Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blogoversary Fun: 2014 Favorites

In the vein of continuing blogoversary fun, we thought we’d celebrate our blog birthday with a few of our favorite things—favorite reads for the year so far, that is! We’ve been working hard trying to keep up to pace in the Girls in Capes 2014 Reading Challenge, and happily we’ve come across quite a few keepers along the way. Since we’re only drawing near to the quarter mark of the year, we thought five would be a good number to share with you. So without further ado, here are each of our top reads for the first three months of 2014!

A’s Top 5 Books of 2014 (So Far)

1. A Curse Dark As Gold, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

You may recognize this book as my Morris Award winner from reading bingo, and WOW, am I glad I picked this one. It was damn near perfection.

The book takes place in a setting much like that of England on the cusp of the industrial revolution, in a small town centered around a wool mill. Charlotte Miller has to take charge of the mill with her sister after their father’s death, and though she refuses to believe that it’s cursed, as people claim, bad luck is visited upon them again and again. Just when it appears that everything is going to fall apart, a man called Jack Spinner shows up, and offers to spin straw into gold thread for a small price. Starting to sound familiar yet? Every time bad luck threatens to shut the mill down, Jack Spinner reappears to save it, always with a different, strange price. But as the bad luck and bargaining continue, Charlotte will have to get to the bottom of the curse if she hopes to save the mill and the town along with it.

I just. It was SO good. The writing is exceptional, with fun period-appropriate spellings here and there. All the characters are fully realized, complicated people. The mystery surrounding the curse is genuinely mysterious, and kept me guessing at what was really going on with each new clue that surfaced. The atmosphere was pitch perfect, with the spookiness and suspense executed flawlessly. In fact, it ended up being a lot creepier than I would’ve expected from reading the blurb, and it really worked. I was completely engaged and engrossed—as Charlotte was making decisions and trying to save the mill, I found myself wondering at the strangeness of events along with her, or covering my eyes and howling nonoNO don’t do it!!!, or having some other completely crazy reaction. The only thing I was initially unsure about was the protagonist marrying the love interest not even halfway through the book, but I should never have worried—the romance lost none of its interest (in fact, I’d say it GAINED interest) and it had a huge emotional payoff. Not an approach to romance you see everyday, and it was pretty brilliant. SO GOOD.

Seriously, you should read this book.

2. The Tiffany Aching Quartet, by Terry Pratchett

Okay, I guess this is kind of cheating because it’s a series. But I couldn’t pick just one of the two I’ve read!!! These books take place within Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, but you don’t have to have read all, or any, of the Discworld books to understand these ones. They were actually my first trip into the world of Terry Pratchett, and I absolutely loved them.

Tiffany Aching is a young girl living in the Chalk, a region of fields and sheep, who finds out that she is a witch. In the first book, The Wee Free Men, Tiffany has to go to Fairyland to save her kidnapped baby brother, and in the second, she leaves the Chalk to study with another witch. Always with her, however, are the Nac Mac Feegle (also known as Wee Free Men), tiny Scottish-ish Pictsies who love drinking and fighting, and who never fail to show up and help the wee hag face whatever challenges come. I mean, they’re called Pictsies! That’s hilarious!!!

Terry Pratchett is a funny man, and his wit is on display in full force in these books. Reading them makes me laugh, but it also makes me feel like I’ve learned something about life and the universe. The books have an impressive depth and resonance that commingle with the humor, creating something that feels both meaningful and entertaining. These books are fantasy, but like all good fantasies, they are completely real in all the important things. They may be labeled as YA, but they’re ones that everyone should read. I can’t wait to read the second half of the quartet!

3. Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard

I effing love this play. I've seen a couple amateur productions of it before, but I’d never actually sat down and read it until this month. It's wonderful to watch and I can’t recommend that experience enough, but it’s also amazing how full the play is, how there was so much more I picked up on in the reading that flew right by me in the watching. Though I spent quite a while lingering over it, I suspect there is yet more that has gone over my head, and I hope to grasp it in future readings and viewings.

The play has two parallel storylines, one unfolding at an English country estate in the nineteenth century, and the other taking place at the same estate in the 1990s, with scenes switching back and forth between the two. The modern day story involves academics who are investigating or tangentially related to a mystery involving Lord Byron’s possible presence at the estate in, you guessed it, the timeline of the earlier storyline. While the academics debate the truth of what really happened all those years ago, we learn more about it through the nineteenth century storyline involving a young girl who is brilliant at mathematics, her tutor, and the rest of her family and the guests they host at the estate. The contrast between the conclusions the modern people draw about the earlier days and what we see actually happening in that time is completely absorbing, and two storylines’ convergence as the end of the play draws near is powerful.

It’s just…it’s perfection, and I don’t have any words to properly convey its brilliance. It’s full of scintillating wit and intelligence, and it perfectly captures the exhilaration of literary/academia nerding. It covers ideas of truth (both its objectivity and subjectivity), the effects of passing time, science, math, poetry, the nature of existence and the universe, lust, love… It’s laugh-out-loud funny, and joyful, and witty, and quirky (there are pet tortoises!), and very moving, and sad. I don’t know how all that can be contained in 97 pages, but Stoppard achieves it masterfully. Please read it. Please watch it. Experience it for yourself, since nothing I say here can do it justice.

4. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, by Isabel Greenberg

I’ve already talked about this one recently here, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much. I went into reading this graphic novel not really knowing what to expect, and ended up thoroughly enjoying it. It was easy to get caught up in the stories within stories narrative style, and the mix of old myths in new clothes and unfamiliar ones is addictive. Since it’s a story about storytelling, there are some funny meta moments, and the humor is a nice contrast to some of the intensity that myths can have—y’know, vengeful gods, murders, those kinda things. You can tell that the author just gets it, with regards to the nature of myth and legend. I hope there are more graphic novels about Early Earth to come in the future!

5. The Civil War in Color, by John C. Guntzelman

I’ve had my eye on this one since I first saw it on a Barnes and Noble Civil War 150th anniversary themed display table sometime last year. I recently checked it out from the library, and liked it enough that when I heard through the grapevine that it had made its way to the bargain books section of many B&Ns, I bought a copy for the low price of thirteen dollars. And well worth it, I say! The basic idea behind the book is to take images from the Civil War, the first conflict in US History that was widely photographed, and after much research about the appearances of the people involved, the popular clothing colors of the day, etc., colorize the photos in hopes of giving readers a new perspective on the war.

It is completely successful in that aim. I love black and white photography, but when I look at photos taken long ago, there is something undeniably historical about them. On the one hand I feel connected with the past by seeing actual images of the way things looked back then, but on the other it still feels distant in many ways. It was astonishing to me how the addition of color to the photos contained in this book makes them feel so much closer. It makes them seem more real, more alive, and more relatable. So many more details become noticeable in color (there are the original B&W versions included for some of the photos, for comparison purposes), and I found myself poring over every inch of each photograph, wondering about the lives of the people immortalized in them. (The similarities between the appearance of men from this era and modern hipsters are also surprising. Photoshop in a smartphone and some sort of organic craft beverage, and you could be at Coachella.) Lots of text to help elucidate what you’re looking at makes this an educational, eye-opening coffee table book. Check it out if you can.

*Honorable Mention* The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

I finally got around to reading this much-loved epic fantasy novel, and really enjoyed it. Though I worried that the main character, Kvothe, was wandering into Mary Sue territory at times, he is a fascinating, resourceful dude and it is thoroughly awesome to live vicariously through his experiences. There were a few tricksy twists by the author that pleased me greatly, and a cast of well-developed characters that I can’t wait to visit again when I get my hands on book two. I liked the book’s unique take on magic and solid world-building. The way the story is structured, with an adult, fallen-from-grace Kvothe telling the story of his life up to that point, inevitably creates a sense of foreshadowing where you’re kept wondering how things went so wrong for a guy who from childhood seems to be heading in the direction of becoming an epic hero.

Overall I rated the book a 4 out of 5, since I try to be stingy with fives and reserve them for ones with that certain indescribable, jaw-dropping, knock-me-on-my-ass quality. For me it hovered between the two for most of its over-700 pages, but there were definitely a lot of full-on 5 moments, like when Kvothe plays for his pipes at the Eolian. That was probably my favorite scene in the entire book—the way the words make you hear music is pure magic. (If you haven’t read the book that probably sounds like gibberish, but when you read it will make sense. Promise!)

S’s Top 5 Books of 2014 (So Far)

1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple

Bea, a young teenager, is trying to piece together what happened before her mother, Bernadette, disappeared on the eve of a family trip to Antarctica. With notes between members of the PTA at Bea’s school, memos between Bernadette and her remote personal assistant, magazine clippings about her Bernadette’s illustrious career as an architect before Bea’s birth, Bea tells a gripping and often hilarious account of her mother’s eccentricity and the absurdity of the school parent community.

I knew I loved Bernadette as I was reading it in January, but I couldn’t put my feelings into words before I read another book in March that seemed to be approaching similar themes in a far less appealing way.

Basically the success of this rests in the decision of the author, Maria Semple, to structure the book as a project Bea is doing to find her mother, both in the “getting to know who she really is” sense, and in the action later in the story. First, Bea is a charming narrator. She’s a cusp-of-high-school girl who is mature and sheltered, allowing her to make observations on the people who surround her with well-considered judgments but some level of innocent miscalculation. In a story that uses petty PTA mom gossip, Bea’s voice serves as a palate cleanser and as reality check.

Next, the double sense of finding Bernadette is doubly interesting. Exploring the paper trail of what seems to be a crazy Bernadette is a solid enough basis for a funny satire about stay-at-home mothers. Having Bea propose to travel to Antarctica to try to find a missing mother follows the absurdity of the earlier part of the novel, but adds an extremely somber element of a girl struggling to find peace with grief. And once the grief is there, it’s easy to see the darker side to Bernadette’s problems in the first half of the book, even as it’s impossible to keep from laughing at some of them.

I don’t want to limit my praise to these elements. Bernadette herself is a great character, the writing style is so controlled and yet seemingly effortless, the send-up of tech culture in Seattle is funny too.

2. The Beginning of Everything, by Robyn Schneider

Witty teen boy narrators idolizing troubled girls who wear cool clothes and plan cooler pranks seem to be a mainstay in young adult literature these days (at least on this week’s NY Times YA Best Sellers List, where 3-4 titles essentially fit that description), and this February I got angry at Looking for Alaska for being an inferior version of Paper Towns, and I started to wonder if I had just exhausted my ability to like witty teen boys yearning for manic pixie dream girls. Turn the calendar to March, when I read The Beginning of Everything, and found within the first chapter that I could possibly forgive the book for anything it did in the remaining 90% of the plot (decapitation on roller coasters is an amazing way to start a book).

But the rest of the book was just as good as the beginning! Ezra Faulkner, finishing his junior year of high school as captain of the varsity tennis team and soon-to-be-elected president of the senior class, discovers his girlfriend cheating on him at a party, and gets into a car accident bad enough to ruin his tennis ambitions. When he withdraws from his popular and athletic friends, an old childhood friend brings him into the world of debate club, where transfer student Cassidy catches Ezra’s eye. Everything about this book worked for me. The depiction of social circles in high school seemed spot-on, and Ezra’s voice is funny, mostly mature, but still youthfully insecure.

3. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach

A brilliant shortstop, Henry Skrimshander, is on track to realizing his dream of playing professional baseball when he enters a debilitating slump in his junior year. At the same time his mentor and best friend, Mike Schwartz, has also seen his dream of living up to expectations of entering a top-tier law school shatter. Though Henry cannot escape his panic on the field, Mike starts to date the college president’s daughter, Pella Affenlight, who is recovering from a too-early marriage and debilitating depression. The book could be a grim portrait of lost confidence and dreams deferred in the early twenties of life, but Henry’s roommate, Owen Dunne, has fallen in love with the late middle-aged college president, whose path to accepting his love for Owen suggests that dreams and identity can fail or change at any point of life.

If you haven’t guessed already, this is a book to shelve with The Emperor’s Children (Claire Messud) and The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides), which also deal with interia-laden, depressed young people trying to find a place in the world. I really disliked both of those books, but for some reason I really enjoyed The Art of Fielding. I can’t say I liked any of the main characters all of the time, but I felt for them, and genuinely hoped they could solve their problems and regain their happiness. Chad Harbach uses Henry’s book of meditations on how to be a shortstop as a focus, and also weaves in Herman Melville and Moby Dick as models for the characters.

In all, an incredibly solid book, and a compulsive read.

4. A Venetian Affair, by Andrea Di Robilant

This is one of the juiciest nonfiction books you can imagine, with a premise so incredible that reviewers on Goodreads have labeled it fiction. The author’s father found in his Venetian palazzo a trunk of 18th century love letters, detailing the passionate relationship between Andrea Memmo, a young nobleman, and Giustiniana Wynne, a younger and less noble woman. The book is di Robilant’s effort to tie together the letters that so fascinated his family, with a story that I know see could be described as How I Met Your Ancestor in mid-1700s Venice.

Andrea is a twenty-something romantic who, despite his love of art and sentimentality, is quite an experienced man. Giustiniana is a young, somewhat foreign, girl, who has ambitions beyond marriage. The two of them spend a decade trying to figure out their mixed-up relationship, which involves proposals, engagements to others, separation, secret meetings, and a correspondence that works because Giustiniana addresses Andrea as her “dear brother.” Several of the chapters read very much like the 18th Century Venetian version of How I Met Your Mother plots. Seriously, Casanova turns out to be Giustiniana’s best friend in Paris, and his “cure” for unwanted pregnancy is so ludicrous to our modern ears that not even Barney Stinson would dare to use it as a play. And for those of you who have seen the finale of How I Met Your Mother, the last chapter of this story reads almost the same. Instead of the leisurely pace of the rest of the book, there are summaries of the directions everyone’s lives turned, and the limited personal interaction they had with people who were so important to their raucous social lives in their youth.

5. The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde, famous for his Thursday Next series of book-hopping action and word play, started a young adult series a few years ago that I never quite got around to reading. FOOLISH ME. This book was an absolute delight. It’s as zany as you’d expect from a Fforde book, and at a shorter length, more tightly focused than any other Fforde book. Plus the characters are all fun, and the pet Quarkbeast has surpassed Thursday’s pet dodo, Pickwick, as the coolest pet ever.

Jennifer Strange, indentured orphan at Kazam Mystical Arts Management, has her hands full just trying to run company of eccentric magicians without raising suspicions that the owner has disappeared, but premonitions of the death of the last dragon in the land bring her life into chaos as she tries to protect the interests of the dragon, avoid committing treason against King Snood, and prevent a war over the Dragonlands. Oh, and it seems that the death of the dragon could result in a mystical arts management industry change due to wild flux of magic available.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Orange Meringue Cupcakes

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Are you ready for some blogoversary treats?!? How about some cupcakes with a surprise inside? I’m not completely sure where the idea for these came from. My mother had been talking about making an orange meringue pie, and with that as my original inspiration, my brain somehow popped out the idea of putting orange curd inside a cupcake and using meringue instead of icing. I used the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook’s basic recipes for yellow cake, orange curd, and meringue topping as my general guidelines in creating the three main components of this recipe, and modified them as I thought would best fit my purposes as I went along. I had no idea if I could execute the idea I had in mind, but I figured I’d give it a go.

What resulted is an experience I’ve been affectionately calling “baking night from hell,” but that was mostly due to outside factors and not any inherent hellishness on the part of these cupcakes. My old-school stove that doesn’t heat evenly scorched the orange curd, I discovered mid-baking at 10 p.m. that the milk in my fridge that was to be a batter ingredient had gone bad, my cream of tartar for the meringue was probably at least 2 decades old and prevented the egg whites from setting up correctly…it was fun. But I persevered, and though the results may not have been as pretty as I would’ve hoped, I think the cupcakes turned out to be very tasty. The orange zest in the batter gives the cake a nice citrus punch, while the orange curd hiding inside is more sweet than tart. The meringue is a lighter alternative to icing, and it feels kind of liking you’re biting into a soft cupcake cloud. Yum!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Happy birthday, it's RTET's birthday!

...happy, happy birthday to us. Hey RTET! (To get the full effect, and perhaps more importantly, the tune, you’ll need to watch the video below.)

Ahhh, my favorite birthday song. I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be stuck in your head the rest of the day. But why dwell on that when it’s our FIRST blogoversary?! That’s right, we’ve been tooling around writing silly reviews and subjecting you to our kitchen experiments for one full pass around the sun now. Hard to believe, isn’t it? It seems like just yesterday that A tentatively proposed the idea for a book-and-food blog to S, and S brilliantly invented our catchy name (if we may call it such ourselves), and we fired texts back and forth with ideas for theme posts, books to read, things to cook… March 26th, 2013 was the day our first post went live (we’re not counting the one that only says “testing, testing, 1, 2, 3”), and since then we have written 133 more posts, composed 1352 tweets, pinned 4.7k things on Pinterest, created Facebook and Google+ pages, had Lev Grossman temporarily follow us, Jane Yolen accidentally follow us, and Adam Roberts continue to follow us on Twitter.

Now is as good a time as any to remind you of all the ways you can connect with us via social media. You can follow us on Twitter @ReadThisEatThat, check out our sporadic Instagram photo postings here, like us on Facebook here, and visit our Pinterest home here. If Google+ is more your style, you can find us here. You can also sign up to get our posts delivered to your inbox by submitting your email address where it says “Follow us by email!” in the sidebar of this page (if you’re reading on your smartphone or tablet, you may have to switch from mobile version to web version at the bottom of the page to be able to see the sidebar). Sign up and never miss a thing going on here in the world of RTET! (Because believe us, bookworms and moths, that would pain us just as much as it would you.)

But what is a birthday celebration without treats? Since the correct answer to that question is “nothing,” we decided to invent some tasty goodies to share with you on this occasion. Though nothing would please us more than to be able to send each and every one of you something good to eat in the mail, our financial analysts alerted us that that would be both time- and cost-prohibitive, so you’ll have to settle for recipes and photos instead. A decided to attempt orange curd cupcakes and S thought she’d give funfetti creampuffs a whirl, so look for those coming soon.

We thought it would be a good idea to extend birthday into birthweek (that’s what everybody does, right?), and so we’ve also got some other blogoversary celebratory posts coming up involving books we’ve loved so far in 2014 and ones we’re looking forward to that are publishing later this year. Keep your eyes on the horizon for two times the treats and some ideas on books to consider reading, and thank you so much for your readership and encouragement in our first year as bloggers! It means the world to us, and we hope you enjoy reading our posts as much as we enjoy writing them.

And now, without further ado, let the festivities commence! ::throws confetti::

Saturday, March 22, 2014

An Explosion of Graphic Novels

We haven’t had a round-up post in awhile! I’ve been hoarding up my reviews for the graphic novels I’ve read in recent months to eventually combine into one big graphic novel post, and here it is at last. Boom, graphic novel explosion! I enjoyed all of these so the reviews may be light on snark, but hopefully you’ll find something that sounds interesting enough for you to track down and try out yourself! Here we go…

This graphic novel memoir of indie cartoonist Lucy Knisley is a whole lot of fun. It focuses on her life with regards to the influence cooking and eating has had on it, from her days as a kid growing up in NYC, all the way to her present life as a cartoonist. Each chapter has a different theme or story, with the topics of food and eating either as the main component of the narrative or woven into it. One chapter I particularly enjoyed focused on her transition from Manhattanite to country kid when she moved upstate with her mother at a young age. The descriptions of eating raw, garden-fresh tomatillos made me drool a little, and her admission that she never made it to REAL country kid status due to the fact that she couldn’t really accept animal mortality as a part of life was both funny and real (the drawings of her looking horrified at a neighbor beheading a chicken and the carnage when a raccoon got in the coop were wholly relatable). Some of the other chapters cover such diverse foodie topics as her appreciation for junk food as well as the finer things (a paradox her parents can’t wrap their heads around), and stories of eventful trips to Mexico, Japan, and Europe. The full-color illustrations are charming, and the author’s voice is funny and engaging.

In reading this, you get a strong impression of the idea that for her (and all of us really), food, family, and friends are all linked. You can see how these forces have shaped her life in ways both big and small, and it makes you think about your own food-linked memories and the ways what you eat has played a role in your life. I think a book is especially successful if it can get a reader to connect or interact with it on some level, and this book certainly did that for me. I found myself mentally writing my own graphic novel to depict some of the major and minor food-related episodes in my life (first chapter: the battle with fish-paste-filled croissants and my inadvertent pouring of yogurt over my cereal during a study abroad in Japan). To add even more to the reader’s ability to interact with the book, there are fully-illustrated recipes interspersed between chapters. Fried mushrooms?! Yum, count me in! Decadent-sounding carbonara recipe? Yes, please! There’s also an afterword with a collection of photos from her youth to show us the non-illustrated versions of some of the people/places/things that appear in the novel. All in all, I enjoyed this one a lot, and even if you’re not traditionally a graphic novel fan, I would recommend it to you if you’re into food (and who isn’t, really?). Rating: 4 French Fries (As a side note, this book became infinitely more awesome when I noticed that in a drawing of young Lucy reading at the dinner table, her book is Sabriel! Good taste in food AND books. :D)

I adored this one. One of the author blurbs on the cover warned me that when I sat down to read the book I would finish it all in one go, and that’s exactly what happened. It is very (here comes one of my favorite words…) mythopoeic!!! (Seriously, Mythopoeic Society, you guys should probably check this one out.) It is full of whimsy and moments that made me laugh out loud, but it is also so solidly rooted in the tradition of the myths and fables passed down from time immemorial. It’s a book telling the story of a man who tells stories, and stories within stories unfold before the reader. Matryoshka doll stories! A little bit meta, and in the very best way. I don’t want to ruin the magic of reading it for yourself so I won’t delve too deeply into details, but the basic plot concerns a man traveling the world in search of something, and he both tells and gathers stories along the way. The conceit of “Early Earth” is fascinating—a time before the dinosaurs and now lost to us today that had people and cities and religion and legends, much like the ancient ancestors of our own modern era. This setting allows the story to have features reminiscent of aspects of our own world (such as Inuit- and Viking-like cultures), but also allows it to be different from what we know, with three moons and magic and powerful gods.

The stories themselves feel both foreign and intimately familiar. Within them you’ll find old myths and elements in new clothes, performing their usual functions and also being built upon in new ways—sky trees, sirens luring sailors to their doom, a story of a jealous older brother murdering the younger, and a great flood, just to name a few. They show the stark power storytelling can have, with children being sacrificed to appease gods and a clan war that has gone on for ages, all as a result of tales passed from generation to generation. The characters’ modern speech is funny, especially when juxtaposed with the distant-feeling setting and the mythic nature of the subject matter, and while the amusingly anachronistic exchanges between characters made me laugh, there is no denying the depth and power these kinds of stories have. They resonate somewhere deep in our collective human consciousness, and they demonstrate the universality of storytelling and the ideas, emotions, and fears that have driven it since the dawn of human history.

Just as important as the writing in this book is the art, and it’s beautiful. The color scheme of grayscale highlighted by color here and there is very effective, and all the sinuous lines and patterns in the drawings create a kind of hypnotic effect that drew me into the story as much as the words and characters. Another cool feature I loved is the font, which was made from the author’s own handwriting!

The only thing about the book that left me a little nonplussed is how quickly it ended. I was completely on board with a little deus ex whale (that being an inherently myth-related thing itself, of course!), but after the meandering stories I was surprised that the loose ends in the main arc got tied up and resolved in about a single page. I fell prey to the old appendix trick—I didn’t realize there was an appendix, so as I got closer to the end I thought I still had plenty of pages to come in the main story. But this really didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book at all, and the stories and background in the appendix were wonderful as well. Overall, an imaginative, enchanting book with an expert balance of humor and depth, and pretty pictures to boot. Folklorist, myth-nerd types will have a heyday with this one, and I highly recommend it even if you wouldn’t categorize yourself as such. I want MOAR, Isabel Greenberg!!! (Also, there is a really cute sled dog sidekick!) Rating: 4.5 Varieties of Snow

I, like many other denizens of the internet, have spent many a hilarious hour reading Allie Brosh’s inspired blog, Hyperbole and a Half. You know that one friend of yours, who can be telling any story, even about something that would be really boring if it had happened to you, and make it completely engaging and hysterical? That’s Allie Brosh. With excellent comedic timing, perfect word choice, and self-deprecation, she recounts episodes from her life both quotidian (fear of spiders, for example) and ridiculous (such as channeling dinosaur power after donning a Halloween costume) in nature, to laugh-out-loud humorous effect. Her signature MS Paint-style illustrations add to the humor in ways it’s difficult to properly articulate, and elevate the reading experience beyond laugh-out-loud to possibly-choke-on-your-tea-from-laughing-so-make-sure-you-have-a-friend-nearby-to-whack-you-on-the-back.

The book does not disappoint on any of these fronts. In fact, I’d say it exceeds them. There are some stories from the blog included in addition to a lot of new material, so you definitely don’t have to be a fan of her website to appreciate or understand the book. Her style of storytelling through prose interspersed with lots of illustrations translates well to book form, and the humor translates effectively, too. One of my favorites from this volume involved a vicious goose invading her house and tormenting her and her boyfriend—as I was reading and laughing I was thinking to myself that this was maybe a story where the titular hyperbole was coming into play. But no! She had anticipated this reaction from her readers and included actual photos taken during the invasion to serve as proof that real life can be just as ridiculous as the things authors dream up!

Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, though. Her always-confessional style of narrative plumbs some dark places in the stories that recount her recent struggles with depression and anxiety. You might think this would be a bit of a downer, but that’s not the case at all. It is deeply affecting to read of her struggles with these issues, but what’s more powerful is her ability to find humor in them. It never feels flippant or like she’s making light of it, but she is somehow able to take what she’s been dealing with, examine and talk about it in a way that forges a connection with the reader, find something funny in whatever is going on, and turn that into a weapon. Kind of like laughter and boggarts, to put it in Harry Potter terms. On one page I would be crying as I read her spot-on explanation of what being depressed feels like, and then turn the page and snort my own snot in a guffaw as she described the infinite laughter loop fueled by a dried up piece of corn she found under the fridge. Writing that can do that to a reader is pretty brilliant, I’d say, and it’s inspiring to see the raw honesty, incredible bravery, and surprising humor with which she talks about tough things.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It has a balance of funny stories about episodes from her childhood/other times in her life, and insightful, empathy-inducing ones concerning some of the issues she’s been dealing with recently. The common denominators across the board are her inimitable voice, her crazy drawings, and her insane ability to drive a person to nose-scrunching, stomach-aching laughter. Like all the best humorists, Allie Brosh is able to discover the hilarity in the simple and mundane, but she can also find it in darker places, too. I dare you to pick up this book and see if you don’t find yourself bursting out laughing. Rating: 4 Simple Dogs (My absolute favorite Hyperbole and a Half story isn’t included in the book, but you can read it here. It’s about nightmares and scary stories and it’s HILARIOUS.)

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley
Published by First Second (2013)
Read in February 2014; from the library

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, by Isabel Greenberg
Published by Little, Brown and Company (2013)
Read in March 2014; from the library

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, by Allie Brosh
Published by Touchstone (2013)
Read in March 2014; eARC from publisher via NetGalley*

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Festive Book Review: How the Irish Saved Civilization

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! In case you're looking for a way to celebrate the holiday without any fuss about food, green beer, parades, etc., here's a book review I wrote years ago. Naturally the best way to celebrate in this style is to get a copy of the book for yourself today (and possibly flip straight to the parts about St. Patrick himself), but if you're short on time, skim this old (and amusingly pretentious-sounding) review to get a quick look at why Ireland was THE place to be in the Europe in the Middle Ages.

Title: How the Irish Saved Civilization
Author: Thomas Cahill
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell
Publication Year: 1994
Read: January 2011
Where It Came From: Library
Genre: History
Rating: 4 Monks

I've noticed that history books on Goodreads are often given lower star ratings by people who are upset to find that the author was using information to present a cohesive thesis rather than providing an unbiased account. Although it is right to bring up slant in evaluating the truth of a thesis, it's somewhat sad to see these complaints for Cahill's defense of pre-Joycean Irish civilization when one of Cahill's major arguments is that biased English historians prevented any appreciation of Irish civilization in the past. I haven't read enough on Irish history to know if Cahill's desire to show an "unblemished" era of Irish greatness allows him to present Ireland entirely falsely, but I can't help thinking that even if it does, it's about time that the early Christian Irish get a book slanted towards them.

And though I want to give Cahill and his peaceful, practically polytheistic Christians as much chance to greatness as I can, I will admit that Cahill is at least exaggerating the title. The Irish didn't exactly "Save Civilization": they saved Latin writing of the pre-Christian Roman Empire, thus allowing us to read Cicero and Seneca today. Cahill, to his credit, seems to use that contribution of the Irish as only a part of his claim for an Irish golden age. The Irish's greatest contribution to civilization, he argues, was their counter-Augustinian Christianity. In the Irish hey-day, St. Patrick wrote of God's love for all creatures and people despite their foibles, the Irish developed universities and brought limited literacy to lay people, and Irish missionaries brought their tolerant Christian beliefs and love of writing across Europe.

Cahill is a gentle writer, often stopping to say, "Let us explore this world a little more before we move on," and presenting a picture of what life may have been like in the capital in the last century of the Western Roman Empire, and in Britain, and also in Ireland. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the miseries of Roman tax collectors and shepherds all over. Cahill is a convincing writer, too. His version of Irish history may be as compelling for the Irish today as the Christian resurrection was for the Irish of St. Patrick's day.

I only wish that Cahill had made the book longer and more scholarly. As fascinating as the epic Tain is, it doesn't seem quite right to base the entire view of pre-Christian Irish civilization on literary works and the evidence of a sacrifice victim/volunteer in a bog. I would have appreciated some more archeology, riotous debate between scholars who've argued about when human sacrifice in Ireland took place, and careful footnotes. (Most disappointingly Cahill doesn't like to do normal bibliographies; he prefers to write about his favorite sources and hope you'll be encouraged to read them yourself.) As the book is, it's a light history that shows the Irish as a scribal powerhouse of the early mediaeval period.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fandom Friday: Neptune Noir

Image from Pop Culture Nexus

Title: Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars
Editors: Rob Thomas & Leah Wilson
Publisher: Smart Pop
Publication Year: 2007
Read: March 2014
Where It Came From: Digital review copy from publisher via NetGalley*
Genre: Academic-ish-pop-culture-essay-collection
Rating: 2.5 Marshmallows

I was a bit of a latter-day convert to the cult of Veronica Mars. I don’t know why it took me so long to check out this brilliant TV show, especially since I’ve been a fan of kid/teen detectives since I learned how to read. Encyclopedia Brown, Cam Jansen, Nancy Drew…I loved them all. So I’m not really sure how I managed to elude watching Ms. Mars for so many years, especially considering all the rave reviews it’s gotten from some of my most trustworthy sources. However it happened, the Mars-lessness of my existence came to a close some time at the end of 2013, when a friend sat me down and made me watch the first episode. I was immediately hooked, and finished all three seasons in a series of minorly shameful binges. When there was no more to watch, I felt the anguish of the show’s cancellation 7 years after the fact—why did they give something this fantastic the chop?? Luckily for me, I didn’t have long to tear my hair out over it, because today the much-publicized, crowd-funded Veronica Mars movie is premiering at theaters nationwide. It’s hard to believe that the show first hit televisions 10 years ago (!) and that the love of the fans has brought it back with a movie sequel so many years after it was cancelled. Pretty amazing really, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

But what is Veronica Mars about? you may be wondering. I’ll do my best to summarize: Veronica Mars is a teenage girl living in the fictional San Diego suburb of Neptune, California. It’s a town without a middle class, she claims—there are the rich, privileged kids at school, and then there are the kids whose parents work in the rich people’s mansions. It might sound a little Gossip Girl/90210 at this point, but here’s where things get interesting—the year before the present time in the show, Veronica was one of the cool kids, until her best friend was murdered. Her father, the town sheriff, accused someone from one of the richest families in Neptune of the crime, and was pushed out of office. The crime remains unsolved, and since Veronica stood by her father throughout the ordeal, her rich kid friends kicked her out of the clique. Add to that Veronica’s rape while drugged at a party after becoming a social pariah and her mother skipping town and abandoning the family, and you’ve got the makings of one disillusioned teen who helps her now-P.I. father with his investigations.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: The Spymistress

Title: The Spymistress
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Publication Date: October 1st, 2013
Read: March 2014
Where It Came From: eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Genre: Historical-fiction-based-on-a-true-story
Rating: 2.75 Secret Messages Hidden in Eggs

The Quick and Dirty:

After her home state of Virginia secedes from the Union and joins the Confederacy, aristocratic Richmondite Elizabeth Van Lew is torn between her love for her home and her love for the United States. She puts herself in danger by hiding her Unionist sentiments and remaining in the capital of the Confederacy, and this unique position allows her to aid Union prisoners of war, form a network of spies, and smuggle information to the Union forces throughout the course of the Civil War. The story perspective of Southern Unionists who remained living amongst their largely Confederate neighbors is a compelling one, but flat characters and a strange sort of detachment in the writing made it difficult for me to connect with the characters or really get a sense of the horrors of the War Between the States. There was something that kept me turning the pages, especially as the end of the war drew near, but overall I was a bit disappointed with the treatment of the material.

The Wordy Version:

As I was perusing NetGalley one day, I was immediately drawn to this book by the gorgeous cover. Just look at it! Pensive woman in a pretty purple Civil War-era dress holding what appears to be some sort of code, with old-time-y looking fonts, parchment, and flourish-y things. Lovely. Reading the plot blurb about the exciting-sounding escapades of a genteel Southern lady spymistress for the Union (based on a true story!) sealed the deal. However, while it did indeed have some exciting moments, overall I didn’t love it, and I’m not sure it completely does justice to the real Elizabeth Van Lew who inspired it.

But let’s start with the positive. One of the things I found to be extremely compelling about this book was its subject matter of people living in the South who did not agree with secession or slavery, and during the war were forced to either hide their true loyalties or leave their homes to live in the North. It was an idea I’d never really stopped to consider before. In pop culture/media/schooling, I think it’s easy to reduce the conflict of the Civil War to simply “South = All Bad, North = All Good,” and the stories of the people who didn’t really fit into that dichotomy get somewhat lost in the middle. It hadn’t really occurred to me that there were people in the South who were harassed and persecuted for not supporting, and actually working against, the cause of the Confederacy, and so I found it very interesting to read of the bravery, dedication, and sheer boldness of this woman of the upper echelons of Richmond society, her family, other townsmen, slaves, and freedmen all secretly working for the cause of the Union in the Confederate capital.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cookery Bookery: The Fresh Honey Cookbook

Title: The Fresh Honey Cookbook: 84 Recipes from a Beekeeper’s Kitchen
Author: Laurey Masterton
Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC
Publication Date: September 10th, 2013
Read: March 2014
Where It Came From: eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Genre: Cookbook
Rating: 3.5 Honey Varietals

I enjoy honey. It is known. Cookbooks featuring this delicious sweetener are something I naturally gravitate toward, and thus it is no surprise that I find myself reviewing this one. Unlike The Honey Connoisseur, which I reviewed previously, this one is first and foremost about cooking things. While it does provide some introductory information about bees, honey, and bee-keeping, it’s not as technical and super-detailed as Connoisseur. The Fresh Honey Cookbook definitely promotes an appreciation of all things bee and their relation to the environment, but the emphasis is on recipes.

The introduction relating author Laurey Masterton’s start in cooking and how she became involved with bee-keeping managed the magic trick of both making it seem like an achievable hobby, and also illustrating that there’s more to it than one might expect (as another beekeeper admonished her, “You can’t just leave them [the bees] alone, you know! … you need to help them. They are living beings, not lawn ornaments!”). Her experiences and how she faced the challenges of bee-keeping inspired me to entertain thoughts of one day keeping bees. Hmm, I wonder if there are zoning regulations against it in the city…what would Northwest Phoenix honey taste like?

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Selection Stories: The Guard, by Kiera Cass

Title: The Selection Stories: The Guard
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Year: 2014
Read: February 2014
Where It Came From: Barnes and Noble
Genre: YA-dystopian
Rating: 2 stars

The Quick and Dirty:

In a small tide-you-over novella in the Selection trilogy, Aspen, a palace guard, tries to convince the love of his life to forget about the prince with whom she may be in love. Largely a reprint of the Aspen-America chapters of The Elite, it's only meant for fans of the series. Possibly only fans of Aspen will truly be able to appreciate it, but the paperback book comes with some extra content and the first three chapters of spring's The One.

The Wordy Version:

Last year Alyssa, waiting eagerly for The Elite, discovered her library had an available digital copy of the companion novella, The Prince, and discovered that it had little merit aside from being something to read while waiting for the next part of the series. A little later, Alyssa caved into her craving and bought a hardcover Elite, and kindly sent it to me as soon as she was done. I wasn’t so impatient last year, but this year it seems I am VERY impatient for the rest of the story of America and Maxon (or Aspen, if the series takes a terrible turn), and when I saw The Selection Stories on a shelf in a Barnes and Noble, I barely tried to resist. I was sold as soon as I saw there were family trees for all three main characters, tracing them all back to the fascinating (if confusing) era of Gregory Illéa. (And now it’s on its way to A as a thank-you for lending The Elite.)

As a refresher, the Selection trilogy takes place in a post-WWIV North America, which is now the monarchial kingdom of Illéa. Tradition has it that the young crown prince of Illéa marries a commoner after winnowing down his options from a pool of 35 candidates. Seventeen-year-old America Singer, a musician of lower-middle caste, enters the draw at the behest of the love of her life, Aspen, whose caste and poverty is even less desirable than her own. Heartbroken by Aspen’s insistence that America try to find a better life than he can offer her, America enters the Selection in a decidedly unromantic mood that appeals to Crown Prince Maxon.

(Now come the spoilers) Maxon and America become friends despite some misunderstandings, and all seems on the track to True Love until America discovers that Aspen is now a guard at the palace (which has elevated his caste and given him both a great income and the confidence to pursue America’s love). When a more serious misunderstanding occurs between them (America believes Maxon is cold-hearted to allow a couple caught breaking the draconian law she herself often ignores to be punished), Aspen puts his life and America’s at risk to have secret meetings and agree that Maxon is not worthy of her love.

Author Kiera Cass has been rather vocal about her love for both of America’s love interests, especially as readers last spring began to complain that Aspen’s actions in The Elite were not so laudable. She was excited to give readers a better perspective of Aspen in the new novella included in this collection, and I was uncharacteristically optimistic that she could present Aspen, “The Guard,” as something other than an emotionally abusive ass in a story taking place during the timeline of The Elite.

And for the first 15-25 pages of the novella, things seemed to be pointing towards a sympathetic portrayal of Aspen. Following a dance between America and Maxon, Aspen seems to realize that the Amerispen ship sailed years ago, and it’s Maxerica that’s in port. He then shows some sense the morning of the punishment, sending America’s maids to comfort her and calming America’s family. Even when Aspen determines, “If Maxon truly was [sic] a decent man, America never would have been in this situation in the first place,” I’m kind of on his side. He’s jumping to conclusions about Maxon, but he’s nineteen and that’s as good a time as ever to jump to conclusions.

But then Aspen starts leaping to much more dangerous conclusions. Seeing that America has been crying, he declares, “I knew—I knew—she was supposed to be mine.” America thanks him for offering help, and “With her words, [he] knew without a doubt: she loved [him].” My margin notes suggest that Aspen could do with a lesson from Mr. Darcy about the difference between gratitude and love.

Roughly a third of the way through the story the parts I found most objectionable in The Elite return with no improvement. Aspen didactically tells America,

“The thing about Maxon is that he’s an actor. He’s always putting on this perfect face, like he’s so above everything. But he’s just a person, and he’s as messed up as anyone is. I know you cared about him or you wouldn’t have stayed here. But you have to know now that it’s not real.”
This is a line in The Elite and may be there just because it needed to follow the original story, but this line makes NO SENSE in the context of what Aspen has been witnessing in his duties in the palace. I can’t figure out why Kiera Cass dropped it in without showing Maxon doing something slightly duplicitous in front of Aspen in this novella. Without context all I can say about Aspen’s advice to America is that it is CREEPY. I can’t help assuming that he’s made up this whole side of Maxon’s character to serve his own purposes. And there would have been plenty of things Aspen COULD have said about Maxon that wouldn’t have come across so poorly. Like, “America, I hate that Maxon hasn’t been able to make you feel better about your friend, or even been able to explain how he could stand by and watch her suffer.” Instead we get Aspen’s next line from The Elite: “I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m really sorry Maxon turned out to be such a bad guy.”

Alyssa observed that The Prince didn’t add anything to The Selection by repeating the dialogue through a different character’s perspective, and this is entirely true for the sections of The Guard that come from The Elite. But there were a few things that were genuinely interesting and seem to offer tantalizing possibilities for the final volume of the trilogy. We learn a little more about the political situation in the south of Illéa, and that the guards at the palace are getting superpower injections.

And if all that weren’t enough to convince you to pick up the book, there are two more chapters to extend The Prince to Maxon’s decision to keep America around after she knees him on a date. PLUS the family trees and small backstories (some juicy murder in the royal past), and the first three chapters of The One.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Book Review: Longbourn, by Jo Baker

Title: Longbourn
Author: Jo Baker
Publisher: Knopf
Published: October 2013
Read: March 2014
Where It Came From: Library
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 2 Stars

The Quick and Dirty:

A young house servant in late Georgian England falls in love with a servant, whose mysterious past could leave both of them broken-hearted at the least. The book excels in making housework as dreary as it really is, and in making me appreciate the soap-opera plots of Downton Abbey. In short, it is dull though technically respectable.

The Wordy Version:

Despite my utter disappointment in Death Comes to Pemberley, I was excited about Longbourn. As Pride and Prejudice fanfiction goes, the concept behind Longbourn is actually unique: it’s a retelling of the story from the point of view of the servants in the shadows of the original novel. But a unique premise does not guarantee a uniquely enjoyable reading experience, and this book has fallen into many of the same pitfalls of writing as Death Comes to Pemberley.

The problem at its very center is that there is far too much realism. It’s like reading Strindberg’s Miss Julie without the psychological stuff. Pages go by of the servants washing laundry, slaughtering a pig, mucking the outhouse, making soap, sewing hems, trudging through the cold rain to purchase ribbons, etc. It gives the impression that the author has done a great deal of research on the day-to-day responsibilities of servants in early 19th century Britain, but that she hasn’t been able to concoct a plot worthy of pulling the characters away from the drudgery of their work.

There is some plot, of course. Longbourn’s maid-of-all-work, Sarah, is a pragmatic Belle from Beauty and the Beast: she goes about her daily chores practically singing about how there must be more than this provincial life, has her nose stuck in a book, and is so beautiful that from the moment that they meet her and see her, the footmen practically say she’s gorgeous (and make plans to woo and/or marry her). Sarah prickles at James, the new manservant at Longbourn, who has appeared in circumstances that convince her of his shady character. She is drawn to Netherfield’s footman, Ptolemy Bingley, who comes from the Bingley sugar plantations, and has dreams of owning his own tobacco shop in London. When the Bingleys head to London in accordance with the plot of Pride and Prejudice, Sarah wonders what is tying her to the Bennet household. (Spoiler—it’s the mysterious footman.)

Were this plot taking up the entire book, the love triangle might function to keep things moving. Instead Sarah becomes happily settled into her life for the next third of the book, and we have to cling to the vague plot possibility that Wickham is going to rape the child servant, Polly. And when that next part of the plot dissolves into the natural departure of Wickham from Longbourn, a further tenth of the book is spent developing a backstory to the mysterious James. Followed by some ennui in housework. And some moping about romantic separation.

I am floored that there are reviews on Goodreads saying Longbourn is a better or more complete book than Pride and Prejudice, or that it is a way to interest men in Austen. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Longbourn’s unfocused plot and overreliance on period detail mean that it is a plodding piece of prose. Generally the writing is formal and detached, with occasionally jarring mentions of shit when the style would be better suited to feces. The detachment here is entirely unlike Austen’s style, lacking humor and the appreciation of human absurdity (all of which I mention not as criticism of the book, but of reviews that make the mistaken comparison). I observed some interesting diction and the sentences were fine, but without much of a story to tell, the only thing compelling me to finish was the desire to knock off another reading Bingo square for the year (“a published fanfic”).

As for any suggestion that Pride and Prejudice is incomplete without looking at the servants responsible for everyone’s food and laundry? The reason Pride and Prejudice doesn’t talk about the lives of Longbourn’s servants is precisely the reason this book is boring to read: nobody cares about dishwashing, and chores are irrelevant to the plot of Elizabeth maturing in her judgment and falling in love with Darcy. Unless Pride and Prejudice had a major moment of Darcy looking at some tarnished piece of silver in Longbourn, and insulting Elizabeth for her servants’ neglect, the individual lives of the servants do not affect the plot of Austen’s book. To a large extent, the opposite is naturally true as well. The servants do not care all that much about Mr. Wickham’s unscrupulousness or the Bingleys’ abrupt departure from Netherfield.

With little important convergence in the plots of Longbourn and Pride and Prejudice, it’s probably unfair to judge Longbourn for not bringing much new understanding to its source material. In essence, Longbourn would have been the same if the “upstairs” family were any other family: illuminative about the lives of a largely marginalized class of people, but overly concerned with housework, and entirely too long.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cookery Bookery: Ivan Ramen

Title: Ivan Ramen
Author: Ivan Orkin
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Publication Date: October 29th, 2013
Read: December 2013
Where It Came From: eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Genre: Cookbook-food-memoir
Rating: 4 Slices of Chashu

I’m always interested in the experiences of other foreigners in Japan, having been one myself, and I’m also always interested in things published by Ten Speed Press (remember this lovely?). Based on these two facts, I was definitely planning on having a look at Ivan Ramen from the moment I first heard about it. The subtitle is “Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo’s Most Unlikely Noodle Joint”—I was completely on the same page with regards to the love and obsession I bear ramen (we’re talking Japanese ramen here, not the stuff you can grab at the grocery store for the low price of a dime and elevated blood pressure), but I had never before heard of this Tokyo ramen shop owned by an American guy. Of course, I’m certainly not an expert on everything that happens within Japan’s borders, and when I was living over there I wasn’t in Tokyo, had no TV, and was not super into the ramen following. But my curiosity was definitely piqued by a) the story of a white dude opening a ramen place in the ramen motherland, and b) actual ramen recipes, which are not too easy to come by in English.

 photo DSC00708_zpsf63d9410.jpg
While we were living in Japan, a friend and I made a pilgrimage to the famous ramen restaurant Ippudo in Fukuoka.

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It was a busy place, but we were seated right away and the food was GOOD!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Bingo Update: February

February saw Alyssa (green) maintain her decisive lead over Susan (red) in our Connect Six (or as many as we can) version of the game, even as Susan amped up her reading. Things actually got very competitive: Alyssa assembled a pile of books that were applicable for the game, and Susan resorted to defensive plays. We hash out the excitement later, but first let's see what's been added this month to our Bingo card (January's for comparison):



And now to the analysis. Pretend we are Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, but talking about our own performances.

Image from smartladieslovestuff

Susan: This game is now officially one that Alyssa cannot lose. She has at least one in every line and every row.
Alyssa: Well, I think it would be more accurate to say that you cannot win. I, on the other hand, can still lose! Stalemates count as losses in reading bingo, right? I actually think you have the better strategy--see what row I'm going for and when I get close to completion, neatly block it with a single book. Let me burn myself out on reading!

Susan: Let's talk about your close-to-Bingos in the last month. After January, I started to see that you were heading to Bingo in Row 5, but I had NO IDEA you would fill in two more squares seemingly within a day. I panicked and raced to find the easiest Booker listed book possible. I feared that you were going to grab the incredibly short Testament of Mary and finish the Booker category within the next hour, or race through Room or Life of Pi. I spent a few days reading Harold Fry, and each morning I would check our GoogleDoc to see if I still had a shot at getting the square.
Alyssa: Haha, the Booker square is one that I've been avoiding. It didn't even occur to me that there might be a short one in the category! I found out quite by accident that These Broken Stars, which I read in January, was on some Best of 2013 lists. (How exactly did it make it there? I'm not sure.) So when I discovered that in the course of some Pinterest browsing, I hurried to add it to bingo in case one of the books from your library YA pile was a Best of 2013. And as for my friend Nancy Drew...I downloaded that from my library's digital collection on a whim, and finished it in 3 hours. I seemed to remember them taking so much longer to read when I was younger!

Susan: The other close-to-Bingo was in Column 1. That one completely took me by surprise. I had finished The Art of Fielding and was trying to match it to a category on our Bingo card when I saw you had suddenly read half of Column 1, and you had casually mentioned reading a John Green book at jury duty. I wasn't totally worried because I thought Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a Printz winner, and it was sitting next to my bed. When I realized I was wrong and that the roads were snowed in (yet again), I resorted to my library's digital collection and found an available copy of Looking for Alaska, which I managed to finish slightly before you.
Alyssa: Wasn't there another book you read that you thought fit in a category and then it didn't? Yes, Column 1 was meant to be my power play. I rue the day I texted you from jury duty to help me decide which book to read!! On the plus side, since you finished Looking for Alaska before I did, I now don't feel compelled to finish it any time soon. I know it was John Green's debut, but I was still surprised by how less tight it is than Paper Towns.

Susan: I'm a little disappointed with your being able to find a book with a terrible trailer! I thought books with quotes by Jonathan Franzen on the cover would have terrible trailers (based on this), and I had read TWO of those recently only to find that one had a brilliant trailer and the other had none. But I acknowledge that Scarlet's trailer was worse than I could have imagined.
Alyssa: I loved the trailer for Where'd You Go, Bernadette! The bad trailer square got filled in belated when I saw you making a move on some of my squares and I started to panic a bit. I looked at the list of books I'd read so far in 2014 and started seeing which ones might fit in which squares, and lucky for me, the trailer for Scarlet was truly abysmal. If I had seen before I read it...I probably wouldn't have read it. XD

Susan: Moving onto our controversial reads this month, I am on the fence about Relish counting as a novel, when basically EVERY review on Goodreads says it is a memoir.
Alyssa: Well, we know how reliable Goodreads is, don't we? It's a memoir in the format of a graphic novel. Graphic NOVEL. The word novel is there, so I say it counts! Those rows were already out of the running for you anyway. ;-) And what about this 20 Minutes book? Was it really a how-to book?

Susan: But The First 20 Minutes really did teach me HOW to do something! It taught me how to train so I don't injure myself as I try to improve my 5K time. It had advice on how to warm up and cool down (I particularly liked that it told me there is no real advantage to a slow cool down), and on how to feel at yoga as I struggle to stretch (vindicated; some bodies are just not flexible, and the more research participants stretched, the worse their running became). See, LOTS of "how" in those sentences. ;-)
Alyssa: Yours involved the word "how," mine involved the word "novel." We'll call it even. :)

Susan: So I've already admitted to you that I'm working on a published fanfic (Longbourn), and we're both racing to see someone reading in public and read a book inspired by a TV Show. Let's see if I can finish Elizabeth and Mary!
Alyssa: What makes you think I'll share my master plan with you? ;-)

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