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Leslie Beslie is a personal blog of me, Leslie. I share articles and thoughts on where I live and things I like. This includes NYC, books, finances, running, music, cats, and drawing.

Other Projects: French Toast Brigade | Life & Spending 2016 Weekly Planner | College Football Daybreak Podcast

Book Reviews: The Bone Clocks, Thrown, Into the Go-Slow, Gone Away World, World War Z

Although the holidays may be over, it’s still winter. And winter means SAD. Some people turn to alcohol to deal with their depression, I turn to books. I’ve done individual reviews of books I enjoyed, here are abridged reviews of books that were just okay.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell was a did not finish

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (DNF)

I tried reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell this week but couldn’t finish it. I saw this book on a list from a trusted reading resource and put it on hold at the library. I didn’t look up what it was about or anything. I never do. I didn’t know who David Mitchell was until I saw the cover which mentioned he wrote Cloud Atlas. I know nothing about that story other than they turned it into a movie.

Anyway, I loved the first part of The Bone Clocks. The first 100 pages focus on character Holly Sykes. A sixteen year-old who runs away from home. You learn that she had “daymares” as a child, was cured, then she begins having them again. These supernatural daymares are what kept me reading, as I wanted to figure out exactly what was going on. Holly Sykes’ character seemed spot on for an angsty teenager.

Then the story moves onto another character, a college student named Hugo Lamb and this is when I started skimming. The story is very non-linear, which is fine. But I guess I need the plot to be a tiny bit more straightforward than it was. The three sections of the book jumped arbitrarily 10 years in the future each time. Then Mitchell interjects dialogue and scenes to provide an explanation of what happened in the past.

He pulls it off, it is good writing. I just didn’t like it for storytelling. At the half-way point, about 300 pages, I gave up and called this book a DNF (did not finish). I didn’t see where it was going and grew tired of waiting for the book to be interesting again. Maybe I’m missing something in his writing?

Into the Go Slow by Bridgett Davis

Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett Davis

This was an interesting fictional story, though partly based on the author’s life, about a 21 year-old girl who is processing her older sister’s death four years later. Her sister died in Nigeria, so the main character decides to travel there, on a whim, to learn more about her sister’s death. The death was due to a car accident but the sister is suspicious of this.

This is sort of a coming of age story, and the main character does grow up in the end. But, really, 21 year-olds are dumb and make dumb decisions and say dumb things. And this type of dumb behavior is really annoying to read over and over and over. It’s realistic, don’t get me wrong. Just, frustrating.

As an example, while traveling in Nigeria alone, she is almost raped at the place where she is staying. Yet, the very next day, she follows a different strange man into an unfamiliar home under the assumption a woman she knows lives there. I actually believe this is realistic behavior. It is just really frustrating to read about.

Also the main character is obsessed with her dead sister. I understand this and am sure it is realistic but… is still uncomfortable to read about. She wears her sister’s clothes, braids her hair like her sister, listens to her records, etc. It’s understandable but uncomfortable.

What did make up for the odd story was the writing. I was captivated to continue reading the entire time, even when I grew frustrated or annoyed. I can’t recommend this one but it was subject matter I don’t typically read so in that way it was interesting.

Thrown by Kerry Howley

This is a literary non-fiction story about MMA Fighters out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Howley is age 28-30 when writing this; part of the time a full-time academic. The writing is very academic, almost thesis sounding at some points. Definitely a bit too literal and over-the-top sounding. Yet, also enjoyable. Mainly because we keep waiting for a moment to happen. Why? Because Howley is waiting for this moment. Some moment, I’m not exactly sure what. Some sort of philosophy of catharsis maybe?

It never happens. But we do learn a lot about the fighters and the scene itself. I found the parts about weighing in and starving themselves rather interesting. The abuse their bodies take outside of the ring. Howley never passes judgement. But she does talk about herself a bit more than she should. At times she would think her role in these fighters’ lives was a bit bigger than it actually was. But there’s enough of a balance that it’s not too terrible.

This is a short read so I do recommend it but it’s not a casual read, even though the subject matter is.

Into the Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway (DNF)

I typically enjoy dystopian novels and really thought I would enjoy this one based on the summary. Unfortunately, I didn’t and after 200 pages, I gave up. The introduction to this story is wonderful. You get introduced to a set of very interesting characters and learn about a very interesting problem they need to solve in this very interesting world. I was hooked.

Then suddenly you’re transported back several decades to when the main character was 5 years-old and you learn about their best friend. At this point, it becomes a character study. The two friends grow up together, meet other characters, go to ninja fighting school, have a teacher, go to college, join the military, etc etc etc. Blah blah blah. The entire time I was trying to figure out what all this had to do with the very interesting beginning. And I’m sure it was related, somehow.

I wanted to fight through this part and get to the very interesting part again, but I just couldn’t. The writing style is, as a friend described it, “silly.” I thought of it as Catch-22-esque. This is definitely satire, which I usually enjoy, but in a very confusing type of way. Scenes are long-winded and nothing is clear.

I am aware that the end does tie up everything, with a twist ending even, so it works out. But there is no way I could get that far. If you like these types of books, you’ll love this. But I just couldn’t make it through.

World War Z (Audiobooks)

One of the Book Challenges I’m attempting this year is to read an audiobook. I don’t read audiobooks! Never listened to one! So I looked up recommended audiobooks. Not just books put on tape, but actual good recordings that worked well on audio. World War Z came highly recommended; though I had little interest in reading the actual book. I know what it’s about but am over zombies. Though I did watch the movies because I love dumb action movies.

Surprisingly, the audiobook was fantastic! Since the book is mainly first-person encounters told through interviews, it lended itself very well to an audiobook. There was a star-studded casting for each character. And I enjoyed hearing different voices for each character. It felt more compelling than if I had just read the book. Sure, some of the accents made me feel uncomfortable. But for the most part, everyone did a great job.

This is short – a total of 6 hours – about two days for me. I’m not sure how I feel about audiobooks in general. I kind of liked that I couldn’t see the spoiler at the bottom of the page and I didn’t know what was coming up next. But it also was more difficult for me to listen. I couldn’t just ‘read’ a page or two while standing in line like I can with an actual book. And there were definitely times that I just wasn’t paying attention and had to rewind.

I may consider trying out another audiobook if there is are any recommendations as it was a very interesting experience. I really did enjoy this version and story much more than I thought I would.

Books: Reading Challenges

Typically I just read whatever I come across. These are usually staff picks from local bookstores, recommendations from friends, books I see on the shelf at the library, or just titles I hear about in passing. There’s not really a rhyme or a reason. So when I saw that Pop Sugar and Book Riot were offering Reading Challenges, I thought I’d give it a shot. I like the idea of broadening what I read and reading “outside my comfort zone.” Especially with formats, like audiobooks. I’ve never listened to one!

I’ll try to keep this updated. I am not making a list of books ahead of time to fit each category. My plan is for the most part, to just read what I normally do and see where those fall into the categories. I would like to have a unique book for each category (no duplicates) so I am not giving myself a deadline to finish this. The goal isn’t to read more books, but to read about different cultures, from different perspectives. That’s something I should keep doing and not stop after a year.

Started 1.1.15; Updated 12.05.15; Completed 51/74 (Excluding duplicates)

Reading Challenge List

A romance novel Eleanor and Park
A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.) The Madman’s Daughter
A book published this year The Girl on the Train
A sci-fi novel The Humans
A book that takes place in Asia The Incarnations
A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25 Eragon
A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65 Mr. Mercedes
A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people) The Empathy Exams
A book published by an indie press Into the Go-Slow
A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ The Paying Guests
A book by a person whose gender is different from your own Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
A book by an author from Africa An African in Greenland
A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans,Aboriginals, etc.) Tracks
A microhistory Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants
A YA novel The Girl From the Well
A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade Just Kids
An audiobook World War Z
A collection of poetry Citizen: An American Lyric
A book that someone else has recommended to you We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
A book that was originally published in another language Roadside Picnic
A graphic novel, a graphic memoir, comics Seconds
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure The Lost World
A book published before 1850 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”) How To Be An Adult in Relationships

A mystery or thrillerGirl On The Train
A book of short stories
A popular author’s first book
A book based on a true storyTracks
A book at the bottom of your to-read list
A book that scares you
A book more than 100 years oldLegend of Sleepy Hollow
A book with antonyms in the title
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visitThe Nightswimmer
A book that came out the year you were born
A book from your childhood
A book with a love triangleThe Paying Guests
A book that made you cry
A book with magicThe Magicians
A book you own but have never readAn African in Greenland
A book that takes place in your hometown
A book that was originally written in a different languageRoadside Picnic
A book set during ChristmasNOS4A2
A banned book
A book based on or turned into a TV show
A book you started but never finished
A classic romance
A book published this year Mislaid
A book you can finish in a day The Happiness Project
A book set in high school Everything I Never Told You
A play A Streetcar Named Desire
A book with bad reviews In An Unlikely Event
A book with more than 500 pages NOS4A2
A book that became a movie The Lost World
A book with a number in the title Station Eleven
A book written by someone under 30 The Bone Season
A book with nonhuman characters The Android’s Dream
A funny book Mermaids in Paradise
A book by a female author Small Victories
A book with a one-word title Thrown
A book set in a different country The Night Swimmer
A nonfiction book The Sixth Extinction
A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet Heart Shaped Box
A book a friend recommended A Million Miles
A Pulitzer-Prize Winning book Middlesex
A book your mom loves Poisonwood Bible
A book based entirely on its cover Strange Bodies
A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t Lord of the Flies
A memoir Relish
A trilogy The Magicians
A book set in the future Annihilation
A book with a color in the title Wolf in White Van
A graphic novel Tomboy
A book by an author you’ve never read before Dirty Job
A book written by an author with your same initials Rooms

Started 1.1.15; Updated 12.05.15; Completed 51/74 (Excluding duplicates)

Anything that has a title next to it but isn’t striked out, is a duplicate.

Book Review: Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

fourth of july creek by smith henderson

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson is a modern-western fiction novel taking place in Montana. It is a story of an anti-hero, Pete, who is a social worker with a family as fucked-up as his cases. The prose is beautiful and interesting, though the story is dark with lots of characters. I definitely recommend the novel but it slowly grew on me and might not be for everyone.

This is not a page-turner with action around every corner. This is not a coming of age story for anyone involved. No one learns their lesson. There is little self-awareness. There is no deep character growth or change. And you know what, because that’s how life is sometimes. Sometimes, we don’t change after major life experiences.

This is a book about characters, not plot. Despite the characters not learning about themselves, you do learn about them.

Then there is the prose. The writing is gritty and beautiful at the same time, a bit similar to Cormac McCarthy but with a little less flourish. Through the dialogue you can easily see that everyone is on the same page here. The dialect and grammar never felt forced or that it was making fun of anyone.

The protagonist, Pete, isn’t better off than anyone else.Even as a social worker he fully admits that his family is as bad as the ones he works with. He is definitely an anti-hero in the story. I am a sucker for anti-heros. It makes sense too, since this is a modern western.

Since the story does not have a straight-forward plot, and is only about the life of one character, it doesn’t have a straight-forward ending. I don’t mind this as our lives don’t always have a concrete resolution to problems either. But if you are looking for the story to be fully resolved at the end and tied with a bow, you’ll be disappointed. The story is dark from start to finish – no happy endings here.

If you enjoy well-written fiction, dark stories, or westerns, I definitely recommend this one. This is Henderson’s debut novel and it makes me look forward to see what he can write out next. I give this one 4 out of 5.

Book Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer

whiskey tango foxtrot by david shafer

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, David Shafer’s debut novel, is a well-written story of conspiracies, world travel, action/adventure, multiple storylines, and unsympathetic characters. All in good ways!

Now, I hadn’t heard anything about this book when I picked it up. I saw it on a list, then saw it at the library. I didn’t read any reviews or see any hype about it. However, after I read it (and enjoyed it) then I looked up reviews. A lot of them are complaining about the book being 1) overhyped and 2) not ending.

Here’s the thing with the ending. I love that it ends exactly where it needs to. You know everything you need to know. Look, the good guys are going to win, okay. I don’t need to read 50+ pages on how exactly they win. I know they’re going to. That stuff is actually boring. So this book ends when you learn that certain people have joined the good guys. Then the good guy group outlines their entire plan anyway. As a reader, we can only assume that the good guys will win. This is what we want. We do not need to see it being executed. It will not further character development. And the only way to keep that type of thing interesting, is by making it predictable.

So, I am completely fine with the book as a whole and do recommend it. 4 out of 5 from me.

Book Review: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Seconds is the first graphic novel from Bryan Lee O’Malley since he finished the Scott Pilgrim series. And it is a fantastic follow-up. The illustrations are cartoonish but unique. They are still obvious in a lot of places but his style is his style. The characters are around the same age and stuck in a weird mix of immature behaviors while having mature real-life positions. Not completely unrealistic. Then some sci-fi/folklore/timetravel/string theory things happen which, although a little confusing, really makes the story interesting.

The story’s main character is Katie. Katie owns a restaurant and is a chef. She is dealing with a bad break-up and is trying to open a second restaurant. She pretty much only dates guys at work. Then becomes obsessed with befriends one of the waitstaff, Hazel, and they develop an odd sort of friendship. Most of the story takes place at Katie’s current restaurant, which is named, Seconds.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley artwork

I really loved the coming together of the story here but it seemed like there were really two different stories. One of them doesn’t have a resolution but the one clearly does.

First, there’s the plot line that she gets second chances. Katie can write down a “mistake” in a notebook, eat a mushroom, and go to sleep. Then in the morning it will have been like that mistake never happened. The only rule is that the mistake occurred on the premises of the restaurant. Well, Katie lives in a dumpy apartment right above the restaurant, so that caveat doesn’t affect too much.

As one would expect, Katie gets greedy and starts changing her whole life around. But other things get mixed up in the midst. Things don’t end all happy even when they should be. She goes back too far, erases too much. Then there is a whole string theory bit. That every revision is an entire different world. That part is interesting though far from a new concept. O’Malley’s illustrates the erasures and new revisions in an identifiable way. Through his illustrations we’re able to see more subtle differences within each “revision”, which helps to show just how much is being changed.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley inside of comic

Then there is another story-line that isn’t related to her erasing mistakes at all. This storyline involves common folklore about “house spirits”. Katie brings home a clay pot from an abandoned building, which unfortunately contains that building’s house spirit. Of course, her apartment already has a house spirit. So then there is this creepy sort of conflict/battle between the ‘evil’ house spirit and the good one. The evil one is obviously trying to take over. The illustrations are creepy, the atmosphere set is creepy. O’Malley tells all of this very well. It also wasn’t predictable, which made it even more interesting.

In the end, she is able to help the ‘good’ house spirit. And in turn receives help, that resets her world back before she erased anything. (This isn’t a spoiler because it’s exactly as you would expect). So then she truly is given a second chance to do things the right way from that point forward.

I give the book a 4 out of 5 as it was enjoyable and the illustrations worked well with the story. Although you do have to like O’Malley’s drawing style to like the book.

While I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think of another graphic novel I read a few years ago NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki. This is a graphic memoir that tells of the Yokai, similar type of house spirits as part of Japanese folk lore. If that part of the story interested you, this is definitely another good read.

2014 Big List of Books I’ve Read

Continuing the yearly tradition from 2012 and 2013, here is the big list of books I read during 2014.

Fiction: 23
Non-Fiction: 14
Comics/Graphic Novels: 10
Did Not Finish: 7

Total Spent: $35
Total Books Taken out from Library: 41
Total Saved by using the Library: $680 (at retail price)

Marbles by Ellen Forney / Graphic Novel

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

This is a graphic memoir from Ellen Forney about her initial diagnosis and coping with bipolar disorder. It is the best description of mania & depression I have ever read. And is absolutely perfect for the graphic novel format.

As an artist, she spends the latter half of the book debating about taking medication. Her worry is that bipolar disorder is actually the key to her creativity and antimanic drugs will take that away. She then goes through a brief history of famous writers who have been diagnosed as manic or depressive post-mortum. In the end she finds a combination of drugs that reduce her bipolar mood swings while keeping her creativity.

Although I have not experienced mania to that extent, her description of depression was quite spot on of my own experiences. She mentions getting out of bed just to go to sleep on the couch and how her therapist was proud of her for just getting out of bed. Because that truly is an accomplishment when in a severe depression.

The illustrations of her mood swings are very vivid. Providing a better explanation than words on exactly how she was feeling each time. Even though her bipolar disorder will never go away, after a two year struggle she has learned to manage it, which triggers to avoid, and when a mood swing could be coming on. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples / Comics

Saga Vols 1-3

Saga comics Volumes 1-3 (current)

I first read the beginning of Saga’s Volume 1 immediately following Preacher and thought it was a rip-off. The storyline seemed too similar to me so I bailed. It took me a year to give it another chance after hearing many people rave about it. I’m glad I gave it a second chance.

The story line, while not original, is certainly interesting. I love that the point of view is from the child. The cast of characters are intriguing and I hope there will be more development. More than anything, the illustrations are wonderful.

Other Graphic Novels/Comics

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos / Fiction

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

I loved this short, straight forward, coming of age story. Revolving around an outcast who forms a band (of course) in high school then the emotions & adventures that happen to them. The main character is very interesting although the ending gets a little too predictable and sappy. But this was a great quick read I was able to finish in two days and I loved every word of it.

Jumper by Steven Gould / Fiction

Jumper by Steven Gould

The first half of this book is some of the best adventure sci-fi I’ve read. The idea of being able to teleport to places you’ve already been to is a really fun concept to think about. I love that the 18-year old male main character does exactly what you would expect of an 18-year old male who just found out he can teleport. First, he robs a bank. Then, he tries to impress a girl. Lastly, he avenges the death of his mother.

For this same reason, the last half of the book grew tiresome for me. Teenage boys are stubborn and, well, dumb, and this character is no exception. That means it is realistic. But still frustrating as a reader. It is still a really fun adventure story although I probably would have enjoyed it more as a teenager myself.

Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross / Fiction

Charles Stross' Laundry Files

Charles Stross’ Laundry Files

This was the first Stross novel I’ve read and I really didn’t know what I was in for. This is part of a series of stories in this weird sci-fi world Stross created. The world is a mix of sci-fi monsters & demons, with james bond spy plots, plus Douglas Adams-esque wit & humor.

I wasn’t completely able to follow the plot but I loved the world and the characters. This is a book that knows exactly what it is and owns that. The main character makes many jokes and references to spy movies, which means no one is taking this book seriously and that is a perfect fit.

This story can be enjoyed by both spy/adventure fans and fans of sci-fi, it really is a good mix of both.

Horns by Joe Hill / Fiction

Joe Hill's Horns

Joe Hill’s Horns

This is the first book I’ve read by Hill and I loved it. The story is slightly fantasy as it involves the main character waking up one morning with horns growing out of his head. His transformation to the devil is an interesting one. And he is also a crime solver as he needs to prove himself innocent of the death of his girlfriend from a few years ago.

I loved the writing, the pacing, the characters, and the plot itself. The ending got a little… weird. But it wasn’t completely expected, which is always a relief.

City of Thieves by David Benioff / Fiction

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad by David Benioff

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad

This fictionalized version of the Siege of Leningrad is partly based off of Benioff’s grandfather’s personal stories. Most of the historical events are true but many of the scenes have been embellished to make a good story. It works for me.

Despite the context of war, this is a story of two teenage boys who get in trouble and have to essentially perform community service to get out of it. They trek across the country side to run an errand for a general. Along the way they make friends, see how the war is affecting their country, learn about each other, and themselves.

Although it is a fictional account, history fans will find the story interesting. It is a coming of age story at it’s heart but the war aspect is very This story was based on Benioff’s grandfather’s experiences during the Siege of Leningrad as a teenager.

Other Fiction

Welcome to Shirley by Kelly McMasters / Non-Fiction

Kelly McMasters' Welcome to Shirley

Kelly McMaster’s Welcome to Shirley

This is part environmentalism and part memoir as the author grew up in the “atomic town” of Shirley she is writing about. Shirley, a small town on Long Island, NY, is located near a national laboratory that tends to have a leaky reactor.

The first half of the story is simply her auto-biography. She also gives a wonderful history of the town of Shirley. As a New York native, I found all that pretty intriguing. Then the second half turns to environmental awareness as she becomes a teenager and many of her neighbors get cancer. A very rare type of a cancer. Such a rare type of cancer that it doesn’t make sense so many people in such a concentrated area would get it.

That is when the town started looking into the near-by reactor. McMaster’s research is sound and her personal attachment only makes this feel more authentic than if it came from an outsider. The story of her life and all the history actually works very well together. Nothing is too sappy or over exaggerated. Simply knowing that that is where she came from makes the environmental hazards of the laboratory feel even that much worse, as a reader.

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell / Non-Fiction

History of Food Sitwell

This is a history book told chronologically through the lens of food.

Each chapter is a recipe though the text is often more about the time period than the actual recipe or food. The opening chapter is circa 1958-1913 BC and describes how the Egyptians used food for daily life, ceremonies, animals, and other ways. The recipes are put there to provide context but are not really meant to be followed.

There was an incredibly interesting chapter on the first supermarket in the US, Piggly Wiggly. He goes into detail on the history of self-service supermarkets and the man who invented them. It was incredibly interesting. And for the life of me I can’t remember what the recipe was for that chapter.

The recipe and the chapter text seemed to correlate less and less as the time period grew newer. I loved the history segments in the beginning of the book but my interest did wane by the last quarter. The modern recipes just weren’t as interesting.

This is a book more for history nerds than foodies.

On Writing by Stephen King / Non-Fiction

On Writing by Stephen King

I’ve read several of the ‘best’ writing reference books by authors now and there is definitely a reason why this one always makes that list. Honestly, I was skeptical that King’s advice would be practical because of all his success. But it really is.

Heads up, the beginning quarter is an autobiography. I understand why he did this but it was quite boring for me. I wasn’t reading this to learn about King, I wanted to learn about writing.

So he more than makes up for this in the rest of the book. He actually goes beyond my expectations by talking about sentence structure, contractions, adverbs, publishing, agents, literary journals, writing environments, and even provides good & bad examples of his own writing & editing.

There were certainly some take-aways I got out of this story that I really put to use in this year’s NaNoWriMo writing. I stayed clear from adverbs; King hates them. I did most of my writing in one spot, at home, instead of jumping around from one coffee shop to another facing many distractions.

He also makes strong points on limiting dialogue, showing not telling, and not to worry if you don’t have a plot. As he says, get your story down first, the plot will come later. People’s lives have stories, not plots. That is some of the best writing advice I’ve heard.

Tell-Tale Brain by V. S. Ramachandran / Non-Fiction

Tell Tale Brain

I started getting into pop-neuroscience books last year after reading Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. The Tell-Tale Brain was a book Sacks referenced so I decided to go straight to the source. While it is readable for the layman, it isn’t quite as “pop” as Sacks’ writing. I enjoyed it though some parts were a bit over my head.

The two most interesting topics were phantom limb syndrome and blind sight. Both are amazing medical conditions where the brain ‘sees’ one thing but our physical bodies ‘do’ another. He goes into details with case studies and the entire thing is very fascinating.

A Season of Saturdays by Michael Weinerb / Non-Fiction

A Season of Saturdays College Football Michael Weinerb

I picked this up at the library to get ready for the start of the college football season. This is another history book within the context of college football. Although it is very football focused, it also includes history about various colleges, rivalries, the ivy leagues, and the sport of football itself.

Weinerb never gets too technical in terminology but this is a book about football and you probably would only enjoy it if you enjoy college football.

Other Non-Fiction

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson / Did Not Finish

bill bryson the lost continent small town life

Bill Bryson’s cross-country trip across the United States; he is miserable the entire time

This book completely turned me off of Bill Bryson. His behavior and attitude throughout most of the book is pretty despicable. He is absolutely miserable, insulting every person and town he drives through. There are nothing but complaints despite he is going on an amazing road trip across the United States. At the time he wrote this, he was living in Britain and he won’t let you forget it.

The story itself is strange because there is little context as to why he is taking the trip or what he expects to get out of it. Basically the opposite of his A Walk in the Woods. He doesn’t like anything he sees, mocks everyone, and is generally a curmudgeon.

I read 3/4 of the book then couldn’t stand to hear him complain about the New England towns. The entire book is completely repetitive and I simply had enough at that point.

Other Did Not Finish Books

Book Review: A History of Food in 100 Recipes

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell

This is a history book, not a recipe book. Sitwell takes us chronologically through a brief history of the world, revolving around food and storytelling.

The book starts out circa 1958-1913 BC with a recipe for Ancient Egyptian Bread, which was found on the wall of Senet’s Tomb in Luxor, Egypt. This is common through most of early history since published cookbooks didn’t appear for quite some time. Recipes are found drawn on walls, written on clay tablets, incorporated into stories, mentioned in the Bible, sung in songs, etc. People have been talking about food for centuries.

The book is laid out so each recipe gets it’s own chapter and discusses how food was used during that time. These are not recipes for you to cook by. But they do provide an amazing insight into the time and culture.

Here is a recipe for “Fish Baked in Fig Leaves” by Archestratus circa 350BC:

You could not possibly spoil it even if you wanted to… Wrap it [the fish] in fig leaves with a little marjoram. No cheese, no nonsense! Just place it gently in fig leaves and tie them up with a string, then put it under hot ashes.

Ratios weren’t standardized. Time wasn’t standardized. Many of these recipes are little more than ingredient lists.

The first cookbook published by a woman was in 1664, The Cooks Guide by Hannah Woolley. This was just one of several books and articles Woolley wrote on Household Management. Also, like many other cookbook publishers around this time, she was frequently plagiarized. It was discovered that some of the more popular cookbooks in their time had been copied directly from other cookbooks that few people saw. Historically, it’s all about who you know and what resources you have.

As for actually reading this, I loved the first three-quarters of the book. My knowledge of food within the context of history was definitely broadened. Although, I found the early chapters much more interesting than the later ones. The last bit of the book provides current recipes and details on modern food culture that I did not find as intriguing as cultural history.

Even with my interest waning towards the end of the book, this was one of the best food and history books I’ve read. The writing is very readable with a good balance of wit and knowledge. Sometimes the author pats himself on the back needlessly. Or ties in his family, the members of which have a place in food history. I could have done without that since it’s a history book not an autobiography. But I understand the author was excited to be part of this history.

It’s written in a way that you can skip around by recipe rather than chronologically if you’d prefer. There isn’t an overarching story that ties everything together. Although previous authors do get referenced later.

For anyone interested in history. Or anyone interested in culinary. I definitely recommend this book.

Title: A History of Food in 100 Recipes
Author: William Sitwell
Genre: Food, History
Rating: 4/5
Summary: A history-focused food book that tells a story through recipes; is not a recipe collection.

Books Recap: Graphic Memoirs + Sci-Fi + Comics + Sports

Graphic Memoirs: Stitches, Marbles

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Stitches told the story of Small growing up with his family. There was not much love or communication in their household growing up. The title comes from a surgery he undergoes as a child. The art was done well and fitting to the story. It is not a story I would have wanted to read without the illustrations. As a reader, the story itself didn’t quite keep my attention. There seemed to be a lot of emotions left out. Small tells the story of what happens to him. But doesn’t show us how he felt about everything that happened. It seemed flat.

On the other hand, Marbles was fantastic! The full title is Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me. Forney goes into a lot of detail about her experience dealing with Bipolar Disorder. The book actually begins with her going to a therapist and being diagnosed. She then tells and shows the reader exactly how severe her mood swings were. The story follows her three-year journey of finding the correct combination of medications to control her moods.

Although I have never experienced mania, I am familiar with depression. Forney’s illustrations and words were some of the most accurate descriptions I’ve encountered of what depression feels like. Outside of that, she also ventures to explain the association with artists and psychological disorders. This reference section is extremely intriguing. She’s also not afraid to admit her fear of losing creativity in the process of managing her moods. The story is well-written, emotional, and informative. I definitely recommend.

Title: Stitches
Author: David Small
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Rating: 2/5
Summary: David tells you the incomprehensible experiences of his childhood but show any feeling.

Title: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me
Author: Ellen Forney
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Rating: 5/5
Summary: Ellen details her battle with Bipolar Disorder and the related fears she has as an artist.

Sci-Fi / Fantasy: Jumper, Bad Monkeys, Jennifer Morgue

Charles Stross' Laundry Files

Charles Stross’ Laundry Files

Jumper by Steven Gould is a fantastic take on classic sci-fi teleportation. What keeps it interesting is that the main character is an 18-year old kid. Although his actions grew annoying to me after a while. That was only because they were realistic actions of an 18-year old. What would you do if you could teleport anywhere in the world, where you’ve already been? You can’t jump through time. But you still have a lot of freedom. Would you rob a bank? Would 18-year old you consider robbing a bank? I thought so. The story turns into a meddling revenge plot at the end. But, of course, these are still the realistic actions of an 18-year old. So I can’t fault Gould too much. The writing style holds solid through the entire book. And you do find yourself sympathizing with the main character throughout all of it. I recommend this as a really fun read that is more adventure than sci-fi.

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff is one of those “where is this going” type of sci-fi stories. The plot involves a secret organization actively practicing vigilante justice. There may or may not be a conspiracy against the main character. The story is told in a way that you’re not supposed to know who is on what side. But the open-ended ending is still fulfilling. And the entire story is enjoyable.

Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross is part of the series The Laundry Files. I have not read any other books in the series. But I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Think of this story as James Bond in a fantasy world. Actual, fantasy. Demons and the like. But there is a strong mix of both. You can read one without liking the other. Especially since it’s a bit of a satire of the spy genre. It was a little more fantasy than my liking but I still really enjoyed the story and it’s characters.

Title: Jumper
Author: Steven Gould
Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure
Rating: 4/5
Summary: An 18-year old guy discovers he can teleport around the world and behaves as an 18-year old guy would.

Title: Bad Monkeys
Author: Matt Ruff
Genre: Adventure/Conspiracy
Rating: 3/5
Summary: A conspiracy story that we never learn who is in on it but it’s a fun ride anyway.

Title: Jennifer Morgue
Author: Charles Stross
Genre: Fantasy/Spy
Rating: 4/5
Summary: James Bond pairs up with a demon to save the world.

Comics: Saga, Locke & Key

Saga Vols 1-3

Saga comics Volumes 1-3 (current)

Saga written by Brian K Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples didn’t hook me right away. But mid-way through the second volume, it did. The story line, plot, and interesting cast of characters all make this a must-read. And that’s without even mentioning the incredible art! The story line revolves around saving a child who was born from parents of warring races. And it’s told from the child’s point of view. That changes things up. I definitely recommend reading this if you’re into space opera type stuff. Or beautiful/gruesome illustrations.

Locke & Key written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez is very heavy. Honestly, at the end of the first one I wasn’t sure if I should continue. But then lots of people encouraged that I finish the series. Stating that it was clearly worth it. So I will. I currently have the rest of the volumes reserved at the library. The first volume seemed like it was setting up the story. The narration change was interesting. I wasn’t expecting to hear the same story from different sides. But it was helpful as a reader to get a full understanding of each character. The story is very dark. The art is very dark. But also beautiful. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

Title: Saga
Author: Brian K Vaugh; Fiona Staples
Genre: Space Opera Comic
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Everyone is trying to kill the child born from two warring races

Title: Locke & Key
Author: Joe Hill; Gabriel Rodriguez
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Rating: 4/5
Summary: A family torn apart by a death… After the first volume, I’m actually not sure where the story is going.

Quick Reads: A Season of Saturdays, Famous Baby

A Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games by Michael Weinreb is a fantastic, brief, account of College Football. I like that the book is organized to take you through the sport via 14 big games. Other events are talked about in each chapter, but within the context of that particular game. It surprisingly works well. Of course, the book begins with the first American football game, ever, Rutgers V. Princeton. The author is originally a Penn State fan, so there are biases toward the team and the B1G. No complaints from me. It is easy reading even if you don’t know everything about the sport. The history of the universities and corruption within is also very interesting. It’s light reading and not too long, I’d recommend for any level of college football fan.

Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo has a really fun premise but convoluted plot lines drag everything down. The main plot involves a mommy blogger, whose “baby” is now 18-years old and is leaving the house. Looking for more blog fodder, the mother then talks her dying mother into moving into the web-cam-fitted house. But the daughter takes things into her hands and kidnaps Grandma. I wish I could say hilarity ensues, but it doesn’t. This book is very easy reading; I finished it in three hours. But it’s confusing because it reads as a sequel. The author tells how the daughter’s childhood was affected by her mother’s blog. But the reader is never shown those tales. It comes off clumsy and there wasn’t much of a pay-off in the end.

Title: A Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games
Author: Michael Weinreb
Genre: Non-Fiction/Sports
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Discusses the history of college football (universities, coaches, teams) within the context of 14 key games.

Title: Famous Baby
Author: Karen Rizzo
Genre: “Summer Reads”
Rating: 1/5
Summary: A mommy blogger tries to exploit her mother after exploiting her daughter. Lots of tell, no show.

July Books To Read: The Dresden Files, Bill Bryson, A City of Thieves

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files: Storm Front & Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Many friends recommended this series so I finally decided to check it out. It sounds like it fits my interests. The main character is a wizard named Harry Dresden. I guess Harry is a popular wizard name. But Dresden is different, okay. He’s in the yellow pages.

Essentially book 1, Storm Front runs like a P.I. novel. Dresden runs a private investigation service but also works with the police department at times. Since he is involved in wizardry, the department are skeptical of him. Even to the point of basically accusing him of the plot-point murder. Everyone is against him. Everyone thinks he did it. As an introduction to a character, it’s a weird one. So he spends the whole time trying to prove his innocence. It’s weird.

As a character, Dresden is a mess. Your stereotypical bachelor. He is a super powerful wizard! But can’t take care of himself. He can’t clean, pay his bills on time, or even eat & sleep without someone reminding him to do it. He just keeps falling apart.

This wouldn’t be annoying except this caricature behavior didn’t change in the slightest from Book 1 to Book 4, Summer Knight. After not liking the first book, I was told to jump straight to book four. The first three weren’t edited very well and the later books pull together the bigger plot. I was told that would make it more interesting.

Four books later and Dresden is still sitting in his dark apartment because he forgot to pay his electric bill. Sometimes he cares about money, but sometimes he doesn’t. His personal behavior is inconsistent and frustrating. I get it. He’s so smart and powerful yet he can’t pay his bills. I just don’t like that it is such a defining characteristic of him. Why doesn’t he get another job? How do other wizards make money? I want to see Harry Dresden create a budget.

Admittedly, Summer Knight wasn’t nearly as predictable as Storm Front. I was able to see that there is an over-arching plot. Unfortunately, I just don’t care about it. I can see the appeal here, but overall it’s just not my type of story. I did enjoy in this one that he was able to bring an outsider into the wizard world. And this book seemed to be less The World V. Harry Dresden. That made it easier to read.

I do not plan to read the rest of the books. I wish Butcher would write an essay about how much Toot Toot loves pizza.

Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2/5
Summary: Harry Dresden is a different kind of wizard. Kinda. Not really.

bill bryson the lost continent small town life

Bill Bryson’s cross-country trip across the United States; he is miserable the entire time

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

It’s unfortunate I have to say this, but this book has completely turned me off from Bryson’s writing. I have no further interest to read anything he writes. Being young isn’t an excuse to be a fat-shaming, arrogant, pretentious, racist asshole. His humor in this is so over the top, at first I thought it was a satire. But nope, it’s just an American calling all other Americans dumb.

According to Bill Bryson, all tourists are idiots. Although he, of course, wasn’t one of those tourists. All fat people are food experts, but he wasn’t one of those greedy food grubs. All Americans are idiots but he’s not an one because he lives in Great Britain.

The hypocracy in this book is too much to count. Aside from his “I’m perfect, you’re the problem” attitude. He steps on his own toes a lot. There’s a whole paragraph dedicated to him as a kid persuading their father to visit a tourist attraction. His dad gives in then also buys them toys in the gift shop, though begrudgingly. Later Bryson dedicates a paragraph to how his father thought anyone who stopped at roadside attractions were idiots and never paid for anything because he was so cheap.

After about 30 pages, I had grown accustomed to Bryson being a curmudgeon. Then he went too far, even for me. And then this brash attitude continued the rest of the book. Here’s a direct quote from The Lost Continent:

“I share a birthday with Eisenhower myself,” the lady with the bluish hair went on, still loudly, consolidating her position in front of me with a twitch of her ample butt. “And I’ve got a cousin who shares a birthday with Harry Truman.”
I toyed for a moment with the idea of grabbing the woman by both ears and driving her forehead into my knee, but instead passed into the next room.

Here is another paragraph of Bryson at a roadside cafe in Vermont judging a husband and wife, wanting to hit their child:

Poor guy! And on top of that here he was married to a woman who was slovenly and indiscreet, and had a butt like a barn door. Even his kids were ugly as sin. I was half tempted to give one of them a clout myself as I went out the door. There was just something about his nasty little face that made you itch to smack him.

Please tell me this is a satire.

It’s not a satire. So I bailed on the book after 200 pages. I read all of his trip through the Eastern part of the United States. I just couldn’t bare to read what he had to say about the West. Actually I started it but the first bit was just mocking Nebraska and I couldn’t take it anymore. The saddest part is his mocking is so repetitive. I mean, there’s only so many ways to make fun of hicks & southerners. Bryson exhausted them after the first few pages. The rest of the book are just the same jokes over and over.

Aside from Bryson’s horrific writing style, the book itself was laid out oddly. Comparing it to A Walk in the Woods, he never explains why he’s taking this trip. He never explains the route. He skims over a lot of his travels. He dedicates about 100 pages to the south (because there’s plenty to complain about) and barely 10 pages to all of New England.

Even his incorporation of facts, practically what he’s known for now, was scarce. Any interesting information he gave was immediately buried under him berating everyone and everything.

Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Travel Memoir
Rating: 0/5
Summary: A misanthrope travels around the US complaining about everything repeatedly.

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad by David Benioff

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad

This story was based on Benioff’s grandfather’s experiences during the Siege of Leningrad as a teenager. And most of the historical references are correct. The story itself is fictional. But it’s a good one.

We are immediately introduced to the two main characters: Benioff’s grandfather Lev and Kolya, as they meet in a prison. Instead of being executed, they are sent off to see a colonel. And are given the mission to find a dozen eggs in a week. This begins the story.

City of Thieves is most certainly a coming of age story. Excluding the war context, two teenage boys are given the punishment of having to scour the country-side to run an odd errand in a certain period of time. It’s been done before. And it’s predictable. However, the journey is absolutely worth it. As a reader, going along on this literal and figurative journey with Lev and Kolya really is an entertaining ride. I say that with caution because this is a war story, some parts are gruesome. Most parts are not happy. But I have read worse on the subject.

This is the first book by Benioff I’ve read and I enjoyed his writing style. It’s an easy read. And the scenes are pretty theatrical. But not overly simplified. Besides, he really seemed to put in some effort to the historical accuracy. Granted, I haven’t read many books on the Russian perspective of the war. So this was a good change for me. Most of the places he references are real. And the descriptions of hunger and loss felt very real.

There are a few things that help keep this story fresh. It is a war book but not about the front lines. It is about the people who were left behind. Boys too young to go out to the war. Doctors without supplies. Women conflicted between loyalty and survival. Also, it is based on true events. Sure there are exaggerations and dramatizations. But some parts of it are real, and that alone is pretty amazing.

I should also point out that I’m a sucker for coming of age tales, so this story was definitely right up my alley.

Author: David Benioff
Genre: Historical Fiction WWII
Rating: 4/5
Summary: A teenager’s life during the Siege of Leningrad.

Weekly Updates: Rock-Rock-Rock Rockaway Beach

Life: Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Taco Some of the most delicious tacos in all of nyc

Some of the most delicious tacos in all of nyc

It’s not far not hard to reach, we can catch a ride to rockaway beach!

I love the beach. And the ocean. And being outside. And the sand. And everything about the beach so I love the Rockaways. Coney Island is closer. But I want to see the ocean! We live on an island after all.

It’s a 1.5 hour train ride (or 1hr bus ride) for me to get out to Queens. And it’s totally worth it. First I eat tacos. Then I layout my blanket & towel, snack on some goldfish, and relax while listening to the ocean.

Everything about going to the beach is wonderful for me. That’s why I plan to go every weekend that the weather is nice. It just never gets old.

Jacob Riis Park at the Rockaways in Queens, NY

Jacob Riis Park at the Rockaways in Queens, NY

There has been much improvement of the Rockaways since last year. Although there are still plenty of signs of damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. I’m doubt it will ever be the way it was pre-hurricane. The area is definitely getting more built-up with summer restaurants & bars. In a good way of course, but I did like the low-keyness of it.

Jacob Riis on the other hand looks pretty good. Compared to the public part of the beach, it is a little cleaner. And less rocky. Unfortunately, it is also far from Rockaway Taco.

If you live in the city and still haven’t been out to the Rockaways, get a move on it! The beach is too good to pass up!

Running: Summer Series 5K

Lovely Prospect Park in Brooklyn

Lovely Prospect Park in Brooklyn

Running in the summer here is simply not fun. I need to motivate myself twice as much in the summer than in the winter. The humidity kills me. Sweating like a pig is gross. I can’t even come home to my apartment and cool off. So I’ll do anything possible to stay motivated in the hot months. And that’s why I signed up for a Summer Series of 5K’s.

The series spans from the end of May through the end of August. There’s only been three races so far and already two were during miserable bouts of high humidity. The races take place after work at 7p, but that’s just not late enough for the temperature to really cool off.

The first race I ran with my friend. The second race I ran trying out the Galloway method; running for 4 mins, walking for 1 min. The third race I focused on not wheezing from the crazy humidity. Here are the results so far:

#1: 0:42:25 (13:41 min/mi)
#2: 0:33:39 (10:50 min/mi)
#3: 0:36:55 (11:53 min/mi)

I know these are fast by any means. But keeping slow times secret doesn’t actually help anyone. My focus right now is just staying motivated; time doesn’t really matter

Travel: Overnight to Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool - Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool – Washington, DC

I’m not much of a travel deals person. I don’t travel often and when I do, I just want to relax and be comfortable. I don’t mind saving a buck at home. But I don’t want to think about it as much on vacation. Fortunately a short vacation to Washington, D.C. is pretty affordable.

The trip was only Mon to Tuesday, so one night at a hotel. Honestly, I didn’t really look for hotel deals. I knew I didn’t want to go over $200 but that was an easy limit to stay under. I travel so rarely that I don’t mind splurging a little bit. Especially since the museums are free so my only other cost there would be food.

Purchasing Bolt bus tickets a few days beforehand worked out just fine. Since the trip was over weekdays, the bus tickets were cheaaaap. Going down the ticket was $14. Coming back it was $1! Yay!

The funny thing about living in nyc, is it’s not always as much fun to visit other cities. But if you want to get out to a rural area you have to rent a car. So when looking at DC attractions there’s plenty for a New Yorker to skip over. Most of our art museums are better. Our pizza/food will be better. That made it pretty easy to stick to a short, cheapish trip.

The trip itself was really great! Well, it was boiling hot both days. But besides that, there was plenty of air conditioning, good beer, and informational museums everywhere.

I’ll write a full post next week, including a cost breakdown (exciting, I know).

Books: The Dresden Files

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

After numerous recommendations, I started The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. It’s based around the wizard Harry Dresden. He’s not your average wizard, okay. He’s in the yellow pages.

Dresden is your typical caricature character who always has something happening to him. He is very smart and skilled at wizardry. But can’t pay his bills, feed himself, get a woman, comb his hair, sleep, etc. Everything about him is an absolute mess.

In the first book, Storm Front, everyone is against him. I’ve been told this happens less and less through out the series. I hope so. A plot revolving around proving a character’s innocence is painfully predictable. And boring.

It was suggested I jump to the fourth book to help move things along faster. There are certainly improvements in Summer Knight, over the first book. At least not everyone was out to get Dresden. But it still was a non-stop train of events that I still found boring.

After hearing Dresden whine about how he has no clients and no money; at one point using candles because his lights were shut off, I couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t get a part time job. You gotta side hustle, Harry. In which book does he create a budget? I’d read that.

Although I did enjoy Summer Knight over Storm Front, that’s not saying much. Here’s what it comes down to. I just don’t like series. Book series. Television series. Maybe I don’t have the attention span for long-winded story arcs.

With that said, I would happily read a one-off book about how much Toot Toot loves pizza.

Music: Braid

After receiving an email from Songkick that Braid will be playing in Brooklyn next month, I decided to snatch up a ticket right away. This was an unplanned purchase. But at $25 definitely does not break the bank.

I’ve loved the band Braid since college. This will be my fourth time seeing the band. Although I have seen Bob Nanna in his other musical projects (Hey Mercedes, City on Film) several times.

Braid may not be a band you’re familiar with, so I made a short playlist highlighting some of their key songs (imo!). The band came out of the Champaign-Urbana scene in the late 90’s. They’re definitely and emo band but, you know, in a good way.

Here’s the Braid choice song playlist via Spotify, enjoy!

Internet: Links

Summer Shape Up!/ASICS Shoe Giveaway! – Budget and the Beach

Personal Finance
Spend Money Where It Counts… On Yourself – Mo Money Mo Houses

Losing Garnett the Great – The Lacey Spears Story – lohud

Inside-Out Neapolitan Layer Cake – Sweetapolita