Dispatches from the Distancing – Days 361-374

My apologies for missing last week. All I can say is that the time change messed me up! For 12 years, I’ve been bemoaning how hard the time change is on the kids. However, I realized that they are fine–I’m the one who can’t handle it!

Anyway, I can’t say that anything that momentous happened either the past week or the previous week, so it isn’t as if I missed much. Lillie’s hybrid start date got moved up, which is good in one respect: she and Chris now start on the same day so she can go and show him where his classroom is. The public school is substantially larger than the private school they attended and I know that Chris is a bit overwhelmed by that.

Other than that, I’m still a little put out by this. I feel like so many of these openings are due to politics, not science. I know that there are many who say that schools don’t pose a large risk for infection, but I do believe that teachers should be vaccinated first (I think that all the teachers at the kids’ school are vaccinated, but I know that isn’t true everywhere). I also think parents should be vaccinated, but that is far from achieved. I’m eligible as of 3/29 and I plan to spend that morning doing everything I can to find an appointment.

Oh, yes! We are in spring! In fact, we’re now on Spring Break in our house! Not that this is going to be an exciting break as we aren’t going anywhere. I think the most out-of-the-ordinary things going on is that Chris has a doctor’s appointment and I have a dentist appointment. Yes, we live exciting lives.

The weather in Oregon hasn’t quite caught up to the calendar–it’s gray and rather cold today. However, it is supposed to be warming up towards the end of this week so MAYBE I can get the family out and we might even go for a hike!

As usual, I am linking up with Kathryn at Book Date and her It’s Monday…What Are You Reading? blog hop. As I said, this is actually covering 2 weeks.

These past 2 weeks, I finished reading:

The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
(5 stars; Goodreads review)

Oh my, this was breathtaking!

Let me start by saying this: weird stuff happens. I mean, truly bizarre things that I can’t even begin to describe. However, if you are able to just take things as they happen, you will be richly rewarded.

This is a retelling of Norse Mythology from the viewpoint of a composite character who, in this book, is the wife of Loki (that should explain some of the weirdness). I will admit that I was not exactly a scholar or Norse Mythology going into this. Most of what I know came from The Almighty Johnsons and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The latter is incredibly inaccurate on many counts (not to knock them, their stories wouldn’t work if they stayed true to Norse Mythology)–with one exception. The MCU, The Almighty Johnsons, this book, and any other Norse retelling I’ve read has Loki pretty much locked down. I bring this up because the only thing that didn’t work in this book is that Loki is portrayed as being blond, which is not correct. We all know that Loki looks just like Tom Hiddleston in a black wig. Every time Loki’s coloring came up, I could barely handle it.

So, besides the fact that Loki looks more Scandinavian than Marvel-ish, this was nearly a perfect book for me. It has rich characters, a well paced and surprising but also fated plot, and beautiful study of the roles of motherhood, friendship, and love. Fantasy is not my go-to genre and weirdness more often than not turns me off, so the fact that I got so close to perfection with this book says a lot.

All I can say is get yourself a copy of this book and read it. Buckle in–it will be a wild ride, but it will be worth it.

A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #2) by Louise Penny
(3.75 Stars, no Goodreads review)

This was a strong second installment to the this series, but maybe not quite as strong as the first book. I’m still loving the residents of Three Pines and Inspector Gamache. Penny crafted another strong page turner here, but I had a few (ultimately minor) complaints.

While the residents of Three Pines come to life, I felt that the victim and her family were one-dimensional to the point of being cartoonish. I found them so unbelievable that I couldn’t really find any point of connection with them. I was still interested in the mystery, but the emotional element was definitely muted compared to the first book.

I also felt that this mystery was a tad too predictable. I figured out what happened very early in the book, but fortunately the story was well written enough that I was willing to stay around for the ride.

I guess I would say that this is best read as a novel, but not really a mystery. That being said, I would still recommend. It’s a fun book to read and, if you want to read on in the series, you’ll need to know some things that come up in this book.

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (audiobook)
(3.5 stars, no Goodreads review)

In retrospect, I wish I had read this book instead of listening to it. The narration, but Julia Whelan, was strong, but I felt as though it required more attention than I can normally give a novel on audio.

The story is fun, albeit not entirely original. Two witches live in New York, another joins them, and people go after them. But, even rather predictable and slightly well-worn stories can still be entertaining. This story did keep me interested when I was listening, but I didn’t feel especially compelled to tune in. However, I am more than willing to admit that is failing on my part and not the book.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
(3.75 stars, Goodreads review)

So, this happened.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while and was prompted to do so now to discuss it with my book club. I had been told this was a wacked out book with magical realism and, well, that’s not true.

Yes, there are kids who burst into flame here, which is obviously not in the realm of reality. But it’s handled as if it is, well not normal, but not completely crazy. And, honestly, it’s not about the self-combusting kids. It’s about finding those who will value you.

Lillian is the sort of person for whom life has not panned out. On the other hand, everything has worked out for her friend Madison, sometimes at Lillian’s expense. So, when Madison is faced with a problem she can’t solve (namely, the arrival of her two, “fiery” step children) she does what anyone in her position would do: she hires her fall guy to come take care of them for her.

I couldn’t help wondering while reading this if I would have seen it differently if I had read it before I had kids. I’m not sure if was intended, but my heart ached for Bessie and Roland (the firestarters). I also could understand Lillian and was drawn to her character.

On the downside, the rest of the cast of characters seemed one-dimensional to me. However, that isn’t as big a detriment here as it would be in other books. I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending. It just felt…too easy. But, I ultimately did enjoy this book and it was a fun, quick read.

If you live firmly in the “realistic reading world,” this book would be a good baby step outside to something a bit more fantastical.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis 1-2) by Marjane Satrapi
(4 stars, no Goodreads review)

This is a classic graphic novel/memoir that I only now got to, but it is clear why it is a classic. If you think graphic novels are “easy” reading, this will change your mind (as will several other titles, but this one is not easy!). This is a stressful, heartbreaking story of growing up in revolutionary Iran.

I had to take this one slower than I take most graphic books. There is a lot to digest and, honestly, reading it straight through would probably be overwhelming. This was very much a book I would read only a short section of at a time.

But it was ultimately worth it. Had this not been a library book, I may have passed it onto my daughter (and she might still get a copy for a future gift-giving event). But it is not children’s or YA literature. It is something everyone should read.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
(5 stars, Goodreads review)

So, how does a book that has been hyped for over 80 years live up to it’s hype?

Well, if it is this book, it surpasses the hype.

This book is considered the greatest mystery novel of all. I’d say it is also the greatest thriller novel of all, and maybe the greatest horror novel of all. Christie set out to write the “unsolvable” mystery and I would call anyone who says they figured this one out a liar. However, while it is unsolvable, it also isn’t so out of bounds that it is unbelievable.

And don’t let the fact that this book is now considered a classic scare you off. This is not some dusty, dense 19th century chunkster. This book is incredibly readable and it will fly by and will be nearly impossible to put down.

As a side note, I watched the 2015 adaptation of this novel (the one with Charles Dance, Sam Neill, and Miranda Richardson) after I finished reading it. It was…good, but a bit salacious and did not live up to the novel. I would still recommend watching it, but–for the love of all things holy–READ THE BOOK FIRST!

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
(4 stars, no Goodreads Review)

My friend (and reading twin) recommended this to me because she really enjoyed the audiobook. Personally, I am very curious about how a graphic novel works as an audiobook, but that may be a future exploration for me.

This is a fantastic and, despite its size, surprisingly quick read. It is interesting reading it now that we are finally (thank God!) out of the Trump presidency and I almost wish I had read it sooner when we were still in that nightmare. In fact, this felt almost like a historical document of that time and the fears that so many people faced. This is not to say that racism is “over,” because we all know that is not true. Many of the issues tackled here are still ticking bombs, but Jacob puts things out there in a way that you can’t turn away.

I have not had great success with graphic novels and book clubs, but this may be the book that makes me try again. I think there is a deep well of conversation in this book about conversations.

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March
(3.5 stars, Goodreads Review)

I can’t tell you how many places I’ve heard talk about this book. Because of that, I probably have to accept that my expectations were a bit too high. There were many things I liked about this book, and some I didn’t.

The best part of this book is that the mystery itself is quite good. It is complex, but not so much so that it loses the reader. I didn’t solve before I was supposed to and, in the end, it all made sense. I also have to give kudos to March from bringing late 19th century India alive and giving me a fun little history lesson.

There were really two things that bugged me here. First off, the main character–a mixed race ex-army officer–just wasn’t very interesting for most of the book. The people around him were (more kudos for a strong supporting cast!), but it wasn’t until towards the end until Captain Jim really started to endear himself to me.

The second issue I had is that there is a huge section in the middle of the book that, while interesting, really doesn’t have much to do with anything. The threads of this that do tie into the greater story could have easily been woven in and the extra weight could have been shed.

While this book wasn’t completely successful for me, there was enough here to convince me to continue to read any future books by Nev March. I foresee a successful mystery career for her.

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost (audiobook)
(3.5 stars, no Goodreads review)

What to say about this book? It’s funny, there is that. I mean, that is what you would expect from someone who is the head writer for Saturday Night Live and the co-anchor of its Weekend Update, right?

But, here’s the thing. I like humorous celebrity memoirs…when they have something to say. I’ve read about the SNL experience from Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Rachel Dratch in Bossypants, Yes, Please!, and Girl Walks into a Bar respectively. But the thing with those books is that those women had something to say more than just stuff that happened to them. On of the great unsung masterpieces of this genre, Aasif Mandvi’s No Land’s Man, tells a story of the immigrant experience and life as a Muslim in America, pre- and post-9/11. Colin Jost, on the other hand, is a middle class white guy who went to an Ivy League school and is now engaged to an A-list actress. There really is nothing here other than some jokes and frat boy humor.

If you are looking for something brainless, this may be your thing. Just don’t expect it to rock your world.

Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan (audiobook)
(3.75 stars, no Goodreads review)

This is one of the Audible Originals that I had left over in my library when I canceled my Audible account. I’m slowly working through that queue and I chose this one simply because it was the shortest one on the list. And I listened to it–all 2+ hours–straight through.

If you like microhistories and podcasts and coffee, this is for you. It does feel like a long podcast episode and that is meant as a compliment. It kept me going while I did some kitchen stuff that I had been putting off. And, honestly, it is interesting. It might not be interesting to one of the very rare people who does not consume caffeine, but I really don’t think there are that many of you. And it’s Michael Pollan–we all know he’s a good writer. He’s also a pretty good narrator.

If you are looking for something to fill some time until your next credit comes through, this would be a good listen to hold you over.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (audiobook)
(3.75 stars, no Goodreads review)

This was another case of “choose the shortest Audible book” (after Caffeine) and I was pleasantly surprised with this. I don’t know why–I really had no preconceived notions about this book. In fact, I had no clue what I was about. And, with a cast headed by David Tennant and Rose Leslie, the performances were bound to be good.

This is a non-Dracula vampire thriller, which was interesting. Vampires are not really my thing (apparently, witches are) and I always equated vampires with Dracula, so it was rather fun to hear a vampire story that had nothing to do with Vlad the Impaler.

This book was written in 1872 and it reads very much like an 1872 pulp novel. But, as I suspected, the performances more than make up for that. While the corny factor is probably high for 21st century years, the actors are able to make it less corny and more creepy. It’s not unpredictable, but still a fun way to pass a couple of hours.

This week, I started reading:

The Art of Theft (Lady Sherlock #4) by Sherry Thomas

I’m back with Charlotte Holmes, Mrs. Watson, Lord Ingram, and the long suffering Livia and I couldn’t be happier! This series has gotten stronger with each book and I’m almost caught up as this is the 2nd most recent book. I actually started another book, an award winner about which I had heard nothing but good things, but it just wasn’t working for me (I may give it another try in the future). So, I turned to this book instead and it’s like wrapping yourself in the warmest, fuzziest blanket on and delightfully stormy night!

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

So far this year, I’ve been fairly good at staying on top of my Book of the Month Selections. I haven’t made much progress at chipping away at the backlog, but at least I’m not adding to it. I decided to tip toe back into fantasy this month as I seem to be having success with that lately (which is surprising as it has never been a go-to genre for me).

I really don’t know much about this one, but it has a 4.02 rating on Goodreads and at least one trusted source has read it and enjoyed it, so I’m optimistic!

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (audiobook)

I’m a little nervous about this one. I’ve heard raves about this story collections, so that isn’t my concern. It’s just that I’ve never done a short story collection on audio. I also know that I want give this more focus than the average audiobook, so I’m going to have to rethink how I listen to this. It won’t be background for me, but I’ll have to be more conscious about my listening.

I will say I’m lucky here…After I finished Carmilla I didn’t really feel like digging into my Audible backlog again. So, I nosed around in Libby to see what audiobooks were available and this one seemed to call to me. Let’s see how it goes!

I’m still reading:

Monument by Natasha Trethewey
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

5 thoughts on “Dispatches from the Distancing – Days 361-374

  1. I have enjoyed the first three Louise Penny Inspector Gamache books, and really love the setting and the characters.

    I had to laugh a little about your excitement over doctor and dentist appointments, since I only left this facility once in the past year to get bloodwork done! LOL.

    Enjoy your week and your books. Good luck on getting the vaccine. Here are my WEEKLY UPDATES

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  2. I feel much the same about openings. If we just followed science I think things would be so different? And I look at how other countries do things- I see bloggers from the UK saying, for instance, that they can only meet up with one other person and it has to be like in park or outdoor setting- can you imagine trying that here? *laughs* But as far as schools, I had a long talk with our superintendent recently and he says the same thing- transmission is not happening through the schools. I’m skeptical of that because it seems like schools would be a NIGHTMARE for a highly transmissible virus- but what do I know? 🙂

    Anyway, I hear you. 🙂

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  3. I wholeheartedly agree teachers should be a priority for vaccination, it makes me crazy that people are still clinging to the myth that transmission from kids is unlikely, several studies have proved otherwise.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these books, several are on my reading list.

    Wishing you a great reading week

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  4. A dentist appointment is the high point of this week for me too. I will be so glad when this pandemic is over! I get my second shot on Sunday. Lots of intriguing books here too. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

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About mdawnott