Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Synchronicity

There are moments when the book you're reading just resonates with something else in my life. I am reading a historical fiction and the next day, read an article about the very same topic. Or I am reading a novel which heavily involves spinning yarn, soon after I learned to spin myself.

But it is very odd when two books I'm reading complement each other. It just happened to me and it was magical. I had just finished listening to Janis Ian's autobiography Society's Child. Ian, for those who may not know, was a pretty famous folk and pop singer in the 60's and 70's, and rubbed elbows people like Janis Joplin and Bruce Springsteen. She was heavily involved in the folk music movement with the likes of Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. She talked a lot about the other performers she sang with, toured with, and befriended. I really enjoyed hearing her tell her story, peppered with bits of her songs, some of which I knew, and others which I hadn't.

In her autobiography, Ian is pretty frank about how the music industry has changed through the decades since she started recording, and in her opinion, not for the better. She implies heavily that the industry has lost its heart and instead of fostering and nurturing its artists, it is too focused on money and protecting the bottom line. As she had to make a comeback several times in her career and had been performing since she was a teenager, she has many thoughts on this subject.

While I was finishing up Society's Child, I picked up a review copy of a young adult novel that is coming out in May called Devil and the Bluebird. It is the debut novel of Jennifer Mason-Black, and if this first book is any indication, she will have a place on my insta-buy list. It is just that good and my first solid five-star read of 2016.

In Devil and the Bluebird, we start off at the crossroads at midnight and watch Blue Ridley make a deal with the devil: her voice in exchange for magic boots that will lead her to her missing older sister, who had run away from home shortly after their mother had died. Armed only with her guitar, she follows the path the boots lead her. The story is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road, but is still completely unique. Unlike a lot of young adult books these days, Devil and the Bluebird is not focused on the here or the future. There are no name droppings of current movie stars or pop artists. There aren't worries about designer clothes or the latest iProduct. Instead, this book is nostalgia personified, and takes place in a part of America that still remembers people busking by the side of the road, exchanging a meal for a story or a song, and finding a shared language in music.

Reading this on the coattails of Society's Child was pure book synchronicity. It was kismet. The folk revolution that Janis Ian described and took part in was still going on in the roads Blue traveled in Devil and the Bluebird. The ghosts of folk music past are in these pages, and Blue learns the difference between making music for fame and fortune (the real deal with the devil) and making music from the heart and the soul.

I cannot recommend both books enough. And if you read them back-to-back, you may find your own moment of book synchronicity.

Society's Child by Janis Ian is available in audiobook from Audible, and in print at all major retailers.
Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black is out May 17th from Amulet Books.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Losing a Local Yarn Shop

Last month, my LYS closed its doors for good. I cannot put into words just how much this has affected me emotionally. That store was my home away from home - cliche, but true. I knew that no matter what, I could always drop by and find a welcome. The owners and the other regulars were my friends and I loved knowing that Lee, Liz, and Lindsay would always be in on a Friday night, and that Marianne worked on Saturday, and Teresa and Victoria would be there on Sunday.

The store was open for over six years, which is admittedly a good run for a yarn store.

But this does leave a giant hole in my life. There are other LYS in the area but none as convenient. I visited a few this past weekend, hoping to find the same welcoming atmosphere but failed.

The first I went to was (1) too far away to be a regular spot, and (2) made me extremely uncomfortable because of how the owner was behaving toward her daughter, who was helping out in the store.

The second was (1) not as far away as the first but still farther than I wanted to travel, (2) very small and (3) probably related to #2, full of mostly high-end yarn. I'm used to pricey yarn but I like stores to have a range of product. Instead, most of the shelf space was full of Madelinetosh, which is lovely and I own many skeins of it myself - but does set the tone a bit for the feel of the store.

While there is one more store I want to try, to the north of me by about 20 minutes, I am not very hopeful that I'll find a new LYS. There is two stores I particularly like - one in the city and one in Northern Virgnia - but are far too much effort to travel to regularly.

In the meantime, some of the regulars have opened their homes for regular get-togethers so I'm still seeing my friends and chatting over yarn. But... it's honestly just not the same.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.

This is not Swedish literature as I have known it. It's not dark, or heavy, or full of deep introspection, or grisly, or creepy. This book, is in fact, the antitheses of what I would have thought of when I think of Swedish literature. It is charming and sweet, quirky and fun. It made me smile a lot, laugh a few times, and wish I could actually meet the people of Broken Wheel in real life.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a love letter to books. It is about how books and reading can enrich a person's life, while at the same time, about Sara's personal journey to live a life beyond her books.

The story is a familiar one, of an outsider walking into an insular community and upsetting things and breathing new life into the community and its people. It's been done before, but Bivald made it her own. Sara is a consummate bookworm who travels to small-town USA to visit her pen pal--only to arrive and find that Amy had just died. She decides to try staying in Broken Wheel, and eventually opens up a bookshop in Amy's memory, determined to turn the citizens of Broken Wheel into readers.

I fell in love with Bivald's characters and cheered for them all. I loved watching them move out of their comfort zones and become happier with life because of Sara and the changes she causes in the town, both directly and indirectly.

Because, books broaden horizons. Readers of fiction have more empathy and are more open to new ideas and people -- this is something that has been shown in scientific studies. And the people in Broken Wheel found their horizons broadened and how. In return, they taught Sara that there was life outside of books, and that human connections were as important as fictional ones. I like to think that Sara was Amy's dying gift to Broken Wheel and vice versa.

Lastly, I love quotes. Adore them. I like my wisdom pithy. And The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was full of wonderful, amazing quotable quotes about reading, books, and life.

For example:
Never live your life according to the idiots' rules. Because they'll drag you down to their level, they'll win, and you'll have a damned awful time in the process.
I greatly enjoyed this book and hope that Bivald writes more, and that we see her future works translated for the US market.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Reading from Stash

Looking back over the books I read last year, I realized I need some accountability for how many books I purchase. Last year, it was a lot. I don't even want to count how many because the number may cause me to hide in shame.

This year, I'm determined to read from my stash. Of course, there will be new books coming out and I've already earmarked some space on my TBR list for books some of my favorite authors are releasing. But the fact of the matter is, I have too many unread books in my collection, and getting an ebook reader has not helped that at all. Those cheap or free books are hard to resist.

In 2015, I read 116 books, novellas, or graphic novels. Of those 116, I only owned about 20 of them prior to the start of the year. All the others were new purchases, borrowed, review copies, or read via my Oyster subscription. 20 out of 116. That's about 17%. Eesh.

Now that Oyster has sunsetted, that avenue for new books is closed to me. But my impulse purchases really are books. Between how ridiculously easy it is to buy an ebook and the slew of review copies I can get, it's difficult to keep my resolution to only read from stash. I know because I recall that was my resolution last year, as well.

Whoops.

Okay. New year; new resolve.

I still have:

  • Review copies. So many review copies. So I'll stop requesting so many and work through the backlog.
  • Two book subscription boxes. These are going to keep coming because I enjoy them a lot, and I feel that only two new books a month is doable.
  • Some books that will be instant-buys as soon as they are available for purchase. These are ongoing series I'm reading or favorite authors. They will just happen
But I'm going to think twice before hitting the "Buy Now" button at Amazon when that book which has been on my TBR list is on sale. I will accept it is okay to walk out of a bookstore without buying a book. 

And lastly, I will read from stash. I have a wall of books I stare at every day while I'm sitting at home working. It really shouldn't be hard to find a new book to read once I finish one. 

So. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Amy might not have had the most exciting life over the past few years, up here in her room, but she must have been fighting death to the very end. Sara could understand why she had been in denial or so long. It must have been a frightening realization: so many books she would never get to pick up, so many stories that would happen without her, so many authors she would never get to discover.

That night, Sara sat in Amy's library for hours, thinking about how tragic it was that the written word was immortal while people were not, and grieving for her, the woman she had never met.

-- Katarina Bivald, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Top 10 of 2015

Last year, I read a lot. According to my count, I read 116 books, including graphic novels and novellas. That's a lot of books. It helped that I wasn't fully employed for a number of months and had insomnia for a few weeks in the fall, dropping me into a vicious cycle of staying up until 4 reading, napping, and then not being able to fall asleep at night so I pick up a book...

Side note: That was seriously unhealthy and I destroyed my immune system. Don't do that.

Looking back at those 116 books, I decided to whittle that down to my top ten books of the year. This was hard, as you can imagine, but not as hard as I expected. Despite reading a lot, many of the books were not that memorable or were easy to drop from my short list once I had a short list of seventeen books.

So, without further ado: my top books of 2015. These are in no particular order because asking me to do that would be infinitely more difficult than just picking ten.

  1. The Martian by Andy Weir - Unless you've been living under a rock, you have heard of this book. I adored and devoured this book and commend it for not being afraid of being full of science!geekery. I loved that Weir had a diverse cast gender-wise, did not make a big deal about this, and did not describe anybody's physical characteristics. Also, it was a damn good book.
  2. Akata Witch by Nnedio Okorafor - This was the first Okorafor I read and I'm thankful that my public library had this book available as an ebook. If it hadn't I don't know if I'd had ever discovered Okorafor's books which are full of wonder and beautiful prose. Akata Witch tells the story of a young girl learning she has magic and going off to learn magic. Sound familiar? Think again. The book takes a well-known story trope and recasts it in a completely unique way.
  3. Saga, Deluxe Edition, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples - I borrowed this from a friend, and need my own copy now. This Deluxe Edition collects the first three trades of Saga, which I had been hearing good things about for years but never picked up. Once I started, this blew me completely away. I fell into the story and fell in love with the characters. It's incredibly smart, unique, and quirky.
  4. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan - This is unabashedly British royal family fanfiction. It's also incredibly well-written and compelling with truly likable and human characters. I started this one night and did not get any sleep at all.
  5. Returning My Sisters Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice by Eugie Foster - I don't normally like short stories, but the late Eugie Foster's stories are these perfect gems that eat into my brain and warm me up. This collection is my favorite of all her books. All the stories are firmly grounded in the history, culture, folklore, and mythology of China and Japan. These stories were like coming home for me. I grew up with these stories, this history, and Foster took the familiar and made them new with a veneer of adult sensibility.
  6. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold - A new Vorkosigan novel! This isn't due to be published for another month but I happily gave Baen money for the eARC. I read this repeatedly for about a week; I loved it so. This is Cordelia's story, post-Aral. It's a story of life and love and moving on. It was a giant hug.
  7. You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day - Felicia Day is my spirit animal. Her memoir of growing up a geek and nerd resonated heavily with me.
  8. Winter by Marissa Meyer - I adore the Lunar Chronicles and had this, the last book of the series, pre-ordered since it was available for pre-order. It was a perfect end to a perfect and amazing series that started with a cyborg mechanic who befriended a prince.
  9. The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna - This book showcases the best of what YA and science fiction can be, tackling some heavy philosophical questions of self, identity, and free will. The main character is an echo (aka, clone) of a girl in India, and if that girl dies, the echo will take her place.
  10. Cinder and Ella by Kelly Oram - A modern re-telling of Cinderella in which the prince is a famous movie star who is already best friends with Ella but she doesn't know who he is. I loved it.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year

Wishing everybody a happy new year! May 2016 be full of love, fiber, and books.