Tuesday, August 9, 2016

summer books

I totally skipped the last Show Us Your Books so I have some definite catching up to do. Here's what I've been reading:

The Nest: I've seen this book on a million lists and found it completely forgettable. The characters are alright, but not a lot happens and I didn't care about any of them. It was too many characters spread too thin without much to keep them together. I don't get why it's such a big thing. Steph and Jana nailed it when they discussed it on The Armchair Librarians so listen to that and know that I completely agree.

(A) LaRose: Another book where nothing happened. The premise was fascinating. The book takes place in 1999 - so, not in ancient times - and a Native American man accidentally kills a young boy, so to atone for his mistake, he offers his son, who is the same age. The story follows the son, LaRose, and both families. While the central conflict affects everyone, I just couldn't wrap my head around this as a plausible solution and there wasn't an obvious course of action going on that let me forget it. The prose in parts is very beautiful, but I couldn't wait for this to be over.

(I blame these for putting me in a book slump. It took a while for me to want to pick up something new!)

Side Effects May Vary: This book was better, but still didn't help my slump. It's by the same author as Dumplin' but just isn't as good. The main character was mean for no real reason and for me, the teen angst in this one was too much for adult me to want to get into. If teenagers could learn to communicate more, would YA even be a genre?

(A) Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything: This book was perfect for me since I have been in such a TV watching mood. The author basically interviewed anyone she could find who knew anything about the history behind and the making of Seinfeld and put their anecdotes and opinions in this book. If you're a Seinfeld fan, you'll definitely enjoy this and learn something. For example, Larry David wanted the show to be cemented in real life as much as possible. Since the show was so fast-paced, most of the writers used their best material in one season of work so nearly every season, the entire writing staff was turned over. Stuff like that. It's really dense and you definitely want a background in the show to appreciate it, but I found myself constantly sharing what I learned with Andrew. It was a fun read.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman: You guys, this book. I loved it. I learned about Lindy West through This American Life (she's the woman who confronted her internet troll and the one who wants to be called fat, both of which are detailed in the book) so I was excited to read her story. She's an unapologetic feminist and a writer. She talks about how her body image has affected how she is and how she receives love, what it's like to have such a public job when you aren't society's definition of beautiful, and tells stories about how she has stood up for herself and other women (most notably, by calling out stand-up comedians for making jokes about rape). I want to be her friend and learn from her. The book is more essays than memoir, but it's very cohesive and tells a lot about her experiences. I liked it so much I want to buy it - my highest level of praise.

Listen To Me: I read books because I want a good story. I like things to happen. I don't like to notice tone shifts and draw a ton of conclusions when I'm reading a novel. At face value, this book was boring (again, nothing happened. I have awful taste this month). After reading reviews on Goodreads, though, I see that people far more intellectual than I got a lot more from this book than I did. Does that change my personal opinion? No. But at least I kind of get it now.

Black-Eyed Susans: Several months ago, I told Steph I needed a book to completely suck me in and she suggested this one. It was a good pick. I liked the way it was told, alternating present day with flashbacks. I liked the Texas setting, too. It was one I didn't want to put down to go to sleep at night. I didn't like the too-obvious red herring, though, and that the mystery was revealed at the very end with very little wrap-up as to how the characters dealt with the aftermath, but overall, I definitely recommend it.

I'm currently listening to a Taylor Jenkins Reid book and about to start reading a new book (probably Modern Lovers by Emma Straub). But, between the Olympics and starting to watch Veronica Mars (so good!), it's hard to find time for anything else...

Life According to Steph

Thursday, August 4, 2016

the summer of...

For me, summer ends next week. I work at a school and students are back. I can't wear jeans anymore, and traffic will pick up.  The past three months were over before they started.

It was the summer of...

- Starbucks. I've stayed away from them for the better part of two years in favor of buying local but the convenience of mobile ordering and the sweet cream vanilla cold brew have made them at least a weekly indulgence.

- TV and podcasts instead of books. Maybe one day I'll write about my second experience at the ATX TV Festival, but not today. Let's say that it  made me want to watch more TV than I have in a long time, and it was time well spent. And I talked about podcasts last week. (I spent a lot of time on Orange is the New Black and what happened this season? Why so many characters with storylines that just weren't expanded upon enough?)

- Trying to figure it out. What do I love? What makes me happy? Where do I see myself in x years? I have never been good with goals or long term planning, and I tried to change that. I didn't get very far. How does one plan when one can't figure out what they want from life, let alone how to get it?

- BBQ Wife Life. If you follow me on snapchat, then you know all about Andrew and his friends and the early stages of their BBQ business. Doubleback BBQ is becoming an actual thing, and I couldn't be more proud. Except when I am sweaty and attending the pop-ups or cleaning up before or after they cook. At those points, I wish his passion was a little less messy...  but I'm still excited about his success.

- In-laws. Due to my sister-in-law's wedding in Atlanta and some other things, I have spent more time with my in-laws this summer than ever before, and it was all good. Something about weddings brings me out of my shell and makes me a total embarrassment on the dancefloor. Plus, I got to spend more time with my SIL than ever before and I feel like I got to know her as her, and not jut as Andrew's Older Sister, if that makes sense.

- Trivia. We discovered Geeks Who Drink trivia and it's so fun. And we're pretty good at it. It's a fun way to break up the week.

- Giving advice (both solicited and not), becoming the in-house interior designer for my office (a post I'm definitely NOT qualified for), realizing that I lucked into some pretty great friends, trying to stay politically informed. attempting to stay cool, and trying to find more hours in the day. I can't believe my summer is nearly over.

What's New With You

Friday, July 29, 2016

podcast love: summer edition

Something about summer has made my attention span short and put my desire to listen to audiobooks at zero. But, I spend nearly two hours a day in the car and another half hour walking the dog each night, so I have to listen to something and podcasts are it. I find the variety nearly crippling but the ones I love I really, really LOVE so of course I have to share them.

If you missed the podcasts I recommended in May, check them out here.

Anna Faris is Unqualified: You guys, I didn't really "know" Anna Faris until I listened to this. I mean I have seen The House Bunny and Scary Movie and knew she was married to Chris Pratt, but that was it. After listening to a few episodes, I adore her because she seems so kind, genuine, and funny. The podcast is always Anna with her friend and producer Sim and 1-2 celebrity guests. They talk about anything and everything, sometimes do an improv scene, and then call people who have reached out to them for advice. It's so interesting to listen to celebrities be real people instead of just hearing them plug their latest project on a talk show for five minutes. They really think about the listener's situation and give heartfelt advice. The Chelsea Handler episodes were SO GOOD (and I didn't think I was a Chelsea fan anymore...) and the one with Keegan Michael Key is a lot of fun, too.

Revisionist History: This one skews on the nerdy side, but if you want to learn something, check it out. Like most of my favorites, I learned about it from This American Life (which I have never outright suggested, but it is the grandfather of all good podcasts and if you haven't tried it, start NOW). It reexamines or explains a misunderstood part of life. There's a three-part series he did that I'm currently in the middle of on education where he talks about the smart kids stuck in poverty, why some college cafeteria food sucks, and how the two are related. I love the way it's produced to inform me, yet keep me entertained. Start with Carlos Doesn't Remember and then listen to the following two episodes.

Millennial: Thanks to Bre for getting me into this one. I had to go through and listen to every episode because Millennial talks about the lessons you learn in your twenties in real time by following its creator, Megan, as she tries to find a job, create a podcast, and otherwise live as a millennial. At times, she isn't relatable, but her often present boyfriend Ben serves as her voice of reason. Like following a personal blog, I got to care about Megan and her well-being and wonder what she was going to do after listening to a few episodes. While it may not be for everyone (sometimes I want to yell "this isn't a real problem!" as I listen), it's nice to follow along as Megan figures things out. To get a feel for the whole thing, you really need to start with the first episode, though some season two episodes can stand alone. 

The Vulture TV Podcast: If you're a real TV nerd, this one is great. I only listen to ones where I have watched the shows, but if you want a deep dive into a certain TV show or topic, the discussions are always fantastic. I especially loved the one with the author of Seinfeldia (a book chronicling Seinfeld's history that I just finished) and with the guys who adapted The People vs. OJ Simpson for TV. Just this morning, I finished an episode recorded at the Vulture TV Festival that was an interview with the cast of Better Call Saul.

Honorable mentions for  passing the time:

Casefile: One story per episode, anywhere from 30 minutes to a little over an hour. The narrator is Australian (I'm pretty sure) and most of the crimes took place there, so the chances of Americans knowing about them are slim. The stories are interesting, but you  have to pay attention.

This Is Actually Happening: (First, I just love the name). Did anyone else watch the show I Survived that used to be on A&E? This is basically the podcast version. People tell true stories about scary things that happened to them, from being shipwrecked to having the worst-case scenario happen to them (note to pregnant friends - skip that one). I've only listened to a few, but the episode titles alone are really intriguing.

2 Dope Queens is next on my to-try list. If you're a podcast lover, what do you love lately? Anyone else dying to try a Casper mattress or start running a website using Squarespace?

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