Author Archives: Too Fond

Review: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Length: 256 pages

Publication: October 1st 2020 by Granta Books

Source: Library

What it’s about:

Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what.

Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?

What I thought:

I read Murata’s cult novel Convenience Store Woman on the recommendation of another book blogger whose picks are usually spot on for me. It was a short, quick read (more of a novella), and when I finished it I’m pretty sure I spent a good fifteen minutes just sitting with the book in my hand, thinking “WTF?” To say Murata’s writing is quirky would be to dismiss it too easily; yes, her characters are unique and her plot choices unusual.The world she portrays almost feels like real life until you realize you are seeing it through the lens of someone who is completely on the outside of mainstream society.

Her characters don’t fit into traditional roles, and as such they each reject those roles and instead reframe their self-identity in a way that makes sense to them. In both Convenience Store Woman and Earthings, the main characters only manage to function in society to the extent that they can pretend to be someone else, in the case of Keiko by studying and copying the speech patterns and mannerisms of others, and in the case of Natsuki by submitting to the abuse of her family and others. When these characters stop pretending is when things really start to go off the rails.

Earthlings had many similar themes to Murata’s previous novel, but it pushes those themes and the boundaries of what is comfortable for a reader even further. The last third of the book, when Natsuki stops playing a role and allows herself to become what she truly believe she is – an alien to society – is shocking and at times stomach-churning. Trigger warning: there are scenes of child sexual abuse and graphic violence.

Despite the challenging content, Murata’s novels have both stayed with me and made me think a lot. Convenience Store Woman may be a good place to start if you are interested in reading something by her but leery of the graphic content, but Earthlings is definitely worth reading as well in that it shows how she has progressed as a writer as she explores these themes. I am not an expert on Japanese culture by any means, but to me these modern novels feel like a direct rebuke of the importance placed on traditional roles in Japanese society. Recommended.

About the author:
Sayaka Murata (in Japanese, 村田 沙耶香) is one of the most exciting up-and-coming writers in Japan today. She herself still works part time in a convenience store, which gave her the inspiration to write Convenience Store Woman (Conbini Ningen). She debuted in 2003 with Junyu (Breastfeeding), which won the Gunzo Prize for new writers. In 2009 she won the Noma Prize for New Writers with Gin iro no uta (Silver Song), and in 2013 the Mishima Yukio Prize for Shiro-oro no machi no, sono hone no taion no (Of Bones, of Body Heat, of Whitening City). Convenience Store Woman won the 2016 Akutagawa Award. Murata has two short stories published in English (both translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori): “Lover on the Breeze” (Ruptured Fiction(s) of the Earthquake, Waseda Bungaku, 2011) and “A Clean Marriage” (Granta 127: Japan, 2014). 

The September/October Wrap-Up

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Halloween is behind us, and despite the global pandemic we managed to have some scary fun at home. We danced around the house, made themed snacks, and played a couple of games. My youngest daughter has been creating her own “choose your own adventure” style games for a while now and they are always good for some laughs.

The past few months have continued to be rich in reading. I finished 22 books in September and October:

  1. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
  2. A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
  3. The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg
  4. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
  5. The Sparks Fly Upward by Diana Norman
  6. Hid From Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming
  7. All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie
  8. The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton Morgan
  9. The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes
  10. The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati
  11. The Searcher by Tana French
  12. Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie
  13. Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
  14. Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati
  15. The Tourist Attraction by Sara Morgenthaler
  16. The Switch by Beth O’Leary
  17. Well Played by Jen DeLuca
  18. A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
  19. A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn
  20. Teach Me by Olivia Dade
  21. Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
  22. Dishoom: From Bombay With Love by Shamil Thakrar

As you can see, I’ve been continuing with the comfort reads, but there have been a few notable exceptions. I read three non-fiction books, including two memoirs and a cookbook. I knew of Molly Wizenberg from her foodie memoirs, but The Fixed Stars is the story of the break up of her marriage as she discovers that her sexual identity is not as “fixed” as she once believed. It was a very honest portrayal and it gave me a lot to think about. Similarly, Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert details the writer’s thought process as she comes to terms with the idea of remarrying when she had sworn off marriage forever. It is part memoir, part sociological study, and I enjoyed it very much.

In late February, right before the global pandemic hit us all in the face and put an end to casual travel, I had the chance to meet up with an old friend in London for the weekend. Because we both enjoy good food, we did a lot of eating, but the restaurant that stands out the most was Dishoom. Later, when my birthday rolled around in April, I received a surprise in the mail: their cookbook, which is a love letter to the city of Bombay. I took my time with this one because it is beautifully written, with recipes that will leave your mouth watering, and a fascinating guide to the city (if, as the authors confess, somewhat rose-tinted). Highly recommended.

More on Bombay-related reading to come, as this cookbook set me off on a literary journey to learn and experience more of the city via my armchair and my library card. I also will devote a separate post to Earthlings, as I have a lot to say about this one (whew).

I’m really looking forward to November, to nanowriming (anyone else out there? wanna be buddies?) and some other personal projects for the month to come. We’re back in confinement here in France, so I’ll have the month at home to telework and focus on my goals.

Hope you are all staying safe and healthy. Wishing you a fulfilling fall and, as always, lots of good reading in the month ahead.

The Summer Wrap-Up

monthly-wrap-upLong time no see! I really thought this thing was done, but I guess all it took was a global pandemic, a leisurely few weeks off from work, and a glut of reading to make me feel the need to write again. Whatever works, right?

Not surprisingly, I’ve been reading a lot of “comfort” fiction lately. And I do mean a lot–almost 20 books in the past two months, and August isn’t even finished yet.

  1. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
  2. Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
  3. Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
  4. Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
  5. The Two Lives of Lydia Byrd by Josie Silver
  6. The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
  7. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  8. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
  9. Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali
  10. Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline
  11. Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen
  12. Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
  13. Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh
  14. The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter
  15. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leigh Johnson
  16. What You Wish For by Katherine Center
  17. Remain Silent by Susie Steiner
  18. The Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center
  19. The Lost Husband by Katherine Center

As you can see, I’ve been on a Katherine Center kick recently, as her books are just fitting perfectly with my mood and what I need at the moment. I still have three from her backlist that I want to read but I have to wait my turn at the library, as I think there are a lot of people out there who need comfort reads right now.

I can honestly say that I enjoyed every book on this list, although a few have stayed with me longer and are really thought provoking, including Untamed, Girls Made of Snow and Glass, Such a Fun Age and The Yellow House.

As I’ve fallen out of the blogging habit, I haven’t been participating in any challenges either. I did create my own challenge after I got on a Haruki Murakami kick a while back, and I’m planning to read most of his backlist. I researched online and have come up with a general order that I’d like to follow.

Other than reading, I’ve gotten into a good exercise habit over the last year or so. I started jogging last summer after downloading the “Couch to 5K” app and I can now run a 5K regularly, usually running 2-3 times a week. I haven’t been doing yoga as much, but when I do practice it’s Yoga with Adrienne videos on YouTube.

It’s hard to make plans when things are still so uncertain (for all of us), but I’m hoping to start playing the clarinet again this year after a 30+ year hiatus. More on that to come…

Wishing you a smooth and healthy transition to the new school year and season. Happy reading!

January Checkpoint: 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

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I’m taking part in the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge this year, and it’s time to check in on how I’m doing so far. This is pretty easy to do since I haven’t read any of my books yet, so I’m not doing too great! However, I’m planning to start one of them in the next day so that I will have at least read some for this challenge in January.

From Adam at Roof Beam Reader, here is the challenge ‘Question of the Month‘:

Which book on your 2018 list has been on your shelf the longest?

This would probably be Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I can’t remember how long I’ve had this book on my shelf, but I think it must be since college (which for me was 20 years ago). I’ve actually tried to start it several times but never gotten past the first chapter. Everyone says this is his most accessible book and a really good classic, so I’m determined to persevere.

MY PROGRESS: 0 OF 12 COMPLETED / 0 OF 12 REVIEWED

Boo! Hopefully I can update this next month.

Are any of you participating in the challenge? Feel free to leave a link to your list in the comments–I’d love to see what you’re planning to read!

Review and Giveaway: Degrees of Love by Lisa Slabach

 
 

Book Details:

Book Title: Degrees of Love: A Novel by Lisa Slabach

Category: Adult Fiction, 344 pages

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Publisher: Bookbaby

Release date: Dec 1, 2017

Tour dates: Jan 3 to 31, 2017

Content Rating: PG-13 + M (Adult themes including infidelity, occasional F-word, non-explicit sex scenes)

Book Description:

At thirty-six, Susan Sinclair has it all. She’s just been promoted to Senior Vice President of Mobile Banking at her firm, a prestigious position bringing fresh creative challenges and a hefty salary increase. Like the shiny new BMW in the driveway of the Silicon Valley home she shares with her husband, Matt, and their two beautiful boys, Susan exudes confidence and style.

Yet despite her success in juggling the roles of wife, mother, and businesswoman, Susan struggles with a secret dissatisfaction. Matt’s work in cutting-edge computer research pays less than her job, and with each advance in her career, he has grown more distant. But Matt refuses to admit there is a problem, and Susan forces herself to play along, determined to give her boys the close-knit family life she never had.

Then she meets her new boss, Reese Kirkpatrick. Working and traveling together, she and Reese become a crackerjack team, but little by little, pleasure mixes with business. For the first time in a long time—maybe ever—Susan feels seen and appreciated for who she is. Certain she would never allow their friendship to cross the line, Susan lets herself stray dangerously close to the edge.

A moment of weakness changes everything. Now, unable to stomach the façade her marriage has become yet unwilling to decimate her family by moving forward with Reese, Susan faces a choice that could cost her everything—including her children . . . but possibly bring her more than she can dream.

My Review:

As someone who has been married for almost twenty years, I’m always interested to read another perspective on how a couple deals with the issues that arise from being in a long-term committed relationship. Although the story is told from Susan’s perspective, there was a lot that I could recognize in the feelings and actions of both Susan and her husband, Matt. I think most marriages go through stages in which one or both partners feel discontented and wonder if they should have taken another path, but children and practical concerns as well as the weight of their shared history keep them together.

In that respect, the story was immediately familiar, and Slabach’s writing drew me in and kept me reading. Other aspects of the story were less relatable, and I had a hard time with some of the actions taken by Susan and Reese that turned me off to their characters. Susan comes off as a bit of a snob, and Reese is definitely a creepy boss who crosses the line many times as he seemingly falls in love at first sight with a married woman who works for him. (If I were his employee, I would have reported him for sexual harassment before the first back rub.)

All in all, I enjoyed ‘Degrees of Love’. It was a quick, engaging read with a satisfying ending.

To read more reviews, please visit Lisa Slabach’s page on iRead Book Tours.

 

Meet the Author:

 

 
 

 

Degrees of Love is Lisa Slabach’s debut novel. She is currently working on her third full-length manuscript and a collection of short stories inspired by her experiences growing up in a small farm community in Washington’s Yakima Valley. In addition to writing, Lisa works for a Fortune 500 Company, leading a sales team in the financial industry. She currently resides in Northern California with her husband and has two daughters, who are both pursuing careers in film. In her free time, she enjoys drinking wine with friends and cooking in her pink kitchen.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

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My Year in Books – 2017

year-in-booksEven though we still have a few weeks left in 2017, Goodreads was kind enough to send my ‘Year in Books’ review. I made a conscious effort to read more widely this year and I think it shows. I also did very few reviews and focused on reading for pleasure, and I’m happy to say that my overall satisfaction with what I read reflects that.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Number of books read – 56
  • Number of pages read – 18,708
  • Shortest book – Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson
  • Longest book – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Number of books with 5-star ratings – 15
  • Favorite fiction book(s) of the year – The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent (I can’t choose!)
  • Favorite nonfiction book of the year – Just Kids by Patti Smith
  • Percentage of fiction books – 84%
  • Percentage of nonfiction books – 16%
  • Percentage of male authors – 35%
  • Percentage of female authors – 65%

If you want to see the whole list, feel free to check out my Goodreads page.

What about you? What were some of your reading highlights and accomplishments for 2017?

Nonfiction November – New to My TBR

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Nonfiction November is in its last week (boo), and Week Five is a round-up of new nonfiction books we have added to our TBR this month. Lory at The Emerald City Book Review asks the question:

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

I’ve added quite a few new books to my TBR thanks to the recommendations of my fellow bloggers.

  1. SPQR by Mary Beard – I can’t remember whose blog featured this book, so please let me know if it’s yours so I can link to you!
  2. The Novel of the Century by David Bellos – Recommended by Nick at One Catholic Life and Emma at Words and Peace
  3. How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson – Recommended by T.J. at My Book Strings
  4. Modern Mindfulness by Rohan Gunatillake– Recommended by Kazen at Always Doing
  5. The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan – Recommended by Allison at Mind Joggle
  6. Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn – Recommended by Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books

I had a lot of recommendations for other authors on the topic of mindfulness, so thank you to everyone who suggested those. I also ended up reading one book this month that I saw recommended on several different blogs–The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkle–and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so thank you to those who featured this book.

I hope you had some great recommendations for nonfiction books to add to your TBR pile. Nonfiction November, see you next year!

Nonfiction November – Nonfiction Favorites

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Doing Dewey is hosting the link-up for this next-to-last week of Nonfiction November (sniff). The prompt:

We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

This is an interesting question, because it’s not easy for me to define what makes a nonfiction book a favorite. My favorite book of all time, Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, is nonfiction. When I think about what made me fall in love with that book and other nonfiction works, it comes down to three main things:

  1. A good story. I believe it’s true that fact can be more interesting than fiction, and I love nonfiction that really tells a story instead of just relating information.
  2. An inspiring subject. Some nonfiction might tell a good story but have a subject matter that just isn’t relate-able or inspiring. Just as with fiction, I have to be drawn to the subject matter for it to hold my attention.
  3. An engaging writing style. I think it all comes down to how a writer tells a story, and this is particularly true for nonfiction. I never would have believed that I would fall in love with a book about a racehorse, but Hillenbrand tells the story in such a way that you can’t help but be fascinated and emotionally invested.

What about you? What makes particular works of nonfiction your “favorites”?

A Day in the Life of a Work-from-Home Mom

I’ve always had in mind to do a “day in the life” post but something (oh yeah, life) kept getting in the way. My motivation is partly because I love reading these posts myself and mostly because I am in a situation at the moment where most of what I do is unseen. Ever since we moved back to France from the U.S., I’ve been continuing to work for my U.S. employer remotely.

Working from home has its advantages and disadvantages, the main advantage being that I can be available for the kids and home stuff during the day, and the main disadvantage being that THERE IS NOT ESCAPE AND I AM SO ALOOOONE. So for this post, I chose to document a day that represents the best and worst of this dual existence. Wednesdays are half-days for schools in France, so while I have my mornings to myself,  I have the afternoons with our two daughters. Here’s how it goes:

5 a.m. – Woken up by the cat wanting his breakfast. Cat fed, I go back to sleep.

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Kitchen table: where I start the day.

7 a.m. – Up for the day. Get daughter no. 1 off to the bus and school. Eat some leftover pear cake for breakfast and have a cup of coffee.

8 a.m. – Get daughter no. 2 off to the bus and school. Sit for a few minutes to check emails and news of the world (SAD!) Say goodbye to husband as he leaves for work.

8:30 a.m. – Spend some time doing chores around the house. Dishwasher unloaded and loaded, laundry gathered and started, beds made and general straightening of the house. Unclog shower drain and decide whole shower needs to be scrubbed. Wash hands several time to remove yucky shower drain smell and subsequent bleach smell.

9:30 a.m. – Spent too long on chores so now starting work a bit late. Make some progress on a project.

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Home office: where I should be working.

11:30 a.m. – Make lunch–Lentil and Swiss Chard soup. Feel very good about using some of the veggies from the CSA box.

12 p.m. – Laundry is done so hang it up outside on the line to dry.

12:30 p.m. – Realize daughter no. 2 should be home by now but isn’t; check videophone only to see her at the gate holding back tears. Realize power outage last night reset videophone which wasn’t turned on so I couldn’t hear her ringing the bell. Open gate and proceed to cover her with guilty hugs and kisses. Remember this is the same child who once asked me what she should do if she woke up one morning only to discover our corpses and feel even more guilty.

12:45 p.m. – Daughter no. 1 comes home and we all eat lunch together.

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Music school: where I wait.

1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. – Daughters no. 1 and 2 have activities at the music school, so we drive into town and I drop them off. While they’re in class, I run by the grocery store to pick up a few things and pass by the recycling center to get rid of the three bags of recycling in my trunk. Daughter no. 1 finishes and we stop by the library to get the next volumes in the manga series she is reading.

3 – 6 p.m. – Drop off daughter no. 2 at a friend’s house to work on a project. Daughter no. 1 and I head home for a few hours of relative peace and quiet. I get some work done, finish the laundry, and make banana bread pudding using an old baguette and overripe bananas. Daughter no. 2 returns and I prepare a hasty dinner while getting ready for my dance class. Leave daughter no. 1–the teenager–in charge.

6:45 – 8:15 p.m. – Drive to my African dance class in which I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get my body to override my brain (the struggle is real). Get invited to a birthday party the following evening and despite instant introvert urge to respond, “Heck, no!”, I smile and say I’ll be there. Feel very good about social efforts despite squicky feeling in stomach.

8:30 – 10:30 p.m. – Home, snuggle with girls before sending them to bed for the night. Husband arrives and we recap the day before he retreats to his office and I retreat to bed with a book. Manage to read a few pages before snoozing…

So there you have it–way more than you ever wanted to know about a day in my life. You’ll notice there was no mention of blogging, as that usually has to wait until the weekend. Any of this seem familiar to you?

Nonfiction November – Become the Expert

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For this third week of Nonfiction November, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is hosting the link-up post ‘Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert’. The prompt:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve decided to combine ‘Become the Expert’ with ‘Ask the Expert,’ as I already have several books to read on a topic but would love additional suggestions to add to my list. My topic is raising children with an awareness and understanding of nature. Basically, I want to figure out how to cultivate our family’s relationship with nature. We go hiking and live in a rural area but aren’t really “outdoorsy,” and this is something that I feel is even more important to stress as my children are getting older and as we’re becoming more disconnected.

The books I currently have on my shelf on this topic include:

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Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

by Richard Louv

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a looong time and yet somehow never managed to do more than read the first chapter or so. Since it came out almost ten years ago, this is obviously a subject that has been on my mind for a while. I really need to read this one.

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Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World

by Ben Hewitt

I’m not looking to home school or unschool my kids, but I’ve heard good things about this book that recounts one family’s experience getting back to living in tune with nature. Even if it doesn’t replace a traditional classroom, the natural world has so many lessons to teach (for kids and adults).

Portage: A Family, a Canoe, and the Search for the Good Lifeportage

by Sue Leaf

I ordered this book recently after reading a review of it on Kim’s blog. It recounts different outdoor trips that the author’s family takes over the course of 35 years. I’ve read the first few chapters already and I can safely say that Sue Leaf is way more of a outdoorswoman than I am, but I still think there are things I can take away from this one.

What about you? Are you an expert on a topic that you can share about? I would especially appreciate suggestions on my topic!