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review 2018-02-09 17:55
Best Quirky Characters I've Met in a While
Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple

Well this was a fun indulgence with the best quirky characters I've met in a while. Bernadette, her family and the other characters in town were a trip. Her daughter may be one of the more wise teenagers I've met in books from a parent's angle. She also has devastatingly good taste in music, and she does that thing where a kid is shocked, SHOCKED, to find that her mother is an actual human being with a past and knowledge of things outside of the household.


The mystery part of this one was secondary for me. In fact, I didn't need any mystery. Any way that Bernadette and the bunch had moved forward from a hilarious, but actually quite sad for them, stuck-point would have made me happy. The mystery was not as mysterious or good as I would have hoped, but it's hard to dislike this book with such fascinatingly flawed humans on every page.

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review 2018-02-08 15:53
Lexicon by Max Barry
Lexicon - Max Barry

What a fun read. Interesting ideas, good use of fantasy, characters I cared for, worried about a bit and wanted to come out OK. A fairly romance-heavy speculative book (I really wouldn't call it sci-fi, but I'm no master at these things. Seemed like sci-fi lite, at most.) Romance is not my normal fare, but I wanted this dyad to work. I'm usually not in favor of the romance working, so that says something actually.


I saw the main "twist" coming long before it did, but I didn't know how things would turn out after that, so I was all aboard for the ride.


Some interesting things about the lexicon and yet another novel this year that deals with the theme of words meaning far more than the sounds they make or the direct message. It reminded me a bit of micro-expression analysis, only with words -- which is cool. Especially if you could do both, but tragically, I doubt either of them are truly reliable. This is why speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy are so good.


It did seem like after the big reveal, the plot got muddier, but it was not a mess by a long shot. It was an easy treat, done in one night and off the library stack that's due soon. I liked this one!

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review 2018-02-08 06:10
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: My convoluted thoughts quickly typed
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Nobody needs a review from me of a book that's been around forever, but I was so affected by this one that I feel a need to at least commemorate that much. I read it a few weeks ago, and the characters are still with me. I'm still affected by this book, and I'm sure I will be for a very long time.


I can't believe it was only intended for kids/young adults. I also think - after rereading books I read when I was far too young, that it's almost silly to have younger kids read books with such subtle nuances. Just because you can read something doesn't mean you will fully absorb what the book has to offer -- and that's true at any age.


It says ages 12 and up. Maybe, I guess. I don't really know a lot about kids, so perhaps I'm way off, but I'm finding that a lot of the books I was given in school were just a touch beyond where I was as a human being when I read them. I loved books. I loved reading. I'm thrilled I read The Catcher in the Rye back then since I didn't like it nearly as much as an adult, and I credit Holden Caulfield with saving my young life.


“Certain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.” -- Holden, Catcher in the Rye


I think that's actually what I should have done with that book! Anyway...


This one is a bit different. I think it has a lot to say about what is often painted as pure evil: Germany during the Holocaust and the subtleties included in a situation like PaPa fighting for the Third Reich. As an American 12 year old, would I know that invasive poverty and love/ wanting to protect your family would conflict with your own moral imperatives? Would I understand the self-sacrifice involved in something like that? I honestly don't know. I suppose if I had a great teacher, maybe I would. On my own, I'm not so sure.


As an adult though, I loved this book. It's a terrific lesson on why nobody should count out any genre or classification: you could miss an awesome book! I tend to avoid super-hyped books if I haven't read them before the hype, so that's probably what put me off this one.

In January 2018 though, I cried SO hard during parts that I just gave in to it at one point and doubled over sobbing in my kitchen with the water running. I went through an entire box of tissues. I loved these characters more than my own family. I want to read it again already.

It's really good at showing the humanity and the ease with which good people can find themselves caught up in a morally perilous situation that is, on the other side, a life-threatening situation. Every character in this book is fully realized and so real, they come off the pages. I will never forget Rudy and PaPa, Max and Liesel, and the relationships between them all especially caught my heart. Liesel's a tough little girl who is so very vulnerable and only feels safe enough to express that at the height of the second world war in a horrendously awful situation, but to her: it's the best her life has ever been. It's really very very tragic. I'm tearing up right now!


To top the whole thing off, we have Death as narrator. I know some people in my book club hated this. I adored him. He was so kind and gentle, so genuine and wise. He was also dangerously seductive, and most of all, he felt like a dear old grandpa to me. While humans may break his heart, he broke mine. I honestly loved this book, and I'm guessing that waiting a decade plus after the hype helped me get to it in an unfettered way.


Oh, PS, I loved the book so much, I decided to rent the movie, and BOY was that a huge let-down. I didn't even cry any tears until the very end, and that may have just been relief that the film was ending. It wasn't horrible, but in comparison to the book: no comparison.

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review 2018-02-03 23:40
Wherein Ella Progressively Loses Her $hit
We are Never Meeting in Real Life. - Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby starts this one with a bang. Last night I was forced into the world to go grab another keyboard (even though I'd already ordered one that would arrive sometime this morning.) I was in my PJs, settling in for a night of reheated pizza, catching up on my book reviews, reading and early sleep, when I realized I could no longer type spaces. So I threw on some black work boots, grabbed the audio-sync for this one and ran out the door. I was only going one place: keyboard & home! Except it took me twice as long as it should have because of Samantha Irby's first chapter, "My Bachelorette Application."


I should stop here to tell you I've never been to Samantha Irby's blog, never heard of her before a crazed cat started showing up in my recommendations everywhere, never read anything from her before last night. But I have now seen the light. Read on.


Lord, she had me rolling in the car. I was laughing so hard tears streamed down my face and I started to choke. I sat in the car howling like a loon outside of the store in 10 degree (or some godforsaken) weather. I don't know how anyone could find that chapter in particular not funny. I devised a new movement to push Chicago closer to Baltimore so Irby and I could be neighbors and neither of us have to get dressed or leave our apartments.


Since I was creating new maps, I also devised a "need" to stop at both Starbucks and Walgreens, with driving between the two, so I could listen more, and I sat outside of Starbucks ordering a coffee from my phone so I wouldn't miss anything.


She's SO right about, well, everything in that chapter. She's honest but not bogged down with ego issues that make her pretend to be anything less than a fiercely smart woman. As we would have said when I was a kid, "there's no shame in her game," and man, I needed to laugh like that. I don't want to quote because I'd end up quoting half the book. But do yourself a favor and if you can, listen to at least that first chapter.


She wants "someone who will leave her alone for extended periods of time" in a relationship. I concur. She "pretends to be interested" in lots of things, like "world issues" and "social justice" but really she just wants to watch TV and stay inside. She also has a perspective on why The Bachelorette is basically a radical feminist show (my words, not hers - she's funny.) She convinced me. I've never watched it, but I may need to. Especially since once Chicago moves closer, she apparently will watch Shark Tank with me!


I may be predisposed to love this book because I, too, am a wild child who was not raised by my parents or wolves. I too prefer saying inside. I too “shot a rod” through the engine of my car once because I had no idea oil changes were “a thing.” I too have bad credit because I thought it would be smart to simply ignore checking accounts once they ran out of money. I too think marriage and parenting are hard, expensive and notice that all my friends/family who have done that look irritated and exhausted all the time. I too am pretty sure I’d kill any PTA mom if forced to deal with her and her nut allergies these days. I, too, have given up on pleasing others and I’m increasingly happy with that decision. I have always said that if I’d ever had kids, I would have left them somewhere with my keys long ago anyway.


I did question some things about the book. I don't believe Fred (Chapter 2) really had curtains. That's just unrealistic to a point where, unless he's gay and a decorator, I don't buy it. I'm a 50-something woman and *I* don't have curtains. (Blinds rock, and you don't have to wash them.) That's really the only thing that sounded too outlandish for me to believe in this whole adventure through Sam Irby's head. (I can call her Sam. We're practically sisters now. I might be stalking her on Goodreads, or not.)


OK, so seriously, it’s not all fun and games. There’s a tonal shift that doesn’t really work once she gets further into the book. She contradicts herself. She chastises people for their attitudes toward their own pets, then she does something pretty unthinkable. And this is where the tone doesn’t work. I couldn’t decide if she was being honest or just sticking to the heartless bitch character study when she isn’t crushed by putting her old sick cat “Helen Keller” down. I’ve had to put my “feline-children” down before, and the idea of walking out really turns me off. I’m as misanthropic as this writer, but this was her “cat-child” (her words this time) not a person, and I just don’t get it. I honestly don’t know if she’s doing comedy here or being honest. Once I started thinking about that, I wondered about the rest of the book and my review, but I gave up trying to figure it out. I’m just typing on my new keyboard...


Leaving that aside, it would be nigh impossible to stay as hilarious as the beginning without killing your readers, and it has some low points or things that just didn't work for me.


I would guess that the further you get from city-dwelling, worldly, different-from-the-majority, and skeptical curmudgeon or the closer you get to being worried about matching or what other people think, the less you will enjoy this. If you have a problem with cursing in any form by anyone, this is not the book for you. It's not gratuitous. There is a time and place for FUCK, but if one is even slightly uptight about those words, then the non-cursing parts might throw you for a huge loop.


One final but very serious thing: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK if you are easily grossed out or again, if you have a hard time with explicit clarity about bodies and words. I’m serious. I am going to blog hard about Amazon “reviews” someday, but before I do, I just need to note the undercurrent of racism in the Amazon “review” universe. Most of the people who hated this book didn’t like her use of “the English language” or found her subject matter objectionable or don’t like the cursing. Did they bother to read the blurb or ANY of the reviews? And how do you leave a nasty review about a book you didn’t read more than a few pages of?


This one really just takes the cake: I’m quoting from an Amazon 1-star review:


When I hear "funny book" I think David Sedaris, Adam Carolla, Augustan [sic] Burroughs. No. This was just sad, angry, low-rent and pointless. She says she hates men, hates to learn, dislikes society in general, and automatically assumes all republicans or suburbanites are racist jerks who hate gays, blacks, the poor, etc. (she's afraid of moving to the suburbs because she knows she'll be called the "n-word." Really???

She says sexual things that are less shocking than they are gross and creepy. (Example: She has no guilt that her white girlfriend must deal with her hairy, yeasty, crotch; it's payback for Obama not getting blacks reparations for slavery. Yeah. It's there. Page 135.)


OK, first of all, it’s “Augusten Burroughs,” bitch. Second, I’d bet my white and black parts on this reviewer being a white woman. Third, [she] names three white men -- all of whom I’ve enjoyed greatly through the years -- as her benchmark, then acts shocked by the tastelessness she finds in Irby’s book? Those three white males have written some of the most raunchy pages in my memory, including straight scatology. Is it because she’s a woman that she is somehow expected not to have bodily functions? Is it her black “urban” self that is unacceptable? Carolla in particular is just pure misogynist at times, Burroughs writes explicitly of sex acts -- homosexual sex at that. I really cannot get my head around this one. I’ve never jerked off into a sock, but I don’t judge those guys for their normal human behavior simply because my experience is different. I would never have trashed a book because I find that sort of gross. Of course I do -- I’ve got lady parts! Maybe a woman should try writing a jerk-off book and see how that plays?


This is a woman who has lived and continues to do so. She's not doing it anybody's way except her own, and she really couldn’t give a shit if you approve. God bless the chile for figuring it out earlier than I did. Though this had high and low points, I’ll be reading more from her in the future.


A Few Great Chapter titles:


  • You Don’t Have to be Grateful for Sex
  • A Case for Remaining Indoors
  • Fuck It, Bitch. Stay Fat.
  • I’m in Love and It’s Boring.
  • The Real Housewife of Kalamazoo
  • Thirteen Questions to Ask before Getting Married
  • Feelings Are A Mistake
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review 2018-02-03 14:32
A Deep Dive into Shame and Resilience
I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" - Brené Brown

I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough"

by: Brené Brown

Well, I finally forced myself to get on it and finish this book. It took me forever because it starts out with much of the same material I've already heard... Turns out I listened and read in the wrong order, sort of. You may remember that I wrote about my obsession with Brown's chatty Men, Women and Worthiness in January. What I wanted more than anything after that was a deeper dive. Turns out, she wrote one back in 2007, and here it is!


The big difference is that this research and book is centered completely on women, however, we now know that despite men and women having different shame causes, or despite them looking different on the outside, all shame is the same, so this book really does have good information for anyone willing to identify with the basics.


Brené Brown spent six years talking to women, back when men wouldn't admit that addiction, workaholism, rage, isolation, etc are all somewhat shame-based. They told us men didn't have the same issues with shame as women. We now know better (frankly women knew this all along,) but Brown wanted a valid study, so she talked to women. Once any gender overcomes the fear of admitting to shame, all of the information here is just as valid for men as it is for women as it is for someone who doesn't fall into the binary gender categories. The only difference is the examples.


Shame shows up everywhere from biggies like addiction and self-injury to perfectionism, anger, and blame. It affects everything from our physical health, self-image to our relationships and ability to feel a part of the community. Those relationships I mention include ones with people as well as money, work, friendships and everything else we relate to.


The best parts of this book promise to be the basic information that comforts the reader by giving us the data and a push to brave the fear of shame and let some sunshine in. Sunlight is the antidote to shame. We have to put aside the false bravado to become our truest selves and then, in a perverse twist, can we ultimately fit in.


Sadly, this book only illuminates the myriad ways our culture shames women with example after example. Honestly, there are too many examples. I could have done with half the examples. It begins to feel like filler after a while. I was also stunned to hear exactly the same words in the first few chapters and occasionally later in the book that I heard on Men, Women and Shame. It seems to me that even if she wanted to use the same examples, finding different wording would make the whole thing seem less redundant. The sad part is *this* is the better book, but it's completely gender-biased.


I truly hope that someone is working very hard on giving us examples and tips for men, especially because even mental health professionals refused to admit that shame could touch men until recently. That alone is just another shaming experience for men, and since we're all in the world together, it would be great if everyone was on the same page.


I truly think Brown has hit on a foundational experience for human beings with this groundbreaking shame research and the way she has permeated pop culture with this information. I'm not a massive fan of pop-psychology, but she does it well and keeps it based in the research. And when it comes down to it, her work in shame is the basis for all of the rest of her work in vulnerability, acceptance, and all the other things she's suddenly known for.

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