Thursday, June 30, 2016

Recommended Reads, June 2016 (Summer Book Bingo Edition)

I'm going to do something a little different with this month's book recommendations post and talk about how I've filled out my Seattle Public Library Summer Book Bingo card so far.

  1. Recommended by a Librarian 
  2. Cookbook or Food Memoir: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson - a worthwhile read, especially if you like Samuelsson as a Chopped judge.
  3. You've Been Meaning to Read
  4. #We Need Diverse Books: The Lawyer's Luck by Piper Huguley - African-American historical romance novella, and a quick, sweet read currently free to download on Kindle.
  5. Collection of Short Stories
  6. From Your Childhood
  7. Prize-Winner
  8. Set in a Place You've Always Wanted to Visit
  9. Recommended by an Independent Bookstore
  10. Banned: Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin - a thoughtful and thought-provoking book profiling six transgender teens.
  11. Collection of Poetry
  12. Young Adult Book: Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff - a graphic novel full of pure swashbuckling fun in the early 19th century. Gorgeously illustrated, too.
  13. FREE! Recommend a Book to a Friend: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines - I've been recommending books to my fellow former Sleepy Hollow fan friends that hit some of the same sweet spots as Season 1 of that show, but without falling apart as the story goes forward, betraying and shredding their premises, and killing their heroines in a particularly disrespectful and painful way. (Not that I'm BITTER or anything.) This series definitely qualifies (and would make awesome TV for a network that would be sufficiently faithful to the source material).
  14. Translated from Another Language
  15. Non-Fiction: The Other Slavery by Andrés Reséndez - about the enslavement of Native Americans, especially in Spanish-colonized areas before and after independence.
  16. Novel: Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain - character-driven historical romance, at once tender and hot.
  17. Local Author
  18. Written by a Seattle Arts and Lectures Speaker
  19. Reread: The World of Jennie G. by Elisabeth Ogilvie - A favorite from my teens that still holds up well to rereading, and I've just discovered it's back in print! But it's the middle book of a trilogy, so you'll want to get Jennie About to Be first.
  20. You Finish Reading in a Day: League of Dragons by Naomi Novik - a satisfying end to a wonderful series, though I thought the denouement was too short and didn't spend enough time on the characters I liked best. 
  21. Read Out Loud
  22. Out of Your Comfort Zone: Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein - I decided this qualified for the category insofar as reading it as the mother of a 12-year-old daughter filled me with horror to think of the gauntlet of sexism, misogyny, and even rape adolescents and young women all too often endure.
  23. Memoir
  24. Written More than 100 Years Ago
  25. Recommended by a Friend
I will update this post over the next two months - by which point I hope to have achieved a full blackout!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Recommended Reads, May 2016

This month felt like a bit of a reading drought for me, largely because too much of it got eaten up the audiobook version of Ron Chernow's Washington. Which is an interesting biography, don't get me wrong--it's just that it takes me at least four times as long to LISTEN to a book as to READ one, so what was meant to be a commute diversion to keep me from being annoyed by traffic took over my life for 10 days or so just so I could finish it before it was due back at the library. Suffice it to say I'm going back to baseball and podcasts to get me through my commutes.

That said, I did finish 10 books this month (including that interminable audiobook), and I have a few recommendations. All nonfiction this time:

The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon

Glen Weldon is one of my favorite panelists on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, so I grabbed this book despite my not being that big of a fan of Batman per se. And it's an interesting look at geek pop culture over the past 80 years or so, and how the same basic story can be extremely mutable based on how the surrounding culture changes and what fans bring to it, both as individuals and as part of generations and/or subcultures within fandom. It happened to be a particularly timely read for me, as for the past two months I've been going through what amounts to a protracted breakup with my former favorite TV show and current fandom home, Sleepy Hollow. (The short version: They killed the female lead in the finale because the actress apparently wanted to leave the show, though it's at least arguable she wanted out because of frustration with her character's role being diminished from the original concept. Her death wouldn't have been so infuriating, except that how it was framed and her last words transformed her from an equal partner to the male protagonist into one of a series of helpers whose job had been to carry him forward. And just when I'd pretty much come to terms with the situation, they renewed the show, despite the storm of fan and critical outrage over the finale.) Basically, Weldon's approach to Batman feels like a validation of what I'm trying to do with Sleepy Hollow--take the version of the story that speaks to me and keep that while throwing out what it turned into.

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

A sort of faith memoir by the author of Accidental Saints, and an encouraging read for someone like me who shares the author's background of having been raised evangelical, with all the political and theological conservatism that usually entails, who worked their way over to liturgical mainline Protestantism (although her story is considerably more dramatic than mine). A definite recommendation for people who have something of a troubled relationship with their Christianity but don't want to walk away from it. (And I should go back to church soon, since I haven't been since Easter--I mean to every weekend, but I keep having severe introvert fatigue lately and wanting to stay home as much as possible Saturdays and Sundays.)

Eruption by Steve Olson

From the other side of the country, as a child of 9 I was fascinated by the eruption of Mount St Helens. As an adult, I see it every time we drive down to Portland unless it happens to be cloudy (which, this being the Pacific Northwest, it admittedly often is), and we spent an afternoon there on vacation a few years ago. This book helped me picture what it would've been like to live in the region then as it gave a history of land use around the mountain (lots of Weyerhauser logging) and events in the two months or so between the first rumblings and the big Plinian eruption on 5-18-80. Excellent read (though the bits about the history of Weyerhauser dragged a bit), highly recommended for readers who enjoy the intersection of science and history.

As a side note, one thing I've noted since moving to Washington is our governors tend to be a boring lot, at least compared to the ones we had in my time in Alabama and Pennsylvania. They're boring in a good way--competent technocrats with no major scandals--just not very colorful or with the kind of charisma and ambition that would land them on a presidential ticket. About halfway through my reading, I commented to my husband that I think I knew WHY we pick such boring leaders now. He said, "Ah, I see you've met Dixy Lee Ray." She was...colorful, to say the least.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Recommended Reads, April 2016

(Insert standard cliche here about the year flying by, can't believe it's May tomorrow, etc.)

I finished 11 books in April, three of which I'm recommending today. And unlike last month, none of these are deep into a series where you'd need to read at least three other books just to know what's going on!

Let it Shine by Alyssa Cole

This is one of the finalists for this year's Rita Awards in the novella category, and IMHO it's extremely worthy of the honor. It's an interracial romance set in the 1960's South with a black heroine and a Jewish hero, both of them active in the Civil Rights Movement, and it's so romantic and moving, and feels so complete despite its short length. And, in a way, it made the history from ~10 years before my own birth feel more real to me than all the serious nonfiction I've read, or that college class on 1960's protest movements, just by reminding me that most of the men and women involved were very young, with all the personal dreams and passions that entails, none of which stop just because you're fighting for justice and earning a place in history.

The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey

I wasn't expecting much when I picked up this book--I was mainly looking at it to see if it was accurate and interesting enough to be worth giving to my 12-year-old daughter as part of my ongoing plan to trick her into becoming a history geek like Mama and generally get a little more American history into her than the Seattle Public Schools seem to be bothering with. (I have a whole rant on that. Seattle schools are actually quite good as big city public schools go, but thus far my 6th grader has learned almost no history in school. And how do you expect kids who don't have history geek parents to even learn the basics, much less develop the nuanced understanding of how our past informs our present they need to be wise citizens and voters?)

Anyway, I ended up enjoying this book a whole lot myself for being the kind of nuanced lens on history I think we need more of--it uses Lincoln's address to look at slavery and racism, states' rights, and the ongoing tension between those rights and the need for a strong federal government, both before and after 1863.

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz

Half 21st-century travelogue, half 18th century history, and a wholly compelling read.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Recommended Reads, March 2016

I know I've been neglecting my planned weekly recipe and making-me-happy posts--currently the issue is I've caught yet another Doom Cold, one that's had me laid up since last Saturday night.

I am, however, starting to improve, at least enough to sit up at the computer for a few minutes to pass along my recommended reads from March, in the order I read them:

Revisionary by Jim C. Hines

The final entry in Hines's Magic Ex Libris series. If you haven't read any of it yet, you'll want to go back to the beginning and start with Libriomancer. And if you're a fan of the series but hadn't realized this book was out, now you know.

It's hard to say much about a book deep in a series without giving too much away, but the general concept is our contemporary world, but with magic fueled by the shared belief of readers in fictional worlds--i.e. a magic wielder could pull Lucy's healing cordial from the Chronicles of Narnia, the invisibility cloak from the Harry Potter series, and so on. If that sounds intriguing to you, you'll most likely love these books.

The Horse by Wendy Williams

If, like me, you were the kind of kid who read all the Black Stallion books and all your hometown library's Marguerite Henry (my favorites were King of the Wind and Black Gold because RACEHORSES), you'll love this book. Especially if, also like me, you have a lifelong interest in evolutionary biology and like to keep up with its latest developments. Maybe a narrow target market after all? But if you're in it, read this book.

Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire

Like Revisionary, I only recommend this book if you've read what's gone before--it's Book 5 in a series about a family from a society of monster hunters gone rogue after they realized that not all, nor even most, of said "monsters" were actually deserving of slaughter. Instead, they're cryptozoologists, who study and protect the cryptids of the world, but with plenty of action fighting their old monster-hunting colleagues and such cryptids as really do pose a threat. The books are funny, playful, fast-paced and exuberantly inventive. If you're a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Sleepy Hollow (especially in its crazy-good Season 1 incarnation), you need to read these books. Start with Discount Armageddon.

This latest entry returns to Verity, protagonist of the first two books, after spending Books 3 & 4 with her brother Alex, and IMHO it's the strongest story yet. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday Recipe - Chili-Cheese Mac

I've missed a couple weeks of poking recipes, mostly because I've been feeling a bit guilty about the fact I ended up bailing on my Lenten vegetarianism back in the second half of February when I got sick and never summoning the willpower and the momentum to get back to it. Maybe next Lent? Maybe later this spring or in the summer when there's a greater variety of fresh fruit and vegetables to make meatless eating more fun?

So this week I'm linking to one of my go-to recipes from Cooking Light, Chili-Cheese Mac. It's quick, easy, soothing comfort food with just enough extra spice to keep it from being too bland.

My modifications:

  1. I rarely use 3/4 lbs. of ground beef. It's just an awkward amount for an ingredient that usually comes in 1-pound packages. I either use the whole pound or just half, if I happen to be making something else that week that calls for a half pound of it.
  2. I don't use reduced-fat cheddar cheese because IMHO it's disgusting. So my version is a bit higher-calorie. (I do, however, use the reduced fat cream cheese.)
Don't get me wrong, this isn't anything fancy. Unlike the last 2 or 3 recipes I've posted, I wouldn't serve this one for company. But if you're looking for something simple and reasonably nutritious for a weeknight dinner, I recommend it.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Making Me Happy 3/11/16

This week I'm going to do it--I'm NOT going to use this post to rave about Sleepy Hollow or Hamilton.

Instead, I'll start by saying the thing that is making me happiest of all this week is that I just heard that a Facebook friend of mine--not a super close friend, but a former coworker--just got her first pathology results following chemo and a mastectomy for breast cancer that was caught at stage 3. They came back NED - No Evidence of Disease. Take that, cancer, you evil beast! You can't kill us all! Not today!

Other happy-making things:

I've started writing original fiction again for the first time in over a year--specifically, the interracial, Alabama-Auburn, just-how-much-can-I-starcross-these-lovers contemporary romance I occasionally bring up on Twitter. I'm just tiptoeing back in, but the characters and voices are starting to come alive for me.

I'm signed up for my first of three planned 5K's this year, on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, and I'm planning to start training for it next week, now that it's going to be Daylight Savings Time and I'll be able to run after work.

And since I want to share at least one thing that's something my readers can go out and experience for themselves, I'll talk about one of my favorite board games. My husband, you see, has become absolutely obsessed with board and/or card games. Mental challenges! Family togetherness! Entertainment for friends! While I tend to be happier with games like Taboo, Trivial Pursuit, or Cards Against Humanity that focus more on knowledge or wordplay, I'm learning to enjoy--and occasionally even win--some of Mr. Fraser's favorites. And one I'd like to recommend as a perfect combination of easy to learn but varied enough to offer continued challenges is Splendor.

You're a Renaissance gem merchant. Your goal is to out-compete the other merchants by stockpiling gems to earn prestige points, with bonuses in the form of "visits from nobles" that vary from game to game.

So if you and your family or friends enjoy board games, by all means give this one a try. It's also available as an iPad app, one that I find useful for unwinding at the end of an evening.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Making Me Happy, 3/4/16

Happiness Friday!

If I'm not careful, these posts could turn into a broken record of "Susanna loves Hamilton and Sleepy Hollow." But Sleepy Hollow has really hit its stride, not quite to Season 1 levels of awesomeness but solidly entertaining, ever since it came back from its midseason hiatus. If you've ever been a fan or are thinking of trying it, you should watch to improve its chances of getting renewed for Season 4.

And this song from Hamilton, wherein Hamilton helps Washington prepare his farewell address, has been much on my mind as we move through the election process. (Something which is NOT making me happy. I don't think I've ever been as scared by my own country before. People! Please. Vote courage. Vote compassion. Vote civil liberties. Vote for a generous, open-hearted, open-minded America. History has its eyes on us.)

This particular performance is at the 2015 George Washington Prize Dinner at the Gilder Lehrman Institute, hence the modern suits instead of colonial costumes:

"One Last Time" from the musical Hamilton from The Gilder Lehrman Institute on Vimeo.

And, fanfic being fanfic, because both of these obsessions of mine are rooted in the American Revolution, someone wrote a crossover. (Actually, several someones.) As an added bonus, it's quite well-done: Don't Be Shocked When Your Hist'ry Book Mentions Me. Basically, Crane and Abbie follow a lead that takes them to a crypt under Trinity Church in Manhattan, where they find Hamilton--the real historical one--in a state of suspended animation similar to what allowed Crane himself to come back to life in the 21st century. The newly revived Hamilton steps into modern Manhattan a couple months into the musical's run, leading to this gem of an exchange toward the end of the first installment:
“I scarcely recognize it,” said Hamilton, looking up and down the street at the changed face of the city. Grief settled over his features, once again. “What sort of place could I have, in such a world?”
A bus came to a stop just past them, pulling up to the corner. It had Hamilton’s face plastered over its side, near ten feet tall, with his name in letters half as big.
“What on earth,” Hamilton said, staring.
“Apparently there’s a play? A new one. On Broadway,” said Abbie.
“I want to see it,” Hamilton said immediately.
Abbie pulled out her phone, and after a minute’s tapping her eyebrows went up. “It’s sold out,” she said.
“The next performance, then,” said Hamilton.
“It’s sold out until May,” said Abbie.
“Ha!” said Hamilton. For the first time he looked a little less distressed. “I don’t suppose Madison could sell out a play for so long.”

There! Next week I have to think of something to be happy about other than Sleepy Hollow and Hamilton. Maybe. I hope.