2014 Book #36: (a biography of) Richard III

richardiiiIf you’ve ever seen my blog before, you’ve probably noticed that my reading statistics are overwhelmingly stacked in fiction’s favor. I have a habit of falling asleep when I try to read nonfiction, but sometimes these books seep in.

My favorite English kings are Richards II and III. One was a tyrant, and the other was so greedy for the crown that he ruined everything for himself and his family. Richard II and Richard III are also two of my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays, so I know a little about them from his skewed view. I haven’t looked into the truth of #II’s history at all, but, thanks to a class on FutureLearn, I jumped at the chance for a little Richard III study.

If you haven’t seen FutureLearn (or edX or Coursera), you should hop over. They offer mostly sciency/techy/mathy classes presented by major universities, but some English and other humanities classes are thrown in for good measure. Each class is listed several months ahead of time and lasts several weeks. Participants are encouraged to participate through forums, quizzes, and peer-reviewed short papers. And they’re completely free with no tuition and course materials provided on the website. Have a look!

Anyway, back to Richard III. The FutureLearn class I’m taking is much shorter and less involved than Coursera classes are (I’m taking one on the French Revolution over there!), and I’m still in the reading rut I mentioned earlier, so I looked at the list of Richard III biographies in my local library’s catalog and chose the one Goodreads liked the best. Which was this one, by Charles Ross.

A very brief, cursory overview of Richard: He was king for a short period of time during the Wars of the Roses. Lancaster vs. York, etc, etc. Fight, fight, fight. Henry VI, a Lancaster, was a weak king and was usurped by Edward IV, a York. Richard, his younger brother, wanted the crown for himself, so he locked his brother’s heir in the Tower of London. Edward IV died, and Richard declared himself protector of Edward V, still in the tower, and with some great intimidation skills, got Parliament to sign off on it. Edward V conveniently “disappeared,” and Richard took the crown for himself. It seems like he was trying to be a decent king once he got there, but he’d made too many enemies and he was really bad at foreign policy. Meanwhile, the Lancaster who was to become Henry VII was hanging out in France and talked the French into helping him get back to England and take over, which he did. More fighting. Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, and Henry took the throne.

The only version of the Richard story I knew was Shakespeare’s, and, from what Ross says, that’s (predictably) not entirely accurate. Shakespeare’s version of events was based mostly on Thomas More‘s, and More painted an especially ugly picture of Richard. And there are the obvious uses of poetic license: Henry, himself, did not kill Richard, and the “My kingdom for a horse” probably didn’t happen because it sounds like Richard was offered a horse for escape, but he refused because he wanted to die a king. Which is almost more interesting than what Shakespeare wrote.

I want to look more into Richard II’s history now. This stuff is so interesting!

As for this specific biography, it’s dry but more readable than it could have been. I mean, how interesting can an academic make a story when there’s so little actual evidence of what happened. All told, Ross did a good job, and I really enjoyed it. He explained the various sources from which Richard’s story comes and why the truth is probably a mixture of them. “History is written by the victors,” and all that.

As for Puppy News, Zelda is still growing, and the cats still hate her.

And here she is jumping at my face as I was trying to get a picture:

I finally regained access to my home library with the use of a well-placed puppy gate. I totally should have thought of that earlier.

And, finally, Palmer moved her kennel from the bedroom to the living room. I think it’ll be a much better arrangement. If my Dexcom hadn’t continually spazzed, I think I might have slept well last night.

2014 Book #35: The Flamethrowers

flamethrowersAaaand back to our regular programming.

I’ve been putting off reviewing The Flamethrowers since I finished it a few days ago because I wasn’t sure what to say about it. I think I have it straight now. Here’s the gist: It’s a really good book that could have been a Great book but got a little lost on the way.

I discovered this one because of a Facebook recommendation. After I finished Butcher’s Crossing, I had no idea what to read next, so I took a little nonfiction detour and posted my frustration with being in a Reading Rut. A couple old friends from high school suggested Still Alice and The Flamethrowers. I’d heard good things about both of them, but I started reading Still Alice first simply because I didn’t have to wait for a trip to the library to read it, as I had to do with The Flamethrowers. Anyway, I got about halfway into Still Alice when I discovered that it’s Not My Kind of Book (I talked about this in my review of The Cleanest Race) and moved on to The Flamethrowers, which Is My Kind of Book. Oh, yes.

It’s about a young artist and a twenty-two-year-old girl nicknamed Reno has moved to New York City because that’s where she thinks Artists are supposed to live. She’s from Reno (hence the nickname) and wants to go back to photograph land art. She starts dating Sandro Valera, an older artist who happens to come from the Valera Tires/Motorcycles Family in Italy. Sandro has distanced himself from his family for years, but he agrees to get Reno a super-fast bike so she can drive it really fast on the salt flats in Nevada to Pursue Her Art. She crashes said bike with only minor injuries and talks her way into the Valera camp to convalesce. Valera makes a special car that has clocked the land speed record of 700-something miles per hour across the salt flats, and their driver breaks the record again. The team talks Reno into attempting to break the women’s record in the same vehicle, which she does. The Valera family invites her to Italy for a publicity tour with the other driver. She really wants to go, but Sandro is hesitant because he doesn’t want to get back into the world of his family. Except he agrees, and they go to Italy, and Things Happen.

Summarizing books isn’t my strong point.

When I read the blurb on the back of the paperback, I thought, Motorcycles? Really? The Desert, of course, was a draw, and the recommendation came from someone whose reading taste I trust even after so many years, so I dug in. I could tell immediately that it’s a well-written, solid book, and it got off to a really interesting start along the lines of that amazing art museum scene at the beginning of The Goldfinch - though not quite as good. (Overall, this book is much better than The Goldfinch, by the way. Much more worth your time.) I was a little disappointed toward the end, though, because Rachel Kushner seemed to get a little lost in the backstory. There’s a whole long section about a messed-up story at sea involving a relatively minor character, and its excessive length made it seem like a separate story Kushner was determined to fit in. Scenes like that happen a couple of times, and I think that’s the novel’s biggest weakness. Like many books, it could have been shorter, but, in this case, only because of the long tangents that didn’t really have to be there. That’s why The Flamethrowers isn’t a Great book.

That said, I really enjoyed it, and I’ll definitely be reading more Kushner in the future. She writes My Kind of Book.

In Puppy News, Zelda continues to grow. We’ve been walking over two miles a day between two walks. She’s…improving.

She celebrated her first July 4th at a friend’s party!

She didn’t really mind the early fireworks until Palmer shot off a fifty-pack of Black Cats. She seemed to get over it, though, because the booms around here don’t seem to bother her. Which is fantastic. We took her home and put her in her kennel before it got dark, and she was fine when we got home a few hours later. No Poopocalypses were involved.

A good time was has by all.

Jacob took the Photo of the Night:

IMG_0337

Meanwhile, in Puppyland, canine-feline relations are progressing very slowly. This is a regular occurrence in our household:

Shakespeare has spent most of his time hiding on our screened-in back porch, but yesterday he graced us with his presence on the top of the sofa.

Now that Palmer is home, I can hang out with him more, and I think that makes both of us feel better.

Two Years with the Beetus: Some Observations

As of today, I’ve officially had type 1 diabetes for two years. I say “officially” because it was a few months longer than that, of course: I got thirsty, peed a lot, lost weight, lost most of my hair, etc, etc, etc. But now it’s been two years, and I have some things to say about it.

I planned to do exactly this last year, but I guess I never got around to it. My first instinct on my “diaversary,” as it’s called, was to eat a cupcake. I bought a pair of running shoes instead, thinking I was well enough to get back into it. Except that’s not gonna happen, apparently. I’ll get to that.

It’s certainly been an interesting two years. I guess I can say my life is Back Together at this point, if only because I’m still employed and it looks like I’ll FINALLY get that master’s degree in December. As I said, last year, I celebrated with a pair of shoes because I wanted to Conquer the Beetus or the like. This year, I edged more toward the cupcake: I bolused for 100 carbs and ate a burger and some froyo. That’s more carbs than I’ve had in a sitting since all of this started. It didn’t even kill me.

shoesfroyo

Anyway. Here’s a List of Things I’ve Learned over the past two years:

Most doctors don’t know what they’re doing or don’t care. Diabetes, at least, is an art, not a science, and I’ll run this damn thing myself, thank you very much. (I’m not going to rehash the part about where the hospital internist told me that I probably had type 2 at the beginning because I learned pretty quickly that that was pure bullsh*t.) At my last endocrinologist appointment, the doctor “suggested” that I lower my nighttime basals (even though I told her I had just lowered myself the night before), then, after she left the room, had the nurse watch me do it. Which is funny because I can just change them back myself once she’s not looking. She’s not the Basal Police. Just to see what would happen, I didn’t change said basal rate back, and the next morning I woke up with a blood sugar of 160. I felt crappy and had a hell of a time getting it down because waking up with high blood sugar makes you high for most of the day. So I changed the basal rate back. Things like that make me hate doctors. There’s also the crazy stomach problems I suffered with for over a year. I went to a gastroenterologist and had a colonoscopy and endoscopy, neither of which turned up anything. I hated traveling, and I stayed home from lots of social events because of what my stomach was doing. Turns out that I was just eating too much fat for my body to process because my pancreas doesn’t produce enough enzymes to digest fat properly. Guess who figured that one out and then fixed the problem? ME. Not a doctor. I dislike doctors now.

Distractions are fantastic. One of my favorite things about Zelda is that she keeps me occupied with something other than my blood sugar. I’ve been running it higher to deal with her without worrying about lows, and I feel better because of that. My A1c went up a tiny bit, but oh well. (That’s another thing with doctors. My A1c should not be treated like a report card. Ugh.) I like having to make plans around Zelda rather than around my blood sugar, and focusing on something that generally makes me happy is much more healthy for everyone.

My life can be pretty normal. Humans can get used to anything, and I think I’ve gotten pretty used to having to run my pancreas manually. I have some of the best technology available, and it’s easy enough with all I’ve learned over the past two years. I’m now an expert carb-counter, and I’m confident enough that I’ll make an educated guess on the carb count of whatever I want to eat – within reason. I have yet to eat Pad Thai again.

I have fantastic friends. For a long time, I was afraid to eat food when I didn’t know the exact carb count, and my friends have tried so hard to help! They carb-counted their own recipes for parties! That amazes me. I should also mention the husband‘s infinite patience here, but I think I’ve talked about that before.

It’s not a huge deal. If I miscalculate, I won’t die. I might feel crappy for a while, but my blood sugar will level back out eventually. Which means I shouldn’t be afraid to eat what I want (again, within reason) at local restaurants that don’t post nutrition information. And that’s what I’ve been doing for several months now: I discovered that food from chain restaurants (and not even fast food – I haven’t touched that stuff in forever) is packed with added sugars and fat, and it tears up my stomach. I do much better eating at local restaurants despite having to guess on carb counts.

It’s a learning process. Just because I think something works doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice. When I was first diagnosed, I thought (and was told) that low-carb was the answer, so I started eating nuts and cheese. I LOVE nuts and cheese and ate too much of both. I gained more weight than I should have. I hit 175, which was unacceptable, and started counting calories – and immediately stopped eating almost any of either of those things because of the crazy calorie count. That’s when I noticed that my stomach problem stopped. Yep. I also have to figure out how to eat lots of food without skyrocketing. There’s a bolus setting on my pump called dual wave that gives me a chunk of insulin up front, then the rest of it over a period of hours. At first, I didn’t eat pizza or pasta at all because they’re difficult to get right, but then I figured out this magical dual wave. But it’s a juggling process because I have to choose the percentage up front and then how long to let it continue. I make lots of lists. I’ve also changed breakfasts several times, trying not to spike. For a long time, my go-to was oatmeal, first plain with stevia, which drove me low. I moved on to packaged gluten-free (which is the best oatmeal), but that spiked me badly, so I make regular oatmeal with cinnamon and one carefully-measured teaspoon of sugar. That wasn’t so bad. But then I discovered English muffins, and so on and so on. Learning process.

I figure that if I could get through the first year, I could get through all of them, and this second one has only gotten easier. The rest of my body has gotten more into line and everything has generally settled down. I still won’t eat All of the Things, but I’ll eat Most of Them and be happy with that since I’m more likely to keep my limbs and vision if I behave. It’s really not so bad, after all.

Once more unto the breach.

2014 Book #34: The Cleanest Race – and a couple additions to the Fail Pile

cleanestraceNorth Korea fascinates me. The culture is so vastly different than my own, and it’s so secretive, that I’m intrigued. I saw The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters on Oyster, and it sounded really interesting. I’d just finished Butcher’s Crossing and had no idea where to go next, so I thought a little nonfiction might be in order.

The Cleanest Race is a succinct look into North Korean culture and how it functions. Evidently, what we see from the outside is entirely different from what the North Koreans, themselves, see. Palmer suggested that they’re living in constant fear of being arrested and tortured for what amount to thought-crimes, but, according to B.K. Myers, that’s not the case. North Koreans see themselves as a pure and innocent race that needs protection from the outside because of said innocent nature. Everyone else wants to break in and ruin them, and the Dear Leader’s aim is to protect his people from these dangerous outside influences. North Korea’s domestic policy is entirely different than it pretends to be in the international community: Myers claims, “Where [North Korea] presents itself to the outside world as a misunderstood country seeking integration into the international community, it presents itself to its own citizens…as a rogue state that breaks agreements with impunity, dictates conditions to groveling U.N. officials, and keeps its enemies in constant fear of ballistic retribution.” He says that within the country, residents hear “news” through carefully controlled propaganda that represents a truer version of official views than international versions. One of the most important ideas for keeping North Koreans compliant is the story that South Korea is basically held captive by America and would join the North in a heartbeat if given the chance. What is “most dangerous to the regime,” Myers states, “is the inevitable spread of public awareness that for all their anti-Americanism, the South Koreans are happy with their own republic and do not want to live under Pyongyang’s rule.” Which is all a problem with the constant influx of smuggled South Korean data appearing in the north.

So what that means is that the North Koreans, themselves, are probably more content than we think they are, but that’s because of the careful filtering of information by the government. In the book, Myers gives a very brief (too brief, really) overview of the basics of North Korean history from Japanese colonization until just before Kim Jong Un took over, as it was published in 2009. He follows with an examination of North Korean internal propaganda and explains how that is a better representation of what the North Koreans think of themselves than what international stories have told us.

The Cleanest Race is a reasonably good book about a fascinating subject. I’d recommend it for someone with a decent background in the history part because I spent some time googling as I read. (That Asian history class I took in college didn’t quite cut it.) Myers is a professor in South Korea and teaches students there about their northern neighbors, and what he says makes sense, so I think he knows what he’s talking about. You can’t always trust nonfiction, of course, especially when it’s about super-secretive Eastern countries with entirely different cultures that misrepresent themselves to the rest of the world.

I’ve been having a hard time choosing what to read – I called it a book rut, and I got some great suggestions from Facebook. Before any of that, though, I made an attempt at yet another DeLillo novel, Running Dog, and stopped halfway through even though it’s short. It’s about double-crossing art buyers trying to get their hands on Nazi porn filmed in the bunker where Hitler died. It’s about how non-moving pornographic art isn’t enough anymore, and they must move to the next extreme, video. The Nazi part just makes it even more extreme because DeLillo is all about new extremes in media. It’s the old shtick, just like every other DeLillo novel, and generally not any good. Here’s a representative quote: “It’s the presence alone, the very fact, the superabundance of technology, that makes us feel we’re committing crimes. Just the fact that these things exist at this widespread level. The processing machines, the scanners, the sorters. That’s enough to make us feel like criminals.” In the dialogue. Come on, DeLillo. Running Dog wasn’t worth my time, so onto the Fail Pile it went.

Next up was Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, one of the Facebook recommendations. It started off well enough. Alice is a 50-year-old professor at Harvard, and she has a husband and grown kids, and such. One day, she’s giving a well-practiced lecture and can’t come up with the word “lexicon” to save her life. Then she starts forgetting other things, like basic tasks, moving onto bigger things, like a flight to Chicago for a conference. The farther I got in, the more I got worried that this was just a list of Alzheimer’s symptoms, and Still Alice is just a novel about the slow steps into Alzheimer’s. I hadn’t, of course, read the blurb, though I’d heard good things about it. So I read the blurb, and yes, Still Alice is about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s. So I immediately stopped reading and moved on. It’s not that this is even a bad novel. I just hate books like this. They’re always sappy and preachy and sentimental, and I don’t like any of those things. (Note again: This is my personal list of dislikes and not objective.) I also saw that this is a self-published novel by a neurologist who specializes in stuff like that, and I couldn’t help but scoff. Though, again, it’s not written badly, it sounds like something straight out of a creative writing class, formula and all. It bleeds formula. So. That’s the end for Alice. I’ve moved on to The Flamethrowers, which is more my speed.

In Puppy News, Zelda is 3 months old! She’s growing so quickly that I’m beginning to wonder if we have a Clifford on our hands.

Zelda also had an adventure with an identical puppy on the other side of a floor-length closet mirror at Nunpoo’s!

We went for a visit to celebrate Nunpoo’s 88th birthday. Happy birthday, Nunpoo!

Book #33: Butcher’s Crossing

butcherscrossingI’m generally no fan of westerns. I’ve often put westerns in my List of Genres I Don’t Read, which includes the likes of mystery and romance. Well, that was until I started reading Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King‘s Dark Tower series. I softened my position a bit, though I figured those were big exceptions. Maybe they were, but I’m adding Butcher’s Crossing to that list right now because it’s fantastic. One of the best books I’ve read this year, in fact.

But I’ll get to that in a minute. I’ll tell a little story about my hatred for westerns.

My dad loves westerns. It’s his favorite genre, especially the treasure-hunting type. When I was a kid, he was convinced he could find the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, and he still carries around books about it. I’m also pretty sure he’s read every single Louis L’Amour book ever published. He’s pretty hardcore on the westerns. The problem is that he shared his genre love with an entirely uninterested teenager. He’d be reading some book about horses and plains and/or treasure-hunting, get really excited, and read loooooooong passages to my stepmother and me over dinner. Like pages and pages long. My boredom eventually turned into resentment of everything the western novel stands for, so I put them on the List. (Which has nothing to do with why mysteries and romances are also on that list: mysteries generally irritate me, and I’ve yet to find a romance novel that didn’t suck.)

January 2006 286

So I guess my new-found love of the western (the good ones, anyway - Butcher’s Crossing is an NYRB Classic, and I haven’t yet gone wrong with one of those) has something to do with Not Being a Teenager Anymore. Which is fine.

Back to the novel. It’s about Will Andrews, a kid in his early twenties. He’s just spent three years at Harvard and decides he needs to See the Country, so he heads to Butcher’s Crossing, a tiny buffalo-hunting town in western Kansas. You know, when there were still buffalo and almost every single one hadn’t been killed off. Will decides to fund a buffalo hunt led by an old man named Miller who is convinced they’ll find thousands of buffalo up in the Colorado Territory. They take along two other men and head up there on what’s supposed to be a six-week trip. After almost dying of thirst on the plains, they make it to the Rockies, and, lo and behold, they find the buffalo herd Miller spoke of. Thousands. They’re up there for a few weeks, and Miller can’t stop: he’s convinced he can kill every buffalo in the herd and that they’ll make All Kinds of Money doing it. Except then they spend too much time there, and the snows come. They’re stuck up there all winter. Things Continue to Happen.

Ooooh, this is such a good book. I’m not sure why I got it, but I’m glad I did. I ordered it through interlibrary loan and got it in roughly two days. I was reading DeLillo‘s Running Dog, which is the same old shtick, and terribly bored, so I was glad to take a break (even though Running Dog is one of DeLillo’s shorter novels). I enjoyed every minute of Butcher’s Crossing. I felt like I was on the planes and up in the mountains, dealing with the snows along with Will and Miller. It’s a beautifully constructed novel and totally worth a read.

Zelda is 11 weeks old, now, and still ultra-cute.

We got her 15-foot tie-out leash for the back yard so she can hang around outside more than four feet away from us. Closely supervised, of course. She really enjoys it.

She’s still being alternately Very Good and Very Bad.

Sleepytime is the best.

2014 Book #32: Sputnik Sweetheart

sputniksweetheartI’m generally a wee bit reluctant to reread books by Haruki Murakami because I don’t always like them as much the second time around. The problem is that I’ve read all of his novels published in English, so I’m kind of out of new material. After the terror of Bird Box, I wanted to read something more calm (and short because, you know, puppy), and, for whatever reason, I gravitated toward Sputnik Sweetheart. According to Goodreads, I read it in July of 2007, almost 7 years ago. I’d forgotten most of it with the exception of one scene involving a woman getting stuck on a Ferris wheel. It’s funny how one scene can stick in your head while you forget the rest of the novel, no matter how good it is. For a long time, I remembered White Noise ending when they reached the Red Cross shelter, and that’s maybe halfway through the book. I had forgotten so much. (White Noise is another book that deserves a rereading soon, but that’s another post.) Of course, I read Sputnik Sweetheart well before I started this blog, so I don’t have a previous review to look over.

So. Sputnik Sweetheart is a pretty run-of-the-mill Murakami novel. There are multiple worlds/planes of existence/whatever you want to call them, and, of course, cats and wells. Not many of the latter two, but they’re there.

This one is about Sumire, a 22-year-old girl who quit college to write novels, though she hasn’t actually written one yet. She is good friends with the unnamed narrator, who is in love with her. She falls in love with an older woman, Miu, and becomes infatuated. There’s some trace of similar feelings on Miu’s end, but something happened to Miu when she was younger, and she says half of her is gone. Any kind of desire has left, along with her ability to play piano (her first vocation), and her hair turned completely white. Miu, who runs a family company, asks Sumire to work for her, and Sumire jumps at the chance. They eventually end up traveling together to a Greek island, and Sumire disappears. The narrator travels to the island to meet Miu and find out what happened.

Sputnik Sweetheart is one of the relatively rare novels that I liked more the second time around. Part of that is because of the length of time between readings – this time, I felt like I was rediscovering something I’d had but lost. I’d forgotten most of the story line: the Ferris Wheel scene isn’t even very long. Maybe being a little older and more settled helped, too. I can identify with the characters, and I think that I better understand what is going on and why. Which makes me realize how much I’ve changed in seven years – and how much happier I am for it.

So. Is this Murakami’s best novel? Probably not. I think the crown still belongs to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Others might claim Norwegian Wood because it’s more accessible. Sputnik Sweetheart might be a great Murakami starter novel if you don’t get hung up on the gender of Sumire’s love interest because that part seems irrelevant here. Murakami isn’t especially controversial, and this shouldn’t be, either. It’s about being lonely and wanting love and willingness to cross worlds to get it. It really is a good novel, and now that I understand it better, it’s in my top five Murakamis.

In Puppy News, Zelda is 10 weeks old!

She’s also crazy. Our candy bowl must be evil:

But how could you possibly stay annoyed with this puppy?

Okay, I have an answer for that: these two kittehs, who are united in puppy annoyance.

Who could blame them? Puppy sees kitteh, puppy wants to play. Chase chase chase, bite bite bite. Instead of fighting back, the kittehs run away. If they’re in a tight spot, the worst they’ll do is hiss and bat with their claws in. I’m beginning to think they should be a little more heavy-handed with Zelda.

2014 Book #31: Bird Box

birdboxY’ALL. Bird Box. Read it. It’s the most terrifying book I’ve read in I-can’t-remember-when. “But Lindsay,” you say, “you don’t like scary books! Remember Salem’s Lot?” Yes, that is, indeed, the case. I generally don’t read scary books, and I rarely like them when I do. But Bird Box is different!

And it’s so hard to talk about it without spoilers. Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll add spoiler alerts at the beginning and end of the massive Spoiler Time, you you can just hop down. Because you don’t want this one spoiled.

It’s about Malorie, a young woman who just found out she’s pregnant as news of a “Russian Report” emerges, in which there have been incidents in Russia of people suddenly becoming violent toward others, then killing themselves. Reports spread, eventually, to the United States. No one knows for sure what’s causing it, but they think they’ve figure out that the victims see something before they die. So people start boarding up their windows and stop leaving their houses. The violence spreads, and Malorie and her sister can no longer get in touch with their parents who live in a town with a reported incident. Then Malorie’s sister ends up dead in the bathroom with slit wrists. They had covered the downstairs windows, but not the upstairs ones. Then Society Falls Apart. Flash forward (or, really, backward to the first scene of the book and in other scenes interspersed throughout) to Malorie with two four-year-old children, escaping their house, blindfolded, feeling their way down to the river, where a rowboat sits. They get in the rowboat, still blindfolded, then start down the river. They are entirely reliant upon their hearing, and the kids are especially good at warning of danger because Malorie has trained them to live in this world since birth. They have never even seen anyone or anything outside their house. So here they are, rowing downriver in total blackness, following vague directions Malorie got from a lucky phone call.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Okay, here’s the spoiler alert. I can’t say what I think about this novel without one. We all, by now, know, that I hate violent and gory books. Most scary books are violent and gory. Bird Box, however, isn’t, for the most part. The best part of this novel is that we never find out what these “Creatures” really are – are they aliens? Are they men? Is it just the world going insane? And, strangely, I liked the happyish ending. Most post-apocalypse books have a sad – or at least ambivalent – ending. It’s like they’re supposed to. I really like that Josh Malerman bucked that trend and made things, at least for the time being, turn out okay. It was refreshing. End of spoiler.

What I said in the paragraph above, minus the spoilers, is that this book is different and refreshing. It doesn’t follow the usual horror novel pattern, and it’s very well written. I had a hard time not finishing this novel in one sitting because I just couldn’t stop. I was immediately swept up in the story, and I wanted to see it through to the end. And that journey is totally worth it.

Shortly after I started reading it, I flipped to the back of the book to read the author blurb. Turns out Josh Malerman is the lead singer of some band I’ve never heard of, and this is his first book. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry! To him, I say, Good job, sir. Bird Box is excellent, and it’s totally worth a read. Just expect to spend an evening unable to pull yourself away.

Aaaaand here’s a puppy with hiccups:

2014 Book #30: The Giver

giverI had two distinct reactions to finishing The Giver: 1) How have I not read this book before? and 2) DAMN, that’s depressing. I had no idea what I was in for with this one even though almost everyone I know has read it. I took one of those stupid Facebook quizzes a month or two ago about how many Newberry books I’d read, and the result was very, very low. I’m not sure what I was reading when I was a kid, but it sure wasn’t this stuff. I’m pretty sure my first dystopia was 1984, and I was 14 or 15 when I read that one.

Again: DAMN. It’s about a kid named Jonas who lives in a very strict society that values Sameness. For generations, no one has experienced real pain or fear because most emotions have been dulled, and every requirement for human life has been planned and provided. Babies are born to Birthmothers and given to families with approved applications a year later. They go to school, make friends, and live what Jonas thinks are normal lives. Every year, in lieu of birthdays, children are given new responsibilities, up to age 12, when they are told by a group of Elders what they will do with the rest of their lives. Some become doctors, some lawyers, some laborers, etc. Except at Jonas’s twelve-year-old ceremony, the announcer skips over him until the end and names him the new Receiver of Memories, telling him that it’s an honor and will be difficult because he will have to experience pain. He must learn everything about the past from the previous Receiver, who Jonas calls the Giver. Jonas learns about war and famine and loneliness while the rest of his society has no idea that any of those things ever existed. They go on with their lives, have their careers, are assigned families of their own, grow old, and are “released,” which is another matter and is a mystery to Jonas. Then, of course, Things Happen.

Ohhhh, do they happen. The Giver is a short book, and I finished it in a couple of hours. I couldn’t stop reading it. So much for my current lack of attention span. It’s so good. (See? I don’t hate all kids’ books!) It’s also bleak, at least as much so as The Road or 1984. I’m sad I didn’t read this when I was a kid because it might have opened my eyes a bit to what was around me. When I was Jonas’s age, I was fairly sheltered in Minden. I was a good kid, and I had everything I needed and most things I wanted. Or, then again, maybe I wouldn’t have appreciated what this book is really saying.

Anyway, read it. If you have kids, I’d say, ten and up, have them read it. It’s amazing. It even made me cry, which is pretty rare. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’ll definitely be looking into more Lois Lowry.

As for the Puppy Update, it’s only been a day, and she’s still growing and still crazy. I’ve been taking her with me everywhere that I can so she gets used to people. We went to the Starbucks on Airline in Bossier, and she met a little boy from Georgia who agreed that she is the Cutest Thing.

And here she is being ridiculous with a stick:

2014 Book #29: Stranger Things Happen

strangerthingshappenReading Things is so hard right now. Every time I sit down with a book, I hear a whine or feel needle-sharp puppy teeth playfully tugging on my jeans or, sometimes, on my skin. I’m having a hard time keeping interest throughout a whole novel because they’re taking me so long to read. I have a short attention span. Which is why I figured that now was a good time to read a collection of short stories, specificaly Kelly Link‘s Stranger Things Happen, to which I’ve been looking forward since I read Pretty Monsters last year. That, and I couldn’t find a cheap digital copy of Stranger Things Happen, and my library doesn’t have it – but my new friend Oyster does! So I jumped at the chance.

The stories in Stranger Things Happen are generally similar to those in Pretty Monsters, though, on the whole, they’re not quite as good. My one criticism of the stories in the latter collection was that they end so abruptly, and that’s not the case in Stranger Things Happen, but I think Kelly Link is better at cutting off stories in interesting places than really ending them.

I think my favorite story in this collection is the last one, “The Girl Detective,” about an inquisitive, mysterious girl, told from the perspective of an inquisitive, mysterious boy. The girl eats people’s dreams and solves mysteries by exploring those dreams. Her mother disappeared when she was little, and she’s trying to find her. The girl detective follows dreams in search of her mother. It’s really an interesting story. “Survivor’s Ball, or, The Donner Party” is another of my favorites. It’s about two young people who meet in a bar in New Zealand while they’re each traveling the world in the opposite direction. They rent a car and take a dangerous wintry road to a hotel in the middle of nowhere, and they meet some very interesting travelers. This one might be the creepiest. “The Specialist’s Hat,” which I like, appears in both collections, which, I guess, can be explained by there being two different publishers. It seems a little cheaty to me. “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” is about a man who has just died and is at a hotel, forgetting his former life. He tries repeatedly to remember his wife’s name and a lot of events in his life, but he can’t. He’s tied to the hotel and the island, writing letters that he hopes will make it to his wife. I liked “Water off a Black Dog’s Back” least of all. It’s a creative retelling of Leda and the Swan, and the best thing I can say about it is that it’s an interesting twist. There’s also a Cinderella retelling called “Shoe and Marriage” that is just passable. All of the other stories are generally good.

I really like Kelly Link. I read somewhere around the interwebs that she’s just signed a deal for a new collection of stories to be released in 2015, followed by a novel she hasn’t finished yet. I’ll be interested to read that novel, as this shorter form seems to work so well for her. I hope it’s like my favorite (and the longest) story in Pretty Monsters, “The Wizards of Perfil,” though I bet it’ll be more ghosty and less straight fantasy.

And now for Puppy Update Time, as my life revolves around said puppy for the time being.

She learned to fetch!

And she’s trying to make friends with the cats, but they don’t want to play:

She reeeeeally likes to play in long grass.

And she’s getting so big! Here’s a progression of photos marking every week since we got her:

Meanwhile, Palmer is in Nebraska and Iowa, dealing with Tornado Season.

And I am entirely exhausted. I also think I smell poop. See you next time.

2014 Book #28: The Financial Lives of the Poets

financiallivesI’m glad it has been long enough since I’ve read Jess Walter’s most recent book, Beautiful Ruins, that I’d forgotten what I said in my review because I probably wouldn’t have read The Financial Lives of the Poets solely based on The Type of Author Jess Walter Appears to Be. Though don’t get me wrong: The Financial Lives of the Poets really isn’t any better than Beautiful Ruins: they’re both just okay novels. Certainly nothing to be excited about. And I have exactly the same thing to say about this one that I did about Beautiful Ruins: It’s not my kind of book.

The Financial Lives of the Poets is about Matthew Prior, who is getting close to 40 and finds himself in financial and marriage trouble. He was a business writer for a (slowly failing) newspaper who came up with the brilliant idea to start a website serving business news in poetic form. Yeah. Smart. Of course, it failed miserably. Meanwhile, his wife is obsessed with money and keeping money and goes on an ebay binge, spending tons of it and stacking up her purchases in the garage to sell later as collectibles. Between Matt’s stupid business plan and his wife’s, they’re about to lose their house, and their kids are about to have to move from their private school to a public school he calls Alcatraz. And the wife is beginning an affair with an old high school crush. Things are going pretty badly for Matt when he goes to 7/11 to pick up milk and meets a couple of young pot dealers, smokes it for the first time in several years, and decides he wants to buy a huge quantity (2 pounds!) to sell to his friends. There seems to be a silver lining when everything goes all to hell again, and Things Continue to Happen.

I didn’t realize this was a pot book (akin to pot movies like Darjeeling Limited) until I was well into it. I would have stopped if it wasn’t, at least, pretty funny. Pot movies and TV shows have been overdone, and I’m pretty sure they were already overdone in 2009 when this book was published. So I didn’t like the premise, but the right kind of funny can make up for a lot. The Financial Lives of the Poets is, after all, pretty well-written, except in an MFA sort of formulaic way, which is generally Not My Thing. The end is also tied up too neatly like that of Beautiful Ruins, and I was turned off by that. It’s a sort of things-suck-now-but-they’ll-eventually-get-better feel-good type of book. I don’t like those.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like The Financial Lives of the Poets. I rather enjoyed it, though I’ll probably forget all about it within the next few weeks – but this time, I’m hoping that I remember why I don’t like Jess Walter’s style and will avoid her books in the future. Or maybe I won’t. We’ll see.

And now, for the most interesting part: Puppy Update! If you’ve been following along on Facebook, there might even be one or two photos you haven’t seen!

Zelda is growing! We’ve only had her for two weeks, and look at this huge difference:

It’s amazing! Except she’s gone from sweet little sleeping infant puppy to insane Bitey McBiterson. Her cuteness totally makes up for it, though.

Look at that mushroom on her butt!