Audiobook: Pretty Things

by Janelle Brown
Read by Julia WhelanLauren Fortgang & Hillary Huber 
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Or listen on Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including many f-bombs, as well as non-graphic depictions of sex. It’s in the Fiction section of the bookstore.

Nina Ross has always been at the mercy of her mother’s lifestyle. They’ve moved over and over again, never quite getting ahead. Mostly because her mother really couldn’t hold down a job, preferring to con rich men out of their money. It’s not been a great life, except for that one year when she lived up in Tahoe, and met Benny, but was put off by his uber-rich family (including his sister, Vanessa). But that was all in the past, and Nina herself has resorted to conning and stealing with her boyfriend to help pay her mother’s medical bills since she came down with cancer.

Vanessa is the privileged daughter of a once uber-wealthy family. She wanted to make her own mark on the world, though, so she tried out several things (losing a lot of her trust fund) until she settled on being an Instagram influencer and all that comes with it. But her mother committed suicide, her brother is in an asylum because of his schizophrenia, and her father died and left her the family home, Stonehaven, at Tahoe.

Which is where Vanessa and Nina’s lives intersect: Nina and her boyfriend head up to Tahoe to con Vanessa out of the money Nina is sure is in the house safe. But will they succeed?

Alternating Vanessa and Nina’s viewpoints, this one kept me thoroughly engrossed. I don’t know if it was in part because the narrators were so fabulous (So fabulous!) or if it was the story that kept me interested, but I would sit for hours (working on puzzles) listening to the tale of Vanessa and Nina unfold. There’s a lot in there as well: class issues and privilege and perspectives and how we do or don’t trust and believe in people. Ultimately, it is the story of two women figuring out how to believe in themselves.

Definitely worth reading.

Audiobook: Catch and Kill

by Ronan Farrow
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: This book is about sexual predators, and Farrow doesn’t pull back from descriptions of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. It’s not prurient and it’s not graphic, but it may be triggering. There is also swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the True Crime section of the bookstore.

I heard a story about this book somewhere, in a report about the Harvey Weinstein trial. The report said that they were having trouble finding neutral jurors, mostly because so many of them had read this book and had already made up their minds about Weinstein.

And they’re right. You come out of this book knowing that not only is Weinstein and evil man, every single person, corporation, or entity that protected him and enabled him (and other predators, like Matt Lauer) are also completely and totally corrupt.

This book is Farrow’s story about getting his 2017 New Yorker article about Harvey Weinstein published. See, it didn’t start out as a New Yorker article; Farrow was an on-air reporter at NBC news when he first started looking at leads and conducting interviews about Weinstein’s history of sexual predation. Farrow interviewed several women, corroborated their stories, and was set to put something on air, when NBC pulled it. It goes deeper than that: Weinstein had private investigators tailing Farrow, looking for dirt that he could use to kill the story. NBC has its own history of talent and others harassing, abusing, and raping women in vulnerable positions. It all adds up to not only a toxic male culture, but one in which I end up mistrusting corporate journalism. I don’t blame the journalists — Farrow (and others) did his job to the best of his ability. But, at many points, his bosses were telling him to cancel interviews and tried incredibly hard to kill the story, and if Farrow hadn’t 1) been a male and 2) he hadn’t had a couple people on his side urging him to keep going. It’s so easy for corporations and advertisers and powerful individuals to kill stories they don’t like.

It wasn’t an easy book to listen to because of the subject matter, but Farrow was a compelling writer and an excellent narrator. I know it sounds odd to say I enjoyed every minute of this, but I really did. I kept wanting to know what happened next, and Farrow’s narration kept me engaged.

It’s not only an important book, it’s a good one.

Recollections of My Nonexistence

by Rebecca Solnit
First sentence: “One day long ago, I looked at myself as I faced a full-length mirror and saw my image darken and soften and then seem to retreat, as though I was vanishing from the world rather than that my mind was shutting it out.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some mild swearing and talk of rape, but nothing graphic. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I had no idea what to expect from this book. I’ve never read any Solnit before, though she’s been writing for decades. I only picked this up because we have this Pick of the List program at the bookstore, and this was one of our picks (booksellers more sophisticated than me picked it!). What I got was a beautifully written, lyrical, loosely chronological memoir of a woman’s professional life. It’s not a strict memoir, per se: Solnit only briefly touches on her childhood, and it tends to jump around in time. “Recollections” is really the best word for it, as it feels as though she’s sitting with you just kind of musing about the paths her life has taken. It is a feminist work: the “Nonexistence” part is about how men have often tried to diminish her thoughts, her work, herself and her perseverance in the face of that.

It is so beautifully written though. A couple passages that struck me: “I believe in the irreducible and in invocation and evocation, and I am fond of sentences less like superhighways than winding paths, with the occasional scenic detour or pause to take in the view, since a footpath can traverse steep and twisting terrain that a paved road cannot.” I feel like this could be the book’s thesis statement. And yet, the paths she takes us down are both lyrical and interesting and I found myself wanting to take the time to wander with her.

A second passage: “I was arguing that the wars of the future and the past were overlapping in the present, and that they were largely unrecognized because of how we thought about things like war, and the West, and nature, and culture, and Native people.” Even with her musings, she is political and radical, and reminded me so very strongly of some of the Western writers I’ve read, like Terry Tempest Williams. I’m not hugely drawn to the West or the Southwest in writing (or in nature, preferring my lush green trees and water — and yes, humidity — of the East and South), but I admire writers like Solnit for their passion for wide open spaces and their understanding of how Native peoples fit into the larger picture.

I’m actually curious about some of Solnit’s other books now. And perhaps I will actually read them. I’m glad I read this one.

Grimoire Noir

by Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch
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Content: There are some scary images. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I think this one would appeal to younger mystery lovers (and lovers of the supernatural).

The town of Blackwell is unusual: all of the girls and women in town are witches. And prisoners: there is a magical barrier surrounding the town that prevents the girls and women from leaving: if they do, they will at best lose their powers and at worst, die. Bucky Orson was best friends with one of the girls, Cham (short for Chamomile, if that helps with the pronunciation), but their friendship died when she joined the Coven of Crows. But now, when Bucky’s younger sister Heidi has gone missing and the town is in upheaval (partially because it rains whenever Bucky’s mother cries, and so it’s been raining for a while) and the police don’t seem to be solving anything. So, Bucky takes it into his own hands to find out what happened to Heidi, and discovers a lot of the secrets of the town in the process.

First, this one was gorgeously drawn. It’s all in sepia and black and white with some spots of red and blue and is just beautiful. I loved how Bogatch depicted magic and how she captured the noir feel of the title. And while I enjoyed the story — I liked how Bucky peeled back layers of the town, going back to the origin. I liked that you could look at it through a feminist lens: the women have power, but were deemed “unsafe” by less powerful men, who are keeping them trapped in this town. There’s a lot to think about.

The ending is a bit weak, but for the most part, this was a thoroughly enjoyable graphic novel!

Audio Book: The Witches are Coming

by Lindy West
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s swearing, including lots of f-bombs, plus frank talk about sex. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

This book of essays, written in past couple of years and spurred on by the election of Donald Trump, is not just a feminist skewering of the alt-right and those attacking progress in all its forms. It’s also a reminder — especially for me, as a white, middle class, educated woman — that there are causes worth fighting for, that all sides (at least on the national scale) are not equal, and that it’s okay to be outspoken on things you believe in (and, to be fair: believing in things is a Good Thing).

It’s a reminder that “political correctness” is really just respecting other people and their identities and boundaries. A call that fat people deserve respect too, especially in this thin- and diet-obsessed culture. And maybe West is a White Woman, but (I thought, but I’m no BIPOC) she made sure she was trying to be inclusive and reminding those of us who are White Women that there are people out there who are marginalized and disadvantaged. And that there are people suffering while we’re sitting in our nice suburban households.

No, she’s not kind to the alt-right (but should she be?) or to the men who have abused their power for their own personal profit. And that’s part of what I liked about this. It was unapologetic and brazen and I loved that. It’s not going to resonate with all readers, but I think West knows that but she’s not trying to be palatable to all readers. She has Beliefs and she stands by them, and I can respect that.

And West is a good reader as well. She was entertaining and one of those readers I’d happily listen to for a long time.

Throw Like a Girl

by Sarah Henning
First sentence: “
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Release date: January 7, 2020
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, mostly mild, and kissing. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’m not a huge aficionado of sports books for teens, but I have read some. Most are geared towards boys (like Kwame Alexander’s books or Stupid Fast), but every once in a while, I get a good sports book, especially a football book, that has a girl as the main character, and embraces the idea that girls, yes, can play football too. (Honestly: the last one I remember is Dairy Queen, which I loved.) In fact, Henning doesn’t dwell on the “can she play football?” issue here. Our main character, Liv, is actually scouted out by the starting quarterback, Grey, primarily because he’s seen her play softball (the sport she excels at) and mess around playing football with her brother, and he needs someone who can be a backup, since the freshman who is actually his backup is a bit weak.

There’s more going on in the plot than that — Liv lost her scholarship to the elite private school where she was playing softball for punching another player (with good reason) and there’s a nice romance between her and Grey — but it’s mostly about being on a team and working hard and just being able to play a game that she loves.

Henning was a former sports writer, and it shows: she’s able to not only give play-by-plays of the games (both football and softball), but she is able to portray the work it takes to be a good athlete, as well as the feelings that come from being a part of a team and from being on the field. (Not that I’ve ever been any of those things, but I feel like she gets it!) And she’s good on the romance front too: Liv and Grey’s relationship didn’t feel contrived, and it wasn’t perfect. Though there were some incredibly swoon-worthy parts.

It was a fun read, and one that will do well as part of the YA sports cannon.

Nine Pints

by Rose George
First sentence: “There is a TV but I watch my blood.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some mild swear words, and some frank talk about sex and sexually transmitted diseases. It’s in the science section of the bookstore.

This one, kind of obviously, is all about blood: what it does in the body, sure, but more about the business of blood, about donating and transfusions, about the history of bloodletting and leeches, and about the diseases that are transmitted by blood. It’s also about the stigma that surrounds blood: we like it when it’s in our body, but not so much when it’s not. It’s a fascinating look through the world of medicine and science surrounding blood.

I liked some chapters better than others. The chapter on donating reminded me that it’s been a while since I’ve donated, though I know they probably don’t use my blood and plasma for transfusions (something about hormones in a woman). I didn’t like the leeches chapter (it made my skin crawl!). I found the chapters about HIV and menstruation to be the most powerful. George focused on the stigma behind both in third-world countries (though we are not without it here) which I found fascinating.

Then again, I do like these pop-science books. George is much like Mary Roach, picking a topic and delving deep and making it interesting and accessible to those of use who are not scientists. It’s a fascinating book.