Thursday, March 31, 2016

The 2015 VIDA Count

Check out my latest post about The 2015 VIDA count on Mocha Girls Read.

Mocha Girls ReadVIDA is a research organization whose aims to “increase critical attention to contemporary women’s writing as well as further transparency around gender equality issues in contemporary literature culture.” One of the ways VIDA does this is with The Count. Beginning in 2010 and every year since, VIDA counts the rates of publication of male and female authors in various prestigious magazines that published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry during the prior year. The organization looks at whose books were reviewed, who did the reviewing, which authors were interviewed, who the interviewers were and more.

Learn more VIDA and find the full report at


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven, Author: Emily St. John Mandel  Then: Arthur Leander, a famous movie actor, has a heart attack on stage during the performance of King Lear. A trainee paramedic named Jeevan rushes from the audience to the stage, pushes past security and starts performing CPR. Kirsten Raymond, a child actress who was playing the younger version of one of Lear's daughters witnesses Arthur's demise. Just hours earlier Arthur had given the young actress a copy of the first two volumes of a comic book his first ex-wife Miranda had written and drawn.

Later that same night Jeevan is on the phone with a doctor friend about to tell him about the crazy night he had at the theater. The doctor interrupts Jeevan and reminds him how he (the doctor) had promised he would tell Jeevan if there was ever a reason to be worried. Now there is a reason to be worried. A 16-year-old girl arrived on a plane from Moscow with flu-like symptoms. Within forty-eight hours she was dead. Other people from the same plane began arriving at the hospital with the same symptoms. They died too, along with the nurse who initially treated the 16-year-old. With that the Georgian Flu pandemic begins. Within weeks the majority of the human population is dead, or so one assumes. The story takes place in North America and pretty soon the east coast can't communicate with people on the west coast of the United States, let alone the rest of the world so who know what happened elsewhere.

Later: It's year 20, as if time started over. Kirsten is part of a troupe of actors and musicians that call themselves the Traveling Symphony. They travel from town to town performing Shakespeare and music. Gasoline goes bad after a few years so now people travel on horseback, or with horses pulling old cars (so no longer the horseless carriages as they were once called), or on their own two feet. At one of their usual stops the Symphony discovers that a once friendly town has been taken over by a strange man calling himself the prophet. The Symphony quickly moves on but it isn't their last encounter with the prophet and his followers.

Elsewhere people have set up a settlement of sorts at the airport. When the pandemic began planes were diverted from their original destination and landed at the nearest airport. Some ended up at the Severn City airport in Michigan. At first people waited for the national guard to show up and do something but after weeks, months, it became clear that no one was coming.

That is pretty much the plot and setting of Station Eleven. The story jumps between the past and the present and from character to character. Over the course of 300 plus pages people die from the flu, violence, and minor ailments and accidents that would have been treated easily before but without hospitals and medicines are now fatal. There are people who remember the old world and children who can't quite conceive of the Internet, telephones, or air conditioning.

I liked this but also wondered what the point was or where it was going. I kept waiting for something more to happen. The story seemed incomplete. It reminded me a little of World War Z, another story about a world wide crisis and how people either die or survive the crisis. That novel tackles the different ways people responded and why. In Station Eleven there is very little of the immediate aftermath of the crisis. Two decades have passed and people are living and surviving and it isn't totally clear how they did it, which made for a less interesting story. This was pleasant but by no means a favorite read.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Forbidden by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Forbidden (Women of the Otherworld Series), Author: Kelley Armstrong  Forbidden is a novella in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld Series. Chronologically the story takes place sometime after Elena and Clay's trip to Alaska as told in Frostbitten.

During their time in Alaska Elena and Clay met a werewolf named Morgan who was experimenting with living full time as wolf and running with a real pack of wolves. Now that I think about it, he sort of reminds me of Elena in the first book of the series when she was trying to live her life exclusively as a human. She wasn't ready to accept her new life as a werewolf or give up her "normal" human life and resisted the change into her werewolf form as much as she could. Morgan does the exact opposite but both were trying to suppress a part of their identity.

Morgan's family seems to have felt the way Elena used to feel about being a werewolf - that it was a curse. Morgan went along with that for a time but then rejected it and decided to embrace his wolf side wholeheartedly. He liked being a wolf but found he missed intelligent communication involving words. Morgan had heard of the North American pack, currently headed by Jeremy Danvers, but worried about joining it. There are benefits and drawbacks of being part of a pack and having to follow a leader. (Interestingly, this is a subject currently being addressed in season two of Bitten, the television adaption of Armstrong's series.)

After meeting Elena and Clay, Morgan begins to flirt with the idea of joining the North American werewolf pack. Morgan is on his way to visit Stonehaven, the Danvers compound, when Forbidden begins. Morgan stops at a diner in a small town for some meatloaf and pie and later wakes up naked in the snow. He swears he wasn't drinking. One of the primary objectives of Elena as Jeremy's second-in-command, and really all werewolves, is to keep the fact that they exist a secret from humans. A werewolf in jail for too long would ruin that since a werewolf must change periodically. Elena and Clay travel to the small town to get Morgan out of jail and remind him of the danger of exposing his wolf to humans. It was supposed to be a quick trip: bail Morgan out of jail, enjoy some adult time alone away from their five-year-old twins, and then return home. But after bailing Morgan out of jail Elena, Clay, and Morgan find that their tires have been slashed. Later they're stumbling through the woods and come across a dead body, tribal looking marks on a tree, and a cave with old bones, some animal and some human. Is there a man-eating werewolf on the loose or is a human behind it all? Elena can't leave without making sure a werewolf isn't responsible, and of course Clay won't leave Elena.

This was a quick, fun read. There was a little bit of a mystery. Mostly it serves to further introduce Morgan to the pack and to show how Elena is preparing for her eventual and inevitable ascent to pack leader. There are three more books in the original series (not including the anthologies, novellas or comic book) and I suspect Elena will become pack leader in the next book. If your a fan of the Women of the Otherworld series definitely read this. If you're new to the series, start at the beginning. It helps to already be familiar with the characters before encountering this one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Eyes Full of Empty by Jérémie Guez

Title: Eyes Full of Empty, Author: Jeremie Guez  Idir celebrates his 24th birthday in prison. Ten years later Idir is something of a private detective and fixer. His latest cases come courtesy of the wealthy friends he made during his university days. Actually friends might be stretching things a bit. First, Oscar Crumley asks Idir to find his younger half-brother Thibaut who went missing two months earlier. The second case comes from Eric, the father of one of Idir's college friends. Eric tells Idir that his very expensive car was stolen and he does not wish to report the theft to the police but wants Idir to find it instead. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that something shady happened involving the car, but when Eric offers to pay Idir one-third of the car's value (the car is worth 150,000 Euros) Idir can't bring himself to walk away. So Idir finds himself with two separate cases from two wealthy clients that quickly begin to intersect.

Eyes Full of Empty is the third novel of French author Jérémie Guez and the first of the three to be translated into English. It is set in Paris. Although I am aware that Paris is a big city with complicated big city problems and regular people just trying to live their lives, I tend to overly romanticize the city. Thoughts of Paris bring to mind a city of a thousand museums, of sidewalk cafes and romance, of Hemingway and the Lost Generation, of a City of Light. Of course, there is so much more to Paris than that, as Guez makes clear. There's not a lot of art or strolling down the left bank in Eyes Full of Empty, but there is plenty of blood and violence.

Idir has footholds in various worlds but is an outsider in all of them. He secured a foothold in Parisian white, moneyed society while attending college with the city's wealthy elite, but being of Algerian descent, not poor but certainly not wealthy, and now a criminal, he is an unlikely candidate for full fledged membership in that society. He is no more at home with his family, picking a fight nearly every time he comes into contact with them. Having immigrated to France and become a doctor, Idir's father is a success story. Idir, in turn, went to prison for assault. However, despite the violent nature of his crime, Idir is no hardened criminal and is uncomfortable when he finds himself among those who are very comfortable with violence.

If anything Idir came off as incredibly naive at times, or maybe he is just bad at his job. For instance, his initial assumption that Thibaut simply left town to get away from his conservative family seemed like a lazy conclusion from the beginning. He was constantly getting into fights and other sticky situations but yet was always surprised when other people brought out weapons. And it took Idir way too long to catch on to the potential seriousness of the shady business surrounding the missing car.

As a mystery, Eyes Full of Empty is nothing new. The answer to the question "who did what?" was not in the least bit surprising. Seriously, you've read this story before or seen the movie, probably both. Nevertheless I enjoyed the ride. I enjoyed being exposed to this seamier side of Paris. From what I've read Guez is a big deal in France. Hopefully more of his books will be translated because my French skills aren't good enough to read his work in their original language (though I am working on that).

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2) by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Title: Veronica Mars (2): An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: Mr. Kiss and Tell, Author: Rob Thomas Veronica Mars, now firmly established as a partner at Mars Investigations with her father, is hired by the insurance company that insures the very fancy Neptune Grand hotel. Months earlier a young woman had a drink at the hotel's bar. The next morning she was was found beaten, raped, and left for dead in an abandoned field. One of the hotel's former employees was suspected of the crime but was deported before the case was officially solved. The insurance company hires Veronica to help them determine if the hotel was negligent in some way. Veronica accepts the job but has much much bigger plans. She isn't just interested in the hotel's legal problems; she is determined to bring a rapist to justice.

Mr. Kiss and Tell is a mystery, although the mystery isn't so much about who did it as it is how Veronica is going to catch him. She figures out fairly early on who the culprit is but a less than honest victim, a less than sympathetic police force, and a lack of physical evidence make it difficult to put the man behind bars. But Veronica always finds a way.

One of the things I always liked about the Veronica Mars series is that it never shied away from showing that life could be unfair and unjust; that the good guys don't always win, the bad guys don't always pay for their crimes, and the innocent sometimes suffer for it. Neptune, the beautiful seaside town somewhere north of San Diego is divided between the rich and the not rich more than ever. In this installment, there is a girl who resorts to desperate measures to cover tuition and cops suspected of planting evidence on innocents. Veronica and Keith are fighting the good fight, sometimes winning and sometimes not.

Of course there is more going on in Neptune than Veronica solving mysteries. Logan and Veronica are still together. Mac and Wallace make appearances (need more of them in future stories). The inept Sheriff Lamb is up for reelection and this time he may face a genuine challenge. For the first time in a long time there is the possibility of a real change in Neptune's power structure.

I love Veronica Mars so much! After the TV series ended, there was a movie, and now there is a book series. This is the second book in the series, and goodness I hope there are more.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Wicked Sexy Liar by Christina Lauren

Title: Wicked Sexy Liar, Author: Christina Lauren  Wicked Sexy Liar is the fourth book in the Wild Seasons series by Christina Lauren (the pen name for writing partners Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings). The series started with three friends - Mia, Harlow, and Lola - who met and married three guys - Ansel, Finn, and Oliver - one drunken night in Las Vegas. Now that the three friends and their boyfriend (for one) and husbands (for the other two) are settled, Wicked Sexy Liar tells the story of Lola's roommate London and her romantic adventures with Luke.

London spends her days surfing and her nights tending bar. She's friends with Mia, Harlow, and Lola but not part of their tight inner circle. (Mia, Harlow and Lola grew up together). London is fine with that and with her life in general. Sure someday she would like to get paid to do what she actually went to college for (web design), but for now London is doing fine. She is also fine with being single. Still reeling from being cheated on by her longtime now ex-boyfriend, London keeps people, especially men, at a distance. Then of all the bars, Luke has to walk into hers.

Luke is a sweet guy whose best friend is his older sister. His main flaw is that he has a habit of bedding anything female on two legs. London usually doesn't date (or go home with) customers but she has an itch that needs scratching and Luke is just cute and funny enough for her to make an exception.What was supposed to be a one night stand quickly turns into something more and neither Luke nor London are quite prepared. To make things even more complicated, it turns out Luke knows Harlow, Lola, and especially Mia from way back.

I don't have much to say about Wicked Sexy Liar except that it was another sweet and sexy read from Christina Lauren. Luke and London have instant chemistry but have to work through their respective pasts and change some of their present behaviors and modes of thinking before they can figure out their future together. I enjoyed this book but this being the fourth book in this series, things are starting to feel a little repetitive. It may be time to try something different like Christina Lauren's Beautiful Bastard series.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason by Nancy Pearl

Title: Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason, Author: Nancy Pearl Every morning after my alarm goes off but before I actually get up I read a couple pages from the book on my nightstand. In past years the books on my nightstand were books like The Bedside Baccalaureate or The Intellectual Devotional, which is the name of an actual book but also describes a category of books that aim to educate readers in short, easy bursts. This year I am really trying to put a dent in my 300+ TBR pile, so instead of buying a new devotional I picked Nancy Pearl's Book Lust out of my TBR pile and read a few pages of that every morning.

Book Lust is a basically a compilation of book lists. The lists are completely arbitrary and I love that. I mean I can't say I have ever sought out books about Elvis or thought of dinosaur stories as a genre, but I think it is cute and kind of cool that Nancy Pearl can provide list like Elvis on My Mind and Dinosaur Hunting. We all have our eccentricities.

Although I have read or at least heard of many of the books mentioned in Book Lust, Pearl's book did introduce me to some new titles and authors. More than anything, it was a great way to begin my morning.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Magazines and Recommendation Services for Book Discovery

Mocha Girls Read
 Check out my latest post on Mocha Girls Read. I rarely read book reviews, at least not before I read the book. If there is a book I read and want to know how other people interpreted it, then I may go looking for book reviews. Otherwise lengthy book reviews really aren't my thing. I do, however, like getting a "heads up" as to the new books that are coming. For that, I turn to magazines and various websites. My last post, Magazines and Recommendation Services for Book Discovery talks about some of my favorites and a few new ones I recently came across. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Title: The Invention of Wings, Author: Sue Monk Kidd  On her eleventh birthday, Sarah Grimké, is given her own personal slave, Hetty "Handful" Grimké . Already at the age of eleven Sarah sees slavery for the evil institution it is and refuses her gift, much to the dismay of her wealthy, aristocratic, South Carolina parents. They ignore Sarah's refusal and her later attempt to issue a writ freeing Handful. The Invention of Wings follows Handful's and Sarah's lives over the next few decades as both strive for some degree of freedom.

I was apprehensive about reading this book, but read it anyway because it is the February pick for my book club. There were several reasons for my apprehension. I don't particularly like reading or even thinking about the history of slavery in this country. It makes me angry and depressed and I really have to emotionally prepare myself when confronted with such a story. Also, at this point in my life I don't need to read another story (or watch another movie) about white people who suddenly come to the realization that black people are in fact people and that slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, etc are wrong. I get the reason for those stories; I just personally don't need anymore of that. (There's a line in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah  that reads "Racism should never have happened and so you don't get a cookie for reducing it." That pretty much sums up how I feel about movies like The Help.) For all these reasons and more, I was not looking forward to this. Thankfully, The Invention of Wings turned out not to be  too much about the evolution of white people's thinking about slavery and although it involved slavery it wasn't quite the gut wrenching read I was expecting.

The novel alternates between Handful's and Sarah's points of view. Both have their struggles. Handful obviously literally must fight for her freedom and her life. I loved her story as she grew up, witnessing the small ways in which her mother rebelled and realizing that although her body might be enslaved, her mind was not. I liked that as nice and well-intentioned as Sarah was, Handful did not idolize Sarah or anyone else. Handful was her own person, with her own story and her own dreams.

Sarah's struggles were with her family, the society she was born into, and finding her voice (literally and figuratively). She, and later her younger sister, favored racial equality while living in a society and a house that functions because of slavery. Even her father admits that he understands slavery is wrong but is unwilling to give up the lifestyle that slavery makes possible. One would think (or at least I thought) that Sarah's life would get easier when she found the Quakers. It didn't. Turns out not all Quakers were quite the fierce abolitionists as I had been taught in school. There is a line in the book when Angelina's friend says "Pray and wait," meaning pray that people will eventually come to see slavery as the evil institution it is. Angelina responds, "Pray and act... Pray and speak!" (page 294) I love that line.

One thing I learned from this book is that the character Sarah Grimké and her sister Angelina are based on actual people. They were two sisters from Charleston, South Carolina who converted to the Quaker religion and became abolitionists. They did not only advocate for the abolition of slavery; they advocated for the equality of black people which is not something that even most abolitionists were not in favor of at the time. They gave speeches and wrote pamphlets. They also became early exemplars of equality for women when they refused to be silent after being criticized for speaking to crowds that included both men and women. (Speaking to other women was one thing, but men attending a lecture given by woman was apparently considered quite unacceptable for polite society.)

I really enjoyed this. It managed to be illuminating and hopeful without glossing over the ugly reality of slavery. I learned a great deal. I'm really glad the story was told from both Handful's and Sarah's point of view. They could both speculate about what the other was thinking but reading their own thoughts felt more authentic. I absolutely loved the ending. I won't say what it was, just that it was perfect.