old lady, the math student, the amateur ornithologist, the woman in love, the girl who always tears up at page 247.

One morning, avoiding the office for as long as she can, Juliette finds herself on a new block, in front of a rusty gate wedged open with a book. Unable to resist, Juliette walks through, into the bizarre and enchanting lives of Soliman and his young daughter, Zaide. Before she realizes entirely what is happening, Juliette agrees to become a passeur, Soliman’s name for the booksellers he hires to take stacks of used books out of his store and into the world, using their imagination and intuition to match books with readers. Suddenly, Juliette’s daydreaming becomes her reality, and when Soliman asks her to move in to their store to take care of Zaide while he goes away, she has to decide if she is ready to throw herself headfirst into this new life.

Big-hearted, funny, and gloriously zany, The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is a delayed coming-of-age story about a young woman who dares to change her life, and a celebration of the power of books to unite us all.

I was reading along, enjoying the plotless-finding-yourself-through-books storyline of The Girl Who Reads on the Métro AND THEN there was an Epilogue….with a POINT OF VIEW CHANGE. For some reason, totally unearned and unnecessary, the POV switched from a close third to a first person and UGH. I hates it Precious. Three stars.

(Also, this is translated from the French, but I can’t figure out the translator is so I guess it’s the author. The translation is fine.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morrison

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
The Victorians are often credited with ushering in our current era, yet the seeds of change were planted in the years before. The Regency (1811–1820) began when the profligate Prince of Wales—the future king George IV—replaced his insane father, George III, as Britain’s ruler.

Around the regent surged a society steeped in contrasts: evangelicalism and hedonism, elegance and brutality, exuberance and despair. The arts flourished at this time with a showcase of extraordinary writers and painters such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, the Shelleys, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner. Science burgeoned during this decade, too, giving us the steam locomotive and the blueprint for the modern computer.

Yet the dark side of the era was visible in poverty, slavery, pornography, opium, and the gothic imaginings that birthed the novel Frankenstein. With the British military in foreign lands, fighting the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the War of 1812 in the United States, the desire for empire and an expanding colonial enterprise gained unstoppable momentum. Exploring these crosscurrents, Robert Morrison illuminates the profound ways this period shaped and indelibly marked the modern world.

The Regency Years seems a rather short book to try and cover all the parts of the ten years of the official Regency during end of George III’s life. But it does hit all the highlights, from crime and politics to the arts. The author does provide a critical view of unjust policies regarding the poor, racism, slavery, and colonialism/globalism so it definitely isn’t a “Rah Rah Britain” book. It just didn’t seem to read very easily.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · Reading Women · stuff I read

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
Winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize

In the village of al-Awafi in Oman, we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, who chooses to refuse all offers and await a reunion with the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada.

These three women and their families, their losses and loves, unspool beautifully against a backdrop of a rapidly changing Oman, a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present. Through the sisters, we glimpse a society in all its degrees, from the very poorest of the local slave families to those making money through the advent of new wealth.

The first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize, and the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, Celestial Bodies marks the arrival in the United States of a major international writer.

I was very interested in this International Man Booker winner, the first Arabic-language winner of the prize and the first-ever novel by an Omani woman to be translated to English. Catapult was kind enough to approve my galley request. It is a beautifully-translated novel comprised of linked vignettes (best descriptor I have since the narrative is only vaguely linear with many narrators and points-of-view). Alharthi’s dream-like narrative uses the many perspectives of three generations of a family to capture a country and culture transitioning into the modern world.  There are a LOT of characters and the narrative shifts back and forth in time, so this definitely isn’t a fast read, but they’re all so interesting, especially the three sisters Mayya, Asma, and Khawla, Mayya’s husband Abdullah, and Zarifa, a woman formerly enslaved to Abdullah’s father.

Celestial Bodies is out now.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.