meghan rose allen

Review of Wordwings by Sydelle Pearl

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In which I read another novel about the Holocaust, set in a Polish Ghetto, from the perspective of a child, but without the magical talking dolls. I think I appreciate books about the Holocaust more that don't feature talking dolls, as much as anyone can, or should, appreciate a novel about how truly sh*tty humans can be to each other.

So, Wordwings is about a girl who tells stories in the Warsaw ghetto, writing them between and around the lines of a worn book of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen. That's why I requested it; there's something poetic about where she had to write. It has a sort of fairy tale logic in its necessity. And then there's some talk of The Six Swans, which I always think of a The Three Ravens from the Jim Henson Storyteller TV show. So, little pieces I liked dappled throughout.

I approached Wordwings as a children's book, maybe because the last novel I read about the Holocaust was geared towards kids. But then Netgalley tells me it's General Adult. But then Rivke, our protagonist, doesn't really write like a child, although does one write like a child in such situations? I am blessed that I never had to find out. But as an adult book, Wordwings only kind of works, mainly since the secondary characters are more sketches than people. If we put it back as a middle-grade novel, the characterization work better. But then we're again with the voice, which I can't reconcile with a child's one. But I think a middle-grade reader would see past that. And I think that even if it says General adult, I might put it under mature middle-grade (and weirdo grown-ups like me who like middle-grade books).

Wordwings by Sydelle Pearl went on sale October 1, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review of The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

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Many many moons ago, I read Briar Rose and have had a soft spot for Jane Yolen ever since, although a soft spot in that until now I haven't read any of her other books (mainly because I aged out of the YA ones pretty much immediately after I read Briar Rose and I don't tend to read too much adult fantasy, but I have bought some of her other books, like Foiled for Miss T).

So soft spot for Jane Yolen plus Jane Yolen books for request on Netgalley equals I have The Emerald Circus and another Jane Yolen book to review. And The Emerald Circus is a shout-out to Oz, and there are other fairy tale retellings/fairy tale inspired stories and then Disraeli casts cabalistic magic on Queen Victoria and Emily Dickenson is abducted by space aliens and ...

Yeah, I'm back in the world of books with bizarre twists out of nowhere (no squid sex, so I guess we have a kinda win here?). So if you like odd, and short stories, and fairy tales, and aliens, The Emerald Circus might be the book for you. The Oz retelling was pretty nifty, I do have to say.

But then aliens. Sigh. Maybe my tombstone could read Always managed to find the books with surprise aliens in them.

The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen went on sale November 14, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review of It's All Relative by A.J. Jacobs

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Yay! A fun read! I almost never have fun reads! So now, let's criticize my fun read! Yay!

So Jacobs gets an email from a distant cousin, sparking an interest in genealogy, and decides to have a big ol' family reunion, where, basically, anyone can show up. Sister Sledge is going to sing. The genealogy companies are going to sponsor. Jacobs talks to some people about ... stuff ... Mormons, Hatfields and McCoys, and ... well, the whole thing sort of peters out. It's kind of a stretch to fill the premise to a whole book, so there's a lot about Jacobs' family (he's descended from the Vilna Gaon, and some guy who owned a pretzel stand!), which, I assume, if you are Jacobs or interested in genealogy might be more intriguing to you than to me. The book is fun, but it isn't very deep. It is, as Jacobs does point out, very much the college stoner telling you "Woah, we're like all related man." Well, yes. So what?

So I had a lot of fun reading this book. I still enjoy Jacob's shtick. But it's an entertainment book, rather than a non-fiction book, so after the fact, I'm feeling let down by the whole thing (and also angry at myself that I can't find an article I read like a year ago about in-fighting within the amateur genealogical community that I could have used as a suggestion for further in-depth ideas that Jacobs' could have incorporated into his book to give it more heft).

And I'm guessing he didn't get the world record? That part was kinda dropped, rather than explored?

It's All Relative by A.J. Jacobs went on sale November 14, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review of Incest by Christine Angot

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A twisty, repetitive, lost-in-her-own-thoughts maelstrom of a book. Basically, it can all be summed up with a quote straight from the book:

your writing is so unbelievable, intelligent, muddled, but always luminous, accessible, direct, physical. Your readers don’t understand a thing and they understand everything. It’s intimate, personal, shameless, autobiographical, and universal.

But it's harrowing subject matter -- the dissolution of a relationship takes up maybe the first three quarters of the book, then the last quarter details of Angot's (or a fictional version of Angot, it is purposefully unclear) incestuous relationship with her father, but all trapped in spiraling thoughts. I often get trapped in my own spiraling thoughts with no way out too. Yay for not feeling so alone, even if the subject matter isn't about me at all. Overthinking writers of the world -- unite!

Incest by Christine Angot went on sale November 7, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

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Remember that second-a-day charity ad from a few years ago:


So The End We Start From is basically that writ large (and from the perspective of a new mum rather than a kid): London has fallen and they flee to the north. The narrator has a newborn, Z, and while the world around her disintegrates, hers concentrates until it contains only herself and her son. Then, as her son takes his first steps, it widens open again and the book ends.

It's a quick read, and written by a poet, so it has that written-by-a-poet feel (lyrical rather than prosaic, ethereal rather than solid). It also can be read as a straightforward dystopia narrative or a metaphor for the few months of motherhood -- the upheaval, the uncertainty, the one-on-one between primary caregiver and infant to the detriment of all else. The world, in this book, literally and figuratively, falls away. And it's short, so we never get too gloomy or wallowing, because the forward momentum of the novel keeps us going.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter went on sale November 7, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review of Quiet Girl in a Noisy World

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Yay! Another book that conforms to my world view! Introverts of the world unite (albeit, separately, in their own homes, with blankets and mugs of hot chocolate and/or tea)!

Now, I'm back -- with my cup of hot chocolate.

So if you're an introvert, read this quiet graphic novel and nod along knowingly. If you're not an introvert, read it too for insight into why one of your friends seems so antisocial sometimes -- you know the one, that friend at the party who somehow finds a bookshelf and sits there reading a book they've already read before so they don't have to interact any more with people.

Now, shush internet; I need some quiet, alone time to recharge.

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debby Tung went on sale November 7, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review of The Best American Series 2017 by a variety of different people and chosen by a variety of different editors

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So I got to read an assortment of fiction, essays, mystery stories (also fiction), nonrequired reading (also some fiction - GODZILLA!), science fiction and fantasy (also fiction), travel pieces, science pieces, and sports writing -- two of each! Like a Forrest Gump sampler box of chocolates, except none with cherries in them or that time I had a chocolate the chocolatier put turmeric in and it was just weird. Even the sports writing, and I'm pretty much the least sports-interested person you could ever meet, was good.

Uh, Meghan as I am sure you are thinking, it's called the best series and you're surprised that it was actually good.

Yes. Shut up.

So here's the info, i.e. I copy and pasted the table of contents and put my thoughts in parentheses.

The Best American Short Stories 2017:
FIONA MAAZEL: Let’s Go to the Videotape (jerk dad story)
JESS WALTER: Famous Actor (jerk people have jerk sex with each other's jerk selves)

The Best American Essays 2017:
EMILY MALONEY: Cost of Living (yeah, Americans, I know that like 49% of you or whatever despise Obamacare, but seriously, your multi-payer system is ridiculous, seriously ridiculous);
ALIA VOLZ: Snakebit (ophidiophobia)

The Best American Mystery Stories 2017:
TRINA COREY: Flight (murder mystery in a nursing home)
BRENDAN DUBOIS: The Man from Away (revenge fantasy)

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2017:
VIET DINH: Lucky Dragon (atomic bomb fallout, fiction)
MASHA GESSEN: Autocracy: Rules for Survival (Trump sucks)

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017:
JOSEPH ALLEN HILL: The Venus Effect (like Margaret Atwood's Happy Endings, but about race and brutal)
N. K. JEMISIN: The City Born Great (Cities live, didn't really grab me)

The Best American Travel Writing 2017:
STEPHANIE ELIZONDO GRIEST: Chiefing in Cherokee (one of the three that left me with a meh, the others being "Rules for Survival" and "The City Born Great".)
DAVID KUSHNER: Land of the Lost (he went to Iceland. I went to Iceland. Hooray!)

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2017:
SONIA SMITH: Unfriendly Climate (Texas is weird)
DAVID EPSTEIN: The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene (some people are much better researchers than I am)

The Best American Sports Writing 2017:
BOMANI JONES: Kaepernick Is Asking for Justice, Not Peace (I can't remember reading this one, so I guess that might say something about it)
LUKE CYPHERS AND TERI THOMPSON: Lost in America (it was sad, but then it got better, but then I realised there were all these other people not profiled in the story for whom it didn't get better and so I was sad again 🙁 And, either "Lost in America" was the best one in the set or I'm a victim of the recency effect, but "Lost in America" is the piece that stuck with me. That and "The Venus Effect", which is in the middle, so I guess that one is truly, not only brain-trick, memorable.)

The Best American Series 2017 by assorted (like a Quality Street Tin!) went on sale October 3, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review of How To Be Perfectly Unhappy by Matthew Inman

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I fall in and out of like with The Oatmeal. I used to read it fairly regularly, but now -- I blame the demise of Google Reader. Still I requested this on Netgalley because why not. And so I obtained a short fifty-page treatise on happy; more exactly on how not being happy doesn't imply being unhappy.

As a fundamentally sour, pessimistic person myself, it's a concept I've read about before -- happiness is some sort of nirvanic state where all needs, wants, and desires are met. But needs, wants, and desires are constantly shifting -- everything is nice and happy and perfect and then suddenly your car breaks down or you lose a pair of socks or a huge, multinational computing conglomerate decides that google reader isn't monetizable so shuts it down and how are you supposed to read your freakin' RSS feeds now, huh? Huh? Well f*$# you google.

Instead, be interested in things. Be creating things. Be learning things. Keep busy and maybe that nagging voice that lives in the back of my head will get distracted from criticizing and start to wonder what I'm doing, then watch, then contribute.

Not that I do what Inman does (me run fifty miles ha ha ha ha ha ha), but I write. I sew. I crochet. I duolingo. It isn't that I have to learn that that is enough, but rather that chasing the dream of happiness is not something my actions can necessarily create for my mind. So yay, random dude on the internet reinforcing my world view! Everyone agree with me!

How To Be Perfectly Unhappy by Matthew Inman went on sale October 31, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review of Welcome to the Universe by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richard Gott

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Ugggggg .... I have been trying to write this review for four days. Maybe it takes me a percentage of the time I took to read the book to formulate a review? It did take me over a week to read Welcome to the Universe, with Neil deGrasse Tyson's name in bigger font than the other two co-authors. At first that made me sad for the other two authors, but then I got miffed over J. Richard Gott's chapters, where there's a lot of I did this!, which probably shouldn't annoy me as much as it did, since he did figure this stuff out, but it seemed kind of braggy to me and I just want to learn abstractly about science, not be amazed that the author I'm reading now did this stuff.

So I got annoyed.

Cool idea I did get from Welcome to the Universe: think of everything as bread. Slice horizontally (like here in North America) for one slice of space-time, but slice on an angle (like a baguette) for a relative slice of space-time. The bread is still the same, but how one views what's happening in/on the bread changes. I'm glad I got to that before I got fed up with physics.

Ooh -- and something else -- I found out what word I wanted for a review of another physics book ages ago: falsifiable. I couldn't remember that word, but much of what was written in The Universe is a Machine wasn't falsifiable, so, from a science perspective, those ideas were kind of a non-starter. But that has nothing really to do with the book I'm supposed to be reviewing ...

I'm in a weird place with physics books. I probably have enough math background that if I really wanted to, I could read textbooks rather than pop-science books (albeit much more slowly, and with a pad and pencil in hand for figuring things out), but I don't want to read a physics textbook. But then I read pop-science books and get frustrated that details I want to understand (like math stuff) is missing. But I don't want to read a physics textbook. But I want to know more about what's behind the science, which is generally math that I could probably understand given enough time and pencil lead. But I don't want to write physics notes in bed. But I want to know more!

Is the moral that I should stop reading about cosmology and relativity? I mean, both of those things are going to go scootering on along in life without me understanding them or not.

Science is hard.

Welcome to the Universe by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richard Gott went on sale September 1, 2016.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review of Math for Couples by Adele Graf

Posted by in netgalley copy

I continue my quest to better appreciate poetry. This one has the word math in the title. I like math. By transitivity ...

Yeah, poetry doesn't work like that.

Again, I struggle with my attempts to appreciate poetry. Do I simply not appreciate poetry? Is Math for Couples not poetry to be appreciated? There are moments, little lines and turns of phrases that were like the snap of Lego pieces fitting together when I read it, but today, the day afterwards, I couldn't tell you what any of those lines were. I can tell you the first group of poems has lots to do with thinking about grandmothers; I think a lot of about my grandmother, so that was for me. There were also some poems that were more rhythmic, repeating syllables, mixing syllables up, getting somewhere new (i.e. yatter on page 77); poems like that remind me of playing Bartok on the piano, going back between smooth and choppy, and I like the contrast. But none of the poems rhymed, and I'm realizing that in my louche, uneducated way, I really like rhyming poetry (like A.A. Milne). Like I can say I like certain rhyming poems (say Disobedience by A.A. Milne), but other than a second here and there with the vanishing Lego click moments, I don't know if I liked the entirety of a poem in Math for Couples. Also, I didn't dislike one single thing either. I read the poems, I worked on appreciating the poems, but then I got to the end, still as befuddled about good poetry as I ever was.

And the eponymous Math for Couples poem: I saw what it was trying to do, but my math-brain shuddered at the lines with 1+1 > 2 and 1+1 <2. Put numbers in and the literal part of my brain takes over. Another poem was in a table though. I thought that was interesting.

Math for Couples by Adele Graf went on sale April 1, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.