Here’s what I did with the tomato sketch I drew yesterday. I hope to add color with some markers, but I have to wait for the block printing ink to dry. Look for pear and pepper linocuts in a few days!
Best Staged Plans by Claire Cook
I wanted to like this book more. I’m not dissimilar from the protagonist demographically. Like me, Sandy is pretty much post-kids, eager to downsize and move on to the unfettered child-free part of her life. I too have dealt with the monumental task of getting a big family home full of memories (and stuff!) ready for strangers to view. I understand the resentment from feeling as though I’m herding cats to get other people to work towards a supposedly common goal. I can also get pretty excited about decorating and paint colors.
The good thing about the book is that there’s enough plot and subplots that I wanted to find out how it ended. Was Josh cheating on Denise? What happened to her favorite pair of reading glasses? Why wasn’t Greg picking up the phone? It’s low stakes, but it’s a lighthearted book and low stakes were enough. I also liked some of the descriptions of the memories of their family life. The protagonist’s constant arguments with the GPS weren’t funny, but I give the author credit for trying.
The bad thing is that I absolutely hated the main character. I found her whiny and self-absorbed and incredibly shallow. She bragged about how amazing her daughter was yet didn’t seem to care about taking an interest in her daughter’s life, not bothering to understand the daughter’s career. At one point she’s talking about how her daughter gave Sandy a good bed in the guest room, but instead of gratitude it came off as “well, I’m glad you measure up to my high standards.” Having Sandy help the the homeless woman redeemed her somewhat at the end, but by the middle of the book I just got so sick of the way she didn’t seem to appreciate her affluence and good fortune. She claims that no one cares about her, yet she doesn’t seem to notice that her husband isn’t as excited about moving as she is. She claims no one recognizes her work, yet she doesn’t seem to notice when other people are also working hard.
There was also this weird feminist/anti-feminist shame thing surrounding cooking and homemaking. She loses her shit when she sees her daughter wearing an apron and cooking a stew from scratch, and yet she has numerous tricks to pretend that she has made something from scratch when she hasn’t. Her daughter pleads to “not let Chance eat take out every day” so the protagonist makes a trip to Trader Joe’s to get stuff to “assemble.” Because she’s good at “assembling” things to make them look homemade. Make up your mind, lady. Is cooking from scratch a valuable skill or not? Cook or don’t cook, but don’t wring your hands about it. Cooking can not be simultaneously a rejection of feminine rights and a fundamental female value. As a person who feels firmly feminist and yet makes every meal from whole ingredients, I found the anti-cooking thing off-putting.
This book had a fluffy romance vibe, even though the protagonist is not involved in a romance, because the men are cardboard paragons who remain calmly bemused when the women around them spin off axis. She stops talking to her husband for three days because he doesn’t paint the cabinet fronts to her liking, and yet when he doesn’t call her back, she’s horrified. She flips out when she has to live in the house with her son-in-law alone, and seems utterly incapable of making polite conversation with her host. Surely being good company is a basic skill that adult women should have acquired at some point? Josh, her employer (who is also dating her best friend) is also kind of blandly blase about everything, even when Sandy gets in his face about a woman he may or may not be seeing. I get that Sandy was unhappy, but surely you should be a bit more professional with your boss? I enjoyed that the women were fully-fleshed out characters, but they were mostly unlikeable, and they were mostly built up because of the comparison to the two-dimensional nature of the men. Gossiping, shopping, getting pedicures and engaging in petty vandalism are not the behaviors I aspire to. The fact that she didn’t even consider returning the glasses she stole made me tsk in disapproval.
I liked the renovation discussions, to a point. I disagreed with some of her choices. I would call a hotel “Chocolate” which makes me think of luxury and indulgence, not “hot chocolate” which makes me think of disgusting packets of artificially-sweetened powder with desiccated marshmallows in them. I don’t think that painting walls brown is edgy. There is no universe so conservative that painting walls brown is edgy. I got pretty tired of the endless product placement. It wasn’t “we stopped to get coffee and a sandwich” it was “I picked up a Grande Vanilla Latte and a bacon and gouda ciabatta roll from Starbucks.” It wasn’t “I picked out a lovely warm brown” it was “I chose Behr’s ‘Iced Cappuccino’ in a sateen finish.” The trip to Trader Joe’s read like an excerpt from their Fearless Flyer. All the endless product placements and unnecessary details about the things she purchased and what she ate just reinforced my feeling that Sandy was a totally shallow and materialistic woman whose only identity came from mindless consumerism. I felt like I am ten to fifteen years more mature than her, and I don’t yet need reading glasses.
I would like to read more books like this–fluffy and fun books about women in their fifties with simple characters and plenty of plot–but some of the writing choices and the unlikable main character hampered my enjoyment.
I’ve had this on my shelf forever and just picked it up by chance looking for books to cull. Randomly flipping open the page I hit upon a dark and twisted scene and decided that I was in the mood for an evil story about evil people.
It starts out as a typical YA book. New girl moves to new town and is trying to decide which girls to make friends with. Does she make friends with Riley the queen bee or Brooklyn the lone wolf? Riley is popular and powerful, but Brooklyn is nice too. And then there’s the cute boy … There’s a hint of something darker when Sofia encounters a mutilated cat in a pentagram behind the bleachers. Riley says that Brooklyn did it, that Brooklyn is troubled and needs help. But Sofia isn’t sure she believes that.
The best thing about this book is just how twisted it is. These girls literally get away with murder. it’s like Lord of the Flies with nail polish and Vogue magazines. They’re all in high school, so they’re at that age where they become increasingly willing and able to distance themselves from parental control by any means necessary. This is how it comes to happen that some girls bind and torture another in an unfinished house, all in the name of exorcising the poor girl’s demon. Sofia, as an outsider, flip flops back and forth between who she allies with. She just wants the madness to stop.
The point of the book is that none of these girls are really “good.” Riley, the angelic queen bee, feels it’s okay to torture people in the name of God. Brooklyn may actually have done some of the things that Riley accused her of. Even Sofia has a dark past. And Grace? Okay, the author lost me here. Becoming addicted to drugs is not even close to on par with cutting up cats to appease your dark master. Nor is “being a slut,” as someone accuses Riley of. Mixing up bible-belt morality with actual morality muddied the waters for me. Fucking boys is not evil. Taking Ambien is not evil. Even being a Satanist doesn’t make you evil, it just means you have an alternative religion. Evil only happens when you start hurting people.
But boy, do they hurt people. I don’t know if it’s even possible to do such things with a nail gun, but I am sure not going to go to YouTube to find out. They’re so nasty to each other that the brutal retaliation feels, if not justified, then at least understandable. I loved the twist ending, though now that I’m thinking about it, it feels a bit out of character for how they set her up.
So if you know someone who likes their YA on the dark and twisted side, and doesn’t mind graphic descriptions of brutal violence, pick this up.
I’d never read anything or heard anything about this author, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t always like to read stories about female protagonists set in historical periods, because it often fills me with feminist rage, but Mrs. Hawkins manages to live in the world without being too terribly oppressed by it. For one thing, she’s a widow who has her own profession as literary editor.
Back in the 1950s, as now, people who want to get in the publishing industry will often give up quite a bit of pride and salary to do so. And this was back before publishing businesses were run like corporations, where they still had a whiff of establishment and propriety to them, a genteel sort of art. So the story deals quite a bit with the amusing inner world of the publishing business in post-war London.
It also deals with the interpersonal dramas of those living within the rooming house in Kensington. There’s Isobel, not many years younger than Mrs. Hawkins but still a spoiled child who only wants to have fun and go see shows. There’s William, the medical student, the Carlins who have spectacular fights, and Wanda, the Polish dressmaker who is equally attached to her Catholicism and her suffering. Wanda receives an ominous note, and then an ominous phone call from a mysterious malefactor, and the drama sets the whole house aflutter.
Mrs. Hawkins’ own personal albatross is Hector, a “pisseur du copie” or literary hack who happens to have a famous author for a girlfriend. His famous author girlfriend is constantly trying to use her influence to get Hector published. Only Hector writes terribly, and Mrs. Hawkins is impolitic enough to tell him it to his face several times, a fact which gets her fired more than once.
The novel kind of meanders at a steady pace. I liked the characters, especially Mrs. Hawkins’ wry observational asides, such as “if you have trouble concentrating, you need to get a cat, as a cat will settle you down.” I liked her interactions with her coworkers, and the sedate pace of life even in the big city.
Later she has a romance, which seemed to come completely out of nowhere. It wasn’t a whirlwind romance, handled in the context of the story the way a romance would have been handled in a man’s memoir, as a secondary aside to a larger story, such as: “After the war I got married, and some years later we had a child and then another. it was about this time that Mr. Dubbins brought up the Gibaltrar affair again.” It was strange to see the romance just kind of shoehorned in, like “it was time to find another husband and this guy would do.”
Despite a couple of dark turns, I found the novel mostly cheerful and fun, a nice little romp through a time and place I don’t know much about. Take her diet advice with a grain of salt though.
I usually love books like this, and I usually don’t review books that I haven’t finished, but I don’t know if I want to waste any more time on this one. I’m 93 hard-won pages into this and I think I’m going to quit. So far I’ve been told that William Smith is an amazing man. There are strata when you dig down in a mine that seem to be the same everywhere. William Smith is an amazing guy, because he was the first to notice this (except he wasn’t, but still, what a cool dude.) The strata slope sometimes. William noticed that the local stones were fossils, and wasn’t he smart for having been the first to figure that out? Not the first, but still, what a hero. William got a job surveying for a canal. Canals were big back then. William probably talked about rocks a lot, but people didn’t understand him, because they didn’t know he was a genius. He’d have some bad luck, but eventually triumph, but I’ll get to that later. William looked at rocks. He was smarter than other people. Wasn’t he great? Yeah, I get it. I’ve been told he’s important. I get that.
Here’s what I didn’t get: a compelling character, a compelling story, or information about geology. I love books about science. I love books about history. Books about the history of science? Should be a page turner. But the author is like a pre-teen telling his first shaggy dog story, only the story meanders and he interrupts himself every few minutes to go “but this is really good, I promise, just wait for it. I’m getting to the good part.”
And if there were ever a book that needed more pictures, this is is. I got tired of reading and rereading paragraphs to try to figure out what he was talking about. Either illustrations of how the canal cut through the hills revealing the strata, or just a better description would have really helped. And how about a better idea of what a surveyor actually did in the 18th century? When the author does talk about the countryside, it helps to put me in the story, but I just didn’t get a sense of the man’s life. It’s like the author assumes that everyone knows the geology of Southern England really well and the daily tasks of an 18th century surveyor so he doesn’t have to describe it.
I love the idea of this book, and I love the author’s description of the train that was featured in that 1950’s movie. The set-up is promising. The rest of the book just failed. Despite Winchester’s obvious admiration for William Smith, Winchester was unable to sell me on how and why William Smith mattered or why he was important, or even to get me fired up about geology.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
Through this book I learned that the answer to just about every question you might have about microbes and how they interact with the world is “it’s complicated.” Yong talks about many ways in which bacteria and other microbes help, hinder or destroy organisms. A microbe can be essential to a creature’s existence, and the same microbe can also destroy it.
The best thing about this book is that the author has an infectious passion for microbiology. Stories about something that may save frogs and why coral reefs live or die and about our own ancient history with bacteria gave me that lovely sense of wonder at the complexity of the natural world. I liked that it ended on a positive story about people using bacteria to try to prevent dengue fever.
The worst thing about this book is that it wasn’t organized in such away that there was a solid takeaway. If there were any themes or points to make in the different chapters, I didn’t pick up on it. The stories were all over the place and microbiology wasn’t my major so I had a hard time following along. By the last two hours (I had this as an audiobook) I wasn’t really enjoying it anymore and just wanted to be done with it.
I recommend this book as a gift for that annoying person you know who talks about how eating kombucha and yogurt are why they are healthier than you and that’s why it’s your own fault you got a cold. It might take your annoying know-it-all acquaintance down a peg or two. Even people who study this for a living don’t know everything, and the answer to any question you might have about microbiology and the relation to macro organisms is, “It’s complicated.”
My sister and I have been working on a pair of Art Journals for over a year now.Â I made some 140lb watercolor signatures, and we each created our own covers.Â Then we’ve taken turns mailing the books back and forth to each other, so every other page is by the other person.Â Here’s the …
I had more fun with henna tonight and Friday night.Â Some people volunteered to let me use their skin as canvases, though I didn’t remember to photograph all of it.Â I’m afraid that the batch tonight was mislabled and contained some indigo, because it was unusually blue-green. :(Â Either that or I added too much …