books and reading · pop culture

August 2017 Recap

This is how the month of August shaped up for me in terms of reading books and watching movies. And a lot of terrible TV.

Books:

Total: 35
Picture Books: 21
Middle Grade: 3
YA: 3
Adult: 8
Fiction: 30
Non-Fiction: 5
Audiobooks: 2
Total Pages Read: 4254

Favorite Reads in August:

32940879Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed: I loved this dystopian tale about an island where the (increasingly inbred) population follows a religion based on ancestor worship and strange mating rituals. It’s dark and haunting and beautifully written. I couldn’t pt it down. It’s one of my favorite reads of the year.

Grit by Gillian French: This fantastic YA novel about a girl31706530 living with a reputation in rural Maine was gripping and gorgeous. It’s my favorite kind of YA: dark, a little gritty, and featuring an authentic teen voice. French is an author to watch, and this is one of my favorite YA novels of the year, for sure.

Viewing

Total Movies: 6
New: 5
Re-Watch: 1

Favorite Movies in August: 

landlineLandline: I really really liked this dramedy about a family each dealing with their own issues. Set in 1995, things change for youngest daughter Ali (Abby Quinn) when she realizes her father (John Turturro) is having an affair. Meanwhile, Ali’s older sister Dana (Jenny Slate) starts to question her long-term relationship with nice guy Ben (Jay Duplass). It’s a smart movie, full of genuinely funny and sad moments about family and love and sisters, and while director Gillian Robespierre’s first movie Obvious Child remains my favorite, I really loved watching this tighter, more controlled narrative.

Everything else I watched in August was mostly garbage, including Baywatch, Beatriz at Dinner, and The Dinner.

Other Things I’ve Been Watching:

I’m almost done with Dawson’s Creek, and I want it to be over so desperately. I also can’t not finish, so I’m stuck in a pain cycle of my own doing. Everyone on the show is simultaneously boring and also the worst. I forgot how boring the show is in general, but it’s especially true of the college years.

I finally convinced the boyf to watch The Office, so we’ve been tearing through that. We started with Season 2, because he’s particularly sensitive to super awkward humor, and he seems to really be enjoying it, which is fun for me because it’s still one of my absolute favorite series.

That’s it, really. I’m hoping to read more genre fiction in September, and try to squeeze in a few movies, too.

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books and reading

Stand-Out Picture Books in August

These are the best picture books I read in August:

31423413Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins: Pete is gray and round and doesn’t like to wear pants. Does that mean he’s a boulder? Or a squirrel? His imagination runs wild as he struggles against his mother’s desire for him to wear pants–and his desire to run free.

Super cute, with illustrations that are vaguely Sendak-esque. I really liked this one, and it has enormous kid appeal. It’s silly, creative, and totally fun.

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Now by Antoinette Portis: 

A young girl shares with readers all of her favorite things, including a breeze, a cloud, a worm, and a leaf. The things are all things she’s experiencing in the present moment, making for a story as much about the things as it is about mindfulness.

Joyful, lovely, and with simple text and simple illustrations that hold immense appeal for kids. I liked this one a lot and am thinking of ways to incorporate it into future storytimes.

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Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari: Zara’s dog Moose loves hellos and hates goodbyes. When he keeps showing up at school because he hates to be apart from Zara, she gets an idea: turn him into a reading therapy dog so he never has to be apart from her.

I loved this one, but I also know that I’m partial to stories about dogs. The illustrations are great, with tons of detail and diversity in the depiction of the various characters. It’s a sweet little story that dog lovers are likely to devour.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of RBG vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter: A smart, nuanced look at RBG’s life, from her upbringing to her ascension to the Supreme Court. The illustrations are interesting and layered, and the text is simple enough for young readers while also offering smart insights into the complicated world that RBG trailblazed. I loved this one (I teared up at the end, whatever).

 

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

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Grace’s home life is pretty terrible. Her stepfather uses fear to control everyone, and her mother’s got her own demons to fight. Grace wants to escape desperately, wants to leave California for the streets of New York. When Gavin starts to show interest in her, she can hardly believe it. The two start an intense romance that quickly threatens to swallow Grace whole. As he becomes more and more controlling, Grace realizes she’s in another situation she needs to escape–desperately.

Told in first person and directed at “you” (the you being Gavin, of course), Heather Demetrios’s latest offering is a frank look at abusive relationships. Unafraid to present the ugly realities of these relationships, Demetrios’s book is strongest when it allows Grace to fully be present under the ever-tightening control of Gavin, and it is weakest when it flips between present and past, because knowing where Grace is at in the present moment lessens any tension the narrative has built. The result is a mixed bag.

The beginning is very melodramatic, but readers who stick with the writing will find that the stream-of-consciousness gives way to a more fully realized story with pretty realistic characters. Unlike other YA titles that attempt to tackle this subject, Demetrios’s book never feels overly-didactic, and much of what happens feels like natural progression rather than the author pushes pieces around on a chessboard. It’s easy to see how Grace falls for Gavin and how swept away she gets by the romance, even though friends are warning her of the danger signs.

Definitely a strong offering for readers looking for realistic fiction about abusive relationships. Hand this one to teens instead of stuff like But I Love Him. Compelling stuff here, for sure.

Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios. Holt: 2017. Library copy.

books and reading

What I Read This Week

These are the books I finished this week. Without further ado:

32508637See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt: Lizzie Borden alerted her maid on August 4th, 1892 that someone “had killed father.” The ax-murder of her father and stepmother gripped an entire town, and this re-imagining of the day in question is a gripping account of a famous historical event.

This retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders has been described as “feverish” in its narration and its absolutely true. Told from multiple perspectives, the book focuses on just a few days over the course of its run, but the result is a gripping, creative retelling of the murders. It’s not the most historically accurate portrayal, but it is a fascinating one.

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Honey by Sarah Weeks:

Melody lives with her father in Indiana. For as long as she can remember, it’s just been her and her dad, and she’s okay with that. But she overhears him call someone honey on the phone, and now she wonders what else all the adults around her are hiding. Factor in a new beauty shop owner with a mysterious dog named Mo who keeps having dreams about , and things around Melody’s Indiana small town are going to get pretty interesting.

I listened to the audiobook of this one and very much enjoyed it. It’s one of the finalist for the Maude Hart Lovelace book awards, and I thought it was a sweet little tale. It features a dog as one of the main characters, and so I might have cried–because I’m the worst. I really liked this.

28458598When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: Dimple Shah has graduated from high school and is ready to start her college life. She gets into a summer program called InsomniaCon which will give her a leg up on her coding practice, and she’s stunned when her parents say she can attend. Little does she know they’ve been colluding with Rishi Patel’s parents, who think the two will be a good marriage match. Rishi’s on board, but Dimple is not. But the two start to find common ground as they spend time together, with surprising results.

This is one of the most-hyped YA novels released this year, and it fell flat for me. I think there’s a lot of great stuff here: Indian-American protagonists, girl coders, an #ownvoices writer, etc. But the book suffers from a lack of editing (it is way, way too long and the plot and pacing need a ton of work) and as a result is much flabbier than it should be. I was left pretty underwhelmed.

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Made for Love by Alissa Nutting: Hazel has left her tech giant Byron and is crashing at her dad’s trailer park. Her dad has just ordered an extremely lifelike sex doll he’s named Diane and wants his privacy. Convinced that Byron will stop at nothing to track her down, Hazel tries to eschew technology and outsmart Byron while dealing with her father’s eccentricities. As she tries to figure out how to live in a world free of her controlling husband, Hazel will uncover some unsettling truths about herself.

I loved Nutting’s deeply unsettling Tampa, and this sophomore novel is deeply weird and offers some really creative ideas about the near-future, but it fell flat for me in its execution. While the first third of the book is very strong, it feels like it loses the thread and then devolves into something that isn’t as well-thought-out as it thinks it is. I definitely have more to say about this, but I was left mildly disappointed.

What did you read this week?

pop culture

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

The White Lies of Craft Culture (Eater)

A really interesting look at the inherent whiteness of “Craft” food and brews and how it erases people of color:

Craft culture looks like white people. The founders, so many former lawyers or bankers or advertising execs, tend to be white, the front-facing staff in their custom denim aprons tend to be white, the clientele sipping $10 beers tends to be white. Craft culture tells mostly white stories for mostly white consumers, and they nearly always sound the same: It begins somewhere remote-sounding like the mountains of Cottonwood, Idaho, or someplace quirky like a basement in Fort Collins, Colorado, or a loft in Brooklyn, where a (white) artisan, who has a vision of back in the day, when the food was real and the labor that produced it neither alienated nor obscured — and discovers a long-forgotten technique, plucked from an ur-knowledge as old as thought and a truth as pure as the soul.

Kai Cole Has Posted a Devastating Account of Joss Whedon’s Hypocrisy During Their Marriage (The Mary Sue)

I’ve gone back and forth about posting about this, but it’s something that has stayed with me throughout the week, and I find myself thinking about it a lot. Joss Whedon was one of my idols during my formative years, and while I’ve begun to find some things about his work and things he’s said a bit on the problematic side, Buffy remains my favorite TV show of all time.

His ex-wife Kai Cole posted a public account of their marriage, detailing his numerous affairs, and it is devastating (although not entirely shocking). The Mary Sue links to the entire post, which is worth reading, but they also offer commentary that mirrors my own thoughts:

A lot of what Cole describes from Whedon sounds like sounds like classic “nice guy” behavior and entitlement; it’s the sort of stuff we’ve all seen before. For example, Whedon reportedly described his Buffy affair like this: “When I was running Buffy, I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.” I mean, ew.

Bummer.

What got you thinking this week?

 

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

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Frances still considers herself one half of a duo with former girlfriend turned best friend Bobbi. The two perform spoken word together and catch the eye of older journalist Melissa, who invites them into her social circle. Both women are taken with Melissa’s sophistication, and her adult world, but Frances is particularly taken with Melissa’s husband Nick, an actor who has perhaps never quite lived up to his full potential. The two are drawn to each other and begin an affair that has far-reaching consequences.

Rooney’s debut novel is a character study where the characters do all the talking. Character-driven, this smart, subtle novel is tightly written and full of completely unlikable characters. The result is a mixed bag: Rooney does what she sets out to do, but her plotting is so meticulous and her characters so perfectly crafted that there isn’t much room for readers to get attached.

Which is perhaps the point. Rooney doesn’t rely on visual language to tell her story: she lets her characters do all the showing through their telling. They label themselves so Rooney doesn’t have to: “I’m gay, and Frances is a communist,” says Bobbi at one point. The labels don’t stop there. Rooney uses them to allow her characters to tell others who they are, or at least who they most desire to be. But they aren’t in total control of their actual bodies, and the result is what happens when desire gets the best of even the most controlled humans.

There’s a lot of great stuff here. Rooney herself is very young, and she writes beautifully (and is at her strongest) when she writes about young, smart but supremely self-destructive women. The problem is that Frances undergoes such little growth that many readers will be frustrated by the end. But that doesn’t mean that the journey isn’t worthwhile: the writing is very good, and there’s a lot more to digest here than first meets the eye.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. Hogarth/Crown: 2017. Library Copy.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

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Before the country was destroyed and became a mostly dead wasteland, ten men and their families journeyed to an island off the coast and made it their home. Patrilineal, obsessed with ancestor worship and controlled breeding, the island isn’t an easy life for anyone, but especially for women. Only the wanderers–always male–are allowed to cross the water into the wastelands to scavenge. When girls become women at the first sign of puberty, they are married off. But before that, the summers belong to them to run wild and free. When one of the girls sees something that contradicts everything they’ve been taught, she tells the others and sets in motion a rebellion unlike anything the island has ever seen.

Melamed’s excellent, harrowing story of a dystopian society is gripping from start to finish. A wide cast of characters, a fully developed sense of place, and gorgeous writing make this a standout of a novel. This one will stay with readers long after they’ve finished the last page.

While comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s tale abound and aren’t without merit, the truth is that while Melamed is clearly influenced by Atwood, she has crafted a society and story that is uniquely her own. She creates a believable world in which technology doesn’t exist, the climate is harsh, and everything is man-made. The descriptions of the icy winter and the mosquito-infested summer are particularly well done, and her sense of place envelops both the characters and the reader.

The characters take turns narrating the story, and each girl has a unique voice, a distinct personality, and a well-crafted family life that makes them stand out from one another. Readers will grow to care for each of these girls, and the narrative tension builds to a terrifying degree, making the girls’ futures all the more tenuous.

 

This is a truly spectacular debut, and Melamed is an author to watch. Hands down one of my favorite reads of the year. Highly recommended.

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed. Little, Brown: 2017. Library copy.