What I Read | OCTOBER 2017

33951646Jane, Unlimited by Jane Cashore

Yikes, this book!  About 1/3 of the way through, it ended, at which point I realized I was reading a Choose Your Own Adventure type book that laid out multiple directions for the story to take.  At first, it was super interesting, since her decisions to go in different directions revealed more secrets of the mysterious mansion she is visiting.  But it quickly gets SUPER WEIRD, and not the kind of weird that I adore.  It just felt like an author’s fever dream.  I’m sure some people will find this book fascinating, but it was not for me.

What_Happened_(Hillary_Rodham_Clinton)_book_coverWhat Happened by Hillary Clinton

A perfect title for a perfect book.  I loved reading Clinton’s perspective of the last couple years even though it left me banging my head against the wall because we could have had an experienced, intelligent, level-headed leader of our country, but we’re all idiots instead.  I thought she did a great job of owning up to her own failings throughout her campaign while also pointing out larger systemic issues at play (I especially adored her takes on being a woman in politics and the role of media coverage in affecting voters’ opinions).  Like all things politics, I’m not sure this would change the mind of someone who hates her, though I’d like to think they would come away respecting her.

33590214Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

It was good timing to read this right after What Happened, since this is the story of a political sex scandal from the perspective of the women surrounding the issue.  We hear from the mother of the young woman involved, from the woman herself (now decades older and living with a false name because her career was decimated while the senator emerged unscathed), from the young woman’s daughter, and from the senator’s wife.  It was an entertaining read, and mostly just an excellent example of how men’s predatory actions often ruin the women involved (which is very fitting in light of recent Harvey Weinstein news).

61RdD2N2mEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Magnus Chase: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

The third book in Riordan’s Norse mythology series, I just…continue to adore his writing style.  Myths retold with a wink are still my favorite thing, and this series in particular goes to new heights in creating an incredibly diverse dream team.  I think I go over this list in every review of his books, but our main cast of characters includes 1) a homeless teen who hates fighting, 2) a genderfluid teen (which is SUCH a cool real world analog for being a child of Loki, the shapeshifter), 3) a fashionable black dwarf, 4) a deaf elf, 5) a Muslim Valkyrie fighting and fasting through Ramadan, 6) an Irish girl who died in Bloody Sunday, and 7) a Viking.  All this awesome while also pursuing mythical mead made from the blood and spit of the gods in order to help Magnus win an insult contest (flyting) with Loki.  A+, this is exactly my jam.

939334The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

In classic fantasy style, this is more ethereal than plot, though there’s definitely an all-powerful female wizard who falls in love with a prince AFTER marrying him as revenge plot against a king who tried to magically take away her sense of self.  Also she uses her magic to summon mystical beasts from legends to her backyard where only she can talk to them.  I think it is pretty clear why I was so interested in this book.

51YjlK890rL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Based on the premise “NO, having a mental disorder does not make you better at solving crimes,” John Green’s latest novel is about a teenage girl with severe OCD and anxiety who finds herself trying to solve a missing person’s case.  It’s a really lovely and melancholy story about friendship, first love, and trying to figure out how to connect with other people despite feeling so different all the time.

23281856Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick

A friend mentioned that this book was about a brooding archeologist that reminded her of Toby Stephens, so naturally I read it the next day.  It is all that is silliest in an anachronistic historical romance mystery, but…it was about a brooding archeologist that reminded me of Toby Stephens, so I got what I wanted.

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

18966806Morning Star is the third book in the Red Rising series.  Check out my reviews of Red Rising and Golden Son before reading this one!

Pierce Brown is a genius.  His science-fiction-solar-system-Hunger-Games trilogy about social hierarchy, revolution, and loyalty is SO GOOD.  And so complex, which is why I was grateful that at the beginning of this final installment, he offered a recap of the previous two books and rundown of the major characters.  But even though there were a lot of details I had forgotten, I was immediately sucked back into the drama of Darrow’s life as he tries to lead a revolt against the seemingly all-powerful Golds without abandoning his morals in the process.

That’s what I liked most about Brown’s series, I think.  It’s morally complex, and it doesn’t shirk away from the reality that in order to take down a corrupt system, sometimes you have to become a little corrupt yourself.  Darrow does things he isn’t proud of, sacrifices people he shouldn’t, and makes hard decisions without fully knowing if they were the right choice.  But he wrestles with these experiences, and he let’s himself be hurt by what happens, and THAT, I think, is what makes him so admirable.  He doesn’t try to pretend that the ends justify the means.  Sometimes the means are really, really, awful.  He doesn’t sugar-coat things, but he keep going and trying and doing the best he can.

The other thing I really love about Brown’s series is that I legitimately never know what will happen next.  He is one of the most creative writers I know, and he packs a TON of action into each book.  There were twists that made me excited and twists that made me furious, but every single one had me turning pages faster and faster to find out what would happen next.  Although I HATED some of Brown’s decisions (WHY did *censored* have to die!?) I really admired the fact that Brown created a universe where no one felt safe.  The war felt real and dangerous, and I legitimately didn’t know who would survive until the end.

But there was an end!  And it was a very satisfying conclusion to a wonderfully entertaining and thoughtful series.  I can’t wait to see what else Brown has up his sleeves for future stories.   Continue reading

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Oh noooO!!!  Too many feelings.  This review is going to be less intelligent and more an emotional outpouring of OH MY GOSH THIS BOOK.

I mean, the premise is fantastic.  Harry August lives his life, dies, and…is reborn.  As himself, same parents, same place, same situation.  But he remembers everything of his life before.  It turns out there are other people like him, and this is the story of how these men and women influence the world and each other.

It’s super cool and fascinating, and the structure allows for some amazing questions.  There’s the run of the mill immortal quandary:  What do you do to keep life interesting if you’ll never die?  Harry becomes a scientist, doctor, engineer, world traveler, etc.  He learns everything, he meets everyone, he gets married a few times in different lives to different women.  He is captured, tortured, and dies in a whole bunch of different ways.   Continue reading

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

My roommate let me borrow this book as a birthday present.  As much as I love fantasy, I have a weird “but I’m not that nerdy” attitude toward authors that aren’t J. R. R. Tolkien.  Which is completely dumb, because I am that nerdy.  Anyway, I let it sit untouched for a month, at which point my roommate said, “Um, are you ever going to read that book I gave you?”  Feeling guilty, I started reading….and couldn’t stop!  Mistborn is SO GOOD.  It’s a high fantasy heist novel, two genres I didn’t realize need to be combined all the time!

The world of Mistborn is atmospheric (ash falls from the sky on a regular basis) and extremely intriguing.  Although we don’t learn how Allomancers first received their power, not in this book at least, I am totally in love with the creativity behind these “magical” powers.  Allomancers can swallow and then “burn” metals, which give them various abilities.  Special Mistborn men and women can burn multiple metals at once, giving them the ability to alter peoples emotions, gain strength, or most impressive, push and pull metals around them.  The ways in which characters use these abilities are increasingly creative throughout the story, and I was delighted by their creativity.

I also appreciated the…in-betweenness of the level of violence in Mistborn.  People definitely die, and there are a few scenes of squeamish grossness.  But this is no Game of Thrones, which I’m grateful for.  I want realistic levels of death tolls in a story about war and uprisings, but I don’t want to be constantly grossed out.

I should also mention how awesome Vin is.  She’s a terrified street urchiin turned fake noblewoman, both roles which help her discover her true self–a scared but bold woman who fights for those that she loves and delights in her skillset.  I can’t wait to read more about her in the final two books of Sanderson’s trilogy.  Continue reading

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

If it were acceptable book review practice to simply post paragraphs of “!!!!!” over and over again, I would.  Pierce Brown seems to delight in leading his readers to believe that one thing will happen…and then making everything fall apart so that you’re left staring at the page, wondering how in the world Darrow will escape this time.  And by “this time” I mean every fifty pages or so.  The big moments come hard and fast, and nothing ever goes as I expect it.  I LOVE IT.

While Rising Red was a small(er) stakes revenge story, Golden Son widens its scope to the whole solar system, and this time Darrow has matured into a desire, not for revenge, but for transformation.  He doesn’t shy away from the battles he needs to fight (and agh!  the battles!  the enormous death counts of actual main characters!), but his overarching goal is to redesign the Society into a place where every color can be and do what they will.  It’s a more complex goal, but nobler as well.  Continue reading

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

What a disarmingly enchanting book.  It takes real skill to introduce a cast of characters, all of which are varying levels of gross.  The Posts and their friends are fully-formed people, which means they have hidden secrets that made me think, “Ugh, people are the worst.”  By the end, these secrets are not explained away, nor are they really atoned for, and yet…and yet by the end I loved this dysfunctional family.  Maybe that’s the real beauty of the story, that we can hugely screw things up and still find solace in the people we love.  Continue reading

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Let the autobiographies of funny famous people keep rolling in!  I continue to be entertained and enlightened by these memoirs (including those by Neil Patrick Harris, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Rob Delaney).  Amy Poehler’s memoir is a combination of autobiography and essay compilation, a choice that frustrated me until I accepted the decision and found myself really enjoying her book.

The chapters are not chronological, nor is this anywhere close to an attempt to share her whole life.  Sometimes she digresses from her main point to share a particularly funny or juicy anecdote.  Although this is not the best from a writing standpoint, it makes the book feel more like a conversation.  Reading Yes Please is like talking to an excited Amy Poehler who wants you to know about this, and oh yeah, this thing happened too!  Continue reading

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My mom loves these books, so when I saw the first of the series at a book sale for fifty cents, I thought, “Why not?”  My mom and I don’t often agree on books, but Mma Ramotswe’s no-nonsense clever detective work would be enough to win anyone over.  I really enjoyed her bite-sized cases in Botswana and the way they brought out stories of Precious’s past relationships with her father and husband.

I am really impressed by Smith’s ability to write from a woman of color’s point of view.  Mma Ramotswe is dignified in the wake of grief and trauma, and it is no surprise that she is so successful at her job.  She wins people over when necessary and intimidates them into giving up information at other times.  Continue reading

The Beach by Alex Garland

Whaaaaat?  The Beach is the adult Lord of the Flies, and it is no less engrossing (or weird). I haven’t seen the movie based on the book despite Leonardo DiCaprio’s beautiful face, so I got to experience the crazy with an unspoiled mind.

Garland’s book starts off innocently enough, tapping into the traveler’s desire to escape tourism and live a simple life.  When Richard and his new friends find the titular beach, they join a group that fishes, smokes weed, and swims in a protected lagoon that is almost impossible to reach.  Idyllic, right?  Continue reading

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

When I heard Neil Patrick Harris was going to write an autobiography, I fangirled hard.  When I heard his autobiography was going to be in the form of the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, I was…skeptical.  It sounded cool, but how could it possibly work for a memoir?  I’ve read it now, and once again I feel ashamed for doubting NPH’s creativity and genius.  This was one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read!  Continue reading