2016 bookshelf update: june

Guess who’s late with her update again? *oops* The beginning of July is just so busy, y’all. Plus I keep getting really distracted by the new school supplies that are out at Target…


Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

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One of my favorite things in life is getting people talking about the things they’re passionate about. Their eyes light up and they’ve got a big grin on their face, so much so that, even if you don’t know the first thing about the topic, you find yourself completely enraptured. This book was just like that. Acclaimed paleobotonist Hope Jahren loves plants, and by the end of her memoir, you’ll love them, too.

This book follows Hope from her childhood in Minnesota, to grad school at UCLA, to her experiences as a professor at Georgia Tech, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Hawai’i. Her best friend is a bit of an odd duck named Bill, and both of them are passionate (and sometimes gently reckless) about their love for trees. Hope also has bipolar disorder, which is discussed in a manner that is somehow both frank and oblique.

And while you’re learning about Hope’s life, you’re also getting mini lectures on the memories of trees, the life cycle of plants, and a million other things regarding paleobotony that you never knew to care about until now. It’s the rare book I’ve found that splits its chapters between two focuses and never made me love one more than the other. It was a supremely satisfying book, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for an insightful and uniquely educational read.

[5/5 stars]


Spider-Gwen Vol. 1: Greater Power, by Jason Latour

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Though I’ve been meaning to look into this series for a while now, this wound up being 100% an impulse purchase at 2nd and Charles. And a very odd one, too, because apparently they decided that the first in this bind-up series would be Vol. 0, which means I was missing some key exposition when I launched into Vol. 1. So that’s fun.

Anyway, the first thing that grabbed me (beyond being very lost by the story) was the artwork. This is stunning work by Robbie Rodriquez. It was worth the impulse purchase for the cover alone.

If you’re not familiar with the Spider-Gwen titles, it’s essentially an alternate Earth (Earth-65) where Gwen Stacy is the one who winds up with the spider powers instead of Peter Parker. As much as I love me some classic Spidey, it was so much fun to read about Gwen as the superhero, especially given that her dad is a police officer who isn’t so keen on the Spider-Woman. It gave it an extra layer that was really interesting.

I don’t want to give too much away plot-wise, especially since my information doesn’t have the most solid expositional background, but I had fun reading it, and I’m looking forward to grabbing Vols. 0, 2 and beyond.

[4/5 stars]


Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld

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This novel is #4 in The Austen Project, which has contemporary authors adapt the works of Jane Austen for present day. The first three entries into the series didn’t get such hot reviews, but this one is doing much better for itself, and for good reason. It’s downright fun.

Sittenfeld has taken all the characters and plot beats from the original and brought them into modern Cincinatti. The Bennett girls are all considerably older (Jane is near 40, while the youngest two are in their early 20s). Elizabeth is a writer, Jane is a yoga teacher, Darcy is a brain surgeon, and Bingley is another doctor who recently appeared on a The Bachelor copycat called Eligible, etc. Bingley moving to Cincinatti to work for the hospital is, just as his move is in the original, the impetus for much of the plot.

I really want to hold back as much as possible when reviewing this book because most of the ways Sittenfeld updated the plot and characters are so insanely clever. She didn’t try and force some of the points that came off as mere coincidence in Austen’s work but would have been an awkward fit here, and she actually gave a lot of focus to the actual themes of pride and prejudice instead of just the romance, which is what you see much more often in modern P&P renditions. And with the Bennett sisters being older, there’s room for a lot of sharp, feminist commentary.

“Are you single right now?”

It was a strange question; just a few days before, she’d have said no. “I am, ” she said, “but it’s recent. Anyway, everyone knows it’s completely different for a woman. [A man] could stand on a street corner, announce [his] want [of] a wife, and be engaged fifteen minutes later. I have to convince people to overlook my rapidly approaching expiration date.”

It’s not a perfect book, but it reads quickly and addictively. If you’re an Austen purist, I wouldn’t recommend it, but otherwise it’s one of the most enjoyable books you’ll read this summer.

CONTENT WARNING: Adult language/situations; politically charged topics. If it weren’t written so engagingly, some of it might have been enough for me to DNF.

[4.5/5 stars]


Operation: S.I.N.—Agent Carter, by Kathryn Immonen

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This was another impulse buy from the same trip where I bought Spider-Gwen. I was still sad about the Agent Carter tv show being cancelled, so I felt I had an obligation to pick up this title.

Unfortunately, this wound up being the first comic bind-up that I didn’t fully enjoy. It wasn’t bad by any means, but I just didn’t really dig it. Maybe I’m just too attached to Hayley Atwell’s screen version of Agent Carter and couldn’t open my heart to anything new. Maybe I didn’t have enough backstory. I don’t know. But it was just a middling read for me.

[3/5 stars]


Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

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Okay, first I want you to stare at that cover for a good long while. How absolutely gorgeous is it? My version is a paperback ARC, but I’m absolutely going to have to grab the hardback at some point because it is just too pretty not to own in its full glory.

This novel begins with the stories of two half-sisters in eighteenth-century Ghana. They have never met and do not know the other exists. One is married off to a British officer who works running the slave trade out of Cape Coast Castle. The other is captured and sold to the slave traders, living in the squalid dungeons of the castle until she is shipped to America. The story stretches from there through the generations, with each subsequent pair of chapters focusing on a descendent from each sister’s line.

I can say with confidence that this is most likely going to be the most beautiful piece of storytelling I read all year. Gyasi brings into sharp focus so many strikingly different characters, each of whom I would have happily read an entire novel about.She takes the story from Ghana to Alabama to Harlem, every setting crackling with life as the characters navigated the new and different challenges associated with each. She balances the trickiest of themes throughout, introducing nuance into formerly black and white history lessons and not shying away from hard realities. It was stunning to read.

Go pick this one up if you can. It is 100% worthy of your attention.

[5/5 stars]


The Rose & The Dagger (The Wrath & the Dawn, #2), by Renee Ahdieh

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This is the sequel to The Wrath and the Dawn, which I read with much enthusiasm at the beginning of this year. Having quite enjoyed TW&TD, I was looking forward to wrapping up the duology.

It was…disappointing? Much of what I loved from the first book (the romantic tension, the unsteady trust, the banter) was gone, replaced with more of what had irked me in the first book (that darn love triangle). Without giving much away for fear of spoilers, I felt that a lot of the characterization was flattened and there were some random plot lines that were either 1. unnecessary or 2. awkwardly handled and/or wrapped up. I mean, that ending? What even was that?

The writing was still really lovely, and I do love getting to read more YA set outside the U.S. and the modern day. And some of the new character introduced were really intriguing. But unfortunately this sequel fell flat for me.

[3/5 stars]


Favorite book this month: Homegoing, hands down.

Most likely to re-read: Homegoing and Lab Girl

Most likely to recommend: Homegoing (without reservation) and Eligible (for certain folks)Quite probably Spider-Gwen as well.


So that’s my June in books. Maybe July’s wrap-up won’t take me nearly halfway into August to post (fingers crossed).

Keep reading and support your local libraries, y’all. And remember: Homeless and women and children’s shelters are always looking for new reads, so keep them in mind when you’re donating books.

2016 bookshelf update: may

Birthday month, woo! And another five books added to the 2016 bookshelf. I’m still behind on my 2016 reading goals (thanks, February), but at least I held steady and didn’t dig myself down any further.


The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson

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DitWC tells the true story of two men in Chicago at the end of the 19th century: Daniel Burnham, the lead architect and mastermind behind the 1893 World’s Fair; and Dr. H. H. Holmes, the charismatic serial killer who used the fair as a way to lure victims to his hotel/murder castle. The book alternates chapters between the drama of creating the biggest spectacle of a fair the world had ever seen and how Holmes managed to elude creditors, family members, and reporters to become one of America’s first documented serial killers.

I’m not entirely sure how to categorize this book. It’s non-fiction, since all the events written about actually happened and all quotations were pulled from records and writings of the period, but it also veers toward speculative fiction since Larson obviously must fill in the historical framework with guesswork details. So it walks a tricky ground from the get-go.

As interested as I was in the history of the creation of the World’s Fair (and Larson gives us absolutely fascinating history here), for most of the book I was just waiting to get to the next Holmes chapter. The “sexiness” of the serial killer story distracted me from more intricate World’s Fair information. I was also a bit confused about the bearing the two stories had on each other; yes, Holmes used the fair to lure victims, but he was killing long before the fair and continued on afterwards. It might have been better served as two books, maybe?

[3.5/5 stars]


The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

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The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed.

This book was, rather appropriately, interesting. The story centers mainly around Jules Jacobson and how she handles the evolutions of her relationships from teenagerdom to adulthood. Does childhood giftedness translate to adulthood giftedness? How do you balance your dreams with practical reality? What is the weight of a secret, of envy, and how to they interact? Who do you believe when life gets tricky?

The Interestings is quite lengthy, but it never gets too loud. It flows at a fairly steady pace, and choices are not made necessarily how the reader would assume. I personally couldn’t find a way to connect with the main characters; there was an undercurrent of bitterness and apathy that pushed me away. I was amazed at the lack of joy presented in much of the story. I’m glad to have given it a chance, but it’s likely not going to be one I revisit.

[2.5/5 stars]


Hamilton: The Revolution, by Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda

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Big, big thanks to my aunt and uncle for gifting this to me for my birthday!

Look, I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack almost nonstop (ba dum tss) since it was released in September. I follow Lin and the official musical pages on all social channels. I’ve watched every single (legally released) clip that exists online and cried watching the cast perform on the Grammys. I’m impatiently biding my time until I can actually see it performed on stage. I love this musical.

Affectionately referred to online as the #Hamiltome, the book combines the musical’s libretto with backstory on how the musical was put together and background on the actors, dancers, producers, and others that brought it to life. It also contains Lin’s annotations of the lyrics, usually about who/what inspired a line or some historical context. And beyond that, it contains stunning photos. It’s the next best thing to actually seeing the musical in person.

Needless to say, I absolutely devoured the thing. I laughed. I cried. I reread portions three times before moving on. It sits proudly in my living room, and I smile when I look at it. It is my current favorite thing. If you like Hamilton, you want to get your hands on this book (just not my copy).

[ALL THE STARS/5 stars]


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

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This has been on my TBR list for ages. It’s all over the internet, and there’s a movie coming out soon. I’m amazed it took me this long, but oh well.

Sixteen-year-old Jacob grew up hearing his grandfather’s strange stories. Stories about an island, about children with special abilities, about the monsters. Jacob and his family shrugged them off as flights of fancy, but his grandfather’s mysterious death forces Jacob to revisit the stories and determine what’s true. As he digs further into the stories of his grandfather’s childhood, the more peculiarities he finds, and the more dangers.

I’ll be honest, it took a good chunk of the book before I was really hooked into the plot. Part of that stemmed from not being entirely sure of the genre going in, so I had some issues suspending disbelief for the early part of the book. But I eventually got into the flow of the plot, and by the end I got the “OH SNAP, THAT JUST HAPPENED” moment that I love in books and that will most likely get me to continue with the next book in the series.

The most unique aspect of the book was the interweaving of antique photographs, which served to illustrate the grandfather’s childhood stories and Jacob’s discoveries. At times it felt like Riggs was stretching to include a photo he found interesting, but it was a interesting touch most of the time.

[3.75/5 stars]


How to Set a Fire and Why, by Jesse Ball

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Lucia’s father is dead; her mother is in a mental institute; she’s living in a garage-turned-bedroom with her aunt. And now she’s been kicked out of school—again. Making her way through the world with only a book, a zippo lighter, a pocket full of stolen licorice, a biting wit, and striking intelligence she tries to hide, she spends her days riding the bus to visit her mother and following the only rule that makes any sense to her: Don’t do things you aren’t proud of. But when she discovers that her new school has a secret Arson Club, she’s willing to do anything to be a part of it, and her life is suddenly lit up. And as her fascination with the Arson Club grows, her story becomes one of misguided friendship and, ultimately, destruction.

So I have the most wonderful thing a book lover could have: a Book Fairy. She’s a friend of my dad’s who somehow gets bunches of Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) and likes to pass them on to our family. I went home recently for my birthday and came back with a box full of about 20 books with the most gorgeous covers (which we all know is my favorite thing). I may not have room for them on my bookshelves, but I’m still giddy excited for all these new reads.

Anyway, this was one of those new books, and I was immediately drawn in by the title and the cover (THAT DESIGN, THOUGH). It was written in a very interesting style, and the characters felt very specifically drawn. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t really get into the vibe of the story. Lucia had such anger and put-upon flippancy; she had every right to be angry, but I have a hard time feeling much empathy with characters who seem like they do everything possible to hold onto that anger. I thought there was a lot more to explore with both her character and the Arson Club plotline that Ball never really got into. I admire the effort, but it’s not a winner for me.

[2.25/5 stars]


Favorite book this monthHamilton: The Revolution

Most likely to re-read: Hamilton: The Revolution

Most likely to recommend: Hamilton: The Revolution


So that’s May: one super standout, two okay reads, and two lackluster novels. But, you know, that happens. And I’ve got all sorts of new books ready to fill my summer, so you can look forward to those over the next three months!

Keep reading and support your local libraries!

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.