The Witches Are Coming

Finished The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West. I received a copy for review. It’s out early next month.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The firebrand New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Shrill–soon to be a Hulu series starring Aidy Bryant–provides a brilliant and incisive look at how patriarchy, intolerance, and misogyny have conquered not just politics but American culture itself.

What do Adam Sandler, Donald Trump, and South Park have in common? Why are myths like “reverse sexism” and “political correctness” so seductive? And why do movie classics of yore, from Sixteen Candles to Revenge of the Nerds, make rape look like so much silly fun? With Lindy West’s signature wit and in her uniquely incendiary voice, The Witches are Coming lays out a grand theory of America that explains why Trump’s election was, in many ways, a foregone conclusion.

As West reveals through fascinating journeys across the landscapes of pop culture, the lies that fostered the catastrophic resentment that boiled over in the 2016 presidential race did not spring from a vacuum. They have in fact been woven into America’s DNA, cultivated by generations of mediocre white men and fed to the masses with such fury that we have become unable to recognize them as lies at all.

Whether it be the notion overheard since the earliest moments of the #MeToo movement that feminism has gone too far or the insistence that holding someone accountable for his actions amounts to a “witch hunt,” The Witches are Coming exposes the lies that many have chosen to believe and the often unexpected figures who have furthered them. Along the way, it unravels the tightening link between culture and politics, identifying in the memes, music, and movies we’ve loved the seeds of the neoreactionary movement now surging through the nation.

Sprawling, funny, scorching, and illuminating, The Witches are Coming shows West at the top of her intellectual and comic powers. As much a celebration of America’s potential as a condemnation of our failures, some will call it a witch hunt–to which West would reply, “So be it. I’m a witch and I’m hunting you.””

This book feels incredibly timely. It could’ve been literally written last week, what with Lindy West mentioning the limitations of kindness as a political device and Greta Thunberg. (Is she a literal witch or has she just been paying better attention than the rest of us? Is it both? They’re probably not mutually exclusive.)

I laughed out loud multiple times and I also sighed more than once. I highlighted parts of my egalley and shared them on my Facebook* and shared some via text to some of my favorite people.

This is the book we need right now. Yes, parts made me angry, but most of it gave me hope. I feel like we’re all dealing with right-wing gaslighting and it’s good to have someone saying, “No, this is all really happening. No, you’re right.”

Also? It’s so funny. Like, ridiculously funny. Like, laugh so hard on your commute that the stranger next to you will get up and move away funny. So it’s a win-win!

* = Yes, I have a Facebook page still. Mark Zuckerberg is awful and the site is awful but it’s where I see my friends and pictures of their kids and grandkids. It’s where I see pictures of my friends’ dogs and cats and where I learn how to be a better person, thanks to a lot of my intersectional groups and my smarter-than-me friends.

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What Happens in Paradise

Finished What Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Secret lives and new loves emerge in the bright Caribbean sunlight, in the follow-up to national bestseller Winter in Paradise

A year ago, Irene Steele had the shock of her life: her loving husband, father to their grown sons and successful businessman, was killed in a helicopter crash. But that wasn’t Irene’s only shattering news: he’d also been leading a double life on the island of St. John, where another woman loved him, too.

Now Irene and her sons are back on St. John, determined to learn the truth about the mysterious life -and death – of a man they thought they knew. Along the way, they’re about to learn some surprising truths about their own lives, and their futures.

Lush with the tropical details, romance, and drama that made Winter in Paradise a national bestseller, What Happens in Paradise is another immensely satisfying page-turner from one of American’s most beloved and engaging storytellers.”

This is exactly the book I needed. Elin Hilderbrand writes irresistible novels, and this one is no exception. I loved Winter in Paradise and this one is just as good.

I can’t even imagine what will happen in the next book, but I’m really excited to find out. I want to find out more about what exactly Russ was doing and how culpable he is in all his business partner’s shady dealings (I’m guessing more than even Rosie knew), but I’m just as invested in the lives of the people left behind. Will Irene end up with Huck? Will Baker and Ayers end up together? Will Cash ever grow up? I have so many questions and the next and final book probably needs to be 1,000 pages long to answer them all.

While I probably have a year or so to wait, at least I have a lot of her backlist to try and work through. Challenge accepted.

The Grace Year

Finished The Grace Year by Kim Liggett. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“SURVIVE THE YEAR.

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.”

This is over 400 pages, but I would’ve been happy to spend more time with Tierney and this world.

The Grace Year has been compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s a fair comparison. Women and girls in this world are treated similarly, and it’s easy to see that one of the easiest ways to conquer women is to subjugate them and punish them, make them afraid of each other.

I would really like a prequel to see how this became the norm; I’m fairly sure that it wasn’t always this way. (NOTE: there’s no real reason for me to think that, but I do.)

This book is unsettling but it’s also amazing. I loved it and hope there are more books set in this world. Highly recommended.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Finished The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This is the graphic novel, which was adapted and illustrated (I’m not sure of the best terminology here) by Renee Nault.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Everything Handmaids wear is red: the colour of blood, which defines us.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships. She serves in the household of the Commander and his wife, and under the new social order she has only one purpose: once a month, she must lie on her back and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if they are fertile. But Offred remembers the years before Gilead, when she was an independent woman who had a job, a family, and a name of her own. Now, her memories and her will to survive are acts of rebellion.

Provocative, startling, prophetic, The Handmaid’s Tale has long been a global phenomenon. With this stunning graphic novel adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s modern classic, beautifully realized by artist Renee Nault, the terrifying reality of Gilead has been brought to vivid life like never before.”

I read this for book club probably eight or nine years ago, but I chose to re-read this as a graphic novel. This format worked really well for the novel, and it was incredibly chilling.

When I read this the first time, it was during President Obama’s first term, and it felt like science fiction and completely implausible. Reading it now, it was an entirely different experience. Seeing the way the world became Gilead felt really plausible.

(I’m going to re-read the actual book before reading The Testaments next month, I think. And now I need to watch the show.)

I hope when I re-read it in another eight or nine years, we’re in a better place.

Highly recommended.

Look Both Ways

Finished Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a novel told in ten blocks, showing all they different directions a walk home can take.

This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. They were all too busy—

Talking about boogers.
Stealing pocket change.
Skateboarding.
Wiping out.
Braving up.
Executing complicated handshakes.
Planning an escape.
Making jokes.
Lotioning up.
Finding comfort.
But mostly, too busy walking home.

Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life.”

At first, this doesn’t feel like the usual Jason Reynolds book. His stories tend to be serious and this one starts with a discussion of what boogers are. But if you keep reading, it starts to make more sense.

These interconnected stories veer from fun to serious and back again, sometimes on the same page. These are children who are dealing with various things (including foster care and sick parents, but that’s by no means all) but they’re still kids.

These stories are funny and poignant, but they’re just as well-written as you would expect Jason Reynolds to be. This is probably the best one for middlegrade readers to start with, though his series about the track team is also great.

Highly recommended.

Roll With It

Finished Roll With It by Jamie Sumner. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The story of an irrepressible girl with cerebral palsy whose life takes an unexpected turn when she moves to a new town.

Ellie’s a girl who tells it like it is. That surprises some people, who see a kid in a wheelchair and think she’s going to be all sunshine and cuddles. The thing is, Ellie has big dreams: She might be eating Stouffer’s for dinner, but one day she’s going to be a professional baker. If she’s not writing fan letters to her favorite celebrity chefs, she’s practicing recipes on her well-meaning, if overworked, mother.

But when Ellie and her mom move so they can help take care of her ailing grandpa, Ellie has to start all over again in a new town at a new school. Except she’s not just the new kid—she’s the new kid in the wheelchair who lives in the trailer park on the wrong side of town. It all feels like one challenge too many, until Ellie starts to make her first-ever friends. Now she just has to convince her mom that this town might just be the best thing that ever happened to them!”

This is an absolutely charming middlegrade novel. You’ll probably see a lot of things coming (Ellie doesn’t want to move but ends up loving her new home) but the way that things happen keeps anything from feeling stale.

I absolutely loved Ellie and her family.  She has CP but the more interesting thing is that she’s also a baker. She’s already good but wants to get better so she can do that for a living. There’s a trope of the saintly sick person, but that isn’t Ellie. She’s kind but she can also be a bit of a brat. (I found it justified and I would imagine that it’s hard to always be Beth from Little Women when you can’t do anything by yourself.)

Jamie Sumner has a book out next year and one the year after, and I have very real hopes that they’ll be companion novels. I need one about Coralee and one about Bert immediately, please and thank you.

Imaginary Friend

Finished Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Christopher is seven years old. Christopher is the new kid in town. Christopher has an imaginary friend.

Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with Christopher at her side. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It’s as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.

At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six awful days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.

Soon Kate and Christopher find themselves in the fight of their lives, caught in the middle of a war playing out between good and evil, with their small town as the battleground.”

This is Stephen Chbosky’s first book in 20 years. It’s also a radical departure from Perks of Being a Wallflower. This was an incredibly captivating story, which I mostly loved reading.

The ending is going to be really polarizing; I think people will either really love it or it won’t work for them at all. I’m in the latter camp, but I respect what the author was going for. (I can’t even discuss why it didn’t work for me because it would be a massive spoiler. Sooooo suffice to say that I think the reader’s response will really depend on who they are.)

It’s also a bit of a slow burn. It takes a while for it to become scary (seriously about 200 pages or so) and even then, I think the reader’s imagination and own fears will be what really propels this from “creepy” into “horror.” (It really freaked me out, so be aware of that going in.)

I loved most of this book so much and I hope that I don’t have to wait another 20 years to read a new Stephen Chbosky novel.

The Proust Questionnaire

So my friends Gae and Jen did this and I thought maybe I would do it, too.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? I’m pretty basic, so me, my couch and a book I’ve been excited to read and an afternoon I have completely open.

What is your greatest fear? People I love dying. I’m also really not good with snakes.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I’m really indecisive. It’s not great. Also (and I discuss this more in a few answers) I’m not very disciplined.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? I don’t like people who don’t care about things. You don’t need to care about the stuff I love, but you should care about something.

Which living person do you most admire? Hillary Clinton. She’s been mocked and vilified since I was 12 years old, and she continues to work to make the country a better place. If I had even a tiny amount of that hatred thrown at me, I would’ve gone to live somewhere else a long time ago. But she keeps going and I admire her so much.

What is your greatest extravagance? Books and movies. I don’t really like a lot of expensive things (if I win the lottery, I won’t be buying houses or cars. I would probably get one house and put a movie theater and a library in it. And then I would never leave it).

What is your current state of mind? Things are fine with me personally but I also feel like things are just seriously falling apart since the election. I read an article around the time A Star is Born came out that said that the writer’s inner monologue was just Lady Gaga howling in that part in “Shallow.” And honestly? Yes and same.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? I don’t know that I would call it a virtue per se, but “going along to get along.” We’re in an unusual time and I personally don’t want to be one of those people who only cares about things that directly involve them. In World War II in Germany, there were people who actively helped the Nazis and people who actively resisted.

On what occasion do you lie? I try not to; if I do, it’s to keep other people from being hurt. (“Yes, you look amazing!”)

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I overuse “amazing,” “awesome” and “I mean.” I think I use all three of them at least 50 times a day. I’m a work in progress.

Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? I’m not a writer, and I don’t have the discipline for it. But I think discipline in general would serve me well. (I enjoy procrastinating and I also am not particularly good at waiting for things.)

What do you consider your greatest achievement? I don’t know that I’ve had one. Unless you count “not giving up” as an achievement. If you do, then it’s that.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I joke that I was a turtle in a past life (I feel most happy when I am with my stuff, so being able to cart it all with me sounds pretty good for my next one).

What is your most treasured possession? I have a box with cards and letters and things from my dad and my grandmother and my cousin, all of whom are dead now.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Life in 2019. We are in an age where Klansmen are marching without hoods and literal Nazis are marching in the streets. But at the same time, I’m seeing people who weren’t political before speaking up and calling elected officials and making sure none of this goes unchecked. It’s not a fun time to be alive, but I’m proud that we’re not giving up either. But…I still wish I could be in the timeline with President Hillary Clinton. It would be a lot more boring and that sounds so nice.

What do you most value in your friends? I’ve made a deliberate choice to find people who know more about things than I do. Then I shut up and pay attention and learn. My friends make me better and I feel very grateful for it.

Who are your favorite writers? I have about three billion favorites. I’m afraid to list because I would forget people.

Who is your hero of fiction?  In novels, obviously V.I. Warshawski. She fights to make the world better, and I love her the most. If we can include movies or TV, probably Leslie Knope. Passionate people are the best.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? I don’t think there are any. But I wish I had Anne Frank’s optimism and Martin Luther King’s power with words and Rosa Parks’ bravery. I wish I had Michelle Obama’s poise (or her ability to go high, because I hold grudges).

What is your motto? There’s a story in Bossypants where Tina Fey tells how she and Amy Poehler were talking and Amy said something and Jimmy Fallon said “Oh, I don’t like that” and Amy turns to him and says, “I DON’T FUCKING CARE IF YOU LIKE IT.” I’m a recovering people-pleaser, but I’m getting to the point where I don’t fucking care if you like it. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings but I also have to live with myself every day. And if my political talk bores or annoys you? Well, I don’t fucking care.

Dear Sweet Pea

Finished Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”

Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.

Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.

What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?””

This is Julie Murphy’s middlegrade debut, but it has all of the things I love about her YA novels: body positivity, family and friend relationships and smart, fierce women (girls, in this case).

I loved the subplot with advice columns. I’m so fascinated by those columns and I would really like a companion novel about Miss Flora Mae. I loved that lady, and I need to know every bit of her backstory.

But most of all, I love Sweet Pea. She’s fantastic and is dealing with so much but is doing it with near-unfailing strength and humor. (There are times it slips, of course, including once that gave me the most intense wave of secondhand mortification.)

This book is completely charming and I recommend for any MG audience and pretty much anyone else. Julie Murphy is fantastic and I love her the most.

Royal Holiday

Finished Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Vivian Forest has been out of the country a grand total of one time, so when she gets the chance to tag along on her daughter Maddie’s work trip to England to style a royal family member, she can’t refuse. She’s excited to spend the holidays taking in the magnificent British sights, but what she doesn’t expect is to become instantly attracted to a certain Private Secretary and his charming accent and unyielding formality.

Malcolm Hudson has been the Queen’s Private Secretary for years and has never given a personal, private tour…until now. He is intrigued by Vivian the moment he meets her and finds himself making excuses just to spend time with her. When flirtatious banter turns into a kiss under the mistletoe, things snowball into a full-on fling.

Despite a ticking timer on their holiday romance, they are completely fine with ending their short, steamy fling come New Year’s Day…or are they?”

Jasmine Guillory has become one of my favorite authors and this one is my favorite of hers thus far.

Her books are the literary equivalent of pure joy, and this one goes one better because it’s (a) over Christmas and (b) in London and (c) features cameos from the queen, Harry and Meghan. (They aren’t named but we all know who the duke and duchess are. IT’S HARRY AND MEGHAN! Archie is not mentioned, but I hope there will be a sequel or that he is possibly the ring bearer at the wedding that I’m sure will happen.)

Royal Holiday (like all of her books) is just a complete delight and I smiled the whole way through. If you need a pick-me-up, grab this one.

Highly recommended.