Meagan Reads Fiction: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

This is my second to last read for the MadLibs 2018 reading challenge that I was supposed to finish officially back in June, but whatever, there’s still some time left in the year.

The Book of Speculation tells a story across generations of Simon, the protagonist’s, family. His is a family of circus performers, but more than that, one of “dangerous” women who suffer from undiagnosed mental illness.

Image from Goodreads

When a man named Churchwarry, a book collector, sends Simon a mysterious book that is somehow connected to his family, Simon finds himself obsessed with the discovery that all the women in his family have drowned on the same day. Truly, a mystery as all these women were “mermaids.” They were carnival performers who swam in tanks on display because they could hold their breath for an inordinate amount of time, a talent Simon and his sister have inherited.

When his sister Enola, who works the circuit as a Tarot card reader, comes home frazzled and displaying acute anxiety, and the date of July 24th approaches, Simon becomes desperate to break the curse that already took his mother, and in turn, his father.

The entire time I read this book, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Big Fish. Perhaps it was the cast of circus characters that I found a connection to, but I think it was more than that. It was how much like the protagonist in that movie, Simon tried to stay removed from his family’s history but found himself nearly drowned in it until he stopped resisting.

There’s also the element of magical realism that felt like the two stories were connected. In fact, if this book were ever made into a movie or Netflix series, I could see it having much the same directorial qualities as Big Fish. As the story delves back and forth between past and present, slowly unraveling the twisted web created by generations of lies and secrets, I found myself enthralled and engaged in the mystery of this family, spanning across Vissers, Rhyzkovas, Peabodys, and more.

I think what was also so striking, especially toward the end, is how artifacts and history can have such a strong pull that even generations and various degrees of separation later, certain bloodlines and people can still find their way back to each other. It left me wondering if the curse and magic were real, or if it was all just a matter of chance and coincidence. Although the book falls pretty firmly on the magic side of this thought, it still leaves it just vague enough to let the readers decide for themselves.

Who else has read this book? What are your thoughts and feelings on this story? Let me know in the comments!

Three and a Half Years of Reading in Spanish

I picked up a book in Spain over three years ago because it looked interesting. I thought, “I’m proficient enough in Spanish, and this sounds like a fun action-thriller that will be a breeze.” It was not a breeze. I am not that proficient in Spanish (though my father said he didn’t think it was a very good translation, so perhaps that didn’t do me any favors). But I persisted, and I finally finished reading David Golemon’s Leyenda, translated by Ester Mendía Picazo.

leyenda
Source: Goodreads

I can’t quite give a thorough review, because since I was so focused on understanding the language, it was easy to get lost in what characters were who and who did what, though I think that may have just been the nature of the book. There was such an extensive ensemble and multiple converging storylines that it was all a dizzying swirl of action and adventure. What I can say is that it reminded me of a cross between National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code, so it was a fun read to be sure.

But this post isn’t about giving a review. It’s about relishing in my accomplishment of finishing my first ever book entirely in Spanish. It’s not my first language, so to say that I read 415 pages in my second tongue, especially when it heavily dealt with a topic of which the vocabulary was completely new to me, is something to be proud of.

I had moments where I thought about quitting and just saying that I can’t read in Spanish. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I took my time. I read voraciously some nights, as I was enthralled by the story. And other nights I read one paragraph or one page. That’s okay. There was no pressing need to finish the book in a timely manner (clearly). It took three and a half years, but I finished.

I think it’s important that I took on this endeavor, because it taught me an important life lesson. It may take many years and more time than anticipated, but it’s possible to finish something that seems impossible. Weirdly enough, completing this challenge I set for myself, even three years later, has renewed my energy to finish my next challenge (which I’ve also been working on for four years now): writing my first novel.

I’ve been working on writing my book on and off, writing when I have time. For the last four years it’s felt like a hobby that I’m doing to pass the time, and like it’s something that I’ll never finish. Sometimes I write a chapter and think, “Okay, that’s the next chapter. Who knows when this will be done.” But reading a whole book in Spanish and getting to the end taught me that, yes, an end does come, even if it takes more time than thought. I don’t just feel like I’m writing for writing’s sake now. I finished Leyenda, so that means I can finish writing my book.

This all also coincides with the impending end of my master’s program. In just eight more weeks, I’ll be done and officially have my MBA. I see the end of each of these adventures as the closing of chapters in my own book, but not as the end of my story. Some chapters are longer than others and take more time, but they do come to an end. And that just means I know I can accomplish these things and feel rejuvenated to start the next one.

I thought being a reader had taught me all it can at this point, but it turns out there’s still so much more that being a reader can teach me.

It Takes Two

I used to be one of those book snobs who scoffed at romance novels, but after educating myself on the gendered implications of the genre, I decided I wanted to try to get into at least one. I won’t lie. Letting go of my old prejudices that were deeply rooted in misogyny was not easy, and try as I might, it still kept a hold of me even as I ventured into romance novels. I just couldn’t get into them (see my previous post about that here).

Two of the recently million 4 books I was reading simultaneously this past month though, turned out to be grouped as romance on Goodreads. There was War Brides by Helen Bryan (a freebie I picked up ages ago from Amazon’s deal of the day) and still in progress Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, which I got on audio for a steal with Google Play books and a generous Book Riot promo code. I chose it because, yes, I want to see the movie and support marginalized communities in entertainment.

GR War Brides blog
Image from GoodReads

I just finished reading War Brides last night. Truthfully, I didn’t think it was so much a romance novel, because the love stories play so subtly in the background of everything else going on. It mostly focuses on the lives of 5 women converging in Crowmarsh Priors, England due to the circumstances of World War II. I suppose the true love story in this book was the relationship that developed between these women who didn’t all get along at first, but eventually a friendship was forged in the fires of the war.

Still, the weddings and romances that took place within the book allow this novel to fall into the romance category. Due to the time it takes place, intimacy is described mildly. So, here we have historical fiction with a major focus on getting through a war and female bonds, with a side of romance. I really enjoyed this book, as I kept wanting to read it instead of my textbooks for school. I was very much into the story plots of espionage, but I was equally charmed by the love stories between certain characters. I felt like I had an equal investment in the romance and surrounding story.

I’m currently still working my way through Crazy Rich Asians. This book is an absolute

GR CRA blog
Image from GoodReads

trip. It’s just so much fun. I come from a Latin-American background, so I can’t say that I totally relate to the culture, but I do see hints of my own family’s quirks within these characters. There’s an overly-involved matriarch who’s trying to find the dirt on her son’s new girlfriend, while the totally laid-back husband lets her go about her insanity because he knows there’s no fighting it. There’s a down-to-earth cousin who’s more of a sister and offers sage advice. This is definitely an example of “rich people problems,” but with a cultural twist that I find just absolutely enjoyable. Roxane Gay put it best in her review of it when she called it dishy.

With these two books, I think I’ve finally found my stride with the romance genre. I just have to find love stories that take place within other environments that catch my interest, be it historical fiction or just enjoying another cultural perspective.

Has anybody else had this struggle and found a solution that works for them? What are some other romance novels you can recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads Sci-Fi: Feed by Mira Grant

I went on vacation, so I’m getting to this review a bit late. Spoilers are also ahead, so read at your own risk if you plan on picking up this book.

feed_blogAs part of the MadLibs 2018 reading challenge, I chose to read Feed by Mira Grant for the “verb” category. It’s the first in the Newsflesh trilogy, taking place in the U.S. after a zombie apocalypse has occurred. Except it’s not really an apocalypse, because the premise shows a world that essentially operates much in the same way as before, with running electricity, political intrigue, and defined geographical territories. The biggest difference is the undead that have consumer certain areas of the world and a virus that needs to be kept in check with constant blood testing and special medical precautions. Much like we have the TSA to ensure weapons don’t make it through airports, this world includes blood testing machines to ensure visitors to a building aren’t carrying the illness that causes zombies to rise. The whole zombie aspect plays in the background of this world and its story much like the wars and protests and other world news play in the background of our reality and daily lives.

This is what made the book such an interesting concept to me. It’s a revolution of sorts, of the human race, and yet aside from the obvious, nothing’s changed. The other biggest change of course is the source of news and media. Per the novel’s storyline, when the zombie outbreak occurred, big news media didn’t properly warn the citizens of the iminent danger, while bloggers and independent publications did. Thus, in this new world, bloggers and social influencers are the trusted and credible sources of news. To be honest, that sounds pretty familiar to me already, growing up a millennial in this Internet age, where my main source of news comes from my Twitter feed, and I’d sooner trust Buzzfeed to give me the real details before I trust Fox News.

The zombie storyline in this book plays more of a supporting role, adding a supplementary layer to the real story, which is dirty politics and freedom of the press. The story follows brother and sister bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason, along with their sidekick Buffy Messoinier, as they trail the presidential candidate Senator Peter Ryman on his campaign across the U.S. Sabotage soon follows, with cases of the virus popping up and wreaking havoc at Ryman’s campaign events, killing innocent bystanders. The Masons and Buffy investigate until they find the truth, but it’s a dangerous game and by the end, two of them end up dead.

The most prominent flaw I found in the book was the overspecific use of blogging and social media jargon. I know it’s called feed, which is a play on words based on a news feed and what zombies do to live humans, but there was so  much banter between characters that was hyperfocused on the tech and blogging community, that it felt a bit “insider baseball.” I have a bit of a background in blogging and media, so it wasn’t necessarily hard for me to follow what they said most of the time, but for someone who knows nothing about click through rates, content sharing, and metrics, it can become exhausting.

Overall though, I was rather surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and how much I cared about the characters in the end. I just might continue with the next one if I find I have time.

Have any of you read this book or others like it? What are your thoughts? Do you have recommendations based on this novel? Let me know in the comments!

Check out more reviews here!

Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Wrote this post for my cousin’s blog. Check out the link below!

Here’s another backlist I recently read as part of a book club with my coworkers. I figured since it’s been slated for production as a television show with HBO though, it might be relevant to some media fans. Readers beware: spoilers are ahead! Also, tw: sexual assault, rape, violence. Here’s a quick rundown of the […]

via Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Diving into Diverse Reading

Lately, I’ve made a much more conscious effort at reading diversely. We chose The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu for my cousins’ book club. I read Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat for the 2018 Madlibs reading challenge. And for my book club at work with my coworkers, we’re reading Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read in the past, but it is so easy to fall into patterns, especially when those works get widely passed around by the mainstream. It’s easy to miss out on some truly excellent work from writers of different backgrounds simply because they are not given the same platform.

A few years ago when I started listening to the Book Riot podcast, it made me aware that I’d fallen into the pattern of reading the same authors and types of work. Not that those stories aren’t worth telling, but rather that other stories are worth telling also. So, I started curating a list of diverse reading on my Goodreads to read list. But I still didn’t get around to reading so many of those books until just a few months ago. Why? Well, I still have a whole library of books I own at home that I haven’t read and need to get through. Having those books I own still sitting on my shelf made it easy to keep with my reading patterns. I knew I still wasn’t reading diversely, but I had no one to hold me accountable.

With the use of reading challenges and book clubs though, the excuses stopped. Having people to discuss the books with made it easier to choose diverse stories. More than that, having a planned out list for reading challenges made me more conscious of what I was choosing to read, and I’m grateful for that. The reason I’m writing about this is because truly diving in diverse reading has made me aware that I really don’t know much about other cultures.

 

Image from Goodreads

Ken Liu’s work is the first I’ve read by a Chinese writer. Edwidge Danticat’s book is the first perspective I’ve read about Haitian immigrants and the political struggles that country has gone through. Nnedi Okorafor’s novel is the first time I’m delving into African culture. With just these three books, I’ve been introduced to new worlds that gave me an appreciation for what I still have yet to learn. I don’t want to be the kind of person who never thinks of other cultures and ways of living and buries her head in the sand. I want to learn about other people. I want to understand others’ stories and hear their voices. We can learn so much about each other through our stories, so I think all readers should make an effort to start diversifying their bookshelves. It’s not enough to make lists without taking action.

How do you all diversify you’re reading? What books have you read recently that tell a story different from your own life?

Reading Challenge Accepted

I’ve spent the last two and a half years reading books for a book challenge my best friend and I decided to take on. She’s a much faster reader than I am and finished in about a year. It was the first time I’d ever done a reading challenge, as before I chose my books by whatever was at the front of my shelf and I hadn’t read yet (or wanted to reread). It only took up over 2 years, and yet, now that I no longer have that reading challenge, at the end of it, I found myself feeling a bit lost.

I looked at my bookshelf and suddenly felt overwhelmed with just how many reads I had ahead of me. How can I ever make it through that jungle? I needed a break from reading goals, if only for a day or two. Instead of trying to figure out what the next challenge would be or how to go about choosing my next read, I settled back in with a book I’ve had ongoing for as long as that last reading challenge, Leyenda. This one’s been a slow go because it’s my first time reading an entire book in Spanish. Yes, I’ve been reaching out of my comfort zones for reading for over two years only, but already I feel like I can’t go back to the way I used to choose material.

I can’t just blindly pick something up without considering what kind of writers and stories I’m supporting. Taking on that book challenge I think has made me a more conscientious reader. Like my TV-watching habits, I’ve learned to recognize what is worth my time and what should be let go.

I looked at my shelves a few days ago and thought, “What can I get rid of? What doesn’t need to be read or reread?” I still haven’t gotten around to clearing out my book case, simply because I haven’t had the time, but once my vacation comes around I’d like to dedicate a day to truly weighing my options and getting books off the shelf that really don’t need to be there. I did a mini version of this a few months ago, but then I was just trying to make space for new books I’d purchased. This time, I want to go into it with a real critical eye, so that I can continue to challenge myself with what I read.

I’m not saying I’m giving up YA or sci-fi/fantasy books completely, but I am attempting to be more aware of what I pick up off my shelf. Taking on that reading challenge for two and half years made me realize that I need to expand my horizons, so I’m including more diverse reads, whether it’s by authors of color, women, queer writers, or some combination thereof.

After three days of taking a breather with my Spanish-language book, I decided on Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. Books like this one are difficult but necessary if I’m going to become not only a better reader and writer, but a better person. Reading challenge accepted.