Words for Nerds

When I last wrote one of these I totally forgot to include Rich People Problems! THE HORROR. I’ve finished a couple more books over the last few weeks, so here you go!

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians, #3)

Just in case you recently arrived from the moon, it should be obvious by now that I LOVE the Crazy Rich Asians series and that I am SO EXCITED for the movie. I loved this book almost as much as Crazy Rich Asians and it was just as charming, funny, and ridiculous. I’m so thankful to not live under the shadow of extreme wealth (I wouldn’t mind some moderate wealth), but it was fun to dive into that world for a while. I really don’t want theses stories to end, but I am excited to see what Kwan writes about next.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

“This is a memoir of (my) body because, more often than not, stories of bodies like mine are ignored or dismissed or derided. People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not.”

This was a difficult and uncomfortable read. I’ve never weighed 500 pounds. I’ve never had trouble fitting in a chair or getting through a doorway. I don’t know what that feels like, but I do remember what it’s like to eat to hide yourself from people. And to feel defined by a body that doesn’t look or work the way you believe it should. It was unflinching and honest, and I appreciated how often she acknowledged the privileges and opportunities that she has had despite the truly terrible things she has lived through.

The entire book felt like a dear friend confessing their ugliest and hardest truths. I couldn’t put it down and it has certainly caused me to reevaluate if I am doing things to make people like Roxane feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. And if I truly spend enough time ensuring that activities with my friends are inclusive and considerate of their size and ability. There were parts that felt overly repetitive, and it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it was a worthy read.

 

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

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I shouldn’t have read this and I don’t know why I did (oh yeah, Heather brought a bag of books to let us borrow) because I did not enjoy The Girl on the Train at all.

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

I initially read something somewhere about it in which they used the term “troublesome women” and I thought that could be an interesting tale (especially now that we are living in the time of truly troublesome women – Hillary Clinton, Maxine Waters, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and apparently Mika Brzezinski). If only these lades would shut their mouths and go back home, bake some cookies, and focus on being pretty. AS GOD AND THE GOP INTENDED.

Anyway, this book made me appreciate The Girl on the Train because at least I could feel something for the main character. There were so many narrators in this book that I often lost track, I never grew to care about any of them, and they were all so boring. I never felt suspense over the drownings, the story itself was unnecessarily convoluted, and the ending was painfully unexciting. As I’ve said before, it takes a painfully obvious set up for me to solve the mystery before it is revealed.

Words for Nerds

I finished three pretty darn enjoyable novels over the past couple of months which is always a treat.

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If We Were Villians: A Novel by M.L. Rio
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I downloaded this without reading what it was about because it was suggested to me my by Amazon. And, in the famous words of Brian Fantana, “60% of the time it works every time.” I’m a sucker for suggestion and an intriguing cover image. An actual synopsis in case you are interested:

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

I was initially a bit irked because there is a lot of Shakespearean dialogue from the young actors because they quote him to each other ad nauseam. I was never involved in or had interest in theatre because I would cease to exist if I had to get on a stage in front of others and pretend to be a character. I would just give up living before doing that, so theatre never appealed to me at all. The only Shakespeare I like is if it is in a movie about Queen Elizabeth I or involves a young Leo DiCaprio. Despite my lack of appreciation for this art form, I grew accustomed to their language and enjoyed the mystery. At the end, I am really glad I never pursued theater because good grief that sounds emotionally exhausting. The main characters can be pretty annoying (highly entitled and pretentious), but it kept my interest and the conclusion was satisfying.

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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Several of you suggested this novel when I last posted about books, so I took your advice and ordered it. I was completely delighted by this novel. I took me about a quarter of the way into it to get the pacing and start to truly appreciate what a gem it is. It was a charming novel and a complete pleasure to read.

With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style.

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Prisoner of Night and Fog (Prisoner of Night and Fog, #1)

Synopsis:

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

There was little chance I wouldn’t enjoy this story as it takes place during one of the historical periods I most often read about and in a city I love. The story kept my attention, but the main character never felt “real” to me. Her evolution happened too quickly and I felt like a lot of the story felt rushed. I didn’t feel as strongly connected to or invested in the story as I would have liked, but I still enjoyed it overall. It was a fascinating glimpse into a fictionalized account of pre-war Germany (and what it might have been like to be close to Hitler). I had totally forgotten about the suspicious death of Geli Raubal – Hitler’s [likely without consent] lover who was also his niece (ew).

Words for Nerds

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

This novel was casually suggested to me by a colleague, and I honestly had no idea what it was about or what to expect. I was NOT READY for what I was read. I am not going to describe the plot because I don’t want any preconceived notions or biases to deter you from giving this story a chance. All I will say is that it was beautiful, poignant, funny, harrowing, and heartbreaking. It made me think, it made me cry, and it made me really examine how I consider specific viewpoints and experiences. I can’t recommend it enough, and I highly encourage you to read it with your teenage kids if you have them. Starr is a fantastically written and fleshed-out protagonist, and it was so easy to connect to her despite the fact that we have very different life experiences. PLEASE READ IT.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad

I struggled a bit with this novel. Overall, I thought it was beautifully written and the descriptions in many scenes were so vivid that I had to put the book down. The summary:

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

I didn’t feel like I was ever able to really connect to the characters as much as I should have, and a lot of the writing felt like it was fancy for the sake of being fancy. I didn’t connect with Cora, and several of the other characters I like were poorly developed.

I didn’t care for a lot of the historical liberties the book took – specifically because we are living in a time where people are trying to rewrite and revise history. The conversations lately regarding the removal of the Confederate monuments in New Orleans specifically dredging up these feelings of how it “wasn’t about slavery” and how the Confederacy was “a way of life.” That way of life and the financial success of the South was built on slave labor. There is no way around that fact. Additionally, in what other scenario are the leaders who lost a war still touted and recognized as heroes? Sure, many of them were extraordinary leaders and brilliant military tacticians, but they still lost a war. We don’t see statues of Hitler or George III hanging about? ANYWAY, I struggle with anything that lessens the actual historical facts surrounding the horrendous treatment and experiences of Black people in this country. And the actual Underground Railroad as a real railroad just felt silly.

In conclusion, I recommend reading Roots and skipping The Underground Railroad.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by [Atwood, Margaret]

I last read this in high school (I think) and at the time I thought, “Oh wow, this is INSANE. What a crazy alternate universe.”

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I watched the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu last night and I am THRILLED so far. Re-reading the novel at this age and in the time of Trump, Pence, and Sessions was horrifying. I read an interesting article recently, “The Handmaid’s Tale Is A Warning to Conservative Women.

So, there’s a ton to digest, consider, and debate regarding this tale. I hope that a lot of women will watch it and we can have meaningful conversations about feminism and our rights. At the end of the day, I just want us to have the same choices and opportunities as men. I want each of us to have autonomy over the choices we make in our lives and for our bodies. If you haven’t read the book, then GET ON IT. And please, dear Lord, if you think that Gilead is a great idea, then feel free to not share that thought with me.

 

Words for Nerds!

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

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I started 2017 with Underground Airlines and I LOVED it. Well, as much as you can love a book in which slavery still exists in America.

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.
A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He’s got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called “the Hard Four.” On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn’t right–with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.
 
A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he’s hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won’t reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw’s case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor’s salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all–though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.
I typically enjoy alternate history, but the idea of a modern era in America where four states still enslave people was difficult to process. The plot wasn’t the strongest, but the idea and thought put into creating an alternate nation was so engaging that overall I thought it was excellent.
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This is an absolute must read and I wish that this had been available when I was in middle school because I would have loved it. These brilliant women accomplished such extraordinary feats of science and mathematics in the face of racism and segregation. When I first saw the preview for the movie, I was really surprised to see that women – particularly Black women – were even allowed to work at NASA. I was shocked! Shetterly provides a solid background of NASA and NACA as well as how World War II forced the government to hire white women, then eventually women of color to do the work. The stories of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan are inspiring and incredible, and I hope the success of the film propels them into more classrooms.
If you haven’t seen the movie, then you better fix that ASAP when it comes out!
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I took a break from White Trash (it’s a lot to digest and I don’t want to rush through it) and I am a little over halfway through The Handmaid’s Tale. The year has been super slow for books because I’ve been reading significantly more news (THANKS, REPUBLICANS) and I’ve had a lot of reading for work to do at night. By the time I finish those, then I am DONE with seeing words.

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The Good, The Great, and the WTF: A Reading Tale

Let’s start with the good.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

I wasn’t really sure what this was about, but there was a giveaway for it on Goodreads, so I entered and was greatly surprised to win!

On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

This book was a welcome reprieve from the Outlander series, and I really appreciated how quickly I was able to get through it (unlike the Outlander series). I thought that some of the backstories of the people on the plane could have been tighter because they didn’t really add to the mystery. The backstories often killed the suspense and I found that frustrating. Overall, I enjoyed the story and it kept me interested. The ending pissed me off – not because it was stupid or poorly written, but because the thing that happens is truly shitty.

The Great.

Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury

Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain's Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII

This book tells the story of four sons of King George V during the period that the monarchy faced the greatest threats to its survival in the modern era – the crisis of the abdication, and the nationwide threat to Britain of the Nazis, inside and out. The threat of world war echoed the war within the royal family. Played out against the cataclysm of the Second World War the princes’ actions – for good or ill – became all the more significant and magnified on a world stage. The war served to unleash passions at a time when the very function of royalty as head of the empire was under threat. It served as a crucible that made or destroyed each of the princes. One would die in mysterious circumstances forever mired in conspiracy and scandal; another was destroyed in all but name, a third slipped into comfortable obscurity, and the fourth rose to new heights of achievement redefining the monarchy for the modern age.

I really enjoyed this so much. I’ve read quite a bit about George VI (Queen Elizabeth’s father for context) during World War II and the abdication of the Duke of Windsor, but I’ve never read something that so excellently weaves together their stories and how their choices impacted each other so significantly. I also knew very little about the Duke of Kent and Duke or York. I loved how Cadbury portrayed George VI and shared so many of his journal entries about his fears and hopes. I am a huge fan of him and his leadership during the war.

I also continue to be completely disgusted and angered by the endlessly selfish Duke of Windsor. To consistently wait until he thought his brother was at an especially weak point from a WORLD WAR to ask for more money and a better title for his wife is always so unbelievable to me. What a shit he was. Additionally, if you are unfamiliar with the extent to which the Duke of Windsor (who was king until he abdicated) was in support of the Nazi Party, then you should absolutely read this. There is no doubt that the world would have been a very different (and terrible) place had he stayed on the throne.

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That’s the Duke and Wallis Sampson just hanging with Hitler. That really happened. I highly recommend this book, particularly if you’ve watched The Crown and want to know more about Elizabeth II’s father and her whiny uncle.

And, the WTF.

The Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon

Drums of Autumn (Outlander, #4)

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I am DONE with reading the Outlander series (I’m still going to watch the show because it’s pretty). I am not sure what the intentions or point of this story was, but it was stupid and boring. I am just happy to see that the show is going to be quite different from the books. PRAISE BE.IMG_1794[1]

SPOILERS AHEAD

  1. The entire 1,000+ pages of this novel would have been rendered unnecessary if Brianna had just included Roger in her plans. They could have gone together, made their way up to Fraser Ridge, and ALL WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE. I didn’t need an entire novel based on the misunderstanding between an obstinate and reckless woman and a man who did a piss poor job preparing to travel back in time 200 years. THIS DOES NOT DESERVE 1,000 PAGES.
  2. Why did Brianna scream when she saw Roger in the pub like he was a serial killer? I am still very confused about that.
  3. Why did Roger leave her alone? I don’t understand the entire point of going after Bonnet to get the jewels (I know it had to do with getting back through the stones, but there are OTHER OPTIONS). Who gets so upset at a woman for how reckless she is about her safety only to leave her?? WTF, Roger?? I LIKED YOU. I still don’t get what he sees in her. She consistently acts in such a selfish and bratty way.
  4. It is evident that Brianna cannot be left to her own devices because she is an actual idiot. I typically find it abhorrent to blame a victim of rape or sexual assault, but I cannot for the life of me understand why Brianna would have put herself in such obvious danger by strolling into the cabin of a known criminal and pirate. This is totally beyond me – particularly for a woman of the 20th century who should have knowledge of how dangerous those times were for women. It is such an unforgivably stupid decision, and I honestly can’t see why ANYONE would have made that choice.
  5. I hate how frequently rape is used in service of the plot. Rape should not be used to move a plot forward. Rape is relevant in a narrative because it happens and those stories of survivors deserve to be told, but rape should not be used because you need to establish some drama and mystery.
  6. I generally find it not very charming for someone to be dreaming about getting attacked by a bear only to wake up to find her husband having sex with her while she’s asleep. WHAT.
  7. The name mix up. Brianna (AGAIN) can’t be bothered to tell her parents that Roger might be going by another name WHICH SHE WAS WELL AWARE OF. Jamie can’t be bothered to ask Roger his first name and why Roger never screamed “I AM ROGER – BRIANNA’S ROGER” I do not know. Again, communication between these people is lacking. They all live in one tiny cabin, so I struggle to understand why it’s so hard.
  8. I was disappointed in Jamie and Claire as characters. The light was on, but no one was home. It was like the spark of their personalities was dead. Maybe it was because the focus was so much on Brianna the Idiot that they were poorly developed. It’s the same plot over and over again.
  9. I don’t understand Claire’s unnecessary bitchiness to John Grey. It seems completely petty and unnecessarily rude.
  10. I don’t understand how on an entirely new continent we can continue to run into the same people and all the ancestors of our 20th century friends.
  11. Gabaldon needs a better editor because so much of this plot was absurd and unnecessary.
  12. IAN!!! WTF HAPPENED HERE??????????????? Jenny is gonna be verra mad if she ever finds out.

Anyway, between how utterly stupid this book was and Gabaldon’s flippant dismissal of a valid question about consent in one of her book, I am done wasting my time and money on her novels.

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