Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Foods I’d Eat If I Was Fictional

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is yummy foods mentioned in books. Unfortunately, I don’t read many foodie books, so I’m putting my own spin on the topic. Here’s what I would eat if I was a book character.

Foods I’d Eat If I Was Fictional

1. If I was in a fantasy book, I’d eat the food at Hogwarts. It’s British food, so I don’t know what all of it is, but that wouldn’t stop me from eating it. I’d just wander down the tables and sample everything. (On a related note, do wizards ever eat the magical plants and animals? I want to eat those, too.)

2. If I was in a science fiction book, I’d eat alien food. Who wouldn’t want to eat something from another planet?

3. If I was in a time travel book, I’d go back in time and eat a T-Rex. They’re going to go extinct anyway. Why not eat one while you can?

4. If I was in a road trip book, I’d plan the entire trip around nachos. We’d drive across the country and eat at all the best nacho restaurants. (There must be a ranking of “best nacho restaurants” online somewhere? If not, what is the Internet doing with its life?)

5. If I was in a fluffy contemporary romance novel, I’d date the guy who owns the cupcake shop. He would bake, and I would test the products.

6. If I was in a wilderness survival book, I’d eat anything. I turn into a raving psycho bitch when I’m hungry. No one wants to read about a lonely psycho bitch crying in the woods.

7. If I was hunting a murderer in a thriller novel, I’d argue with my partner about where we should stop for lunch. The murderer would stab us while we’re arguing. As we’re bleeding to death, my last words would be, “This is still better than eating at that sketchy Taco Bell, Kevin!”

8. If I was in a ghost story, I’d eat s’mores. S’mores and ghost stories go together. Also, the campfire might keep the ghosts away. I refuse to be one of those horror movie idiots who fumble around in the dark.

9. If I was in Fifty Shades of Grey, I’d skip all the abusive sex stuff and make Christian Grey buy me a Frrrozen Haute Chocolate at Serendipity 3 Restaurant in New York. According to The Guinness Book of World Records, the Frrrozen Haute Chocolate is the most expensive dessert in the world. It costs $25,000. (Yes, I would feel guilty about spending $25,000 on chocolate, but #YOLO.) 

10. If I was in a book where I lived multiple lives, I’d spend one of them learning how to cook. I’m a terrible cook.

What would you eat if you were fictional?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Company Of Liars: A Novel Of The Plague – Karen Maitland

Company Of Liars: A Novel Of The Plague – Karen Maitland

The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them. 
Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group's leader; to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller; from the strange child called Narigorn; to a painter and his pregnant wife; each has a secret. None are what they seem. And one among them conceals the darkest secret of all—propelling these liars to a destiny they never saw coming.

Review: This book is advertised as a reinterpretation of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which made me terrified to read it. I had The Canterbury Tales forced upon me in high school English class. It was awful. Mostly because I had no freakin’ clue what was happening in that book. The Canterbury Tales is not an easy book to read, and I have zero desire to ever attempt it again. That’s why Company of Liars sat on my shelf for months before I worked up the courage to read it.

Luckily, Company of Liars is written in Modern English, so it’s already miles ahead of The Canterbury Tales in the readability department. It follows nine travelers who are walking north to avoid catching the plague. Each of them is hiding something about their past. As they travel, secrets are uncovered, stories are told, rivalries are formed, and murder is committed.

“There was a new king and his name was pestilence. And he had created a new law—thou shalt do anything to survive.” – Company of Liars

I’m definitely not an expert on 1300s England, but the setting in this novel seems well-researched and realistic to me. The church controlled everything during this time, and the characters have to guard their secrets to keep from being killed by the church. Some of the characters have committed crimes against religion. Others are involved in activities that go against the church’s beliefs. There is a sense of danger throughout the entire novel. If the characters aren’t killed by the plague, they may be executed for their crimes.

The characters are where this book shines. They’re all very unique. The most fun part of the story is trying to figure out each character’s secret before the narrator does. Some of the secrets are obvious. Others are nearly impossible to guess. You have to listen very carefully to the characters’ stories and try to put the pieces together. In some cases, one misplaced word can give a secret away.

“You've heard tales of beauty and the beast. How a fair maid falls in love with a monster and sees the beauty of his soul beneath the hideous visage. But you've never heard the tale of the handsome man falling for the monstrous woman and finding joy in her love, because it doesn't happen, not even in a story-teller's tale.” – Company of Liars

My main problem with this book is that it’s very, very long. My copy is 460+ pages, and there are a lot of words crammed onto each page. For me, there isn’t enough tension in the plot to get me through that many pages. The characters are mostly traveling aimlessly. Their only goal is to avoid plague villages. The tension comes from the secrets that the characters are keeping. Most of the secrets are pretty obvious. I even correctly guessed who was behind the mysterious murders/suicides.

Since the book is slow and predictable, I never felt hugely motivated to pick it up. I love the setting, and I wanted to know the narrator’s secret. That’s what kept me reading. I can understand why some reviewers have struggled to get through this beast.

I also wonder about the narrator’s reactions to learning the other characters’ secrets. He barely reacts to most of them. Learning the secrets doesn’t change how he feels about his traveling companions. I guess that makes sense because he’s hiding his own secrets. He has no right to judge. But, wouldn’t he judge at least a little? He’s spent his life in places where religion rules everything. Wouldn’t he have some sort of opinion about people committing crimes against the church?

“[T]he flames of a fire are not made less painful by the knowledge that others are burning with you.” – Company of Liars

I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked it enough to finish it. The characters and setting held my attention. However, when I finished it, I mostly felt disappointed. I wish it had been less predictable. I’m still searching for really awesome books set during historical plagues. (Recommendations, please?) 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Sunday Post #118

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Company of Liars: A Novel of the Plague by Karen Maitland.
  • On Tuesday I talk about what I’d eat if I was fictional.
  • On Wednesday I review The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson. Then I read The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel and Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham. Right now, I’m reading The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. It snowed, but not enough that I had to shovel.
  2. The animals are getting their winter fluff. I saw floofy prairie dogs, floofy deer, and a floofy coyote.
  3. New books!
  4. Have you checked out #ShatteringStigmas? It’s about mental health and YA books. You should especially check out my post on the subject.
  5. John Oliver talks about Confederate monuments. It’s a long video, but it’s funny and he has some good points.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rant: Can We Please Not Make Assumptions?

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2017 Discussion Challenge.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a rant before. I’m not the ranting type, but I decided to give it a try. There’s a first time for everything, right? Blogging gets boring if you don't mix it up once in awhile. Read this in your angriest voice. It’ll seem more like a rant that way.

Like many bookish people, I’m completely addicted to Goodreads. I’ve wasted countless hours of my life reading reviews and researching books on that site. Like all social media sites, it has some pointless drama, but I can’t quit Goodreads. I love it too much.

That being said, there’s one thing about Goodreads culture that irritates me: People on that site often make assumptions about the personal lives of other people.

The assumptions happen in reviews and in the comments on reviews. They usually have to do with the “diversity” aspect of books. I’ve seen reviews that say “This author obviously has no experience with ______ and shouldn’t be allowed to write about it.” I’ve seen comments that say “This reviewer is wrong because she doesn’t have experience with _____. If she had experience with _______ she would love/hate this book.”

I ask: how do you know? How do you know that an author or reviewer doesn’t have experience with something? You can’t tell everything about a person by reading a book/review. What if they do have experience with the topic, but they don’t want to talk about it online? Or, what if their experience with _____ is just different from yours? A different experience isn’t wrong. It’s just different.

Here’s my example: I don’t like Thirteen Reasons Why. I have real-life experience with the topics discussed in that book, and *in my opinion,* the events in the book aren’t handled well or realistically. That’s just my opinion. My opinion is based on my experiences alone. If a reviewer loves Thirteen Reasons Why, it would be rude of me to say, “Obviously, you have no experience with suicide. You’d hate the book if you did.” That’s awful. Maybe they do have experience with suicide, and their experience is just different from mine? Their experiences led them to a different opinion about the book. It's not fair to make assumptions about a reviewer’s personal life based on which books they enjoy.

The assumptions on Goodreads bother me because the author or reviewer will feel pressure to defend themselves against them. When you make assumptions, you’re basically saying, “Your writing/reviews are invalid unless you prove that you have real-life experience with this topic.” That’s crappy, guys. Reading a book or a review doesn’t entitle you to know the creator’s life story. They shouldn’t have to prove themselves. They shouldn’t feel like they’re being bullied into talking about something they don’t want to discuss.

On a related note, I get kinda weirded out when people ask authors on Goodreads if their books are #OwnVoices. What if the book is #OwnVoices, but the author doesn’t want to discuss their personal life with strangers on Goodreads? The author could say that the book isn’t #OwnVoices and then open themselves up to criticism of the “This author knows nothing” variety. Or, they can say that it is #OwnVoices and then be expected to talk about their life. I think an author should be able to write something fictional without having to share their history.

Some creators want to keep their personal lives personal. Some things just aren’t the Internet’s business.

Public service announcement: Be a good human and don’t make assumptions about the lives of strangers.

Let’s discuss: Was that ranty enough? Should I have said swear words? Just kidding. I really want to know if there are parts of online bookish culture that irritate you. Are there things that you wish people in the bookish community would stop doing?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cozy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries—and there he dies suddenly. 
Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet . . . might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?

Review: Daphne du Maurier is brilliant at writing introverted characters. I relate to them so hard. Well, I can relate to everything except the cousin-on-cousin lovin’. That’s . . . not socially acceptable in modern times.

“Ambrose used to say to me in Florence that it was worth the tedium of visitors to experience the pleasure of their going. He was so right.” – My Cousin Rachel

Phillip and his older cousin, Ambrose, are lifelong bachelors. They’re happy with their quiet, private existence in their English mansion. One winter, Ambrose decides to leave the cold of England and visit Italy. There, he meets another cousin, Rachel, and marries her. Phillip is confused. Why would his loner cousin suddenly decide to get married? Soon after the marriage, Ambrose dies, and Rachel comes to visit Phillip in England. Phillip believes that Rachel murdered Ambrose, but he has no proof. As he reluctantly gets to know Rachel, he slowly starts falling in love with her. Is Rachel a nice girl with a tragic past, or is she manipulating Phillip to get his money?

“We were dreamers, both of us, unpractical, reserved, full of great theories never put to test, and like all dreamers, asleep to the waking world. Disliking our fellow men, we craved affection; but shyness kept impulse dormant until the heart was touched. When that happened the heavens opened, and we felt, the pair of us, that we have the whole wealth of the universe to give. We would have both survived, had we been other men.” – My Cousin Rachel

This is one of those books that don’t have much of a plot, but have memorable characters and a lot of atmosphere. The tension builds slowly. The reader is kept guessing about Rachel’s true motives and is always on the lookout for clues about what she is planning. Did she murder Ambrose? Is she trying to con Phillip out of his inheritance? Is Phillip sick because Rachel is somehow poisoning him? Rachel is a funny, charismatic person, so I was inclined to like her, but I was always looking for proof that she’s secretly evil.

To make things more interesting, Phillip isn’t a reliable narrator. At first, he hates Rachel and refuses to see anything good about her. Later, he becomes obsessed with her. He doesn’t want her to leave the mansion or meet other people. He always refers to her as “my” Rachel, like she’s his property. He even convinces himself that she’s in love with him. Phillip is so willing to overlook her flaws that she could commit murder, and he’d just blindly go along with it.

“Here is Tom Jenkyns, honest and dull, except when he drank too much. It's true that his wife was a scold, but that was no excuse to kill her. If we killed women for their tongues all men would be murderers.” – My Cousin Rachel

This is my second Daphne du Maurier book. I read Rebecca earlier this year. I liked My Cousin Rachel more than Rebecca. I think the plot is stronger in Rebecca, but the writing is stronger in My Cousin Rachel. The writing quirks that annoyed me in Rebecca aren’t present in this book.

Since the pacing of My Cousin Rachel is so slow, I expected a big reveal and a big payoff at the end. I didn’t get it. Some parts of the ending are predictable, and the book ends so quickly that it doesn’t give the reader much closure. I still have so many questions! Not enough was resolved for me. That’s my only complaint, though. I really enjoyed this story and the characters’ screwed-up relationship.

I have a few issues with the ending of My Cousin Rachel, but I’ll happily read more of Daphne du Maurier’s work (when it turns up at the used bookstore). I’m especially eager to read her short stories. Also, I think My Cousin Rachel is a movie now? I need to see it. Since so much of the story takes place inside Phillip’s head, it’ll be interesting to see how they handle that in film form. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl

Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl

Here are the extraordinary adventures of three nasty farmers and one fabulous fox who outwits them all.

Review: An optimistic fox with a Band-Aid on his ass saves his friends from starvation? I’m so ready for this story.

Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly working my way through all of Roald Dahl’s books. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a short (90 pages, including many illustrations) children’s novel about a fox who steals food from farmers to feed his family. When the farmers surround Mr. Fox and trap him in his den, he has to find a new way to get food.

I would have loved this story as a kid. The main characters are animals, which would have made me happy, and there’s some dark humor. Early in the story, the farmers shoot off Mr. Fox’s tail. The fox spends the rest of the story with a Band-Aid on his butt. The illustrations of it made me smile.

As an adult, I like the environmental message of the story. Maybe the author didn’t intend for there to be an environmental message, but I saw one. The farmers destroy the hill where Fox and the other wild animals live. When they ruin the animals’ habitat, the animals move into the farmers’ habitat and cause mayhem. It shows that environmental destruction can create more problems than it solves.  

“‘Haven’t you heard what’s happening on the hill?’ Badger said excitedly. ‘It’s chaos! Half the wood has disappeared and there are men with guns all over the countryside! None of us can go out, even at night! We’re all starving to death!’” – Fantastic Mr. Fox

I think that calling Mr. Fox “Fantastic” is a bit of an overstatement. When I started this book, I expected him to do something really clever. The farmers trap him in his hole, and his solution is “dig a tunnel and come out somewhere else.” Well, duh. That’s the most obvious solution ever. I expected the farmers to foil Fox’s obvious solution and force him to come up with something more innovative. They didn’t. Maybe child readers would find Mr. Fox more “Fantastic” than I did.

I loved Mr. Fox’s optimism, though. He didn’t give up, even when the other animals started feeling hopeless. Optimistic Mr. Fox would be a better name for him.

I also wish the story had more resolution. Mr. Fox does succeed in getting food for his family, but that’s it. The story ends with the farmers deciding to sit outside of Fox’s den forever, and Fox deciding to stay underground forever. As a misanthropic human, the thought of living underground and never coming out is appealing to me, but it doesn’t seem like an ideal life for a fox.

Now I’m wondering what foxes would look like after generations of living underground. I’m picturing tiny, eyeless, hairless, albino foxes.

Clearly, I’m overthinking this book.

Fantastic Mr. Fox isn’t my favorite Roald Dahl story, but I enjoyed reading it. It’s just slightly too simplistic for me. However, I’m not the target audience. I think I would have liked this story quite a lot as a child. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Sunday Post #117

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl.
  • On Wednesday I review My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.
  • On Thursday I rant about assumptions.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy The Shocking Inside Story by Ann Rule. Then I read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Right now, I’m reading Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. The dogs and I briefly had the entire dog park to ourselves. We felt like queens.
  2. Kit-Kats.
  3. All the fall TV is back! There’s so much TV to watch.
  4. Have you seen the #ShatteringStigmas posts that a bunch of bloggers have been writing? They’re very educational. Everyone should read them and learn some stuff.
  5. Running on the treadmill. It’s so much easier on my joints than running outside. Also, I get to watch TV while running. (One GoT episode = 5 miles of running.)

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!