Saga, Volume 9 (CBR11 #30)

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I’ve been putting off reading the latest volume of Saga since I had heard it was devastating and that there would be at least a year hiatus until Vaughan and Staples picked back up working on this. Why sit with whatever terrible, soul crushing experience was waiting for me for over a year when I could just live with not knowing for the same amount of time?

Well, I abandoned that perfectly solid plan and gave in to temptation. It was just sitting there in my living room waiting for me and I’m not entirely made of stone.  I read it, it broke my heart, but it also felt strangely thin to what I’ve come to expect from Saga. It also made me think deeply about how invested I am in characters that are de facto villains in this world (as their goals are directly in conflict with the goals of our heroes) and how that is going to play out moving forward. Vaughan and Staples are making us to consider all the variables, all the competing motives, all the possible endgames. We know some things for sure, but not how we get to them. The sense remains that each storyline is part of this grand whole that is only slowly being revealed to the reader, that we’ve still only barely scratched the surface.

I’m still in love with this series. It remains the rare book to have humor, sorrow, wit, action, adventure, and beautiful drawings married in one text. It is sophisticated and unafraid to be crass when the story calls for it. The larger themes of family, love, and violence begetting nothing but more violence are firmly settled. But, I find myself wishing that this volume was more while simultaneously less at the same time. There connective tissue didn’t hold up to the major events contained within.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Gathering Moss (CBR11 #29)

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I like doing reading challenges because they give me an excuse to dig deeply through my expansive to read list (668 and counting) or give me a reason to add more diverse books to that list. Native and indigenous writers are underrepresented on my to read pile as are books about nature. Read Women this year has tasks for both, so off I went to find more books. Having some success last year with Rain: a Natural and Cultural History when I stumbled across Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss: a Natural and Cultural History I thought I had it made.

Kimmerer writes in this slim volume about moss as the research scientist she is, with all the Latin jargon and botanical details you might expect.  She also weaves into the book a host of details from her daily life as a mother and traveler and reflections on heritage, parenthood, life – digging into herself to reflect it back out to the world. What that combined effort gives the reader is a window into her natural philosophy. Gathering Moss probably won’t teach you to identify any mosses (there’s a handful of line illustrations of different mosses, but no tips for ID) but this collection of essays will give you a view into the author’s research and methodologies on moss ecology and Kimmerer as a person. Truly, it was this holistic approach to the writing that I enjoyed and kept me from giving up on the book.

You see, I am not the audience for this book and found myself drifting off during each of the relatively short chapters. Turn out, I had misremembered my experiences with Rain last year, I had struggled similarly. The best thing I have to say about Gathering Moss is that since reading it I have been paying far closer attention to the mosses living unobtrusively around me. I could read Chapter 2, “Learning to See”, again happily,  but the rest of the book really wasn’t what I was looking for.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Bride Test (CBR11 #28)

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Earlier this year I read and fell hard for Helen Hoang’ debut The Kiss Quotient. I was taken with her non-traditional protagonists and immediately added her next book The Bride Test to my library request list for when it was released (May 2019). I’m glad that I did, I enjoyed this sophomore outing more than its predecessor.

The Bride Test expands the world Hoang created in The Kiss Quotient. Khai Diep is one of Michael’s cousins we met in The Kiss Quotient (his brother Quan also features and will be the focus of the third book in the series out next year) and the book open with his mother traveling to Vietnam and interviewing possible brides for him. Khai’s autism means that he processes emotions differently and following another cousin’s death in his teens he’s convinced that he is defective, doesn’t have the capacity to love and for that reason he steadfastly avoids relationships.

Khai’s mother finds Esme (the name she takes when she comes to the United States) working as a cleaner in the bathrooms of a swanky hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. A mixed-race woman from an incredibly poor background Esme thinks this is an opportunity she can’t pass up – it would be life changing for her grandmother, mother, and daughter (and herself although she doesn’t put much value in her own needs in the beginning). She decides to try to get Khai to fall for her, without fulling knowing what she is getting herself into. Khai is as honest with her as he can be, and she quickly falls for him, although each of their particular issues keep it from being easy. In fact, it all goes off the rails before it rights itself.

I’m not doing a great job of capturing the spirit of the book. Hoang does a much better job in her author’s note when she explains how these two characters ended up on the page in the first place. Initially, Esme was not the romantic heroine Hoang meant to write, she was supposed to be the also ran. Then, Esme took center stage in Hoang’s writing and she realized she had exactly the right person to talk to about both the character of Esme, but also what it is like to fall in love with and marry a man with autism. This and Hoang’s unpacking of how a neuroatypical brain in Khai (his reaction to solving his misunderstanding with Esme after their first night together was particularly well handled) made this book very, very good. Both characters are just the type off people you root for, a very loveable pair on the whole.

When Dimple Met Rishi (CBR11 #27)

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Well, that was adorably sweet. YA that falls into New Adult Romance isn’t normally my thing, the characters are just so young (but I don’t mind them in movie format? To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was very enjoyable on Netflix but I still don’t care to pick up the book). I know most authors land their endings on HFN for just that reason, but while I’ve enjoyed books like Anna and the French Kiss I generally tend to stay away. But the description of When Dimple Met Rishi (and its adorable coffee-based cover art) pulled me in.

Dimple Shah has a plan: now that graduation is behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from her Mamma’s obsession with finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Dimple has her heart set on attending a summer program for aspiring web developers in San Francisco and convinces her parents to let her go and pay the fee, relieved that they seem to be more fully buying into her plans for her life starting with Stanford in the fall. Rishi Patel is headed to the same program, so when his parents tell him that his future wife will be there and he’ll have the chance to woo her, he is completely on board.  So much so that his hopeless romantic heart nearly ruins everything at his and Dimple’s meet cute. You see, Dimple has no idea who he is or that their parents have set them up.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but they seized an opportunity when they saw it. Rishi wants to be arranged, and knows that many people don’t understand his choice, and Dimple is one of them – running hard from what she feels are the heavy expectations of her family that don’t align with her goals for herself. But this is a romance book, so initial confusion and distrust turn to grudging friendship and then something much more all while they are competing hard to get Dimple’s app idea off the ground and in front of her idol by winning the contest.

I loved how this book dealt head on with its issues – classism, race relations, religion, familial expectation, social customs, women in STEM fields, and the dichotomy between pursuing your dreams or what you perceive to be the safe choice – while also being a very straightforward story about love and finding yourself at 18 once you are able to be on your own for the first time. Menon shows through her solid craft that it is possible to seamlessly do both. Her characters actually talk to each other (and not just her leads!) and get to know each other, and care deeply for who they discover themselves and the other to truly be. Dimple and Rishi have problems and lives that feel real.  The world and life that Menon creates for her characters is rich, detailed, and engrossing. You are with them at school, and in love, and in heartbreak. I was sad to see my time with them end.   

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 1 (CBR11 #26 – Half Cannonball)

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I’m pretty sure I’ve never read manga before I picked up The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home. I know some of the reasons I didn’t pick one up before, (honestly, I blame Sailor Moon TV Show – I didn’t like it at all and there’s something about the overly large eyes typical of manga that bothers me) but it was mostly just a decision I had made that the manga/comics section of the bookstore or library wasn’t for me. I was wrong. While I read more comics now than I ever have before, I don’t think I’m converted to manga necessarily, but I did very much enjoy Kanata Konami’s work.

I think part of my enjoyment of Chi’s Sweet Home is that it is part of a subgenre I didn’t know existed: cat manga. Manga of course has something in basically any genre you’re looking for: action, adventure, comedy, detective, drama, historical, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and fantasy, erotica, sports and games, and suspense so I really have no excuse for not finding something for myself sooner, or for being surprised that beloved cats wouldn’t also have their own place in this world.

Chi’s Sweet Home tells the story of Chi: a mischievous newborn kitten who gets lost. Separated from the warmth and protection of her mother, Chi is distraught and she breaks into tears in a large park meadow where she comes face to face with a similarly upset young boy. Chi is rescued by Yohei and his mother. The book takes off from there, giving us a view into how our cute little kitten is incorporated into the warm and inviting Yamada family, and all the subterfuge needed to hide a kitten in an apartment complex that does not allows pets.

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Bad Blood (CBR11 #25)

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I picked this one up based on its very good Cannonball Read reviews and because I needed a book of non-violent true crime for the 2019 Read Harder Challenge. This book did not disappoint. I admit, some how I had missed the entire Theranos story as is broke in 2016, so I can to this narrative entirely unspoiled. I was in for quite the narrative ride.

Bad Blood is the story of Elizabeth Holmes and the company she founded at 19 as a Stanford dropout, Theranos. Holmes intended to develop ways to accurately test blood from simple finger pricks with small amounts of blood as opposed to intravenous draws and provide miniaturized machinery that would allow patients the ability to test at home and away from the corporate lab giants. Instead Holmes perpetrated a 15 year ever evolving con that has seen federal fraud charges laid at her feet and other high-ranking members of her company.

John Carryrou broke the story following a tip in 2015 and spent the next year going toe to toe with Holmes and her legal team with the support of his employer, The Wall Street Journal. Following his coverage in the paper, Carreyrou then turned the saga into this book, carefully laying out each step in the saga of Theranos. This is Carreyrou’s first book, and while it is award winning, it also shows here and there his journalistic background – the chapters often have the feel of articles building one on the next. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t, the Theranos story goes from one mind-numbing bit of subterfuge to the next.

The story reads as so outrageous that I actually went and watched the HBO documentary The Inventor to see if it played out as nuts on screen… and while it does it just reiterated to me how well Carreyrou built the tension and how extensively he traced how the secrets and lies built on each other to lead to a truly unbelievable if it weren’t true story.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game (CBR11 #24)

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One of the weird things about me is that I *enjoy* attending graduation ceremonies. I can understand why others don’t like attending them – they can be very long and require us to sit in uncomfortable locations but there’s something about watching people I love accomplish something and be recognized for it that makes my heart happy. Because I’m a human full of contradictions I hated attending my own graduations. All of them were pure torture.

One of the quintessential parts of graduations is the commencement addresses. I’ve read one before but I wasn’t expecting to read another. Abby Wambach’s Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game isn’t itself an address, but it is based on her inspiring viral 2018 commencement speech to Barnard College’s graduates. It was a unique audience for Wambach to address – Barnard is a women’s college. Wambach chose to focus her speech to these fellow women around one important point:  we are not the little red riding hoods of fairy tales, we are wolves who must be present to keep the environment balanced.

Wambach lays out in this short work her eight-point plan, her rules, for empowering women and engaging in team behavior (don’t fall for being the token at the table, don’t fall for the false competition we are put into with each other). Each point is couched in a story from Wambach’s life and experience on and off the soccer field. The rules are simple and forward facing, and the entire tone is positive and inspiring, and easy to start incorporating into daily practice.

  • Create your own path
  • Be grateful for what you have AND demand what you deserve.
  • Lead now–from wherever you are.
  • Failure means you’re finally IN the game.
  • Be FOR each other.
  • Believe in yourself. Demand the ball.
  • Lead with humanity. Cultivate Leaders.
  • You’re not alone. You’ve got your Pack.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Educated (CBR11 #23)

A couple of months ago I read American Like Me and focused my review on how the various contributors wrote and reflected on the way their lives hopped boundaries or existed on the edge of multiple cultures. In Educated Tara Westover is doing a deep dive of her own, very personal, journey of leaving one culture (that of her father) and exploring the cultures of more mainstream Mormonism and mainstream America. It is not a perfect book, and to my mind Westover chose an interesting time in her life to reckon with her lived experience to this degree and this publicly, our early thirties are an interesting time to take stock of life so far but Westover’s is far from typical. It was a beautifully crafted, captivating read that is having a very needed conversation about self-invention and the importance of actual truth and how we see it, even if the author sometimes backs away from her own arguments.

Westover’s experiences growing up were very tightly controlled, and it left her with enormous gaps and misunderstandings of how the rest of the world works which she explores in her memoir. Sometimes these differences in our lived experiences made it difficult for me to relate, but battling with guilt, expectation, and hope did ring very true to me. Her parents are strict survivalists in Idaho and Westover’s father believed (and likely continues to believe) that the coming of the end times was imminent which was very likely fed by an undiagnosed mental illness (I’m not a professional, I can’t weigh in definitively) as well as being  conspiracy theorist. These things directly impacted the kind of childhood Tara had: the children were kept out of school, members of the family rarely sought professional medical care, and virtually no measures were taken to protect anyone from the physical dangers surrounding the way they live their lives and earn their livings.

Educated is Westover’s account of how she went from growing up in that environment with little education and none of it formal, to being a PhD student at Cambridge and how it all comes together to form her life as it is now. But it is also more than a travelogue of joining academia – if it had stayed on that level I probably would only be rating it 3 or 4 stars because it wouldn’t be uncovering universal insights. Instead, Westover weaves her various narratives together to tell the larger story of how she discovered herself and began to trust her own interior voice. At the heart of her story is just what we mean when we say “an education”.

As she moved ever more away from her life in Idaho and her family’s compound on Buck’s Peak and into the world of mainstream Mormonism and the larger American mainstream Westover accumulates several “educations”, that of traditional schooling but also the informal educations we pick up along the way that helps us see ourselves and others. That is what her educations got Westover –  the ability to see her own life through new eyes and the will to change it in ways that honor her newly trusted inner-voice.