Monday, April 6, 2020

Rock Steady: Brilliant Life from My Bipolar Life

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life by Ellen Forney (2018). 200 pages.

Following her brilliant graphic memoir Marbles, in which she explored the relationship between mental health and creativity, Ellen Forney continues to explore mental health issues in Rock Steady, this time providing a handbook of sorts, detailing concepts and helpful practices that have helped her manage bipolar mood disorder. While Forney uses bipolar as a foundation for the book, most of the advice she gives is practical for anyone wishing to manage their mental health. Rock Steady is full of Forney's signature wit and funny cartoonish style of drawing, making it a joyous read on a big subject.

This was a reread for me. Forney is one of my favorite comics creators, and so I made sure to devour it as soon as it was published. It felt really good to come back to it, and I made sure to take more time with it so I could be sure to take her advice to heart during this difficult time. Her tips and tricks throughout the book have stuck with me over the past couple years (SMEDMERTS forever!), and this refresher will make them even more present in my mind as we navigate these uncertain times.

The Black God's Drums

The Black God's Drums by P. Djeli Clark, 111 pages

In the midst of a long Civil War, the autonomous city of New Orleans is the one place that people of all races, creeds, and colors can walk free. It's in this port city that we find Creeper, a teen girl that lives on the street, picking pockets to stay alive, when she overhears plans to kidnap a scientist who has the ability to create the Black God's Drums, a weapon that has the power to rain terror down over the city. Teaming up with a Haitian airship captain, Creeper is determined to save her city, using her connection to Oya, goddess of the wind, if she has to.

Though it's short, this mix of steampunk, voodoo, orisha, and Creole is exactly what you'd want of a New Orleans science fiction novella. I'm not usually a steampunk fan, but I loved this book and I can't wait to dive into it with the Orcs & Aliens next week.

This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (2019). 201 pages.

Amid the wreckage of a destroyed world, two agents, from either side of a war, begin an unlikely correspondence as they race back through time, each taunting and trying to one-up the other. As their communication progresses, something more emerges from their letters, and what was once rivalry turns into affection as they experience history in reverse. As their bond deepens, so does the threat that they will be discovered and face certain death for their treachery. How will one win the time war if it means losing the other?

This was SUCH a unique and entertaining read. I loved it from beginning to end, from the insults hurled at one another, to the burgeoning romance, to the slices of history and the creativity each character mustered to continue the correspondence. I loved it so much that I wanted to start rereading it as soon as it ended.

We Ride Upon Sticks

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, 384 pages

It's 1989 in Danvers, Massachusetts, and the varsity field hockey team is having their first winning season in AGES. The team's turnaround dates roughly to their summer camp, in which the goalie wrote a dark pledge and signed her name in her Emilio Estevez-adorned journal, soon pressuring her teammates to do the same. Are the two related? The team certainly thinks so, given their town's history as the original location of the 1692 witch trials. But is it that or just young women starting to stand up for themselves?

This is a funny, sharp, and surprisingly complex look at teen life in the late 1980s. Barry follows each team member for a chunk of the book, by the end, giving the reader a full scope of their lives. It's equal parts The Cruicible and My Best Friend's Exorcism, with a bit of Heathers thrown in, and it's absolutely fantastic.


Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn (2019). 419 pages.

Patsy grew up in the shadow of her best friend Cicely, coming of age in an impoverished Jamaican town and learning about her own sexuality. When Cicely moves to America, Patsy decides to join her and create a life with her that they would not have been able to live in Jamaica...a decision that does not include Patsy's young daughter Tru. The novel alternates between Patsy's life as an undocumented immigrant in New York City and Tru's childhood in Jamaica, motherless and struggling with her own identity, following the two for over a decade as they learn difficult lessons about themselves, find new joys they never anticipated, and try to find a resolution in their estrangement.

Patsy was a sweeping novel, full of so much tenderness I was left feeling breathless by the end. Dennis-Benn develops complicated characters, most of whom were never dealt a fair hand in life, and it was brilliant to follow them all on their journeys over the course of the novel. Sharon Gordon narrates the audio, reading in a lilting Jamaican cadence that really put me right into the story. I loved Dennis-Benn's first book, Here Comes the Sun (2016), and am so happy that Patsy followed up as another powerhouse of a novel. I can't wait to see where she takes us next.


Educated by Tara Westover, 334 pages

                                                            Educated is a surprise of a memoir.

The author weaves a backstory that applies to the book's title, about how she rose from the backwoods of a home schooled mountain education and progressed to be both a visiting fellow at Harvard University and earn a PhD in history from Cambridge University in England.

However the story is so much more than that. Tara is the survivor of severe emotional abuse by her mentally ill father, and physical abuse at the hands of one of her brothers. Her mother ignores Tara's trauma and supports both her husband's and son's behavior. Tara ultimately survives the abuse and is able to progress her education by retreating into herself, and by eventually seeking therapy at the recommendation of her academic mentors who recognize both her talent and her need for help.

I recommend this book for those who want to read a story about survival in the face of extreme adversity.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Optic Nerve

Optic Nerve / Maria Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead, 193 pg.

A novel with a first person narrator who goes between talking about works of art and her life.  I started strongly on this book then drifted away.  I'm not blaming the book but the time.  I enjoyed reading every page but not sure I got as much out of it as I could.  Reading other reviews on GoodReads and the professional reviews makes me think I missed something.  This did make it to the last round of the Tournament of Books and for me, that is reason enough to read it.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (1938) 276 pages

Death on the Nile is a classic whodunnit whose ending I'd forgotten, which made it even better to read again. Linnet Ridgeway, a beautiful rich young woman of twenty, decides on impulse to marry an unmoneyed man, startling the society-page watchers who'd expected her to marry someone more of her class and also surprising the financial advisers who'd expected to control her estate for several more months until she turned 21. (Control of her money was set to come to her at age 21 or the time of her marriage, if younger.) Linnet's new husband was (until recently) the fiance of Jacqueline, one of Linnet's best friends from childhood. When Linnet and Simon Doyle honeymoon in Egypt, Jacqueline shows up to torment them at every turn, even on board the boat they sneak onto under assumed names on a weeklong cruise on the Nile. One of Linnet's financial advisers is on the cruise too, as are an assortment of others who may have grievances against her (or her dead father, from whom she's inherited her wealth) as well. When Linnet is found murdered, fellow passenger Hercule Poirot and his friend Colonel Race delve into the investigation, rapidly ruling out both Linnet's husband as well as Jacqueline, the most obvious suspects. Poirot just doesn't get it; things haven't happened in the order he would expect. At various points, each passenger looks guilty, as one might expect from a story written by Christie. Read it and find out whodunnit!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

March totals!

Christa  9/2285
Jan  7/2486
Kara  13/4497
Karen  6/1889
Kathleen  3/788
Linda  2/651
Lindsay  2/566

TOTAL: 44/13,631

East of Hounslow

East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman, 352 pages

Javid Qasim (call him Jay, please) is a lazy drug dealer who lives with his mom in a Muslim neighborhood in Hounslow. Yeah, he goes to prayers every Friday, but other than that, he doesn't really hold to the traditions of his faith and he certainly doesn't understand the fundamentalists. But when MI5 gives Jay the chance to get out from under his tough drug supplier and go undercover with those fundamentalists, he takes it, immersing himself in their world and becoming increasingly uncomfortable both with what they're saying and with how much he agrees with them.

I expected this to be a funny, fast-paced story about a drug dealer turned spy. But what I found was a carefully created story about the complexities of life as a Muslim, set against the uneasy backdrop of an undercover mission that involves learning the tricks of the terrorism trade. Rahman doesn't shy away from the atrocities that terrorists have committed, but he also tries to make the reader understand the everyday persecution faced by Muslims in general. And yes, it's still somehow funny. It's a monumental, complex task, and Rahman performs an excellent balancing act.