What I’ve been up to in the last month:
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older [YA Fantasy]
This was such a vivid book, with a compelling protag, amazing voice, and a very cool magical element. Lots of little powerful moments that explored character, choice, and pushed at important questions of identity and family and race and history.
How I found it: I saw the cover on an “Upcoming Releases” post somewhere online and was immediately drawn to it: the colors and her amazing hair and her expression… After reading some positive reviews, I gave the first chapter a shot and was hooked by the amazing voice.
Saga, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples [Adult Comic]
I continue to love how this series pushes further, challenges its characters more, and continues to surprise me.
How I found it: Ongoing series I’ve been reading!
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson [Adult Fantasy]
One of my favorite reads of the year so far: the world-building, the amazing characters, the choices, the questions it raised… And who knew economics could be so compelling? I also appreciated that in spite of the fact that the main character goes to a very dark place, it wasn’t the sort of book that left me feeling bad. Just really eager for the rest of the story! I will note, however, that this book has divided readers in how it handles the issues of queer characters in the narrative — see the link below for some discussion of this and links to other reviews on that topic.
How I found it: I saw a reference to the title in passing and was instantly interested. The description intrigued me, as did the cover and the references to it as a book about someone who is basically becoming a villain and doing terrible things for a “good” purpose. Then I read Amal el-Motar’s review for NPR (and her commentary on queer responses to the book) and made a point to actually read a sample and was hooked.
The Martian by Andy Weir [Adult Speculative]
I saw the movie first, but I was glad to also have the chance to read the book that inspired it. It covers pretty much the same story (as the movie was, IMO, a faithful adaptation) but I enjoyed the extra details and insights, and some additional challenges that were not in the movie. And SCIENCE!
How I found it: I saw the movie and loved it and wanted even more…!
Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam [Adult Nonfiction]
Heartbreaking and thought-provoking. I wish everyone would read this. One of the bits that sticks with me most is the recognition that the vast majority (95% per the authors citation) of Americans believe that “everyone in America should have equal opportunity to get ahead.” But that with the growing class segregation in America, those on the upper class side have less and less empathy for or understanding of the situation for poor kids, and the growing number challenges they face. The author himself admits that he, having worked hard to climb the socio-economic ladder in his own youth, assumed that kids today could do the same. But what his research reveals is how much harder it is, now, to do so, for a whole swath of reasons that the book lays out much better than I could here.
The other point this book makes that surprised me was that it equalizing per-student spending on education via schools does not make as much of a difference as one would hope. It’s not as straightforward as that, nor as “easy”. As the author says, this problem has developed gradually over the last several decades and the solution is not going to be quick or simple. But there are some strategies outlined in the last chapters of the book that gave me some hope.
How I found it: I think I first heard about this via a friend who recommended it on Facebook. I had recently listened to an outstanding This American Life episode on education and segregation and this book seemed like a way to explore that further.
I (like a large portion of the internet) recently discovered the Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop historical musical Hamilton.
If you haven’t already joined the obsession, and are curious what the fuss is about, you can listen to the entire soundtrack free via Spotify. Or you can watch various clips available via YouTube (Edited: I switched my link from the White House performance to a longer news item that has more clips from the stage version)
The more I listen to the entire album, the more impressed I am by the intricacy of the rhymes and word-play, the layers of meaning, and the repeated themes. I still cry every time I listen to Stay Alive (Reprise). And at any given moment there is a very good chance I have My Shot, You’ll Be Back, Helpless, Satisfied, The Room Where It Happens, or Alexander Hamilton going through my head.
Some of my favorite things about the soundtrack: The way hip-hop, Jazz, rap, and R&B are used for the revolution, while King George sings pop. The fact that something like Cabinet Battle #1 can get me so excited about the founding of the treasury. The way the elements in My Shot (and the iconic image on the album cover) are reinterpreted in The World Was Wide Enough, and in particular all the double-meanings of “my shot” — Hamilton’s shot at glory and fame, and the final gun shot he choses not to take, by aiming at the sky. And I will stop there because I could write another whole post about all the clever and heart-wrenching details. Basically Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius!
Speaking of which, if you’re already obsessed, and have not yet done so, I highly recommend spending some time reading the annotations on the soundtrack over at genius.com.
Person of Interest Season 3
I’ve been enjoying this show from the very start, but I’ve particularly loved how this season is really amping up the science-fictional elements (artificial intelligence) and taking things in a new direction. While I was sad to see Taraji P. Henson leave, I’ve loved the increased presence of Sarah Shahi’s Sameen Shaw, and also Amy Acker’s Root. And Bear. It’s hard for me not to give a show extra points if there’s a recurring dog character.
The Great British Baking Show Season 1
(For reasons I don’t understand, this is titled The Great British Bake Off over in the UK, and what’s airing in the US as Season 1 is actually Series 5)
This may be the most adorable reality show I’ve ever watched. It’s a very kind show, with contestants who cheer each other on, judges and hosts who seem genuinely concerned about the contestants, and lots of footage of pretty gardens and gamboling sheep and glorious pastries. The only downside is the very real danger that it will make you either go running out to the nearest bakery to stuff your face, or come home from your next grocery shopping laden with butter and flour and cream and sugar.
Of all the delicious things on the show so far, I think the one I am most interested in sampling is the princessetarta. Sponge cake, pastry cream, jam, whipped cream, all under a layer of pale green marzipan!
The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries Season 3
If you love smart, feminist, brave ladies and elegant costumes and settings and a touch of murder and mystery, you really should be watching these! I didn’t find this third season quite as consistent as the first two, but it was still delightful.
I always go into the fall season wanting to try to make the most of it, full of dreams of autumn picnics and apple-picking and walks in the woods and Halloween decorations. I never actually accomplish it all, but it’s fun to try!
This year was a little tougher as my ongoing back injury has been making some activities more challenging, but I did manage to go to a cider-pressing party at my apple CSA’s farm, visit a pumpkin festival, take several gorgeous hikes with my husband and my dog, and carve my first pumpkin in several years: