Monday, May 23, 2016

It's Monday and I'm back to reading!

I read books this week. I even wrote a post (eventually)! I'm back, ladies and gents!

It's been another good, long week here at the Literary house. In addition to all of the regular craziness, D had a project for school about sharks, the husband was preparing for the church's annual meeting this Sunday, and it was my mom's birthday! We surprised her for dinner and brought cake (chocolate with peanut butter frosting, if you were wondering).

I finished reading both Alias Grace and Bad Feminist this week. I forgot just how immersive reading Atwood can be, but I thought it was a great story. The Bad Feminist essays were an ok read for me. Many of them made me consider things in new light, and I appreciated Gay's thoughtfulness and compassion about the topics she covered.

     Alias Grace   Bad Feminist

This week, I'm really excited to read Chris Cleave's newest book Everyone Brave is Forgiven. Then, since it's finally starting to act like spring in New Jersey, I'm going to give Maine a whirl.

    Everyone Brave is Forgiven     Maine 

What are you reading this week?


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mini-reviews: Tales of Accidental Genius and A Tyranny of Petticoats

Simon Van Booy is the beloved author of the novels The Illusion of Separateness and Everything Beautiful Began After. In Tales of Accidental Genius, his second short story collection, he takes readers to the pet store with an old man hoping to help his fish and with a fashion designer on her trip to find inspiration. A couple is torn apart by the wife's alcoholism and infidelity and the final story is a Chinese folktale through the eyes of a film director who wants to make a different kind of movie.

Tales of Accidental Genius will not give you high speed chases or epic battles. Instead, the stories focus on quiet moments of understanding and the melancholy of loneliness. The genius referenced in the title has nothing to do with admission to Mensa or high test scores. Instead, the genius in these stories is the one that comes from kindness, from doing the right thing even when it's difficult or unexpected. So often in literary fiction, we read about darkness and pain and loss. But these tales give us hope that kind people do still exist in the world and that, once in a while, goodness is rewarded.

Tales of Accidental Genius
By Simon Van Booy
Harper Perennial November 2015
272 pages
From my shelves

In A Tyranny of Petticoats, 15 of the best young adult writers bring history alive through the stories of brave, smart young women. In the introduction, editor Jessica Spotswood says that their aim was to bring American history to life. They travel through the Alaskan wilderness in the 18th century, carry out espionage for the Union during the Civil War, and fall in love with a fellow riveter during WWII.

Collections like this one are a perfect way to hook you on new authors. One of my favorites was Leslye Walton's El Destinos, which reimagined the Fates are three young sisters in 1848 Texas. It was such a clever and unique spin on a well-known tale. I also greatly enjoyed Gold in the Roots of the Grass by Marissa Meyer, where a young Chinese women gets more than she bargained for when she tries to speak to spirits in a mining town. Y.S. Lee introduces readers to The Legendary Garrett Girls, sisters who refuse to let a man take over their Alaskan bar. While not every story is equal, I love that this collection is not just populated by white girls and it equally features girls fighting for love and marriage and girls who want nothing to do with it because they have awesome things to do. This is a book I will be happy to share with my daughter in another decade or so!

A Tyranny of Petticoats
Edited by Jessica Spotswood
Candlewick Press March 2016
368 pages
From the library

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's Monday and I didn't read anything!

My literary friends, a very strange thing has happened this week. I didn't finish a book. I can't really remember the last time that happened...

But I had very, very good reason to not get much reading in! My sister arrived from California and it was the first time the four sisters had been together in many months. We also planned a birthday party for a certain little girl in our house and celebrated with our families on Sunday. It was a party for my husband and sister too, although they had no say in the princess theme. My best friend is here for the next few days, so the fun will be continuing.

In the meantime, I will keep reading Alias Grace and Bad Feminist. What are you reading this week?

             Alias Grace    Bad Feminist 


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Readalongs: Pirate Ship Time Travel Edition

Readalongs is a new feature here at Literary Lindsey. As you probably know, I have two littles (8 and 3, respectively). It's fun to read beloved childhood classics with the kids in your life. But it can be even more fun is to pair books for kids and adults that have the same kind of stories. So, welcome to volume 1 of Readalongs!

The Map to Everywhere is recommended for children in grades 4-6, but my 2nd grader had no trouble with it. This story features Fin and Marrill, who team up to find a pirate map. They both want to use the map to get back to their families. My son said, "I think that both books have a lot of magic in them. They are just unbelievable. And the main characters (named Fin and Marrill) are. just. CRAZY AWESOME! Don't let this ship set sail without you!"

Grownups can find adventure traveling through time and space on a pirate ship too with The Girl From Everywhere. Nix has spent a lifetime traveling with her father. If he has a map of a place, he can travel there regardless of the year or location of the map. While she loves their life of travel, she knows that there is danger around every corner. The greatest danger may come from her own father, who is determined to find a map of 1868 Honolulu. He wants to be save his wife's life, but Nix wonders if that will mean she is never born.

This book has a lot of strengths. Nix is a great protagonist and she responds with all the fire and determination you want to see in an adventure. Ms. Heilig also does a great job of creating a sense of place; I would read all day about her descriptions of Hawaii, New York City, and the other places the crew visits. The story does feel a bit long in places, though. There are some really fascinating secondary characters that I would have liked to spend more time with, specifically the rest of the ship's crew. If you are a reader who loves journeying to new and exciting places in a book and you don't mind another love triangle in your YA novel, this would be a great book for you!

The best news about these two books? The Map to Everywhere already has a sequel, and another Girl From Everywhere book should be out next year!

           The Map to Everywhere (Map to Everywhere, #1)    The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere, #1)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Review: Excellent Daughters

Katherine Zoepf is a journalist who has spent a good portion of her career in the Middle East. As a young woman herself, she is granted unique access to unmarried women. In Excellent Daughters, we learn about the women she met in Damascus, Beirut, and Abu Dhabi. Some of the women are brimming with excitement over their impending marriages, others are experiencing what it means to have a job as a stewardess or in a shop, and some women are waiting in a detention center, hoping that their fathers and brothers will never find them and kill them in an attempt to restore their family honor.

One of the things that was very illuminating for me was seeing just how different the women's beliefs, dreams, and goals were, depending on where they lived. Unfortunately, we tend to lump the Middle East together, as if the experience of a girl growing up in Egypt is the same as her counterpart in Syria.

Reading this led me to really think about what we consider to be progress and freedom. Many of the women interviewed on these pages truly believe in things like the separation of men and women and the female's responsibility to ensure that men are not aroused by them. To an American woman who considers herself a feminist, this seems ridiculous. But what is our right to force our beliefs on them? How do you differentiate between a truly individual belief and something that has been taught to them for an entire lifetime?

Excellent Daughters is often structured around juxtapositions. In the prologue Zoepf sits with young women in Saudi Arabia, as they celebrate their friend's impending trip to Mecca. One of the girls is recently engaged. While the friends discuss the impropriety of even speaking to their fiancees on the phone, the future bride also confesses her hope that they could honeymoon at Disney World. But this isn't portrayed as a flight of fantasy or silly last wish of a girl getting married too young. There is clearly a deep love and respect that Ms. Zoepf has for the people and countries that she covers in this book. She wants the reader to see the women on these pages as complex people, not projects for us to fix or victims for us to pity.

The title of this book is perhaps misleading. Often, the women who are considered excellent daughters are the last ones taking the kind of risks that will change the world around them. There are certainly women in this book who are making different choices than their mothers and grandmothers. Many of them are pursuing further education and even graduating with college degrees. But in many cases, they are degrees in fields where women cannot yet work or a step towards working in a lesser way than a man would with the same certifications. This book is about tiny steps in attitude or moments when women dared to ask for more, not sweeping reforms.

The difficulty with a book like this is that the world itself is moving faster than publishing does. Zoepf admits that the Syria she experienced in 2004 doesn't exist anymore. But I still think this is an important book. Most of us in the US have no idea what life is like for our counterparts in the Middle East. Reading this book gives us a glimpse into everyday moments and the life-changing events that are happening to women on the other side of the world.

Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women
Who Are Transforming the Arab World
By Katherine Zoepf
Penguin Press January 2016
272 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, May 9, 2016

It's Monday and I am one tired reader

Hi friends!

I am checking in late because it was a very long, but most excellent weekend. On Mother's Day, my husband and sisters (plus one boyfriend) made brunch for my mom and me. It was delicious and so relaxing to know that the kids were happily running around and no one had to keep them quiet during a fancy restaurant brunch!

One of my sisters is visiting from California for the week, so she spent the night on Sunday. We stayed up much too late for the approaching 30 crowd. Consequently, Monday morning was kind of rough. My second grader did make it to school on time, but I fear the rest of the morning featured some snuggling and a small nap may have happened this afternoon.

The reading continued as usual this week. I had fun reading the short stories in A Tyranny of Petticoats and finished All Of Us And Everything this morning in between painting and reading with my favorite toddler. I even posted some reviews this week! You can read my thoughts on Be Safe, I Love You and Hanging Mary, as well as my April wrap-up post.

        A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls   All of Us and Everything 

I am excited to finally read Alias Grace. It will probably get some time before bed tonight. Next up is Bad Feminist from the library.

        Alias Grace    Bad Feminist

What are you reading this week?


Friday, May 6, 2016

Review: Be Safe, I Love You

Lauren Clay is back home after a tour of duty in Iraq. She gave up on a future as a classical singer to support her brother after their mother left and their father suffered from depression. Lauren insists that she is fine, but her friends and family can tell something is not quite right. When she proposes to take her brother Danny on a trip to see their mother, everyone sees this as a good sign. But Lauren doesn't go to their mother; instead, they trek into the Canadian wilderness. What happened to Lauren? Where is she going and what does she hope to find?

Be Safe, I Love You is not a book that will make you comfortable.It is constantly confronting the reader and I found myself very nervous for Lauren and for the other people in her life. This story does not paint a rosy picture of the things veterans face when they come back home. The cost of serving in the military is high and it is one that will be paid for a long time, often an entire lifetime.

There are people in Lauren's life who want to help her. There are even fellow veterans from previous wars who know that she is not fine, as she keeps insisting. But the distance between someone who has been through war and found a place in civilian life and one who has just returned is still a deep chasm to cross.

This book is at least partially about focus and control. We witness Lauren keep watch over her home and her family with the precision of a soldier. We travel back in time to her training as a classical singer and watch her calmly and rationally give up a dream for her family. We see her struggle to act naturally around her father, brother, best friend, and former boyfriend even as her mind and her heart are failing her.

Ms. Hoffman had written an unflinching story about what returning from war really means for veterans and for the people who love them. But it is also a book about the power of love for beauty, for home, and for the people in our lives. After all, the book title comes from the joking, loving letters that Danny sends his sister while she is overseas. Each letter concludes with, "Be safe. I love you."

Be Safe, I Love You
By Cara Hoffman
Simon and Schuster April 2014
289 pages
From the library