Book review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to reading this memoir, and it did not disappoint. Michelle Zauner isn’t perhaps the most likeable person, especially as she relates her childhood, but she is bluntly honest about herself, her relationship with her mother, and her life. A lot of her experiences resonated personally with me, but even if you aren’t the child of immigrants or of mixed race, the themes she writes about–love, family relationships, grief–are universal. The author and her family expressed much of their love through food, and the author’s descriptions of cooking her way through grief were especially poignant.
It’s a straightforward read, and anyone who has dealt with the death of a loved one, especially a parent, will find much to relate to in this breathtakingly honest and heartbreakingly honest memoir. I highly recommend it.

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Book review: Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A re-telling of the Cinderella fairy tale that turns everything you know on its head. In this version, the evil stepsisters are good, and Cinderella is bad. Now the stepsisters are accused of escaping from prison, killing Cinderella, and are on the run. (Just for the record, the statements are true, false, and true.)
The re-telling is creative, imaginative, and fun. The story is irreverent, humorous, and a sly dig about confirmation bias. The romance is a bit deliberately topsy-turvy and quite fitting given the topsy-turvy nature of the story. The book is an enjoyable read and makes you think about all of those traditional fairy tales and how they could be turned upon their heads in a re-telling.
I’ve greatly enjoyed all of this author’s fantasy stories. (I haven’t yet embarked on her urban fantasy series yet.) And I look forward to reading more of her work!

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University of Kansas Basketball

We have extremely good friends (family, really) who are huge KU basketball fans and invited us to go see a game with them the first weekend of March. (To my K-State peeps: you know that I will always bleed purple and white, but the dodo bird in primary colors does have its moments, especially when it comes to college basketball. Not to mention that Kansans need to stick together.) Having grown up going to Kansas State basketball games at Ahearn Fieldhouse, seeing a game at Allen Fieldhouse brought back some really lovely memories.
It was Senior Day for the KU-UT(exas) game. (And, in an amazing coincidence, two of Jim’s cousins happen to be at the game as well.)

with Jim's cousins
with Jim’s cousins

The game itself was a grind-it-out-in-overtime-because-we-can’t-buy-a-bucket kind of game, which was both painful and exciting to watch. And the atmosphere was electric—loud, passionate, enthusiastic, and occasionally profane. It was fabulous! KU won in overtime and then we listened to some really touching and heartfelt speeches by the seniors.
We got stranded by an unexpected snowstorm in Kansas City flying back. Had we been stranded at an east coast airport, there would have been much yelling and anger towards the gate agents. But in Kansas City, while people were clearly unhappy, they did not feel the need to vent their unhappiness towards others, given that the weather was no one’s fault and out of anyone’s control. I like Midwesterners. We did eventually make it home (for those of you familiar with O’Hare, I made the E gate to C gate trek in 15 minutes!). And it was definitely worth it.
It was all the more fun, then, to watch KU make their run through the NCAA tournament and ultimately win the national championship. (And what a mind blowing game to win it all!)
Thank you, Sarah and Mark, for a wonderful weekend and an amazing experience!
And Rock Chalk Jayhawk! (At least when they’re not playing K-State…)

Rock Chalk Jayhawk!
Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

Book review: The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A lighthearted frothy fantasy/romance. The book ostensibly takes place during the Victorian period and has many of the components of a Regency romance (I use “Regency romance” broadly and not at all accurately when it comes to time periods). The author then added elements of magic, several cups of irreverence, and a dash of humor, stirred it, and turned it into a fun, quick, and enjoyable read. It’s a great spring break/summer vacation beach read (or something to read while taking a break from studying).
No great secrets of life imparted–just an easy read if you want to give your mind some rest and relaxation and escape.

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2022 Disneyworld Princess 10K

This was our 3rd Princess 10K event (last year’s event being cancelled due to some random virus). We walked this one, as Jim had had an accident on the treadmill over Thanksgiving and had not yet been cleared by his cardiologist to exercise. (For the record, walking a 10K does not count as exercise!)
While we would have liked to have run the course (well, I would have liked to have run it, but I don’t think I’m speaking for everyone), it was actually a really fun opportunity to see all of the details that Disney puts in to make a runDisney event a little more fun than a typical running event. There are photo ops with characters, there are DJs putting out heart-pumping music, and there are Disney “volunteers” cheering you along the way.
One of the most fun events to attend during the weekend is the runner’s expo. Lots of vendors (although fewer this year than in past years) selling various needed and unneeded merchandise. Since we were walking it this year, I bought a matching tutu for my running outfit. It is the princess 10K after all.
One of the best things about this year’s event is that we had some very good friends who were also down for the event. It was great fun to go to the parks with them. And because we were there for three weeks remote working (aka fleeing the DC winter), we were able to have dinner with some other friends as well. We also visited the Kennedy Space Center, Cocoa Beach, and Tampa during our stay.
But the VERY best thing about this year’s event was that the photos of both of us are presentable!! (This has not been historically true for a variety of deliberately vague reasons.). Those who need a refresher course on this just need to search the blog for previous princess 10k entries. 🙂

we are “running!”

Book review: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Erik Larson is fast becoming one of my favorite non-fiction authors. Who else could take 2 years from World War II and turn it into compelling reading about Winston Churchill and the war between Britain and Germany?
Quoting from diaries and letters by the main protagonists and their families (and others), the author paints a picture of Winston Churchill and his family, Churchill’s friends, allies, colleagues, and enemies, and the efforts of the British government to meet the German threat and cajole FDR and the Americans into joining the war. It’s all fascinating reading–from the London Blitz to the fancy parties given by the upper crust in defiance of the war, to Hitler’s mischaracterization of Britain to attempts by various Germans to defeat Britain/negotiate peace with Britain. It is an amazing series of events to have been crammed into twenty-four months.
The one weakness of this book is that because the author chose to focus on a two year period, he needed to include a lengthy epilogue to wind up the various story lines of the various characters. It is necessary and well-written and interesting, but it does somewhat detract from the narrative arc of the book. (If I may be so bold, it’s somewhat like the five endings Peter Jackson put into “The Return of the King.”) It makes for an anti-climactic ending.
That being said, if you are interested in history and World War II European theatre history, this is a must read.

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Book review: Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First in a mystery series. (Because, of course, why finish any of the many other series I’ve started? I am beginning to think I have commitment issues.)
This was a fun and good read, with interesting characters and a well-constructed plot. It helps if you’ve been to Nantucket, not because the mystery is lessened at all, but because it’s fun to identify the various types of people and the landmarks that are mentioned throughout the book. The tension between the locals and the off-islanders is real and accurately portrayed with nuance and complexity.
The author also writes as Stephanie Barron with a Jane Austen mystery series, which I will have to re-start. But this contemporary mystery is intelligently written and the literary skill of the author adds to the enjoyment of the book itself.
Note: the first few books of the series came out many years ago, but the author has revised and updated them as part of re-launching the series and adding to it.

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Book review: Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter

Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am generally not a fan of contemporary romances, preferring historical ones. I picked this one up because (i) it was a Christmas romance (and I am a sucker for those); (ii) it’s a novella so I knew I could get through it quickly; and (iii) the author is the wife of the owner of the surfing school we use when we visit Hawaii (no joke).
I was quite pleasantly surprised by the book. Novellas are difficult because you don’t have the page length to fully develop the characters. But the characters were all likeable, the author has a deft touch for setting and a gift for depicting a scenario that fleshes out minor characters and gives insight into the main characters, and the Christmas setting gave off warm and fuzzy holiday vibes.
I will definitely pick out another one of her books when I am in the mood for a contemporary romance. The author has a lovely writing style that is warm, gracious, and friendly.

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Book review: Singapore Sapphire by A.M. Stuart

Singapore Sapphire by A.M. Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first in a series (because, of course, I have finished reading all the other books in all the other series I have started). This book caught my attention because it takes place in Singapore in 1910 during British colonial rule, and it’s a period I know very little about.
I really enjoyed the debut novel to this series. The heroine is strong-willed but flawed, and the portrayal of the constraints of her position as a woman as well as the privileges of her position as a British white woman are both realistically described with little fanfare. The plot is interesting and well-paced. Even though you know the heroine survives (because, a series), the anticipation towards the climax is well done. And the author does an excellent job of portraying Singapore as it was with all its warts without either being preachy and with a deft touch, as the best historical mystery authors can do.
I have already bought the second book in the series and look forward to learning more about the main characters and Singapore during this time period!

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Book review: Priority Target by Ethan Jones

Priority Target by Ethan Jones

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t generally post reviews of books that I didn’t particularly like (mostly because books are a deeply personal thing, and authors work hard at their craft, regardless of whether I liked the book or not), but this book irked me in ways that I felt the need to express.
I started reading it because I like action/adventure/thriller books, but the main protagonist in these types of books is almost always male. In this case, the author made a deliberate choice to have a female protagonist, and I was intrigued.
Unfortunately, the book was a disappointment. The plot was quite interesting and was well-paced, so that was a plus. But if you are going to write a female protagonist, you’re going to have to do better at differentiating the protagonist than throwaway lines like “I put on mascara and lipstick” or “I brushed my hair and put it in a ponytail.” There are differences between a male and a female protagonist that go beyond hair, makeup, and clothing. Not exploring those differences shows a lamentable lack of imagination by the author.
So I’m passing on this series. If you are interested in female protagonists in thrillers, I highly recommend Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country series. At least the female protagonist in his books is not messing with her lipstick.

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