Tuesday, June 14, 2016

in which most books have too many narrators

My book choices were drawn from many places this month - I really tried to bring some new offerings to the link-up, but when it's your turn for a hold at the library, you have to pick it up. Several stories were told using multiple narrators, and quite honestly, I'm tired of that trend. I'll specifically look for books in the next few weeks that keep with one POV the whole way through. Unless it's my time for something I've been waiting for... no promises.

Maybe good for you, but not for me:

Dept. of Speculation - What the hell, you guys? You know how sometimes you come across a social media account for someone you kind of know, so you go down the rabbit hole of being inside their mind for like, ten minutes, and then you get bored so you move on? This book made me feel like that, only I was stuck with it for far longer than ten minutes (though it was quite short, for a book). It's a spillage of thoughts - some beautiful, but many mundane - and there was no characterization or description. Readers had to infer some of the action, and the main character just felt like a disembodied voice. The POV changed about halfway through so I kept reading to see if I could understand why, but it never happened. I wanted a book I could get lost in, and this definitely wasn't that kind. It was far too jagged and real.

Lilac Girls - Another book with fascinating subject matter that didn't work for me. This book takes place just before, during, and after WWII and is told from the points of view of an American socialite with ties to Paris, a female Nazi doctor at a concentration camp (I use that word loosely as she conducted horrific experiments on women in the camp), and a young Polish woman sent to the concentration camp in which the doctor works. The first two characters were based on real people. I hated the socialite's storyline and too much time was wasted describing people at parties that did nothing for the plot. The way the doctor went from being a normal, albeit brainwashed German Nazi supporter to a blind follower of Hitler conducting experiments and causing pain would have been an interesting plot point to speculate on and dive into, but it was glossed over. The Polish woman's storyline was the one I liked reading about the most, but it was so sad that it's hard to say I really enjoyed it. The subject matter is something that needs to be remembered, but I don't think this book is the way to do that.

If I had to describe it in a word, it would be "fine."

What She Knew - The story of a woman whose young son has been kidnapped should have been engrossing, but this suffered from poor characterization. The plot was good enough with some twists thrown in to keep the reader guessing, but I just didn't care for the mother of the missing boy like I should have. It was an okay read, but I don't think anyone should drop everything to grab it.

Hidden Bodies - (Skip to the next book if you haven't already read You and you plan to.) I really liked You so I was pumped to read this book. I guess what I liked about You - Joe basically stalking Beck via social media and becoming who she wanted - would have been boring in a second book. I get that. But I still didn't like Hidden Bodies that much. I felt like Joe was less of himself and I got tired of the formula that he thought something awful was going to happen and he was wrong. I get that it was set in LA, but the pop culture references were too frequent and too current and distracting to me. In You, I cheered for Joe despite him being a horrible person and a murderer. This time around, I found myself hoping he would get caught. Also? Love is an annoying character and I was ready for her to die after about 20 pages.

Consider these:

(A) All This Life- While I could have gone without the author really, blatantly driving his point home at the end (please trust that your readers are intelligent!), I liked this book. As a blogger and person who says she lives much of her life on the internet, I appreciated so many of the sentiments - that life should be lived and the personal connections we make matter far more than the people who live inside our phones and provide passing likes and notices of our being. This book is told from different points of view using characters who are only tangentially connected. Each one is interesting and relateable and was at a place in life with something going on that I wanted to hear about, from a dead sister to a released sex tape to being a runaway mom.

(A) All There Is - I love NPR and slices of life, so this was perfect for me. This book was put out by StoryCorps, which is a public radio initiative that encourages listeners to bring a loved one to one of their locations to talk about love. A copy of the conversation is sent to the Library of Congress and visitors are given another. All There Is is made of stories people have shared in this project about falling in love or losing their love. It made me smile and almost made me cry. The audiobook was really unique in that it sounded like a show on NPR and the actual recordings were used to tell the story; from what I gathered on Goodreads, they were transcribed in the book. I think hearing the emotion and the accents added a lot. Best of all, the book is 150 pages or one hour as an audiobook, so I knocked it out on a particularly traffic heavy drive. A few of the stories were fantastic and will stay with me.

(A) Necessary Lies - Apparently, as recently as the 1960s, poor women were sterilized without their consent in the United States. Necessary Lies is the story of a poor teenager and her family and the social worker who is supposed to get her sterilized simply because she is poor and deemed too simple to ever life a life outside of the welfare system. There are plenty of books about racism during this time period, but I have never encountered anything that examines relationships between social classes. The story is told in alternating viewpoints, so you get both sides, and I really liked hearing about the social worker's marriage and how she tried to juggle working and being a wife when that was rarely done. This definitely had moments where I didn't want to stop listening.

Halfway through the year and I haven't found too many books that I love enough to shout from the rooftops. I'm currently reading The Nest and just got LaRose as an audiobook, so perhaps one of those will be something I can't get out of my head. Linking up with Steph and Jana so I can see what everyone else has been reading.

Life According to Steph

Thursday, June 2, 2016

what's new with you: may

May was a good month. I'm glad I'm taking the time to document some of it because it makes my Grinchy heart smile to see how much time I spent with friends - I didn't realize that until I sat down and typed this up. I love that I check in everywhere on Swarm and take a lot of pictures on my phone (mostly of food, you've been warned) to remember everything.

I started the month with a long (and long overdue) dinner at Good Dog Houston with Miranda and Sarah. My neighborhood started doing Food Truck Fridays once a month, so Andrew and I went and met my friend's friends our friends Beth and Nate who live in our neighborhood and stood in too long lines for eh food, but it was nice getting to know them two-on-two since we have always seen them in group before. We tried ice cream from a cart and the salted caramel latte ice cream was definitely worth eating again. The four of us went to our favorite bar that night and had a great time getting to know them better and listening to music.

Flowers for no reason from Andrew at work | fries, fizzy mint lemonade, and a hot dog with provolone, mixed greens, and giardiniera | Houston friends, if you see this ice cream cart, stop!

Andrew and I spent a day looking for sausage and spices for his ongoing barbecue endeavors and I thought Penzey's had the cutest set-up. I wanted to spend tons of money on things I didn't need. One of my friends and I checked out the new donut/breakfast/coffee shop in town on its first day and though there are kinks to work out, I loved my latte. I went for a long walk through downtown and caught the Bunny Invasion art installation - huge inflatable bunnies that you could hug and touch. They were so weird but fun.

Doesn't the kitchen set up make you want to bake? | Instagram repost but I love latte art | the bunnies! That ear was taller than the second floor of the building.

I casually mentioned to my friend Hayley that I really wanted to go see Dave Matthews Band in concert three days before they came to town. Andrew didn't want to go since he has seen them more times than I have, but I was dying to since we didn't see them last year and they aren't touring next year. Hayley and I agreed on an amount we were willing to spend per ticket, and by the end of the day, tickets were purchased (for less than face value!). It was such a fun girls' night with wine and good music and I'm so glad we went. I was dying to hear You and Me OR Cornbread OR #41 and they didn't play any of them but proceeded to play all three in Dallas the next night so I was a little bitter, but it was still an amazing show with three new songs, a Prince cover, and some great ones I hadn't heard live before. We've already made plans to see them in 2018!

Pre-show | Not bad seats for the last minute!

Andrew wanted barbecue and we had nothing better to do, so we decided to drive out to Killen's BBQ on a random Saturday. It ended up being extra fun because Sarah and her husband and their (eighteen-ish? month, super adorable) daughter were able to meet us and there was a burger pop-up, so I didn't have to eat barbecue. All good things.

May also means graduation, which means working on a Saturday. But, after that was done, I finally got to meet Kate (you might remember her blog having to do with a slate being clean...) in person after being blog friends for like... a few years? So that was fun! She invited Andrew and me to a baseball game with her and her boyfriend and the Astros lost, which was a bummer,  but she and I spent our time judging the actions of others, which made the game more fun. We got to take them to Okra, one of our favorite bars, where I drank $5 rose and recognized the bartender from another bar I like to go to outside of a coffee shop and accosted him for not being at work in his own bar. No more rose for me...

The brand new Killen Burger | Good seats! | Glad Kate took a pic because I forgot! That feeling when you meet someone you already know... | BBQ spread

It rained a ton in Houston, I was sick for two days in one week, and we spent lots of time cleaning the house since Andrew's sister came to visit for Memorial Day weekend and his other sister and her daughter came over to eat - you guessed it - more barbecue. It was fun to host everyone but exhausting and remind me that I should keep more paper plates on hand because dishes are the worst.

Next month, I have the ATX Festival to look forward to (Friday Night Lights party ON Panther Field!), our sixth wedding anniversary, and the rest of Andrew's family coming to visit (and eating our way through Houston with them) so I'm already excited for June.

What's New With You

Sunday, May 15, 2016

april recap

I like using my blog so that I remember things, but I rarely take the time for Weekend Recaps anymore. I think I'll take a page from Kristen's book (or a post from her blog, I suppose) and do monthly recaps, probably along with her What's New With You? linkup. But since I'm late to that party, here's what happened in April, even though it's mid-May.

The month started with a long walk through downtown to get my boss cupcakes for her birthday. I loved the chance to go to the top of the Chase tower to see Houston from up high and checking out some street art on my way. Houston is really trying to step it up for the Super Bowl in February and I love it. Andrew did a BBQ cookoff on April 1st and our friends who we never see were able to come, sans kiddos, and I loved catching up with them.

 From the 60th floor, I believe (my ears always pop in the elevator) | installations on Main Street

Three random things worth remembering: I mentioned a while ago that we found a great bar, and we keep going back... like, every weekend. So far, I have ordered three beers there and liked them. This is huge. I've wanted to like beer since I realized how much cheaper it is than cocktails. I had to work one Saturday night and noticed that my school library has a space dedicated to RBG coloring pages. Oh, and we got our landscaping refreshed and a dead tree removed from the yard and it looks so much better.

One Sunday, Andrew and I took our annual BBQ and Bluebonnets trip. We ate at Truth BBQ in Brenham and the corn pudding was amazing. We went to a bluebonnet festival, which was really just a huge craft fair. Bluebonnets were hard to find - we even went to a state park in hopes of finding some but just got a snake instead. A small patch on the side of the road had to do for this year.

I need to go get these pages | sad year for bluebonnets | instagram repost, of Heidi and me, sorry.

I had brunch with my friend Heidi and every time I see her, I wonder why we go so long between chats and visits. It reminded me to be a better friend and text to say hi every so often. April is one of my busiest work months, so I got through that without any major crises. The biggest thing that happened in April, though, is that Andrew and his friends smoked a ton of meat, descended on the aforementioned bar nearby, and actually sold their barbecue to willing customers. It was basically a dream realized for them. I invited some friends who came out to support them and they fed strangers who went on social media and actually complimented them. It was a proud wife moment. They have already made plans for pop-up #2 and you're all invited. (Seriously, let me know if you want to come).

With work friends turned real life friends (can you tell which pic was stolen from snapchat and got the beauty filter treatment?) | there was an actual LINE. 

Other than that, I've been thrifting a ton (too much), working out occasionally, and going to restaurants. In April, I tried a Greek food trailer in my 'burb, a kolache house not too far away, and Mandola's Deli, an Italian spot pretty close to my office. I'm glad I use Swarm to keep track of that. That's what was new with me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

what to read, what not to read

This was one of those months where a few books didn't work out for me so I gave all books a break. I also kept thinking two books would get better, and they didn't. I've been looking forward to this link-up as a reset of sorts so I can add a few new things to my list and get back into things next month for sure.

Maybe good for you, but not for me:

Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny - I'm not sure why I read this. I guess I thought it would be an interesting glimpse into Holly Madison's life with Hugh Hefner. There were a few interesting tidbits (apparently Hef is super controlling and the mansion is a pigsty), but it was mostly a story about a woman who didn't know how to be on her own who made excuses for why she lived a lie for a decade. I felt like Holly made a lot of excuses for her choices - I wanted to tell her to own them! I mean clearly she ended up doing well for herself. A lot of detail about what being Hef's main girlfriend was like was eliminated, so if you want to know how that situation worked, don't waste your time. I gave this three stars on Goodreads but that seems too generous.

The Truth and Other Lies - I could never remember the title of this book and it took me over two weeks to get through. I read at a decent speed and make time for books I enjoy, so this is unheard of. I was intrigued by the plot - it's about a man running from his past who becomes a famous author, only his books are written by his wife - but the writing felt stilted and abrupt. There wasn't enough characterization for me to really feel anything about any of the characters. The author is German, so it seems that this book was translated, and I think that was a big part of it. The plot twist that sets the action in motion was very interesting, and I wanted to see where everything ended up, so I kept reading, but I just couldn't focus for more than a few pages at a time, and then I felt like the book just kind of ended without wrapping up a few things that were alluded to. Maybe I missed something? Two stars on Goodreads, and that almost felt generous.

(A) Pretty Girls - I thought this would be an interesting thriller. I mentioned last month that it was twenty hours long; most books I read are closer to eight! This is the story of two sisters uncovering the mystery of their sister who was kidnapped twenty years before. The detail and the bad guy in this book are truly sickening. I could feel myself making faces while I was listening to it; I felt like it was unnecessarily gory and disgusting. It was too much and it could have been a lot shorter. I gave it three stars because I liked how all of the pieces connected, but I can't say I recommend it. The audiobook contained a short story written by the author that covered the day the kidnapped sister was taken, but honestly, I was so over these characters that I didn't finish listening to it. I totally blame this for abandoning audiobooks for most of the month.

Consider these:

What Alice Forgot - If you like Liane Moriarty, read this. If you don't, then stay away because it's like all of her other books. I liked that this took the three characters/three storylines formula that are Moriarty's trademarks and made them more subtle. Basically, Alice falls down and hits her head and has forgotten the past ten years of her life. Moriarty did a good job of keeping readers in the dark so they were as confused as Alice.  It was interesting to wonder about my own reactions if I had forgotten the past ten years, but this book wasn't exactly deep. This is probably my favorite of her books - four stars.

(A) Dollbaby - This is one of those books that I really loved and I'm not exactly sure why. The narrator for the audio version was fantastic. The first third has elements of The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird, but Dollbaby is its own story. It's the story of a young (white) girl sent to live with her grandmother in New Orleans in the early 60's and the relationship they have with the (black) maids - a mother and daughter - in their home. Social issues unfold, but they're more of a background to the characters. Even though there isn't much action, it was enjoyable all the way through for me and I rated it a four on Goodreads (but really consider it more of a 4.5).

I'm currently listening to All This Life and I don't know what I think about it yet, but I think these characters will stay with me. I have Dept. of Speculation waiting on my kindle since I just finished The Truth... last night. After listening to The Armchair Librarians, I definitely want to move Shotgun Lovesongs up on my list. Have you listened to them yet? Now I feel like Steph and Jana are in my head, reading their posts to me. Linking up with them because it's always fun. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

day in the life: a typical monday

I've read some really detailed Day in the Life posts and I love them. It's strangely interesting to get some of the minutiae that makes up a person's day. I decided to plan for and take notes on my own. Here's a typical day in my life - this one happened to be Monday, May 2, 2016.

5:00 a.m.: My alarm goes off with a siren emoji and a note to go to the gym. Bauer actually started crying for his breakfast a few minutes before the alarm went off, so I was able to get out of bed a little more easily than usual. Get up, brush teeth, contacts in, and get dressed to get to the gym by 5:20. I only got through 28 minutes including cool down before I was ready to go home (I blame my boring book). When I got home, Andrew was already gone for the day, but he had a travel mug of coffee waiting for me.
6:00 a.m: Weighed myself and I had maintained the 5 lbs lost despite all of my terrible habits lately! Good way to start a Monday. Took a shower, applied self-tanner and prayed I wouldn't turn my legs orange, and realized the pants I planned to wear that day were still wet from being washed the night before. I had to find some others and iron them. Thanks, Monday.
7:00 a.m.: Dressed and ready to head out, but the pets needed feeding. Bauer tried a beef flavor of cat food that I had to text to his BBQ loving Dad. Pulled out of the driveway at 7:14 a.m. to a misty morning and listened to Beautiful/Anonymous episode 7 and read blog comments while stopped at red lights.

8:00 a.m: Mist and rain slowed my drive to work; I didn't get in until 8:18, oops. I was starving so it was time for breakfast - a toasted English muffin with strawberry jam. I sat down to check email and responded to one from the Dean of my school about hosting a law school competition next spring (I didn't think it was a great fit for us, but needed more info) and reviewed an order for electricity for our upcoming commencement (we're using a convention center and you have to pay for every little thing!).
9:00 a.m.: Emailed Sarah since she had left me a few blog comments and I hadn't talked to her in a while. Checked in with my boss on matters both personal and professional - she was dealing with a lot on this day, so there was more of that than usual. I had an outside group coming in to use our building the next day so I emailed them their AV needs and walked some paperwork to other offices - yay for getting up.
10:00 a.m.: Read blog comment emails and then back to more graduation work - this time, reviewing an AV quote and setting up a meeting to discuss details and securing hotel rooms for the commencement speaker and his aide.
11:00 a.m.: Take the website redesign survey I've been putting off for my school's upcoming overhaul. Emailed a dropbox link to students with photos from a previous event. One of my work BFFs stopped in to chat about our weekends, I had strawberries for a snack, texted Andrew, answered a gchat, and more talk with my boss and another coworker about the previous weekend and other assorted matters.
12:00 p.m.: Proofed and sent edits for an invitation postcard for an event in the fall. Confirmed details of aforementioned graduation AV meeting. Responded to a student who wanted me to save seats for her relatives in wheelchairs at graduation (sorry, I can't...).

My desk is always this messy.

1:00 p.m.: Some semi-work related Facebook creeping, and then finally get up to get my second cup of water and head out to lunch (a prepackaged spinach salad with feta, pecans, and sun-dried cranberries). I wanted to go enjoy the nice weather Houston was having but the tables from the development on the next block were missing and the ones on my school's new patio were wet from the morning's mist, so it was back to my desk after a ten minute walk. The spinach in my salad was watery but at least I could catch up on blogs and read Twitter for the first time all day.
2:00 p.m.: Some crackers and a smoked gouda (fake) cheese wedge to supplement the sad salad and an email to Bre about her new puppy ended my lunch break. Back to work, and the group using the building the next day had issues with the AV charges (as in, they didn't want to pay them) so I spent a lot of time calling other departments and digging through emails to find where the miscommunication happened.
3:00 p.m.: Figured out the miscommunication and got the approval to waive AV for the group coming the next day and communicated the plan to all of the right people. Sent multiple emails to first aid companies to get quotes for graduation only to find out our security director had already done it. Freak out because I had promised the Dean to draft an email by the end of the day and I had less than an hour to do it if I wanted to leave on time. Get it done fast and then read email from Bre and respond. We email pretty often during the week and they're always a highlight of my work day.
4:00 p.m.: Check my alternate work email account and have a few nice emails from students - always a plus! Take something to the 8th floor and take the stairs down to my office on two. Leave a few minutes late (4:37) and finish Beautiful/Anonymous on the drive home and start an episode of Embedded.
5:00 p.m.: Get home at 5:28. Andrew calls as I pull into the driveway and we discuss our dinner options while I change clothes to take Duncan for a 30 minute walk. The weather is awesome and breezy and I finish Embedded and re-listen to an episode of Breakdown that I only halfway paid attention to to make sure I could recommend it in my podcasts post later in the week.

Bauer needs attention the second I walk in the door.

6:00 p.m.: I walked down our street with Duncan as Andrew was driving down it coming home. I check the mail, and then we get dinner started - spaghetti and meatballs. Easy meals are our focus during the week. Andrew's friend had big BBQ news so they chatted on the phone (so quaint!) and I tried on some tank tops a coworker passed on to me and changed clothes... again. I think since I knew I was writing this post, I was motivated to do a lot, so I cleaned the toilet, started a load of laundry, wiped down the bathroom counter, and loaded the dishwasher. By 6:55, we sat down to eat. We normally eat in the breakfast nook and have a no phones at the table rule, but we can see the TV and it's usually on. This night was the James Beard Awards (the Oscars of food), so it was streaming on the laptop while we ate.
7:00 p.m.: Wind down time - after dinner, I snuggled Bauer, scrolled instagram, listened to the awards, and read a few pages of my book. I went outside and threw the ball with Duncan and cleaned up the newspaper he ripped apart (that I accidentally left in the backyard... oops).
8:00 p.m.: Justin Yu, the chef from one of my favorite restaurants, won a Beard award! That was fun to watch. Had fun reading the twitter craziness, texted Amanda some unsolicited wedding advice, and proofread Andrew's blog post (if you're in Houston, check out his 50 favorite restaurants!).

Bauer didn't like that I interrupted him from destroying the blanket for a pic.

9:00 p.m.: Fun fact: I like to sing random songs while I do the dishes. This night, it was "Take it on the Run" by REO Speedwagon. No idea where that came from. Followed Andrew around the house being obnoxious and singing "The Most Stripiest Boy in the World" to the tune of "Most Beautiful Girl in the World" to Bauer. Then I changed the litter box, had a bite of cocoa almond spread since my sweet tooth needed something, took a shower, and fed Bauer.
10:00 p.m.: Normal bedtime routine and then watched some Conan. I read a few more pages of my book and then fell asleep somewhere around 10:40.

Just a regular old day in the life. I walked somewhere around 11,000 steps, sent 33 emails, ate two meals and multiple snacks, had one cup of coffee, spent about two hours in the car, and spent a ton of time taking notes on my phone about what I did. It was a pretty good day.