Book Riot Challenge – Read Harder

rhc_cover_pinterestIt’s been a while since I updated my Book Riot Challenge, so I decided it was time to let you all know how I’m doing. It looks like I’m about on schedule for the year, since we’re in May and I’ve completed 15/24 so far.

*1. Read a book about sports. Done! Psmith in the City, cricket. by P G Wodehouse.

*2. Read a debut novel. Done! Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

*3. Read a book about books. Done! End of Chapter, mystery about publishing company.

4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author. – still looking!

5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative. A Hope More Powerful than the Sea

6. Read an all-ages comic. American Born Chinese

*7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950. Done! Cakes and Ale, published 1930

8. Read a travel memoir. Three Single to Adventure, currently reading

*9. Read a book you’ve read before. Done! Murder Over Easy, read first in 2007

10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location. – Desert Solitaire, Utah

*11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location. Done! The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds, Malaysia/China

*12. Read a fantasy novel. Done! The Spirit Thief by Rachel Bach

13. Read a nonfiction book about technology. Unstoppable by Bill Nye

*14. Read a book about war. Done! Valiant Ambition, about American Revolution

*15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+. Done! Last Seen Leaving, by Caleb Roehrig

*16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.  Done! Animal Farm, by George Orwell

17. Read a classic by an author of color. – Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley or Native Son by Richard Wright

18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead. – either Spider Woman or Daughters of the Dragon

*19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older)

*20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean) Done! Also Last Seen Leaving

*21. Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay) Done! Future Worlds, A Science Fiction Anthology, published by Future World Publishing

*22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng)  Done! Miss Marple by Agatha Christie

23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan) Beowulf

*24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi) Done! Black Panther, Number 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Standalone Sunday: Cakes and Ale

Standalone Sunday is created by Megan at Bookslayer Reads, for all those great books that are NOT a part of a series.

Title: Cakes and Ale

Author: M. Somerset Maughm

Setting: 1930s England, but also full of flashbacks

Themes: writing, class, sex, relationships

Format: ebook

Source: book club

Plot: Sycophantic writer Alroy Kear is delighted to be asked to write a biography of another (much better) recently deceased novelist Edward Driffield. He’s got most of the stuff from his widow, and has prepared a suitably reverent draft. But he’s missing the stuff about Driffield’s first wife, Rosie the barmaid.

Rosie (the barmaid) had a big impact on Driffield’s writing. All his best stuff was written while they were together. But only a few will admit to knowing her, including ANOTHER writer named Ashenden, and he is the POV character for the book. Ashenden, like many others, was in love with Rosie, and he remembers them both from when he was young.

I hope that’s not confusing, but it makes sense when you read it.

Review: This is not a book I ever would have picked up on my own. I like books about writers, but I wouldn’t have even heard of this one if not for book club. The woman who picked it is a fan of Maughm’s, but she hadn’t read this one, so she thought maybe it would be fun. Well, she didn’t love it, but I thought it was very good. Maybe you have to be a writer to really appreciate it, but there are so many sly comments about writing, publishing, readers, about the fans of famous writers, etc, that I found myself smiling as I read.

The biggest theme of the book, besides writing, is really about class. Rosie, as a barmaid, is a definite cut below the widow, who was a nurse. And two classes below Driffield, a gentleman, who was looked on as a definite eccentric for marrying such an “unsuitable” woman. As an American, I didn’t understand that completely, but even in the US, we judge people by their social status and economic status. If a lawyer married a cocktail waitress, his colleagues would talk, no matter what she was like.

Finally, sex and relationships were a big theme in this one. Rosie was pretty amoral – she loved whom she loved, and she didn’t see anything wrong with that. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to bother her husband. I know that open relationships are growing in popularity, but I am pretty darn conservative, and I have trouble believing that there wouldn’t be more consequences to her love life.

I found this a pretty easy read. There were some passages where Maughm gets to talking about writing and the writing world that went on too long, so I skimmed ahead. And there’s one romantic encounter described in more detail than I enjoyed. Otherwise, it was a fun book and I think I’ll check out more by this author. 3.8 stars out of 5.

**A Note here about Own Voices – M. Somerset Maughm was a bisexual, but to me at least, I didn’t pick up on a lot of LGBT themes in this book. The POV character Ashenden is supposed to be based on him, but like I mentioned, he was in love with Rosie and has a brief affair with her. She is his only lover referenced in the book. Maybe it’s because of my straight bias, but I didn’t really pick up on any other undercurrents. It’s possible that Ashenden has romantic or sexual feelings toward Driffield, but I didn’t pick up on it. I think it’s more of a theme in some of his other works.

 

Book Review: Family Tree

Title: Family Tree

Author: Susan Wiggs

Heard about it: on Goodreads

Setting: Los Angeles and Vermont

SPOILERS!

Annie Harlow grew up on a sugar maple farm in Vermont, but she’s enjoying her new life in LA, married to a charming husband, working at her dream career, and at last, expecting her first baby. Then the world comes crashing down on her — quite literally. A piece of equipment falls on her head, causing TBI, traumatic brain injury. Annie wakes up in a hospital to find that everything has changed while she was asleep, including her. She’s back home in Vermont and now she has to rebuild her whole life.

I’m torn whether this one counts for the Read Diverse Books challenge. Annie might be a minority, but I’m not quite sure on that part. The author never makes it clear, just says that she’s “too ethnic” to be on camera (according to a network, not the author). But the TBI does cause some major soul searching on Annie’s part as she has to relearn how to talk, walk, and survive on her own.

My problem is that the brain injury is treated so lightly. Yes, she is in a coma for an entire year. But so what? Does her family have a financial crisis because of this? Do they have to take out a second mortgage? Are creditors hounding them for payment? No. Is her family feeling the terrible strain of having to oversee her care while living their regular lives? Are they fighting over what should happen next? Are they exhausted from being at the hospital night and day? No.

And how about Annie? Does she suffer any lingering mental or physical handicap from her – let me emphasize here – TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY? No, not really. She’s even DRIVING a couple of weeks after going home. Seriously? Is she disfigured, scarred? Her muscles are atrophied, which I would expect, but the more serious problem is – wait for it – HER MANICURE IS RUINED!

OK, I know that TBI is a real thing. But this is not anything like realistic. It’s the absolute opposite, in fact. And given that, it really didn’t matter to me that the descriptions of Vermont read like a travel brochure, or that all the cooking in here made me crave maple syrup. I just couldn’t get past the ridiculous plot. I kept skipping all the flashbacks to see what happened right now, but Annie never had to deal with anything like what the real consequences would be.

I am NOT recommending this one. It has good reviews, but I just can’t bother with a book or an author who doesn’t do more research.

Currently reading The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, and I’ll tell you what, you cannot accuse the man of skimping on research.