Women Writers Reading Challenge #65: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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You may have noticed this book popped up on my favorites list for Top Ten Tuesday. There were actually a number of books on that list that I haven’t done a post about yet, but they will all be coming I promise.

This book came out about five years ago, but it’s lost none of its relevance or potency. I usually enjoy books about medicine and science history, especially when they intersect social history, political history, and civil rights issues (sex and sexual identity, gender, race, religion, and so forth). Rebecca Skloot’s work encompasses all of these issues. It is the story of a family, of a discovery that changed the face of biological and medical history, and of the woman that made it all possible. And it’s also the story of another woman’s search for truth and the book she constructed.

The writing is totally absorbing. This may just be the quickest paced nonfiction book I’ve read in a long time. It will move you, anger you, and inspire you. I think everyone ought to read this book; it has amazing things to say that are relevant for all of us.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #64: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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It took me a while to finish this book because I accidentally left it at my parents’ house. And did I mention I only had 60 pages left?

This is an interesting twist on a beloved fairy tale replete with cyborgs and inter-species love. As you know, I love a good fairy tale adaptation. The characters are interesting, the story moves quickly, and there’s just enough happening to keep it interesting. I can’t wait to read more.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten New To Me Authors I Love

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One of the benefits of a massive reading challenge is that you get to read a lot of books by new authors. It was quite hard to pick just 10. I basically went and found the first 10 from my challenge. They’re not necessarily the same as my top 10 favorite books from this year, but that’s a topic for another day.

Isabel Allende: I wasn’t so sure about her when I read Zorro, but The House of Spirits was a revelation.

George Eliot: It’s nice to know there are other talented writers from the 19th century besides Austen and the Bronte sisters.

Gabrielle Zevin: I think her book was definitely on my favorites list this year.

Alice Walker: I mean what can you really say? She’s amazing.

Eleanor Catton: Her novel has such scope.

Kelly Link: Thank you for reigniting my love of short stories.

Iris Murdoch: To great books with unlikable characters!

Ursula K. Le Guin: Where have you been all my life?

Leigh Bardugo: great YA. I can’t wait to read the next one.

Naomi Novik:  Another book on the favorites list. I can’t wait to read her big series.

What authors did you discover this year?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #62: Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill

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I read this book right on the heels of Lorrie Moore’s book Self-Help, which was unavoidable since it was due at the library, but was nevertheless a mistake. Where I felt that Moore showed compassion, Gaitskill seemed objective almost to the point of being clinical sometimes. Her stories are still very good and move nicely, and still have a lot to say about the human condition, but they didn’t move me nearly as much. There was one story in particular that I admired, which was about an old man who visits a prostitute and feels much more for her than she feels for him. There was something really touching about it and it stuck with me for a while afterwards. In all, it’s a collection worth reading, especially if you’re interested in the work of feminist authors.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #61: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore

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Some books have a reputation that precedes them. People talk about them with reverence as if they are a gift given down from the writing gods. I’m usually a bit cautious about these books because there are quite a number of brilliant writers that I’m not all that enthusiastic about. Hemingway comes immediately  to mind. In college, I kept an ongoing list to which I would add books or films that professors mentioned that sounded interesting or particularly important. I’ve read and I’ve scratched off some of those books, but this one has been on it for a while. When it came up on several must-read lists, I knew I could ignore it no longer.

And it turns out, in a bizarre twist, that this book is everything it’s cracked up to be. Moore writes about her characters with sympathy, but she doesn’t let them get away with very much. If they’re capable, they have to face reality. But though it’s often a harsh, disappointing reality, Moore writes with humor and enough compassion for humanity that the stories don’t feel bitter or cynical. It seems that if she could, she would really like to help her characters even if the biggest take away from the book is the only people who can help us are ourselves, and often times we’re unable to do just that. This is a monumental book by a great writer, and if you’re interested in short stories at all, your education will not be complete until you read this book.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #59: Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

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Lydia Millet’s novel considers the possibility of the supernatural intruding into harsh reality. Partially a story of what love and magic means to one woman and partially a satire about how humanity responds to the beautiful, the book is deceptively light.

I  really enjoyed this book about a honeymoon going horribly and dramatically wrong and all of its implications about the way that humans are ruining the environment, and how they’re more likely to crush something amazing than appreciate it. But right at the end, there’s a two-page depressing rant about the hopelessness of the future, which is out of tone with the rest of the book and really brought it down a little bit. If you like books with a drop of magical realism and a snarky narrator, read this book and skip the last three or so pages.

Women Writer’s Reading Challenge #58: Abandon by Meg Cabot

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I’ve probably mentioned before that I am a big Meg Cabot fan. In fact, I’m rereading all the Princess Diaries books now so that I can read the final book in the series (Royal Wedding), which just recently came out (this year? last year?). So when I found out that Cabot had written an adaptation of the Hades and Persephone myth, I had to check it out.

I’ll start off by saying that it’s not my favorite start of a series from her by a long shot. It doesn’t normally take her as long to get going, and I think this is partially because she doesn’t usually start off in the middle of the story and then hint like crazy at what happened in the beginning. Once she brings you into the meat of the story, things get more interesting, with an extremely good-looking Death-type character, and an atypical view of the underworld. It’s not a must-read like some of her books are, but it’s a start that leaves me wanting to read more. I recommend this book to any Cabot/myth adaptation fans.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #57: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

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Kate Forsyth’s book is an interesting look into the history of fairy tales themselves. The book focuses on Charlotte-Rose de la Force who is the author of the first written account of Rapunzel in Louis XIV’s France. She is told the story by a fellow nun, when she is forced into exile at an abbey. The book weaves between the “historical” account of Rapunzel’s life, Charlotte’s life, and the witch’s life, and a more interesting bunch of women you couldn’t meet anywhere.

Part fairy tale adaptation and part historical fiction, Forsyth takes the reader back when being a woman was (even more) dangerous. There’s a little magic, a little romance, and a little tragedy, so there’s something for everyone. I will say the romance gets a little…steamy, which I wasn’t expecting. It probably is not super safe for planes, which is where I read it, but luckily I had an entire aisle to myself.

This book was quite a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it to those interested in women writers of old, who love fairy tales, or need something to read (carefully) on an airplane.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #54: Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle

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I was really eager to read the story of a woman whose accomplishments and failures were totally overshadowed by those of her husband. While that was not necessarily unusual for women of the period, it seems a bit strange that we should do so for Constance Wilde if only because of the scrutiny her husband has received over the years. And it’s really too bad because Constance was an interesting writer and activist in her own right.

While I really enjoyed reading about Constance, I wasn’t really enamored with this particular book. I think that Franny Moyle has an excellent eye for research, but I wish she had condensed her quotes. Some of the long passages from various letters are really interesting, but most of them could easily have been summarized to a similar effect or at least shortened. I also felt that Moyle was really quick to label certain incidents as “the biggest mistake s/he would make,” as if they should have definitely known better. Sometimes, of course, that’s true, but I felt she was a little judgmental of Oscar and Constance, or that she wished they had done things differently. Both of these might be true, but I don’t feel like a biography is about those opinions. I think with better editing, this book could have been more moving–because their lives really are sad and tragic. I didn’t really connect with this book, though I’m still glad I read it in order to have a better understanding of Constance, who I’d never spared much thought for before this. If you’re a Wilde fanatic, you’ll probably like this book, but if you’re just in search of an interesting piece of nonfiction reading with a slightly feminist bent, I’d recommend Jill Lepore’s history of Wonder Woman instead.

Has there been a book lately that’s slightly disappointed you?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #53: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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I have had a huge run of good luck when it comes to books. I don’t know what it is, but before I’d read the past 8 books or so, I was in a bit of a reading rut. I’d read books, and they’d be good, but not great. I’m hoping that my good book choices last all the way into the new year!

This book was, in a word, amazing. Everything about it was filled with so much wonderful magical detail. The heroine is believable and I was rooting for her the whole time. The magic world was interesting and full of mystery, and there were plenty of twists and turns to keep you occupied. The writing was really good, descriptive, full of the right kinds of details the narrator would notice, and it kept you going right along. In fact, I devoured this book, which means at some point I’ll need to read it again. And I can’t wait.