Thursday, December 22, 2016

Books Finished in November

55. Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini (audiobook)

The story ostensibly focuses on the relationship between Julia Dent Grant and her childhood slave, Jule. Julia, who grew up on a plantation near St. Louis, Missouri, married Ulysses S. Grant, who later led the Union army to victory. During the war, Jule, as well as eventually the Dents' other slaves, escaped, and she later became a hairdresser of some repute in Washington D.C. and New York City, overlapping respectively with her former mistress' time in those two cities. However, although an intriguing concept, the story actually centers on the love story between Julia and Ulysses Grant, and defending the pair from every allegation made over the course of his career (he wasn't drunk, he had headaches!; he didn't know his officials were corrupt!). Jule was frankly the most interesting character, but the main character least deployed.

Overall, this is an obviously well researched historical romance, but it falls short of a balanced reflection on the characters of Julia and Ulysses Grant, and largely fails to tell the promised story of the relationship between the two women.

56. Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg (audiobook)

An extremely short audiobook (just two discs!) whets the appetite to get started on writing a memoir. It's narrated by Natalie Goldberg herself, and it sounds just like she is talking to you. It's well planned as an audiobook and even has transitional music between vignettes. I'm not planning on writing a memoir anytime soon, but this one caught my eye in the bookstore, and the library had the audiobook. Last year, I enjoyed reading about writing while I did NaNoWriMo, and I found it helpful this year too. As always, Natalie Goldberg is a font of wisdom, and what I took out of this one was: don't call it a big red flower in the window: call it a geranium.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind for Hanukkah

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind for Hanukkah

1. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I've already read it, but I want to re-read it and I feel like it's a book I will enjoy referring back to.

2. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I have it out of the library right now, and I've already read and renewed it twice.

3. The 8th Habit by Stephen R. Covey

I have it out of the library right now, but I feel like to really use it right I have to own it...

4. Anything by Jen Lancaster

She makes me laugh out loud so much. I got Bitter is the New Black from the little Free Library and I'm not giving it back anytime soon. I also have The Tao of Martha out from the library right now, but she has a ton more books that I'm sure I'll enjoy just as much.

5. Marriage; A History by Stephanie Coontz

I've wanted to read this forever, but flip-flopped on buying nonfiction I haven't already read. However, it's feeling rather pertinent right now and the library doesn't have it.

6. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

I just heard of this one from Modern Mrs. Darcy, but it sounds interesting and I'm always intrigued by books with characters named Miriam.

7. Starflight and Starfall by Melissa Landers

These  both sounds like really fun space fantasies.

8. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

I love Gilmore Girls (#thebooknotthemovie) and I'm really into memoirs right now, so this is perfect.

9. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Very much one of the 'it' books this year, and as a memoir about a woman in the sciences, it sounds up my alley.

10. The Cozy Life by Pia Edberg, The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, How to Hygge by Signe Johansen or any other book about hygge

Right on trend, I'm fascinated with the Danish concept of hygge and kind of want to read all the new books about it, especially for winter.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Book Review: The Circuit: Earthfall by Rhett C. Bruno

The Circuit: Earthfall by Rhett C. Bruno

*Published Dec. 13, 2016*

Earthfall is the incredibly satisfying conclusion to Rhett C. Bruno's The Circuit trilogy. Although I wouldn't recommend reading it without having read the other two first, I thought it was the best of all three books in terms of pacing, writing, and character development. The plot has a clear arc from the outset, and develops naturally from there. It never slows down too much, but nor does it feel convoluted. And most importantly to me, although it wasn't exactly what I would have hoped for, there's an ending that feels appropriate for each beloved character.

The concept of the Circuit is what drew me in, but it's the characters that kept me reading. What I love about the Circuit is that it's not dystopian, but it's far from the pie in the sky, colonize the stars dream of 1950s and '60s scifi. Humanity managed to escape Earth's demise, but society is stagnant, caught just existing in our original solar system, dependent on the element Gravitum, mined from the remains of Earth. It's in some ways a more potent mirror for today than fiction that reflects our deepest fears, like The Hunger Games or The Walking Dead. The worst hasn't yet happened, in fact, humanity largely weathered the apocalypse, civil society intact (more or less), BUT...our dreams are on hold.

These elements of the society in which they exist are evident in Bruno's protagonists. Most of all, Cassius, the villain with a conscience, is determined to break society's dependence on Gravitum and ensure the fated return to the stars. Bruno takes a nuanced look in asking us to examine Cassius' lofty goal, and as it turns out, noble intentions and all-too-human emotions, against the destruction his actions wreak. Whether or not Cassius is a redeemable character depends very much on the reader, and I like that invitation to think on a human scale. Personally, I lean towards no...but I'm not entirely sure.

The more obviously redeemable protagonists, Talon and Sage, still have their dark sides, of which Bruno is careful to remind in the final volume. Both have committed crimes for others in their past, and while it's arguable that those actions were necessary to support the societies in which they believe, it's also taken a toll on them. Especially Talon and Sage, but all of the protagonists, including Cassius and his robot "son" ADIM, find some redemption in the book's opening rescue of Talon's daughter Elisha. Following these characters' journeys and choices are what kept me tied to the screen of my ereader, and I was rewarded with the explosion of ADIM's ticking time bomb, which I mention in my review of the second book. However, Bruno did make some moves that surprised me, and the mix of an expected and unexpected ending was highly pleasurable.

For an interesting take on a post-apocalyptic human society in space, nuanced and compelling characters, and strong writing, I recommend the Circuit trilogy, especially to science fiction fans, but also fans of political and/or character-driven fiction.

Received for review from the author.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo 2016

Yesterday was the last day of NaNoWriMo 2016.

I hit over 25,000 words.

That was not my original goal for the month: I was aiming for the traditional NaNo goal of 50,000 words in 30 days.

However, a little bit more than halfway through, I evaluated my progress and decided to change my goal to 25k.

I'm proud of reaching my secondary goal, and I think I did a good job, considering. However, I'm still a little bummed that I didn't hit 50k like I did last year, and I want to figure out why.

First, I've had less time to devote to it this year since my work schedule is different.

Second, I wrote historical instead of contemporary fiction, and did less research instead of more, due to the aforementioned different work schedule.

Third, though, it wasn't my first rodeo. Last year, I was motivated to win my first NaNoWriMo. I followed my scheduled writing plan exactly, and I got a huge head start, finishing 4k in the first day alone.

I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives,and, although, as usual, I don't agree with her entirely, she suggests that the first time one does something, one is more likely to succeed, i.e. first marathon, first diet attempt, but it's harder to keep up the effort after that. Interesting phenomenon, and I wonder if some of it is at work here.

Anyway, I've got a new goal. 75,000 words by January 30.