Thursday, July 23, 2015

Reading, lately

A huge, belated thank you for all the suggestions after my last book post! I've been reading as much as I can lately and you guys pick the best books. I haven't gotten to all of them yet but hopefully they'll trickle in as they come off the waiting list.

Station Eleven - Predictably, I devoured this book. If you love post-apocalyptic scenarios, you'll love this novel about a band of actors and musicians traveling between sparsely populated towns and performing shows. There's drama, intrigue, suspense and the writing is very, very good. This could easily be the first in a series, although there's nothing to indicate it will be. In the spectrum of the genre, I'd say this is not as epic/intense than The Passage but less tender and dreamy than The Dog Stars (still one of my favorite books from last year). Station Eleven spends a bit more time exploring the characters lives pre-apocalypse, and jumps back and forth in time, which works really well here.

The Girls from Corona del Mar - This novel is darker than I expected, given the sunny title. It explores the limits of friendship and how much you ever know about another person, tracing the lives of two girls from a not-affluent (at the time the story takes place) part of OC and I'll admit that a part of the attraction for me was the setting. I grew up a little further inland but a lot of the descriptions ring true and there's always that visceral pang of recognition when someone plucks little parts of your childhood up and places them on the page. It's nice to have a reflection of Orange County that speaks more to where I grew up than, say, The O.C. did (although I enjoyed Ryan Atwood's antics as much as the next person, I feel like I spent all of 2004 explaining that most of Orange County is nothing like Newport Beach). So I'm biased, but I enjoyed this a lot. L, you know where I'm coming from. Literally.

The Interestings - Camp life! And what comes after. But really, this is an interesting (ha) exploration of the lives of a group of people who met at a terribly high brow artistic summer camp. I enjoyed it. If you get great satisfaction from seeing people's stories play out completely, you'll like this. It spans 40-some years.

A Tale for the Time Being - I wasn't totally sure about this one in the beginning, but it ended up sucking me in. A package washes up on the shore of a Canadian island, containing a diary in Japanese, among other things. The story takes place in two settings, as the Canadian protagonist reads the diary of a Japanese schoolgirl and goes on an obsessive mission to discover more about the author. I think I was initially a little put off by how very teenage the diary voice was but it eventually grew on me (like a real life teenager, perhaps?).

Binary Star - Ouch. I don't remember how I picked this one, but it was NOT for me. It's a stream of consciousness narrated by an anorexic astrophysics grad student. It was the most painful, unpleasant thing I've read in ages and I probably would have been happier if I'd let myself quit. I think it did a good job at what it was meant to do, which I assume is to communicate the intense pain and suffering experienced by someone with an eating disorder. So if you're curious and have a strong stomach, go forth and enjoy the astrophysics. WARNING - if you are at all trigger prone, in regards to eating disorders, you should stay far away from this one.

The Name of the Wind - Thank you for the recommendation, Andrea! I loved this. It's the first in the Kingkiller Chronicle series and I'm itching to get my hands on the next one (edit - and I did, a couple weeks later - I try to remember to write up these summaries as I go!). If you love fantasy, you'll enjoy the sweeping story of the mighty Kvothe, musician, magician, brawler. I found it less epic/sprawling than Tolkien, and less action driven than Game of Thrones (and less complicated than either). That sounds like a put down, but it's not. This book feels like sitting by the fire and listening to a really great story.

Glow - Madcap comedic thriller featuring a protagonist with an unusual sleep disorder. Heavy on conspiracy, corporate misdeeds, and drugs but with a love story thrown in. This is a really specific type of novel that not everyone will enjoy, but I think it's become obvious by now that I'm a fan of ridiculousness.

Everything I Never Told You - This is a sad novel that explores a family with a missing daughter. As they piece together the events that lead to her death (don't worry - that isn't a spoiler) they examine their family history. Really well written.

The Legacy of Lost Things - Another family drama about a missing daughter, oddly enough. Again, the novel explores the cultural and familial interactions that have led up to the event in question. However, I didn't even really compare the two novels while I was reading them. The prose is very different and the stories are completely different. I enjoyed this one a lot too.

The Little Friend - Another Donna Tartt novel. At first, I thought this was going to be my favorite of the three I've read. The protagonist is certainly the most engaging - a little 12-year old firecracker determined to solve the mystery of her brother's gruesome death. I was tearing through it and really enjoying it but I felt like it got bogged down a little about 3/4 of the way through and then I was disappointed with the ending. Call me lame and unliterary - I like a mystery with a nice clean resolution.

Liars and Saints - This story follows a family through several generations, tracing their origins and their relationships. I was absorbed immediately and loved it the whole way through. I never want to call anything a "beach read" but this would be a perfect book to take on vacation - provided you're planning to get a lot of uninterrupted reading time. It's not "light" but it's extremely readable, if that makes sense.

Personal - The latest Reacher novel but not my favorite, to be honest. I kept getting bored and losing the plot, which is twisty and international but not particularly exciting. I know what I'm getting in for when I pick up a book from this series. There are some standout thrillers (I think the ones that focus less on weird political conspiracies are more successful) and some duds. This one falls closer to the dud end of the spectrum.

The Wise Man's Fear - The second in the Kingkiller Chronicle series and just as good. I'm happy these are so long because I was sad to finish it, especially because there's no word on when the third book will be out.

Observatory Mansions - This is a bizarre book that I ended up liking much more than I expected. The main character is Francis, a reclusive middle aged man who is repulsed by his own hands and has to wear spotless white gloves at all times. Living in his family estate, which has been subdivided into cheap flats, Francis goes about his strange life until a new tenant comes to live in the building and everything starts to fall apart. There's a dreamy, gothic quality to this novel that you just have to give in to if you're going to make it through. Francis is both sympathetic and horrifying, in turn. I liked the complexity and the unpredictability of the characters.

Whew. That was a pretty good streak. I still have a few unread books on my Kindle (and some on the waiting list) and then I'll be hunting for more. As always, feel free to talk about what you're reading in the comments - curious to know what you guys have been doing this summer!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Meal planning for summer

Hi hi hi! I've missed you and I appreciate the sweet comments. As expected, it's been a rough few months. Some days are okay and some days are not and my camera is gathering dust because everything feels like more effort than usual.

Things I am doing: 

Forcing myself to get back into a regular workout routine, which had a big boost two weeks ago when I finally decided to just let myself spend an hour a day watching Netflix while on the elliptical. I aspire to be a runner but getting back in shape for running is both mentally and physically challenging for me and the mental part has been holding me back lately. I decided baby steps were in order.

Reading. A lot. You guys had so many good recommendations in my last book post and I'm still working through them all, but I'm overdue for a check in. I think the Kingkiller Chronicle series has been my fave this round. It's all absorbing, I can get totally lost in it, and each book is nice and looong. I'm about halfway through the second one right now. More on this and other books soon.

Driving a new car. Our transmission went out suddenly (5 miles into a 400 mile trip - whomp, whomp) and we decided that rather than pour money into the old car we'd go ahead and get something more suited for my cross town surface street commute. One hectic week later, we had a Prius and a new found feeling of middle-agedness. The good news is that I can stare at the fancy display that tells me how good my gas mileage is while I'm sitting in traffic. The bad news is that it also tells me my average speed (10 mph most days, and yes, that does make me question my life choices sometimes). Tangentially related - I've never been more grateful for our budgeting system, which ensured that we had money in savings and downgraded the unexpected car buying situation from devastating to stressful.

Things I am not doing: 

Meal planning. However, I'm happy to report that you can survive for well over a month with the following simple system. 1. On Monday - go to the grocery store and purchase a rotisserie chicken, a loaf of bread, a bag of arugula and a bottle of barbecue sauce. 2. Eat chicken sandwiches for dinner every single weeknight.

+ 5 adult points for weeks when I buy a couple microwaveable bags of broccoli from Trader Joe's and eat it as a side dish.

- 5 adult points for weeks when I outsource the grocery shopping to Instacart because I can't face Whole Foods.