2016 bookshelf update: april

You know, if I didn’t fall asleep on the couch every time I sat down to read, I’d have a lot more books to write about here. But alas, I am getting old.


Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Ron Rash

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I absolutely devoured Rash’s novel Serena, so I figured nabbing this at the local library sale would be worth my dollar. It’s a collection of Americana short stories spanning various time periods, all, of course, written in Rash’s no-frills prose. As is the case with most short story collections, some stories were stronger or more interesting than others, but it was an enjoyable read and perfect for those minutes before bed.

[4/5 stars]


The Night Sister, by Jennifer McMahon

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I’ll be honest, I only picked this up because I was going to be hanging around a coffeeshop for a few hours and was dangerously close to done with my other book, so obviously I needed a back-up. Thanks, Target.

Like Rash loves Americana, McMahon loves her Northeastern-based, supernatural mysteries (see: The Winter People). The Night Sister begins with the gruesome murder/suicide of Amy Slater, her husband, and her son. Her daughter somehow escaped onto the roof and remained alive. Amy’s childhood friends, Piper and Margot, attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding the killings and around Amy’s family as a whole. This story is interwoven with the story of Amy’s mother and aunt, Rose and Sylvie, and the bitter sibling relationship they lived, each one believing something terrible of the other. It’s all set among the once-prosperous Tower Motel, owned by the Slater family. (This is another of those books that’s hard to summarize without giving away, sorry.)

I mostly enjoyed this book, though I now wish I had saved it for a late autumn read. You go back and forth between trusting and not trusting the characters, the setting, the narrator…everything. Sometimes I felt things could have been fleshed out more realistically, but that might have taken away from some of the aura of mystery. So who knows? Not a perfect book, but definitely satisfactory.

[4/5 stars]


We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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This is the essay form of Adichie’s viral TEDx talk of the same name. I have heard clips and always intended to watch the full thing, but never got around to it. So when I needed to add a couple of dollars to my Amazon purchase, this lovely little $5 booklet found its way in. (It’s also beautifully designed, so I’m happy to have it on my shelf.)

In the last few years, I’ve been going through my own personal evaluation of what feminism actually means, both in my life and in society as a whole. I’ve thought many times about writing about it, but I never felt I had the right words. Thankfully, Adichie voices almost exactly my feelings, and she does it a lot more eloquently. I was especially appreciative of how she addressed the fact that both women and men suffer from institutionalized and societal sexism, which is often unconsciously inflicted because “that’s just how it’s done.”

“But by far the worst thing we do to males—by making them feel they have to be hard—is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.”

“And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man. If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, pretend that you are not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate him.”

I would encourage anyone to take the time to watch this TEDx talk or pick up the essay. It’s absolutely worth your attention.

[5/5 stars]


Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

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This was another book sale purchase, but thankfully it was one that was already one my TBR list after hearing about it on a radio show a few months ago. Chevalier was interested in the background to Vermeer’s famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and so decided to novelize it. These kinds of historical novels are probably my favorites, so I was eager to dive in.

Griet is 16, the daughter of a tile painter who was recently made blind in an accident. To make ends meet, her mother arranges for Griet to work as a maid in the Vermeer household. She intends to keep her head down and do her work, but her curiosity and perceptive nature begin to draw her closer to Vermeer’s work and the painter himself.

It’s an incredibly researched novel; the setting feels alive and intimate with the grit of life in Delft. The characters felt a little less so, and I think Chevalier knows that is her weaker element and so leans more heavily on the setting. But it is an excellent novel for anyone with a love for art-based historical fiction.

[4.25/5 stars]


Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Apparently I decided that April was the month for me to read books on highly charged topics.

This book is written as a letter from Coates to his teenage son, part memoir and part charge, dealing with the historical and modern oppression of black Americans. Coates is eloquently angry as he explains the ways in which black bodies are stolen and broken, sometimes in the figurative sense and sometimes in the literal. He reckons with the terrible history and burden of being black in America, and there is a palpable current of emotion flowing through his writing.

Parts of this book made me balk, made me think “Oh, that’s an oversimplification” or “That’s not fair.” But that’s why books like this one are important. Because my views and experiences as a white woman are not universal. Because there are certain histories I will never have to reckon with or hurdles I will be forced to jump because of the color of my skin. Just because I don’t personally encounter an obstacle doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist for so many other people (the same thing can be said in regards to feminism, too). We have to pay attention to the stories of others around us. We have to seek to understand when they are angry, why they are angry. Dismissing it does far more harm because it only serves to divide us further.

[5*/5 stars]

*I gave the book 5 stars, but I honestly don’t consider myself qualified to really rate this book. This book is not truly for me. But it did help me, and I wanted to give it a rating to reflect that.


Favorite book this monthWe Should All Be Feminists

Most likely to re-read: We Should All Be Feminists

Most likely to recommend: We Should All Be Feminists and Between the World and Me


 

And that’s my April in books! As always, recommendations are welcome. And if you’d like to discuss any of the books above (you know the ones I’m talking about), please reach out.

Keep reading and support your local libraries (and their book sales!).

 

2016 bookshelf update: march

So I’m only eleven days late posting this…eep.

March was another slow-ish reading month. Between work stuff and traveling to see friends and family, I was left with less time to just read. (I also think my newfound dedication to running has bitten into my reading time, but that’s not the worst problem to have.) I’m hoping that the return of warmer weather will give me some encouragement in that area. But hey, it was better than February!


The Magiciansby Lev Grossman [re-read]

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I first read this book (and the subsequent two) less than a year ago, but I already had to start re-reading because the series is just. so. good. In case you missed my write-up on the series last summer, The Magicians is the first in an adult fantasy trilogy that follows 17-year-old Quentin Coldwater, who suddenly finds himself enrolled at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy because, surprise surprise, he’s a magician! Quentin is also obsessed with a series of books known as Fillory and Further (an extremely closely-drawn parallel to the Narnia series). The book spans multiple years as Quentin and his fellow magicians-in-training navigate both their school years and the first years afterwards.

I’ll say this upfront: Quentin (“Q”) is an extremely obnoxious narrator. He is mopey and apathetic and just the worst kind of “that guy” I’ve ever read. But the world Grossman created somehow allows for that level of irritation to exist and still encourage you to keeping reading (plus Q gets called out with pleasing regularity).

It’s not a perfect book, and for the love of everything good, do not let your children read this series, oh my gosh, just don’t do it, I don’t care how much it aligns with Harry Potter and Narnia, this is not appropriate for children, but it sets up a series that only gets better with each subsequent book.

[4.25/5 stars]


The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith

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This was my “trapped in Barnes & Noble during a tornado warning” purchase. Thanks, crazy December weather.

So as a lover of Harry Potter, I wanted to see how I would like J.K. Rowling’s writing in another context (Galbraith is Rowling’s writing “alter ego”). And I did like the writing, but it took me a while to really engage with the plot of the book.

Cormoran Strike is a former military man-turned-private detective who is down on his luck in a pretty significant way. He believes it to be a stroke of pure luck when he is hired to investigate the apparent suicide of high fashion model Lula Landry. Her brother is sure it was murder and wants Strike to prove it. With the help of Robin Ellacott, Strike’s temporary secretary, he discovers there are many more twists to the case than anyone initially thought.

Until the last third of the book, I wasn’t really hooked. There were too many threads getting pulled, and it was a bit difficult to keep up. But everything does get tied up at the end (possibly too simply or quickly) and the last chapters read quickly. So a good read ultimately, but I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll continue with the other Cormoran Strike novels.

[3.75/5 stars]


After You (Me Before You #2), by JoJo Moyes

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After I read Me Before You last May, I was satisfied but not super-enthralled. The internet thought otherwise because the vast majority of reviews seemed to share “I went through an entire box of tissues” experiences. But whatever. Maybe I was just being heartless. I probably would have waited to read the sequel until I could snag it in paperback, but I found a cheap hardback copy at 2nd & Charles, so…

Louisa (Lou) Clark is adrift after *SPOILER ALERT FOR ME BEFORE YOUthe man she loved, Will Traynor, killed himself via assisted suicide. She travelled like she promised him she would, and she’s finally living on her own in London, away from the rest of her family in the small town she’s always known. Unfortunately, she’s found her life at a standstill, working a soul-sucking job at an airport pub and begrudgingly attending a bereavement group once a week. But through a nasty fall, a surprise visitor on her doorstep, and a blossoming relationship, she begins to shift her course.

I think I preferred After You to Me Before You in many ways. I liked the more ambiguous nature of the plot (I felt I knew the outcome of MBY long before I reached the end of the book) and that the characters felt more fleshed out and complex. There was an appropriate amount of deference to the plot of the first book, while still allowing Lou to chart a new personal course that felt true to her characterization. So if you loved or liked MBY, I recommend checking this one out.

[4.25/5 stars]


I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak

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Zusak is the author of one of my favorite books, The Book Thief, so I naturally had to pick up another of his novels. This one stars Ed Kennedy, an unmotivated and underage cab driver, who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a mysterious “messenger” society, where he must deliver “messages” in some form or another to strangers and, later, to friends and family. The process of delivering the messages pushes Ed to re-examine his life, his value, and his purpose.

Again, this was a slow burning book for me. It took a while for me to latch on to the message (*ba dum tss*) of the story, and while I appreciate and agreed with the overall themes, there were elements of the execution that rubbed me the wrong way (specifically Ed’s relationship with his friend Audrey). But Zusak’s writing is truly lovely, and I am not disappointed to have read it. It just won’t occupy a spot next to The Book Thief on my favorite books list.

[4/5 stars]


Favorite book this monthThe Magicians and After You

Most likely to re-read: The Magicians

Most likely to recommend: The Magicians and After You


So that was my March in reading! When Spring weather finally decides to stick around for good, I should have better motivation in my reading habits.

Keep reading and support your local libraries, y’all.

 

2016 bookshelf update: february

My book buying game was on point in February. 16 books, $30. Booyah. Thanks, library sales!

My reading game, on the other hand, was almost obscenely weak. I started three books plus one re-read, but only finished one of my selections. Oops. It was a busy bee/Netflix in pajamas/no in between kind of month.

But since I’m late posting this, I managed to squeeze in one more finish this morning. So…just consider this my February + 1 update, okie dokie?


Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

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Park is your standard suburban teenager. He loves music and comics and detests riding the bus. Eleanor’s life is anything but standard. If her unruly red curls didn’t make her stand out enough, her odd clothing choices certainly would. Plus she’s the new girl at school. When they wind up sitting on the bus together, a slow relationship begins to blossom, against the initial objections of both parties. As the back cover blurb says, “This is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.”

I mentioned in my January update that the standard trappings of YA novels are beginning to wear on me; I suppose I’m finally getting old. But my love for Rowell’s Landline (it landed on my 2015 Top 10 list) and the absolute fervor for E&P online meant I couldn’t strike this one from my To Read list quite et. And I’m glad I didn’t. While it won’t be a personal favorite for me, there was enough novelty (ba-dum-tss) in the story to keep me engaged, and the ending had me speeding through the pages. If you’re looking for a YA novel with a different one than you might be used to, this is probably a good pick.

[4.25/5 stars]


The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

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This is the book that kept me from reading more during February (in conjunction with my spontaneous re-watch of The West Wing). It’s a bit of a beast, clocking in at right under 500 pages, and it can take a little bit to really engage with the material. Or at least it did for me.

The novel weaves together the stories of Chava, a golem whose master died shortly after bringing her to life, and Ahmad, a jinni trapped in the form of a man who has just been awoken after more than a thousand years, as they navigate the very human world of early 20th century New York City. There are so many unique pieces and characters in this novel, and just when you think you’ve discovered all the threads, another gets pulled. There are discussions of religion and faith, mythology, family, immigration, and all feel completely natural among the plot lines. The end might come together a bit quickly for some, but I was so immersed in the story by that point that I didn’t care (I actually woke up early this morning to finish it before work). As an added bonus, the cover is lovely and the page edges of the hardback are colored a rich blue. I would recommend it to anyone interested in urban fantasy/modern mythology/magical realism.

[4.75/5 stars]


Favorite book this monthThe Golem and the Jinni

Most likely to re-read: Eleanor & Park

Most likely to recommend: Eleanor & Park and The Golem and the Jinni


 

Hopefully March will be a bit more successful for my reading game, especially since the weather is getting warmer and I have all those new books to devour (plus a newly reorganized bookshelf to go with them).

Support your libraries, and keep reading, y’all.

 

2016 bookshelf update: january

Some of my 2015 bimonthly* reading round-ups got a tad lengthy, so I figured monthly updates were the way to go in 2016.

*Also, can we also talk about how the bi- prefix is friggin’ confusing? Is it twice a month? Or is it every other month? GRAMMAR, I TRUSTED YOU.


The Blind Side: Evolution of a Gameby Michael Lewis

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I’ve been meaning to read this one for a few years, being a fan of the movie version and of Lewis’ book (and movie) Moneyball. I don’t know what sorcery Michael Lewis possesses, but that man writes the most compelling non-fiction I’ve ever read (outside of memoirs, of course). The Blind Side is a lot more narrative driven than Moneyball, but it’s still got a healthy dose of research and statistics. The crux of the book is the rise of the left tackle as arguably the most important position in football, Michael Oher’s personal rise, and how they intersected at exactly the right moment. If you like football, “rags to riches” narratives (patronizing description withstanding), statistical research, or a combination of the three especially, this is the book for you.

[4.75/5 stars]


Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

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Was this on every “Best of 2015” list? Yes. Did I like it? Not particularly.

The book follows young couple Lotto and Mathilde as they navigate the years of their marriage. The first half of the book is structured around Lotto’s perspective and backstory (Fates) and the second half is structured around Mathilde’s (Furies). They struggle with Lotto’s initial aimlessness and later success, their lack of children, and familial strife.

Both are incredibly complicated, emotionally stunted characters…and I liked neither of them. The moral system of this book was so foreign to me, and it was a struggle to wring some sympathy out of my heart.

The plot was definitely fresh in many respects, at least to my literary background, and some of the prose was quite pretty, but overall it just did not hit the mark for me.

[2.75/5 stars]


Star Wars: Before the Awakening, by Greg Rucka

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In case you haven’t encountered me since Dec. 17, let me fill you in: I have seen The Force Awakens four times, and the number’s only that low because movie tickets are more expensive than gold at this point. I really, really, really like Star Wars, you guys.

Hence, buying the prequel novel was essentially a forgone conclusion (also, Target is dangerous).

The book is split into three parts, one for each of the members of the “new trio”: Finn, Rey, and Poe. Each character is given a more fleshed-out background (but not spoiling any mysteries set up in the movie), and Poe’s in particular gives a bit more information on the history of the Resistance and First Order. It’s not a groundbreaking piece of literature by any means, but if you’re like me and just really love Star Wars and will read anything that provides more information about Star Wars, you’ll enjoy it.

[4/5 stars]


The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

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It only took me nine days to leap back into my tried-and-true favorite genre. I’m just a sucker for WWII historical fiction.

This novel follows two French sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they navigate their lives during the German occupation of France. While older sister Vianne must maintain the family home and keep her daughter safe, Isabelle sets out to help the resistance movement in any way she can. Vianne believes Isabelle is being reckless, while Isabelle considers Vianne to be kowtowing to the enemy. As each of their lives becomes increasingly dangerous, with death constantly a looming shadow, they survive in the only ways they know how.

I really enjoyed the overall story and themes of this novel, and the writing was truly lovely, though there were some bits that dragged slightly. The only thing that really rang false to me was the love story of one of the sisters; it felt misplaced and rushed, and after a while I began to skim those (thankfully intermittent) portions of the book. I always leave WWII historical fiction with a heavy sadness, but that’s to be expected from dwelling in such a harsh period.

[4.25/5 stars]


The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh

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First of all, let’s talk about the cover of this one. What a beauty.

This is a YA retelling of Arabian Nights, centered on Shahrzad, the newest bride of Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. Each evening, the Caliph has taken a bride. Each dawn, the bride is executed. There is no explanation as to why. When Shahrzad’s best friend is made a victim of this system, she vows to exact revenge on Khalid. Through artful storytelling, she manage to survive her first wedded night, and the next, and the next, discovering each day that the man she thought a monster may not be what she was told.

When I was able to suspend my newfound cynicism when reading YA, I really, really enjoyed this book. The setting was lush and a welcome respite from the hundreds of high school-based YA novels out there. The mystery was intriguing, and my reading sped along at a nice clip. The ending left me excitedly awaiting the second in the duology, The Rose and the Dagger, set to be published in May of this year.

Unfortunately, the YA of it all did chafe me a bit, especially with 16-year-old Shahrzad being somewhat of a stereotypical “sassy, highly-skilled, ultra-beautiful” YA heroine. There’s a love triangle going on, too, which I understand the point of, but I’m just so exhausted with the theme. Alas. Still, if you’re looking for a more unique YA novel, I would definitely recommend this one.

[4.5/5 stars]


Favorite book this monthThe Wrath and the Dawn. Even though The Blind Side got a slightly higher star rating, TWatD really grabbed me by its conclusion.

Most likely to re-read: The Wrath and the Dawn

Most likely to recommend: The Nightingale and The Wrath and the Dawn


As always, I’m happy to share/swap recommendations.

Support your libraries, and keep reading, y’all.

2015: whoa

If anyone tells you this year flew by, they are liars and cannot be trusted.

Okay, so maybe it flew by for them, but it felt almost obscenely stretched out for me. Not interminable, just reeeaaaaalllllllllyyyyy long. Like, when I think about the first half of this year, or even three months ago, it seems like it’s ages past.

I took a look back at my goals posts from the end of 2014, and all I can do is laugh. I really did have a lot of plans going into 2015, and I was working on setting them in motion during January. Things just got, well, derailed.

As anyone reading this more than likely knows, at the end of January/beginning of February the right side of my body decided it was over working properly and just gave up. Woo. Three doctor visits, two weeks of waiting, and one hospital stay featuring a lumbar puncture later, I find out that I’ve got tumefactive multiple sclerosis (i.e. there’s a lesion hanging out in my brain that looks like a tumor but isn’t a tumor and sometimes may decide to mess with my body’s functionality).

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I guess multiple MRI rock concerts were what my 2015 plans were missing– who woulda thunk?

I just want to take this moment to say that my health is 100% fine now. I have had no flare-ups since the first one in January, and my MRIs have all come back either stable or indicating that the lesion is shrinking. I don’t even have to take any medication, and my next MRI won’t be until April. I am ALL GOOD. So as much as I appreciate all the “How are you doing? How’s your health?” questions (and I really do), I absolutely promise that I am fine.

The most unfortunate side effect of the whole health situation was that I got insanely thrown off on my personal goals. Coupled with some unforeseen circumstances at work, my spring was just wholly shot for any personal betterment. It’s taken me until just the last couple of months to really get back on track.

One other bummer that happened this year: Danny, my beloved Jeep Liberty, bit the dust in July. So, with the help of my parents, I participated in that lovely adult experience of car shopping and now have a swanky pre-owned Kia Sportage with a lovely car payment to go with it. Fun times, y’all.

BUT ON TO THE GOOD THINGS!

As much as I was dealing with physical and emotional unsteadiness this year, there were some truly lovely things that happened this year. So let’s run down those highlights, yo.

  • In an attempt to make up for the sucky health stuff, life gave me three glorious theatrical experiences in January/February: Newsies (in Atlanta with Megan), The Book of Mormon (BJCC with Cameron and Rex), and a concert version of The Last Five Years (Red Mountain Theatre Company with Shea) where I got to meet, hug, and take photos with the cast and composer, EEEKKK!!! 
  • Began hosting a home group of Samford students on Tuesday evenings, and it quickly became the best part of my week. I get to make new food, have college students rave because anything I make is better than the Caf, and then get to talk with and listen to some truly incredible students for two hours.
  • Explored some new hiking trails that I’ve revisited frequently throughout the year. They’re my new favorite place to escape.
  • It snowed and no one got stranded. *praise hands emoji*Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.54.52 PM
  • My precious baby cousin Emily graduated from high school and started her freshman year at Samford. I adore having family in Birmingham with me, and it’s so wonderful to see her fall in love with her Samford experience. Besides, she keeps me in the student loop.Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.54.28 PM
  • We celebrated #drsheabybaby with a #weekendgetashea to Pensacola Beach. Despite the sunburn (Banana Boat sunscreen, you are dead to me), it was a wonderful weekend with some of my favorites.Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.54.20 PM
  • Cameron burst into my office and convinced me that an overnight drive to Orlando to go to the 24 Hours of Magic day at DisneyWorld with Kate and the Forehands was a good idea. It was the best idea, and it was worth every penny and missed hour of sleep.
  • Oh, and the Disney trip was on my 24th birthday weekend. Happy golden birthday to me!Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.54.12 PM
  • And if those two weekends weren’t enough, I took off the next weekend to spend a week at the beach with my family. Lots of books and sitting under a comically large umbrella to avoid further sunburning. It’s the best kind of Long family vacation.Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.54.05 PM
  • Moved apartments yet again, this time to Highland Park to live with Marla once again. I MISSED YOU, MARLA.
  • Knocked out my Goodreads challenge with a quarter of the year to go. (Here’s my 2015 reading wrap-up and favorites.)
  • Got to celebrate the Feete wedding with some of the best people around and got to cat-sit for #acatnamedfitz for the two weeks afterward. It was glorious.Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.53.44 PM
  • Actually started running and have been fairly consistent with it since mid-September, so that’s a major stride in my life. Booyah.
  • Dressed as an Ewok for Halloween. As you do.Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.53.25 PM
  • Spent my third year assisting with the Brookwood children’s Christmas musical, this time featuring small children attempting to rap. Yes, it was exactly as wonderful as it sounds.Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.53.15 PM
  • STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS MADE MY HEART SING WITH NERDY JOY. (PSA: If you’re in Bham and want to go see it again, I’m your girl.)Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 7.01.24 PM.png

There were, of course, all sorts of other odds and ends throughout the year, but these are most of the highlights.

So that’s my 2015. And I am 100% down with moving on to 2016.

Look, I do appreciate the high points of this last year. I mean that sincerely. There was some really good stuff going on. But good grief, I am soveryready to move on to a year that will hopefully not include major health issues and other major miscellaneous negatives.

So c’mon, new year. Let’s dance.

 

2015 bookshelf wrap-up + top 10

I read a grand total of 61 books in 2015. Yes, you read that right. I was 100% on board the reading train this year.

Here’s the breakdown on my book stats:

  • First reads: 55
  • Re-reads: 6
  • Fiction: 55
  • Non-fiction: 6
  • Classics: 7-9, depending on your definition of classic
  • Graphic novels/Comic compilations: 4
  • 5 Stars: 21
  • 4 Stars: 19
  • 3 Stars: 16
  • 2 Stars: 3
  • 1 Star: 2
  • DNF (Did not finish): 2 (I think?)
  • Books on my TBR list: 93…oops.
  • Additions to my All-Time Faves list: 2

*The explanation of my star rating system is on my Goodreads page in my bio, if you would like a bit more info*


 

In the grand tradition of the Internet, I figured I owed my 2015 a top 10 list of my favorite new reads this year. So, here we go:

  1. The Martian, by Andy Weir18007564
    This is unequivocally my number one book of 2015. Even when parts read like a super-intense physics word problem, I could not put this book down. The narrator’s snark was humanizing and endearing, and the author’s love of science and its intricacies was evident in his detailed writing. I cannot recommend this book enough. And if you don’t have the time to devote to reading it, the movie was an excellent adaptation.


  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smithtumblr_inline_nav8i0u6fa1qjhivf

    “Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York.  Especially in the summer of 1912.  Somber, as a word, was better.  But it did not apply to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.”

    Without a doubt, this was the best opening of any book I read in 2015, and it set the perfect tone for this classic about a Irish-American family living in an NYC tenement at the turn of the century. Instead of your standard plot-driven novel, Brooklyn is driven by its richly-drawn characters. I know I’ll be re-reading this one many times over.


  3. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins22557272
    If you just finished Gone Girl and are looking for your next thriller fix, you’ll want to read this one. It ticked many of my favorite fiction boxes: unreliable protagonist, multiple POVs, twisty plot, British setting, and more. There’s a reason it was Amazon’s #1 Customer Favorite Book of 2015.


  4. The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman51jyh5gyxrl-_sx324_bo1204203200_
    Man, oh man. I absolutely devoured The Magicians series this year, and I was so delighted to find that the series only got better with each book. The Magician’s Land is exactly what you want from the end of a trilogy, from believable character development to a comfortably satisfactory ending that fits the tone of the series. This is a series perfect for any adult (please do not let your children read this) who is looking to fill their Harry Potter void with something with more bite and grit (quite a bit more, in this case).


  5. Attachmentsby Rainbow Rowell71zlxoecx4l
    While Rowell is best known for her YA fiction, I think I’m more partial to her adult-targeted works. This was such a lovely novel and a super-quick read, exactly what I was looking for during the early summer months. The 1999, Y2K computer panic setting only made it better. If you’re looking for something sweet and funny, this is it.


  6. The Mime Order, by Samantha Shannon17901125
    I really liked, but didn’t love, Shannon’s The Bone Season when I read it last year. It was an inventive introductory novel, but I wasn’t completely sold yet. The Mime Order changed all of that. With main character Paige Mahoney back on her home turf, the series really took off, and I became intensely invested in the story. And that cliffhanger! This is another one for those of you looking to get in on the ground-ish floor of a new fantasy/sci-fi series. The third book won’t be released until Fall 2016, so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up.


  7. Motherland, by Maria Hummel41jmhxdvg4l-_sx336_bo1204203200_
    This one packs a punch. Based on Hummel’s own family’s experiences in WWII Germany, this novel explores the war from the perspective of common German citizens. How much did they know about what was going on? Were they knowingly or unknowingly complicit in war crimes? What did the civilian population do to survive? It’s not an easy book to read, but it’s absolutely important.


  8. Why Not Me?, by Mindy Kaling41er04s8kol-_sx329_bo1204203200_
    I can’t tell you how many times I sent quotes or screenshots of this one to friends of mine with captions of praise hands emojis and “THIS IS TRUTH.” The section on the difficulties of long-distance friendships and the agony of realizing that the friendship will never be the same? That chapter alone deserves every award and accolade millennial women can bestow. While I doubt Kaling’s second memoir will ever top her first in my own rankings, this is still a quality outing.


  9. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel51-qq2tbipl-_sx323_bo1204203200_
    What I love best about this novel is that it’s an apocalyptic story that focuses more on the people left behind and their efforts to rebuild civilization as opposed to the apocalypse itself. It’s such a human story, with no one “big bad,” but instead with many smaller obstacles and challenges for the survivors to overcome. It kept me up late into the night because I couldn’t bear to stop reading. Of course, I’m also quite partial to theater being an intrinsic part of rebuilding society, so…


  10. All the Light We Cannot Seeby Anthony Doerr81trtuhjsnl
    WWII historical fiction? Check! POV swapping? Check! Timeline hopping? Check! Beautiful cover? Check! So many things I love, all tucked into one lovely novel. While the pace did begin to lag in the middle, I was sold once the plot threads began to tie together. There’s also some beautiful literary imagery going on.


Honorary mentions:

  • The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
  • Ms. Marvel: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson
  • The Invasion of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness

For a full list of the books I read in 2015, here’s my 2015 Bookshelf on Goodreads. My bimonthly breakdowns are linked here: Jan/Feb, Mar/Apr, May/June, July/Aug, Sep/Oct, and Nov/Dec.

Anything you think I missed out on this year? Ratings you disagree with? Let me know! I’m always open to lively discussion/arguing.

I haven’t officially set my 2016 reading goals yet, but I think I’m going to shoot for another 60 books and working my TBR down to 50, either by reading them or weeding out books I no longer care about. We’ll see how that goes.

To 2016 and the books to come. (And remember: Save money and support your local libraries!)

2015 bookshelf update: part 6

So the end of the year means a mess-ton of schedule disruption which means that Jackie gets very little reading done. Alas. (Okay, I’ll admit, “very little” is relative in my case).


The Invasion of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen
This is the second in the Tearling series, and it went…not where I expected it to? This isn’t negative; I just honestly didn’t expect the book to go the way it did. This entry in the series incorporated a second viewpoint, this one from a pre-Crossing woman named Lily, who Queen Kelsea has developed a mysterious connection with. As Kelsea learns more about Lily’s story, she begins to think that Lily’s experiences in the past may hold the answers to the problems facing the Tearling in the present. Another solid 4-star read, and I’ll be grabbing the third Tearling book from the library as soon as it arrives. (Read my review of The Queen of the Tearling here.)


Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.

That introductory bite had me immediately hooked, but unfortunately I just could not make myself love this book like I wanted to. It was definitely an interesting premise, and the magic system was unique and fascinating, but I couldn’t get myself really invested in the characters or even in overall plot. Oh well.


Holes, by Louis Sachar

Look, there is no adequately explaining the classic children’s book that is Holes. If you haven’t read it in a while, please go now and do so. It holds up insanely well. And if you haven’t read it ever, what is wrong with you? Go rectify that now!


The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn

I have sworn to read everything Gillian Flynn ever writes because I am so fascinated by the creepy, twisted stories her brain creates. The Grownup is a short story about a faux psychic who winds up in over her head when a woman asks her to come “cleanse” an old creaky mansion. It’s aiming for a very Edgar Allen Poe vibe, and it almost makes it in places, but not quite. I still quite liked reading the story, and I’m happy to lend you my little hardback copy if you’d like to read it yourself.


The Rest of Us Just Live Hereby Patrick Ness

What if you aren’t the “Chosen One?” What if you’re just a normal kid trying to make it to graduation before the “indie kids” and their battles against monsters/aliens/etc. destroy the high school?

I adored this book. It is such a fun premise, and honestly one I’m surprised I haven’t come across before. The book also deals pretty honestly with mental health. It’s occasionally a bit on-the-nose about it, but it’s handled with such frank compassion that I could easily forgive the slight heavy-handedness.

The book is really engaging, and I read it in just over a day, so I highly recommend it.


Captain Marvel, Vol. 2: Stay Fly, by Kelly Su DeConnick

Look, I just love Captain Marvel, okay? I’ve discovered the world of comics compilations, and I’m not looking back.


Let it Snow, by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

This is a compilation of three Christmas-based stories that all intersect due to a freakishly-heavy snowstorm. It’s pretty standard YA stuff, nothing too deep or mostly centered around relationships, but it was pleasant enough fluffy reading for the Christmas season. I liked Mauren Johnson’s story best of the three, but they’re all kind of on the same level.


In the Woods, by Tana French

This is not a happy book. This is a dark, sticky murder mystery that took me practically a month to finish because I could only read it bit by bit. Murder detective Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox are investigating the mysterious killing of a local girl in a suburb of Dublin, the same town where, years before, three children entered the woods of the town and only one came out. That child? Detective Ryan. Dun-dun-duhhhhhhhhhhh. It’s not a perfect novel by any means, and I felt some bits were superfluous or not handled well, but it was definitely intriguing. Solid 4 stars.


And that was my November and December in books! I’ll have my full 2015 book rundown up tomorrow, including my top 10 of the year, so look out for that (EDIT: It’s up now!).

Keep reading, y’all.