What I Read | APRIL 2017

28092902Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

Bryson, known mainly for his European travelogues, here documents his return to the USA through a series of newspaper essays.  Having tasted life in Europe, his musings about his home country are mostly exasperated.  Occasionally, usually at the prodding of his British wife, he remembers something lovely about the United States, which just goes to show that it’s easiest to love greener grass elsewhere than to love what we were given.

NorseMythology_Hardback_1473940163Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The first creation stories were not especially amazing, and I almost lost hope for this book!  But once we dive into character-driven narratives, there is a distinct Gaiman-sparkle that elevated the book and helped the story feel more cohesive.  I’m becoming more and more interested in Norse mythology, especially because the gods seem especially unfair, and unrepentantly so.

51nBwU944QL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

A true memoir of one guy’s journey of Not Dating, and how this could have happened.  It’s funny, and there is meaningful growth, which is good because I spent most of the book yelling “you’re self-sabotaging!” at him until he heard me and said so himself towards the end.  The premise is even more fun because he frames each story through the lens of a scientific hypothesis to be proved or disproved.  It was fun to see that he was mostly wrong, and had to learn that we see what we want and/or fear, not what is really there.

28588459Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

King is one of my all time favorite authors because she walks a fascinating “is this mental illness OR magic OR reality” line that she refuses to clarify.  This book in particular dealt with a subject I haven’t really seen represented before.  King confidently asserts that abuse, big or small, endured or witnessed, is traumatizing and deserves to be acknowledged, addressed, and healed.  Through the lens of a teenager girl meeting other-aged versions of herself.  Fun!

25528801Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This book is a little more PSA-y, telling the “ideal” rape scenario in which the victim knows it’s not her fault and is believed and supported by everyone.  It’s not very realistic, but it’s very encouraging to see a future to work toward.  Secondarily, I was very impressed that Johnston made me question my cheerleader-stereotypes, and by the end I really admired the sport.

51vR3C-ZWpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I don’t usually like books written in the form of diary entries, but Schlitz pulled the form off wonderfully.  The break between entries, and how the time in between is explained either in a rush or with embarrassment, really added to the narrative.  It’s set in the early 1900s, and the journey from country (which felt vaguely Little House on the Prairie) to city (which felt modern…ish) highlighted just how drastically technology changed people’s lives during that time period.  It was a fun read!

27230789Honestly Ben by Bill Konigberg

This is a sequel to Openly Straight, now told from Ben’s perspective.  And thank goodness, because Ben is so good!  He’s so lovely!  He’s thoughtful and deliberate, and we all need a Ben in our lives.  There was also so much good gender and sexuality talk going on in this book, with a gender fluid character who is almost immediately embraced by their all-male high school (if only!) and a main character who is something like demisexual…but not really?  I hope there’s a third book from Hannah’s perspective.

41d41DLmZwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron

I LOVE St. Francis, so reading a fictional book about a Protestant pastor who goes to Assisi and also falls in love with the saint was right up my alley.  I mean, it’s history/travel/theology all in one!  It was actually a little heavy-handed for a novel in the way that it presented a model for how the Church could be remade, but I found it quite inspirational.  Definitely a book for the postmodern mystic/skeptic.

25665016The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

A seriously uplifting book about four teenagers struggling with mental disorders (rage, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) inside a mental health hospital.  I loved how they helped each other in their brokenness WITH their brokenness.  Stork’s amazing ability to write about depression and suicide attempts is apparently based on his personal experience, but his ability to write female teenagers believably is all skill.

 

 

 

 

 

What I Read | MARCH 2017

Recommended books are italicized!


674749The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye

What a cute book!  I want to give this to all little kids to read as an antidote to classic fairy tales.  That is, after all, it’s entire point.  What if a princess wasn’t perfect?  Could she find love, acceptance, and joy anyway?  Of course!  This is a charming and funny book that teaches us to love ourselves as we are and wait for someone who loves all our imperfections and ordinariness.

9780141357058Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I’m a big fan of the YA trend of delving deep into minority issues, and in this book, Niven deals with two.  In alternating chapters, we get to live in the shoes of the former fattest teenager in America as well as a young man with undiagnosed prosopagnosia.  Don’t know what that is?  I didn’t either, but reading about how he coped with the inability to recognize faces was both heartbreaking and fascinating.  I also really liked how the story juxtaposed external vs. internal “problems” and how that affects the way people react to them.

28217831Buffering by Hannah Hart

I expected this YouTuber memoir to be fairly lighthearted.  Instead, Hart actually gives her fans a glimpse into her life, even though that means covering topics like schizophrenia, foster homes, and trauma flashbacks.  That is exactly its strength, because it is uplifting and powerful to know her story: where she comes from and what she struggles with despite the outward trappings of fame and success.

Robin_Hobb_-_Assassin's_Quest_CoverAssassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb

This final book in the Assassin’s trilogy was so hard to get into, but when it all clicked…I couldn’t put it down!  Fitz’s world expands as he travels inland and into the mountains, and we get to meet more Witted folk (more of this, please!), minstrels, and DRAGONS.  The story really soared when Fitz stopped traveling solo and reunited with his friends and/or monarchs.  I need to take a tiny break from this world (they take a lot of time to read!), but I’m definitely going to return to it in Hobb’s other trilogies.

51niH6CC-pL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

I listened to the audiobook, which is quite good, but I would NEVER recommend doing so unless you have already read Stevenson’s graphic novel.  It is, after all, a story designed to be express through pictures, and a lot is lost when it’s only audible.  Through any format, it is a beautiful story of a monstrous girl who remains a monster…but finds love and community anyway.

51FJbzqwMYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Anyone who is a workaholic, or who simply puts a lot of their self-worth in performance, will benefit greatly from Niequist’s vulnerability.  Through a series of lovely vignettes and essays, she constantly reminds her readers (and herself):  “Your worth doesn’t come from activity.  Slow down.  Focus on relationships.  Ground yourself.”  Exactly what I needed to hear during this phase of my life.

What I Read | FEBRUARY 2017

This month I read some fantasy, some non-fiction, and some contemporary fiction both satirical and…weird.  Recommended books are italicized!


1Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

The second book in Hobb’s Farseer trilogy started out slow but became quite engrossing about halfway through.  Initially, I complained about the dearth of female characters, but then Kettricken wound up being amazing (I’d still like more amazing female characters in this series, please!).  I liked how the Wit was explored more, but I’m still very confused as to why it is so stigmatized when Seeing is not.  Of course, since it is the second book in a trilogy, the novel ended with everything horrible.  Here’s hoping things will get better in Assassin’s Quest!

2Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Recommended to me by a bookkeeper in Santorini, this book totally lived up to my expectations!  It’s a post- (and pre-) apocalyptic novel that focuses on cultural and individual changes rather than Outrageous Action.  It’s both haunting and hopeful, and the writing is stunning.  I definitely recommend it!

3We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

This is a beautifully sad and hopeful book about bullying, suicide, and depression that ultimately proclaims that there is beauty in the broken.  This is all pretty standard when it comes to YA novels, but this stands apart by using alien abductions as a metaphor…or maybe they were real!

4Gender & Grace by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

This has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it.  Using both theology and psychology, Van Leeuwen creates a very compelling and easy to read defense of the biological and cultural influences on gender and sexuality.  It’s conservative while also being open and accepting, and I really admired her balanced perspective.

5South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

I’ve been hearing a lot about Murakami recently, but I have to admit that I was disappointed by my first foray into his work.  I feel like I missed something, but maybe this book really was about a self-obsessed and possibly psychotic middle-aged man getting over his exes and finally choosing commitment simply because he doesn’t want to be lonely.  It all felt like obnoxious patriarchal “literature,” but I’ll give him one more try.

6The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

What is the opposite of patriarchal nonsense?  CARRIE FISHER!  Her last book is amazing: a testament to her wit and ability to self-reflect, and wow, when it was over did I wish she were still alive to continue gifting us with her talent.  This is the book that reveals her affair with Harrison Ford while filming the first Star Wars movie, and her memories of that time are both humorous and touching.  The world needs more people like her.

7The Liar by Stephen Fry

I picked this up at a book bazaar, and it is quite possibly the most British book I’ve ever read, by which I mean it is extremely absurd.  If you like twisty words and witty dialogue (and don’t mind a LOT of absurd British sex thrown into the mix), you’ll probably enjoy this.  Just remember, everyone is lying, all of the time.

8Packing Light by Allison Fallon

A book about a Christian writer who doesn’t want to be a “Christian writer” and packs up all her things to go on a 6-month road trip in pursuit of a simple, adventurous life couldn’t be more tailored to me.  Perhaps that is why I highlighted so much of Fallon’s memoir, but I think it’s possible that she’s also just extremely quotable.  It’s more of a thinkpiece than a travel memoir, but I recommend it nonetheless!

What I Read | JANUARY 2017

In January, I left my beloved library behind in the States, which was very sad.  But I also returned to twelve new books that I bought at a Christmas bazaar before leaving Athens last year, so it all balanced out (not really, twelve books does not equal infinite library access).

51t0npdw14l-_sy344_bo1204203200_We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This tiny book is adapted from a TedX Talk, and boy is it effective.  I mean, I guess she was preaching to the choir, but I found her balance of personal anecdotes and academic research very persuasive.  I would love to know if someone who is not a feminist could read this and come away unmoved.

hpHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Everyone already knows how awesome this book is, but do you know how amazing the illustrated edition is?  It has the full text printed like a children’s fairy tale book, and just holding the heavy thing in my hands made the whole story feel important and magical in an really evocative way.  The artwork is stunning, both familiar and unique.  I was especially impressed with how the kids looked like actual 11-year-olds.  I cannot wait to see what they do once they publish the fourth book in this format – will it come in two pieces or require a forklift?

the-geography-of-genius-9781451691658_hr1The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner

This book combines three of my favorite things:  travel, history, and sociology.  Weiner visits several cities that were the birthplace of geniuses.  Some are obvious, like ancient Athens or Florence during the Renaissance.  Others I was unaware of, like Edinburgh and Hangzhou.  The whole journey is in pursuit of what creates genius, abolishing myths (the lone genius) and positing new theories (genius requires diversity, disorder, and discernment).

scrappy-little-nobody-9781501117206_lgScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

The simplest recommendation is this:  if you like Anna Kendrick, you will like this book.  It sounds like her (especially if, like me, you listen to her read the audiobook version), both very funny and often insightful.  It is vaguely interesting as a child actor story, but that’s not its real purpose.  Instead, she’s doing what she does best:  entertaining us with stories.

27362503It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

WOW.  This book was recommended to me by a librarian friend, and it completely blew me away.  It’s all about breaking the cycle of abuse, but instead of being maudlin or overly dramatic, Hoover gives us the “best” case scenario and challenges us to empathize with people on all sides of the situation.  It felt incredibly weird to occasionally root for the abuser, but that’s the power of her storytelling capabilities.  And the ending was just beautiful.

51jqqolltjl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

Once again, if you like Lorelai Gilmore – I mean Lauren Graham – then you will like this book.  And once again, I recommend you listen to the audiobook, which Graham reads herself.  I really admired that she knows her audience; she spent a little time on her childhood, but the bulk of the material lies in describing her experiences working on Gilmore Girls (and to a lesser extent Parenthood).  Her joy and gratitude are so evident, and it makes the book a delightful thing to experience.

51vf1u6wpfl-_sx326_bo1204203200_The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

I’m a full-fledged socialist now!  Russell’s description of being a British ex-pat in Denmark for one year totally converted me to the benefits of paying 50% taxes.  But seriously, her memoir/non-fiction story is really fun to read…just start saving for that plane ticket, because she’s hella convincing.

1618The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Although this is a great book written from the perspective of a teenager with Asperger’s, I never quite connected with it because it was not what I expected.  I thought I was reading a mystery, but that ends quite quickly, and I found the true story far less interesting.  Still, it’s a great piece for those who want a glimpse into inner workings of someone with Asperger’s, especially in making obvious just how much WORK every action and reaction is.

What I Read | DECEMBER 2016

I returned to my hometown this month, which means I got a LOT of books at my public library.  This is especially noteworthy because somehow in smalltown Illinois, my library is really great at stocking diverse books.  The number of books I read about people of color BY people of color increased this month, which I’m quite pleased about.  I also accidentally read several books with the word “star” in the title, but they had nothing in common beyond that.


case-historiesCase Histories by Kate Atkinson

I’m not usually into the mystery genre, but this book was excellent!  Each character (and there are a lot of them) is detailed and flawed and believable.  There is a lot of violence against women, but that’s the point:  there is a lot of violence against women.  I love a good male protagonist (bonus points for a detective) who understands this reality and grieves it.

hitman-anders-and-the-meaning-of-it-allHitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson

Jonasson is a hilarious writer with amazing dry wit.  This book covers some dark topics (murders, cons, fake religions) and somehow turns our awful protagonists into accidentally good people that we the readers root for.  Yet another reason to go to Sweden!

why-be-happy-when-you-could-be-normalWhy Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson

Oooowww, this book is emotionally painful.  It is the sad and beautiful memoir of a woman raised by an abusive mother who somehow manages to fiercely pursue life and love.  It’s very quotable, and towards the end I was especially intrigued by Winterson’s fascinating ideas about madness – what causes it and how to find healing.

24641800The Demon in the Wood by Leigh Bardugo

This is a short story about the Darkling from the Grisha Trilogy, and I am always interested in the backstory’s of villains.  This story humanizes him and explains his behaviors, but more interestingly, it shows how individual actions are created by, and reinforce, cultural oppression.

5Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

I did not know how much I needed a Muslim Pride and Prejudice in my life, but I did!  This is such a fun and cute book that feels familiar while also being a refreshingly unique interpretation on an overdone classic.  I loved reading about modern Muslim culture in the Western world, and Sofia’s Bridget Jones-esque diary entries are perfection.  I can’t recommend this enough.

17270515Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

This novel in verse about a young Haitian girl who dreams of someday attending school so that she can become a doctor is a beautiful story beautifully written.  Serafina fights for her dreams despite poverty and the Haitian earthquake, giving us lines like: “Without dreams the world is only dirt and dust.”

28588345The Midnight Star by Marie Lu

I loved Lu’s Young Elite series, but I found this final book a lot weirder than the others in a way that doesn’t quite fit.  I had to keep reminding myself that we had already established their magical world, but somehow the mystical realm of death stuff felt out of place.  I also wish that Adelina’s villainy had stuck more – the book never could quite commit to her descent into a lust for power and control.

fish-in-a-tree-335x512Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

A cute middle grade book about a dyslexic girl whose new teacher manages to understand her and show her her greatness.  It is simplistic but lovely, and a great book for kids to learn the value of differences.  Definitely something I would have pushed hard when I was a children’s librarian.

17927395A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

This is an excellent sequel to a mediocre book.  I cannot describe how thrilled I was when the stereotypical romance from A Court of Thorns and Roses was revealed to be not protective…but abusive.  Feyre’s growing affections for Rhysand make total sense because he is a feminist fantasy:  an extremely powerful, intelligent, witty man who only wants to let his loved one make her own choices and be her best self.  The plot is non-stop, the romance is sizzling, and I am mad that I have to wait several more months for the next book!

28763485The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

This unrealistic but engrossing romance details the one day in which a Korean guy and a Jamaican girl meet and fall in love before she is deported away from New York City.  I rolled my eyes at the love-at-first-site gimic quite a bit, but the book won major points for its unique POV-changing chapters.  We see things from both protagonists’ points of view, but also from parents and the guy who almost ran into them.  Because of that, the story is both tiny (one day) but also broad (so many people affected their meeting).

635797417603710039-laststar-coverThe Last Star by Rick Yancey

The final book in the 5th Wave series is a worse disappointment than the LOST series finale.  So many questions were left unanswered, and some of the answers were so convoluted and ridiculous that I didn’t even try to understand.  I found this to be a very unsatisfying conclusion to what started as a thrilling series.

18263530A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Another novel in verse, this time about an Indian girl who loses and regains her dream of dancing after her foot is amputated.  It’s an inspiring story that feels both diverse and universal.  I really liked the story’s assertion that rather than ruining a person’s creativity, pain and loss can actually deepen and enrich a person’s artwork.

9780545151337_zoomThe Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

This is SUCH a great book.  It feels light even though it covers heavy topics – Pancho is an orphaned teenager who wants to find and kill the man who murdered his mentally disabled sister, but who then finds new meaning in life when he is befriended by a guy with brain cancer.  Yikes, right?  But despite the morbid plot points, this book is so uplifting and inspiring.  That’s the point though: in a world of death and pain, we can still choose to pursue life and love every day that we are given.

What I Read | November 2016

Eight books this month, ranging from YA fantasy adventures to historical scandals in early Hollywood.  Oh, and I finally read The Little Prince, which was a LONG time coming.


anotherbrooklyn-hc-cAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson’s prose reads like poetry, which helps make her story more palatable.  I mean, it’s GOOD, but it is a devastating look at growing up female, black, and poor.  There is an thread of hope throughout, though, which left me feeling like the book was short and beautiful.  The main thing I took from Woodson’s novel is that I need to be more intentional about including diverse authors in my reading list.

26109391Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

The setup of this book made me assume that it would deal with its central issues of agoraphobia and panic disorders with casual flippancy, but I was so mistaken!  Everything was handled respectfully (and entertainingly, since it is, after all, a novel).  I really liked that the story revealed how messed up everyone was, whether they were diagnosable or not.  Well, except for Clark.  Just like our two main characters, I also fell in love with him.

the-little-princeThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

This story has existed in the periphery of my experience for years and years, but I was never interested enough to sit down and read it.  Until this month, when I bought a cute little hardback copy on Santorini and immediately read the whole thing.  It is so sweet, so sad, and so poignant.  I love the emphasis on childish creativity and love, and how valuable it is to cling to those things even as we become adults.  I especially loved the story of the fox and how we are responsible for the things (and people) we tame.

9780142180679_ScandalsofCl-CVF.inddScandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen

It is a testament to Petersen’s writing capabilities that I have almost no knowledge of classic Hollywood or the actors and actresses that dominated tabloids in the 1910s – 1950s, but I still really enjoyed this book!  That because the book is not about the people specifically; it’s a fascinating look at culture, fame, and changing societal mores.  It asks why one person’s scandal was forgiven while a similar scandal ruined someone else’s career.  I could easily imagine modern equivalents to these situations, and I found myself wishing she would write a follow-up book!

annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerAnnihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

I bought this at the recommendation of a bookshop worker, and wow was it weird.  It was genuinely creepy because everything was OFF in this indescribable way.  I was so unnerved by it that I could only read it during the daylight hours, but I had to keep reading because it’s story was so compelling.  I had decided to buy it because I was intrigued by its cast of characters including only women, and this remained its high point for me.

unknownThe Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

I wanted this book to be about the merging of two cultures (Indian and French) and how food brings people together.  It was not about that.  It was about how an Indian prodigy chef managed to rise to fame despite his humble background.  Which, now that I phrase it that way, is a compelling story.  Unfortunately, it was not the story I expected, so I found myself increasingly uninterested.

51t5lwxhdhlMagnus Chase: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

I am continuously amazed at how Riordan manages to take the same formula and finds ways to make it fresh.  I am especially amazed that the way he chose to make the Magnus Chase series fresh is by ramping up his level of representation.  This book is phenomenal, boasting a five person main cast that includes a practicing Muslim woman, a formerly homeless teenage boy whose talents skew feminine, a black dwarf devoted to fashion, a deaf elf, and a transgender/genderfluid person.  I LOVE that Riordan decided to take the fantasy trope of shape-shifting and use that to explicitly talk about gender fluidity.  That is total genius.  Oh, and the plot is super fun, I love how Loki is both very evil and very victimized, I love the giants and their illusions, I love the epic wedding showdown.  More, please!

the_thread_webThe Thread by Victoria Hislop

This novel tells the history of Thessaloniki specifically, and Greece generally, through the story of one family.  It helped me SO much to piece together all the holidays I’ve seen celebrated and names I’ve heard dropped while living in Athens for a year.  Finally everything was put together in a cohesive narrative, and I understand more than ever the pride and pessimism that makes up the stereotypical Greek mindset.  A lot has happened in this country in the last century, and I enjoyed reading its history within a novel.  Great sneaking education!

What I Read | October 2016

Yikes!  I only read five books this month, and two of them were re-reads.  But what I lack in quantity I think make up in quality.  Well, mostly.


51j10qkqfsl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

I adore Amy Schumer, and her memoir only validated my opinion.  Her humor manages to be equal parts raunchy and thoughtful.  This is exactly the tone I like to see when a celebrity gets real.  And boy, does Schumer get real.  I loved her honesty about her experiences with domestic violence and rape – it’s obvious the topics are painful to her, but she desperately wants her fans to learn from her experiences.  I also really appreciated the way she separated her normal self from her stage self, letting us see the things that are her personality versus her performance.

27Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

I re-read my favorite of Bryson’s books, and as expected, it rekindled my “visit every European country at once!!” fever.   Continue reading “What I Read | October 2016”