September Reading

I, Claudius Robot Jessica, have an off-again-on-again tradition of not posting anything to this blog for most of the year, feeling guilty, making one post before Dewey’s Biannual Brilliant and Amazing and So, So Fun 24-Hour Readathon, and then neglecting it again. Well, we’re on again!

Here’s what I read in September. I read more than normal because I had too many books due at the library (with renewals maxed out already) and two books that I got ARCs of from Goodreads that I thought I should read and review before they came out. Anyway:

Medea! This is an ancient Greek play about a woman who is so angry at her husband that she needs some serious revenge. Give this to a guy who thinks women are irrationally angry all the time and see if he can spot why Medea is so angry cause, from where I’m sitting, she has Good Reasons. It’s pretty amazing to read something that is literally thousands of years old but still so nuanced and, sometimes, quite modern-feeling. For how short it is, Euripedes has your sympathies shifting over and over. Read this after Gone Girl.

My strongest impression upon finishing: Wow, that was really short.

The Walking Dead: Compendium One collects volumes 1-8 of the comic. One of the most popular zombie, post-apocalyptic stories out there, largely thanks to the TV show. While I’m not the biggest fan of the show, I liked it a lot better than the comic, unfortunately. I think the pacing in the show is much better – the first volume in particular moves way too quickly – but I also think the show is more nuanced, or at least believable, in its characters (which are the same as the comic, but you know, not quite the same). The comic has a troubling tendency to have people go “crazy” without seeming to understand what that would actually look like. I also wasn’t a fan of the art. I doubt I will continue on with the series.

You’ve probably heard of Station Eleven. It’s been one of the buzziest books around since last year. Like the Walking Dead, this is post- (and pre- and during) apocalypse, but there are no zombies and I liked it a whole lot better. Still, I’m glad I waited until the buzz wasn’t quite so loud because this wasn’t quite what I wanted. It’s a lovely book and totally worth reading, but post-apocalypse is a setting I really like and have yet to find my perfect story. This one rates near the top, though, and I think you should read it if it sounds at all up your alley. My IRL book club just picked this for November – what good timing!

Goodreads book #1! Count me as one of the ones who liked Gilbert’s smash hit Eat, Pray Love. I found her honest and vulnerable and incredibly privileged. I loved her TED talk(s?) on creativity and creative genius even more, so I was excited to dig into Big Magic which builds on that TED talk. Largely, I quite enjoyed it. As someone who struggles to produce things – creative or otherwise – I was pretty inspired just by reading someone else’s thoughts and engaging with someone else’s ideas, both when they matched my own and when they didn’t. Here’s a link to my Goodreads review if you want to know what I thought in (much) more detail.

On the same day I finished Big Magic, I also finished Things Fall Apart. This is a classic novel that I never read in high school, about Nigeria and colonization. It was less about colonization than I thought it would be – only in the last third does even a missionary (often the first step in colonization) show up. I don’t know what to say about this book. The protagonist is difficult to sympathize with until the colonizers come, from a modern perspective. Neither the traditional protagonist nor the colonizers are idealized, which is clearly Achebe’s purpose, but idk. It left me with some neutral feelings. I left my star rating blank on Goodreads – not because I hated it, but because what I feel about it doesn’t translate into a rating, if that makes any sense.  Things Fall Apart is definitely a classic for a reason, and if you’ve never read it, go on and pick it up! A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid would be an interesting companion.

Goodreads book #2! Applegate is the author of the Animorphs series, which I totally loved SO MUCH as a kid. I was very excited to read this – look at that giant cat on the cover! Unfortunately, that giant cat is imaginary and even more unfortunately, he isn’t in the book all that much? I liked the book well-enough outside of that, with themes like being poor, struggling with housing, and parents who make mistakes, but I’m not sure how much Crenshaw added, outside of one scene that made me tear up. (Crenshaw tells his boy that imaginary friends all hang out in a lounge together when their humans don’t need them and then he tells him about his dad’s imaginary friend! Ahhh, so sweet.) Here’s a happy ending, though: I put my ARC into the Little Free Library on my block, which has a lot of kids, and last I looked, it’s been picked up! My main takeaway: I might need to revisit the Animorphs sooner rather than later. A friend has sent me the first three books. Oh, yes. I’m feelin’ it.

And lastly, The Cuckoo’s Calling by You-Know-Who (hahaha, Harry Potter jokes, am I right?). JKR’s second adult novel, but first mystery, first in a series, first pen name. I like mysteries and I love Harry Potter so I was going to pick this up eventually. I have thoughts and feelings about this, but I’m struggling a little bit to find my words. I’m not sure about her use of dialect, and some of the descriptions of people put me off in their harshness. This book isn’t in tight third person perspective, so it felt a little to me like the author rather than the character being harsh, which put me off even more. That said, I really did like it, especially our two detectives: Cormoran Strike (what a JKR name, right?!) who is rough-around-the-edges and experienced, and Robin, his temp secretary who harbors secret, long-held fantasies of detection which, combined with her intense competence, make her super useful.  Yup, I’ll be seeing those two again in a few months, I’m sure of it!

And that’s it! My September reading. I also read a selection of Philip K. Dick’s short stories for my RL book club but I’ve been getting ranty whenever I talk about those, so I thought I’d leave it for another post (maybe). I’d like to promise more regular posts in the future, whether they are reviews or wrap-ups like this, but I don’t want to make a promise I don’t know if I’ll keep, so I’ll just say: guten nacht, and see you in a few days for the ‘thon!


Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia

Bellweather Rhapsody

by Kate Racculia

“A high school music festival goes awry when a young prodigy disappears from the most infamous room in the Bellweather Hotel, in a whip-smart novel sparkling with dark and giddy humor.

Fifteen years ago, a murder-suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it, Minnie Graves. Now hundreds of high school musicians, including quiet bassoonist Rabbit Hatmaker and his brassy diva twin, Alice, have gathered in its cavernous, crumbling halls for the annual Statewide festival; Minnie has returned to face her demons; and a colossal snowstorm is threatening to trap them all in the hotel. Then Alice’s roommate goes missing–from room 712. The search for her entwines an eccentric cast of characters: conductors and caretakers, failures and stars, teenagers on the verge and adults trapped in memories. For everyone has come to the Bellweather with a secret, and everyone is haunted.

Bellweather Rhapsody is a genre-bending page-turner, full of knowing nods to pop culture classics from The Shining to Agatha Christie to Glee. But its pleasures are beautifully deepened by Kate Racculia’s skill with her characters, her melancholy, affecting writing about music, and her fearlessness about the loss and darkness that underline the truest humor. This is a wholly winning new novel from a writer to watch.” (via Indiebound, minor edits for readability)


Good Things: One of the things I liked best about Bellweather Rhapsody was how it covers a lot of literary ground without ever feeling spread too thin. It’s a murder mystery, it’s a study of grief and pain, it’s a coming-of-age story. It travels through the ensemble cast and makes them all important and worth caring about; the Hatmaker twins and Minnie were my favorites, no doubt, but I never resented spending time with Fisher or Natalie or Hastings, which usually happens when I’m reading a novel with so many characters involved. There’s a lot of drama and theatrically big emotions, many tense sequences, and plenty of personal secrets to go around, and I was in just the right mood to fall into it all happily and ride the drama waves with everyone in the story.

Besides, for all the big feelings and big moments, there are little nuggets of truth about people that can pop up on you when you aren’t expecting them: Minnie’s coping mechanisms, and Alice’s true self under all her flashiness, and Rabbit’s surprising moments of confidence. Those pieces are going to stick with me past everything else, I think, and bring me back to read it and feel understood in the future.

Also, the bit about the middle section of “Jupiter” from The Planets is absolutely real and true and maybe the best thing I’ve ever read about it:

He knows that “Jupiter” is divided into three sections–the first and third are quick and cheerful, allegro giocoso, the essence of jollity (which Fisher finds hard to believe is actually a word). The middle is not silly. The middle is not syncopated. After some leftover tootling in the winds, the middle begins with strings moving together as one sonorous beast, slowly, majestically. The theme is restated, picking up winds and brass and percussion. It soars higher and higher until all the orchestra is reaching the same climactic phrase, released from gravity for only a moment, and gently falling back to earth.

It is a hymn, a prayer.

It’s the sound of several dozen souls singing the same song, and Fisher isn’t leading them. Fisher is one of them, his skinny arms swooping of their own accord. The middle doesn’t end so much as pause thoughtfully; more ridiculous merry bullshit is coming, but this feeling, this true joy, is always there. [loc 3360-3368]

Bad Things: I can’t call anything in this book bad–there were a few things that tugged at the edge of my attention, but nothing that ever dragged it away entirely. The theatricality of the characters’ inner lives works best with the younger players, I think; it makes sense that Alice and Rabbit would be full of big feelings, but equally big feelings coming from Natalie and Fisher, who are supposed to be the adults in this scenario, do feel a little inappropriate. Of course, that’s not to say that this wasn’t intentional. After all, they both experienced some messy things in their childhoods that affected their core beliefs about themselves, and emotional immaturity is hardly restricted to the young. Still, I felt a little bad when Viola Fabian, the clearest villain of the story, told Natalie to get over herself and I caught myself thinking, yeah, seriously.

Speaking of Viola: there are obviously sociopaths in real life, but Viola felt a little flat to me, especially among the wonderfully-realized other characters. A little mustache-twirly, if you will. At times her actions felt more like a plot device to bring the other characters together, rather than the believable decisions of a real (if screwed-up) character in her own right.

Overall: I know some folks use the word “romp” to backhandedly compliment media, but I am not one of those people. This book is rompy and a little silly and a little serious, and I loved it. I’m already looking forward to reading it again in a year or two.

Full Disclosure: The author is an internet friend of mine. Nevertheless, I paid for my copy of the book with my own money (albeit on sale), and I told her in advance that I’d be objective in my review.

The Next Morning


  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Hour 20. I had to stay up until hour 21 for our mini-challenge, but I was super fading. I got a second wind after picking our two winners and lasted until sometime during hour 22!
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nothing in particular is coming to mind. I’d love it, as always, if we could switch up the start time to literally anything else, for the sake of all the world’s people not in the Eastern half of the US. Maybe you could have a list of mini-challenge ideas that would help to make sure the mini-challenges are short, fun, and easy?
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Wow! So many people!
  5. How many books did you read? I finished 4 (all shorties), read 3/5 of a manga, and read 20-50 pages of four others.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, Rapunzel’s Revenge by the Three Hales, and Kimi wa Petto by Yayoi Ogawa.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Hmm, that’s tough! Newt’s Emerald was charming, Housekeeping was lovely, Nimona was good all through but had a truly excellent ending, Through the Woods was creepy in the best way, and Kimi wa Petto was a return to characters I love but hadn’t read about it in a while! I think I might go with Through the Woods, though. I love Emily Carroll so much!
  8. Which did you enjoy least? That’s also tough. I found the Unfolding of Language kind of annoying (more details later possibly), I didn’t connect much with The Mostrumologist (though I’ll read some more of it before giving it up for good), and Rapunzel’s Revenge didn’t have the magic I expect from Shannon Hale – not to be a demanding reader, it’s just that she is one of my favorite YA authors whose work I usually find magical. I found the tone and pacing of RR to be off, though I really appreciated the diversity of characters!
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? N/A
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I’m sure we’ll be back, barring trips or other big commitments like in April! We’ll read and probably host mad libs again, and I’ve been thinking about signing up to cheer for a short amount of time


  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? The end of however long I stayed up, definitely. At that point counting is too hard so I’m never sure how many hours are left. This time, I just read a giant anthology of horror comics and then went to sleep.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I didn’t read it for this ‘thon, but Alice+Freda Forever by Alexis Coe is very readable, interesting nonfiction. Also, Jessica and I were discussing doing an all-Princess  Diaries Read-a-thon sometime. Those books are so easy to whiz through and I love Mia Thermopolis forever.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Starting time change up! I know that’s probably not gonna happen, but I’m saying it anyway.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The prize page was really well-organized, I thought, and made it easy for me to check out what I might like when I won a door prize (!).
  5. How many books did you read? Five–finished four and read select stories from one.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? I finished: Scandals of Classic Hollywood, by Anne Helen Peterson; Prairie Ostrich, by Tamai Kobayashi; Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll; and The Sleep of Reason, ed. C. Spike Trotman. I also read a handful of stories from The Home Girls, by Olga Masters.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? I liked them all for different reasons! Scandals of Classic Hollywood is a great nonfiction book and I’ve already loved AHP’s column at The Hairpin for a long time, Prairie Ostrich is lovely and full of empathy and a little sad, Through the Woods and The Sleep of Reason are both full of creepy-good short horror comics, and the bits I read of The Home Girls made me want to read more Australian fiction.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? None, this time! I had a pretty good stack. I did read some temporary tattoo instructions that were a little dry, though.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? n/a 
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I’d love to keep doing our Mad Libs mini-challenge as long as they let us! And like Jessica said, I think joining in the cheerleading might be a good new thing to do.

It’s been real, guys! Can I go back to sleep now?

Mad libs! Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge Hour 18

Hey, everybody! Welcome to the Hour 18 Mini-Challenge! We–Mia and Jessica–are happy to host you guys as we continue on our collective reading journey! We know it’s getting rough out there for a lot of you (us too!), so how about some Read-a-Thon style mad libs to keep our brains awake?

Here’s what you’re gonna do:
1) pick a paragraph (not too long) from the book you’re reading
2) remove some of the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and either
3a) get a friend (in person, over the phone, over the internet–whatever!) to fill in the words for you mad-libs style or
3b) fill them in yourself from the spoiler-texted word list below
4) post your hilarious paragraph on your blog and link us to it or leave it in a comment here!

Easy, right? Here’s an example. I (Jessica) started with this paragraph from Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones:

While my mother was dancing with Raleigh, she kept her eyes firmly on James. When Raleigh held her waist, she let her torso fall backward, her hair leading the way, laughing until she righted herself quickly. She and I had the same hair, but I hadn’t learned yet to make it move for me. When the music stopped, Raleigh let my mother go, his arms falling to his sides. I kept my eyes peeled for that moment, so I could be there, ready with an icy glass for his empty hand.

I asked Mia for two people, three body parts, a verb, and an adjective. After plugging everything in, I got:

While my mother was dancing with Mr. Rogers, she kept her elbows firmly on LeVar Burton. When Mr. Rogers held her waist, she let her torso fall backward, her belly button leading the way, wiggling until she righted herself quickly. She and I had the same belly button, but I hadn’t learned yet to make it move for me. When the music stopped, Mr. Rogers let my mother go, his arms falling to his sides. I kept my eyes peeled for that moment, so I could be there, ready with an itchy glass for his empty booty.

It made us both giggle a whole heck of a lot, and we hope it’ll do the same for you!

Here’s a list of some words if you don’t want to or can’t bother someone (feel free to adapt as necessary, e.g. making nouns plural or changing verb tense):


1. luxuriant
2. smelly
3. underwhelmed
4. autumnal
5. immortal
6. cartoonish
7. convincing
8. literary
1. hungrily
2. especially
3. grumpily
4. romantically
5. smugly
6. carefully
7. frighteningly
8. triumphantly

1. reader
2. toenail
3. accent
4. basketball
5. pumpkin spice latte
6. midnight
7. parody
8. mass market paperback

1. dangle
2. wreak
3. sleeve
4. haunt
5. crunch
6. trick-or-treat
7. blacken
8. scream

We’ll run the challenge until hour 21 and winners will receive a book of their choice (worth up to $12) from the Book Depository. Go ahead and get libbing!

Book spine poetry!!

Brian: I’m so excited – this always seemed fun and awesome! Here’s what I could put together (so fuzzy):
In the nature of cities;

rebel cities,

invisible cities,

the dispossessed

walk through darkness:

the very hungry city.

Jessica: Next up, a list poem!

How to Hide an Octopus:
A small place,
Red glove,
Tooth and claw,
Heart of stone,
One hundred years of solitude.
Mia: And the best (a dubious claim) for last!
Cross your fingers, spit in your hat

Beyond the great wall, here comes the cat!

Hour 14 Mini-Challenge: Color Cover

Hey, readers and reader groupies! (Are there Read-a-thon groupies? Probably not.) Mia here. Are we really over halfway through already? Jessica and Brian and I missed the first few hours, but even so–woof! How are y’all doing? I won a door prize too! Excuse my victory dance.

I decided to take a quick break from reading to do Wishful Endings‘ color-cover mini-challenge; I was inspired by a very good and very HOT PINK book that I finished right before the Read-a-thon, Alice + Freda Forever by Alexis Coe. (I highly recommend it!) However, since my own library isn’t at my disposal, I decided to make it an internet search instead of IRL. Here’s what I ended up with:


Okay, so they’re not all the same shade of pink, but close enough for horseshoes. Truthfully, I’ve only read the first two, but I’ve heard good things about Hot Pink, and Polina looks like a lovely, expressive comic of the type that the French are so good at.

So! There you go. Four pink covers. Go read Alice + Freda Forever. End transmission.

Mid-Event Survey Time!

From Jessica:

1. What are you reading right now? I just finished Nimona, which was a lot of fun. Not sure what I’m going to pick up next.
2. How many books have you read so far? I’ve finished two (Nimona by Noelle Stevenson and Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix) and made progress in two more (25ish pages in Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and the introduction to the Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher).
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I want to get to page 50 in Housekeeping, since it’s for a book club. I’m really looking forward to Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, which I will be stealing from Mia.
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Not any external or unexpected interruptions. There have been little food breaks and checking the computer breaks, but nothing major.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Hmmm. Like I said before, we’re getting to be old hats at this ‘thon thing, so I’m struggling to come up with anything surprising.

From Mia:

1. What are you reading right now? I’m more than halfway through Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi and I’m really enjoying it.
2. How many books have you read so far? I finished Anne Helen Peterson’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood, and Prairie Ostrich will be my second. It feels like I’m reading more slowly than usual, although I think part of that is just that I take longer with nonfiction books, even when they’re engagingly written. I’m whipping through Prairie Ostrich much faster.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? The comics and maybe some of the stories in Olga Masters’ The Home Girls, which was given to me by an Australian friend!
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? I occasionally let myself get a little distracted by Twitter or Vine (or bothering Jessica’s cats), but mostly it’s been smooth sailing.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? I’ve been doing more straight reading and fewer mini-challenges/less social media participation. I don’t think there’s any particular reason, just the whims of my brain. Probably when I’m punchy and sleepy later I’ll want to take more breaks and use the challenges as an excuse, haha.

From Brian:

1. What are you reading right now? Still working on some guys with guns Three Musketeers. 100 pages left!
2. How many books have you read so far?  Just the one – and I haven’t finished it, but that’s ok, it’s long, and soon, soon.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I’m gonna read at least a story or two from Invisible Cities post Musketeers, but then I really want to sit down with Tombs of Atuan – short, sweet, and Ursula le Guin!
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? I’ve been doing ok, I think – I’ve definitely got distracted/less focused for at least a couple of hours – so fair I’ve been changing up venue when I start flagging, but now that it’s late that’s gonna get harder.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?  I’ve been really conscious of hanging around various public spaces with a book – that’s not totally weird for me, but it’s entered my thoughts a lot as I’ve bounced around the coffee shop, the park, and most recently waiting for take-out at the amaaaaaazing Thai restaurant right by where I live. I think just reading allll day has made for a kinda interesting mindset! Also, some guy yelled at me to get a job when I was at the park! But then, I also kinda look like a hippy.